My life is a series of nervous breakdowns. They happen more slowly as I get used to the movement, the up and down, the dizzying breadth followed by the very very narrow, and then a sheer drop to nothing that you climb up by inches. As a little girl I was perplexed by my frequent nervous breakdowns. Sometimes simple tantrums. Sometimes I could have killed, if I’d had the power of laser vision, or death rays shooting from my wrists, or curses or other violence. So I tried to fight my enemies weaponless, not even sure where the enemies were; I’d find out later, and even then I’d be wrong. I fought blind, screaming, caring and caring and caring. My socks, for example, were a great source of many a fine nervous breakdown. I really hated having the seam anywhere but exactly at the edges of my toes at all times; surely this was reasonable.

I don’t scoff at the moments now that we have distance between us, the moments and I. The anger, the being misunderstood, the life and death of rage, the pain and the extreme danger of heartbreak. I slaughtered my mother many, many times; I raged at the turtlenecks which clutched my throat, I’d said every day for weeks, months, too tight, too tight, too tight TOO TIGHT TOO TIGHT — and there it would pop loose, that thing that suddenly breaks off of me when I spin away, grip lost on routine and comfort, frightened by being held too close. Lost and left alone to find my way back to the same slight love when it was too much, far and well above the simple beautiful memories some of us thought we’d be building instead. In later episodes, alone and drifting at university, I would study television to relearn people and society, to look for the things I maybe didn’t know the last time. Light crime dramas were revelatory; the good and bad were clear, the jokes obvious. Eventually it would all snap back into place, a few more panic attacks under my belt. Clearly we should all simply be ourselves. So I would be blank. How do I even laugh? What is the mechanical process involved? Which feeling do I wish to evoke? The constant reinvention is eternal youth.

A nervous breakdown is preceded by strife. Perhaps only a simple, stupid example of all that’s wrong in your life at that point. A no thanks for a gig you didn’t really want, anyway, or a tense word from a boss you don’t want to work for, so whatever. Losing out to someone else for small silly things when you’re simply always losing. It’s a wee little crack in the process of what you thought you were doing, what you thought would bring you further down the road. Any road. A fissure in the journey, no matter how sure you were of the way, and it splits and bursts, turns red inside out and there you are, sitting on a holy wave of rumbling what the fuck is this. I’ve learned to ask more questions for later, just in case, collecting maps and leaving them all lying open as I fumble, uncommitted officially to any direction anymore, if anyone is asking, if any universal forces are testing my process, my drive, my willingness to be fulfilled or successful in any rigid or particular way. In case I burst again, which I do, slowly, quickly, constantly, never.

I poke here, I poke there. I keep moving and I pack light and try to fill my heart with love, because this is what we should do. Maybe it’s this or maybe I need to meditate more often. I should visualize my success. Perhaps a psychically charged gemstone or a useful acquaintance could make a difference, though I have nothing anymore to offer a narcissist in return, having beat my head against that wall often enough in childhood and adolescence to know better. I’ve learned to surf the uncertainty of dreams and safety generally, measuring the swell of the way things feel, however they feel- it’s all good, as they say. Right? Yes. I find peace no matter what, but it isn’t particularly rewarding, really. At best I wouldn’t say it’s healing, but it is a way to live and to feel as though opportunity has a fairly wide target. At worst it’s… well, sometimes I forget the universe doesn’t care, and I confess that I have a tantrum. Emotion and longing heave out of the bottom and top of me, I purge everything and turn inside out, covered in anger and bile and tears, skin ceases existing and I’m a giant raw nerve, a live wire of just PLEASE as trumpets blast in the air around me, and wind picks up and smashes my life to bits for 20 seconds, or minutes or a week–

And then I remember: ah, yes. The universe, the passive idol, loving center and source of all being, hateful demon of all that’s wrong, doesn’t care. My rage, loss and pain are wasted in blame or trauma. I release again, like always before; expectations slither into the clouds and the color and unremarkable grime of the actual world come back into view. So the air settles and clears in its way, unremarkable and dirty, and I am peaceful. I remember breathing. I find my husband and his warm arms, feel the slow, sure beat of his heart that magically never stops, though surely it must one day. And I pick up and move on. Lose another shoe, gain another black eye, I’m beaten. But I move on; it’s over, everything, a million times. Breathing, moving on. What else could I do. And it feels better when you move a little.

Various monks and many who would be monks tell us, those who read that which is true and schlocky, to practice non-attachment. Well. This was the easiest thing in the world to learn, and I have practiced it regularly since the age of 3. But the thing we never really are taught, the thing we actually need, is knowing how to attach properly. Life will spit you out and take you back in like whatever algae or small beings a giant whale shark sucks on all day through it’s teeth, and you can simply give in and let it carry you, there’s no danger. But I don’t want to float forever, staring up at the stars, always the one who can slip away unnoticed, the one always quietly wishing for rescue. Who pretends she doesn’t want to hear “Here. Here is a safe port for you. Come here and let’s do everything well, let’s be taken care of, let’s have comfort together. Let’s not struggle for today and maybe even a little longer.” And the more of this I have, the more I will want.

We suffer thousands of times, we suffer millions of moments, millions of breaks, millions of destructions and then without a word the glass melts and the crack seals in like ice. A different structure, a stronger piece. I’m virtually solid by now. The bend that was the 97% water in me is ice and steel, and disappointment is killing me with thousands of small lilliputian ropes that just drag a little. And a little. And some more. And here’s another one. And here. I wonder what the point of this life is, why and how we all agreed, in the ether or the mud, wherever we did it, to such an outrageous struggle, angels impassively by and saints and gods snickering into the wisps of their non-existent clouds of robes as we signed our names with blood and sanity.

But I know what happens next. It’s happened so many times; tonight I’ll dream deeply, an absurd meta soup reflecting my guilt at losing hope, and demonstrating the futility of it, too. I’ll wake up laughing, and the sun will probably shine. I’ll turn and see out of the window, the glass cracked on the right from some other moment before. The old chestnut tree there in the yard will rustle a little, it’s leaves crisper and brown, eaten by worms around the edges. I’ll feel the heat because of the curtains we never close, and I’ll see the neighbors there, eating breakfast, making something, talking. The dog will explode on my face with paws and ears and tail and jumping and 50 thousand kisses, then my husband will chuckle and move his foot gently towards me, or hold my hand for a moment before rolling over for another five minutes of sweet smelling sheets and sleep. Kids will play the same game they do every morning, two yards over, at the Kindergarten; Monika always needs to be called in, she is always the last one. And I’ll get up gladly, and I’ll make coffee. And the next day will begin.

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SIRI ZERNAND MÜLLER defines herself by the people who crowd her bed. She has a dog, a husband, a cat who also would like some recognition, and the occasional prophetic dream.

2 responses to “A bad day dies at sunup. Mostly.”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    This is a terrific piece. I like that notion of learning when TO attach…never thought about it that way before.

    Reminds me of the Magnetic Fields lyric:

    There’s an hour of sunshine for a million years of rain
    But somehow it always seems to be enough

  2. AnnMarie says:

    This piece really spoke to me… Couldn’t have been posted on a better day. Thanks for writing it.

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