Trigger warning: violent imagery (as the title suggests).
Last week, I was in high stress mode. It’s due to an annual drastic change in my work schedule (and really no other reasons, as far as I know about. I mean, I have other stressors going on, but nothing I can’t usually handle.) This happens every single year, and it really affects how I engage with summer. I can always predict it; simultaneously, I always conveniently forget how extreme it gets.
I wrote what follows last week, when I was in the thick of it. And then I just sat on it, because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to post it. Partially because it’s a departure from what I usually write about. Now that I’m feeling better, I find that, yes, I’ll post it. So, here’s what I wrote, only slightly edited:
My mind’s reaction to long-term stress is terrifying to me. I continue to wonder if this is really just how it is. (Why can’t I just grow out of this???). Some people get stress-induced migraines or upset stomachs or struggle with insomnia. Anything like that is, without a doubt, difficult to deal with. In a big way, I am glad I am not afflicted with those stress-responses. In some way though, a part of me wishes for something like that instead, but only because it’s relate-able and I’d probably feel like I could talk about it with others. “My stomach is in knots thinking about what I have to do.” Or, “I’m losing sleep over this.” These phrases are super common.
When I get stressed out for long enough, it feels like my brain is rotting away. I lose brain functioning (not a figure of speech – my cognitive abilities actually suffer in some big ways.) But more than this: It feels as if my brain has turned against me; I am bombarded by visions – images of violence being inflicted upon me. I do not know what I can do. I can distract myself. I can try stress reduction techniques. I can (and do) follow through with inflicting pain on myself in an attempt to stop the visions. None of these things have ever worked too well when I’m actually in it. When I was younger, I was “in it” on-and-off for years and years and years. It would become intolerable. It’d be beyond intolerable, but, of course, I had to keep waking up and living it, over and over again because there’s no getting away from your own mind.
Often, my brain would feel so rotten that I couldn’t read, I couldn’t make sense of things on TV or in movies. I couldn’t talk to people or follow a conversation. Eventually I couldn’t do any schoolwork at all. (And it wasn’t about concentration, which is a common issue with people who are depressed. It was specifically that synapses seemingly disintegrated.) I made it through because luckily I had a therapist at home and a therapist at school, and they helped advocate for me to get accommodations I needed to not flunk or drop out of college. I felt like dropping out. I “got by” with very high grades, because I couldn’t have lived with myself with anything less. ??? Does this make any sense at all? I was barely functioning, yet I somehow ended up with very high marks. If my grades had ended up slipping, I would have been even more abusive to myself. Maybe the people around me could sense that.
Somehow, I could still write, surprisingly eloquently. Although, it was limited to journal-style writing, not academic-style writing. Like what I’m doing right now. When I can’t seem to do anything else.
I get barraged with images spanning from mild (such as my face being slapped or my skin being cut) to morbid (such as being hacked away at with an axe. Or my head being whacked repeatedly with a 2×4. Or falling and hitting my head so hard that I pass out. Or my neck being held down as I am whipped over and over and over again.) These images are never sexual. They are disturbing and unwanted. I seem to have no control over them.
I have heard of some people struggling with urges to actively do something they do not actually want to do. Like inflicting pain onto someone else. Or stepping off the subway platform in front of a subway. Or driving their car off the road and down a steep ravine. There is an excellent graphic novel I would highly recommend that is largely about this compulsion. It’s called The Nao of Brown. What I’m talking about is so similar, yet strikingly different. I am never the one in control. I’m not harming anyone else or actively harming myself. It is always an anonymous person outside the visual frame, inflicting violence on me. I’m the object; I’m looking at myself.
Last week I told my therapist, “whoever made brains needs to try again.”