I walked out of the doctor’s office and ran across the street to the drug store where everyone knew me by name. I was out of Pepcid. I had a box in the bathroom, two in the kitchen cupboard, one in the office desk, and one under the car seat, but the box in my purse was empty.
I had made an appointment hoping to discover a name for this thing that caused me to go through antacids the way a nervous first-year college student goes through cigarettes.
The doctor ruled out pregnancy, gall bladder, and Crohn’s.
Last month, I’d asked my OB-Gyn if it was typical to require a prescription in order to stay married. She said, “Jesse, I think you know the answer.”
Today, in the doctor’s sterile office with the posters advertising the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, I asked, “What now? Do I live on Pepcid for the rest of my life? Is this normal?”
He said, “Let me guess… you are married to someone who never listens.”
I said, “Aren’t all your patients living with someone who doesn’t listen? Why – in my case – does it result in a build up of acids from stress?”
“Jesse, you are sensitive. You listen to your body. You know something isn’t right. You are masking symptoms instead of addressing real issues.”
From the outside, my life looked charmed. I’d been married ten years to the owner of a successful business. Financial security allowed me to stay home with our two healthy children. I could work part time and make my kids a priority.
We had a nice home, decent cars and extra money for planting perennials in the spring and skiing in the winter.
We ate dinner together every night and discussed his day.
He never asked of mine.
Newspapers were read. Emails were answered. After I tucked in kids, he and I would sit on opposite ends of the couch and watch TV.
The next day would be the same.
And so on.
Weeks piled up like so many empty Pepcid boxes.
I’d take a Pepcid on my way to bed, one in the morning and another before dinner.
If I had been a hoarder, we’d have side-stepped past mountainous piles of empty Pepcid boxes. I’d have constructed mobiles with multicolored embroidery floss and empty Pepcid boxes to hang above my babies’ cribs.
One night I said, “Honey, I feel like taking a trip with the kids. I know you can’t get away. We could go see my brother and his family. I can make the drive by myself. The kids are old enough. The kids could play with cousins while I take long walks, clear my head and discover what has me so stressed.”
He said, “You want to know what causes stress? A long car ride with two little kids; staying at your brother’s house; and being away from me and our home – those things cause stress.”
I said, “I need to do this. I need to get away to sort things out. It’s only a week.”
The next weekend I packed three backpacks, a DVD player, snacks, and two boxes of Pepcid. We started a twelve hour trip to the West Coast.
As we crossed the Montana/Idaho border I sensed a release. I felt a warm wave flow from my neck to my toes carrying all the tightness and tension out of my chest and stomach.
Was this real? Could tension dissolve so quickly?
Shouldn’t I be more stressed while singly driving a car with two young kids for twelve hours?
We finished the drive, and the tension didn’t return.
Each morning, I’d wake and expect to feel the familiar tightness.
I talked to him on the phone only a couple times. Normally, he was the type to call every night to make sure he was informed of all that we did – his way of controlling from afar.
Not only had I not taken any Pepcid, I’d left the boxes in the car.
I phoned to ask him if we could stay another week. He wasn’t pleased, but he didn’t demand that we return.
The calls all but stopped.
I didn’t need to take long walks to figure out the cause of the stress. Once the tightness dissolved, I could clearly see the cause.
On the return trip I told myself, “You are strong. You don’t have to let him get to you. You don’t have to get stressed about this.”
I tried desperately to not let the tension come back.
As we crossed the Idaho/Montana border the tension slowly returned. A core that ran the length of my body began to solidify, starting in my toes. It reached my chest when we were an hour from home.
As we pulled into the drive, I was gasping for breaths.
He came out to greet us, but something was different – in me.
I knew what I had to do.
Three weeks later the children and I moved out of his home.
That was over five years ago.
Pepcid had masked the symptoms for years, allowing me to deal with the disconnect and loneliness that defined my marriage.
Now, I listen to how I feel and make choices that steer me away from stress.
I still have a box of Pepcid in the kitchen cupboard. It’s a bit dusty from lack of use. I keep it as a reminder of my old life.
*This post was originally published in the @Stratejoy Essay Contest.