Baby Steps

“Just take it like a shot, you can do it. One, two, three.”

I still cannot believe that Erik had to coach me through a small dose of NyQuil in a session that took the better part of an hour. At 18 years old I had the same fervent hatred for liquid medicines as I’d had at age 6, and the lurid, anise-scented syrup wasn’t making a strong case for itself.

The standard adult dose of NyQuil is two tablespoons, and it comes in its own plastic cup. In ounces, that corresponds roughly to an average-sized shot glass but I’m skeptical that the manufacturers of our favorite dolphin-emblazoned glasses were particularly committed to precision. Regardless, a two-tablespoon-sized cup of anything looks pretty piddling, but I couldn’t bring this one near my mouth without tears springing to my eyes and my gag reflex threatening mutiny.

I had my first college flu and my (older, wiser) friends had taken it upon themselves to look after me after listening to a few hours of piteous whining. Erik presented me with a bottle of deep green decongestant goo for what I’m sure he thought was going to be a one-gulp fix, and instead I presented him with my usual sickbed hysteria.

“What does it taste like? Will it linger? Does it work right away? Do I have to take it? Can I do it in little sips? Oh please take it away–wait, I need it. Really, just…one swallow? That’s all? Will it really help me sleep? How soon do I have to go to sleep? I won’t like it. I don’t like it. Do I have to?”

I cowered in my roommate’s chair trying to drum up enough courage for a single swallow while Erik and Jordan tried to increase its appeal.

“You know it’s really not that bad. It smells so much worse than it tastes; I actually kind of like it!”

“Yeah, dude, it will help you sleep sooo much better. You’ll get used to it.”

“It’s not going to magically cure you, you know that right? But you’ll sleep and then you’ll feel so much better, and that’s what you want isn’t it? We all want that–please!

I got brave. I took the cup. I studied it, took a few deep breaths–and handed it back.

“I can’t.”

To the boys’ credit, they maintained astonishing calm while we repeated this process. I came close to downing the cup, so very desperate to get it over with and finally sleep, but so repulsed by the smell and viscosity that I pushed it away every time. At last Erik threatened to pinch my nose shut for me while I sipped, which was enough to make me yelp, “That won’t be necessary!” and finish the dose in one go.

As soon as I was through sniffling and wincing, Jordan leaned over with a mischievous grin. “So. I wasn’t going to tell you this before, but I puked everywhere the first time I took NyQuil. See? You did fine!”

With that they sent me to bed and checked in the next morning, when I had to admit that yes, I had slept very well and my headache was gone and I could breathe and probably some of that had to do with the NyQuil, a bit.

I have since discovered that NyQuil comes in simple, odor-free pills, which mercifully takes all the drama out of a head cold. But I think of that incident often since it tends to repeat itself whenever I have a big decision ahead of me. The need to make post-graduate plans has gotten stronger in the few months that I’ve been out of college, yet I wind myself up in a monstrous web of pros and cons and lose my focus. I imagine many possibilities, some excellent and some outrageous, but if I overthink them I am likely to fall into NyQuil Mode and reject something promising and useful. When I feel myself veering too close to the planning anxiety (“I should do this, but I can’t do that, and this is too scary, and that is too far, but oh god, I should DO this!”), I have to remind myself that an independent move should be like medicine. However unpleasant at the time, it ought to be ultimately restorative so that I can continue forging forward. Sometimes I need a little push.