Talisman

talisman
noun

An object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck.

I have nightmares, sometimes, about being robbed. I dream that someone will come up to me in the street and point at the expensive headphones I’m wearing.

I doubt I’m the only person to have this dream. It’s a terrifying concept. The idea of being singled out and threatened. Will they hurt you if you don’t comply? What else will you have to give them? The idea of losing something you spent a lot of money on is painful.

My headphones aren’t the most expensive you can get – they’re off-brand, but they’re high quality. They cost me £40. It could be worse, but even still it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the loss of that worth, especially when you’re used to not having much.

Except that’s not it. That’s not the thing that scares me. The idea of being physically hurt isn’t even the thing that makes me wake up from the nightmare with my heart pounding. The terrifying thing is this: they will take my headphones, and I will be left without my talisman. I will be left without my life-giving powers.

Because my headphones, you see, are magic.

When I am afraid, which is whenever I leave the house, they quiet those internal screams. They give me the wonder of music and the thoughtfulness of podcasts and, most importantly, they take away all the things that outside throws at me. They cannot cure me, but they are a shield against the world.

They free me from the shackles of my own house. Without them, I cannot go anywhere. The idea of being subjected to the noise of cars, of talking, of children crying, of arguments and catcalls and the many terrible things the world will throw at me is too much. Without my headphones, I would just stay inside. I know this, because it was my life before them.

I am very bad at spending money on myself. When I bought my talisman – noise cancelling and noise blocking, so good that you can barely hear a car pass – it was a fight with myself to justify it. Even for something that I knew would change my life. I had been living with lesser headphones for a while, ones that didn’t block all the noise, relying on turning my music up to painful levels to survive. For £40 I could change everything, and it still felt like too much.

The problem was … it felt silly. But the truth is, headphones are my crutches. My wheelchair. My hearing aid. My large print books. They are what makes the world accessible for me.

I have assessments every other year for my disability benefit, and when I am asked what medical aides I require, this is what I always tell them now: I cannot leave the house without my headphones. My headphones make it possible for me to live.

They are my talisman.

If you take them away from me, you are not just taking the £40 I spent on them. You are taking my ability to exist in the outside world. My ability to get home without the trauma of panic levels of anxiety. My ability to go anywhere without an escort, putting strain on my family and friends.

I get jokes about my talisman sometimes. I used to when I was younger, as well, though they were nastier then. “You’ve always got those things in your ears,” they would say of the £3 earphones I coveted like they were diamonds. “It’s like you hate the world or something.”

I would laugh and shake my head, whilst inside crowing: yes! Yes, I hate the world that hurls a thousand reasons to panic at me. I hate the world that is loud and overwhelming and full of people who would hurt me just by existing, all because my mind produces certain chemicals improperly.

But I love it, too. I love this world. I love it so much that I am willing to go into it even when it terrifies me. Even though I know that a single thing – someone leaning out of a van to yell in my direction, getting to the shops and realising I forgot shopping bags, getting lost in somewhere I don’t know – could easily send me cascading into a traumatic panic attack.

That’s why I wear my headphones. My talisman.

So I can love the thing I hate.

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