reminders

I had an unwelcome reminder of what life during kindergarten and school was like: nights awake in a fear that mingled with a strange tedium, and then being so terrified you couldn’t swallow your breakfast. All the tossing and turning. All the choking on things you could not get down. All the nausea. The pulse that kept beating as if there were no tomorrow and the heart’s power could be used up today. The walking when you were choking on your own breath. Sitting in the metro failing to control that belligerent stuff inside. The terror that grips you and strangles you — physically — from mind to throat to heart to stomach. It must be some kind of system failure. The wrong signals are being passed around the body — nay, they’re running amok — to and from the brain. The ‘wrong’, I say, but they aren’t. They are the signals that, in the right situation, when it is necessary for survival, should lead to flight, not to surrender.

(In anthroposophese, I suppose it is a case of dislocated members of the human being. Beating each other up.)

I realized tonight and today that this is nothing like what people talk about as nervousness or normal fear when facing something new or difficult. I’ve known those things too. They’re not the same. They aren’t pleasant, but they are on a different level. Afterwards, you can even feel good at being able to get through such experiences. But what I’m talking about is different — you’re left with nothing, emotionally drained and incredibly lonely. Because there are no other outcomes. There’s no sense of relief, except that the brain must cool down — or expire. There are no benefits from it, no feelings of accomplishment. Just total exhaustion.

It’s not so much about what others do or don’t do to you — it’s about what’s in your own mind, and how your own mind reacts to what happens to you and even more so to what might happen to you, and the truly worst part: it is the blind fear of the unknown or unknowable, the generalized fear without a defined object. It is unspeakable. Whatever others do, you’re always the worst enemy of your own self — you’re the one inflicting the worst terrors, without being able to stop it. I’m sure you will all think (or even say): well, this is not how a child should feel about going to school. I agree — but only in theory. Because what if the terror is the child’s own terror — and what if the terror exists regardless of environment (there are good ones and bad ones, sure, ones that alleviate the pain and ones that enhance it)? What if?

The paradise of childhood really doesn’t exist. I notice, time and time again, that people are looking for it, imagining it, hoping for it. They think that if they can just protect their children from hearing anything about the Newtown massacre or other current events, their children won’t know unhealthy fear. Or if they can accomplish whatever else is necessary to keep the children in a cocoon, all will be well. (We discussed this recently on the list.) Chances are at least some children will be creating their own experiences of terror. It has more to do with the nature of the human mind than with society or with what people let children participate in. Children living in a purported paradise of silk cloths, wooden toys and soft, dreamy colours might even create a few more ghosts — to populate their own minds with. There’s plenty of inspiration. Beneath a benevolent surface lurk the most frightening monsters.

I need a very long walk.