Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand
I drove to Richmond. I parked in front of the hostel I’d booked. Three people walked in. One walked out. Downtown was busy. The highways were stacked on top of each other. Some of the highways were being worked on, scaffolding. I drove past closed store-fronts. I drove past anxious pedestrians. This city wasn’t aware of itself. It was too busy. Everyone had somewhere to be.
That’s where my story with Richmond stops.
For almost thirty years now, I’ve been in a long-term love affair with social anxiety. It comes and goes, dates me or leaves me, shows up when I don’t want it, misses me when I feel that dead weight wondering why it isn’t there. I can’t always predict it, but sometimes I can. We lock lips on a burning boat, or a private mountain, busy enough with each other to cut off the rest of the world.
It feels like this: first, I’m sweating. There’s knots. My lower back locks. My head aches. I’m suddenly starving, but too nauseated to eat. Talking is like coughing sand. All the while, my mind’s on fire. Wherever I’m at, whoever I’m with, I feel like I have to earn the right to share space with them. I feel not allowed to be around anyone. Stuck in grade school as the rest of the class graduates on and it’s all my fault for not having done the work.
So anyway, I sat outside the hostel for half an hour watching people going in and out. I called a friend, tried to calm down, but the sweat kept pouring from my neck and arms and palms, a cracked-open fire-hydrant, welcome in the summer, dangerously intoxicating. When I’d sat out the half hour, I turned the car and drove two and a half hours back home.
I failed this journey I’d set for myself. I couldn’t commit to travel. I didn’t prove to myself that I’ve still got something – that fiery will to lunge into strange, uncomfortable places – and maybe I’ve actually lost it, or maybe it’s simply changed. Regardless, as I write this from my calm, familiar apartment, I refuse to hide myself in despair. I refuse to shame myself for failing. I am not perfect, I am not limitless, I am not capable of overcoming every demon all the time, but that just makes me human. What else should I want to be?
It’s been better today. A vibrant summer thunderstorm scratches at my window. My roommates are both gone, I’m quiet, I’m peaceful, I’m alone. Do I regret not staying in Richmond? That’s complicated. A good friend said ‘There’s nothing wrong with seeking what makes you comfortable.’ I know that I’ve missed something by not staying in Richmond, but I found something else instead.
It’s hard to write this. This isn’t my best blog. I can’t get the words together the way I want them. My lover twists around my keyboard, muddling up my fingers. But I believe in being honest. You sink into your own darkest corners if you stay hidden. And you set a bad example: everyone else is encouraged to keep to their corners, too.
I want two things: to allow myself the humanity of being imperfect; and to encourage everyone who reads this to accept those feverish, haunting lovers – anxiety, depression, whatever unique ghosts of your mind – as sometimes-partners, difficult and clingy, but nothing to be hidden. Wear your worst self like a wristwatch. Keep track of your flaws. Be proud of their color. Adamantly reject shame.
We’re all in this together, even when it feels like we’re farthest apart.
Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
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It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot