in limbo

trap doors that open / I spiral down

I’ve been trying to write a book since I was in high school. At first it was a novel, then it became a collection of short stories. Several scrapped chapbooks, an Amazon Prime novella and a failed attempt to serialize a narrative poem and I haven’t reached this goal. Currently I’m trying to put together a working selection of novellas that seem to represent a certain moment in my life. Regarding my writing, these novellas seem to represent an authorial peak in terms of narrative pathos and storytelling. Each narrator is complex and flawed, a raw yet heavily adulterated permutation of myself, and I look at their emotional honesty as a sort of testament to my own personal development. Nonetheless, every time I read over these works, taking them out of the “resting” period I afford all of my longer works before beginning the same self-deprecating editing process, I realize how much more I need to read, how much more I need to grow before I am ready.

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For about a year, I’ve had my anxiety under control. For a brief moment sophomore year I was on medication for it, but I stopped after realizing the medications weren’t really doing anything. I had to, at the moment, find an alternative way of fixing my crippling anxiety attacks, bouts of mental turmoil which I could sense coming like a storm. I cannot describe my anxiety attacks, and I’ve spent a long time trying to write my feelings into existence, only to realize that human language can only do so much to describe the nebulous, undefined spaces of our minds. After a tumultuous sophomore year, I spent the summer tending to my developing stomach issues, seizing in silence about my life and all of my decisions. Junior year was remarkably quiet – for half of it, I was at school, although I knew that my mind was really elsewhere. I was biding time, waiting to go abroad. I found it increasingly difficult to be present at Swarthmore, and when I was abroad, I found it just as difficult to be present in Senegal. I have described my abroad anxiety as a constant noise in the background, something I could tune out most of the time. It seemed to have solidified into a general malaise that my mind channeled through my GI tract. Now, I’m in North Carolina, working on a research project, and my anxiety is slowly mounting again.

I was talking to a friend that I made in the program about my conduct and my behavior and I expressed to her that I feel as if my anxieties are related to the ways that I orient my life around the acquisition of certain goals. I’ve been somewhat aware of this since high school, when my English professor would call me a “grade monger” almost as an insult, and I would smile, because I didn’t understand how “grademongering” could be seen as a negative characteristic. I have found great satisfaction in being a high-achieving student; I have very few other metrics other than my academic accomplishments to determine my self-worth, a horrible reality I am still in the process of correcting. I find that my mood is greatly impacted by my grades and the responses I get on my papers. When my comments in class receive minimal acknowledgement, I become insular, I cut myself down, and say “You are no longer allowed to speak because you were wrong.” A destructive desire to please others, for I have never been taught to determine my own value, mixes disastrously with an unhealthy sense of perfectionism and a dangerously disparate self-perception; my mind is a persistent calamity of self-affirmation and self-deprecation.

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