At the beginning of last week, when I emailed my boss to tell her that my grandfather had died, she was really nice about it, and said to just let them know what I needed. I thought, “Okay, whatever. I don’t really need anything.” Or, more accurately, I had no idea what I needed.
Here’s the epiphany I had driving home from work last Monday night.
Holy shit, I’m so f*cking angry.
Here’s the truth: I think I’ve been running from this anger for a long time. I’ve said that I’m over it and that it’s not my shit to be angry about. But that doesn’t matter. My mom and I, we’re what you’d call enmeshed. We feel each other’s feelings too much. I think that’s what happened last fall. As much as I understood her anxiety and all of the things she worried about, on a fundamental level, eventually it just didn’t matter anymore. I had to leave, because I had to live my life for me, and sometimes living my life made her anxious. It just wasn’t working anymore. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still defensive of her. I still feel her anger, and I still feel angry on her behalf. Two years ago, I shut down from all of this because it was too much. There were too many feelings and, no surprise, this empath was overwhelmed with all of them. So I cut it off, because the “Adults” in my life were not acting very adult-like. They were not facing their shit, as I had had to do countless times over my years in therapy post-car accident. What excused them from facing their shit, when they had even more on the line than me? Their choices not to face their shit didn’t just effect themselves, they effected the next generation. Us. Myself, my siblings, my cousins. So I stopped thinking about this, because the thought of it pissed me off too much. Instead, I spent my summer in a library, making a web series that would change my life. It brought me to some amazing friends and a path of creativity and to Eli, who further changed my life in a much more profound way. I’ve been shut off from it for about two years, but that doesn’t mean this all wasn't still there. I turned the tap off, but the water pressure has been building all the while, and this past week it just about burst.
A lot of shit went down last week. It was the week of my Grandfather’s funeral. On Tuesday morning, I got a phone call from a person in my life who has always been something of a mentor to me. Who I thought was okay. They were not. I came in late to work, because I literally could not put down the phone and extricate myself from the conversation. I walked to my desk, and I had a complete meltdown. Luckily, my coworker is amazing, and let me cry at him for thirty minutes, and then confessed that he has taken sick time for his anxiety. I spent all day worrying that this person wasn't okay, because I hadn’t heard from them since the phone call. I was terrified. Later on I realized I wasn’t okay either, and with the funeral the next day, what I really needed was to go home early and talk to my mom. So I did just that. I said I had a headache, which I did, and I went home. At the end of the day I found out that things had gotten worse with that person, but that they were safe and in good hands.
This whole situation made me take a closer look at the way I handle my work/life balance. It made me realize, quite belatedly, that my mental illness is an illness. I can take a sick day for it. And, reluctant as I am to admit it, I thought that was wrong. As much as I try to be an advocate for mental illness, I still fall prey to contagious idiotic ideology about it. I find myself thinking that it's something that I should just figure out on my own. On my own time. It's not like I have cancer. It's not a real reason to be out sick.
Which, what the f*ck, self? The truth is that if I had taken sick days for all the days that I went to work mentally unwell, I would have missed a lot of work already. What the hell can I say about that? I'm ashamed that that's true. I'm ashamed that apparently I haven't been taking as good care of myself as I thought. But I'm resolved to do something about it. This is going to change. I am taking this shit seriously. I have a mental illness.
Recently I've looked at close friends who have taken mental health days and found myself getting angry. "Ugh," I thought, "you have that luxury. I don't." But that's not even true. I have paid sick time! And if I actually needed it, I could take time off unpaid and it would just have to be okay. I have taken one personal day off before this week. In my six months at this job, I have had minimal vacation or time off. And that's not their fault. That's my own fault, for not thinking I can take any time off. In our hustle-glorifying culture, that might be seen as a badge of honor. But it is NOT. I am not proud of that. I should not do that to myself! I am not a doctor or a politician. I don't want to say my job doesn't matter, but let's face it-- people are not going to die if I don't show up to work. But I might, if I keep treating myself like this. I can take a goddamn mental health day. And so can you.
In that same vein, Eli and I have been doing yoga together in the evenings after work lately. He suggested it, actually, but we didn’t make it happen until early last week. We did it Monday night, and then again on Tuesday night. I guess he loves yoga now. He keeps saying it makes him feel lighter, better. I knew he didn’t doubt the importance of my yoga practice before, but it’s just really cool that now not only does he get it, but he wants to participate in it. It’s nice, because now I can do yoga in the morning by myself (part of my everyday morning routine) and again at night (not every day, but some) with him. I can have my yoga and be with him too. And he gets this amazing practice in his life as well.
This is going to sound so lame, but I love this new facet of our relationship because although we’ve already committed to being there for each other through everything (anxiety and depression in particular) doing yoga together feels like a renewed commitment to that. Because we’re doing this physical thing together that is all about being where you are. Staying there. Working through where you’re at, and letting that be enough. We talk about that all the time, and we both understand the concept and do our best to remember it in times of struggle, but there’s just something about physically doing it together. We are working through the pain, each on our own mats, but right next to each other. I don’t know if he did this purposely, suggesting this practice, but I’m realizing that I really needed it. And it’s done something for our relationship that I didn’t even know we needed.
I will confess, before last week I only half understood the concept in yoga of “being where you are." I got it, obviously, but I never had to really work to accept it, because I had never been in a position physically where I got upset about where I was at. But this week, while we were yoga-ing together, there was this hip-opening pose where you were supposed to lie one leg 90 degrees, shin parallel to the edge of the mat, and cross the other one over top of it, aligning ankle to knee, ankle to knee. I just couldn't do it. It hurt, my top leg was sticking straight up in the air, and even doing that was a struggle. But Eli did it, no problem, and even asked if he was doing it wrong because it was so easy for him and so hard for me. I know that the reason I couldn’t do it is because of my spine. My hips are all out of whack. But it still sucked to be the person who “does yoga every day” but can’t do the same pose that someone who has never done it before is able to do.
The concept of being where you are is foreign to me outside of yoga as well. On Wednesday, the funeral went late. The calling hours were from 4-7, the funeral was at 7, and there was food at my Grandparents' house after. Eli and I got home around 11, and we were both mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I had already arranged to take personal time on Thursday morning, and go into work at 1:30 rather than 9:30. When I got there, my boss suggested that I ask our business manager about bereavement time. He wasn’t there on Thursday, but I was excited about the idea of not having to use my already limited personal time for this much needed break.
On Friday morning, I started bawling at Peaks. I had been getting angrier and angrier at Eli, for literally no reason. Then I started crying, saying something like, “I am very hungry and I have to leave soon and the waffle isn’t ready but it’s literally not your job to make me a waffle it’s your job to do your job but you suggested it so I came over here rather than eating cereal next door and I’m sorry for being mad at you it’s not your fault I’m just really not okay and I’m not doing a good job of saying that.” And then I cried a lot. We determined that I needed to come home early that day. In my humble opinion, there’s no time to process anything when you’re working a full time job. But you see, f*ck that. Because there is time. Your time belongs to you, and if you need something, you need to freaking ask for it because people are not going to read your mind. On Friday, I didn’t so much ask as tell. I told my boss I needed to leave at 1:30 that day. When I got to work, I talked to our business manager, and he told me I could take up to four days of bereavement time after a family death. Free, paid time off. I went back and forth about it, trying not to feel like an asshole for wanting to take Saturday off too, in addition to my half-day Friday. “I’m not crying,” I thought. “I don’t REALLY need it.”
But Eli shut that shit right down. “You do. Take it. Rather than waking up every morning trying to convince yourself that you’re okay, just take a day to actually rest up and be okay.” So I did. I took Saturday off, and I didn’t really do anything with it. I filmed a video. I watched Netflix. I did get sad, but I postponed those feelings until 10:30 pm, and then told myself I needed to go to bed. I want you to know that I do not know how to feel. I'm torn between extreme anger on behalf of my mother, because I don't care if someone was a good person, that doesn't lessen the effect they might have had.
But I also keep realizing over and over again that I won't see my Grandpa in the backyard ever again. He won't bring over Halloween candy. He won't clean the pool or go to my siblings games. So I’m sad. And I literally do not know how to deal with it or feel it or process it. But I know now that this is where I’m at. And my only goal right now is to just sit on the freaking mat, and breathe through it.
I wrote all of this, and then Monday morning I went back into work and went right downhill. I don't know what brought it on exactly. But all day, I was so far from okay. I was in a constant state of panic from about 10:30 am to 5 pm. My neck was stiff and sore because I felt like I was just trying to hold it above water, trying not to drown. I was an absolute wreck of anxiety, terrified that people would talk to me. They did, of course, but I just muttered my way through it, trying to make each conversation come to an end as soon as possible. I didn't eat lunch with my best work friend. I didn't even eat until 2:30. I shook. I tensed. I was texting Eli horrible things that were also the truth at that time. That I felt hopeless and lost and futureless. That nothing I was working towards was ever going to happen. When this happens to my brain, I feel trapped. I feel trapped in everything. My job, my family, my friendships, my relationship, my body, my life. I push everyone away, and I feel the farthest thing from strong. I even tried to push Eli away, but he didn't let me.
Eventually he showed up, and followed me through the last hour and a half of my work day, and then we battled through the pain at home until about 9 pm. It was f*cking horrible. It was the ugliest, saddest thing we've ever been through. "Valley" is such a very pretty, pristine word for where I was Monday night. I was the lowest of the low, underneath mountains of water at the bottom of the ocean, under sand and darkness. I couldn't see anything, let alone a way out. Including a way forward.
That night, Eli texted my therapist for me, because I couldn't. He texted my mom for me too, and she called me. She made me feel better and less crazy and simultaneously wrong and right. They both convinced me not to go into work on Tuesday. I tried to convince Eli I could do it, I could just go in and fake it and be fine. I've already taken so much time off. I've already been out SO MUCH lately. "NO," he said with such conviction I was almost afraid. I still feel wrong about it. I'm sitting here, fighting the thing in the pit of my stomach that is telling me I'm being a little b*tch, and that people are judging me. I'm fighting it off, because I wanted to crawl into a hole and die the other night. And I know that's not okay, not just something to brush off and go into work anyway.
I think we get tricked into thinking that the harder we work, the more we push ourselves beyond our limits, the stronger we are. I mean, think about those tests they make you do in gym class. "Pacers." (I think sometimes they were actually called Suicides.) You are given a grade based on how physically hard you push your body, and the more exhausted you are at the end of it the higher you score, and the stronger you are perceived to be. I think that got to our heads, and now we think that's how we're supposed to live our whole lives. Well I'm gonna be real, I always bailed on that f*cking test, because I thought it was some antiquated bullshit and I preferred watching soap operas with my mom to running. So I think I'm going to re-adopt that mentality going forward. F*ck pushing myself to unhealthy limits. I want to see who has sex on the next episode of General Hospital. I want to see what kind of art I'll make or the life I'll lead. I want to see how my relationship can grow when we're not spending every night talking me off a cliff of despair.
I don't have sage advice here. I don't have a way to wrap this all up into a bow. All I can say is, if you're not okay, don't go to work. Don't go to school. Don't push through it, because no one is going to congratulate you on your deteriorating mental health. Yesterday I couldn't even do yoga, because I was so anxious I couldn't sit on the mat. Instead, I went home and talked to my mom. I talked to my therapist. I came back to my apartment, and took a nap with Eli. And it was good. It was the moment between deep breaths, where nothing is seemingly happening and you're still feeling the pain, but you know that deep down, this is where the healing takes place.