This is, for instance, what occurs, with great poetic power, in The Book of Evidence , but in several other great novels as well. It is literature, writing, that gives reality to dreams. Once, in a real situation, I found myself in the impossibility of understanding whether what I was reading was a dream actually dreamt and transcribed by the person who narrated it to me, or was it a narration of his dream re-arranged on the written page, even though it was a private personal letter, and therefore, at least partly, transformed into something else.
It was the letter from a friend of mine, much older than I, professor of philosophy in Budapest, the author of most remarkable essays, mainly on aesthetics. The colour of a violet, its coyness and humbleness, invented by the pseudo-science of metaphors. He inhibited himself from pity, also from pity for himself, but in that disagreeable sternness there was the naivety of the stoic who forces himself to keep his eyes dry, the poignant cynicism of one who represses the reasons of the heart, those reasons so much exhibited by those who never felt them. He had schooled himself to an incapacity to cry like Achilles and to run away like Hector, and observed with perplexed aloofness the results of his self-apprenticeship.
Nature, at a certain point, singled him out as an object of well-known yet nonetheless unpleasant experiments, and endeavoured to accelerate the process of dissipation of his existence by setting in motion various regressive mutations of his organs. He did not acknowledge them and went through one illness after another or from an illness to a recovery soon obliterated by some other serious ailment. He did not acknowledge any of them, just as he did not acknowledge his own sweat-secretion. As far as I know not even his inventive erotic undertakings, indifferent to age, to which he did not give much consideration either, seem to have been affected by those predicaments.
But one day I received a letter from him, sent from a small place near Baja, where he owned a house on the river. He wrote that letter to me before being hospitalised in Budapest, albeit not for a long time. The letter started with the narration of a car accident, or rather with a stop at a service station for a check, shortly before the accident. Suddenly, from those lines an icy wind rises, an icy chill such as does not exist on earth but perhaps on a planet without life and far from the sun, Neptune or Pluto; or in the formula of the absolute zero, where there is no longer any question of cold or heat.
Reading the letter, one finds oneself all of a sudden in an alien land, which mocks every usual process of perception. Everything is immobile, eternal, radically other, mute; the service station, the serviceman kneeling by the car with the fixed smile of a replicant, the tools and rivets, the solitude of the landscape, the glossy sheen of the car, the brakes not responding to the pressing of the foot, the silent crash, as if the necessary conditions for the occurrence of a physical phenomenon such as the transmission of sound were lacking.
The letter is detailed, translucent; an exact delirium, a science fiction story mingled with a Greek myth, a hybrid literary genre set between a crime story and a tragedy, a cosmic conspiracy organised like a mafia murder. Physics, as Friedrich Schlegel maintains, appears the true new mythology; its deities are merciless like Apollo, who flays Marsyas, and immane, unimaginable as the atomic flares on the sun or the sucking in force of the black holes. With absolute intelligibility the letter makes clear that there is no escape, that there is no possible escape for any of us.
At a certain point, Zs, the obstinate victim of the deities, finds himself on the shore of Lake Balaton, on a sultry summer day. Zs is lying down on the beach, amid the rows of bathing huts. Everything can happen; the most contiguous, most concrete presence of the unthinkable is perceived, the perception of something that cannot otherwise be thought and that therefore cannot happen. Reading the letter, I had a view of another universe, which Zs had entered smashing a wall of space-time, exiting the modalities and categories by which our thought constructs the world.
I did not understand whether it was a hoax, a literary invention, a short parable-novel or more likely the narration of a dream or whether it was the unbearable experience of another state of being. Employing the language of my halting and decent normality, I was afraid that Zs could be deranged, that he was living without mediations through his chilling paranoia, his adventure of a man hurtled to the other side. Few days later I was in Budapest, at the clinic where he had been admitted to and would soon check out.
He was, as always, amiable and ironic, exceedingly accurate and alien to all forms of excitement and emotional misrepresentation of things. I was expecting him to talk about the letter and the warning he had sent to me, but, since he did not mention anything, I tried to broach the subject. With a suggestion of quickly repressed uneasiness, he deviated the conversation, evasively hinting at a joke, a literary divertissement, a dream, and hurriedly changed the subject.
Possibly, he had opened a door over an abyss, over a pure nothingness but afterwards had managed to close it again, or al least almost close it, and he had come back, as one comes back to a firm logic from the nightmare of a dream. The river of his life, after having leaped into that other bed, had re-entered its alveus and resumed its orderly course, like all others, towards the outfall, towards that nothingness which for an instant he had ventured into. People and clothes had to be separated that way.
They needed their intimacy. Akin to distant relatives they were brought into the warm bedrooms only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to Sunday mass. And like distant relatives, they brought with them a smell of their own. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave, deodorant, and somberness. His smell was that of chewed grass and hay and baby sheep.
Little lambs that were brought into the house to sleep with the children on cold winter nights. They built their lives around winter, and in those lives, they thrived.
What did you expect? They were used to seeing their own shit, and that of others as well, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. And if they had to use the bathroom late at night, well, good luck to you, my friend! No matter how well they dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, their balls suffered nonetheless. They had to pull their pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. They gave up quickly because of the cold.
Their asses froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in their shit-and-piss concoction. The houses were all the same. Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men ate the women, and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew up to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions strengthened over time. Their heads turned hard, and their heads held the sky. The animal Messiah rarely put things on his head. His head was big enough. If he put stuff on his head, such as a cap or a hood or a big idea, his head was bound to look bigger, hence disgusting.
Nobody wants to feel that way about a part of their body. Eventually, the brain got it, and he forgot about it. When the animal Messiah was little, a log fell on his head. He started running home the moment it happened, but the other kids stopped him and calmed him down. His brain understood it was still in one piece. It had been a big log. Not even close.
He knew the trunk was going to fall on his head, so he stood his ground beneath it like a retard, just to see how it feels. The instant it fell the pain at the top of his head told him to stand his ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. They egged him on to see it fall on his head. The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of his cousin, the girl who had told him about the blue sky. The animal Messiah had a swing made of wrought iron, and the cousin got really jealous, and she said to her grandpa she wanted one as well.
So her grandpa put the log in between two trees and tied a rope around it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half-holes at each end made sitting on the string comfortably enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung for long periods, the log would rotate until it unhooked from the trees.
Nothing happened, really, except for the swimming in the dirt thing. His ears as well, to fit the size of his head. He was trimming the trees on the street, and the animal Messiah was just a little boy. He took his oversized head and went home, which was not very far because they were neighbors. On the train, on my way to work, as I was reading through the manuscript, I thought about the animal Messiah and what he must have seen that day returning home. He must have seen mountains growing on the inside of his guts, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, the air in between them, the world bloated like a corpse left for too long in the open.
He must have felt the shame of broken shoes. A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. The warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets, and they slept. They built their lives around winter the way you put a scarf around your neck, and in those lives, they slowly withered.
In that home, there were toys unlike those the animal Messiah and his brother had, and one of the cousins insisted he hid one under his shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house, the toy vanished. The animal Messiah expected, even after reality set in and he finally got home, the toy to fall from under his t-shirt.
He looked for it in the folds of his pants. In high school, a classmate said: your head is so big, why is your head so big? The animal Messiah moved to another bed. Where else could he tuck his head if not inwards? How could he renounce this large house of dreams? The day after it was brought home from the repair shop, the thin woman who was their neighbor and whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it. She must have wondered how much money went into that paint.
At times, the animal Messiah went into the car to listen to music on the radio. The car became his headphones. He listened to that song, Hotel California, without knowing what it was about or why the musicians had decided to call it that. It was the only song he liked, and he built his life around it.
The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, and chocolate bars, and yogurt. An empty backseat was a source of disappointment. Once, on his birthday, the seat was empty. He wanted the game console that resembled a computer keyboard. He could write on it.
Play word games. Yet just having the possibility of playing that sort of games made him go mad with desire. There was nothing in the backseat.
Antiwar Songs (AWS) - Watching TV
He wanted to cry. At home, he sat on the front steps of the house and acted really sad. He told his father about the game console. His father the traitor, the unloving father. I had a pole in my chest, and people held on to it as if they were on a bus. I closed all the cupboards and doors in the house. What had I been thinking? When I opened the door, he looked around the house, a puzzled look on his face, as if somebody else, some pilot, had taken over the control of his actions. Then he turned towards me and covered the silence with words and steps, and his tongue was in my mouth, and I felt the excitement of a bladder emptied of worries.
I ground my teeth and felt sugar crystals between them. He had a name for each action, and they all spoke of how I was giving myself away, selling myself cheap to a man I had willingly let into my house. I thought of what the children would say even though I had no children. This man like a disease walked all over me.
He moved above me with the certainty of a surgeon. The fungi blossomed on my belly and chest. The man stretched in my bed and sat at my kitchen table as if he owned the place. I had made sure to do the washing up.
There were no dirty cups in the kitchen sink. We talked and while we did that I caressed his shinbone with my toes. His mother was in the hospital with cancer, and he spoke about her with a disdain I could not acknowledge. He was at my house, and I felt powerful. He had seen the books in my room, and his skin had touched my sheets. His mother was going through the second round of chemotherapy, and she had given up hope, struggling against the doctors and the nurses who kept telling her everything was for her own good.
To him, having a cancerous mother was a nuisance, because he had had to take some time off from his job to be with his mum. He was here on borrowed time. Then he started talking about his ex, and I felt pity for myself. I made the bed and scrubbed myself clean. I replaced the sheets and used bleach to clean the shower cabin, the taste of his tongue in my mouth. I thought of the animal Messiah. By then, it had become an obsession, and I searched through my notes feverishly, hoping to find something, a detail that had perhaps escaped my attention and which might explain all this.
The search took my mind off things. I wished, oh how I wanted, to go back in time and tell him he should, by all means, do his best to be happy on his own. I took the train back home and fell asleep the moment it started moving. The ticket inspector woke me up minutes later, and I showed her my ticket, then fell back asleep. The sun was setting when I woke up, and in the distance, the sky glistened with gold and victory. When I got out of the train station, the city seemed utterly unchanged.
I watched as the same buses came and went; the man who sold newspapers still there, in his booth, surrounded by flashy magazine covers. A teenager asked for a cigarette and was intent on paying for it. I took a taxi to our apartment and asked the driver to let me off at another address.
I felt like walking the rest of the way because I wanted to see the supermarket just around the corner, and the antique shop with the expensive Persian carpets on display. The fluorescent sign outside the gym, the coffee shop just across the street, they were all there, like breadcrumbs, to remind me of my way back. The key still worked. I took the elevator because my suitcase was too heavy and I was too tired to drag it up the two flights of stairs.
I could, for once, use the elevator. When I got to the door, I was afraid to unlock it. I waited in the silence of the corridor, hoping to hear something moving in the apartment, but nothing stirred inside. I unlocked the door and the moment I opened it a repulsive smell assaulted me.
I got in and closed the door behind me, afraid that it might travel around and disturb the others. Nothing had changed. My note was still stuck to the fridge. Inside the freezer, tomatoes had rotten to ash. The curtains were heavy with grime and dust, the sink in the bathroom calcified. I left my suitcase in the hallway and started opening the windows. I did not yet dare to go into our bedroom, afraid that it might rekindle painful memories. I knew I could stall the wave of memories, because, after all, I was aware of what they were.
I would see your clothes on the bed and imagine you taking them off before bedtime, the yellowish light on the bedside table throwing warm shadows all over your body, the hairs on your chest golden, like gossamer in the morning. I was already imagining everything, with the clarity of one who had understood the situation a long time before and was only playing along so as not to disrupt the natural course of things. Not going in was part of that natural course of things.
I might have seen it in some movie, the protagonist avoiding certain places, knowing full well that he would be unable to stop some of those memories from resurfacing. To us, in the audience, that always seems exaggerated, a shallow thing to do. But then I was doing it as well, avoiding the bedroom.
I took the garbage out and washed the two cups in the sink. I bleached the bathtub and the drain, wiped the bathroom mirror clean. The water was first rusty red, but then it cleared. The smell inside the house began to change. I went out to the supermarket around the corner to buy some groceries. The cashier recognized me and asked where I had been all that time.
I told her I had found work outside the city. Was I back for good? I put the coffee in the bag, then the fresh bread, then the cheese. She smiled and placed her right palm on her chest. I hope you figure it out soon. I thanked her, grabbed my bag of groceries and went out. The nights were beginning to get cold, the dying light at the edges of the horizon like a cry for help. The approaching night relentless in its advance. Neon signs competed with the dying sun. Some of the shops lining the street were closing, the owners looking at me, furtively, and with an air of despair, as if I were some sort of alien figure who was a harbinger of a darker age.
Cars were idling on the streets around me, people returning from work. But the atmosphere calmed me; it made me think of the afternoons after work I spent with you when I was tired but thrilled to see you. The happiness that gave me the energy to spend time with you and laugh with you while music inhabited the background. I got back to the apartment and turned on the fridge. It whirred to life. I decided to cook some pasta since it was the only thing I could make on the spot without using too many pans.
I washed one of the pots and turned on the burner. The warmth coming from the boiling water made the windows sweat. Finally, it felt like home. I turned the TV on and let it run in the background. I put the pasta in the water and lowered the flame. I wanted it to cook slowly as if seeing it boil brought comfort. I took a bottle of wine out and opened it. The taste and smell of wine made me hungry. I cut some of the cheese into little pieces and placed them on a plate. A man on TV was speaking about immigration. The climate forced people to abandon their homes to move to other countries.
They moved in groves, like groups of nomads in search for new ground. And there you were, frying the vegetables in a pan, making them jump, the way chefs do on TV. We were laughing, and I was recording you with my phone. It was the evening in which we had gone to a vintage clothes shop to look at some stuff and returned home famished. When we went to the supermarket to shop for groceries, I felt like I was going to faint from the hunger.
Once we got back home, it was already well after nine pm. You held onto the pan with your right hand and placed your left hand on your groin. Perhaps the little boy who had been told that he was suffering from some sort of syndrome and had to be medicated to keep his body from growing out of proportions. You had told me about him, the little boy, a while back when we said each other stuff one night, and you listened in silence while I told you the story of my life. Up went the vegetables, and then back into the pan. You were actually good at it.
Your glasses were foggy from the steam. Is it a video? I can only hear my laughter now. I can see the two glasses of wine on the kitchen table, and I can listen to the music in the background. I remember not wanting it to stop, that moment. I wished the world left us alone, there, in your kitchen. You were cooking rice or some variation of it. You always asked me what I wanted to eat, but I never knew what to say. You were disappointed by that, but to me everything with you was new, even the rice you were cooking.
We fed each other chips and dried veggies while dancing. We decided to eat outside, on the little table you had put on the balcony, where I went for a smoke every once in a while. Before we sat at the table, you cleaned the table. You were adamant about hygiene, and so you wiped everything before use, even the plates you had just taken out of the dishwasher. The water in the water boiler had to be changed before every use because who knows for how many days it had been in there.
You had used it that morning, but still, the water had to be changed. You told me to wear house slippers when I went into the bathroom. You cooked the meat then set it next to the rice on the plates. Then, you lit the candles and placed them on the table. I took small bites, to make it last longer.
I wanted the world to envy us, to wish to be there with us, or live through a similar moment. I heard a noise coming from the bedroom. A thump on the floor. I stood and listened, but the sound did not occur again. I drained the pasta and poured the prepared sauce over it. I arranged it on a plate. Before sitting, I wiped the table clean, washed the glasses, and I, finally, sat down to eat.
I did not usually say any prayers before eating, but right then I felt the compunction to do it. Not a prayer addressed to God, no, I had stopped long before that to believe there was a higher power watching over us. It was, instead, the desire to make a wish, as if the plate of pasta was a birthday cake and I had to blow the candles. I wished, most of all, to see you return, to be able to share that meal with you, to let you know that I had mastered the art of making a meal for myself.
You were always accusing me of being dismissive of food when the time came to eat something. The truth was, I hated cooking because it required time I did not want or have to dedicate to it. I wanted you, not to love me, I think we were well past that, but to be happy for me, to be content that I had turned into someone you wished me to become. After I finished eating, I went out on the balcony for a smoke.
I found the ashtray with the row of half-naked women on it, which you had bought as a joke. I smiled when I saw it because it was akin to discovering a part of you. The two small chairs with the dark brown pillows on them were still there, as was the little star with the LED light inside that twinkled. When I turned it on, the star lit up and pulsed, but only a few times and then it went dead, or to faint light. A car parked in the courtyard and a man wearing sweatpants came out of it. He did not look up and went into the adjacent building. I was afraid of going back into the apartment after I finished smoking.
It looked so empty and silent from the outside.
I put the dishes into the dishwasher and decided to make camp on the living room sofa. I dragged the suitcase into the room. The man on TV was still talking about immigration and the challenges it posed to the soul transfer system. New trends were developing, people asked to be transferred into bodies that lived in the developed world.
The notion of citizenship was becoming superfluous. I changed channels. I locked the door and stretched out on the sofa. Then, I fell asleep and dreamt of my grandmother, who was taking me to an abandoned house. Inside the house, there was a special room that did not have any floors. And if you opened the door and looked down, you could peer into the abyss of your mistakes.
I did not see my mistakes, or sins because I woke up before I could do that. But even before I could open the door to that room, I knew what my mistakes were. In the car, Francis did not say a word. He looked, forlornly, out the window at the passing scenery. I put my hand on his knee and asked him how he felt. Different, how?
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Then he was back in his mind again. I continued talking about trivial matters. The weather had turned hectic. Sea levels had been rising alarmingly, and people were fleeing from the coasts into the mainland. Cities were disappearing. The transition between seasons had become abrupt and unforgiving as if someone up there wanted to see how we would react to that. Francis was looking at me now. I asked him to repeat the question. He went on. He closed his fists, placed them together and brought them to eye level, the way children do to mime the use of a telescope. Everything is unglued.
Did the therapy help? It did, it made him aware of how his mind worked, it helped him become aware of the plastic tube. He was looking out once more. There had been signs; signals, lights going on and off. Martha, who spent the most time with him, told me about these symptoms when we still saw each other regularly. He kept asking her, out of the blue, whether she wanted to say something because she was always clearing her throat.
People clearing their throats, preparing to say something, which they never did. And he was curious to know, so much, until that curiosity began to eat his guts, and he lost his mind. The prospect of losing him terrified Martha. Because they had been living together for a while and he was taking steps into directions that unsettled her sense of the world. He would sit around for hours doing nothing, telling her about the things he was going to do. He could find a decent job that was going to make him so people-smart that she will no longer recognize him.
She was scared witless. He smoked so much that the hairs inside his nose turned yellow. His teeth, too, because he overlooked oral hygiene. This torpor consumed most of his days. There were good days as well when he would go out and return with a bag of groceries. More often than not he would return empty-handed with a face that spoke a thousand words. She would then fall at his feet, beg him to come back to her. He would smile, fiendishly almost, and tell her that he was there. He put the coffee brewer on the burner without pouring the water in it.
The brewer burned minutes later. They had stopped touching long before that. She leaned into him, and his attention could only be drawn from whatever was going on in his mind by her clear intentions. He had to be shown how to do it, and when to start doing something. Martha closed herself inside the bathroom when he went on the balcony to smoke, late at night.
She cried from fatigue and despair. She was working shifts, and at times she was afraid of going to work, thinking of all the terrible things he might do to himself, knowingly or unknowingly. He could try and make coffee and forget the water again, or forget about the coffee altogether and set the house on fire. She cringed whenever at work she was called by her supervisor thinking that that was it, the call that told her he had succeeded in taking his own life.
It was going to hurt, a lot, she thought, but she was going to fight through it. She was strong enough to do it. When she did get the call, that call , she broke down. She went to the hospital, to his room, where he stood, akin to a mummified pharaoh, on a bed of light blue sheets, and transparent tubes.
He looked at her from above, and she broke down right there and then, in front of him. This time furiously, pitilessly, charging at him, hitting him, raising her fists in the air. You selfish animal , she howled, and the nurses at the central station turned their heads. The word, animal, akin to a ritualistic combination of words, the demon evoked in need of spiteful words to fully emerge from the underworld, to hatch from that egg of anger.
A smile played on his lips. Martha then fell on a chair, next to the wall, and sobbed uncontrollably, because there it was, what she feared most, his irreversible loss in the murkiness of his own thoughts, out of which she had tried, and failed, to pull him. She grabbed her bag and held it to her chest. She froze, her voice still buried in her guts, her legs finally lighter, her fatigue liberated, it danced somewhere else in the hospital room.
She saw his gesture as one of pure selfishness. He was the one who called the ambulance, and he was the one who had called her workplace. He must have left the water running on purpose, she thought, to ruin her bathroom, bring everything down with him, her carpets, let his blood soak everything.
She was sure of it. She got out of the hospital and walked toward the center of the parking lot. She started getting impatient. She started walking quickly, then running, then she came back to where she had started looking. Her armpits were dark with sweat. Then she sat down on the concrete, behind an electric panel to hide from the sun. She was out of breath. The light above her changed, the evening sun was shifting. Heat emanated from the ground and the cars all around her. Another thought crept into her, and it disturbed her because it was unwelcome.
Perhaps he was right as well. That she had failed. She stood up and looked around the parking lot. She remembered now. The cafeteria next to the parking lot, the big tree behind it. She remembered parking the car beneath it, in the shade. She walked, and to her relief, she saw the car. And that relief felt so familiar to her. It was as if she had been looking for it for a very long while. He bought lots of peanuts for some reason. I distinctly remember watching the other kids at school eat their wafers and chocolate bars while I only had one apple and a watering mouth.
I know now that it was the healthier choice, but you know how envious kids can get. When the teacher wanted to know why I had only one apple for lunch, I told her the truth: we were out of money. At that time, I perceived it as a form of cruelty perpetrated on us by our parents. We had to wear the same jacket two years in a row while the other kids got new ones every year.
I wore pants knitted by my mother, which I hated because they felt heavy and made me look bulkier. People in school were mean for no reason. I was bullied throughout middle-school and high-school, that is, ever since I became aware of the fact that I had an ego that suffered when it was deprecated. Older kids made fun of me because I was chubby and studied a lot. Because I was a geek and spent time making mud pies.
Some of my classmates derided my inability to run during physical education classes, which I avoided to the best of my abilities. I even had my parents bribe the family doctor to give me a special dispensation for those classes. Once, I developed my own alphabet and wrote stuff using that. Kids in school made fun of that as well.
I kept a diary and brought it to school every once in a while to draft and develop my thoughts. They stole it from my backpack and read it out loud to the others while I cringed with embarrassment. I had written about my first gay crush, who was an older student and a volleyball player.
And for all this, the only explanation I could find at that time was that my classmates were inherently evil and that they hated my guts. So I tried to avoid them, get out of class before the bell rang, spend my weekends alone playing stupid online games. I was called a sissy by random people, on the street, in school, and everywhere I made an appearance.
When my parents went away, I went to live in the city with an old lady and a cat who reprimanded me for my slowness and told me to suck it up and act like a man. These acts happened so often that I came to actually give credence to them and reach the conclusion that there was something inherently wrong with me. With this, there also came the belief that, eventually, somebody was going to accept me for who I was and save me from myself.
They were the ones who needed rehabilitation, not I. I was the innocent one. It still does, especially when I get rejected by someone and I am reminded once again of my own fallibility. It is in those moments that I begin contemplating the idea that perhaps my bullies were right after all. Maybe I am unlikeable just like they told me.
Whenever I feel like I disappointed my students, by making an error or by not explaining a concept in the best possible manner, the feeling returns. Why am I even trying? Am I really that stupid to believe that I could actually do it? Yet, whenever this happens, I do my best to develop new ways of halting the stream of negative thoughts at their nascent stages. I do it by being frank about my fallibility up front so that people around me can identify my mishaps and perhaps forgive me for them, exercise empathy, nurture affection, or just ignore them.
As you can imagine, it takes a tremendous mental effort to do this, and at times panic settles in, and my body starts sending signals of encroaching danger where there is none. I was out of breath and felt as if my knees were going to topple and I was going to fall over my desk. My heart was racing, and I was sweating profusely. A similar episode occurred while I was driving the car with my parents in it, on our way to Romania.
Our GPS got lost, and my reaction was way out of proportion. My blood pressure swiftly dropped. Luckily, I had not entirely lost my ability to make decisions and told my dad I needed to pull over because I was feeling unwell. The moment I did that, and I took a sip of water, I lost consciousness. I exchanged seats with my father, and just minutes later, after I had checked whether we were on the right motorway, I lost consciousness again. When I woke up, we were back on the side of the road, and there was that beeping sound still.
Reality came back in chunks. Then the realness of the situation: I had lost contact with reality a second time that day. What scared me most, though, was the fact that I had uncovered in me this ability to explore, albeit unknowingly, this dark space that was beyond my control, and which ran dangerously close to death. Blood tests came back clean. A cardiologist looked closely at my heart, literally, and concluded, somewhat to my chagrin, there was nothing wrong with it, except for the fact that it was slightly, almost imperceptibly, enlarged.
I had hoped they could see my heartbreaks, but there was nothing there. Perhaps heartbreaks only make your heart bigger, able to accommodate even more people. Or more heartbreaks. I checked my blood pressure on a daily basis, and it stayed within the prescribed limits. My body was healthy, and all the tests corroborated that conclusion. The verdict was somewhat underwhelming: it was all in mind. My bullies were gone, only to be replaced by a bullying mind, which waged war on my body on a daily basis.
I tried meditation and mindfulness to dissuade my mind from going into a fully-fledged war with my body. My back ached from all those deep breaths I took. There was an urgency to the attacks which confounded me because I felt as if they went against my nature. I had been, throughout my life, a very calm person, so why was I experiencing them? Then, when all else failed, I tried medicating them. I panicked when I got on crowded trains, which was almost always the case, and I got lightheaded when I was about to go on a date. I resorted to the pack of pills, whose presence was somewhat reassuring, even when I was about to go out with my friends.
My anxiety subsided the way an earthquake would, and I was able to enjoy life once again. I was back to my good old zen self. The pills emptied me of whatever negative feelings I had. They slowed me down. Reality washed over me in a constant but calming stream, a rivulet really, and everything felt manageable. Whenever I made a mistake in class, I stopped, corrected myself, and apologized. Yet, in time, I began being increasingly aware of the fact that the pills deprived me of whatever mechanisms I might have developed to work around my issues.
They were not a way to do that, the tablets only numbed my feelings, which was akin to me avoiding my bullies in high-school when I asked my teachers to let me out the class before the bell rang. The solution was always the pill. I put one tablet in the pockets of every jacket I had, just in case. The side of me that had given up on trying to recover the calmness with which I had prided myself in the past. It was only a matter of time until I would resort to that chemical succor even for the most basic human functions, such as going to the supermarket or talking to neighbors.
When it comes to specific mental health issues medication is vital. That is, it saves lives. It helps people lead wholesome lives and prevents them from identifying fully with their affliction. Your anxiety does not define who you are. Yet, I believe it is also essential to realize that, in time, it could lead to a defeatist outlook on life, at least when it comes to anxiety disorders. Where do we draw the line between what we do and what medication makes us do?
Does it affect our capacity to make decisions? Can we claim full authorship on a decision made while under medication? Most of us probably know this, but medication does not go to the source of our problems, it only takes care of the symptoms. You just have to be happy, embrace positive thinking, and start singing Bob Marley. It also goes without saying that this kind of advice is likely to make things worse because it implies that if one can do something, then all of us should be able to do it. Most of the times the things you think have left a mark on you are not the source of your problems.
It might be something else entirely. The abuse that was not perceived as abuse when it was perpetrated on you.