There are different kinds of numbness. There’s the numbness you feel once your fingers have been exposed for too long on a cold winter day. There’s the kind that sends an uncomfortable tingling feeling through your leg when you sit in the same position for a while. But these types have solutions, whether it’s to suffer through the burning sensation of warm water for a few seconds, or to awkwardly hobble a lap or two around the room, it always fades away.
Then there’s a worse type of numbness, one that takes over your whole mind and body and fills you with emptiness. It makes you forget who you are and what’s real. It brings with it a wave of stinging eyes, a clenched jaw and throbbing head, and a burning lump in the back of your throat. And this kind has no remedy. You can’t warm up or walk it off, it just lingers in the air and lurks in the back of your mind and waits to intensify when you’re most vulnerable.
After it’s been following you around for a while, it seems to consume your normal feelings and ideas. Before this numbness first made an appearance in my life, when I was little, I felt like I knew everything about myself. I knew I wanted to help animals and become a vet. I knew my favorite color was blue. My jersey number was always 8. My mom’s house was my favorite to be at. My favorite food was pasta. Math was my favorite subject. I knew who my best friends were and how to talk to them.
Now my responses to such seemingly simple questions are hesitant and no longer seem like facts. I say my favorite color is blue mostly out of habit, while sometimes it’s actually pale pink or lavender. I have no plans or ambitions for the future. I was assigned the number 39 in sixth grade for soccer and it varies every season for other sports. Every time I have to go between my mom’s and dad’s, a little part of me wants to leave the house I’m at as soon as possible, while at the same time another small part doesn’t want to go to the other house. I don’t like pasta anymore – after having watched my dog eat a bowl of pasta and throw it all up a few hours later the idea of eating any doesn’t sit well with my stomach. Math is hard, and doing homework for the class requires an immense amount of motivation and patience, or else stress and tears accompany the effort. I struggle to find a person to call when I want to talk to someone, and even though a few names come to mind I usually don’t hit the call button because I don’t know what I would say to them, so I distract myself in other ways.
I often take a shower to fill the absence of the attention I’m craving. Somehow I usually end up sitting on the bathtub floor with the lights off as I listen to music. I press my heels into the cool blue tile beneath the faucet of the tub as the hot water from the shower-head pelts my face with mini bullets and proceeds to make its way down my back. I let the heat fill my body as my thoughts begin to race around my mind and the numbness starts to creep in. The thoughts don’t feel like my own; my mind seems out of control. They move into a realm of unanswered questions and spark a vicious cycle of doubt and confusion.
I think about the “easy” question I’m often asked: what do I enjoy doing? I try to figure out the answer. Soccer and hanging out with my friends? That’s what people would expect me to say. That’s what I expect myself to say. But how true is it? That’s the part that’s the hardest to answer. It’s as if my brain isn’t able to sort out its own identity and what brings me pleasure.
As I sit here writing this I hear my computer keys clicking as “Good Years” plays from my right AirPod, I feel the pain that briefly comes when the side of my left ring finger hits the keyboard in the spot where I peeled the nail too short last night, I taste the remnants of the coffee I drank not too long ago. I know what I feel physically, but I can’t seem to understand my own thoughts and feelings: it’s all just numb.