memoir · mental illness · personal · Recent

Unfamiliar Familiar

Reading words I’ve read before. Familiar, but not recognizable. I have to start over, when I should know more. I should be able to quote theory and drop names. Yet, so much of this happened before the break. Before my mornings began with panic; before my racing heart woke me up and my body tensed for the impact of the next thing–whatever it was going to be.

The action of reading was strange. I couldn’t do it, for quite some time. Holding books in my hand felt tiresome; reading on computer screens seemed impossible (I’ve never liked it anyway). My eyes hurt, with or without my classes, and refused to transmit info from page to brain to memory.

The child that used to hide under the covers with a flashlight, because it was past time for lights out. The child that begged for just one more book from the library, that picked up Moby Dick, Plato’s Republic, and War and Peace,  from her father’s leatherbound book collection at the age of 10 (mixed in with some romance novels and Anne of Green Gables) determined to read whatever her fingers touched. The teenager who, when engaging in retail therapy, got lost in used bookstores and never left with less than half a dozen books, and often more than a dozen and a half.

The young woman who wanted books above all, who wrote until a blister, then a callous, then a permanent bump developed on her finger. The girl who hoarded notebooks and paper, knowing that she would fill the pages someday.

This girl couldn’t read, and she couldn’t write. How did I become this, from that?

All of that has made this dissertation process a little difficult. All this has made the last three to four years rather difficult, really, because what used to be a pleasure is now a chore, and when I don’t like reading, I’m not quite sure who it is that I am when I don’t enjoy reading, research, and writing.

Thankfully my joy and pleasure in these things is returning; it’s not constant, but at least it’s there more often than not, and my slumps don’t last quite as long. It’s still frustrating, though, because I try to work and feel that I should know so much more, but I’ve had to cover ground again that I’ve already covered. So that is also frustrating, and something that isn’t always understood about mental illness.

I was in a constant state of anxiety for months; the stress of it all actually affected my brain function, my ability to remember, my ability to process anything. So I’m working on getting that capacity back, too. It’s there, or it’s getting there, but still, it’s an adjustment.

I have to reconcile my knowledge of my past self with the familiarity I’m gaining with my new self, and this new self isn’t always someone I want to be. So that, too, is a challenge, becoming familiar with this unfamiliar self, and accepting the unfamiliarity that exists where there was once familiarity.

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