*Content warning for mental health struggles
For a while, I barely left my apartment, except to go to work or on a walk late at night, and in there I’d begun to feel as though my life had come to a grinding halt somewhere far outside the world. It had become a strange liminal space, but eventually, I would move out of that place and find myself living with roommates for the first time — there was too much writing on the walls, and I felt it would be best to stop scribbling like a maniac and just leave it all in the past. It’s funny now, to look back on these things from a place where everything has fallen out of a state of total disrepair and nicely into shape; where all the anger and angst has been chased out of the empty spaces between broken pieces and replaced with a love that holds things together. Every mess will get cleaned up in the end, but last fall the story was this: I had just come off the tail end of a long summer that I had spent racked with a stress that was totally unknown to me: a caustic, agitated thing that thrashed around inside me constantly, kept me up for whole nights on end, and then sent me back out into the 40 degree days of mid-July with my head spinning.
The details are unimportant, because all the dynamics of that stress have changed, and all of it is whole and good again. The point is that the thing kept getting deeper and after a while of sustaining those feelings, I looked inside myself and saw that everything else had vanished. I was acting in ways that were unfamiliar to me: sitting in my apartment nearly immobile, in an anxious daze, caught between wind and water. I’m an anxious person now just as I am in my earliest memories, but never before had it consumed everything. It was a feeling of having been emptied of myself and tossed away like fruit peels, left to rot in the heat of my apartment in silence.
It was a feeling of having been emptied of myself and tossed away like fruit peels, left to rot in the heat of my apartment in silence.
There was a despair like dry rivers that came from the fact that I had no idea what to do with any of it, and an acute sense that in a way the whole thing had disfigured me permanently. And I hated what I saw — I abhorred seeing what I thought was a shell of myself, something rendered so putrid and voiceless for what I thought were such silly reasons.
In situations like this, my instinct had always been to hide my face. Rarely ever outrightly, because I’ve always needed regular social interaction to survive–the regular outings across the street to Tipsy Cow would send me home glowing after making so many new friends, and as such had become something of an essential. Often, what I’d do instead was limit conversations about what I was dealing with at the time to whatever it was I had figured out and could speak on with confidence. I wasn’t really aware of this as I was doing it, and it took me a lot of time and work to see that I was hiding away anything I considered to be messy and shameful, fearing what people would feel about it — presumably as much contempt as me.
I wasn’t really aware of this as I was doing it, and it took me a lot of time and work to see that I was hiding away anything I considered to be messy and shameful, fearing what people would feel about it.
But this was another way in which I was acting deeply unlike myself: I was sharing a lot of things that I would usually keep hidden, almost compulsively. I look back and I remember often feeling as though I was watching myself from a removed, third-person perspective like a confused ghost. A good friend and I would be having dinner, for example, and unable to hold a conversation about anything else for very long, I would go on these long, disjointed rants, trying my best to paint a picture for whoever was listening but in most cases feeling as though I did little more than wave my arms around in a sweat and in many cases literally beg for guidance. In the moment, this was as exhilarating as it was terrifying since, all of a sudden, I was leaping over the boundaries that had stood between me and the rest of the world for as long as I could remember. There had always been this kind of implicit certainty that the world was desolate on the other side of those walls, but finding myself at the end of my rope with such a mass of intense feelings sent me hurtling towards it.
There had always been this kind of implicit certainty that the world was desolate on the other side of those walls, but finding myself at the end of my rope with such a mass of intense feelings sent me hurtling towards it.
I was happy to find that I was wrong about everything; not only was the world not desolate, but I found it full of people who really love me, and who sat there for months talking me through things, letting me piece them together over and over again until I finally came to answers that made sense — something that I had loved to do for others, but that I could very rarely let people do for me. They showed up to my apartment spontaneously, with so much food and booze that they never let me pay for, and we would disappear into afternoons that ended at sunrise once we had had too much of all of it. These moments brought me back to earth — they were milestones in themselves, in that it took brutal strength to push me out of those hiding places of shame.
One of those good friends who came around that summer is an old wise woman in the body of a 21 year-old. Conversations with her have in many ways changed the way I see the world fundamentally; in the spirit of those conversations, it’s become clear to me that shame is like a sickness in the way it makes doing anything to get better so much harder and unpleasant. You’ve got to eat, but it’s agony when your throat’s in a knot and your stomach’s upside down. It’s the same thing with reaching out and letting love in when you feel disfigured, and like everything’s a horrible mess — it’s the last thing that you could think to do, but in the end, testing and pushing through those limitations is the only way to do away with shame. It’s like my friend says: the only way out is through.