1. I thought I might start listing things that are absolutely incontrovertibly horrible yet for some reason my mind is not lighting up in full red alert terror that they might happen to me.

2. Also things that don’t cause me to feel empathy so disregulated that it’s as if they were happening to me.

3. And just to be clear, empathy, concern, and opprobrium are good responses. Abject terror, despair, and a sense that the world is ending, well, they don’t help anyone.

4. And now I feel ashamed to list them so they’ll stay forever in my mind.

5. But here’s an exercise: find the things that do not terrify you, then wonder if the things that do terrify you are not so dissimilar. And if they are not, why do similar things fall on different sides of the terror spectrum? What else is going on?

6. And maybe just maybe that other thing that is going on? Maybe that can heal.

Painting by Sanders Stein


Totalitarian fear

1. Talking about the terror with my analyst is like dissolving a large stone stuck at the top of my esophagus.

2. Terror put into words and heard by another is less terrifying.

3. Terror festers in the isolated mind.

4. We revisit early places.

5. We tread the same dark floors and now she is with me.

6. She tells me it’s okay to lose my shit with her. She tells me I don’t have to be stoic or brave.

7. She tells me the bodies of children.

8. She says “children.”

9. She says I see you.

10. I am scared of this country.

11. It took few months of me even being here for the mental health center of my university to take a restraining order against me.

12. Never been violent a day in my life.

13. Never thought of myself as anything but kind.

14. It took them a year to lock me up in a psych unit for the sin of being in pain.

15. I expected help.

16. They promised me help.

17. At my intake interview the nurse was icy. I knew, then.

18. At my second interview I smiled and the person said, icily, it’s not funny.

19. My third interview was at 3 AM. The psychiatrist banged hard on my door and said Let’s go.

20. That was the last time I slept.

21. Can you survive five days of absolute terror and no food or sleep?

22. They told me they would help me.

23. My friends said, Trust the doctor.

24. I had never been so misjudged, so disbelieved, so humiliated and summarily abused before.

25. By everyone.

26. I counted for nothing.

27. I was a nuisance.

28. No one helps anyone here.

29. They violate you they tie you up they punish you and your sin is you were in pain.

30. I hurt no one.

31. I did nothing bad I swear.

32. A poet calls her time in the psych hospital “totalitarian fear.”

33. I didn’t grow up here. I know this is not normal. I know this happens nowhere else. I know there are places where those with power are humans like you. I know it’s the majority of places.

34. This country is founded in blood and the tying up of brown, black, occasionally white bodies.

35. Lynchings and picnics.

36. Lynchings and families.

37. Nowhere else my friend.


Yet here we are

1. I write silly words to comfort myself.

2. Once someone said to me she lives with terror all the time so she understood me and my terror entirely and I said well the kind of terror I feel could not be lived with all the time because it is literally unendurable.

3. She became angry that I was invalidating her terror.

4. When we endure the unendurable we die and the person who keeps living is a dead person.

5. My therapist has started seeing the dead little girl and she has started taking to her so maybe there is rescue yet.

6. I wonder how much terror I gobbled up as a kid. Must have been a lot.