By Orph Both

There are two distinct parts of my machinery, held on either side of my throat where the bottleneck manifests. Each despises the other and having never learned the others’ language, they agreed early on to never reconcile. Above the bottleneck, my mind endlessly seeks perfection and expansion, fed with flogging whips and wires. Below it, my defeatist body is stuck in stasis, having resigned too quickly to puberty’s fate of tumultuous and wrong flesh.


Certain of their own righteousness, neither side claims their faults or offers solutions when they clash. There is no reprieve to their endless war. Out of self-preservation, my subconscious creates the bottleneck. Playing the role of symptom, catalyst, and self-defence mechanism all at once, the bottleneck appears solely to hold my mind and body apart when under stress.


In my body, the bottleneck manifests as an allergy. When my mind whirls out of control, tightness settles in my throat and my chest cavity grows hollow and numb. My body radiates its panic outwards until nothing gets in or out. Trapped in a painful cage of its own making, it responds to nothing: not reason, kindness, or cruelty.


In my mind, the bottleneck manifests as a klaxon. Upon feeling the warnings from deep below, my mind seeks to save its own skin. Mind whirling with millions of brilliant possibilities, it takes the base option and shoves my body beneath the waves of panic to hold itself up, failing to realise it will die without its host.


For over a decade, the bottleneck alternated between protecting one side when the other melted down. However, without seeking any compromise between the two warring factions, this self-defence mechanism became an untenable deadlock.


I made two failed attempts to dislodge the bottleneck, attacking the symptoms but not the cause. I first attempted to crack it open with alcohol, and the resulting flood washed away everything, both good and bad. Prior to the hangover, the booze made me a complete and languid machine. But ethanol, by design, cannot be forever.


My second attempt simply brute-forced my way through the bottleneck. I ignored each system in their respective meltdowns and pushed through late night shifts, university work, social events. I was young enough to bounce back from this self-abuse. But ageing, by design, continues its relentless march.


At therapy, I am forced to question the root of this maladaptive mechanism. Why does my mind require protection from my body, and vice versa? “They’re part of the same circuit. They’re equally important parts of you,” my therapist advises.


I know I am on the right track when I swap alcohol with the gym, and my body and mind unite to try and stop me.


For the first few weeks exercising, my body wheezes and whines and shakes like a kicked dog, while my mind barks at me to despise the way my flesh looks and moves. Ignoring them both, I pant my way through five minutes stretches of cardio and lift 2kg weights. I attend pilates, where I am forced to breathe and nourish the entirety of me.


I do this until one unremarkable day when the bottleneck remains open when it historically wouldn’t. Through the turmoil, the halves of me share a moment of quiet on their respective sides of this newfound common ground.


My weights get heavier. My runs get longer. The complete circuit between body and mind grows longer, smoother, and faster. Symptoms are followed by release. I grow more fluent in my mind and body’s specific languages, and find their common root. When my body whines, my mind knows whether to mollify it or push for greater glory. When my mind bellows, I whisk it away from the helm while my body wordlessly takes the reins. The bottleneck cannot fully plug the gap between them.


The day-to-day dialogue between my mind and body becomes more cordial, then collaborative. They almost begin to enjoy each other’s company.


Then, one day, my body whispers something new. It is a quiet plea for growth and transformation, spoken too sincerely to ignore with nothing left to obstruct its message. My mind, in all of its weary, longing, brilliant and frightened splendour, takes it seriously.


We want this for each other, they harmonise in key, washing through the complete circuit of me, we want the same as the other. We are part of this same beautiful machine.

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