The other day while talking to a very caring friend, I mumbled, “Oh, boy, I can feel it coming.” My friend responded, “What does it feel like?” I laughed out loud because of the inherent insanity of describing something that has been so ever-present in my life to someone who has been blissfully untouched by such pain. Yet, my friend was insistent that I not dismiss her query and instead summon up an analogy to help her understand; to understand was to know me better. But it’s hard to describe deep feelings, especially feelings that we have so little experience with, around, or in. “Pish, posh”, she said. “Of all the people I know, you are the best at describing your feelings. So get to it.” I laughed. And then here’s what I said.
Imagine waking up abruptly trapped inside a small, rubber balloon. The cold rubber is like water, touching every part of your body, suffocating you. As you push your arm out, the stretchy material wraps tightly around your arm and resists your every effort to move. Every ounce of energy you use to squirm and fight, the balloon absorbs. Like a black hole, it takes everything you can throw at it and still wraps tightly around your body, suffocating you. You can’t breath. Life, it seems, is over.
Eventually, you notice that the rubber seems to be giving a slightly and it’s not quite as clingy as it once was. A barely perceptible space between the rubber and your mouth gives you just enough room to breath. Inhale and the rubber pulls into your mouth. Exhale and the rubber protrudes out. Yet, somehow, you can breath.
Then you notice that the rubber isn’t quite sticking to your body quite so tightly. It’s still in your face and stuck to almost every part of your body but it’s not so stubborn as it was; there’re places where it’s not even touching your skin. The absence of rubber in those places feels weird. Confusingly, you kinda sorta miss the rubber rubbing against your skin. Where it used to touch, now you just feel cold, like the feeling of a new short haircut or the feeling of a t-shirt the first day of spring.
Time goes on and eventually the rubber isn’t touching you any where despite being completely surrounded, like a bubble. If you lift your arm or tilt your head, skin meets rubber and now, instead of feeling cold, the rubber hurts. It’s so much better to stand very carefully, make no contact, and avoid the pain. So you do. Until you can’t stand there, trapped, any longer. So you push.
Pushing hurts. But you push and push hard. You reach out your hands and push the parts of the rubber bubble. As your hands hit rubber, the feeling is familiar: cold, doughy, absorbing. But you push and push hard. Each push hurts; it’s been a long time since your body has moved this way. And it seems like each stretch of the bubble is tied to pain. Slowly, the bubble expands. After tremendous hard work, sweat and pain, the bubble is big enough for you to sit inside. So you sit. And you cry. You are tired and you hurt. Stretching the bubble hurts.
As more time passes you grow quite comfortable living inside the little bubble. It doesn’t hurt inside as long as you don’t touch and don’t stretch. You can stand and you can sit. But eventually, you realize that you can’t live inside this bubble forever. And so, once again, despite the memory of the pain from last time, you push. And you push hard. And, like last time, it hurts.
With every push, the bubble expands and each expansion is met with enormous pain. But with each expansion, the world you know gets a little bit bigger. After a few big pushes, you can even take a few steps. With a few more pushes, you can walk around. Eventually, you have enough space inside your little bubble to live a simple little secluded life. The pushing, despite how much it hurts, is working. You are growing a new life.
But you have felt the terror of being trapped, of life wasted, and life lost. Living inside a bubble is not a life you are willing to live. So you continue to push, pain and all. Every push hurts and is followed by a period of rest. But to not push is to not live. And so the cycle continues.
It’s been nearly three years for me. I’ve pushed and I’ve sat. I’ve sat inside my bubble and cried. I’ve fought hard and now my bubble is big enough for me to live my life, have new experiences, meet new people and even have a relationship. It’s unusual now for me to hit the rubber walls. But I still hit them, even after nearly three years. But I’ll keep pushing. Life is too precious to be kept trapped behind any kind of barrier. The pain of pushing is worth the reward. One day, maybe the bubble will break. More likely, I’ll just keep stretching that damn bubble until it’s so thin I can’t see it any more and it’s so big I never run into it. I won’t be free, but I’ll be pretty close.
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