Art by Gaia Yun
It’s as simple as going out in the cold, when your skin prickles and the cold pushes it’s way down your throat. Many times, I have stood, shivering, pushing through the slow numbing of my toes into unrecognizable lumps and the sharper ache in my hands. I drift somewhere between the line of discomfort and pain, sometimes unsure which one currently holds sway over me.
A tension falls over me that I learn to ignore, one that I only remember for a moment while it’s slipping away.
My voice sounds choked when I talk, like I’m forcing it out. Perhaps this isn’t always the case, but there are mines buried in the landscapes of conversations, ones that I find myself falling into. I speak, moving faster by the moment, trying to unrun something, and I begin to lose track of the amount of times that I stumble, that I break the rigid script I have set for myself to follow, but I feel the wounds from them all the same, carved into the flesh of my mind like battle scars. I lay with them after, my eyes open and staring. I hear my voice, choppy, breathy, running over its mines, over and over again in my head. My train of thought shatters, my mind goes fuzzy white with pain as the remaining shreds of my confidence are sliced away. Next time I go to speak, these sensations will flash right before my eyes.
The power of disease seems to rise every year, or maybe I’m just more aware of it. I learn as I grow, and what I learn is that every inch of the world has the potential to kill you. The forests that were once a friend are full of creatures that sink poison into veins. The places I tread through in my childhood are no longer safe. Every new location is full of deadly potential. I see my grandparent’s attic, once a vast space of unknown potential, white walls and floors covered in artifacts: a typewriter, a mattress, a Christmas tree. Now it is a place of dirt, the bodies of insects, unknown substances that I sweep away with my mouth closed tight, afraid to breathe. I try to memorize every touch, let every instance of danger crowd the spaces of my mind. I walk with my hands trapped close to my body, where it is safe. The ritual of food, of eating is fraught, of rubbing sweat from my face. Everything that was once easy is risky. There’s a part of me that doesn’t remember what it’s like not to be afraid.
It feels odd to admit that I do not have a full understanding of the concept of love, that what I had was discomfort that passed as feelings. When I was younger I would look at people who had never shown a bit of interest and choose them. My crushes were sites of misery, places where I built up my conviction that this was how the world must run while creating the perfect place to tear chunks of myself away. I burned in hatred, sank in despair, believing this was how my life was supposed to be. That love was pain, and that not to feel pain meant not to love. Looking at another person and turning them into a manifestation of my own self loathing just felt right. Love is hard, isn’t it?
It’s hard to find the concept of self. Sometimes it is easy, and just for a second, a clear image of the person you are, or is it the person you want to be? The image fades; you are blind to this once again.
It is uncomfortable to hate yourself; really, it is uncomfortable to hate anything, but it is probably most uncomfortable when you have to always stay with this person you dislike. You aren’t really sure why you dislike them anymore, just that you do, and that whoever they are, they are irreversibly lost, eternally unfixable. You stagnate, waist deep in quicksand, low enough that you can’t take a clear look around you. You are a ghost to everyone and yourself, a creature just floating forward, unable to see. You are aware of how uncomfortable your body is, how uncomfortable your mind is. The very act of living, even in your safest place, hurts.
BREAKDOWN AND RECOVERY
I have learned long ago to live with pressure. I assume everyone does. Like the cold on a winter’s day, I push it aside and sometimes I manage to forget it. I imagine if every day was cold, that every day was winter, I would be able to forget that too.
Is there a breaking point, the place where you can no longer stand these invisible forces, when your life becomes unbearable if you spend another second with them? I can’t say. My anxiety, my hatred, all feel natural to me, parts that I know are wrong because I’ve been told they are. I wonder what would have happened if this hadn’t happened, if they had remained nameless. Would they blend into the background, just a part of the scenery that my mind’s eye glosses over, again and again? I wonder if there are other parts of me I cannot yet name. Is it truly possible to escape, or do you wait for it all to shatter around you?
Why is it that these ideas remain so unrecognizable? That discomfort hides? Why is it so hard to notice that we’re hurting? Where do we learn to set aside our discomforts and keep moving until our minds become unrecognizable and we don’t know how to fix them? Do we talk, share, tell each other what’s wrong until we can better map the human mind? I suppose it’s been done before. Like when someone says they’re cold and you realize that, maybe, you’ve been cold too, all along.