Our author makes an attempt at putting into words what is, by its very nature, nearly indescribable.


In the search for belonging, humans are capable of incredible feats.

They overcome their biggest fears. Beat back old memories, anxieties, grief. And some… forget themselves.

Forget who they wanted to be, hoped to be, in an effort of transforming themselves into who they think they have to be in order to fit in. To find purchase in this world, the box they thought would finally fit them. They cram themselves into the cracks, dig their toes and fingers into the grooves of the walls closing in on them, and, muscles straining, they hold on as long as they can.

Picture: Martin Scherbakov, showing the sculpture “Die Verdammnis”, by Balthasar Permoser, 1725, to be seen in “Museum der Bildenden Künste” in Leipzig

Because they are afraid. Because when the world asks them “Who are you?”, they cannot show up empty handed. They cannot say “I don’t know”. That would mean being shut out. Shunned. Outlawed, possibly ridiculed, laughed at. And so, they smile as they choose hobbies and professions, worse, they choose friends, partners, and they make do, because, really, that perfect fit in every category is a dream, anyway, life is not a tailored suit. Something will always twinge a bit, feel a bit off. To them, it’s normal, playing along to other people’s rules, dancing to other’s music. It might hurt a bit, they might miss a step or two in the beginning, but numbness will take over soon enough.

Until they lose who they used to be before. Until they look into the mirror, either with a blank stare or tears of fear, confusion, desperation on their face, and can’t recognize their own reflection anymore. Logically, they know it’s their face, know who they are. They still have a name, an age, an address. They could look it all up. There are certificates and ID cards that tell them all these things. But what do they matter when the mirror doesn’t match them anymore? When it’s only fingertips against cool glass, a skin that doesn’t belong to them anymore, but which won’t shed? A skin that now fits only the distorted self they have created?

And that’s when their hold in their chosen box’s cracks and crevices begins to slip, when the walls begin to crumble and their muscles give way, slacken, and they fall. Away from everything they thought they knew about themselves, and into doubt.

It has been there all along, but they only now see it, recognize it, feel it on this foreign skin. Doubt is nigh-on impossible to get rid of. It clings like soot, sticks like oil; only those can be washed away with enough patience and soap and scrubbing. Doubt doesn’t wash away that easily. It doesn’t leave behind skin that’s a little red and a little raw – it leaves holes, bits and pieces torn away. It leaves the strings that held a person together frayed and brittle.

All that’s left by the end is a pile of ash of that-which-once-was that they need to sweep up – or rather bury into, trying to salvage the pieces they still recognize as theirs. What they find, what pieces they manage to uncover, will hardly ever be enough to rebuild an entire person. And yet, they will do it. It is more than likely they have done it before. And not just once.

They might feel like a house rebuilt after a fire: it may look the same, but it is not the same house. Just as they have rebuilt themselves a little differently this time, brick by brick, with or without help. They are most likely afraid, terrified, to open their doors again. Are afraid of the world that might come swarming in; sweeping up the staircases, blowing open doors and clogging rooms. Are afraid of the whole cycle starting again, as it well might. There is no guarantee this home, this house, this new “I” does not catch fire and burn to the ground again.

Though really, it should be the world afraid of them. Picking themselves up is the hardest work and has the potential to tear them down all of its own. Even just the attempt means exhaustion, so bone deep as to be inexplicable. It should be the world afraid of them, for they have strength unknown.

The world is blind not to recognize it.


This one goes out to all those fighting the battles we cannot see, those who suffer in silence and carry loads unimaginable: you are seen and heard, you matter, and you are deserving. What this society has yet to learn is how to give everyone the space they need without judgement when they don’t fit the box. It should not be “your box will come”, but “we shall build your home’s foundation with you”.

If ever you are in need of help, here are some resources. The first two of these websites are also available in English.

Psychologisch-Psychotherapeutische Beratungsstelle | FAU MeinStudium

Psychologisch-Psychotherapeutische Beratungsstellen in Erlangen » Studentenwerk Erlangen-Nürnberg (werkswelt.de)

Psychologische Beratungsstelle Erlangen ▷ Kostenlose Angebote anfordern (cylex.de)

Beratungsstellen – Psycho-Soziale Arbeitsgemeinschaft (nuernberg.de)

Sozialpsychiatrischer Dienst für Stadt und Landkreis Fürth (sozialpsychiatrischer-dienst-fuerth.de)


by Svenja Plannerer

Picture: Martin Scherbakov, showing the sculpture “Die Verdammnis”, by Balthasar Permoser, 1725, to be seen in “Museum der Bildenden Künste” in Leipzig