When the mind is disrupted by fear, numbing most thoughts, language and emotions, the self is suppressed or disassociated. I feel an empty shell. When colleagues talk, especially, those with seniority or some other dominance over me, I lock into their eyes, nodding and murmuring. I am trapped in front their words and eyes, barely able to move or stand straight. Even at the end of the day, when I’m due to go home, I am enmeshed in the words of others and am only released when they stop talking.
I can’t find a self to express a view; I should be off now, or some other personal view, except, to agree and reinforce, with a timid smile. Most thoughts and words that come to mind seem forced and hollow – they will be spoken so emptily, that they are not worthy saying. In my vulnerability and emptiness, I seek to gain their admiration and to hold back any angry attitudes. And, yet, in my stiff, smiling and agreeing avatar, I feel a contemptible fool and fraud, deserving of anger or contempt. I wait for it, growing ever more stiff and anxious, and nodding and grinning more.
What courage it would take to try and find myself amidst the mind numbed by vulnerability, anxiety and trauma. It would mean revealing the confusion and irrationality of my mind. I would stop pretending and admit to colleagues that I can barely find my way around the building, unable to navigate due to some dysfunction of my brain. It would mean admitting to my vanity in wanting admiration and respect and letting out my monotonous, ponderous words and thoughts into the air, open for ridicule or contempt. It would mean telling my manager that this job, despite everyone’s support and kindness and, despite their great need for staffing support and clear hopes that I will stay longer-term, is not for me and that I will likely be leaving soon to try another role.
The other day, I walked out of the building, at the end of the day, having listened and smiled and struggled to take in what my manager was saying and having waited for her to stop speaking to let me go. She did, eventually, and in my self-disgust and shame, held at bay for the day, I found my way out of the building, looked at a local street map sign to remind myself the route home and promptly walked in the opposite direction to that of my station. I got lost and got home, perhaps, an hour later than I should have – though, I didn’t check the time. The following morning, I told my cheerful manager that the journey home had been fine.
Is there a self in there? And where to start in finding it? I feel empty of personality or self. There is nothing to guide me, except, morphing to please each person that I meet. I saw a Labrador on the train home today and it looked up to give a baleful look, with its rust-coloured eyes, at a young man and his elderly father. I saw something relatable in the dog’s eyes, a voiceless emotion.
I continued reading the newspaper, folded in my hand. My government seems to be willing conflict with Russia by ministers repeatedly talking up its imminence. The newspapers are full, every day, about the cost-of-living crisis that will grow this year, as inflation accelerates with large energy price rises and a tax increase on top of the increasing cost of everything else, including, public transport. I’m not sure I want to read the paper and this terrifying and unjust news but, it feels better than experiencing the emptiness, shame and hopelessness that I feel, in the brightly lit train carriage, surrounded by people making their journeys.