My friend Eli Chanoff once remarked that everyone in the world would benefit from drinking a tall glass of water right now. I think this is probably true. It is certainly true for me. Out of the set of emotional and physical states a person can be in — of which there are many, maybe infinite — dehydrated is the one I most commonly exist in.
I notice, most acutely, the symptoms of my dehydration when I’m in class. The corners of my eyes get a little blurry, as if someone put tiny drops of water in them. Sometimes I feel like I’m drifting away from my body. I’ll lean back into my chair and most of me will be caught by the back of the chair but part of me will keep tilting back, back and out of my body. I’m equal parts familiar with the sensation and insanely freaked out by it. I panic until something snaps me back into my own body and I resolve to hydrate more the next day.
The problem is, I forget to remember.
I wake up the next morning and forget to drink water, I forget that yesterday I spent class swirling in my body instead of paying attention. I choose instead to recycle my saliva for 30 minutes until I down a $3 coffee. I tell myself coffee is made from water so it’s hydrating me in some way.
I generally believe that the reason anybody is anything is extremely complicated.
I like to believe that I am dehydrated because of a set of small, seemingly unrelated factors that subtly pushed me toward dehydration and continue to push me away from hydration. What if I never got into the habit of carrying around a reusable water bottle because my mother liked the ease and aesthetic of red Solo cups? What if that has made me subconsciously undervalue backpacks with exterior water bottle pockets? What if, before all of that, Ralph Nader diluted some percentage of Gore’s votes in Florida and maybe, just maybe, if Gore had won he would have enacted some set of policies that inspired a young Harry Krinsky to stop drinking out of red Solo cups and start drinking out of Nalgenes, BPA or no BPA? Of course, owning a reusable water bottle does not guarantee perpetual hydration, but the point is most mornings I wake up with the implicit goal of hydrating myself, and almost every night, I go to bed with a dry mouth and yellow pee.
The alternative, of course, is that I am dehydrated because I choose not to drink enough water — I am to blame. I’m not sure where I stand on why I am dehydrated. Something worth exploring, though, is where agency begins and ends in all of this, and getting to the bottom of how and where I actually control any individual habit in my life is a thought experiment worth doing.
As a middle schooler dealing with anxiety, I developed this ritual where I would imagine all of the bad thoughts swirling in my head as urine in my bladder, and when I peed, I’d imagine pumping the half-conceptualized anxieties out of my brain, into my bladder and out of my body. Water is tangentially related to dehydration, so bear with me.
This was a strange habit, and Freud would have had something to say about it, and my therapist certainly had something to say about it. He told me it wasn’t a useful technique because repelling anxieties only make them more real. The analogy of choice is playing baseball with a ball that is attached to a long elastic rope that is also attached to your bat. If you hit a home run, the ball will fly far, far away over the fence and into the toilet bowl. It will, however — as most things attached to long elastic strings — eventually come back. It won’t just come back, it will shoot back, powered by whatever really basic physics concept explains what I’m talking about. The ball won’t just come back, it will be hurled back at you, smacking you in the back or the gut or the head. The solution: Bunt. When translated to an 11-year-old with anxiety, this means keep your anxiety close to you because, after all, a baseball is a relatively small burden to carry to first base. (The analogy breaks down when we consider what running to first base with the ball in hand would look like.)
All that sounds simple enough, but bunting, just like hydrating, is equal parts easy to understand and difficult to follow through on.
I try my best to bunt when I can, but often I forget to bunt or forget to remember to bunt or forget to drink water or forget to care about school or forget to watch “An Inconvenient Truth.” I think about pee so much because I’m dehydrated and maybe I don’t think about education enough because I am educated. I think about habits because I had a therapist when I was 11 and I bunt when I can, but I sometimes forget to.