The first time it happened I was age twenty five. It was like entering a long woolly tunnel, not soft and welcoming but dank and stifling. I changed from being a highly sociable being to one who spent all my free time alone. Normal conversations were painful and I found it hard to push through the woolliness to feel anything from them. I did my work not with the passion I had felt before, but now only from a sense of duty.
I got up every day, washed and dressed myself, made my way to the office and put on my cheery face and pretended that everything was normal. Then I sometimes worked and sometimes not. If I stayed late in the office to finish reports I looked at files and felt devastated at the hopelessness portrayed within. These files represented generations of people born into poverty and designed for third and fourth rate lives.
I had worked so hard for five years, mainly without a break to make a difference in the lives of those born at the bottom of society. Now I acknowledged that the odds were so high, stacked up on all sides, and I was so tired of it all. On some days, I went home in the middle of the morning and crawled into bed and made a nest of peace in the middle and hunkered down till I fell asleep to blessed oblivion for a few hours.
When I had a bit more energy I went out on home visits but I felt that the people looked strangely at me and I knew I was losing my touch. Simply put I couldn’t bear the smell of poverty any more, the hopelessness of it, the dirt of it all, the impossibility of injecting any more enthusiasm or grace into the exchange of words and trite phrases. I felt somehow sullied by these people battling their degradation and they looked askance at me. I didn’t remember anymore much of the conversations that went on between us.
Previously I had been meticulous about reporting the finer details of every home visit so that every small nuance might reflect back a glimmer of possible new intervention. Now I looked at the entries as though someone else had written them. The optimism and positivity seemed so misplaced and nothing to do with me.
I looked at myself in the mirror. It seemed that my twenty-five-year old self had shrunk down into itself like a retreating rabbit. I had never felt like a rabbit before, more like a lion, waging battle against hard fate. I felt much older than twenty five. My long fair hair still hung down my back but less and less it flew behind me like a flag of freedom as I cycled around the city.
At first I thought it was merely the effect of adjusting back after a year away studying. I had worked so hard that spring and summer to be even better than I had been before. My work had born fruit in many directions and I could see ways forward. But I could also see that the system of repression from the bloated monopoly that I had grown up with was bigger than me and that its tentacles snaked everywhere. That the shackles of blind belief, the lip service to respect for others would prevail. The position of women would alter slightly but the dignity they craved was a long way off.
I could see that in the future there would be more freedom, minds and hearts would open to speak the truth and there would not be an overriding control by a merciless institution. But I couldn’t wait to see that change. I had to go and search for my truth and meaning in other places. I had to go before my pain, the pain of helplessness and of yearning slew me. I chose life so I left.