I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
I remember this as the first poem my father read to me when I was young, although it could have been Dickinson ('How dreary - to be - Somebody!'). But Frost's poem contained my First Metaphor, and for that, I remember it always - puzzling over what he meant by 'a pane of glass'. Do you think there is a real pane of glass in the drinking trough? my father asked. No, it was a sheet of ice through which the sleepy speaker perceived the world.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
sometimes, my anxiety is the fog of Frost's morning riser
I have pride in the sense of self I have forged in the awakening period of the twenties. These early experiences shape your view of yourself. They bequeath maturity and humility and an ability to laugh and trust that it will turn out all right, most days. If we accept that we become who we are through the choices that we make, then the decision-making process is be scrutinized. How do we make these choices, who or what do we depend on to make these choices? The scariest thing, most days, is realizing that my anxiety means I cannot trust my own perception of things. It is the cloudy pane of ice through which I perceive the world, and I don't know what shapes and colors are real or not.
I would trust myself the most, except something rolls in, sometimes, that clouds my view. That sends shooting sparks of fear and anger and worry and frustration. That rob me of sleep and threaten to undermine my relationships. That leech my trust, in myself, and others. I am ill-informed to make choices. I do not know which information that I'm gathering to inform my path through this world is correct, and who to ask, and who to trust. Because I cannot trust myself.
This hoary world is familiar, and yet I do not know it
or: my anxiety is an allergic reaction to the world around me
One time I tried to illustrate what my anxiety feels like. A silhouette of a person's head, filled with blue sky and fat white clouds. Layered on top of that: angry tree branches, black and white, that run like lightning bolts across everything. Because sometimes it comes in currents - a bolt of fear, a sharp intake of breath, a hand around my trachea, a stomach drop like a broken elevator on the 30th floor.
I was born a highly allergic child and often when I read about allergies and asthma, triggers, the immune system, and inflammation, I find echoes of my own mental state, explained in physical terms. The fight or flight instinct, the immediate emotion. These invaders are not a threat. I need to learn to calm down, to feel the rise in my throat and my chest and breath through it. This will not kill me. This is life. It is not a foreign object.
'hypersensitivity to something in the environment that usually causes little or no problem in most people'
'In other words, individuals living in too sterile an environment are not exposed to enough pathogens to keep the immune system busy'
even the cure, reminiscent of cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy
. . . .
'early exposure to potential allergens may be protective.'
Somewhere along the line last year I began to have moments of real panic - one was in a hostel in Berlin, and I remember the florescent lighting and my reflection in two ill-placed mirrors as I paced the floors of my room, on the phone with my mother, clutching a bar of dark chocolate that I shoved into my mouth while simultaneously feeling increasingly nauseous and finding it hard to draw breath.
My words jab, sharp and quick, when I am anxious. My breath fights my words for air. I tumble out of myself, sweaty and spilling over into insanity, the rambling of the not quite right. I zoom in, so far in, that I have my nose pressed to the ground, looking for molecules, angry at cell-sized moments, scraping a microscope across the surface of existence, releasing toxic emotions, fearful that a pulse of energy will be my undoing.
My antidotes unfold themselves in stages. First: I begin reading everything there is to read, from philosophy to meditation to poetry. Existential dilemmas and despair beat under the surface of every creative. Each book is a medication, each poem a dosage.
Then: an Iranian man in his sixties, assigned by my Danish health insurance, to be my therapist. He draws infinity on the notepad between us and we dabble in hypnotherapy and I bang my head against the wall trying to accept that there are no answers, there are only choices.
Then: learning to breath on a yoga mat. A beginner's attempt at meditation. I am enchanted with the idea that I can give my thoughts a chair, but do not have to let them guide me. That thoughts are separate from the self. They are sitting in the room of my brain but they are not my brain. The first time I try to take a deep breath, I run out of air. My chest is sharp and ragged at 75% full. I press my lungs against my rib cage - hold on, just breathe in one more second. Deep belly breaths that wash over me, I swear I can almost feel the oxygen pulsing into each corner.
Then: on a massage table, a blanket over my body, my head in the hands of a friend. She holds my temples, the back of my head, the sides behind my ears. She holds them and my body relaxes so much I begin to snore. She holds my feet. She waits. I breathe. She holds my hands. My head. My body slows. I think of frogs hibernating, anti-freeze in their veins. I think of the lightness in my head when I do not have to produce a thought, a feeling, or an emotion. I think of how grounding it is when someone holds your feet, like they are cupping all of you at the point at which you meet the earth and everything else. I cease to think. I breathe. I am a sarcophagus of my own body. I am a shell.
The ultimate aim, I've told myself, is that it is not my eternal identity nor something to be cured. It is something I can live with, something I live through.