A list of things I have done but have been unable to write about:
Dyed my hair purple
Attended a writing workshop
Signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
Attended a good friend’s wedding
Some, more than others, were impulse decisions. Eff-it moments when I decided my fears didn’t matter, recognising somewhere that I would be more myself once I had discarded them, because my fears aren’t necessarily me. Not when they stop me from doing what I really want.
So, hey, purple hair. Writing workshop. Volunteering every Saturday night with a group of young people I don’t really know. Yay.
Needless to say, I regret it all at least once a week.
In the mirror I see copper-brown strands, the purple long washed-away. I tug at it self-consciously and wish my hair could be all black again. Every Saturday evening, I am quietly quivering at the notion of having to interact with a group of young people who are all friends, whilst I am a new addition.
I’m always wishing I hadn’t done any of it. Because after my one moment of foolish bravery is over, my fears are back at my side again, nagging. My anxiety finds something to keep me up at night, to convince me that I am wrong to not be panicking.
Still, I am not dyeing my hair black. I even catch myself liking the glint of the sun on these select light-brown strands of hair.
Still, I am calling every Saturday to know where the group is meeting up. And when one homeless person gushes about how the macaroni we served were the best he’s ever had, or when another takes some for his two daughters, I’m happy I was there to help.
My fear wishes I hadn’t done any of it. But I, I keep doing it anyway. I keep moving forward, and discarding fear like yesterday’s fashion. I regret and complain and most of all, I know better. I understand that who I want to be takes precedence over any anxiety I might have. My time is limited, am I really going to spend it all cowering?
I have been so busy questioning Life that I can’t seem to live it.
My tenderest years I spent feeding my doubts, utterly taken by greater-than-life hypotheses about Meaning and Existence. The questions grew large and looming, dwarfing me in the process, until one day I fell into one of them, into the black hole of one “Why” too many. Further down the rabbit hole I fell, to the point where it became all I knew; I could only vaguely recall there ever being some other life before it.
And so I spent many years surrounded by a kind of darkness, in the search for “Truth” (although, in reality, it was more complicated than that). I was looking for the Truth, the kind humans have been searching for since the dawn of Time, but also for my own personal truth, my own story. I was looking for myself, trying to see, through the very limited lens of my consciousness, the whole truth of the human condition, the efforts of mankind sketched against the then-vague concept of the Universe.
Ironically, by trying to widen my worldview and deepen my consciousness, I became monomaniacal, so astoundingly focused on the task I couldn’t see what I’d become.
Life graces us all with at least one piece of irony.
Then, I spiralled.
Days blurred into nights and Time melted under the sun until Life became Existence, and I did not know myself anymore.
I’d love to say I woke up one day to the sunlight caressing my cheek. I’d love to say its warmth shook something in me and jolted me awake.
But I stayed locked in the dark. I let my teenage years just go by. I never truly celebrated the year when I was 18. This feeling was all I was; it erased everything else, every other kind of identity. And it was so hard to explain — how could I when I didn’t even understand it myself?
But slowly, unwillingly, I crept out into the sun. I opened my eyes to it, its brightness burning my retinas. Then I crawled back inside for months in a protective darkness, in a safe stillness. Then I came out again. I would spend a day in, a day out. Now the days have turned into months, the months into half-years. And slowly, I am converting Existence to Life again.
This time around, I believe I am going about existentialism the right way: I ask questions and in so doing, uncover dark rooms, encounter still, darkened worlds within my consciousness. And in the midst of all this darkness, I try to find the light that shows me around it.
It is this simple: do not get eaten by the dark. Always carry some light with you, within you.
We all have that spark, no matter how dire the circumstances, how extreme our suffering. As long as there is life, there can be light.
Do not let the darkness overwhelm your light. Even if it is flickering, light always overpowers darkness.
Note : I remember when I started this blog, I was still in the throes of all this dark existentialism, of these huge concepts I could not fully comprehend, did not know how to handle. And now I am all “A kaleidoscope of butterflies” and “Warm, honeyed sunlight”. Whodathunk.
I awake some days to already stale mornings, like coffee left out from the night before and smoke breaks in inadequately ventilated spaces.
The pounding headache from 2 a.m. insomnia clawing at the scar on my brow, burning retinas, millisecond blackouts, unsteady feet and foul moods — I carry over the acrid taste of yesterday and days before as though some thick paste of regret I can neither scrape off my tongue nor swallow past.
I stumble through the day, hiding from the sun and thoughts that blare an unforgiving light, the kind that exposes all the things you want to conceal. Setting out, I already know that all I want to do is be back home already and wallow, sleep it out until the next day.
Yeah, some days you know in advance it’s going to be a bad one. Still, I think it’s okay to allow yourself that sometimes. Time to wallow, to indulge in some of the pain and ache. Not always in a rush to fix things or to look on the bright side, to not let the day go to waste, to turn the day around. It’s a process, it takes time.
That’s why I think it’s important to let yourself acknowledge the bad parts too. It’s important to complain and wallow sometimes. After all, you cannot hope to heal when you don’t know where it hurts and why.
Note : A little while back, I found out about this month-long poetry/prose/flash fiction challenge called Escapril, and which proposes the most wonderful prompts. Now, it is unlikely that I will be able to do a prompt a day. But you can look forward to reading some posts inspired by these writing prompts(I already have my eye on a few of them lol). Today’s post quite coincidentally matches the first day theme and boy am I glad for it. Anyway, you can find out more about Escapril on their Instagram page!
“Anxiety, I have learned too many times, feels like choking on fear.”
Quietly, the cold dread seeps in.
And my heart, like a cup in the sink, drinks, drinks, drinks….until it drops, sunken, to the bottom. The glacial dampness seizes my throat, clouds my head and I swallow around it.
I thought, I thought I had it under wraps. I thought, a thought too much an accusation, that I was getting better now. But my heart has sunk to my feet, dragging everything in its passage. Lungs, stomach, even my veins feel weighed down, crushed under some leaden weight. Where a void emerges in my chest now, the cold dread fills it in, and colours outside the lines.
Anxiety, I have learned too many times, feels like choking on fear.
Shuddering breaths enter and leave my body and I forget the 4-7-8 that helps so well. Yet the fog in my head won’t clear, will not be shaken off. It’s not long before my eyes, too, turn cloudy. It’s never this huge explosion though, and that may be the worst part of it all. Anxiety gears up, perpetually, for something that never comes to pass. It constantly renews a state of turmoil, churns old fears anew. So, an hour later, my heart has still not settled. Racing, still. Like me, it tries to run away from problems, to leap out of my chest— but it cannot run from itself, just like I cannot.
An hour later finds me pacing — a quiet release. Up and down, around the same streets, I am shuffling. It soothes my brain somehow and subtly releases some of the fog from behind my eyes, clears the veil of smoke obstructing my view.
An hour later, like many other days, like countless other moments like these, finds me at the beach. Deliverance comes in all soft, crashing waves and the sharp, the grounding tang of salt, the sea breeze, the trees that sway in a comforting, lulling rustle.
And I do.
I force myself to see beyond the fog. To become the lighthouse that guides a keeling boat to safety as the storm rages on. I breathe and draw out patterns from the sand, swishing my foot sideways, leaving behind shaky archs and footprints beneath. And the sea, crashing, reborn every few minutes, perpetually setting itself back together, plucks at the tangles in my body. With every soft crash, my heart rate slows and Anxiety unravels under the pale, warm sunlight. All the fog has vanished into the sea, whisked away by the salt spray and the smell of iodine. Anxiety comes undone a half-hour later, nothing now but a soft tiredness cloaking my bones. The boat that rocked dangerously is now safely brought to shore, swaying from the aftershock.
“And it’s not easy— never—the only way to sun-stained hands is to grab the light yourself and never let it go.”
Sun-stained fingers delicately prying open darkened, charred ribs.
Hearts can become such messes, you know.
Clogged with ash, unmoving, hard, cutting like the surface of a mountain.
“Can you even imagine,” she said, “that this used to be young and tender? That it rushed and skipped, halted and leaped.”
Now, it is just a heap of ash.
“Even so,” he says, “you manage.”
“You take a little bit of light everyday, and…”
And it looked so easy for him. Bright, sunny as he was. All golden skin, sun-lightened hair.
“And it’s not easy— never—the only way to sun-stained hands is to grab the light yourself and never let it go.”
No matter the keenness of the burn, the sharpness of the sting. Grab the light and never let it go. Because this burn, it is the burn of alcohol on fresh wounds. It burns because it heals. It burns because it takes away the things that have slipped inside, so tightly enmeshed in parts of yourself.
“I don’t know if you were expecting a story of how I’d fallen in love with the most wonderful person, someone who understands my struggles and all the depth and darkness. Something poetic like : “He saw her sitting alone in the darkness and instead of shining a light on her, quietly sat down beside her and held her hand, waiting the darkness out.” But this is not that kind of story. “
I sat down today on the same sofa I had sat on 5 years previously, when I believed with everything I had that nothing would ever get better.
A scrawny, withdrawn teenager then, I tried not to exist too obviously, too loudly. I felt I was nothing but all this anxiety raging inside of me, nothing but a receptacle for people’s dirty looks, their pity and yet sometimes amazingly, their jealousy. 5 years ago, I was fading out of existence, a process furthered by the discovery of human nature’s seedy underbelly. When I was finally allowed a look into an adult’s world, I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. But by then, it was a door I was practically being pushed through.
5 years ago, I was what? 15, 16? Oscillating between wanting nothing and needing it all. At the time, all hope had fled. Had spilled out on the pillow in silent midnight cries. I don’t really have hope now, either. But I have the belief that maybe one day, I could have it, and this makes all the difference. And between that ‘no‘ and this ‘maybe‘, stand 5 years and more than a few battles fought alone, to exhaustion. There were fears faced, comfort zones expanded.
I’ll get away from here, I thought, because as a teenager, that’s a totally legitimate plan to have.
But life had other plans. So I’m still here 5 years later.
I don’t know if you were expecting a story of how I’d fallen in love with the most wonderful person, someone who understands my struggles and all the depth and darkness. Something poetic like : “He saw her sitting alone in the darkness and instead of shining a light on her, quietly sat down beside her and held her hand, waiting the darkness out.” But this is not that kind of story. There was no flip. No plot twist. No one to rescue you.
It was mostly a ton of effort. Unsexy, unromantic, stinky effort.
Though I did meet good people. People who might’ve guessed at all the things I hid, but who never wanted to pry. People who were decent, who were funny and didn’t frown at my quirks, and who thought I was kindof cool, actually. People who apologised when they were late, who asked you to message them to let them know you got home safely. People who celebrated your achievements, who would drag you out of hiding and shine the light of recognition on you because take credit for your accomplishments, damn it.
I’ve got some ways to go still.
But 5 years ago, I sat on the same sofa and was another person. 5 years ago, the world was ending, in more ways than one. Today though, I am sitting here, writing, humming the melody of a waltz from a movie I love very much. My breath is light with the scent of peach iced tea and I am relishing the silence, being grateful for the time I am given.
These days, given the right opportunities, I also open up a little. Inconsequential things, stories stripped of too much emotion and detail, but spoken into the atmosphere still. These stories might just be rubble compared to the complex structures I keep inside, but it means that there is a bridge, nonetheless. That trade is open. I squirrel away parts of my story, bits and pieces that don’t connect. I am not doing ‘good’ really, but I am doing better. And in the end, I think that’s all anyone can hope for.
Hang in there, life gets better. And you want to be there to see it happen.
Note: This is Day 22 of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. This is also something I want to dedicate to a good friend, a soul sister, really, who’s going through some rough times. Just hang in there, people, it really does get better. If you liked this entry, you can also check out yesterday’s entry here, which is a little more on the cheerier side of life 🙂