The following piece was selected as one of the winners of this year’s Refuat Hanefesh Creative Expression Contest. Age group: College And Up. It has been lightly edited.
I have a hundred reasons to be happy. Hundreds of moments that should smear a giant smile all over my face. A hundred jokes and ridiculous things to laugh about. A hundred students, sweet, adorable bundles of joy, rushing at me. But their joy stops there; it doesn’t reach me. There’s a thick glass pane separating us, teasing me. I see the joy on their faces; I hear it in their laugh. It’s that twinkle in their eyes, saying that they’re up to trouble. But I don’t feel it. I don’t react; I can’t react. I have no reason to react. I’m somewhere else. My body and my head are in two different places. I don’t know where my head is.
I have a hundred accomplishments looking me in the eye, but I can’t see them. My anxiety blinds me like the bright lights of a car heading your way, about to collide with you and wreak havoc. All I can see are the failures, everything I didn’t or couldn’t do. The projects that didn’t succeed, the failed attempts.
I have a hundred reasons to stay and keep working, but my anxiety says I should surrender. I’m not doing anything anyway. I’m getting nowhere; I have nowhere to get to.
I have a hundred loving people surrounding me, supporting me and trying to help. A hundred family members and outstanding friends always by my side. I can reach them with the push of a button. But I’m alone in the world. They’re there for me, but I can’t call for help when I need it. I know they’re there, but I can’t access them.
I have a hundred reasons to be calm. I’ve double, triple-checked the dozens of lists I made. I did everything that needed to be done. But I can’t calm down and rest. There is something I have to do. Somewhere I have to go. Someone I must speak to. Something I have to say. But there’s nothing to say or do or see or go to. It’s my anxiety, ensuring I don’t get a moment’s rest.
I have a hundred reasons to sleep soundly at night. A roof over my head. A comfortable pillow on my bed. An engrossing book and a cup of tea. But no. My tired and weary brain can’t shut off. It torments me through the night, leaving me with puffy eyes and a tired face, an exhausted body. It presents me with a hundred reasons to fear, a hundred reasons to cry or cringe or scream.
I have a hundred masks. A hundred cover identities, people I pretend to be so an outsider won’t notice what is happening inside. How my brain is tormenting me. A hundred costumes for different occasions. Painful to put on, very realistic, but they are excruciating, they take a toll. They manage to satisfy and reassure others, but they don’t convince me. I know there’s a shattered soul, a broken person hiding behind them, afraid to speak up and ask for help, afraid of being discovered.
I have a hundred voices in my head, telling me I’m not enough. Not kind enough. Not capable or competent. Not strong enough. Not put-together. Telling all sorts of awful things that I don’t want to hear. But these voices are amplified, playing at the loudest volume and on a repeating loop. I hear them constantly and can’t escape their echo. Sometimes I can recognize them for what they are, the voices of monsters inside of me, the demons that possess me. Other times, I can’t tell who’s talking. But it doesn’t matter if I know who’s talking: I hear it anyway. I can identify its source, shout and plug my ears but I still hear it. I believe it. The voices are there to remind that I’m not good enough. And they remind me time and again that they’re in control, not me.
But more than all, I have a hundred reasons to fight. A hundred students looking up to me. A hundred loved ones rooting for me and there to help me through my struggle. A hundred funny moments to be laughed at, a hundred smiles waiting to appear across my face. A hundred voices to defeat and conquer, decimate and destroy. A hundred dreams to be dreamt while soundly asleep, enjoying every minute of fantastic imagination.
So I will fight. I’ll fight and persist, even if I need to fight a hundred times. I will scream and yell at those voices, try to yell louder than them. And sometimes I won’t yell loud enough, but sometimes I’ll hear it and get a little relief. A little peace of mind. A little of the old me back.
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