Been beat up and battered around/Been set up and I've been shut down/You're the best/thing that I ever found/Handle me with care/I've been uptight and made a mess/But I'm cleaning it up myself I guess/Oh the sweet smell of success/Handle me with care.
Last night, while discussing methods of travel for a theoretical upcoming trip, I heard a loved one say into their phone, “Rachel can’t handle it.”
If there’s a single phrase that sums up the guilt, sadness, frustration, and anger of the past 14 years, it’s “Rachel can’t handle it.” It’s been explanation by those in The Know for those in The Sort-of Know about why I’m unable to attend an event or perform some universally-accepted mundane act. It’s been mouthed by family, friends, and significant others, and I’ve even found myself resorting to these four demeaning words when I’m scraping the bottom of my bucket, out of reasons for why I can’t act the way I should.
The guilt and agitation connected with the sentence comes from the many years of what happened after the phrase was uttered. It often meant I would be left alone, in tears, chastising myself for my apparent short-comings, while those I loved would go and do and be in ways I couldn’t fathom. In some ways, it spoke the truth: I couldn’t handle certain zoos of lights, sounds, sensations, and crowds; a cacophonous failure composed of sensory overload. The self-flagellation that followed was – and still is – relentless and unforgiving. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I screamed to myself as I tried to keep busy and the crying at bay. “You should be able to do this; you’re such a huge burden on yourself and others.”
I’m a future therapist. I know this attitude is self-defeating and problematic, but it’s hard to be forgiving when you feel trapped within the confines of ability. In many ways, I’ve always handled more than everyone else around me. You’re going to that party? Well so am I, even though it feels like someone is throwing rocks in my head, and the lighting makes me want to jump out of my skin. You’re walking to work? Well so am I, even though my heart is pounding, and I can’t understand anything you’re saying above the din of the city. You’re going to a movie? Well so am I, even though the change from darkness to light is completely disorienting and makes me feel sick. Sure, I’ve had to back out of things (remember, Rachel can’t handle it), but I’ve spent my life perpetually pushing myself to participate until I’ve reached my limit and broken down. It’s much like spending every day carrying around 50 lb weights – doable in a sense, but difficult and painful . . . and at least you can put weights down and give your arms a rest. My sensory weights are not something I can just place on a table, and shake off the soreness. Some day it might be possible, I hope, but it’s only been five weeks since someone untangled my issues. So why, after diagnosis, after the beginning stages of treatment, after writing this blog and educating friends – after donning my awareness gear and trumpeting my triumphs and tribulations to the world, does this phrase still catch me off guard?
I suppose after all these years, they’re not just words. The words are imbued with perceived ‘failures’ of days past. They ring with the sound of jacket zippers, door slams, and non-verbalized group disappointment. They echo with the curve of my back and forehead to my knees, each unheard cry resonating upwards. They’re haunting.