This is an excerpt from Shaylynn Hayes’ unfinished and untitled novel that features a cast of mental health and neurological illness characters. Adra does not yet know she has misophonia, a fate many sufferers share. The expected finish date of this novel is sometime between now and 2019. Please excuse roughness, this is a first draft.
It takes days to recover from each meeting with people. It takes longer each time I’m confronted by a new trigger. Now that I know Jared may tap his fingers, I don’t want to go back. The incident has played over and over in my mind. Without trying he has occupied every space of my thought. Even as he tries to help me, he has become part of the problem.
Like a ghost, the memory of the finger-tapping has become my own personal poltergeist. I feel jolted just as one would if the doors were slamming – if the lights were erratically going on and off. They may as well be.
I lie in bed and I replay each finger tap. I don’t want to think about it – but like bullets from a gun I replay every second. Bump. Bump. The ferocity echoes through my brain – the noise, god the noise – it’s just as loud as it was in person. Even the movement scrapes at the side of my brain.
I dread going back to therapy. I dread being here but I also don’t want to go home. The noises were bad there too. The noises are bad no matter where I go. At first they weren’t that bad. They were annoying. Now, as it goes on they’re getting worse. I feel like a computer program that’s broken. Or, maybe I’m not even the software. Maybe I’m trying to reinstall windows on a hard drive that’s already cracked and shattered. No matter how many doctors try – this isn’t going to work. My brain is damaged and there’s no one that can help me.
No one has the answers that can help me. It repeats on loop, with each memory.
The strangest part is that when I’m normal, and there’s no sounds, I’m still myself. I’m not crazy, but the sounds bring me from myself instantly. In the time it takes for me to get up, get dressed, and make my way to the cafeteria nothing has happened. I walk like a person that has never been troubled. I choose my foods, and I choose a spot to eat. Everything is fine.
Until it isn’t.
I can see them and they can’t see me. I hear chewing as soon as it happens – a potato chip – and a few girls shake their legs. Turmoil is quick. I feel my brain shake. I have to steady myself. I will not cry. I sit down and attempt to eat. Slow bites that barely make it to my mouth. I force my spoon. I chose soup because it’s quick. I didn’t consider the slurping noises from the soup of the girl next to me. With every “ss” sound I grow more anxious.
My palms are sweating and my eyes dart to the exists. I stare at my bowl and I count how many bites there are left. If I eat fast I can probably finish it in 10. That’s ten sips too many.
I move my hand over my face and re-arrange my hair. It covers some of the leg shaking but I still know it’s there. I take another bite, tentatively. I feel compelled to check to see if she’s gone. I fight that urge. Not knowing is almost better. Only almost. I feel it dig away at me. I know she’s there. I hear the girl with the soup again and my world becomes a blur. I’m tired, and I’m angry. I don’t know if it’s the sound making me mad – or the pain. My body feels like it’s been moved against a giant cheese grater.
I quickly get up and throw all 9 sips of soup in the garbage on my way to the door. I don’t stop in the hallway. I move fast through people sitting – before I can tell what their legs are doing. I decide that I don’t need to eat anymore. I’ll figure something out. Maybe I’ll pay an orderly to hide food in my room. I don’t care. I just need out. I think about the soup – I’m mad at myself for eating the same thing that tortured me. No, it’s not the soup. It’s how she was eating it. Her slurping – who slurps like that? She must be a child.
I’m delirious by the time I make it back to my room. Tears are welled in my eyes, and the tension from the experience lives in each of my muscles. I should talk to Jared but I’m too tired. I feel as though I have been held under water. I can’t explain to him right now. I can’t leave my room and see triggers.
I push my weight against my door, making sure it’s closed. I’m thankful for the noise-proof rooms. We have emergency buttons but we’re allowed silence. In case others scream, I think. For me, I’m grateful that in this room I can’t see or hear the others. This is the second greatest thing to a padded room. It is solitude. Freedom. Silence.
With my clothes till on I lie back on my bed. Why did I bother leaving my room? The entire world is out to get me and the sooner I recognize this, the sooner I can just come to terms with my prison.
As I calm down I realize I may get bored eventually. Boredom is a small price to pay for avoiding the trauma. I try to consider things I could do. If I could find one friend that won’t trigger me than maybe I could be okay. Maybe Claire? She’s so quiet and silent, I know she won’t bother me. To talk to Claire I’d have to leave my room. I can’t do that. They’re out there. The noises. The visuals. The people. They’re everywhere. Even when it’s over, it’s never over.
I try to erase the memory from my mind. Nothing seems to work. I hold my breath. I sing a song aloud. Nothing erases the memory of the sounds. Distraction would help but now my room has become a tiny little box. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I want to reach out and talk to someone. I want someone to understand what’s going on in my brain.
When they ask what drove me mad, what drove me to the brink of my brain exploding, the answer isn’t going to be war or terror. It’s going to be soup.