The Klonopin Kid

A Young Josh Hansen

I was eight years old. It was a day that most kids would receive as joyously as a mountain of Christmas presents: the last day of school. Yet there I was, past my bedtime, curled up on the floor outside my parents’ bedroom door, sobbing, sobbing.

I was crying because second grade was over, and so was my access to my second grade teacher—the most stable, warm, and motherly person in my life.

I was crying because I felt so loved by my teacher, and because I knew in my heart that, though she surely strove her best, my own mother didn’t have the mental and emotional resources to make me feel so safe and loved.

Enter Klonopin

Fast forward to third grade. Another scene at home: this time, I’m sitting in the living room talking to Dad.

“How many times does your heart beat in a minute?” he asked me. We probably stopped and counted my pulse for a minute to find out. Maybe it was something like 58 beats per minute. “And how many minutes have you been alive? 60 minutes times 24 hours times 365 days times 8 years….” He did the math, maybe on paper, maybe on a calculator. “Your heart has beat 243,878,400 times in your lifetime already. What makes you think it’s going to stop now?”

I had been having trouble sleeping on account of anxiety. I would lie in bed at night fearful that my heart was going to suddenly stop. Dad was trying to talk me through it rationally. And somehow I found the calm reasoning and the authority of math comforting.

It was enough for that night. But as convincing as the probabilistic argument was, my anxiety remained.

Soon Mom took me to see a pediatrician (Doctor Zirkle) about it. At the doctor’s office, I sat on the edge of the exam bed, white paper crinkling beneath me, and answered questions about my fears. We left with a prescription for Klonopin, a benzodiazepine tranquilizer.

The time soon came for my first dose. One night I went to the kitchen with Dad. It was dark, lit only indirectly by the hallway light. From the medicine cabinet above the dish washer Dad brought down the bottle of Klonopin pills. He gave me a glass of water and a tablet, and told me to swallow the tablet whole.

Until that time my experience with taking medicine was essentially cough syrup and other liquids. I had never swallowed a pill whole before and felt like I’d choke on it if I tried. I was an anxious kid! I couldn’t do it. In my fear I dropped the pill, and Dad swore and left me to overcome my fear alone.

I picked the Klonopin tablet up from where it fell and there in the dark of the kitchen at the age of eight, I taught myself to swallow tranquilizer pills.

A tree’s extensive roots, absorbing whatever comes their way. Only metaphorically relevant to this post. Photo by Wing-Chi Poon. CC-BY-SA 2.5.

First Do No Harm

I kept taking Klonopin through third grade. Eventually I seemed to grow out of the need, and by fourth grade I don’t think I was taking the drug at all.

Why was I such an anxious kid? I think I was just sensitive to the instability around me. By fifth grade I was conscious of feeling that my parents and my family were “different”, that there was something wrong with what I experienced at home. If that’s when I became aware of it, then when did the dysfunction really start? Surely it must have been substantially earlier.

Significant anxiety returned to my life in ninth grade, and with it came Klonopin as well, first as illicit doses given to me by my mom, then as a prescription of my own. My anxiety at the time was overwhelming and it was reassuring to take a drug I knew was supposed to calm me down. But it seemed to make things worse in the long run—I continued to have debilitating panic attacks, which didn’t actually go away until getting off of the medication.

If I had a child in third grade experiencing anxiety today, I would absolutely not put them on medication—how could the long-term effects of psychoactive drugs on still-forming brains and personalities be anything but harmful? I would consider seriously whether there was anything in the home environment I provided them that might be cause for anxiety.

Kids are like plants and will grow or thrive in relation to the environment they are planted in. If that environment contains submerged conflict between adults, age-inappropriate roles for children, or anything else amiss, it will subtly warp the child’s development over time. I think that explains my childhood anxiety completely. I was simply internalizing the dysfunction I lived in.

It’s been a decade since I took my last tranquilizer pill. I’ve been vastly less anxious since quitting them. Those things were an albatross around my neck and I’m glad to be rid of them.

DOS Games of My Youth

Once I learned about the Archive.org MS-DOS games collection on a recent episode of Mike’s Weekly Geek News Show, I knew what I had to do. I now present to you an idiosyncratic anthology of DOS games from my youth, mostly played on our trusty Tandy 1000 and Wyse computers. For each game, click on the image and you will be taken to an Archive.org page where the game can be played within your browser.

Bouncing Babies

Let’s begin where we ought to, with Bouncing Babies. A hospital is on fire and you must save babies being thrown out the windows. Such an outrageous premise for a game.

Bouncing Babies

David’s Kong

Being already familiar with Donkey Kong, I was deeply disappointed with this game. But it was named after my brother, which was cool.

David's Kong

Empire: Wargame of the Century

Many hours of my childhood were dedicated to world conquest in the form of “Empire”. The requisite manual can be downloaded here.

Empire

Frogger

I could get past the cars, but not the logs.

Frogger

Hard Hat Mack

OSHA lawyers are your foes!
Hard Hat Mack

Janitor Joe

janitor battles space robots!

Janitor Joe

Lemonade Stand

I actually only ever played this at school, and perhaps not even in DOS, but I remember loving it so I include it here. You start with $2 and a supply of sugar, and you try to run a lemonade stand at a profit. Each day you get a weather forecast and must make inventory and marketing decisions on that basis. A basic lesson in microeconomics.
Lemonade Stand

Mickey’s Jigsaw Puzzles

Playing this again brought back strangely poignant feelings for some reason. Based on how familiar the little animations were to me, I must have spent many hours playing this, though now it’s hard to understand why.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles

Midnight Rescue

Learn to read while battling evil robots!
Midnight Rescue

Moon Bugs

Defend a moon base against the titular moon bugs. Weird, weird game, but one I spent a lot of time on.
Moon Bugs

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Crashing into the Chicago skyline was never more fun. Which is good, because that’s how it always ended.
Microsoft Flight Simulator

Pitfall

You fall. Into a pit. Try not to die.
Pitfall

Qbert

Iconic.
Qbert

Scorched Earth

A game and an introductory ballistics course.
Scorched Earth

Sopwith

Soar like Snoopy in a trusty Sopwith biplane. Or just let it sit on the ground like in this screenshot.
Sopwith

Space Invaders

Kill the little bugs before they hit the bottom.

Space Invaders

Spacewar

Endless battles between David and me.
Spacwar

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Deluxe

I learned the name “Tegucigalpa” here and never forgot it.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Deluxe

Me looking ready to go camping. That little green tent is still with us---David and I used it on our most recent camping trip.

Living in the Past (+Poem)

I’ve always been inclined to living in the past. For evidence, you need look no further my many-years-long effort to transcribe all of my old journals. Here’s a sample:

Part of a transcribed journal, dealing with two typical days in middle school.

Part of a transcribed journal, dealing with two typical days in middle school. Wasn’t I Mister Overachiever back then! It’s almost like I felt my worth derived from my abilities or something….

Now tell me, do you know anybody else who’s transcribing their journals? I’ve kept a ridiculous number of the darn things, too—maybe 20 official journals and 20+ other notebooks. It’s over twenty years’ worth, of which I’ve transcribed perhaps 25-30% after a decade of trying. (The PDF of all the transcriptions is 374 pages long already.)

Perhaps once or twice a year I seem to find myself consumed with the thought of “the way things were.” For a few days all I can think about is the past—the people, the events, the stories I tell myself about the people and the events.

I’ve lately come to this thought: if I’m so inclined to live in the past, maybe there’s something I need to do there.

For many of my growing-up years I didn’t feel like there was anybody with whom I could discuss events in my life. My parents were often distracted or overwhelmed by their own problems, so instead of sharing my struggles with them I often kept things to myself and soothed my emotions by writing in journals.

That’s why I can’t let these old journals go: they contain my story, as it happened, for basically all of the most significant events in my life. The story that I never shared with anyone, the things I didn’t know how to deal with in any other way than to write them down, preserving them for some future day when they could be dealt with properly.

That “future day” is today, isn’t it?

I’d like to start sharing more with people about my life story. I don’t want it to feel like a big secret that I had to endure on my own. Instead I want to bring it out into the open where it can be enjoyed, learned from, and (hopefully often enough) laughed about, in the company of the family and friends that I love.

Here’s a little poem I wrote that I think captures the sentiment. (The poem actually motivated the blog post, not the other way around.)

Living in the Past

“Don’t live in the past.”
But the past lives in me,
Its people and places,
The joys, the pains,
All inside me living their days
Over and over and over again.

“Look to the future.”
I try, but when I do
All these long-gone faces
Crowd into my view.
I race ahead, try to leave them behind.
They clutch at me, drag me back in time.
I see the future’s not for me
So long as ghosts are my associates.

It’s time to go back.
It’s time to set things right.
The darkness makes them stronger—
I must bring them out into the light.
Those wrongs that can’t be righted
Will at least be cared about.
Those pains that can’t be soothed
Will be turned to new purpose.