Originally posted October 31, 2017
Have you ever felt trapped? Have you ever felt like the world was your cage? Like it is a platform spinning ’round and ’round like that stupid tea cup ride your parents would make you get on as a kid? I feel that way. Sometimes just watching the world swirl by makes me sick. Other times, I can tolerate it in batches. Either way, it seems like I don’t belong there. Everyone else is laughing and having a great time with their arms in the air and without a care in the world, but there I am with my head down and eyes scrunched up trying to find that empty hallway in my mind that welcomes nothingness.
I find this blissful hallway most often when watching television, reading, or participating in some other sort of mindless activity. Sometimes, I can enter and exit this little hallway at will. I’ll go there as I sit and breathe before giving a speech, or before going in for a long day at work. Other times however, it’s like the door gets stuck. It’s like the someone threw honey on the lock and now it won’t turn. I yank and pull at the handle begging it to let me in, to let me escape the realities I can’t bear. Often times this panicked escape comes about after too much time socializing. My roommates are experts on this. Through they may not know it- but I suspect they suspect- I don’t leave the living room every hour or so because I dislike them or because I have better things to do. I don’t dash straight to my room when I walk in the door after class or work because I hate the idea of speaking to them for even one moment. I do these things because I’m afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.
The only times I have ever exceeded my limit (that’s not to say my comfort level, because I exceed that on an almost daily basis) have been when I have had no other choice i.e. work. In those cases, I end up a (literal) quivering mess who cannot look people in the eyes and resorts to hiding behind her hair (as if that would do anything). Her shoulders are hunched, words quavering or nonexistent, and her eyes water despite all of her efforts. She is not me. I wouldn’t make such a fool of myself. Yet there I am. There I am yelping a quick hello to each new customer that comes through my line. There I am making sure no tomatoes, or eggs, or bread get smashed as I’m breaking right in front of everyone. There I am scanning products as fast as my trembling hands will allow me. And there I am not being able to say a word about it to a manager or anyone else who could get me out of the situation without a fuss. Because that’s what it is! I don’t want to make a fuss. I would rather stand there and break than reach out and mend. I stand there hardly being able to breathe before, one by one, the people go by giving nervous smiles and pretending that nothing is wrong until finally, I am released.
I have always admired people who preform screamo. How they can manipulate their vocals to emit such a hauntingly beautiful raw sound of emotion is beyond me. The only times I’ve been able to produce a sound to match them has been after those panicky days at work. Returning to the topic at hand however, you can see why I don’t willingly prance over my line of sanity. I’m surprised I even go beyond my level of comfort by choice. Someone once told me it was good for me and I’m still trying and hoping for results. Nah, but in all seriousness, I have seen the benefits of challenging myself on a comfortably uncomfortable level. By that I mean, cautiously tip toeing beyond the line in the sand only enough to where I can sprint back to the safe zone without being eaten by a rabid monkey in the process. I haven’t quit that horribly stressful job because despite the half a dozen mini panic attacks I have per summer, I have noticed I’m getting better at this whole talking to fellow humans thing. Before just saying hello to them was exhausting, now I’ve moved up to level “hello, how are you?”. Anything beyond that for a prolonged period of time though and I become conscious of the world spinning again. In that moment, I either need to get comfortable in whatever situation I’m in (this could happen if the other person genuinely smiles at me or if a well known friend joins the conversation) or I have to escape to that cool, quiet hallway in my mind.
Escape is such a dirty, strong word. That’s also how it feels. When I break away from my roommates abruptly, when I begin speaking faster than humanly normal, or when I decide to save myself future trouble by not taking a chance at all I feel dirty and strong. I feel dirty because I know I can’t help it but I feel like I should. I feel strong because my actions build walls between myself and the people I avoid even for a moment. I could stay. But I know what could happen if did. I’d lose control and be at the mercy of that primitive side of me- that animal that cannot speak but will not bite. I’d be at the mercy of a pup who is deaf, blind, and cannot walk- cannot escape.
So I choose to escape. Do you blame me? Sometimes, I can’t help the stress. It could be school deadlines or family drama that I have no control over. In these cases escape is the only refuge. It’s like hiding out in the center of a maze while an active shooter pads down the isles methodically hunting his prey. You know the hunter is coming, but the time that he’s not there and you have peace is a blessing. Why waste it for only a chance at freedom? Now, when the hunter is within shooting distance you better believe I’m making a run for it. In that case staying still means sure death, but in the time before that it’s too unpredictable for me to consider moving from my cozy target.
If you don’t vibe with my excessive use of imagery and metaphors, think of it in terms of procrastination. The threat here is a bad grade not death, but the same principles apply. The risk of that doesn’t feel very high when you still have a month to get everything done. As the deadline approaches however, the pressure increases. With every passing day, hour, minute there is one less opportunity to have worked on it. And once the day before it’s due rolls around, you’re scrambling to do something, anything to not fail the assignment.
The way I see it, I know I’m going to be stressed out of my mind once the hunter peeks over the corner or the assignment deadline hits the less than a day mark, but I’ve done this too many times and I know that in those moments of desperation either I succeed or I don’t. It’s that simple. So yeah, I take refuge when I can and especially before/during big stressors. So if you see me one day watching videos or listening to music instead of studying for an exam that counts for more than half of my final grade, please know that I can’t help it. It’s either this cowardly but cognizant hide and seek champ or the primitive underdeveloped puppy. I choose the coward every time. Anything to escape the nauseating spin of reality.