Let’s talk about stress.
And I don’t mean the everyday sort of stress that grates the system and fades away with a good rest or a good laugh. I mean the sort of cumulative, wrecking stress that can turn any rational individual into a whirlwind of blind fury and violence.
I’ve been recently diagnosed with chronic fatigue. Whether the diagnosis is correct or not is, at this time, irrelevant; what actually matters are the symptoms I experience. Every day, I suffer inner shaking. I haven’t had a restful night’s sleep since April. That was the only restful night I’ve had all year so far. As you can imagine, my health has been degrading over these many, lockdown-prone months.
It degraded to a point where I became physically violent with my husband.
It’s something I’ve written about in a previous article. In the meantime, I’ve realized that I mostly get triggered when he stands in my way. Rationally — and psychologically — speaking, I’d surmise I get triggered because my life is at a complete standstill due to my physical health, despite my mental health being the best it has been in fourty years of life. Yet, in the moment when rationale fades and grating rage boils over, I only know to express myself with violence. I scream, I shove, I slam doors, and I carry on until, many threatening minutes later, the tension and the pain finally recede.
(The paragraph that follows has a point. Bear with its woe-is-me-ism.)
This morning, and as we’d agreed yesterday, my husband would be heading upstairs while I was showering so I’d have a normal, introverted, quiet morning by myself. When I opened the door to the ground floor, which gives into the kitchen, he was standing right there. Trying to avoid him, I tripped on the stairs. Then, while I showered, and I must note the kitchen is right next to the bathroom, he kept making sharp, cutlery-ish noises. After my shower I fled to the living room and just sat there, on the couch, head in my hands, until the never-ending clatter had me press my hands on my ears because boiling point was getting close. At this point, I was desperate for him to leave. … and then he put his hand on my back and startled me. And all hell broke loose.
I screamed and yelled at him to just get away, and he made the mistake to respond something, casually, as is his habit. I could but screech. I screeched as I stomped through the living room, slammed the door and screeched on through the kitchen, slammed the door and screeched on through the veranda, slammed the door and screeched even outside (sorry not sorry, neighbours). Then I locked myself in our car, muddy feet up on the glove compartment, and waited. And breathed. And waited. And cried a little — all out of sheer pain.
Nervous pain is so difficult to explain. It’s a sort of tension that rises up, and shreds your muscles, and it feels like your very veins are screaming out at you, begging for release. That’s when rationale switches off and all that remains is primal expression: violence. They say that when you run out of socially acceptable ways to express yourself, you turn to violence; I experience it as the pain forcing itself to be expressed. The pain is violence incarnate. And the body is so wrecked by months of fatique that the violence can’t be controlled anymore. It is a wild, wounded beast, lethal when cornered, that cares about nothing except for that fleeting moment’s peace.
You may now wonder what the point was of those personal paragraphs. Well, it’s simple: maybe you know someone like this; someone who’s overall friendly and fun, who suddenly snaps and assaults. Maybe such a person only knows to tell you, “I can’t help it!”, or “I’m sorry!”, and then the violence happens again, and you come to think: they really aren’t that sorry or they’d do something about it. Maybe you’ve tried to tell them to “calm down”, or threaten to leave them be if they don’t change.
I am the rational, psychologically inclined voice saying: change is impossible; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. And I am also the empathetic, neutral point of viewer saying: you can’t help someone suffering like this, but allowing them room to let the violence out IS helping.
I know, without a doubt, that my husband meant well when he placed his hand on my back. He was concerned. He’s the type of sweet guy who cares, deeply, and who also has a deeply rooted, borderline obsessive need to help others. So watching his wife suffering hurts him too, and he tries to help the only way he knows how: by being there. Which had the exact opposite effect because what I needed from him then was nothing — I needed him gone, I needed the quiet, the solitude. And no matter how often I explain this to him, he never seems to get it. Which leads to violence, and, ultimately, the both of us feeling horrible about a situation made unavoidable.
The cruel reality is that, in the moment, yes: I can’t help it. I can’t contain the pain I feel anymore, and it spills out through violence. All I can try to control is how it gets out — as in, aim to either hurt walls or doors or whatever, or just my throat by screaming. And even that is a struggle, as reaction occurs faster than thought. It becomes painfully easy to lose the people who matter to you. And if you’re unable to express yourself with words, how are you to explain how you act is really not how you truly feel, nor who you truly are?
I’m quite lucky that, normally, I’m a calm and pensive individual, a writer, who has introspected for almost 20 years now. Yet no amount of rationale, understanding, or self-acceptance helps to relieve the pain. Every day I feel a little worse, even when I feel great. Every day I hope nothing will get on my nerves, so I stay inside, I avoid people, and try to focus on the few things that bring me unconditional joy. I don’t think about what can go wrong; after all, it’s a constant possibility, as I have no control over my surroundings.
I can only control what I do during the (honestly, quite numerous) days I feel okay enough to function, even with my memory and concentration ability drastically impoverished. Writing stories has become a challenge instead of a pleasure. All things creative feel like impossible tasks. Yet, here be this article, as poorly written as it might be. Life goes on. It has to. After 20 years of (lingering) depression, I refuse to give up on my hopes and dreams and ambitions just because of a physical setback.
This is really what I want to impart with this article: even when life spirals out of control and you feel like you’re drowning, you can still consciously work on some of its better aspects and keep your head above water. It takes the courage to look inward and stare your flaws right in the face, as well as enough self-love to let go of guilt and fear and accept you’re not a bad person just because you have bad reactions. Focus on the good, on the joyful, and enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy. I enjoy coffee, which isn’t really recommended for chronic fatigue, but if my brain says “WANT”, I’ll sigh and just make a cup. Choosing your fights wisely is part of the process of self-healing, too, even if to heal you have to destroy yourself a little.
On a final, personal note: I have an appointment at a hospital early January. I should be seen by a multidisciplinary team, and go through a series of tests to ascertain whether I have chronic fatigue, or to find what the actual issue is. Either way, it’s progress I can look forward to. The culminating point, it feels like, of a life characterized by depression and anxiety that led to burnout that, itself, led to the frazzled cat I am now.
It’s never too late to turn life around. And I leave this article here, just in case someone, one day, needs my words to, in turn, express themselves through them.
(PS: shortly after finishing the first draft, the husband came downstairs and we discussed the prior situation. And cuddled. And then I threw some whiskey in my second cup of coffee because hey, whatever brings some chill into my rargh (don’t do what I do)).