It is like a tsunami. It does not take control immediately. Instead, it creeps into your life and announces its unavoidability slowly. First, as a slight leg trembling in class that could easily go unnoticed. Then it evolves into a constant need to zone out to avoid getting overwhelmed. It might be perceived as nothing but a sign of tiredness and stress by the inexperienced eye, but when the fuzzy mind takes over, I already know what is coming.
Sometimes pressure in the chest and an unsettled stomach show up not long after and I try to fight it. I try to dance the tension away, try to sleep more, go for a walk, drink more water and anything the internet might even remotely recommend; all in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get it to stop. But there is no stopping the abnormal ocean activity once it has started, and neither is there a possibility to stop the way my body is taking over my life. So I start blaming myself. Why didn’t I do more exercise? Why did I drink that last coffee yesterday? Why did I push that extra meeting into my schedule? Why did I procrastinate that assignment so much?
When I cannot handle the anticipation and waiting anymore, I try to force it to happen, push the tsunami to strike sooner; when I find it more convenient, when it would make life easier for me. It has never worked, not really, and why would it? At the end of the day, none of that matters to the tide, which, even after our best attempts to tame it -forcing it into artificial shores and knee-deep canals- comes back to prove that the strength of nature far exceeds us. So I have to live with it until the universe, my body or whatever force this feeling actually listens to decides it is time.
The days stretch into a mass of blurry symptoms and sleepless nights. The waiting takes its toll in every aspect of life: I can’t study, I forget to eat, I isolate myself and I slowly start crumbling down in the wake of the strike. During those days I try my best to mask the symptoms and lock them out of sight. I spend my classes trying to stay still and looking at the front. I try to take notes or doodle on the margins to stay focused. I get out of bed early and accept food from others so as not to arouse any questions or suspicions. Second guessing everything I do becomes the most time-consuming activity in my days as I try to fade away into the background.
But then, when I least expect it, the tide retreats, my heart starts to beat faster, my breathing becomes shallow and I know I need to rush my way to the closest thing to privacy I can find. Before I can do anything to help it, I’m lying on the ground, hugging my knees, rocking myself back and forth. The tide is completely out of sight and I close my eyes as the wall-like cascade approaches the shore, bringing with it, its unavoidable feeling of overwhelming destruction.
When the water first impacts the ground, I barely notice the tears streaming down my face and the knot that blocks my throat, my whole attention is focused on my lack of air. I am going to die. The feeling that I might never finish writing a novel or travel around Europe with a repurposed bus. I will never do anything. My life will be reduced to a few worthless years. I am going to die. I will never see my friends or hug my grandma again. This is it.
The pressure in my chest is as unbearable as the desperation that takes over my body and drives it unauthorised. I am submerged under the pressure of the cascades of water that keep on violently hitting the earth, gasping for air from inside the turbulent mass of water, desperately trying to reach the surface. But when I’m lying on the floor, stripped into my most vulnerable form, there is no surface, there is no pocket of air. The only way out is to push through.
The question is: do I want to push through? The crying, trembling, gasping, pounding mass that is lying on the floor seems to be far away now. I am looking at it from afar as my thoughts become the only thing that is real. I was never good enough. They are right, I am just lucky: lucky to be here, lucky to have made it this far. I don’t deserve what I got and, because of that, it can be gone as quickly as it appeared in my life. Someone will realise that I don’t deserve it and it will all crumble down around me. The life that I built, the relationships that make it worth living, the dreams I hope to make a reality one day are all pieces of debris, lying around me, useless and broken; just like me.
I usually lie there for an eternity. There is no reason to push through, no reason to get back up on my feet and keep moving forward, no reason to try if I will never be good enough in the eyes of others or in my own. Somewhere far away my breathing is shallow, my face is covered in tears and my chest aches.
But then something happens -maybe someone comes in or a thought breaks the force that keeps the water coming- and everything seems to simmer down the slightest bit. Yet that is enough for me to see the hope at the end of the flood that is currently taking control of the city. Slowly I start returning into my body, moving one finger at a time. I try to tell myself beautiful things: some of them I believe and some I might never even start to fathom, but I say them anyway.
Once the first finger obeys, the rest of the hand follows and eventually I’m sitting down, pushing air into my lungs. My head feels like it was filled with helium and could float away any second, but it doesn’t. Instead, it starts regaining its weight as the water slowly flows back to its righteous place in the ocean. The whole city is left in shackles. People can only count their losses and be thankful to have made it through. I know that I have a lot of work to do if I want to reconstruct the city and maybe even make it tsunami-proof one day, but I can’t think of that at that time. The only thing I can do is sit there and tell myself that I made it through and that everything will be alright, and that thought -like me- will have to be enough.
By Ju Laclau Massaglia