Through the valley of the shadow of death...
by Tondani Muloiwa
(South Africa, Limpopo, Venda)
It seems much easier to give this monster a gender.IT. It has no face. No sex. No name. But what it does is unforgivable. It devours the very soul and sucks it. It floats and hovers above my head all the time. Sometimes its presence is very intense and makes certain it's felt. This is when it descends into my body, casting my very soul literally over my head. My body and soul become two things. It consumes and hosts itself in my body, and a battle ensues between it and my soul to get that place in my chest. The fight is long and hard. Sometimes it seems busy reproducing, leaving me space to find new strength. But never does it completely leave me. A cord binds us together so I feel it there. Breaking me down with silent torcher. And when breeding period is over, it returns with a vengeance, having more offspring- and my soul has less space to live in my body. They choke and struggle, sending my body into involuntary actions. Yet my mind is present. It takes all the extra strain. My body starts to take in the effects of that battle. I know I will win each time, but also uncertain if my soul and body will reunite. And the power I believe I have gathered is as little as half a teardrop in an ocean. I am in a place that's far beyond fear. The most fearful feeling is when the struggle between my soul and it is in progress. I have no body. I can see it from a different position because I am not within it, but without. It seems to outweigh gravity; I am at two places at once. It's a shade of black and grey, looks fragile. But it's power astounding. It produces a very fearful smell, like pins and needles actively working against the soul, there's no pain, but so much pain- I can feel it but can't feel it. It has hands, they are very powerful. They are the root of its power. They are rough, made of black ice, the grip is firm. Once they touch me, I can't do anything about it. It has no face. It does not want to be known. A face may not be present, but there are eyes. Red, billowing with a black flame. Looking into them consumes me. I can't breathe, they are hypnotic. They are bare, no feelings. It's ruthless. My body nailed so I can’t look away. Even if I close my eyes, I see its eyes. They are a magnate. But bring forth a crippling fear of the unknown. And I’m forced to look beyond its eyes. A rapidly swirling tunnel, with lots of colour, all mixed up. Bright red, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple and green. And I see clouds, very white and disgustingly bright. And as I go down through that tunnel, I can see an irritating bright light. The opening of the tunnel. But it keeps moving further and further away from me. I start to drown, I really can't breath. But again I fear taking any breaths because they seem to go out through some holes in my chest or on my head. It seems best to reserve the air already in my punctured lungs just in case I stop breathing completely so I sustain myself. And when I find my soul, try to hide it in my body; it sticks its hands through my chest, and through the middle of my head and starts pulling me out. Another bloody battle begins. That disgusting bright light. I'll even use my body to fight. I'm numb, so it's only logical I hurt myself to feel grounded. With my hands I fight the curtain that falls before the eyes of my soul so I get lost into darkness. I won't allow myself to go into the frightful unknown. I don't want to be swallowed there. A bright light ignites from my head, it's so scary, and I cover it so I remain in minimal light. I use my hands, blanket, and a tight corner, between clothing racks in the mall. It's too wide open. And the only way to keep my soul to myself is to find a confined space so that I do not float. I'm petrified of floating. I need solid ground and feeling. Sometimes I run. It is intangible. A phantom. Its presence brings a hot and very chilling feeling. The heat is very cold. It has a voice. That voice, an echo, without pitch, brings chills through my body, surging so hard through my blood, and my blood starts overheating, I can feel my nerves. It's a quiet voice, it's gentle in sound, it is coercing, almost like a melody without a tune. The moment its vibrations hit the ear drum, all hell breaks loose. A piercing scream that resonates forever through my head and every muscle, nerve, cell, tissue. The sound is the rapid beat of my heart which sounds all over my body. The damage is like an atomic bomb. I burst within myself. But one cannot escape it. It is happening within oneself. You can't run, that cord does not allow any escape. I was half dead. I know how death feels like, smells like, looks like, and how cold it is. The phantom, I’m positive, is a replica of the devil himself! I do win. And my body and soul get entwined again. The most painful and devastating thing about panic is that it just comes out of nowhere. I'm a constantly guarding and awaiting the next attack. I'm obsessed. I not only walk through this valley of the shadow of death literally, I live there with every waking moment. My life consists of "keeping myself alive" and it leaves me exhausted. The smell of breakfast, my perfume, soap or lotion can easily spur me out of control. The taste of water, eggs, gravy, and bread could send my heart racing. The sun, clouds, trees, wind could throw me into the deepest fear. I lack the joy of enjoying simple pleasures. The sound of music, birds, cars passing by make me panic and makes my head spin though it's in the most moderate form. The feel of water on my skin, sand between my toes, the warm touch of another human being and the best fabric can take me away from the present into an ocean of madness and confusion and conflict within myself. Sometimes even just scratching my foot or arm makes me realise I got a body and my soul's not in it. Like: wake up, your soul is sneaking out. I do not like the sudden light-heavy feeling of realising I got a body. So scary. The very things that brought pleasure once upon a time, I fear with a vengeance. I'm confused, angry, guilty, I don't know myself anymore, I don't even know what I really want anymore. It seems I’m always in defence mode. I seem to make excuses for every little thing I do. I'm forced to lie about why I do certain things the way I do them- I don't want to be labelled mad. I live in a body that does not obey my brain. I have a fully-functional body but I am a quadriplegic. Does not make any sense does it? It does to me because that's how I feel. I can't even take a short walk to get some bubble gum in a store only 500meters away. It's a chore and it exhausts me. Church, school, weddings, funerals and any public gathering is a nightmare. It feels like the walls and people are taking all my air, like they have faces of evil clowns. The earth is my enemy. Car rides are worse than church. At least at church I could run outside and say I felt like throwing up. But stopping public transport is so embarrassing. I take off my shoes and feel the floor and also fidget with anything that could hurt or burn me so the feeling in my body stay. I feel guilty that I can't go to functions for i belive i decided to be too weak. The most painful thing is being unable to explain how i feel and then being labelled: mad, lazy, hater, antisocial. I can't even keep up a conversation. It's so difficult. I start seeing blue and black and bright lights and the voice of my companion is like a broken record driving me insane. I feel trapped. Sometimes total silence is so scary, i need some constant action and noise next to me. Here i am, i fear dying and being present during the process, yet, i want to take a rope and hang myself and be free from this miserable life! There were times i'd nearly wet my bed because i could not even get up to go to the toilet because i started to float the moment i took off the heavy blanket i'm wearing in deep summer, which i use to keep my soul from floating and then my lips would disappear and i'd have to bite hard to feel them and then my eyes would spin into the back of my head while i fought to get some focus. I'm so enraged. What's the point it crying because it adds to my sadness. God seems so far away. I feel like a germ carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. A healthy individual, intelligent and talented yet unable to do anything. Challenges are like mountains that reach into the stars. I'm exhausted at the thought of it. My body is like withered grass and i'm only 30. My neck, head and heart are tired all the time. Yet i was in bed all day. Food? With each spoonful it hits me that it's my last meal and i'd rather die hungry. The smell so sickening. When my fingers or toes get cold, i belive i'm having a panic attack. I just wanna cry. But tears are a waste. Depression is my constant companion. I forgot what being happy is or feels like. Sadness, gloom, anger, lack of interest, sometimes eating like a pig are the only things i know. Everyone frustrates me cos they do not understand. Tablets became my solitude. I walk with funny, useless things in my bag so fiddle and fidget with them fooling people to belive i'm fixing something or occupied so if i make funny movements or anything weird i'll have an excuse and I can only wear sandels no matter how deep the snow is because if my toes are not feeling the air, that's a danger hazard. Should i not be in my safety gear or if i realise that i left my phone, empty blister tablet pack, extra set of earrings and pen without ink and paper the alarm rings. Like a fire has erupted. Red lights flash and my heart races and my blood gets hot and into the valley of the shadow of death i go.