I am not here.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I am completely detached from my surroundings, and if at all, I do focus on something, it only lasts for a few seconds. I am typing, I am staring at my laptop’s screen, but my mind is elsewhere. It’s not thinking about anything else, or pointlessly distracted either; it’s just not here.
This is a novel experience for me. I have always been too attached to my feelings, thoughts, surroundings — the physical world.
At any other point in time, it would bother me that my table is not clean, my water bottle is nearly empty, my foot is asleep, and that I haven’t written in a week. But, now it doesn’t — I feel as if nothing really matters.
I haven’t slept well for the last two weeks. A good night’s sleep has eluded me for four years, but now, the unnatural schedule that enabled me to (barely) hold it together has been wrecked. Construction noise from the apartment downstairs has made it impossible for me to sleep during the day, and I have been in a perennial zombie state.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation aren’t unique to me, as they are an active part of my life, but I could never have predicted what slipping below “my normal” would be like.
I feel like a version of me is here, trying to focus, trying to type, and the rest of me is not. It’s floating around elsewhere. I have never felt so disconnected from my work, and that worries me.
In the next moment, an inner voice quips, “Why do you care?” and I don’t have an answer for it.
Until now, I have only dealt with only one prominent voice — the inner critic. This new voice isn’t harsh, hostile, or reprimanding; on the contrary, it’s quite chill. It keeps asking me to relax, to detach, and not be in the moment if I don’t want to.
“Go to sleep; you don’t need to write today.” Now, that’s utterly surprising.
A little over three weeks ago, I wrote a story — my first fiction piece. It took me four days of (continuous) effort to complete it. It demanded everything I got (and more), and I obliged.
The process was very fulfilling creatively, as I was making something from scratch, from a figment of my imagination and putting words to paper that were ever so bewitching. Each dazzling sentence danced in front of my eyes, coming together to create a piece of art that I am (or instead was) incredibly pleased with.
When I started writing it, I already knew the complete story in my head. It just came to me one night while reading Eliot’s Nocturne. I quickly jotted down an outline and decided to get on this project asap, abandoning several others.
I was quite excited to try my hand at a new genre and, for a change, believed in myself like a wide-eyed optimist. I did my research, learned the rules, conceived of three-dimensional characters, and started building a small world of my own.
The story reached its completion at 8672 words. I was beyond exhausted and yet thoroughly amazed at what I had just created.
I couldn’t believe it, and parts of me still can’t. I had just concluded a complete story, with a beginning and an end, spanning across a lengthy timeline, composed of every idea, every spark, and every thought that had crossed my mind.
I know this sounds a tad boastful, but can I just say, “Wow”!
Next, I started the tedious task of editing it. As much as I hate changing my work, I also like perfecting it for the reader — An interested reader.
I like to think that the two to three people who choose to read my work genuinely should be able to escape in it, at least for a while. They should get an opportunity to feel things, connect with my words, and motivate themselves to introspect about similar issues in their life.
And I believe I achieved that, to the best of my current abilities.
Throughout this time, I also kept reminding myself to manage my expectations. As I write for myself, I cannot expect success to automatically come my way just because I pour my heart and soul into a story. It doesn’t work that way.
“Write like no one is reading” — I have this quote pinned on my desk.
I am writing this because I want to share my story — this story. And that should be the end of it. I presumed that I had done a decent job at internalizing this statement, and that failure wouldn’t affect me any more than I could handle.
Even though I was soaring high artistically, this story took a heavy toll on me psychologically.
I grapple with keeping up with believing in myself when things are not going according to plan. I did not intend to do this, abandon my writing goals for the month, and spend fifteen days on what I can now safely call my passion project.
The amount of physical effort it took from me was equivalent to that of three of my usual pieces, and I am still uncertain of how much it affected me in other areas. It wasn’t a conscious choice.
The story was quite simple in my head — A love story debunking common rom-com tropes, spanning over two decades, displaying the real meaning of love, commitment, magic, effort, pain, despair, and life itself.
Both the characters in the story drew heavily from my own experiences, and I got the rare opportunity to edit them to be better versions of me — versions I could have been — the roads not taken.
The more I wrote, the deeper I dove into their story, their ideas, their aspirations, and their reality. I wrote dialogues, set scenes, narrated incidents, and constructed multiple journeys.
With every new paragraph, every meaningful change, and every developed idea, I fell in love with the world I had just created. It was imperfect, but it was real as hell. And I was beyond proud of myself.
Simultaneously, the writer in me — the content creator part of me, was struggling.
“How many days was I going to spend on this project? Was it worth it?
What does this mean for my future?”
And many other such questions swirled in my mind.
The artist in me took over, and relentlessly worked to make this story reach its completion. It pushed the doubts aside and told me to move forward, to finish it, to do justice to my work, and I went along with it.
I still spent a significant amount of time every day, doubting myself.
“What am I even doing writing fiction?
Am I ready for this?”
Objectively, I didn’t know anything about this project. For an endeavor that didn’t promise any results, I was abandoning my very real ideas that would go on to become articles that would help me add more pieces of work to my portfolio.
But, whenever I opened my story — the page I was supposed to edit, I got swallowed whole by it. I was completely in it, dreaming, imagining, feeling, and adding more and more to it. I spun and spun till reading its contents brought tears (of joy) to my eyes.
I kept going like this, without knowing when it would end, if it would end, losing myself in someone else’s story, their story.
And then one day, unexpectedly, it did end. It was time to hit the green button, and I was relieved. “Phew, at last, it’s over,” I exclaimed to myself as I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I decided to give myself a day off to rest and recuperate.
Now, looking back, that’s the exact moment when my sense of feeling went away.
The next day, when I checked its performance, my managed expectations were met, I had a flop on my hands.
I reminded myself that this was my first try, that only a few people need to read it for it to matter (to me), and this story is always going to exist, even when I am (really) not here.
The next night, I was unable to sleep, for some inexplicable reason. I always know what is bothering me, to the extent that being too aware of my feelings becomes a problem for me. I have always considered my all-too-consuming negative emotions a burden, and now there were none that I could see. My mind was still clear and empty.
I woke my partner up at 6 a.m. and told him that I was unable to rest. I am disturbed, I feel a dull sense of pain, but I can’t figure it out. He helped me realize that what I was feeling is “Loss.”
The loss of the story, that it went away from me. The loss of failure that my work was not well-received or rather received at all. The sting of rejection from the platform that I write on. The loss of relatability and understanding from a few potential readers. The loss of effort and time.
And I needed to give myself time to cope with it.
I saw it, the iceberg floating around in the ocean of my mind, but I couldn’t feel its sharp cold edges. I couldn’t see the bottom. I dove further inside, reached the abyss, and started to explore. I have been here before many times; it’s familiar territory.
I have got lost in it, waited, and hoped for something to pull me out and remained trapped for days. I have also taken tethered dives and discovered important clues, secret treasures that have helped me put together the puzzle pieces. And at times, I have lent myself a hand to climb out and begin the journey of recovery.
But, today, I saw nothing, and I felt nothing. I was surrounded by darkness — complete, blinding darkness. I couldn’t decode the problem.
“Is it there, or is it not there?
Am I done reeling from it?
When can I start working on it?”
I decided to take it easy for the next few days and let the answer come to me. Surprisingly I was okay (more or less). But, I had still not regained my sense of feeling — I was not here.
For as long as I can remember, “pain” has been a constant in my life. At times it’s so less that I don’t actually feel it, forgetting its existence for a little while, and at times it’s so severe that it breaks me into a million pieces, and I don’t know how to put myself back together.
It has been my enemy, my friend, and my companion. I rely on it from time to time as it helps me make better sense of the world. However it presented itself, in different shapes or forms, “pain” has always been there — And I have always felt it.
Not being able to sense it has been unnerving. I feel lost, not in control, as if I am flailing around purposelessly, not knowing what is happening in my own mind.
It’s not that I don’t feel anything at all. I felt loved when my partner bought me a candle. I felt fulfilled when I prepared a gourmet dinner tonight, and I also feel the razor burns on my left calf itch. But, nothing lasts for more than a few seconds. Very soon, rather promptly, I am back…to…nowhere.
I cannot remain at this moment, at any moment, and parts of me don’t ever want to be. I am used to positive feelings not lasting, but having no feeling at all, not having to fight doubts and negativity is new and simply absurd to me.
If I try really hard, I can feel some weird physical sensations. My vision is blurred, my hands are shaking while typing, and there’s an inexplicable pit in my stomach.
I haven’t had a complete thought in my mind that would distract me from my workstation for four hours. I just listened to The Scientist for the first time without tears welling up in my eyes.
What is this?
I know I am supposed to be in pain. I did go through an adverse experience — one I could not control, and I need to give myself time to heal from my loss. But I have absolutely no idea how to deal with it.
I have faced loss before. I have had no one read my work. I have had expectations squashed. I have bled on the pages of my story, shared thoughts from the deepest depths of my mind, and exposed myself bare. And I haven’t received anything in return.
I genuinely thought I had learned my lessons in this area, made peace with failure, and was comfortable with the decision to keep writing for myself.
“This is just the beginning. You are an artist, and first, you must learn to create art. Then, the reader, the audience, comes into the picture. This period is just for proving to yourself that you can write. You need to believe in yourself and become confident in pursuing your passion. That’s the monumental first step.”
I affirm this to myself every day, and I stand by this notion.
This time, “loss” feels different. It’s personal, more intimate, for some reason, and I can’t seem to get a hold of it.
“Why can I see the problem and not feel it? Is there something more to it?”
I ask myself again and again.
Off the top of my head, with my current severely limited thinking capability, an answer comes to mind. I want to go back in time. I want to be in that world — one of my creations where I felt things. I felt happiness, joy, love, sadness, and pain, and I fully lived every moment of it.
My emotions took over me, helped me travel all around the universe, and carried me to a land where things mattered. Now, I am unable to get back.
Maybe I wasn’t ready to release my story into the world, and I should have held on to it longer. Perhaps I wasn’t prepared to let go; maybe that is the most significant loss of all. I exposed my world to others, and it didn’t matter; it didn’t make a difference. And I can’t take it back.
I think I wasn’t prepared for it to drown in anonymity, for it not to get the small yet meaningful amount of viewership that my work consistently receives.
Managing expectations and facing reality seem to be two entirely different things right now.
Last night, I forced myself to write. I brainstormed, came up with a good topic, set up my workstation, and tried to type. I couldn’t. My brain refused to think, and my fingers wouldn’t budge.
My new inner voice spoke up, “Don’t push yourself. Nothing really matters, you can decide not to do anything tonight, go to bed”.
Then, fear took over, fear of not being able to write again, of not meeting my goals, and of not creating another story that could possibly mean something to others as well, and I kept trying. My effort was in vain, and two hours in, I decided to take a break.
I stepped outside, to my balcony as I often do at night, to clear my head. The night sky acts as an anchor for me, which always grounds me to reality. It helps me see the beauty in this world, the limitless possibilities, and reminds me of the vastness of the universe.
I feel tiny when I gaze at it like I am a speck of dust. Somedays, I feel like stardust and other days like real dust, like dirt.
Yesterday was the latter type of day. Yesterday, it didn’t work, and I didn’t feel better. I came out of the surreal experience with a blank mind. The positive feelings did rush to my head, but they didn’t last — they didn’t matter.
When I decided to call it a day and go to bed, once again, I felt nothing. The ever so familiar feelings of guilt, doubt, and shame didn’t visit me. I was totally fine with not working, never working again, and drifting through life aimlessly.
I just couldn’t bring myself to care anymore.
I have tried to think deeply, to figure out my current predicament, to decipher what I am going through, but my efforts have not met with any results. I really don’t understand what’s going on.
“Is this what real loss feels like?
Is this a new version of pain — A numbing, hidden, mysterious manifestation?”
Pain and episodes of poor mental health have always inhibited me from functioning normally. I am forced to take a pause, stop, reevaluate, and chart a course for working on myself as well as bettering my situation.
Now, I am perfectly able to function. I can do my household chores, I can get out of bed, and I could hold a lengthy coherent conversation. If you ask me about your problems, I am sure that I will be able to offer a solution, but I don’t have a clue about mine.
I no longer feel the weight of my anxiety, and I seem to have an unusually high amount of energy. I don’t need to battle self-doubt daily. My mood does not go through its usual ups and downs. Objectively speaking, I am better than before — better than I have been in a long, long time.
I am so confused about my reality though because I have never been so disconnected with myself. I can no longer be sure of anything.
Obviously, my anxiety did not evaporate overnight, but then where is it now? For three years, I have been trying to combat it while trying my best to live with it, and now, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it disappears without a trace.
I cannot determine whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Is today a rainy day or a sunny day? “Honestly? Who gives a f*ck,” quips my newly minted inner voice.
I also don’t know what this experience, or rather this phase, means for my work.
“Should I stop being so attached to it?
Am I not ready to write such intimate stories?
Should I start generating content like a machine?”
I feel so numb and so out of touch with my feelings that I can’t even tell which way I will lean. I don’t have a template for solving this problem, and I don’t even know where to begin.
Will I ever be able to create art again?
Today I was finally able to write as I chose not to think about it actively. I decided to simply share what I am feeling right now, or rather not feeling right now, and I don’t really know if it makes a whole lot of sense.
I don’t have a tangible solution for my problems, a takeaway to offer, or even a satisfactory conclusion to make, but I am going to share this story anyway. I feel that we should talk about pain, loss, and sadness, whether understood or misunderstood.
I think it’s equally important to tell such stories as it is to write about hope, happiness, success, and all the other things that are right in the world.
Because things aren’t always right, are they?
Sometimes, there is no moon in the night sky. But the sky still exists, the colors still appear in front of my eyes and present me a window into the eternal universe. It reminds me that I exist.
Even though I am not here, I am still here.