Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mapping my mind

One of the most important tasks of a map is to identify the dangerous places. Landslides, impossibly strong currents, jagged rocks – we mark down where they are, so the people who come after us can know to stay away. Some choose to venture in anyway, but the map helps them know they need to be cautious.
            There are days when my entire head seems to be a dangerous place. There are hurts so old and deep that the resulting emotional scar tissue rises up like mountains. Waves of emotion will crash into me at unpredictable moments, strong enough to send even the toughest ship off course. Monsters of panic lurk in the shadows, always ready to send their claws at my throat.
            I started mapping the inside of my head when I was in high school, trying to time the waves so I would at least know what direction they were going to toss me in. It took me years of careful, methodical study before I could predict them as well as the tides, trying to organize my life so that my tasks best suited my emotional state and forgiving myself when I couldn’t. Learning to let the water only carry me so far, and to never forget how off course I was.
            Those years added more details to the map, cautious expeditions into the thickets of fear and careful outlines of the boundaries of the pits of self-doubt. I know the shape of my scar-tissue mountains, and have carefully outlined a few careful trails that will let me navigate the foothills without getting caught in an unclimbable area or falling to my death. I have marked many of the places where panic waits, and though I can’t avoid it I am no longer surprised.
            None of this has razed the mountains, cleared the jungles or defeated the monsters waiting for me. The purpose of a map is only to identify what’s already there, leaving the choice of what to do with it to the person reading. It’s a light in the darkness, not a weapon.
            But oh, how I need that light. The world is still a terrifying place, full of uncertainty and things that want to hurt me, but over the years I have stopped being afraid of myself. I know the contours of my mind as I know few other things, and even the dangers have become as familiar to me as the walls of my bedroom. I have learned how to navigate them, and because of that they are no longer enough to stop me from exploring the wild, beautiful places my mind contains as well. Any jungle has its treasures as well as its dangers, and if you watch for them both there is no place that’s closed to you.
             I’m not quite there yet. There are still a few shadowy places that I’m not brave enough to venture in, too uncertain what I’ll find once I cross beyond the boundaries of what I know. But I will, one day.

            A map maker doesn’t like blank places.