...And when she spoke the world shrunk down and became simpler, softer, a better imitation of itself that held no possible pain. Like a dollhouse with its utopian storyline that was, by nature, created by those with young and innocent lives. Somehow she touched that world with her voice, despite how often it fled her grasp.
"I ignored it for years, which is a good thing I suppose. But now I'm unsure where it started, where it truly began, because I spent so long pretending that it wasn't there. That I was normal, like the others. Not normal, but...equal to them? Not broken in any way."
She paused as her words caught in her throat, some squeezing through strangled and malformed-- a discarded thought in process. This was one of the many symptoms I had seen in her, a gross reality composed of many images, many small horrors that no professionally removed medical manual could possibly prepare me for.
"I didn't know what it was called. I wish I had at least known its name back then. A name makes something real, gives it a body that will conform around the sound of the word. My mother once told me that if people weren't given names we would all be shapeless, and we would die after long because every one of us needs a name to shape our soul."
Her hands, her hands often shook like late autumn leaves in the wind despite all manner of things she tried to calm them; to catch them from some breeze that she alone felt. Occasionally they would hide, rattling against her collarbone, nestling temporarily in the hollow there before spreading open at her neck. They threatened to flatten by will of the wind and choke the last true part of herself out. But anxiety isn't known for its bravery, and she would take hold of them, again hugging them around her chest in an attempt to hide the tremors.
"Anxiety. One of those words that would sound pretty to a child, an innocent who hasn't connected it to its meaning and history. The name is so prickly that it perfectly embodies the panic, the raincloud that hovers overheard and threatens to overcome us all with downpour. The water gets so heavy... its in my clothes, my hair, everywhere, cold and slimy beneath my skin. It's hard to stand underneath its weight."
Sometimes she descended into a type of trance when surrounded, when the faces pressed close and became little more than blurs in the confusion of the adrenaline. She would then press close and whisper what she saw, hiding beneath clouded thoughts-- a panic attack could not strike what it cannot find, she reassured me while she described the dissociation. Her perspective was from above, she said-- as removed from the situation as the sailors that slept while one of their crew floated in the waters, long ago flung overboard.
"I still try to explain it to others, to my inner self. My inner self is about as removed from my whole self as the others are. It doubts that anxiety is real and suggests its just a fad, an excuse; but I know what it is really is, I know now.
"At the time my inner voice was strongest, I was sitting on the edge of my pool, hidden away in the back yard, trying to ignore the feeling that people were watching me from the chinks in the fence and the airplanes that dove for the runway somewhere on the horizon. But then I became fully conscious of my thoughts, and it made my inner voice hide away. Social anxiety, something like that couldn't be anything else but anxiety. My legs had swirled in the water idly as I thought, but for a moment I let them hang. The water sucked at them, made them float and, if I weren't sitting on the ladder, and the water wasn't constrained by the boundaries of the pool, I would be submitted to its mercy...
"....And ever since then I've thought of anxiety like an ocean. Endless, all-encompassing, something you can't defeat but only live alongside.
"And I think of that poem, that famous poem. 'Till human voices wake us and we drown' the ending line goes. Like I'm barely floating across this dark ocean, and sometimes I may actually lift out of it into safety and comfort in the air, in the clouds, but then..'here sounds a foreign voice', and I choke on that anxiety again."
Sweaty hands, pruned skin both sweating and absorbing the waves.
Sometimes her whole body is submerged, sometimes she is under for hours, struggling against the sheer power of water. How does she draw the line? What separates a man from his disease?
Her eyes focused on something just beyond my shoulder, some object of comfort. And for a moment, I've disappeared from her view entirely.
"You know what takes me up into those clouds? Stories, stories of people. Knowing that their lives are varied, that there's such variety that people of every kind exist, and within those are people like me. People I can help, whose situation I understand. There's thousands of choices, millions of potential backgrounds and bodies that a person can have...and yet, somehow, I can still connect with many. I can help them with the varied problems of participation within the human experience. It seems meaningless to many, but it fuels me, gives me life."
She stopped, and the fog cleared. I was struck by the sheer volume of sharp realities strewn across our world, the painful scenery I'm usually relieved of with her presence, beginning with her own gauntlet--
but the slow, sublime movement of her lips began again, and I joined her in this song of exposing, confessing, dismembering ourselves. She and I drifted, falling back into that suspended world, that temporary asylum from the world's woes that some of us are only given once in a lifetime.