There is a point when matter is so cold that all molecular motion ceases completely: Absolute Zero.
For the last four years of my life, I’ve been in crisp control of my brain, keeping it in that exact state of ultimate stillness. Don’t misunderstand me, I have felt feelings and thought thoughts. However, each was carefully calculated and watched, like it might turn on me if I gave it too much autonomy.
I haven’t cried without inhibition in four years—it’s an impossible activity at Absolute Zero. Eyelashes ice together, then snap off, brittle hyphens of attempted feeling. One needs a little elbowroom to cry. But, like the ships of the 1845 Franklin Expedition in search of the North Pole, frozen into Arctic floes, my thoughts and feelings stood stagnant, pressed on all sides by snowy fear of self-expression.
Three weeks in Dakar’s heat have let me thaw. Feeling has been unavoidable.
Last night, amid echoes of evening prayer calls and the blackness of yet another citywide “coup d’electricité” I let myself truly feel. In shudder-breath torrents, a whole melted glacier of relief washed over me.
I felt fear. Dakar scares me in some ways. I’m a country girl, and this is a big, big city. I felt newness. Senegal’s food (something so basic I’d never considered its importance at home) is different, from its ingredients and where they’re bought to when we eat. I felt exertion. Seven hours of formal language classes a day and thinking in French when not at school is fatiguing. I felt insignificance. I’m struggling because I don’t have a tangible goal I’m working toward.
Though the torrent of emotions raged, not all of them were bad. I felt growth. I’m beginning to see how my GCY bridge-year is pushing me—in ways a freshman year at college simply couldn’t. I felt patience. So much of this experience is about absorbing what is around me, not feeling rushed to find something to do. I felt loved. I’ve begun to realize how much strength I pull from the connections I have to people: the GCY fellows, my advisors, my teachers, and my family in Dakar and at home in the U.S.
There is immense relief in such mental fluidity. These are sensations I’ve been freezing in my mind for years, but now I’m at liberty within myself to experience them without holding back. In allowing myself to feel on these most basic levels—both the good and the bad—I think I’ve experienced a “melt down” in the healthiest way possible.