The most difficult chains to break are, perhaps, the ones we don't see.

The most difficult chains to break are, perhaps, the ones we don’t see.


It is only in the last few days that the principles governing my actions in this world have come to light with a clarity different from, and perhaps greater than, ever before. I don’t imagine that I will succeed at capturing even half of my novel comprehension by putting these newfound perceptions into words, but I have no choice but to try.

It seems that my entire existence, my every waking—and sleeping—moment is bent on escaping something. The precise nature of that something is the key question, the answer to which I have yet to fully or even incompletely understand. But it seems that whatever this—something—is, it descends on me rather rapidly only when I am in a state of quiescence, creeping up on and upon me to fill my qualia with the despair, ennui, and dread of dark nothingness at the very moments I should be most at peace.

It is for this reason, I believe, that I am unable to rest in any deep or meaningful sense, and instead fill my days with the bells and whistles of constant distraction. As soon as I awaken, I reach for my phone to spend an idle fifteen minutes sifting through meaningless spam emails and Facebook posts, or, if I’m lucky, soak myself in the last few drops of an evaporating dream. Either way, I struggle to immerse myself in some faraway reality, drawing my attention from the present with thoughts of various available futures or oneiric reconstitutions of the past.

Then I shower and prepare for another day at the lab, a process during which I must have music either playing from my computer or running through my head. If not, I find myself reading toothpaste and shampoo labels, counting to myself in difficult wushu poses, or imagining and reimagining past and possible conversations with any number of characters , including those of my own devising. I walk to work, a procedure made bearable following my decision last year no longer to wear headphones only by focusing intently on the architectural details of the buildings around me, the patterns and permutations of the telephone wires overhead, the fashions and expressions of passerby.

When I’m at work, I must have a clear goal in mind for the day, one for which I can excuse myself from reality and in which I can then wholly immerse my conscious, or the darkness slithers in around me, making me feel dirty, defiled, uprooted, and utterly lost. Sometimes, however, even this is not enough, and I feel the strong need to medicate myself with caffeine, sugar, and, most importantly, the ever-present music—anything stimulating and pleasurable enough to provide soothing diversion from—something.

Even when I’m at home, I must maintain my vigilance against the something. I give myself nightly goals in writing, drawing, communicating with friends, and entertain myself by striving to meet them. I listen to music. I watch comedy and talk shows. I read news articles, novels, and textbooks. I cook and eat endlessly. I seek to paint my insides with colorful feeling, sculpt out endless contours of thought, turn the nothing-that-is-something into anything else. The moment I stop the self-medicating, goal-directed pleasure seeking, my mind settles once more into the idle state that makes it all too easy for the devilish something to kick up its mischief.

I’d hardly call myself depressed. I am deeply satisfied with my research endeavors; I love my classes; I look forward to spending time with various friends; I thoroughly enjoy my sensory perceptions and abstract cognitions. Nor would I consider myself psychotic, any more than I should be. I hear voices—while I’m falling asleep. I talk to myself—to practice foreign languages. I suffer from racing, easily distracted thoughts—when I don’t get enough rest. I’m certainly abnormal—just enough to be certifiably normal.

But despite my utter and mundane normalcy in other regards, the fact stands that I have a dark something at the very core of my mind, a something that wells up inside me like ink from a boiled octopus the moment I stop looking. How might one verbally or visually express this something? What caused its appearance? Is it written into my genes? Was it some kind of childhood trauma? Or social programming by an economic or political system? Is this what is meant by an existential crisis? Or the ennui of daily life? What would happen if it suddenly disappeared?

And, most importantly—as I imagine that I am neither the first nor last to have made such observations—am I not the only one?

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