Written by Karishma
Illustrations by Anjali Kamat
Content Warning – Self-Harm
‘A detty detty pig.’
That’s how I feel always, but Eric Effiong’s voice in my head is a completely different beast during anything remotely sexual. What to make of a disabled body(/mind) in bed – this disabled body(/mind), mine. How do you move through intimacy when it’s traumatic to live in your body/head. As my closest friends talk about their whoring 20s, falling in and out of love, being in polyamorous relationships, being in toxic ones, being in stable nourishing ones (apparently these exist), I am quiet. I am usually a quiet person too – the only time you’d see me animated is when I am having an anxiety attack which is unbearably often. I am quiet because I have nothing to recount, nothing to add to these stories. In one of her poems, Erin Slaughter writes ‘Sometimes what people love more than being in love is feeling like part of a story.’ My story seems to be one of absence. As I sit listening to my friends I wonder if they would even notice if I weren’t here.
Why am I writing about this? Because I should get something other than a malfunctioning digestive system and an increased dosage of sedatives from obsessing about boy/s. My body in bed is just that – a body. It is unwieldy and it refuses to listen. I don’t register touch/sensation during anything remotely intimate so if someone’s touching me, I have no way of knowing whether I like it or not. My body isn’t any kind of map to pleasure – it’s just all consuming anxiety interrupted by body ache and shoulder burns. Once, while going down on me, a boy asked me what I liked. I wanted to say, ‘your guess is as good as mine.’ Another time, a sweet thing asked me if I wanted to cuddle and I said no even though I really really wanted to. He reached out and I retracted even as, in that moment, all my body needed was touch – some sense of grounding. I was shaken by the vastness between what I wanted and what was being said.
I barely tolerate my body/head in the everyday, but I am never as disgusted by myself as during sex. When physically close to someone, I am really just swathes of shame – I feel yuck. I want to be there but I also want to be light years away and the exhaustion of this can’t stay-can’t leave eventually makes me flee. Either I am too present, hypervigilant about each detail or then I can feel my mind surrendering to the exhaustion of what I subject it to. Soon my body follows suit. I try to hide it/myself in clothes that don’t come off, in sheets that are always close by, rarely, in language like here. Somewhere in the middle of all this happening quietly inside my head, when someone touches me, I have this gushing urge to cut myself- to break skin. And post most of these encounters I do. Shame leaves visible scars on parts of my body.
How do you negotiate panic attacks, wobbly steps post pill-popping, self-harm scars and sheer exhaustion during a casual sexual encounter. Because even as one expects respect during such an encounter, I am not sure if I should expect care. I wonder if the intimacy of care can be asked for in a casual hook up. I wonder what casual means when you are disabled, (or rather) when you hate yourself; but also, what care means when you’re casual. Because in some ways my illness means (/demands) that ‘I am not good at the slow reveal of self’ as Morgan Parker described in an interview to Kaveh Akbar. So I make necessary disclosures in order to protect myself. My way of saying Hi on an app is ‘I have anxiety so please don’t take it personally if I flee midway.’ I give away details that aren’t exactly first date banter. And in doing so, I find a hiding place in revelation.
Because in the impossibility of can’t stay-can’t leave what I haven’t said is what happens when I stay and then why I flee when I do. I have managed to successfully evade the experience I am writing about – something that also happens during sex. I can’t bear to be witnessed, so when I am out of hiding places, when a performance is no longer available to me – I flee/freeze. I come home in the middle of the night and cut myself. Cutting becomes a ritual. It is testimony to how much of me another human was witness to.
A friend once told me ‘but you’re never the protagonist of your own story.’ So then, I write(/document) because I want to be ‘the protagonist of my own story’ even if the story is one of absence.
Karishma is perpetually miserable. She currently works a day job in Bombay but looks forward to getting paid for swatting flies in a government archive in the city.