‘Thinky Pain’: Trying to Figure out What’s Real Anymore

I am capable of feeling an incredible amount of pain. Marc Maron, in his first Netflix comedy special in 2013, describes this instance in his childhood when he fell over backward while playing baseball and the ball hit him square in the face.

Maron said that he knew from that moment that the future held no more physical pain for him because he would no longer attempt to engage in sports. “It’s going to be all thinky pain from now on,” he says, to his younger past self.

In a way, being isolated at home for two months has been all thinky pain.

There have been days when a combination of poor diet and lack of exercise has caught up with me, leaving my body feeling worse than it has in years. But the majority of suffering that I’ve felt these past two months has been mental. When I am alone with my thoughts, or when I am actively seeking distractions to turn them off, my mind continues what feels like a crusade against my soul.

I see my soul curled up in a foetal position and my thoughts just hammering away at it. It may be imaginary, but the pain it inflicts feels so real. I can no longer believe that imagined and real entities are exclusive groups.

My main window into the world isn’t the 5×8 literal window in my room, facing a row of apartment buildings opposite mine. It’s whatever device I choose to be looking at any given time. Contrary to the real window – which disappointingly looks at the same scene every day – these mystical devices, much like mirrors in fairy tales, show me whatever I wish to look at.

Such an incredible choice brings with it the guilt of choosing poorly. I didn’t need to spend that entire weekend watching porn. But I did it anyway.

I still encounter the outside world once every week or two weeks. In these rushed grocery shopping trips, the outside world appears like a distant, surreal memory. I remember this street, I remember this store. It’s all still here. Why did I think it wouldn’t be? Sometimes on these trips, I’ll encounter a person who I knew from my past life and I feel uncomfortable talking with them. Unlike the grocery stores and the streets, which are inanimate objects with no ability to leave me, the people I wish to see in the real outside world are no longer there.

I try to remember, was it I who left them or the other way around? It’s no longer clear. Choosing to leave implies agency, and who has had any of that these days?

The people who I wish to see are found in the fake windows of my house. On once-a-weekly video calls, we’ll talk of coping with our respective depressions, frustrations, and feelings of hopelessness about the world. Together, but far apart. The uncertainty of the world slowly transforming into a future which is certain – certainly unpleasant, that is.

Our best-laid plans are up in the air, like dust on a field after a tractor has gone over it.

It’s easy to blame myself for having any hope for the future. For if I didn’t have expectations, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. But in some ways, I can’t help it. No matter how dark the nights, or how unpleasantly bright the days, hope sneaks in.

Ironically, it is this completely imaginary thing that is holding together my reality.

Dorje Rabgye is a 23-year-old Buddhist studies student from New Delhi.

Featured image credit: @unitednations/Unsplash