Content warning: This article deals with anxiety and suicidal thoughts and may be triggering for readers.
I’m 10 years old and I can’t eat.
I’m camping with my parents. Flies thrum in the humidity and I wave them from my face like I fan away the smoke from the campfire. Somehow, in the wilderness, my dad has obtained the most sacred of modern conveniences: a steaming box of pizza. I’m an only child with no siblings to argue about toppings so it’s my favorite kind of pizza: ham, bacon, and pineapple. I love pizza with the ferocity only a preteen can muster.
I grab a foam plate and a slice of pizza. But I can’t eat it.
“What’s wrong?” my mum asks.
I don’t know.
A chasm has yawned open behind my sternum. I place a trembling hand to my chest, and then to my throat. I’m a smart kid and I know that there’s nothing to be afraid of but I am afraid and I can’t smother it. It’s burning in my chest like the campfire roaring and smoking at me. My heart beats the dum-dum-dum of a bass drum in my ears, at my temples. I feel the blood drain from my face.
“I don’t know.”
I take a small bite of pizza and suddenly I’m crying, salt in my mouth, salt on my cheeks. My parents are concerned but my throat is closing up and I have no way to speak to them. I chew as if there’s concrete in my mouth. The act of swallowing seems repulsive and besides, I suddenly can’t remember how. Physically, the act doesn’t make sense, doesn’t seem possible. I have forgotten how to move the muscles in my throat and the more I think about it — the more I will myself to relax — the more tense I get, every inch of me contracted, folding in on itself.