By Jem Bauermeister
The puppeteer pulled her out of bed. “Be present”.
Unable to think for herself she followed its advice. Her mind had been lost in the hell of last night. She’d slept in her jeans. Or maybe she hadn’t slept at all. Sitting up was a marathon. Breathless, a fist gripped her chest, trying to pull her back. “Be present” the puppeteer whispered again. The light through the window was nagging her to move. One thing, she told herself. All I need to do is one thing. Her shoes were next to the bed, the closest one thing she could do. The strings pulled her dead weight feet into them.
She panted. For a second she felt something. It wasn’t even close to triumph, but it was something. A chemical reward from her brain for starting. She touched her faded jeans. Any step backwards would be a risk. Yesterday’s jeans would have to do, makeup wipes replacing a shower.
Sometime later she noticed she was sitting on the edge of her bed. And when that fact dawned on her, she knew her mind had slipped out of the present again. She was back at the start but this time wearing shoes. Her hands and chest were cold and tight. There was no wondering what next, just a pause. She was fighting, fighting to sit upright. She didn’t remember putting on shoes but she was fascinated that she’d managed it.
The rest of the morning went something like that. One small thing at a time. A long pause. Some dizziness. Sometimes lost for a while. It was hard work just to move her head, sometimes just to focus her eyes. At moments she strained to watch her body do tasks she didn’t think herself capable of. Mostly in the wrong order. Brushing her teeth while wearing her jacket.
For a few lucid minutes, she observed herself clinically. The last time this had happened she hadn’t understood it. But even so, it was impossible to really accept that it was her. It felt like a story someone was telling her. Some of the essential bits included but most of the concrete details left out.
She made it to school, somehow. It felt like she’d gone straight from bed to the red steps. Words were exchanged with people. She even managed to read through a pitch. But the room closed in on her the moment she thought about standing up and presenting. So she went back to watching the story play out. Allowing each moment to pass frame by frame, the one before and after ignored, for fear any attention she gave them would cave them in on her. People began to notice she was missing from her body. It scared her. “I’m fine”. It
felt like a lie but it was somewhat true. She knew where she was. She couldn’t risk letting go of the puppet strings.
She made it to the end of the day. Her energy had spilled out into every word she’d spoken. Walking home she pictured herself falling into a heap before she reached her front door. She wondered when I would ever feel in control again.
I stopped. The fog was starting to clear. The puppeteer who’d dragged me around my day had let me stand by myself for the first time. Tears warmed my face. I’d made it. I’d made a thousand decisions in the right direction. I’d gone from the bottom of a pit to the end of a respectable day of pretending. If I could do that then I could do anything.
Marc said at the beginning of the term that anxiety is living in the future and depression is living in the past. To combat them we must be present. As someone who suffers from high functioning anxiety and depression, I almost laughed. If only it was that easy. But last week my illness hit me hard. I knew if I didn’t fight it with everything I had then I might not be coming back to school again. So I gave it a go.
I’m still exhausted. I’m still feeling a little absent. But the victory of what I achieved that day has left me invincible.