Phobia, part 1 (probably)

The first time (that I can remember)

A pajama set, my favorite one, with little kittens on it, in all different colors. the way that it splattered, all down the front of me, the way that I cried, the way that my mom took me into her bed, put me in a loose t shirt, threw away the kitten pajamas.

The last time (most recent)

You always think that you can get away with it by chugging enough water, by leaning back against something soft, by concentrating really hard and swallowing multiple times. like that time I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror at my mom’s house and pushed the nausea down, the way I willed my empty stomach to accept the ibuprofen I had forced into it in the throws of a migraine in the middle of the night.

I was in my friend’s apartment, had been drinking a bunch of red wine, felt sober and completely of sound mind, but finally had that unquestionable knowing: that something was happening to my body and I could not stop it, that I needed to get to the bathroom, that it would all be over soon if I just gave in. It felt zombie-like, calm and panicked at the same time, led as if by a consciousness outside of my being.

Honestly, this might have been the only time I have ever thrown up cleanly, civilized, calmly, into a toilet. Flushed everything down without fuss, wiped my face with a tissue, swished my acid-tasting mouth with Listerine that I found under the sink — this wasn’t my apartment. The next morning I woke up early and was terrified that I had made a mistake, that there was a mess somewhere I had forgotten to clean up, that it couldn’t possibly have been that easy, that un-catastrophic, that normalized. Not with the fear I have been living with. Not with the panic attacks flickers of nausea have sent me spiraling into.

Somewhere in the middle.

A church in a ski resort. Flourescent lights seem to invite anxiety sometimes, don’t they? We were singing hymns or something and the words on the page were swimming and I thought maybe if I could just get to the vending machine in the hallway, if I could just get to the end of this sentence if I could just take another breath before screaming for help, before collapsing in fear, maybe things would go away, maybe time would move at normal speed, maybe I would be okay.

A therapist’s office when I was nine, the first time I had seen one of those white noise machines not being used as a seemingly superfluous thing to get people to sleep at night. She told me to imagine being on a beach and to quiet my body one limb at a time when I started feeling anxious at night, when I felt like I was drowning.

Do you know what it feels like to stay up all night because you are afraid at any moment your body will force the contents of itself up and out through your mouth? Eight hours, nine hours, six hours, one hour, it doesn’t matter, they all feel the same. You can’t shake, you can’t sweat, you can’t cry, you can’t scream, you can’t sleep, every fiber of your being is dedicated to your brain, to keeping calm, to fighting, to panicking at the thought of losing the battle, of losing control of your body and feeling the heaving, the gasping, the acidic burn, and the helplessness of losing, of not being able to contain a body you see as separate from yourself, as subtracted from your mind. What is more terrifying than a rogue body? A body you cannot control is one you could never control, one you will never control.

Yes it’s stupid, I know it’s stupid. No I can’t ever pull the trigger, I would rather cry, I would rather fold in on myself in the middle of a bar, i would rather squeeze the skin on the underside of my arms until I don’t feel nauseous anymore. Yes I would rather suffer, no I don’t want another drink, yes I’ve been drinking water, no i don’t want to explain yes i want to explain so badly but it always sounds like i am making something up for attention, like i am belittling mental health for my own selfish gains, when in reality sometimes i see pictures in my mind that make me scream inside my head and i feel like the air around my hands is coated in something rough and scaly and oozing and i cry in the shower for 40 minutes because i don’t know how to control it, don’t know how to control this thing called my mind, this thing called my body.

Do you have any idea?

As a sophomore in college I thought that fashion was having a bad year because I couldn’t find anything I liked in any of the things anyone was wearing, I thought the winter was more gray than any one before it, I consumed books about eating disorders like I was one of the starving girls in them. I longed to understand what it might feel like to have control over my body, not because I had any qualms with the way that it looked, but because it felt like my body was out to attack me, like my mind was a piece of jagged glass in the softness of my brain. Do you understand what I mean? I used to cry at swim meets when my mom tried to force me to drink gatorade when i started feeling nauseous, but I never want to eat breakfast at five in the morning, and so I kept making that same mistake, and she was the only one I trusted, the only one I trusted, she could control my body with her knowledge of how the digestive system works if I couldn’t be trusted to interpret its signs as physical pangs of hunger, of the nervousness before a race.

Did you know your gut is closely tied to your brain? stomach and intestinal distress can be triggered by anxiety, and can cause nervous vomiting, constipation, a host of other things, but these two the ones that I lived in fear of the most. What could be scarier than the way your mind works with your body in exactly the right ways to trick you? How can I trust anything if I can’t trust this thing called my mind, this thing called my body?

I have to know my triggers because when I don’t, they paralyze me, and I blame myself. When i am drowning, I wonder at the weakness it takes for my lungs to not work underwater.

Do you have any idea?

25 year old writer & graduate student, passionate about storytelling as a great equalizer. I’d love to hear from you!!

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