Day 1,095 of madness.
What does it mean to be brave? Some days, I could give you a philosophical answer that leaves you feeling like you can do anything. Some days I couldn’t tell you. Today is one of those days. I woke up this morning being suffocated by Anxiety, the nasty gremlin who waits for me to slip. After wrestling it off of me and dragging myself to face the world, all I want to do is hide in a corner and pretend the universe hit pause just for me. It makes me feel like a coward. Anxiety makes me feel like I am not worthy of anything or anybody. Anxiety whispers lies in my ear that implant themselves deep into the crevices of my mind. It feels like I’m constantly cleaning up the same mess five minutes after I took care of the last one. I feel a rumble in my stomach signaling emptiness, but Anxiety reminds me of societal expectations of what my body should and shouldn’t look like. Suddenly, I’m not hungry. I feel a desire in my heart to get up and do something for myself, but Anxiety reminds me of my lack of worth. Suddenly, I’m too tired to move.
It feels like Anxiety has me in its grip. I’m paralyzed as it uses my stomach to tie endless knots. They feel like punches to my gut in every position I try to get out of the pain. It feels like I’ve been set on fire and there’s nothing I can do but sit there and burn. The pain is excruciating and renders me speechless. What can you say to that? Help me, I’m on fire? You think that’s exactly what one should say but suddenly I find I can’t move my lips. Anxiety makes nothing feel like everything, and everything feel like an explosion of nothingness. There are no words that can capture Anxiety because Anxiety is always moving. It is always running from you yet pushing you forward. You can’t quite reach it to put a stop to it but you also can’t get it away from you.
One of the most painful things I go through is learning that I am not always the source of my anxiety. I give myself a hard time and often direct the blame towards my reflection. It’s like the circumstances or people I care about are the Wizard of Oz and they can’t do anything to hurt me. I’m mesmerized by the lights, sound, and show, soaking in every minute. But sometimes, I stop to look around and spot the little cord trying its best to blend in with the carpet. Confused, I follow it to the booth and pull the curtain back discovering a small man pulling all the strings. He’s hunched over the elaborate display of buttons, levers, and switches, frozen when he spots me. He nervously chuckles as he realizes the show is over and he tries to pull the curtain shut. Something inside of me is too frustrated with Anxiety to let him pull the wool over my eyes so I yank the curtain back open and glare down at the small man. Too often I haven’t had the courage to stop the show. Too often I haven’t walked away. Too often I haven’t taken care of myself and put my sanity above the tiny deceiver. Too often I haven’t said, “No more.”
It’s painful realizing what you thought was real isn’t actual reality. The scenes begin to melt, the sounds turn to garbled noise, and the screen catches on fire. I have often stared at the disaster, ignorant, probably by choice, pretending everything is okay. I haven’t been able to recognize the scene for what it is and what it isn’t. The edge peels back on my perfect reality and I try so hard to glue it back down. It’s the thread in my favorite sweater that won’t stop getting longer. It’s the section of hair that I can’t quite keep neat. It’s the stain on my coat that just won’t come out. No matter what I do, I just don’t win yet I continue to take the plastic trophy home thinking I’ve accomplished something. Too often I’ve mistaken exhaustion for a job well done. Too often I’ve mistaken stress and anxiety as just part of the challenge. Too often I have put myself through unnecessary pain because I thought it was my fault. I’m too tired, too stressed and anxious, and so full of self-doubt. It’s not fair to trap myself under an invisible weight. The little man stares up, hoping that maybe I’ll close the curtain again and forget about the booth like I’ve done so many times. Part of me wants to, I’ll admit, because it’s easier to just keep living in this fantasy world. Or it was. Now, the fields are catching fire and the sky is turning gray. The road is coming to an end and the songs of the birds are turning into warnings. I come face to face with a fire-breathing monster, dig my heels in to stop, and turn around to run. At the other end, there’s another monster with a smirk on its black lips when it sees the realization spreading across my face that I’m trapped. I could stand there helpless and curl up into a ball. I could give up and scream to the sky. I could do nothing and let myself be devoured. Or I can do something about it.
I can return to the man in the booth and take hold of the curtain cutting me off from the truth. With a yank, it falls to the floor and the rod falls in slow motion, the bang on the tile echoing in the silence multiple times, speeding up as the rod comes to a stop. The curtain sighs as it rests on the floor. I can grab hold of the cords behind his elaborate panel and ignore his questions about what I’m doing. The truth is I don’t know what I’m doing. With a tug, the plugs come undone and the machine chokes as it’s forced to sleep. The lights go off, the hum of the machine disappears, and the dust settles around the cords that collapse on the ground. I can turn to face the little man running the show asking me questions and hollering in protest. With a raised hand, I can shush him and let the silence fall. He tells me I don’t know what I’m doing and he’s right, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know what I’m not doing. I’m not going to sit back and let reality be dictated by someone that doesn’t care enough about me to make it a good one. I’m not going to be blinded by lights, deafened by sounds, or mesmerized by an illusion. That’s all it was, an illusion, that things are okay when in actuality, I’m falling apart. I’m not going to let myself fall apart because I didn’t think somebody could keep me together. That’s not their job, it’s mine, and I can’t let them steal it any longer. So when the man tells me I don’t know what I’m doing, I can look at him and agree, he’s right. I have no idea what I’m doing. All I know is I have to care about myself enough to do something different. Nothing will change if everything stays the same. So to the little man, I say, “No more.”
Tears gently pool as I walk away, listening to the protests. The pain slithers through my veins as I listen to the first cries of sadness from behind me. He sounds so convincing with his “I miss you”s, “I still care about you”s, and “I’m going to win you over one day”. He’s been pulling the strings a long time and you can tell by the perfected pitch of heartbreak tucked into his broken voice. With each crack, it sounds like a tear but the light makes the crocodile underneath clear. I convince myself to not look back, just for another minute, and that was all it took. When he saw that his act no longer worked and there wasn’t another chance, he changed his act. It’s a more scrambled, rocky show that he threw together last minute out of rage but he had just enough to try and hurt me with his slingshot comments. The first one hits and I hear the “whatever” under his breath as if I didn’t matter at all, the second one hits and I can see the messages of pain left ignored as he laughed in the distance, but the third one doesn’t reach me because I’m too far away. I can hear the echo as the third bounces on the floor unable to touch me. I’ve read all the messages and left silence. I’ve felt the heartbreak and shed my tears. I’ve been afraid of what’s next leaving the security of the show and wanting to retreat. But in the end, the tears don’t trickle down my cheek anymore and it’s not as hard to drown him out. Other voices become louder of people that actually care about me and it gives me enough strength to continue walking the other way.
So to the man behind the curtain, you can keep your awards. You really had me fooled. I thought the illusion was a reality I deserved and was a slave to the lights. Chaos and anxiety blended together in the perfect combination of agony for you to sweep away. It feels like I’ve held my breath all this time and when I got far away enough from the slingshot, I could finally exhale. The sigh of relief when the door fully closed was indescribable. It felt like I had been blind but didn’t know it and suddenly colors appeared. It felt like I had been trapped under a weight but didn’t know it and suddenly I wasn’t crushed anymore. It felt like I had been wearing a cast on an unbroken bone but didn’t know it and suddenly I could walk. Sometimes we don’t know we’re suffocating until there’s distance. Sometimes we don’t know we’re in pain until there’s relief. Sometimes we simply don’t know. And that’s okay.
There will be days when the little man strikes again and I hear the temptation of another show being put on close to me. For a while, those shows may try to appear along the sides every once in a while but soon, they will be a flicker in the corner of my eyes. Then, they won’t be there anymore when the traveling show has found a new audience and I become a past memory. It hurts, being what was instead of what is, but I don’t want to be a fool. I’d rather be history than the present joke being duped. So what is the best thing I’ve learned from this experience? It’s okay to say, “No more”, and walk away because there’s an award-winning show waiting for me without any tricks, without any strings, and without a tiny man hiding behind a curtain. No more illusions. Reality may be frightening at times of heartbreak, rejection, loss, and disappointment but at least this time, it’s all real.
The Girl Who Said No More