I’ve never seen the musical Cats. However, over the years, I’ve always been passively aware of the musical’s best-known song, “Memory.” Actually, though I’m familiar with the melody, I only knew of that one word in the song. But during a recent conversation with my father, he randomly asked, “Have you ever really listened to the words of that song?” Admittedly, I hadn’t. Actually, I don’t even remember the context of the question, but all-the-same, it eventually prompted me to Google the lyrics and download the song from iTunes. Honestly, I doubt I ever really even cared what the song was about, until I really listened to (and read) the lyrics.

There are days when regret weighs a little heavier than usual. I think I’ve written in the past that I have no regrets, only remorse. And granted, I have a great life now, but saying I have no regrets (and only remorse) is a bit self-centered. The truth is, I do have regrets. I regret hurting the people I hurt; I regret using the people I used; I regret manipulating the people I manipulated; I regret breaking the laws I broke — I regret who I was — and all I have now is the memory of life before I destroyed it.

I don’t consider the “end” to be the day I was arrested or the day I went to prison. For me, the “end” was that horrid night when I was betrayed and violated by someone I believed to be a close friend. I’ve often wondered over the years why I always reminisced about high school so much. Why did I consider high school the “good ole days” of my life — my “days in the sun,” as the song “Memory” sings? I guess, as Don Henley sang, that night represented “The End of the Innocence;” one night during the summer after I graduated from high school, when I was just 18-years-old.  But the thing is, I didn’t realize what that moment meant at the time. I buried it in my subconscious so deep that I never talked about it, ever. I never audibly spoke of it until I said it to a therapist . . . in prison.

I’ve never been able to talk myself into “blaming” that night for the choices I’ve made. However, it would be irresponsible to presume that night didn’t have some sort of impact on my world view, my view of people, my view of intimacy, and my ability to live through normal everyday life. Not many people know this, but I have been diagnosed with High-Functioning Anxiety. If you’re not familiar with what this means, please watch this brief video:

Only my wife knows that I had a massive panic attack on Thanksgiving Day while sitting with my family in our dining room. Only my wife knows that I had another massive panic attack the next day, standing in line at a clothing store to check-out while we were Black Friday shopping with her sister. And she only knows because I told her. My wife is getting better at recognizing the signs, but I try not to let anything seem too obvious — I don’t want to appear weak. I don’t want to pile-on any more baggage that comes with being married to me than I absolutely must. I can’t bring myself to crumble in front of her; I just can’t.

Trying to explain life with High-Functioning Anxiety is pretty much impossible. I’ve become quite gifted at hiding it. But the truth is, big groups of people can overwhelm me; having people in my house who don’t live with me can overwhelm me; lingering feelings of regret can overwhelm me; and when these (and other) things happen, it feels like the room gets incredibly small and I feel like I can’t get comfortable in my own skin, as though my own body was wrapped in a heavy pair of itchy wool pajamas that was three sizes too small. My pulse gets out of control and my breathing makes me light-headed and I sweat and I’m freezing cold and I’m restless and I’m exhausted — and I appear calm and I carry on social conversations and I smile and laugh at jokes and act completely normal.

However, I deliberately place myself into situations which will likely prompt my anxiety; I do this in an attempt to acclamate to these situations, removing myself from my comfort zone in a sink-or-swim attempt at overcoming my anxiety. I go shopping, I go to concerts, I go to family gatherings, I go to baseball games; these are things that are difficult for me sometimes. But I do them anyway.

Often, the only thing that calms me down is my tendency to reminisce about being young, being in high school – being on the track team and singing in the choir and hanging out in Coach Sell’s room and sneaking out to lunch and wandering the halls with my friends and, well, just being a high school kid. That’s what I miss, because that’s the last time my life made sense to me. And that’s also probably why I wanted to teach at my high school — I didn’t want to “relive high school,” I wanted to relive a time when my life made sense. But, as it turned out, I ruined that too. I ruined it by dragging my chaotic present into the fondness of my past. And now, due to the choices I’ve made, I can never return to the one place where my life last made sense; but also the one place where I caused my life to completely unravel.

So all I’m left with is the memory of that place — my school, the memory of that life, the memory of that feeling, when my life made sense — those years in the late 90s as a high school kid, before everything changed in the summer of 1998.

All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

It’s not that I reminisce about high school because I can’t let go of the past; I reminisce about high school because “life was beautiful then.” So it’s not that I can’t let go; it’s that I won’t let go. I spend too much of my life treading water, and taking a break to spend time with my memory of the past is like taking a break from treading water and placing my feet firmly on the bottom of the pool, even if the water is momentarily over my head.

So, when you see me, you can probably bet that what you’re seeing on the outside is nothing remotely close to what is happening beneath the surface. But I don’t want sympathy; just let me be. I have my own coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety when things get difficult, and odds are you’ll have no idea that I’m struggling. It’s better that way.

Sometimes, I just need a little space.
Sometimes, I just need a brief  moment.
Sometimes, I just need a fond memory.

It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with my memory
Of my days in the sun