I tested negative this morning. It was my second COVID infection in less than three months.
The last time came at the close of two and a half years of anxiety and several losses. It was a crash. And when I came out of it on the other side, I found myself ripped free of everything I thought defined me. Actually, this whole year has been like that and the August COVID attack was just its culmination. What do you do when the most terrifying thing you can imagine finally hits you? I can’t say this has been familiar. For most of my life, I’ve been impatient with fear, preferring to tackle it head-on instead of waiting for the axe to fall. It came from having no choice, from realising that the forces around that scared me, revelled in my fear. It came from ego, deciding that I would not give them the satisfaction. It came from stubbornness and pride. The first time this core of me was truly damaged was a decade ago. Trapped with a violent, abusive partner, imprisoned by bridges that had been burnt, I truly felt the flames of fear lick my toes. I’ve spent the last decade recovering from that, more than the wounds my ex inflicted on me. I know now what they mean when they say the thing to fear the most is fear itself. Rage is fear. I’ve tried to avoid it for years and mostly I succeeded. It still came at me in the form of passive-aggression and entitlement. All of these are fear.
Then the pandemic hit. And I found myself having to co-habit with fear, to share my space, my mind, my body with fear. Because that is the root of all things we fear – our selves. It paralysed me for more than a year. It squelched everything I wanted to retain as me, away from me – joy, laughter, inspiration, creation. Each time I took a timid step out, each stray thought clinging to a memory of a bolder me – resulted in a fresh reign of terror, another COVID wave, another fascist action, another cruel person. The world is so fearful.
In August, I found myself at the bottom of the dungeon. It was literal and figurative darkness all around. The violent rain pelted outside my window merciless. I starved for an entire day. I lost a sense of space and time. Friendships, connections I’d fearfully clung to my whole life, withered away. And all I could find around me were old nightmares. I did not hope to survive it. At some point, you stop thinking there is a possibility of something better out there. And that was my point. Then, with the scraps of energy you have left, you only wish for it to end. The day I lost hope, I lost everything that has defined me since I was a young child, surrounded by bullies & predators. I was alone each of those times but not really because there was an undefinable light under my tears, that made me sure this would change. That light blew out this August.
I found myself washed ashore in a world I did not recognise because I didn’t feel like me any more. It was only a week. But my mind, ever sharp & fast, felt like borrowed clothes, ill-fitting. Many things opened up in the week after which I’d deem miraculous if I could hold on to the notion of what a miracle is. A miracle is when you’ve soldiered through so much suffering, you have forgotten light and then you see a pinprick of sunlight. But when you have lost your eyes, your legs, your direction and forgotten your ability to move or even why you should, you can’t even shape the word ‘miracle’ any more.
It has been about 10 weeks since that time. I know that because I am looking at a calendar. But inside whatever I can call ‘me’, time seems to have slowed down. Voices are muffled. Or maybe the word is blurred. I can’t tell. I hear myself performing a story of the person the world recognises as me. I go through the motions. And in sudden moments, when I’m in the back of an autorickshaw or at 3:04AM (as my phone clock tells me) or with water pouring all around me (rain? shower? swimming pool?), it’s like I snap back into something that feels like ME. I feel like I’ve snapped awake after being in a nightmare for a long time. Everything feels beautiful, even the painful. And then that feeling fades and I’m back to performing, marionette-like. It is not altogether unpleasant. When I recall who I was, how I used to live before, I feel like I’m being crushed under unsurmountable burdens and ground down into nothingness. That did happen. Does dust recall the memory of being a mountain? Or even a stone? It passes.
This time did not stab me with shock. I don’t think there is much left of me to feel anything that big. Is this what surrender looks like? Maybe it is trust. Not blind faith which comes tinged with a nagging worry of being betrayed. But open eyed, knowing the human capacity for cruelty, aware of the randomness of luck (bad and otherwise), too tired to make frenzied backup plans. And still taking the next breath. Maybe that’s what trust is.
I thought about people I’ve grieved over the years. Sidhant, Rehab, Jaideep. They died too young and suddenly. I have been given a chance they didn’t get. I thought about who would cry if I died. I realised the ones that would, would be grieving the loss of what I bring to their lives, not the essential ME. And maybe that’s okay. The essential ME is so ephemeral, anyway. What is the purpose of me, of being here, of surviving? Maybe I don’t need one. I just go on because I do.
It is a nice feeling. A clean, empty white space to dwell in. I used to think fearlessness would be a dramatic, solid feeling, like a superhero barrel-chested, packing weight & punch. But maybe it is the a void. Maybe fears are like tangible bloodied chains. They diminish us and they imprison us. But cutting them back does not make us bigger than them. The only way out is to lose the tangible. To surrender. To let go of even the things we call ourselves. Mastery is not defeat, it’s transcending our chains like vapour.