a mental ordeal

Once, in a letter, I compared it to the feeling of missing a step on a staircase. You walk down stairs, one foot, other foot, going steadily along, and then you (for some reason) miss a step. Your foot falls through the air, and in the tenth of a second between when you expected to feel ground and when you actually do, your heart misses a beat, your mind is overcome with surprise, your world is thrown just barely off-kilter.

What causes us to miss a step? Thinking too much is an almost-sure method. Think about the process of walking down stairs, consider the myriad ways in which your mind and body have to work in tandem and all of a sudden you can't do it.

Or maybe you were distracted for a moment. All it took was a moment of inattention, and your foot went slightly too far, and you were taking two steps at once.

When I miss a step, it throws me off. I've started thinking about the stairs, and how to descend them, and I can't slip back into the comfortable, unconscious routine of walking again.

And thus it is with my emotions, also. For sometimes no reason at all, I find that I can no longer focus. I can no longer sit still. My mind cannot remain empty or silent, there is some nagging thought or incessant strain of music occupying it.

I usually call it slipping - I can feel my mind slipping away from me. Just this weekend, I had created a lovely little sanctuary for myself. Curtains drawn, bedside lamp on, soft music playing, hot tea to drink, I sat and read a novel my friend had lent me the night before. What utter bliss. And then my mind started to go.

I kept closing the book, almost involuntarily. I had to take frequent breaks from reading. I had to pause the music. I had to get up and move. This is how I described it in my journal at the time:

"I keep trying to settle down and read but my mind refuses to burrow into the book; it keeps pulling out sentences and holding them up to the endless ticker-tape of my thoughts for comparison."

My mind wanted to constantly compare the characters' thoughts and experiences to my own; all I wanted to do was read.

Something similar happened when I was on a walk with my mom and nana. They were engaged in conversation, leaving me alone to my thoughts. Now, I have a musical memory, and a large catalogue of songs in my mental library. There was one album in heavy rotation, one song in particular, and my mind was stuck in a bit of a loop. I tried to quiet my thoughts. I couldn't. I could skip from song to song, but couldn't make the music stop altogether.

These experiences are exhausting, and I know of very few solutions. To speak or to sing what is happening in my head is helpful, to just give in. (Consequently, I sing and & speak to myself frequently.)

Or to write.

"God, it's exhausting. It makes me furious. My eyes sting with poison tears and my whole body is tensed, trying to hold in the shriek that would wake the neighborhood and the violent outburst that would destroy my very tidy room...This though - journalling - this I can do. This helps."

19 October 2015

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