Updated: Jun 23, 2022
I imagine myself at every age, every phase of my journey, as a fully realized version living inside the me of today, like a series of Russian nesting dolls. There is the little-girl me and the adolescent me, the mother me and the writer me, the task-master me and so on. I often think of these iterations of myself like passengers on a bus. We're all along for the ride, like it or not. And while each version has had its turn behind the wheel, the fact of the matter is, only a select few make for good drivers.
For example, when little girl me takes over, you never really know where the bus will end up, though there will probably be loud singing along the way and some very entertaining outfits. And while that's fun and exciting in the short term, it's a recipe for disaster in the long term. And then there's adolescent me. God help us all when she takes the wheel. She has her own set of coping mechanisms that can be temporarily useful but turn destructive pretty fast. She can't decide if she gives zero fucks or too many. Either way, she is not looking out for anyone else's feelings but her own. You can imagine what that does to personal relationships. Most of the time, the mother and the writer take shifts while the task master supervises. It may not be the most thrilling trip, but snacks get passed out, everyone wears their seatbelt, and ultimately we end up where we were trying to go without too many detours or fender benders.
But a new version of me was born the day that Evelyn died. I have dubbed it simply, The Wound. Make no mistake, this is not a scraped knee. This is the wound that swallowed all other wounds. Every bit of unhealed trauma that came before it—childhood hurts and misunderstandings, experiences of being victimized, old break-ups—all just disappeared inside it. And The Wound is exactly how it sounds. It is big. It is raw. It is messy. It bleeds all the time, and it refuses to scab. It is excruciating to bear. The Wound is now a part of me just like all the other parts of me. It is on the bus for the rest of the journey. It earned a seat alongside the rest of us.
In the beginning, The Wound did most of the driving, if "driving" is even what you can call what The Wound was doing. That hellscape we traveled through together is not one I wish to visit ever again. The mother took the wheel in short bursts, often fatiguing far too quickly to keep The Wound at bay for long. Then the task master stepped up. And finally the writer. But all three were severely injured, and they had to build their strength back over time. When they could not go on, The Wound did it for them. And I guess it was good someone was in charge. But The Wound did not care about destinations or road safety. There were no snacks or camp songs. The Wound really only does one thing—it hurts. It feels and it emotes. It is the personification and expression of pain.
Nowadays, we relegate The Wound to the back of the bus. Really, if I had a choice, I'd rather let five-year-old me drive us all right off a cliff than give the wheel to The Wound. To be fair, I still have to listen to it on occasion, still have to let it navigate now and again or fiddle with the stereo, but I do my best to never let it drive. To put it another way, The Wound is always there, and it is always active, but it is seldom in charge.
However, on occasion something will come along that triggers me so deeply The Wound takes over. It's not always obvious, but if I'm lucky, I'll see it coming. I'll glance in the rearview and see The Wound lurching forward, ugly and determined, and I'll have a few moments to formulate a plan to maintain the driver's seat or at least recover it as quickly as possible. But other times, I get blindsided. And The Wound is on me before I know what is happening, and then we are all at its mercy. The Wound is powerful strong. It usually takes several of us to wrest the grip of the steering wheel away from it. And while that struggle is taking place, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, it is in control.
When The Wound takes over, it is like being on a bad acid trip. Everything is distorted. I cannot trust my own thoughts. I become so sensitive, even the smallest of slights sends ripples of pain through me which can result in a wild and disproportionate reaction. I live in a state of perpetual overstimulation. And often the best I can do for myself is hold on to anything within reach as we enter zero gravity, spinning out, and repeat over and over, "It's not real. It won't last. It's not real. It won't last."
A kind of seizure happens in my body where I suddenly double over, start sobbing or wailing for periods of time like I am retching emotion. It will come in the middle of cooking or watching TV or driving to the store. And it will often pass as quickly as it began. But it may only be a few moments before the next wave of contractions begin. I won't be able to stand still. Or I won't be able to get off the couch. Or I'll vacillate between both. My sleep gets interrupted. My appetite dips. In short, everything is impacted. And the whole experience burns through me, leaving me completely fried and exhausted. Eventually, it will run its course like a virus. And as the LSD leaves my system, I begin to feel myself returning, my head clearing, sanity being restored as the rest of my passengers manage to strap The Wound back down in its seat near the emergency exit.
I feel like a werewolf during these bouts of severe grief, anxiety, fear, and pain. If I could just lock myself away from civilization until the full moon passes, it would be safest for everyone. Because something that is part of me, but is not me, is taking over. And that something can see nothing but its own agony.
The Wound has been driving the bus for nearly seven days now. This time, I did not see the trigger coming. And as you can imagine if you know our story—Evelyn's story—that lack of foresight makes it all the worse because one of my biggest triggers is when things happen unexpectedly, suddenly, abruptly. Whenever The Wound gets the jump on me like this, it usually has the wheel a longer while because the ambush effect sets me back even further. On this occasion, it took me three full days of mounting hysteria to even fully process what was happening. And by that point, I hadn't been in charge of myself for a while.
I am, to put it bluntly, strung out on adrenaline and cortisol and unadulterated fear. My body is bone-weary and still repeatedly being pushed through one grueling if-I-stop-moving-I-will-die activity after another, mostly cleaning. (The baseboards, incidentally, have never looked so good.) My mind is caught in a loop of toxic thought, a hamster wheel of what-if scenarios, all of which play out to increasingly devastating outcomes. My amygdala is on hyperdrive, and it has basically been screaming nonstop the entire time. My poor, bedraggled frontal lobe is doing its level best to inject even an ounce of reason into the equation. But the lizard brain has a megaphone for a larynx, and it is hooked up to Dolby surround sound. It doesn't just want to be heard, it wants to pulverize everything around it with a blitzkrieg of mind-scrambling ultrasound. Good times.
I know that in the near future, I will manage to shove The Wound back in its box. I'll start to see reality again. I'll gain perspective and clarity. The world around me, once shattered, will reassimilate into something I can more or less work with. I'll find my balance. And I will begin the process of sorting through the guilt and shame and embarrassment that comes with losing control of yourself for days at a time. And the thing that triggered me in the first place will shrink to its proper proportions. I will find a healthy, reasonable way to cope with it. Because, as I so often have to remind myself, I am not The Wound. It is a part of me, yes. Maybe even a large part. But it is not all of me. It's the place where the pain lives, and God love it for taking that on.