The maze of memories

It was an odd day for such a heavy downpour in December. Personally, both storms and cold winter mornings, independently, fascinate me. But the amalgamation of thunder with the harsh winter created a rather cruel atmosphere. The intensity of rain was such that for almost an hour, one couldn’t see what was an inch away from your eyes. That was the first day I felt unease at being unable to see what lay ahead. I had a strong urge to rush forward into the icy rain and end the uncertainty once and for all. Gauge the coldness of the water, the iciness of the wind, the degree of pain and discomfort. Whatever lay in the dark couldn’t be worse than the picture my imagination was conjuring in my head, taunting me at my cowardice.

Though I was only seven , I still remember the thoughts going through my head vividly. It was the first time I felt dread ,increased heartbeat and suffocation over no tangible threat; an intense desire to end the uncertainty, no matter what torture it entailed. Unfortunately, the darkness succeeded in inhibiting my action, practicality overpowering the sense of childlike heroism and courage I thought I had. I did nothing and the consequence was suffering, of constantly thinking what the day could have been like if I had stepped into the rain. Running various permutations to predict the outcome, a process which would come to be both my greatest strength and weakness in the later years. If I had stepped out into the dark, would it have ended my dread?

Over the years, whenever I felt misery seeping into my soul, I would replay sad memories in my head , of risks not taken, of words not spoken, of ideals not defended to make myself cry. The incessant taunts of my alter ego ceased only when I looked at my past which was out of my reach and lived through the despair, the terror of being unable to grasp on to happy memories and preserve them forever. In a twisted way, those moments of panic and despair came to be the only peaceful moments of my life.Sure it was tough to bear but at least for a few moments I was in the present. Not living in the constant fear of a dark presence in the future, waiting to hit me because the worst had arrived. And I was becoming accustomed to it.

With my panic disorder, my detestation for uncertainty increased.Everyone does revere the past as it is familiar and immutable. Pain or joy, the measure of it has already been established. But the future is like that cold winter storm . Dark, dreary and unrelenting.

There is no choice to not keep running ahead, never to stop for a while and breathe because the moment you do, the sudden jerk of halting punches the air out of your lungs. And you realize as if you have been woken from a dream. Everyone passes by you in a blur when you choose to stop and breathe. Only to know that over the years you have forgotten how to breathe. Or merely stand still, halt your thoughts, control your mind. Such moments fill you with peace but also an inexplicable pain because you know that you have to start running again .

When you finally breakdown and stop, the destination doesn’t matter anymore because there is no destination. It is an incessant race and you just don’t understand why you are running. So you stop running. The futility of the race and suffering hits you but you don’t know what to do . It is almost as if you have been reborn . People sympathize for a while but the general expectation is that you should know how to go on, how to live. But you don’t. The sudden halt makes you lose your balance and you fall. The impact of it shatters your skull into two.

There is no blood, no mess , no visible scarring. But oh! The pain of it is unbearable. Sometimes it flares up, making you collapse, on better days it is a constant throbbing inside your head, as if like Atlas you are cursed to bear the weight of your world.The source of distress, despite exhaustive and obsessive research remains unknown. This process of finding the cause is in itself an ordeal because you realize how little you know your own self. How can you escape this maze when have no familiarity with its structure?The labyrinth of your thoughts assumes a life of its own , ever changing and adding new dark alleys and pitfalls. You try to rely on your past memories, tough but familiar, walking through the darkness, using every ounce of strength to maintain the earlier shape of the maze, which is known to you. You listen to old music, and wait for that crescendo which gave you hope. You watch old movies or shows which remind you of a warmer time to withstand the barrage of the stormy cold shards piercing through your mental peace.

Doesn’t work. Because you are no longer that person. Unlike the great stories of a phoenix being reborn from its ashes, this rebirth isn’t grand. It is painful because this new self is familiar with the pain of being torn apart into pieces and living through the trauma of watching yourself crumble and turn to dust. The innocence and hope of the past is inaccessible . There is no certainty that your mind won’t be torn apart again. You keep trying to find your way back to the life and the people you once lived with . You hope that laughing with them and talking to them will help you in recreating your old self by borrowing pieces of you from them.Revisiting familiar memories, searching for that one word or melody in this sea of online information will only cause you to spiral further downwards.Your mind will slowly go numb from the pain of holding on, digging for something which will be your salvation. But you keep digging as the alternative is to walk into the unknown. The torture of trying to piece yourself back together leaves you bone tired.

Personally, if I feel a panic attack is about to start, I expedite that process. I watch sad things, listen to sad music, watch videos which give a visual form to my worst fears and try to decipher the meaning of it obsessively. Maybe something external will pinpoint the reason for this seemingly random mental breakdown and I can heave a sigh of relief. Slowly, I am coming to the realization that this exercise is useless. I might never find the answer and will have to learn a way to live with it.

Living with uncertainty is a truth no one wants to acknowledge. Because if the future is uncertain , it requires us to pause and ponder over what really matters in the present, demanding certain tough decisions to be made. Letting people or established dreams go. See your own reflection turn into the face of a stranger. Perhaps the uncertainty doesn’t bother most people, perhaps they keep running to escape this specific thought. Getting used to the idea that life might just be this moment, with no future outcome, no past memory is an idea that takes getting used to. It requires us to walk away from old notions of happiness and camaraderie and walk alone. Maybe along the way, we will realize that it’s okay to not remember each alley and path of the labyrinth.Different choices will lead to different outcomes in parallel universes but our conscious self can live only in one.

As for running into the icy rain is concerned, I often do that now. I take risks, I make random decisions, trying to let go of the illusion of control. The sadness and suffering , both are a part of me for the time being. Sometimes I think I am a coward for not trying to fight it but deep down I know that’s not the case. Maybe the lesson I need to learn can only come through this experience. Even with the burden of thoughts, the panic attacks, the dread of uncertainty, the judgement and burden of expectations to become my old self, for the first time in years, I feel free. It took me a while but I did finally step out into the storm. And it is colder and tougher to endure that what I imagined it to be. But even while feeling panicked in the unfamiliar cold and dark environment, the last thought that goes through my mind before it is overpowered by anxiety is that I still remain standing. And for the time being, this is enough. Tomorrow I will be stronger and put up a better fight,but for today , this is enough.

Interested in mental health , feminism, culture and philosophy. Learning to value the right things in life.

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