Ten Seconds At A Time

Photo by Matej from Pexels

Do you ever experience an acute awareness of the simple fact that you’re a person? That’s a weird question. Of course, we know, intellectually, that we’re human beings and that we actually live, breathe, and experience life on many different levels. There’s no reason to question that, is there?

You and I exist in this realm of corporeal beings. We have flesh, and it covers our bones. Underneath that is a layer of adipose tissue, organs, arteries, and veins that make up our bodies. We take a breath in, and our lungs expand. Blood cells carry oxygen and other vital nutrients throughout our bodies. All of these things keep us alive and allow us to be present in this moment. 

The physical form houses a soul or spirit. There are many different beliefs at play, and they all have different names, identities for this thing inside of us. Let’s just say that it’s the entity that makes you uniquely you among so many others. Millions, billions, of physical beings wander this earth, but you are the only you there is or will ever be. I’m the only me there will ever be. That thing— whatever you want to call it— that’s the special sauce that brings us to life.

We’re not caricatures drawn in a park for twenty bucks. We’re not a story being told on a tv show or a character written down in a book. We actually live, breathe, and exist. We are real people, and I know that. Philosophically, logically, I’m very aware of it.

But I still wonder if I’m real. I wonder if I am a character in a story that’s being read out loud somewhere. What if I’m a figment of someone imagination? Well, since everyone’s a critic, I have to say, whoever you are, your storytelling is kind of drab. Your character is one-dimensional, and this plotline? Come on, you can do better.

And the existential crisis continues!

Am I the only one who has these thoughts and asks these questions? Have you ever thought about the fact that you’re a human being and said, whoa, seriously? Or was it more of a damn followed by a dramatic sigh?

I suppose there’s another option. You have no idea what I’m talking about which might be a more reasonable response. You’re reading this with a quizzical look. Perhaps you’re wondering if I’ve finally lost control of my sanity. Has it popped like a balloon? Am I whizzing around the room, creating high-pitched fart noises?

Yeah, well, you know what they say. Whoever smelt it dealt it. Boom! Witty comeback.

Here’s the thing, life has been incredibly hard lately, and it’s triggering a melancholy thought spiral. I’ve been in this mental fog that has me walking around in a daze. There have been some overwhelming personal challenges, and I know that’s incredibly vague. If it was just about me, then I’d tell you all about it.

But this thing, it doesn’t just involve me. It includes a lot of people that I love very much, and they live their lives privately. You know, because they’re mentally stable individuals who aren’t seeking validation from strangers on the internet. That’s a fair, albeit baffling, choice, but I respect their desire for anonymity.

I will tell you that it’s been emotionally charged and exhausting. I’ve been on the verge of tears and panic more times than I can count. I’ve cried a fair bit too. There’s been a few times when I’ve run out of energy, and my conscious mind has shut down while my physical form kept moving. 

There are always things that I need to get done, and life keeps coming. It doesn’t matter that my plate is full. It doesn’t matter that I just can’t right now. No one outside of my small circle cares that I’m emotionally and physically exhausted. Life continues, and I have to keep living.

So, I become an automaton. A self-operating machine that looks, sounds, and feels like a real person. I function like one but don’t be fooled. In those moments when I just couldn’t be me anymore, I’m on autopilot. My answers are short, my movements are stilted, and I make stupid mistakes.

If you knew how many times I tried to grab hot plates out of the oven bare-handed? Well, it’s a miracle I haven’t done more damage. Don’t worry, I decided to eat peanut butter sandwiches until my senses regain full mobility. No more hot places or sharp objects. Nope, safety first?

Yes, I ended the sentence with a question mark because I decided to go for a walk in public. What? That’s not dangerous is it? Okay, it wasn’t the wisest choice, but my dog was looking at me with those eyes. It was later in the evening, and the temperature had dropped to bearable levels. How could I saw no? Should I have said no? Don’t the special few with excellent mental health preach the healing powers of a walk?

Like, duh, the fresh air will totally cure your major depressive disorder. It’s the miracle drug that we’ve been waiting for. Oh, yes, you know me so well. That was indeed sarcasm. But going outside, getting some fresh air, and moving the body can take the edge off. It’s not total BS, but the delivery needs some work. 

So, I was walking my dog and looking at my surroundings. I looked, and I actually saw them. It wasn’t an abstract painting of blurred colours that vaguely resembled trees, sky, grass, and dirt. They had form, structure, and looked solid. Almost too real?

I stopped walking, blinked and looked to my left. Then I blinked again and looked to my right. I took a deep breath, and the strangest thought occurred to me. Believe me, even though I was half in the fog, I knew it was kind of out there. This thought, the idea, and the sensations were bizarre, and I was well aware of the fact. 

For the first time in so long, I realized that these were my eyes, and I was seeing trees waving in the breeze. Then I looked in the other direction, and my eyes saw kids on bicycles. Weird. Odd. Huh, I’m seeing these things with my own eyes. Eyes that are in my skull, connected to my brain, and fuelled by the blood pumping through my veins.

Then a bird chirped, and I looked up. There it was, on a branch near the top of the tree. It was almost hidden, but I could just make out its ruffling feathers. Again, it was a peculiar sensation, and I thought, I’m hearing this bird right now with my ears. Ears that are sitting on the side of my head, covered by my hair, and my brain’s interpreting these sounds. I know what’s making the noise because I have thoughts connected to life experiences and lifelong learning.

It’s so strange.

A couple of people walked towards me. Automatically, we all pulled our masks over our mouths and noses. It’s something we’ve all done a thousand times by now. It’s nothing new. It’s our normal but, hopefully, it won’t be for much longer. But, for the first time in days, I felt the fabric brush over my cheeks, the loops tugged on my ears, and the metal nose piece secured the mask in place.

After politely greeting the strangers, I adjust the mask a bit. The steam from my breath fogged up my glasses, and I was annoyed. It occurred to me that it was the first emotion I’d felt all day. It was the first time I felt anything in—I don’t know. 

The fabric on my skin, the drops of condensation settling on my top lip, and the ear loops pulling. I felt them too, and that’s when I realized that I was a person. When I look at my hands, and flex my fingers, they belong to me. I’m opening and closing my fist. This is my skin. These are my bones. The veins, arteries, blood and organs all belong to me. I’m not a robot or a machine. I’m a real person.

Who’s idea was that? Are you telling me that someone made me a person instead of a puppet on a string? That doesn’t sound right. It sounds like a huge mistake. Someone should get fired for this monumental lapse in judgement. 

I don’t know how to be a person with complex emotions and a life that’s…I don’t know how to describe it right now. Whatever it is, it’s easier to be the automaton with realistic movements and a passable resemblance. That version of me, functioning at a base level, is more palatable for me…others? I really don’t know.

But I know it’s not an authentic existence, and it certainly doesn’t make me happier in any way. It is, after all, the place I go when the real world is too hard to handle, and my emotions are too heavy or overwhelming. I switch to robot mode because I just can’t deal anymore.

If that’s where I go to cope with darker days, then it’s no wonder I stumble through it all. The automation isn’t programmed to heal. It isn’t designed to seek out joy. It’s an emotionless creature so, the concepts of happiness and love are abstracts. It just doesn’t compute, so in this mode, how am I supposed to recover, move on, or change my situation?

The answer is obvious, I can’t. If I want my life to get better or find some balance in there somewhere, I need to snap out of it. Which is easier said than done. I still don’t know how to do that. Especially when I’m so utterly helpless in this situation. When all I can do is pray and hope for the best? What good am I, and why should I stay present?

And this is where I stare at the blinking cursor for way too long. I feel like I should have an answer or some kind of motivational wisdom. Nope, I’m asking the question and hoping that something will come to me.

There’s so much going on personally, globally, and it’s too much. I’m trying all of the coping strategies to get through this day. Some of them are healthier than others, but I’m grasping at all of them. Someone recently said that they’re praying 10 seconds at a time, and I felt that deeply.

We’re all trying to hold on as long as we can and hoping that it will be long enough. 10 seconds. 20 Seconds. Those seconds add up, and before we know it, we’ve lived through another 24 hours. I can’t be the only one who gets ready for bed and asks, didn’t I just wake up? Where did the day go? I don’t remember what happened between waking up and going back to sleep.

I’m so busy surviving the next 10 seconds that, after a while, I forget that I’m a person. A real honest to God human being. Me? Seriously? There must be a mistake, but no, here I am. I’m feeling this moment, the computer keys under my finger times, and the headphones hanging around my neck. 

Survival has taken a break, and right now, I’m simply existing. Honestly, I don’t know which one is more exhausting, but I know which one is more honest, authentic. As uncomfortable and shocking as it is, in this simple moment, I am a person.


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