In my early teenage years, between the ages of 12 to 16, I was very restrained. Restraint was more than a behavior for me; it was a core belief: I believed that I should be quiet and reserved, that I shouldn’t be noticed, that I should practice moral restraint, and that if you disagreed with an oppressive or faulty institution or system of power, the best way to change it was to make that system work for you, rather than do something crazy like try to overthrow the bad system. I felt very dull during that time, like I was looking at the world through a fogged-up lens.

Somewhere around my 16th birthday, I stopped believing in God. I separated from my former friend group. I started writing more. Then these weird moments started happening, these abrupt shifts in consciousness that take over my brain without warning. It happens like this: I’m doing some banal task—sitting in class, starting my car, or about to fall asleep—and then suddenly everything feels different. I become completely aware that I’m a human and of what that means. I’m aware of every part of my anatomy and can feel mortality in the front balls of my feet. The objects around me become outlined in light. This lasts about 30 seconds before I return to my former state, but with a residual hyperconsciousness that fades after about a minute.

These moments have been occurring with greater and greater frequency. I want them to happen more and last longer, because they’re the one time when I feel like I can turn off all of my brain’s pragmatic, rational filters and act on instinct. I feel fully myself, like I have my very own mind that’s separate from everybody else’s. I no longer feel like a zombie.

I just finished my freshman year of college, and my only year at this particular college. During my final month there I felt like the lens I was looking at the world through turned the color that Cheeto dust turns after it’s soaked up the moisture at the tips of your fingers: a toxic and aggressive orange. I stopped showering and doing laundry and stayed in my room as much as I could. If I was hungry, I got something from the basement vending machines, and I was so on edge that I screamed in fear every time one of my roommates came into the room late at night. I skipped the classes that had lots of students in them, and the stuff we were being taught in the other ones seemed cheap and consumable and made me feel sick. I felt like everything around me was coated in some sticky substance, and I didn’t want to look at or touch anything I didn’t have to. Sometimes I went to hang out with my brother and started to feel better for a while, but my former state of mind would return as soon as I returned to my dorm.

Final exams ended last week, and I moved out. My RA did an obligatory final check of my dorm room before I left. The walls were white and ripped in several places from where I hung lights and a banner, and the rest of the room looked clean and empty. I kept on saying how weird the room looked now that we were all moving out, but that’s not how I felt. The room looked how it always felt to me: white and empty.

I’m home now, and my mental state can best be described as lukewarm water dribbling from the faucet—no longer grimy Cheeto-dust orange, but still a little murky. I’m trying to shock myself into my hyper-aware state by reading, talking to my brother, and trying to think in full sentences—those things do the trick sometimes. I wonder if I can ever make that state permanent. I wonder if that happens when you grow up. ♦