Words Zahabiya H.
Header Credits Fatema A. (@cosmicweavers)
There are a few things in these extraordinary circumstances that we can all agree on; we are suffering in ways we didn’t imagine (because staying at home the whole day isn’t the holiday we all hoped it would be), we will all need to heal in real and varied ways, beyond medicine and doctors and we are all desperate to visit a restaurant.
I expected to need to rally my strength as the days turned into weeks and feckless governments refused to tell the whole truth. I expected to become used to it, brutalised and worn down. I expected my anxiety to manifest itself in unexpected ways, so that some days brought battles I wasn’t ready for. But still within the layers of what I wanted to be ready for, there was a lot I couldn’t have predicted would take so much fight from me.
A good example comes from my memory bank. A lack of communication and comfort and the usual memory-making that provides has led to an endless period of days during which I am making no real memories. This has meant that in my quiet moments, which are frequent, especially when fasting because I spend large periods of time in quiet contemplation, my subconscious has taken to visiting old memories. And they’re usually really embarrassing. Is this phenomenon because embarrassing memories create the most acute impression on the mind, or because I am so tired and sad these days that my anxiety is taking to new ways to torture me? I couldn’t tell you, I am still battling and the analysis will surely come after the victory.
Though seemingly tortuous, this unfortunate mental exercise has provided me with an outlet. Before, I used to live these moments very acutely, almost as if I was going through them all over again. But now, I know the triggers, I understand the strain I’m under and that this is a manifestation of that, and I come back to the present and I try to let the memory go. Conventional wisdom says feeling a memory and coming to terms with it is the way to lessen its control over you. But I’ve found, after years of trying, that taking back that control has finally worked; accepting that all your memories only have a voice that haunts you as long as you give it to them. In other words, quieten the memory.
Because these aren’t just embarrassing moments of tripping over or forgetfulness. They are heart-breaking moments of shame and stupidity. Moments of corrosive judgement and degradation. It’s not pleasant or funny to be revisited by them, often. In this time, when we are so surrounded by quiet and isolation, when memory making for some of us is on hold, these are perils I didn’t see coming. But these are also mechanisms for healing that I didn’t see coming. Finally, after years of tip-toeing around pain and the associated lessons, I am accepting that it’s OK not to keep feeling and keep feeling and keep feeling. I am realising that the lesson associated with that memory inhered a long time ago; that this method of refusing to take away the voice of each memory is providing nothing but a cycle of continued hurt. I am recognising the root of the pain and that letting go can be as simple as saying, no.
Ultimately, those memories held the power that they did because I felt they were deserved moments of pain. More than that, I felt I deserved to keep feeling that pain. That’s a hard truth to land on and an even more difficult one to confess to you. I don’t pretend I didn’t or don’t deserve the hurt – deserving is a notion that takes on multitudes of meaning, connotes ideas about purpose and reward that I am not commenting on. But what I cannot allow now, in a time of crisis and survival, is more avenues for torturing myself.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and so it was that after all this time I chose to respect the body of my experiences, including the validity of my need for peace, over the elements that make up that body; the gritty, sharp and ice-cold lessons that were learnt the hard way. They will always be there, I don’t need to keep punishing myself.
Of course, I’ll keep trying because I’m not done learning how not to punish myself. That is a lesson whose memory isn’t clear or defined, a lesson learnt hard but softer to the touch. It’s a lesson that may melt away when I am no longer fighting to make it one day to the next. But who can say what will happen when this is all over, when we are making memories again? It may be that punishing myself is something I just can’t remember how to do.