(For the last several years I have been having frequent vasovagal attacks. As chronic medical conditions go, this isn't a terribly serious one, not compared to diabetes or depression or dozens of others. I can do many important things without much trouble, which is a luxury. The immediate medical cause is a flaw in my blood-pressure regulatory system. What caused /that/ is a mystery to myself and a significant collection of doctors. Certain blood-pressure medications help considerably. This essay is about life /with/ the medications. It's considerably worse without them.)
I get punished many times a day, for what ought to be the pettiest of infractions. The punishments are applied immediately; there is no opportunity for appeal, nor any authority to appeal to.
There are three or four sorts of punishment. Blindness is oddly the least of them. Actually it's not precisely blindness. It's as if I had stared for a moment into a tremendously large sun: the center of my field of vision is a mass of sun-blaze's incoherent colors and shapes. I still have peripheral vision: hence this is the least punishment.
Deafness is the rarest punishment. Again, it's not precisely deafness. It's an endlessly loud buzzing, which fills my ears and obscures every other sound. This one is a social problem: I am suddenly unable to tell that people are talking to me, much less what they are saying; and they can't tell that I can't hear them.
Dizziness is the most common punishment. The universe becomes a mass of swirling syrup. All things are turning, disorienting. Movement is difficult but possible. With a bit of concentration I can usually get to a large solid object, a wall or something, and lean against it to recover. Getting through this isn't a matter of strength, and there's no way to power through it. My muscles are fine; my brain and body simply aren't getting enough blood.
Faintness is the harshest punishment. It comes with dizziness, of course, but it adds its own special bonus. It's not precisely feeling like I'm about to lose consciousness, as 'faintness' usually conveys. It's a moment on the edge of a biological crisis, where death seems imminent, inevitable, and an improvement over living a second longer. The only thing I've felt like it is the moment before vomiting, when everything about my body feels horrible and unendurable. I don't often faint, though sometimes I end up crouched on the floor. I've never had any worse bodily sensation. This comes a few times a week.
On the good side, the punishments are over quickly: a minute, maybe two. The official record is expunged quickly. Repeat offenses within, say, ten minutes are punished more harshly. But after half an hour the punishment scale is back to normal.
The list of crimes has a straightforward and simple theme: exertion beyond the minimum is a life-crime. Enforcement is spotty: I don't get punished every time for minor crimes, and once in a while I can even get away with a major one.
The simplest crimes are truly trivial and unavoidable. Getting up out of a chair is punishable by dizziness. That rule is rarely enforced, like speeding laws: once or twice a week. Lifting things is similarly a petty misdemeanor rarely worthy of official notice.
Most crimes are moving offenses. Before I had vasovagal problems my usual walking pace was about four miles an hour, and that's still the pace my legs want to take. But anything above about three miles an hour is a felony, punished harshly within three minutes. Dancing is a serious offense. I don't dare bike or swim: blindness, dizziness, or fainting could be fatal on the road or in the water.
Stairs — stairs are my constant temptations to transgress. I live in a three-story house; I take train and subways to work; I work in a complicated multi-floor office. Stairs are everywhere. (Hills and up-ramps count as stairs, for me.) Elevators and escalators are /not/ everywhere. Even in accessible places they are generally slow, crowded, noxious. I do plan parts of my day to avoid stairs though: going home from work I take a somewhat slower route because it has two single staircases, no doubles, and a long escalator at the end.
Going down is not a problem. Going up is exertion, and thus criminal. I can usually get away with single flight of stairs — usually — perhaps one time in ten I get punished. Walking up two flights of stairs is a risky caper. I can reduce the chance of punishment by taking a minute's break between the two, but no matter what, the second flight is under harsher scrutiny than the first. Three flights of stairs — or three blocks on a mild hill — is a high crime that cannot be ignored. I haven't gotten to the fourth flight in years.
Carrying things adds considerably to the severity of any crime. My usual work backpack, a well-balanced bag with a laptop and a few oddments, is can be excused as practically part of my body. A bag of groceries, a load of laundry, a heavy coat — these are grave insults to the inexorable magistrate, and turn minor infractions into major ones.
Body-play is a stair-level infraction. I am flirting with punishment as much as I am flirting with my partner. I won't say much about this, of course.
Motive matters, too. Intense emotions make every crime worse. It doesn't matter *what* emotion. Hate crimes are punished harshly — as are love crimes, crimes of fear, whatever. My rap sheet is full of "climbing stairs while excited" and "orgasm while loving" and other such aggrevated offenses.
And that is life in a police state of health.