By Katrine

I sit. My form is transfixed as though tightly contained, taped to this chair, overwhelmed by its mindfield of paisley upon rust upon black. I cannot escape. My thoughts run wild: da-dum da-dum, da-dum, you are such an idiot, stop, Annie, stop, these are a few of my favourite things, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, a figure of eight crashing before my eyes in a harsh white light, a crescendo, all competing for my attention in unison.

I think therefore I am? I think therefore I am now seems more appropriate. A chemical, a hormone, charging through my veins. The adrenaline, I think.

But why this betrayal? I fear unveiling my brain for what it truly is. I would hate to unsettle their precious domestic ambience.

Stay calm, Annie, stay calm. She only spoke to you, she wanted the best. Small talk is to be expected at such gatherings, you told yourself before you came.

The underside of a neighbouring chair is dappled with a rhythmic interchanging of soul- invading colour, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue. It reflects from the flashing lights hung upon the hearth.

My left leg kicks as though in combat, right, left, right, left, red, blue, red, blue. My left finger is lodged within my mouth, right, left, right, left, red, blue, red, blue. Lights are just one of the festive extravagances I could do without: they burn inside.

I search for consistency in the hope to ground myself — I should know what to do by now.

My uncle asks me if I want a drink, “Annie, Annie,” he says. I’m not there, I’m within the realms of my own internalisation.

It took him many attempts: you’ve got to have the patience of a saint, they’d say, but I came round in the end.

No thank you, I stutter, fingers still inserted between my tongue and teeth, still moving from left to right. I never say, “thanks”, it is always “thank you”. Linguistic eloquence is important to me. I am a prescriptivist.

My throat throbs, not from screaming but from trying too hard to conform and it pains me to speak. I want more than anything to converse, to preserve my presentation of normality, to be taken seriously.

The others said they would be arriving at 5.30pm: 5.44pm and they still have not emerged. I sense that the arrival is imminent but nobody has told me. By this point I have been revising the potential discourse I supposed would operate between myself and these members of my extended family for the past 50 minutes, over and over after having constructed it whilst I could not sleep in bed the night before. I am a categorical being, a collation of many varying personas that I must unmask in differing situations and right now there is a dissonance between my adopted persona and my locality. I am prepared for engaging in conversation with others my own age but remain surrounded by my elders. The two versions of myself that I put forth in these situations are markedly removed from one another. A cause for heightened panic.

The small interim of discourse that operated between myself and my uncle has opened up a small gap in my right-left-right-left-red-blue-red- blue cycle so I sit and try to muster up the energy to make my exit. I turn my back. My panic-stricken face is not up for obtainment by those around me, I do not wish for a place in their mental gallery. My madness is no picture, no art.

I reverse as the finger in my mouth continues to wriggle, my thoughts are on reaching the double doors to my left, their clear glass a haven.

One step further and through the face of this glass I see a wisp of my cousin’s hair as he turns the corner onto the hallway where I stand guarding the entrance. The pace of my breath increases further still and my thoughts are intangible. I want to scream, to release, to rid myself of this detrimental presence, to align the incessant screaming in my head with that of my own out loud. I hope for my exteriority to be congruent with my interiority so as to reach a refreshing state of consistency. I am restrained by a myriad of societal expectations. I am in no position to talk.

I run, any exit, hideaway, place of concealment I aim for whilst my mind battles against me. The bay window. I hide myself away and a force within me unearths a repetitive screeching, ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh, the pause between as obliterating as the outburst itself. It accelerates and I can no longer stop, I can’t breathe, a personal attack over which I have no control. I suppress with all my might, stifling my screeches, I mustn’t let anybody hear me, they will think I am mad.

I persist for what feels like half an hour, I cannot be sure precisely. I wait for my mother to encompass me. This pressure is the only means of reassurement that I can access: relaxation cannot come from within. My mother navigates me and takes me outside as I struggle for breath.

Out of the realms of judgement I run, skip, revert myself back to the ten-year-old that I embody but must contain within. I want to be liked by everybody and to be liked requires normality.

My mother and I sing songs from my favourite musical, my own rendition in a tone contaminated by the voice of a little girl, the little girl that I am. This self-expression is cathartic.

I think to myself: is my life what dying feels like, outbursts of suffering that terminate with unity?

I just carry on stimming.

Submit articles