We Are All Machines Waiting To Malfunction.

My partner once joked that I could perhaps make a good bodyguard because I have some version of Final Destination playing in my head, constantly anticipating the worst from some unexpected quarter. I don’t know how I got here, that is for me to figure out with my therapist. But I feel the need to put this out there just to not feel alone, and surely there is someone else feeling alone who might, in reading this, feel seen.

I have a concept I tell people to explain how my mind works. Have you seen the movie City of Angels? Spoiler alert: in the movie, Seth (Nicholas Cage), an angel who helps dying people into their afterlife, falls in love with Dr. Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan), an empathetic doctor who feels desperate at the loss of her patients. To be with her, he takes a fall (literally) to become human. He meets her and she’s confused, but eventually, they fall in love and get together. The morning after, she goes to the store on her bicycle, happy and fulfilled, rams into a log truck, AND DIES.

On most days, a lot of times, I am Meg Ryan on a bicycle. Just worried that when I least expect it, or if I am too happy, there will be a truck waiting to ram into me and my cycle won’t hit the brakes in time.

My partner once joked that I could perhaps make a good bodyguard because I have some version of Final Destination playing in my head, constantly anticipating the worst from some unexpected quarter. I don’t know how I got here, that is for me to figure out with my therapist. But I feel the need to put this out there just to not feel alone, and surely there is someone else feeling alone who might, in reading this, feel seen.

Some part of this feeling is conditioning. A friend once told me how every time something good happened to him, his mother would thank God for this good thing that happened. If something bad happened, well, you must have brought this upon yourself somehow. As an atheist (who is sometimes agnostic, especially on the days Meg Ryan is speeding on her bicycle far too fast), I believe in passing good deeds forward, because what goes around comes around. Until my therapist asked me, so if the good comes around because you did good, what about the bad? Did you do something bad? Did you hurt someone? Did you harm someone?

Conditioning makes one believe that, by default, we deserve nothing good. The good we get is either granted by someone’s kindness or we worked hard enough to achieve it. This then translates to feeling like the dream job you landed must be by mistake. If you aren’t thinking it, you worry about everyone around you thinking it and jinxing your luck. If no one else is thinking it, then your colleagues will surely discover that you are an imposter. The healthy relationships you are in must be too good to be true. The smooth journey you’ve had so far is, for sure, to be inundated by speed breakers and bottlenecks. And, if none of these happen, then it must be your good deeds (or it is God’s grace, for the believers).

The language we use is based on our evaluation of what/who is deserving and who gets rewards.

Another aspect is trauma. While I have always been cognizant of others’ traumas, accepting my own is new for me. I am a strong independent woman, I ain’t letting no minor trauma hinder me. But that really isn’t how things work.

Our reactions and patterns often get set in our formative years. Everything that follows is, perhaps, us reacting to those experiences, over and over. Trauma tells this part of me that something bad is going to happen and so the non-traumatised part of me has to be protected at every cost. So why not expect the worst possible, and brace yourself for impact? Every time there’s conflict, I’m bracing myself to hear words that will hurt me, and I react. Every time we are on the road, I’m bracing myself for the possible truck around the corner. Everytime I go down the stairs, I am bracing myself because my brain starts a slideshow of images of being sprawled at the bottom of the steps in a pool of my blood. Every time I get up from a chair to walk across the room, I’m thinking of the bazillion ways I can trip and fall and break my nose or be found dead. Or not found at all. Every time anyone I care for gets up and goes across the room, my brain demonstrates to me the number of ways they can hurt themselves.

On the bright side, I’d do great working at a daycare center for children. I’d have 100 ideas on how to baby-proof a room, or a corner.

On the downside, this is exhausting.

As someone who would never like to miss an activity or a new experience, this is at the very least an inconvenient deterrence. The judgments passed, the jokes cracked and the inconveniences caused to others, conveniently add shame and guilt to the sadness of missing out. I try and push myself, but, for instance, just this morning I couldn’t jump off a couple of rocks onto the beach (only my most favourite place to be) because I lost my nerve trying to cross a hanging bridge an hour before that. My heart throbbed in my lungs and I walked back halfway through. I thought, this one time, if I tried hard, I would I could make it across.

I believe we are all machines waiting to malfunction, at least my mind convinces me that’s how it is. You know the brakes for your thoughts are supposed to work. But they don’t always. Instead, they speed downhill, often spiraling uncontrollably. As a work in progress, I can vouch that it takes a lot of effort in trying to find that alternative way to hit the brakes, either jump off the trip or dig your feet hard into the ground, I suppose. Someday, I really hope Meg Ryan riding a bicycle, happy and fulfilled, is just that. And the truck at the corner sees her coming and stops in time too.

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Neelima Prasanna Aryan (also known as Nilofer), is a self-taught graphic-designer art director and illustrator. As a queer feminist woman, her work over the years has been with organisations that focus on the rights of women, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalised communities. Cat humom, city-hopper, lover of all things delectable and kooky; Neelima's art is not for the light-hearted or the narrow-minded for they are mostly loud, about women, large bodies, self and queer, love and intimacies.
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