Running (to Stand Still)
The very first time you admit to it, you will be overwhelmed by a feeling of shame, a shame you hadn’t owned before the confession so it sits useless and awkward in one side of your brain as you lament with limited eye contact, that your brain, on some days, goes in a different direction- a path at once unknown and feared. If you are fortunate, you don’t get to say more- it stops there, at your confession, no further statement required from you by the other who is by now standing opposite you as though in interrogation, hopefully not touching your arms, any part of you. You know you are too raw for that sort of contact, too exposed; your flesh is prickled by an added presence. All of this anyway is if you are fortunate after the telling, otherwise you are coerced into explaining something, providing more materials to describe feelings for which you yourself are yet to understand.
Anxiety attacks are difficult to narrate in many parts, chief of which would be for the abrupt nature of their appearance, though after a while you anticipate it from signals. You learn to trace the droplets to the borehole at the backyard with a broken faucet. Yet the process of committing it to language for another person’s consumption is remarkably daunting, never an easy conversation to make: to say that you were convinced your body was in danger and that there was no way out. It is the prospect of effort; more than anything, of even a minimal amount of effort, that makes the whole idea seem unappealing.
Movement is often my response to things. Running is the anecdote of my anxiety. When I lived in Mauritius, I ran very early in the morning and sometimes late at night. Running as a performance of fear, running so my over-processing-brain becomes subservient to my body, running to disrupt everything my brain is trying to make my body believe. I ran the most in the summer, when lavish pink appeared in the neat beech hedges that lined the clean streets of the village. Whenever I ran, I was violent for air, my mouth gulping in large measures, feeling the sun on my eyelids, the wind on my skin, my ears pounding. It didn’t matter how far I covered, how many miles and in what time, it mattered only that I was running, chasing something out of myself, running and running in order to stand still.
Through the moving of days, I am someone who endures fearful hours of thorough uncertainty. Sometimes it seems like I am unable to move, or speak, or eat; to do all the things I should possess common knowledge over. On Thursday of last week, I first felt the sensation of fear register in the morning on my way to the office. I was restless in small ways, looking to my left and right in traffic in order to cut lanes, as though at any moment, the stretch of cars behind me would be engulfed in a wild fire. The likelihood of that was low anyway, yet it seemed altogether wrong that I remained on one lane. Something was going to happen if I stayed. I felt the need to find a way out. Half an hour later, when I arrived at the office, I spent ten minutes in my car, stunned by my survival, the extreme terror and danger in a commute I’ve done numberless times, the proclaimed impossibility of having made it at all, known to me alone.
At 2am on Friday, I found myself desperately in need for a run. I had been thinking about it for two hours now. My mind was going in and out of many things that were impossible to quiet, even at that time of the day when I felt especially tired and desperately in need of sleep. A part of me was experiencing some kind of profound hurting I know, an extreme feeling of anger and worry and pain, so that my body being still, stiff and unresponsive in the processing of multiple feelings, felt disorienting. The scene was displayed to me on an imaginary screen: me running out in the neighborhood at this time, the tiny silent lights of houses crammed in the estate, all the people sleeping or waking to pee, the people checking their phones for messages that might never come, all of them partaking in the order of domestic living.
The decision was made standing by my window, looking out into nothing but a silhouetted car. In that very moment, I became aware of my breathing as an external thing, like my chest was outside of me, staring back at me as if in contempt. I was terrified by the abnormality of this, like something vital to my aliveness had detached from me. Nothing made sense. Everything was a combination of unknown and strange things.
I decided, instead of running, to pace across the living room, and then to the dinning area, going from wall to wall, unaware of anything other than the movement of my legs. I thought of nothing, just walking and walking in circles and patterns for minutes upon minutes, biting hard on my lower lip. No sooner did my father, who has the sleeping qualities of a criminal, sense something on going in his outer consciousness and make an appearance. Sometimes I suspect I picked my nervousness from him. What could have prompted his waking other than that anyway, an idea that something was working against the norm, that a structure was being threatened, that a spirit was moving across his home?
I saw him standing by the door frame and thought quickly of how long he must’ve been there, watching me speak under my breath, watching me walk aimlessly like a lost sheep. What he must think of this scene, of his second son, the one for whom things like walking around the house at 2am came naturally to, is with me until he speaks: Ogbuagu, o gini?
I told him I couldn’t sleep, and that I felt somehow. Somehow. It is never easy to explain the feeling, how it sits inside you or what it is capable of making you do. And perhaps the shame is in this, not in owning the feeling per say but being unable to communicate its position in your body, to explain even in the simplest terms, the purpose of it. It is an illness yes, but it is that brand of insufficiency in communicating that shames me. I just feel somehow, I said to him again, still walking around, hoping he might nod and walk away with slow, sleepy steps.
Despite my hoping, I knew deep down that my father would approach me anyway, and when he finally did, he put his hands over my bare arms the way one holds a steering wheel. I was already sweating from the exertion. His touch was cold and alien, slightly labored. I felt my chest unbuckle, a release that was demonstrated outwardly with a mild, upper body jerk repeated two or three times, small gasps escaping my mouth and after a while his grip around my biceps firmed up, as though to halt whatever was racing uncontrollably inside of me, as though wheeling me to stand still.