“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
― Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life.
I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of near-tears. I’m not particularly sad. I want to say I’m overwhelmed but even that doesn’t cover it. It is what I tell myself though, because it is a concept I can conceptualise and therefore solve. I can take a nap, I can vent to a friend, I can simply give it time. This is what it is, and I’m hoping in writing and sharing this, I can make sense of it: I just don’t trust in my ability to stay alive. Not in a suicidal sort of way. I don’t know. It’s like a severe form of self-doubt. Like how you might doubt be unsure of your ability to perform a task, to lean a new skill, etc. I think of my continued existence and I immediately think “I can’t possibly do it.”
I know it’s irrational because I continue to be alive and yet I can never seem to believe that it will continue to happen. Everyday I wake up and I’m utterly at a loss as to how to do it all over again. Here’s how I see it: all I have to do on any given day is not die. And there’s a time that was enough. And I got through one day and then the next and the next until the threat to my life was abated. Lately however, I think, “all you have to do today is not die” and then I swear to God I can’t do it.
I know it makes sense that I would have an obsessive preoccupation with my death. I know that if I give it time and create healthy coping mechanisms, it’ll become a less paralysing fear. I know. I know. But what do I do right now? What do I do when I’m trying to write and this voice in my head goes, “what’s the point of this? You’re going to die tomorrow.” Not could or might. Just a plain, self-assured statement. I know I could choose to not believe that voice in my head. I know I could go for a walk and get some candy. There’s nothing like a good sugar rush to counter existential ennui. Also, I know that everybody experiences moments of existential dread and so in that regard, I’m not alone. But it’s one thing to have moments of nihilistic dread and another to have the idea of your mortality wrapped around your throat, squeezing. One of the things that make our lives liveable, is that we’re able to go through life just naively unaware of the things that could kill us. I’ve lost so many things these past few years, but nothing I miss more than that. I am so terrified of the future.
But I don’t always feel this way. It comes in waves, always an iteration, never the exact same fear.
Right after I finished chemotherapy and radiation, I was convinced the universe was out to get me. That even though I’d gotten away, it was just a matter of time before it caught up with me. I was scared to leave the house. I was convinced I’d get squished by a bus if I did. I was scared to fall asleep. I thought I’d die in my sleep. I was scared to go to a restaurant or a movie, etc. I though someone would just walk up to me and stab me. Here’s the thing: my cancer is extremely rare. It constitutes like 0.09 percent of cancer cases. And yet, I still got it. So what are the chances that I could get hit by a bus? I don’t know, but what’s to stop it from happening to me?
I’ve forgotten how to do the most basic things. Entire skill sets just erased from memory. Before I got sick, for example, I could light a jiko in under five minutes and without getting any smoke in my lungs— I instinctively knew which direction the wind was blowing. The other day I tried doing it and I just stood there breathing in smoke, trying not to cry. My cousin asked me to find him some stories for a project. Super easy, yeah? I’m always reading so of course curating a list of stories shouldn’t be hard. But I couldn’t do it. I tried, my God I tried so hard, but I couldn’t figure it out. See I know the jiko incident doesn’t mean anything. Of course I’ve forgotten how to do something I haven’t done in a long time. And the second incident just means that my executive function isn’t what it used to be but I can work on it; that it will get better. But I have months where I take instances like these as evidence that I’m fundamentally broken; that I’ve forgotten how to be alive; that I don’t have what it takes to stay alive. It’s a reach, I know. But it’s still months of my life spent fumbling, frozen, scared that one day I’m going to forget to breathe.
This current version is a luck of trust in myself. You know how you stop trusting people who repeatedly disappoint you? That also happens with yourself. It’s the most irrational thing because I didn’t do this to myself. And I realise that I am being unkind to myself but sometimes I feel like I fucked up: that I failed at being alive for an extended period of time(arguably, I’m still failing). And in that period, my trust in my ability or will to stay alive was immolated. I know it’s just a matter of time and consistency: the longer I stay alive, the more competent at it I’ll feel. In the meantime, I take my kindness wherever I can get it. That and naps.
It’s not all bleak though. In some ways, I’m very arrogant about my survival. I don’t worry about the apocalyptic shit, the life-threatening shit, the oh-god-I-hope-I-never-have-to-experience-that shit. I don’t see how I wouldn’t survive. Because I think apocalypses, more than anything, are personal. I survived my apocalypse. I’ve held my heart in my hand and watched the sun rise and for so many mornings, the universe’s utter indifference to my pain hurt so much, I thought it would kill me. Because why would the sun continue to rise when my world was ending? But beauty? That shit is relentless. And my heartbeat? It’s the most beautiful thing I know.
If you can, please sign up to be my patron. It goes a long way.