Feelings, like people and dogs, have names. That feeling like your head is swelling like a dam in the long rains; when you can feel your skin harden and your eyes redden like you’re about to become The Thing from the fantastic four and go smashing through walls and breaking glasses with your fingertips; you can almost feel the smoke coming from your ears and veins the size of baobab tree trunk appear on your temple – that feeling is called rage.
Or when your intestines are in knots like a yarn a cat played with; you get an instant urge to pee and in extreme cases, the muscles in your bowels get a brain of their own and open without consultation. Goosebumps appear on your upper arms like you missed your measles vaccination; your hands and feet are vibrating like a Richter scale in an earthquake, your heart pumps on your throat and you’re breathing like a dog in summer – that feeling is called terror.
Other times, you’re all giddy and your stomach feels like someone passed small jots of electricity in your insides. Your chest is warm, giving you the same feeling you get when you drink hot chocolate on a cold morning. The world is just right, you even notice the colors on the dragonfly and the sunset looks like something you just discovered. You’re not thinking straight and you know it but you don’t care – recklessness feels so good! You’re always warm and always at the risk of turning flammable with passion at the slightest provocation – that feeling is called stupidity love.
There’s the feeling where you stand at the stairs and you can’t tell if you were going up or down. You walk around in little flowery dresses that blow in the wind and tease onlookers with a glimpse of your thighs. You should care, but you really don’t. Under the little butterfly dress and natural hair twist-outs is a grown-up who feels like a teenager unable to stop wetting the bed. You’re lost and confused and overwhelmed. You’re hurt and have limited choices because you’re either broke, married, or living in Lang’ata – not the cemetery. That feeling is called, “Naskia sijui aje (I’m feeling like I don’t know how”). Yes, that feeling cannot even be punctuated, it’s all over the place like a burst watermelon.
The simplest of tasks feel like learning to fly a jet-fighter. You only remember you didn’t brush your teeth when you have to go out and your breath hits you from under the mask smelling like the inside of a tannery. Or the air in Webuye. You choke at how bad it stinks and you thank God for the mask and for Orbit menthol.
You hear things like, “happiness is an inside job;” “Choose joy!” and you gag. You hate that your happiness is mostly pegged on people and they seem to have set an agenda and you are agenda number 457. When you sleep, you hug your pillow and feel like you want to cry but even the tears are taking a break. They have had one helluva year of flowing and they are now taking a detox from all the negativity. 2020 has tossed you like a log in high seas. But you know it’s just not 2020, you’ve had it rough before, but this year the salt shaker lid fell over your bowl of soup.
What do you do about the feelings that are holding your head down on the toilet? How do you get them to loosen your grip on you for you to come up for air? I’m no expert on feelings and how to handle them, my feelings are sometimes like a bull that saw red. I have a neurological disorder called Misophonia. I wrote about it here. It’s impossible and embarrassing to explain. When you have Misophonia, normal sounds such as whistling, chewing, and some other normal sounds drive you unreasonably crazy.
My triggers are mostly heavy continuous banging like a woofer in a different room, whistling, and even any continuous knocking. I’ve been miserable most of my life, hating myself for feeling so horrible about such normal sounds but not knowing the problem was. I made a promise to myself to be talking to my new neighbors about it.
A few months ago, I got a new neighbor a floor below me, and boy, have we had a rough time! Because I know how hard this is to explain, I write a letter to explain what it is to someone that I need to have a quiet relationship with. I sat down and drafted a letter to my neighbor and explained what her very loud woofer is doing to me, even though I’m two floors above. Yeah, I’m the people that still write letters – I just didn’t spray it with bint-el-Sudan perfume. She seemed to understand and for a while, we had good days.
Then she decided I can go hang on a coconut tree. One time, I wasn’t able to sleep and I went and talked to her again, and I ended up crying in front of her and her husband. I was even more embarrassed, and I was already dealing with so much anxiety and mental torture from it all, I went back. The husband even came to my house to try and listen and hear what I hear and he promised to be a better neighbor. I don’t ask them to turn it off, just a little down so I don’t have to bear with the blasts through my walls. It’s extremely difficult because I basically sound like Miss. Trunchbull in Matilda the movie, trying to control everyone.
Then the lady above me moved and we got a new neighbor. I don’t know why but we have received plenty of new tenants in the Covid season more than at any other time we’ve been here. My new good neighbor makes furniture in his house. Yes, brethren, he’ll be hammering away at 11PM, and dragging them around while at it. I don’t know if this is his career or it’s a newfound hobby, but whatever it is, I’ve joined Paul’s WhatsApp group of thorns in the flesh — this one is a whole brier on my backside!
I live in an estate I considered civilly and it seemed so for several months after we moved in. The first year was great. Now here I am, asking a neighbor to stop making a couch above my head at 11 PM. I’m no lion but even the good book says that even those big cats get tired. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I asked my landlady to talk to his landlady – yeah, I live in an estate where we all have different landlords and ladies. My landlady is a wonderful person, and that cannot be said for many landladies. It’s a rare quality that I do not take for granted.
The following night, I hear loud voices shouting from the ground floor. I’m not one to eavesdrop on conversation but I didn’t need to eavesdrop on this one – the voice was louder than donkey’s bray across a valley. As the conversation continues, I get this feeling in my stomach that makes me want to throw up. I immediately get goosebumps and my head has an instant ache. My two lovely neighbors, grown men, (and maybe a woman but she’s too classy to shout) are actually talking about me and it sounds like threats and abuses! And he’s being loud so that I can hear him, that I can tell.
We all want to believe we are good people, that when people think about us, they don’t start having images of machetes, dragons, and maybe a broken beehive. As my neighbor continues to spew his diatribe on me, his assumed enemy, I get an instant concoction of feelings – anger, rage, anxiety, helplessness, and then a strange calmness. I think that’s what the disciples felt when Jesus shook his head, rubbed his eyes, and told the sea to cool it.
There’s nothing I can do about this situation. She will probably continue basting her woofers. He’ll probably never stop hammering away at his furniture. I will probably have a swollen foot for the rest of my life, I’ll probably never get to straighten my front tooth and I’ll most likely always have bad hair. I have done and will continue to do everything in my power to own my happiness, like buy noise-canceling headphones and maybe move away and build my own house if Gabriel and Michael don’t flex their chest muscles on the Bb Trumpets tomorrow. Maybe I’ll go rent a house on an island and write stories with the backdrop of whistling dolphins and falling coconuts. Maybe they’ll move out and I’ll have better, mature neighbors who don’t have a point to prove about their woofers and furniture making skills. This feeling is called, ‘So what? Did I die?”
I did not, I lived long enough to come here and tell you to gather your women’s guild aunties, nay, the wailing women with sackcloth, and let’s declare dawn to dusk fast for my sanity. This feeling is called, ‘I’m drowning and hanging onto a cobweb.’