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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

present tense by CJ Q. '23

“you've got to let go of the fear”

in swim class, our instructor emphasizes the importance of relaxing.

“you’re in the water and your body tenses up. why? it’s because of the fear. it’s natural, it’s instinctive, it’s thinking that tensing up the muscles will help you float. but it doesn’t. you’ve got to let go of the fear.”

the first day of beginner swimming was last tuesday, and i viscerally remember shaking out of fear as i walked up to the doors leading to the pools. i remember milling around the locker room waiting for eleven o’clock to hit before stepping into the pool area and heading to the teaching pool. i remember cold shower water and cold air, and i remember shivering as i walked from the shower to the pool.

of all the classes i’ve taken so far, it is swim class that has made me feel the worse about underperforming. sure, half of the people in a class are below median, and i’ve been in that half several times now, and i’m lucky that i’ve never really felt that bad about it. but when there’s only six of us in the pool, and i can see how far others get when they push off and glide, or see how fast they can go from one end to the other when they sidestroke, it feels bad, in a felt sense.

i’ve been having more and more vivid dreams lately, often bordering on nightmares. i’d wake up and i’d feel tense, anxious, and i could hear, audibly, my heartbeat ringing in my ears. my psychiatrist says that it could be because i’m processing my trauma. or it could be because of the sertraline. or both, or neither, and the thing is that it’s impossible to tell, really.

i thought that the overarching theme of these dreams was escape: of running away from all that i had to do in the waking world, because i was overwhelmed, and because in my dreams, i could be wherever i want, with whomever i wanted. my psychiatrist thought that the overarching theme was loneliness, and said that maybe it’s because i felt that i’ve been left alone, out in the harsh world, to fend for myself.

a friend i talked to about my dreams thinks it’s neither, and that the theme is of having my trust being broken. that all of them had me placing my trust in someone, only to have it broken in some way. at first i said that this didn’t sound right, because i like to think of myself as a very trusting person. i like to think of myself as someone who has pretty high faith in people in general. but i could see his point, and it really was the case that most of my dreams had the same pattern.

for the past five nights i have constantly felt on the verge of crying. i’d be sitting in front of my computer, and it’d be ten or eleven in the evening, and it’d just come upon me, like hands pressing down on my forehead. my chest would feel half as light, and i’d feel the muscles around my eyes become tense.

it’d be pointed at a general frustration with my life. i’m doing too much homework and i’m not really enjoying my classes, or i’m struggling on a difficult problem set, or i’d feel randomly lonely, yet didn’t feel like talking to people. after all, i’m doing a lot of academic work right now, more than i’ve done before. or, you know, i’ve been seeing so many people through screens, and even the people i’ve seen in real life i couldn’t really get too close to. so it’s justified, right?

but the thing is, none of these reasons feel like the right one. it feels like something much, much older, like a profound emptiness, a hole torn into me years ago. one previously covered with tape, but which the wind blew open again.

after one of my nightmares last week, i remember waking up so tense that i call up some friends to see if anyone could talk, or even come over and give me a hug. but everyone was asleep, or busy. i felt awful. i felt my body become heavier and heavier. i feel the bed sag under my weight, and it bursts open, and i fall through the floor.

and then i wake up again. it was just a dream.

And I feel my past regrets
Slipping into present tense
So we stare at the wind
Cursing God through all our sin