What if the dam broke and all the words it has been shoring up came rushing out of your mind, flooding the page?
Is there a chance they might take you by surprise because you’ve gotten so used to repressing them that they no longer register?
When faced with the evidence you’ve sought to conceal for so long, will you recoil, will you run, or will you embrace all that is?
I write to process life. That my head and heart seem to have become communicating vessels is a source of much consternation to me; most days, reason and emotion are one and the same thing.
And that thing is pain, the sheer, unadulterated pain of existence that led me to consider taking my own life every single day for five years. Suicidal ideation creeped into my mental landscape then and it never really left.
During times of extreme stress compounded by exhaustion, it is the random thought bubble that pops up again, getting that little more insistent every time.
Despite the good mental hygiene habits I’ve forced myself to adopt over the last year, I struggle to swat away the intrusive thought now. Instead of dismissing it, I let the possibility of a permanent escape linger, buzzing around my brain like a hungry fly in search of sustenance.
I am empty; I have nothing left to give.
Tonight, I feel the life force leaving me.
Tears dissolve the defiance that has carried me for the last year; sobs replace words as language became inaccessible. Like a wounded animal, I shrink to whimpers and yelps of pain, willing my voice to articulate words that perhaps could make a difference. “Help me, please!” I want to say but I can’t even manage a whisper.
Reflexively, my hand searches for another to hold and finds air instead, no comfort, no solace, no human warmth. Just like that, I teleport from present day Netherlands back to the America of 2013 to 2018, where I was sick, waiting to die, and systematically denied compassion.
My heart breaks anew.
Piece by piece, the new life I’ve been lovingly building word by word for the last year falls apart as darkness closes in on me. I go as far as getting my headphones to try and deflect it, hoping music will bring me instant relief as it has always done. But when it comes to selecting something to listen to, everything reminds me of how far I thought I had come and how I’ve just ended up back to square one despite my best efforts.
Despair isn’t articulate.
Despair is silence, the impossibility of thought, eyes that look away from you in disdain, disgust, and disappointment.
Often, those eyes are your own. Sometimes, they are those of the person you love.
Life puts the laptop in my hands, somehow.
I open it and start typing, the sound of fingers on keys familiar and soothing, a welcome sign I’m not quite ready to give up yet. Before he disappeared without a trace, a friend used to say I clung to life in a very strange way and tonight I finally understand how wrong he was.
Life clings to me in a very strange way; try as I might, I can’t quite shake it off.
My still being around isn’t entirely deliberate but the result of happenstance and random interactions. It also owes a lot to death and my trying to protect those I love from it after it took away the one person I thought I could never live without. Almost a year later, I still haven’t grieved, I still haven’t gone to London to hug his mom, I still haven’t accepted Anthony is gone.
Instead, I carry on conversations with him in my head as I try and imagine what he would make of the last nine months since I came back to Europe. How I went on a multi-country hunt for the many missing pieces of my identity, how Portuguese glued them back together, how I ended up back in North Holland.
And how terrified I am of going back to America, so terrified I would prefer not to. I’ve already changed my ticket once and likely will change it again.
The lifebuoy in my hands is how I’ve kept myself afloat for over a year, through desperation, stubbornness, and hope.
Life isn’t done with me yet but the product is tired; burnout has been ongoing for weeks but I can’t afford to rest.
Then again, I can’t afford not to.
The dam broke and shattered the mirror that is the page into a million little words that all point to the same message: Take care of yourself.
Even through tears, hold your head up high, pull those shoulders back, and stand up straight. Look up at the sky, look the person in front of you in the eye and hold their gaze.
Even though tears, let others see what you’re made of, let others take a long, hard look at unredacted vulnerability and frailty. Compassion means being at home in your head and heart; compassion means caring for them without shame when they break.
Stoop down, survey the damage, then breathe and be as you gather the pieces.
Breathe and be.
Sometimes, accept this is the best you can do and all you have to do until you feel strong enough to do more. Stay in the moment. Breathe and be. Then do it again.
Do not attempt to dress up your emotions, let them loose, let them flow from your fingers onto the page; feeling everything is how you regroup. Think of every word that makes it out of your head and heart as a snapshot of imperfect humanness, awkward love for life made manifest.
Treat every word you wrench from the parasite in your head as a clue in the quest for contentment; the more clues, the clearer the big picture. Let the page reflect yearnings silenced by years under the yoke of depression; allow for the possibility of a life that works.
And allow for the possibility of a love that endures, like vocation but applied to humans; allow for the possibility of a safe space, too. It exists to protect you when the storm hits and even though it feels like everything is falling apart, everything you need is contained within that safe space.
Stay put; breathe and be; allow all that is to be, too, messy, mangled, and yet so much more beautiful than anything you could ever have dreamed up or built alone.
Trust the storm will pass, trust the sun will rise, trust the words will come; trust that they will not fail you or those you write them for. But first acknowledge exhaustion is a health hazard and reclaim your humanness.
With what little strength you’ve got left, swathe yourself in gentleness and revel in the moment. You are so alive emotions are bursting out of you and out of those around you; the dark cloud pressing down on your shoulders is here to shield you from harm.
So you never forget where you come from.
The product is tired, the heart cannot compete with machines, and the mind knows this so why is it aiding and abetting fear; self-worth isn’t a paycheck, remember?
Only the words matter in the end; they are the building blocks of a new life that encompasses so much more than what gets written about because love, in its many incarnations, is an inherently private happening. If vocation is what is public and visible, what fuels it remains mostly intangible.
Only the words matter in the end so protect and nurture them, don’t squander them on fear; step away from the page, close the laptop, and rest for a while.
You’ve earned it.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.