The Origin of Fear


Inez Holger recounts her life with schizophrenia @ Bellevue Literary Review.  Holger's essay was selected for Best American Essays 2011.

I could have told Moira Blum, the girl in my dorm who believed in astral projection and traveled to other planets on weekends, the one with the frizzy hair and dreamy eyes, but she would have just congratulated me. I thought of telling Candy Weiland, who always said "Hey" to me, the girl who let me know on day one of college: “This here Kentucky—it’s God’s country.” She’s the size of a jockey and swears she’ll own a horse farm some day. “My granpappy’s got some land and a passel of horses,” she’d say, twirling her mane of hair into a bun. Always reminding me, “It’s a chignon.” It was her or Moira and neither would do. Just how do you explain to anyone, even friendly girls with chignons, that something wispy and curling is crawling beneath your skin?

As if those invisible intruders weren’t enough, I could not understand my clock anymore. Little arrows pointed to numbers, like three and five, or eleven and six, and I had a vague feeling I should do something, but I had no idea what. Go to class, go to bed, go to eat? But to get to class I had to go down the stairs, and the stairs were revolving the way they do in spy flicks after the hero gets poisoned. Everything in his line of vision swirls around until he passes out and hits the floor, but I didn’t pass out. I groped for the floor with my foot and clung to the handrail. Everywhere I went, whether to class or to bed, a ruckus throbbed in my head. Shadowy images of helpless victims in guillotines snapped in my mind. And my spring term papers were due. After a phone call home, after my mother groaned, “Oh God, where have we gone wrong?” I shuffled to the university health clinic without a word to Moira or Candy. I had no specific fears or expectations about the outcome, only the same fierce anxiety which had settled in me, back in the fall, right before red leaves spiraled down to the more