Making a mess

Ten years ago, something bad happened and I lost most of my closest friendships. I’m forever shocked that I survived the year that followed, and as a person whose body typically reminds me of residual trauma before I bother to look at the calendar, I’ve been apprehensive about living through the anniversary of all of it.

Weirdly, though, thinking back on everything that happened in the context of what’s happening now, I see it as proof that I can live through most things. That year of my life was truly unlivable, and the one after it wasn’t much better. I hated myself and questioned all of my life choices—the bad ones, naturally, but also the ones that looked good on paper. I believed my life was irredeemably bad and, worse, that I deserved it. It was a long time before I recovered from this mindset in any meaningful way. For years, it dictated who I let into my life and how I let them treat me.

And yet, I am fine now. My walls are higher than they should be, but I can’t help but think this is better than the alternative. I think sometimes about the person I used to be, how little she would believe anything that has happened in the past ten years—not merely about the facts of my life but that I was able to survive any one of the terrible things that happened, let alone all of them. In my late twenties I had horrible coping mechanisms and met every challenge with resistance. I created internal drama around everything and clung to stories that were no longer serving me, plus a few that never had. I felt bad all the time, and I’d built an identity around feeling bad all the time, making it hard to reverse course. But eventually, I did.

This has not been an easy year. Besides the obvious—a global pandemic, seemingly endless police violence against Black Americans, the continued reign of a presidential administration that is at equal turns incompetent and cruel—it’s been a year of personal grief and uncertainty. My cousin Matt died the first week of the year, my dad is having health issues, and I’ve experienced a spectrum of losses that feel unfair to enumerate here given how they pale in comparison with everything else I’ve just mentioned. Life is just hard, and it’s hard in a different way from anything I’ve experienced before. My usual coping mechanisms are unreliable: I can’t therapy or self-help my way out of the months or years of uncertainty ahead, workout studios are closed, and I can’t hop a flight somewhere unless I’m open to staying inside for 14 days after I get back, which I’m not.

And still, I’m aware that relatively speaking, my life is easy. I can work from home, I haven’t lost income, my friends and family aren’t sick—and the ones who did get sick have recovered. Most of my close friends live within walking distance of my apartment, so we can meet up outside without anyone needing to take the subway, which I haven’t set foot on in over five months.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, a rambling meditation of a blog post on a site usually dedicated to structured pieces about how to live a creative life. I guess where I’ve arrived is that part of how to be creative—the biggest part, probably—is actually in the mess of it all. And believe me, I am a mess. Being at home much of the time lends itself easily to solipsism, and even in the best of times the quest to understand myself is the one thing I never grow bored of. This year has been a series of exercises in trying to grasp who I am, finally, and coming up empty amid too much conflicting evidence. I’m at times annoyingly principled, yet forever adept at rationalizing my worst behavior. I continually deprioritize my own needs in favor of others’—it’s something I’ve worked on in therapy on and off for five years—and yet I’m at times convinced that I’m the only person I actually care about. My coping mechanisms through all of this have run the gamut from healthy to, if not life-threatening, certainly sanity-threatening. On paper I look very good, past it, the person I was ten years ago a shadow I relinquished as I stepped into the sun. I have the resume of someone who hasn’t fucked up in at least three and a half years, a weirdly clean apartment (for me), financial stability. My therapist thinks I’m too responsible, which is how I know I’m lying to her.

And then I wonder, am I lying to myself? Is it even possible to hold all of the things I claim to hold in one person? No one is just one thing, and I’m at least fifty, the combination of them varying from day to day. Maybe everyone is like this, but I see it only in myself because of my chronic self-mythologizing, something I’ve done since I was a child. Maybe I’m many people only because I want to be many people, because I like the story it tells about me. I think about the time a guy I’d dated briefly later approached my friend for information about me, explaining, “She’s so different, you know?”

I want to be so different, you know? I want to make no sense to you—be a puzzle you must but can’t figure out–as though that will protect me from your loss of interest, despite so much evidence to the contrary. I’m pretty enough but can only be infuriating to a point without people walking away, hands thrown up in exasperation. And the fact that I know this makes me behave better, but still not always well.

But maybe I like the paradox. I try to imagine myself as all one thing—all good, all bad—and find either prospect equally boring. I constantly return to the idea that no one will ever love me again because I’m not perfect, and yet I know I’d never love myself again if I were.

One thought on “Making a mess

  1. I loved your post, it reads as raw and real. I find it brave and yet a bit sad as it suggests that just as I do, you too seem to live under the burden of other people’s acceptance and expectations. Moreover you seem to have conditioned your self-acceptance on an unrealistic achievement of perfection. As cliche as it may sound I think you and I would both need to hear a kind self-encouragement every now and again like “You are enough!”. In my opinion the simple fact that you are thinking of all these things is a token of your value. I appreciate your honesty and I hope you will find a way to love yourself more, not less. All this inherent self-criticism does not point to egoism in my view, on the contrary.


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