Mostly, 90 percent of the time, the big ones trigger the bad attacks. The big, primal stuff: rage, surprise, sorrow, disgust, laughter, horror, joy. All of them can land me on my ass. Or worse.

The subtler things, the countless shades between the bright, primary colors, they’re easier. Embarrassment, apprehension, melancholy, grudging admiration, conflicted trust, delight soured by envy . . . Our heads paint with every pigment on the wheel. Small mercy, then, that the smaller, in-between stuff tends not to trigger me. Or, when it does, only minor attacks. The severity, the duration, it all depends on how strong the feeling, how sudden, how tangled up with other feelings.

The doctor who diagnosed me at sixteen explained it with a metaphor. “You’re a puppet dancing around on your strings,” he said, his hands held out, fingers in two downturned claws. “Cut one string, what happens?” He made one hand limp. That is, only a slight loss of muscle tone: my eyelids droop, my jaw sags, my knees go weak. An annoyance, a few weird looks if anyone else is around to see.

And what about major attacks?

He held out his fingers again, wiggled them like he was manipulating a little Pinocchio—“In that case”—then suddenly dropped both hands in his lap—“cut all the strings.” He was . . . triumphant to find another case to which he could apply his obscure expertise.

“You are, quite literally,” he said, grinning, “paralyzed by emotion.”

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