By Shannon Layne
When I’m stressed, I pick and worry at my cuticles unconsciously, wearing them down and ripping them apart with my nails until my fingers are bloody.
I run the torn flesh over my mouth, the roughness of the hangnails contrasting with the smoothness of my lips. I do this without noticing it, like a child with a blanket, until I notice the faint smudge of blood on my face later in the bathroom mirror.
On the occasions that I do get a manicure, I am wincing constantly as the patient manicurist attempts to push my cuticles down without causing any more pain to the raw areas and the hangnails.
I avoid alcohol. It makes me jumpy, more paranoid, a lid flipped open for more unnecessary worries to seep in when my practical defenses are compromised by the easy buzz of a drink.
I rub at the ache in my chest constantly, just over my heart. Breathing evenly and slowly is a chore that I have to concentrate on.
I am absent. I don’t rage or yell, and I don’t cry. I sit quietly, and I don’t engage. I don’t talk and I don’t smile. It is taking enough of my concentration to keep everything inside myself calm. I don’t have extra energy to make small talk.
I want to be comforted, but move away from being touched.
I am afraid to let you soothe me because that will force me to admit that I need to be soothed.
If I can sit here and be calm, then I’m okay.
I want to talk about it, but I can’t.
First of all, it’s difficult to explain what has my insides in knots, a constant rise and fall of nausea like a stormy sea.
Second of all, even if I could put it into words, those words would break me.
Those words would let out the tension that I’m desperately trying to keep locked inside myself so that it won’t spill out and become real. If it’s real, it will just make things worse for me, and more than that I don’t want you to be touched by what’s causing me pain.
I don’t want you to be touched by what is causing me pain.
So, I shrug away when you reach for my shoulders in an effort to rub out the tension. They are like concrete, stiff with the effort it takes for me to stay calm, but I can’t relax into your hands.
If I relax, I will break, and if I break down I won’t be able to stay focused on addressing whatever it is I’m anxious about. I can’t afford to relax. That’s a luxury I refuse to sink into.
So you go to bed without me, and you leave me alone with the weight pressing into every inch of my body, covering my skin like oil.
I want you to stay with me, and I want to be alone.
When I’m stressed, I push you away. I don’t want to, I need you more than ever at that point, in fact, but I feel like I have to.
I don’t care about the torture that I go through. That’s me, that’s how it is. I care about you. I want to spare you the ugliness that swirls inside me like a thundercloud.
I would spare you from all the ugliness in the world, were it within my power.
But I can, at the very least, save you from mine.