He gave up. Mr Groat was in some strange, musty little world of his own. ‘Do you call this a life?’ he said. For the first time in this conversation, Mr Groat looked him squarely in the eye. ‘Much better than a death, sir,’ he said.
(Terry Pratchett, Going Postal)
Being in survival mode versus against being alive. The concept had stuck in his mind since he first heard it in a TV show a few weeks ago. It was about Bones, the main protagonist and name giver of the show, being stuck internally in a pure survival mode, not allowing herself to fully open up to the world, to others, to herself. Looking at it like that he wondered whether he had ever even been alive. If so, he sure couldn’t remember it. Did he enjoy life when he was a baby? A small child? Was it something that stopped or just never been there in the first place? He had seen photos of himself when he was a baby and a very small child on which he seemed to be joyful, but it was like looking at a stranger. He had no memories that associated, that clicked with that joyful experience on the face of the baby that was supposedly him. Not that he had a lot of memories of his childhood in the first place, but as little as they might be, he still had memories dating as far back as kindergarten and in all of them he was repressed, withdrawn into himself, into his own little world. Certainly not joyful, but a lifeless hull, a zombie on autopilot, a fake mask for the outside world with no substance behind it. Repressed and frightened. That’s how he remembered himself being until he was about twenty-one, when his old self was being shattered and he, as he was now, gained consciousness. But that seemed to have been all that had changed back then, that he was conscious on the surface at least, no longer operated by that ugly mask of his old self, but inside, inside he had stayed the same. It was as if part of himself had been freed on that day, but the rest of him was still trapped in that prison. So, in a way,maybe his mind was alive since then, but it was still bound to the imprisoned part of himself. Like a turtle could stick its head out of its shell, but the head couldn’t just fly away on its own. Since the rest of him was trapped in survival mode, that meant he was too.
How do you overcome betrayal? He just couldn’t figure it out. Theoretically he knew how it worked, but he had no idea how to apply it all to his situation. Either he couldn’t see a positive outcome or no way to realize it in any of the approaches when he tried to think through them. The best he could come up with were ones were he arrived at uncertainties, which was at least somewhere to start. It also wasn’t as if this was all mere theory, he actually didn’t really know anyone who had more practical experience in these matters than he himself did. Well, there were a few maybes, but in regards to his own case, he was definitely the number one specialist for sure. He tried so many things, failed so many times, again and again and again, but – he also succeeded often enough. His biggest problem was, that he had several other battlefields he needed to concentrate on as well. He couldn’t afford to lose sight on any of them, for too long at least, or he would be defeated on all of them. Not terminally of course, but any defeat was a major setback that forced him to retreat to be able to refocus his resources. But then again, the only reason he could even see the betrayal as a problem now, was because he had won several critical battles in the last few years. Granted, he didn’t really knew how, in regards to a few of them, but he stuck in there and never fully gave up and kept trying again and again. He tried to learn something from every defeat and by doing that he also learned to handle those defeats better all the time. Nowadays he could be up and going again in a few hours, sometimes even less. Okay, the last big one brought him down for about two weeks, but he had tried to quit smoking again – a battle he clearly wasn’t ready for yet. But that too helped him to see the betrayal and everything surrounding it much more clearly. Okay, so he couldn’t see any real way to solve this, nothing new there. For some reason that seemed to always be the case, so much so that he gotten used to it by now, so why bother. Getting agitated about it only created more problems, he couldn’t let that happen. He needed to stay focused, to really understand it, what happened to him and how it still affected him.
He could feel another attack being on its way. He always wondered about the strange terminology. Panic attack. Being attacked by a panic. Didn’t make much sense for him. You are being attacked and because of the attack, you panic. This is how it was supposed to go, only of course, it shouldn’t. Panicking when being under an attack was a very unwise response to it. You keep your calm and don’t lose your head or else you could lose it quite literally. For him it also never felt like being attacked by a panic or even that he was in panic when it happened, but he still knew it was what people called a panic attack. Of course his emotions were panicking, he could sense that, but the thing was, that his emotions didn’t feel like they were part of him. The way he perceived them they were just another being living inside of him, incidentally occupying the same space that he was. That was the more positive way to describe them at least, since they were a real nuisance for him and he wished he could get rid of them completely. He really really disliked them – and he was aware of how paradox that sounded, since liking and disliking was an emotional sensation, but the way he perceived it, it was true to say it like that. It wasn’t his fault that language was insufficient and didn’t have the words to describe phenomena like these adequately. He didn’t know whether that meant that he was only partly dissociated from his emotions or that the mind could have some kind of emotions on his own. With emotions he meant those felt in the area of his stomach and he mostly referred to them as inner children. Plural. Not just one child. More like a whole kindergarten gone crazy and he was the kindergarten teacher that had to keep them under control as good as he could. They hated him. He hated them. A very unideal situation. Then there was the heart, another area in the body you can have emotions, only in his case, he couldn’t. The heart was in an even worse state than the inner children, as far as he could tell. At least they were still “talking” to him, metaphorically speaking, even though what they had to “say” was rather unpleasant, but from his heart came just nothing. Emotionally at least. While it felt mostly neutral, sometimes he still felt some kind of physical pressure in that area – but none that would show up on medical equipment, so it was probably some kind of emotional physical pressure. Still a lot better than the way it used to feel. As cheesy as it may sound, it used to feel like a black hole of negativity and that description only scratches the surface of how it actually felt like. Being under so much pain it filled your whole physical being, while having a major panic attack was a positive experience in comparison. Just neutral was better, yes, definitely much better. But talking about panic attacks, the one he felt earlier was getting closer and so far he never managed to prevent it in any way. Sure, there were a few things he could do to manage it when it started, but those were quite extreme, so nothing he would do if he didn’t feel it was necessary. Specially since it wasn’t like he felt good when he didn’t have a panic attack. He felt an underlying panic, stress and physical pain at all times, so getting a panic attack just meant that it was getting even worse. That’s why to cope with those needed extreme measures, since he was already using the more moderate tools at his disposal for his permanent state of distress and pain – the psychopathic kindergarten and his bleeding intestines. He also tried to fight it as long as he could before he used the more drastic measures, only when he just couldn’t bear it anymore otherwise. Which was to either cut himself or stub out a cigarette on his arm. Most people just couldn’t understand why anyone would do something horrible like that to themselves. Well, they just don’t know what the state before you do it feels like, how much strength it costs and how much we endure when we try to delay the self harm. You are prepared to do just about anything to just make it stop. It would be kinda wrong to say that we really feel good when we cut or burn ourselves, it’s more like, that we feel good for a short moment, because we no longer feel what we felt before we did it. A short moment of bliss, of relief, a small breathing space – a few seconds of relaxation before it will all come back and the whole thing starts again, but at least it will be bearable for some time then. How long doesn’t really matter, as long as it stopped for that moment. That was all that counted. He differed a bit from most people who did this, in that he never felt ashamed because of it and tried to hide it. The way others described this being ashamed, it seemed to defy the whole purpose of the action itself. You did it to be free from that unbearable emotions and stress, but if you judged yourself for doing it and feel ashamed and guilty because of it, you instantly had a high level of stress again. That’s probably why he never saw it as a problem, but just as a solution. Granted, only a very temporary solution, but certainly not as a problem. The problem were the feelings that lead to it, if he didn’t have those, there wouldn’t be a need to apply it. But of course he could understand that someone who felt guilty and stressed when he did it would see it as a problem in itself as well. He just felt that changing ones attitude to no longer feel guilty about it would be a great first step for those people to get better, since they could then be happy to have this solution at hand when needed, they would no longer need to apply their scarce resources on feeling guilty and had more of them to focus on the main problems that lead them to harm themselves in the first place. Abstractly, one of the main goals for those who felt ashamed about it was trying to harm themselves less, something he didn’t care about at all, but since he didn’t feel stressed about it when he did it, there was much less need to apply it and the intervals were much longer than for those who felt guilty about it. He was probably blessed at least in those regards. He saw it as trying to not add to his problems where he was able to avoid it, something where the dissociation from his feelings came in handy. It seemed like he was able to apply rational solutions much more easily than most others in similar situations because of it. They didn’t solve the underlying issues of course, probably because they were kinda forced from the mind, but these mind hacks greatly reduces his overall stress by at least not adding more to his plate. Most of them were explanations from his best friend, who described to him how he naturally dealt with situations, which was in a very logical and sensible manner. He was very grateful for them and felt that he would have died some time ago, very likely of suicide, if it wasn’t for his friend. It probably had to do with his mind being quite young, another weird thing about him that’s hard to describe. From all his parts he mostly, or even more or less completely identified with his mind, but for his mind it felt like it didn’t really exist until he was about twenty-one years old. He knew he must have had a mind before that time and he had memories from before, but in those memories, for his mind, and since he identified with his mind, also for himself, it didn’t feel like “he” was “there” too. Someone had to be doing the thinking before that time and he knew it had to be him who did it, but it just did not feel like it. It felt like someone else did the thinking back then and when the mind as it was now was born, the one who did it before died and all the memories died with him.
Filling out another profile. He always had problems describing himself. He just never knew where to start and also, what characteristic defined him the most. At least those were the explanations he managed to come up with. But he also suspected that emotionally he cared more about what others might think of him than he was consciously aware of. He hated to be about two minds about so many things, specially since the one with the bigger influence was mostly hidden from him. But how you start with these things could make a huge difference nevertheless. He felt like he was between a rock and a hard place, to either come across as arrogant or pitiful. At least if he wanted to give an honest description that wasn’t completely meaningless. His illnesses were a major factor in who he was, his complex post traumatic stress disorder and his Crohn’s disease, but even more so that the worst of it was in the past. Not the hell he was going through, but the hell he had overcome, all the things he left behind and managed to let go of. All the suffering he survived. THAT he survived, that he never stopped fighting and kept going. That he endured. It was not about despair and pity, but about freedom, victory and tranquility. Of course he wasn’t completely healthy yet, but it was incomparably better now than it was just a few years ago – and a big part of it being better now, is that it used to be so much worse. Not being in constant pain with spikes so bad it was hard to even sit straight is a hugely different experience for someone who used to be in that pain, then for someone who never experienced anything like it. All the little things people get frustrated about all the time just no longer matter for you when you been through hell. It seemed though that there were few people who can really relate to this. In most cases they either had a too sheltered life or they were still in the middle of that hell. How could you possible put that into a few words for a “How would you describe yourself” field in a profile? The other thing he felt that plays a role in defining him had other problems to put it into words. One part was his intelligence, having been born highly gifted. So nothing where he did anything to earn it, it was just always “there”, but it sure created a different perspective on the world than for someone who doesn’t “have” it. He taught himself to read when he was five years old, at least that’s what his mother had told him. So certainly not the biggest genius, some of which managed that before they were three, but enough to create a difference. Also not easy to describe. When talking to people he naturally assumes their understanding is on the same level as his, without feeling superior in any way and abstractly that’s what can lead people to think he was arrogant or a know it all. Which can be quite frustrating, but so can the feeling that people often just didn’t seem to be able to follow what he was trying to tell them. Those were problems he had in the past with it at least, nowadays he was extra careful in how he phrased things. But he was also a highly sensitive person, neuro-a-typical, or in other words, part of the autistic spectrum and because of the PTSD he was still partly dissociated from his emotions, which was quite the weird combination. That’s why many people seemed like little children to him. Humans with little children problems and a little children understanding. He hated how arrogant that sounded and he spent a lot of his attention to not let it influence his thinking, to always stay humble and not think of himself as being better as anyone else. But he couldn’t just turn off his intelligence, all he experienced in his sufferings and all the other things, so it meant that he had a bigger responsibility when interacting with people who didn’t have those advantages. Something he felt was unfair, since he was still not healthy, still traumatized, and yet he still needed to be considerate towards people who had a so much better life than he had, who didn’t make any effort and acted like egomaniac sociopaths because they never had any reason to change. He knew he was blessed that he had to go through all of it and all the advantages he had, but it was still annoying. Mostly because the advantages, for now, where still only theoretically so. He was still bound to his little flat, sitting in front of the screen, staring at an empty profile field, because he once again spent a lot of time staring at that screen thinking about all of this without being able to find the right words.
He was sitting at his desk, pondering whether or not he should go shopping that day. He spent more and more time indoors, not wanting to leave his flat. As if his flat was some kind of save haven, his only secure place in the world. He hated it. Not his flat, but the whole situation, the fact that it was his save haven and that he didn’t want to leave it. Should he eat something? No, not yet. First another episode or two, maybe after. He wasn’t really hungry yet. Or rather, he wasn’t nauseous yet. Not nauseous enough anyways. Eating could wait. Eating meant facing reality. Not being distracted. Just being in his flat wasn’t enough to feel really secure. Being in his flat and being under the influence of some kind of distraction. The flat was just the most basic base line, together with smoking cigarettes. Open browser, search for the last episode watched, open new one in new tab – he always did that, opening links in new tabs. It usually only took a few minutes to have his browser loaded with enough tabs to make the average person lose track to navigate properly. But not for him, he liked it that way. Mail, facebook, some interesting articles he found on his facebook wall to read later, some wiki pages to go further into subjects he found in those articles, a few interesting youtube links to watch later, … all neatly. Well, not neatly ordered, but neatly “there”. That was enough. He just knew where which was and no one else needed to, so there was no need for any order. Until it was affecting the speed of his computer at least. But for now, all that counted was the next episode of whatever TV show he was watching at the moment. Hit play. Rolling a cigarette. Watching. Smoking. Taking part in the lives of the characters on the screen. Being part of it. Until the credits at least. But until then, no decisions to make, no reality to face. It wasn’t bliss for him, it was just better than not doing it. Creating the illusion for twenty to forty minutes that he was part of a social life, of interhuman interactions. He knew it wasn’t real and that he was only faking it that way. It’s not like he was delusional about it, but he still needed it to, well, to basically just keep going. To the next day, where it would all start again. Sitting in front of his notebook until he was so tired that sleeping was the only option.
It was a bleak night and what made things even worse, was that it wasn’t raining. He somehow felt that for what he was about to do, the narrative dictated raining to go along with the bleakness. The dramatic effect of it might be just inside his head, but that’s where it counted, wasn’t it? On the positive side, his client being late for over an hour now, at least he had a dry wait. He lit another cigarette to pass the time. It’s not like he needed the money, but it was a favor for someone he couldn’t refuse. But at least it was the last time, after this his dept has been paid fully. That’s the trouble trading in favors can get you into, but it was worth it in the long run. Heck, if this was as big as Marco claimed he might even own me one when this is finished. The street was still empty, a defect streetlight flickering creating the most action. But what was that? Something just happened, he knew it, he could feel it, even though everything looked the same. Marco didn’t say anything about travelers being involved in this and he should know better to keep something like that from him. Fuck. But now it was too late to cop out. “I am here as requested. What do you want?”, he said to the apparent empty street. “So you are as good as Marco had claimed”, a voice intoned about two cars away from him. So were they, he cursed to himself. They managed to get really close before he managed to spot them and there were three of them. Well, lets get this over with. “Marco says a lot of things, what do you want? And show yourselves, I don’t like talking to the empty air.”. “Now you are toying with us John, we know that you can sense us, but okay lads, lets act like the gentlemen we are.”. One of them was sitting cross legged on the top of a car, one was leaning against a wall and one dangling by his feet from a close balcony. Showing off and the aura of borderline boredom with the world on the verge of suicide was one of the trademarks of travelers. At least for the uninitiated, those who knew them knew it was just an act, a mixture of playing with their prey and distracting from how deadly they actually were.