Fiction: How to Remain Calm

By Jacob Greb

How to remain calm when you’re in pain. No this is not an instructional guide or another guru approach to mindfulness. This is my sister getting me to a point where I want to strangle her because the threshold of my pain and her constant barrage of concern fused to a steel rod that’s piercing through my vertebrae. Well, maybe that would actually bring me death and peace.
I take a fucking breath and answer with as little irritation in my voice as I can avoid, “I’m good,” slightly turning my head to her but still unable to see her. All because I don’t want to look at her.
‘Colour me softly,’ the instructions dictate, ‘and then rip me apart.’ That’s the whacky journal I recently received as a gift from my preoccupied sister. Well, her preoccupation with my wellbeing. As if any little omitted detail will drive me to another impulse of throwing myself to a cold river. I mean what did she think? That I was going to drown. The worst that happened was that I got frostbite and some sniffles. Not really a tragic end. But that is how I tend to be by doing something irrational like that and scarry the shit out of everyone. Mostly my parents and sister. I don’t know why my sister became my keeper. Maybe it’s because my mother shrivels in the presence of my outbursts. These outbursts that come and go as they please. Truthfully, they build and boil like water on a gas stove, slow and then rapid. And I evaporate to vapour and dissipate. The cooling period but then left with nothing. No feeling or thought of any sort. Simply gone.
Maybe I will trash this journal and set it on fire. Will that make me feel better? The only way to find out is to do it. Do I dare set it on fire and burn it all down? The rodents and their nest. No, I am not calling my family and myself the rodents but how are we any different? Too many fucking questions.
Fuck it. I flip to another page.
‘How to Remain Calm’, the title screams like a shrieking voice of my mother.
Six suggestions and five empty lines to fill in as my answers.
Number one. Breathe.
Number two. Admit that you’re anxious or angry.
Number three. Challenge your thoughts.
Four. Release the anxiety or anger.
Five. Visualize yourself calm.
Six. Change your focus.
My pen hangs over the line and I idle.
‘Scream,’ I finally jot down.
‘Set things on fire.’
‘Kick my shoes off and feel the flame underneath my soles.’
Oh. You see where I’m going with this. Another turn for the worst. Another attempt to inflict some self-directed pain.
Yes. I am angry because I have no control. Nothing’s in my control. Or at least it feels like that.
‘Let that shit go.’ A passage someone once uttered at a support group. I dismissed it as soon as I heard it. A lesson in time on how to leave the bullshit behind and create a happy life. At that, I got to laugh because I am a defect and fall back to the mattress. I know that the creases under my eyes have deepened, a burden of sleepless nights.
The rainbow taped to the ceiling above me. A rainbow of hope and faith that the wishing-well one day will get filled with gold and happiness. One holds more value than the other. I take the latter over the gold.
Our family dog, Jackson, runs into my room. Yes. He has a human name. Sue me. And licks my face. I hate his slobber and smell but take it just the same as my sister’s constant hovering.
I take off my socks and let Jackson jump onto the bed. I curl around his paws and he rests his face on my hands, looking pitiful and worried. Even Jackson looks like he’s worried about my state. But I forgive him because at least he doesn’t make a sound. He slobbers another lick and I smile. That little sneak.
And that is how I remain calm: buried underneath Jackson’s bad breath and drool. That is how I remain calm conjuring ideas of flames and fire. Burn the world, at least my world. If the water didn’t let me escape, maybe the fire will. But even Jackson gives me a quizzical look as if asking, ‘are you sure, man?’ And, of course, I am not sure. I am never sure of anything. The same as I am certain that I have no control over anything. All remains are the feeling of numbness, the thought of nothing, and a random action to answer a question of daring.

Jacob Greb resides in Ontario, Canada. His stories reflect the chaos in his mind, struggles with mental illness, and his life experiences. 


  1. Don't we all feel burning it all down at some point in our lives?


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