I know I’m not the only one with trouble resting. I’m not sleeping at night. I take naps, mostly. I see the postings on social networking at all hours in different time zones where people display their tosses and turns. We’re blurting out different levels of stress, we’re trying to figure out why we are blue, or panicked or frustrated…
It’s intriguing because these same social networks would lead us to believe that our counterparts all have it together all the time. Brunching and partying, working amazing dream jobs getting promoted every few months, traveling to exotic locales, laughing constantly while basking in a never-ending supply of financial resources and fancy clothes… While some of it feels real, we all do a lot of pretending: pretending to be OK.
Crippling anxiety is no stranger to me. Each day is a wrestling match with second-guessing and discouragement. Even the simplest of decisions sometimes become a chore. I find myself bound, unable to turn off the endless drone of memories and replayed choices inside my head. Small things become massive. A disrupted schedule, an unanswered text message, or too much noise from the neighbor’s house can cause a mood swing, a tiredness that makes you unable to try, absentmindedly overeating, or a panic that has you rushing about, worrying, over-working and you sometimes forget to eat. I’m down an inadvertent 25 pounds.
It’s inexplicable. When Cee-Lo Green sings: I remember when I lost my mind… I smile inside because so do I: it was somewhere around 17 and a half. After my first major break-up and bout with public humiliation, I was changed, I wasn’t changed for the better either, not at first. That relationship was eventually rekindled and became the defining piece of an oft dark and tumultuous young adult life. One I’m still recovering from in a myriad of ways.
Aaliyah‘s “One In A Million” forces memories of being a university student plowing through 25+ page papers in tears, a ball of raw nerve endings, on the phone with a bestie at another school, drowning in tears of her own, both determined to get our work done despite dramatic circumstances. Smoking, drinking, wrapped in insomnia even then, because of the overly intense labyrinth of college couplings, a “hood” girl making the grade, and the scrutiny of dating a star athlete with many demons of his own. The expensive poverty described by Baldwin just a breath away as we tried to cope with a new-found high visibility without the material trappings of even our upper middle class classmates.
I later learned more about pretending to be OK. In corporate jobs, trying to carve out time to write, time to be an artist, I’d found time to perform in the office. Observing a CEO wear a mask, portraying the coolness of a well-prepared leader when in actuality he’d be holed up at my cubicle before I arrived in the morning, I played the role of a blind woman while he was embroiled in a rumored affair with my boss who pretended not to hear the frantic elevation in her husband’s voice when he called the office several times a day. I can still hear Michael McDonald playing every time I had to place him on hold. I keep forgetting…
I used to go into the restroom and cry. I hated the job with no creative outlet and the unspoken obligation to keep these people’s messy secrets, but still being expected to excel professionally with too heavy a workload, yet continuously being passed over for promotions perhaps because I was too young, too female and too black for this older conservative company.
These days, trying to record entertainment culture and contribute relevant art of my own, bouncing around a scene where everyone has experienced just a little more than they bargained for, you learn to pretend to be OK with what you may not deem great, can’t relate to or don’t understand but has somehow taken the lead, just long enough for you to capture it or find a way to get paid. The passion you once had may wane and you finally know what Amy Winehouse meant when she said that Love was a losing game.
We all have moments, weeks, sometimes entire seasons or years where we feel too much, or are cloaked in numbness because we don’t want to feel another thing. Emotional scars, or invisible bars locking us in. Perhaps it stems from a traumatic experience, or maybe it’s the stinging memory of a thoughtless word cast at us in the third grade that chipped away our confidence and awakened an insecurity… These triggers keep us up at night or down during the day. These moods may fuel our creativity, helping us make the art and do the work that eventually heals us or someone else. These moods may also paralyze us, hiding us from our dreams, handcuffing the arms we need to raise in surrender, silencing the voice of the messages we need to get out.
This is all deliciously human. We are bombarded constantly with messages assuring us that we can overcome on our own and that all we need to do is change our thoughts. One look at my Twitter feed and you’ll see that I subscribe to such self-talk as well. As a budding life coach of sorts I drill encouraging messages and motivational anecdotes into the hearts of others all the time. But I remind them, and myself that being down sometimes is normal. We are allowed to feel what we need to feel. We’re true champions because we keep going, even if we never even muster up the strength to ask for help.
I know I’m not the only one with trouble resting. I know I’m not the only one who gets stuck momentarily in a jacket of pain when certain lyrics play. These days the memories have morphed into a half-hearted smile as I learn to remember storms without getting struck by the lightning again. I’ve learned to be cleansed in the gentle pelt of the rain. I know I’m not the only one with trouble resting. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to be OK.
Image credit: Brenda Pinkston