I put off so many things until I feel a spark of inspiration. Sometimes I feel like I’m incapable of doing the simplest things unless I feel this guttural ignition of artistic brilliance. Like cleaning the toilet—I can’t do that until I’ve perfected my cleaning playlist. Organize my mail, no, it’s just not the right time. Throw out the moldy cheese? Again—it just doesn’t feel right. And I can’t possibly send that maintenance order to my landlord about my back door—that won’t open—until I feel absolutely compelled to do so like I’ve been kissed on the forehead by the gods of motivation and told in a voice that resembles Pedro Pascal’s “It’s time, go forth and accomplish your mission.”
It can’t possibly be that difficult to send an email that says “back door is stuck in frame and wont open. Contractor is welcome to enter the unit when I am gone. Thank you.” That sounds great. It’s short, to the point, and direct without being rude. I know this—and clearly I’m capable of typing it out. So, why is it that every time I sit down to write the work order I start sounding like a forlorn maiden writing to her husband on the frontlines of war?
“Hello, it’s me, again. It’s been four days and still I can’t bring myself to open the back door. Perhaps because it’s just lodged in the frame. But a bigger part of me is afraid that I can’t open the door because I know that you won’t be waiting for me on the other side. Maybe opening that door is just an inevitable reminder of my future, and I’m not ready to let go of the past.
Oh, I don’t want to be alone, but an even stronger desire I have is the one to free that door from its wretched frame and go down to the garbage cans so I can dump my compost. My compost bin is so small, three banana peels and some coffee grounds and it starts to overflow, much like my feelings. It almost seems silly to write to you about my problems, considering everything that you must be going through. But nonetheless, here I am. I know how much you loved bananas, keeping the peels in the house hurts me so much, I just want to throw them away so that their presence doesn’t remind me of all that which I do not have. But alas, I can’t throw them away, because the door is stuck. Please fix it, I am afraid.”
Gabby, Unit 2
No, I am not going to send that to my landlord. But I’ll tell you what I will do (because I am an adult who does things), I’m going to ask my mom to type the maintenance order for me. Thank you, Mom.
A parody in the narrative style of Sex and The City, from the series “And I couldn’t help but wonder… A Carrie Bradshaw take on the real world”
I came home that night from the opening of the West Village’s newest underground club, feeling light from the lifted weight of my wallet after four cosmopolitans and two-way cab fare. After kicking off my Manolo Blahniks and digging out the Chinese food that was taking up so much space in my fridge it should be paying rent, I began to realize something. In between greasy egg rolls and puffs of my Marlboro Lites, I couldn’t help but wonder, where is the line between self-care and self-destruction?
Sure, I’ve stayed out until 3 am every night this week, woken up in some twenty-something’s loft bed, and developed bags under my eyes the size of my Fendi baguette, but isn’t that what concealer and double cappuccinos are for? And as I walk home every night, and sometimes morning, I can’t help but think, am I just keeping up this charade to put off actually taking care of myself? I say that I’m happy now, I’ve got great friends and great Jimmy Choos. But am I going to be happy when I wake up and realize that I’m 40, single, and lost?
But then again, I can’t help but notice how many married women don’t know what he heck they’re doing either. Take Marianne for example, 33, married, two beautiful kids. Sure she looks perfect on the outside, takes a bubble bath every Sunday when the kids are at soccer, and hasn’t gained a pound since baby number two. But what hubby doesn’t know is that Marianne’s form of “self-care” is gambling the kid’s college fund away on internet poker. If she’s stuck at home playing little wifey all day, I guess I don’t blame her for using self-care to justify some danger.
So often I look around at the women in this city, each of us so driven, but without destination. I couldn’t help but wonder, maybe self-care is less about what we do, and more about where we’re actually trying to go in this crazy world?
Does anybody else remember that absolute fever dream of an era when kids would just say YOLO and then do the dumbest shit they could think of? I honestly think that the “YOLO” era might just be one of the biggest contributors to my lack of a gut instinct. Admittedly, there are a lot of reasons why I feel that I lack a particularly strong gut instinct. Here’s a few of the big ones, the “heavy hitters” if you will…
1. I’m allergic to dairy and didn’t know it for many years. I used to eat yogurt and cheese every day of my life, and I had no idea why I was in such emotional and physical turmoil. The biggest symptoms of my allergy aligned with fatigue and exhaustion, and with that a whole lot of stress and anxiety. So essentially, any time I was in distress and tried to follow my gut instinct, I was trying to decipher a code that was ultimately just saying “please stop eating cheese, I can’t handle it.”
2. I have severe anxiety. Anxiety is quite common, and it comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes. I’ve spent many years with many therapists trying to decode the ways that anxiety has fed me lies, and how I became so susceptible to believing them. I spent a lot of time going over the same script: my gut instinct is telling me that I am stupid, so naturally what I need to do is train myself to not be stupid, and then my problem will be solved. And much to my disbelief, that was not the most helpful narrative to be relentlessly forcing down my gullet. It took me a long time to realize that sometimes my anxiety actually causes my gut instinct to lie to me. And instead of training myself to not be stupid or lazy or any of those negative things, I’ve been training myself to recognize that sometimes my gut instinct is trying to make me believe things about myself that just aren’t true.
3. I was a trained ballet dancer for many years. This one may seem far fetched, although the ties do begin to form when I remember that a large portion of my training was learning how to convince myself that I wasn’t in pain. Dancing is painful, ballet technique is hard on the body. And unfortunately, one of the ways that dancers are able to overcome these hurdles is the acquired mental discipline of “working through the pain”. I can’t speak for all or even most dancers, but I know for myself that this strongly disciplined mindset regrettably translated into the instinct to ignore or cover up any feelings of discomfort, pain, or nervousness.
And number 4… fucking YOLO. You only live once, they say! I thought that my singular existence was already implied, but thank you for the reminder. And now that it’s suddenly an acronym, it’s become to ultimate justification for anything and everything. It was so hard to find a middle ground, a balance, a gut instinct, when my high school years were fueled with the growing infestation of the phrase “you only live once”. It was incredibly difficult for young people to try and cultivate their own moral compasses with one person telling us “You only live once, don’t do drugs!” and the very next person saying “You only live once, do drugs!” To be clear, I didn’t do the drugs, but there was a moment of inner conflict nonetheless. And the juxtapositions just kept coming “You only live once, stay up late” and then “You only live once, sleep well and take care of yourself” And my personal favorite “You only live once, protect your relationships and keep people in your life” versus “You only live once, cut em out and don’t look back”.
Eventually YOLO faded from my social vernacular, and I like to think that I replaced its philosophy with a healthy mindset and intuitive thinking. Then again, I will admit that to this day I say to myself “hey, you only live once” every time I consider eating an entire key lime pie in one sitting.
I am not the biggest fan of the depersonalization that I go through as a byproduct of my anxiety. I often feel like I’m watching my life play out in front of me as if I’m not an active participant in it. I can become so distinctly separate from my own life that the idea of being “present” feels completely intangible. Even the act of sitting and doing nothing can become so stressful, because even in the stillness of my body, I can’t find stillness of my mind. I’m constantly watching myself and wondering why I’m not relaxed enough for somebody who is just sitting there. I psyche up the idea of relaxation so much that when it comes down to it, I am so preoccupied with my expectations of what this experience was going to be, that I can’t seem to enjoy anything! I rarely know the feeling of being in the moment. Even with life’s simple pleasures, I find myself constantly torn between trying to enjoy the things in my life and getting mad at myself for needing to try and enjoy things instead of just actually enjoying them. Yikes. The point is, it’s hard for me to relax enough in order to enjoy the life that is right in front of me. I truly wish that I could just step into the life that that is playing out before me, to be a character in my own video game instead of the one with the controller on the other side of the screen.
And it drives me crazy that this sense of derealization has become so normalized by social media. Not much is very real anymore. I look on instagram and see falsified versions of life, displayed and then directly compared to other people’s versions of their own life. Communities of people pretending that their life looks a certain way, constructing their life over and over through their phones, watching it from afar. Using their feeds to watch their own life play out the way they want it to look, treating it like a game. They’re the ultimate controller, but they’re not really an active player. And each construction of somebody’s life has the potential to make other people feel so defeated about their own real and important and worthy lives that they then enhance the image of their own life for the sake of social media. All of this, only to compete with a person who isn’t even the person that you think they are.
There is an overwhelming addiction to our audience. I know this. I am obsessed with thinking about my audience, thinking about who is looking at me, perceiving, watching, or judging me at any given moment. I feel that I am constantly part of my own audience, watching my life unfold through this judgmental lens. And if I am forced to watch all of this happen with such analytical judgement, then it makes sense that everyone else would view myself the same way. What does my life look like? What do I want it to look like? And what benefit would I even get from having a life that looked a certain way on social media, even if it leaves me feeling completely empty inside. I think about this emptiness, and I think about my future. When I’m old and wrinkled, and my tattoo looks like gross scribbles, and my tits are sagging below my stomach, am I going to look through my instagram feed to determine whether or not my life was worth it or not? I hope not. I hope that I won’t have to utilize these altered images in order to prove the merit of my own life. I hope that when I’m old, I’ll just know that it was a good life. I hope everyone knows truly, once they put their phones down, what their life means to them.
Isn’t it ironic how Junior High physical education courses taught us such inconsistent lessons about autonomy over the physical self? Their lessons taught us how to defend our bodies against unwanted contact. Self defense class. They taught us how to protect ourselves, and how to use physical power to emit strength and courage. And yet, in the same course, they also taught us that one must slow dance with every member of the opposite gender in their class. One must dance, and one must not say ‘no’ to any individual, even if they provoke feelings of discomfort or fear. Regardless of your feelings as a small pre-pubescent child who knows very little about their own body, this body will now be grabbed, shifted, and tousled around by every young boy or girl that you’ve encountered in school. They taught us not to say ‘no’ to another individual, for the sake of equality. And I wonder if these two lessons, the one in autonomy and protection and the one in equality and fairness, can actually coexist in the same course?
I can’t believe that in junior high P.E my teachers would spend an entire month teaching me self defense; how to prevent unwanted contact, how to fight off people who I don’t want near me, and how to protect my body from being abused or grabbed. And then the very next day they’d say to me “Okay new lesson! Now you have to slow dance with every single boy in your class, and no matter how badly you might want to, you can’t say no! Now dance little puppets, Dance!” Okay, that last bit about the puppets might be exaggerated slightly, but the sentiment still stands. What the fuck guys?! I was eleven years old, and you had the audacity to teach me how to jab somebody’s throat and then force me to slow dance with the boy who throws gum in my hair all in the same week?
And the best part is that they’d tell us girls that we can’t say ‘no’ to the boys, because that would be mean. Oh I’m sorry, suddenly “Timmy sneezed in my eye and tried to put his hand on my butt at yesterday’s assembly, so I’d prefer to sit this one out” isn’t a valid excuse? We don’t want to be mean little girls, do we? Oh yes we fucking do. I would go back and be the biggest meanie in my class if it meant that I could avoid being conditioned to believe that saying “yes” to boys was the nice thing to do. And this stupid dance rule doesn’t just suck for the girls, it was probably hell for the boys too! Because damn, I can only imagine all of the unexpected boners that must’ve popped up during Junior High partner dancing class. What a traumatizing place to have a (maybe even first ever) public boner. Little Billy probably didn’t even want to dance with Kelly, because she’s been bullying him since the fourth grade, but he was forced to walk his crusty little Proactiv face up to her and ask her to dance, endure her very visible eye-roll, and on top of everything pop a boner that he has absolutely no control over. Fuck that.
I don’t think that shyness is as simple as just not saying a lot of things, but rather, I think that it’s a correlation of the fluctuation of one’s ability to say the things that they actually want to say. I know it’s confusing, but give it some time. Maybe shyness is more accurately associated with the process of somebody’s thoughts becoming disturbed by aspects of their environment. We all have thoughts, let’s just put that on the table right now that everybody, to some degree, has ideas running around in their head most of the time. I don’t think that anyone’s degree of shyness is distinctly related to the amount of thoughts that are cultivated in our heads, and because of this, I don’t think that anyone’s degree of shyness is stagnant and definitive either. I think that it is constantly fluctuating based on all of the outward forces that can affect whether or not the thoughts in my head can actually make it, undisturbed and unaltered, all the way from my mind and out of my mouth. Sure, there are people out there, usually categorized under the umbrella of “extroverts” (even though I don’t think humanity is simple enough to be categorized as such). But there are some people who, regardless of their surroundings, environment, company, mental state, temperature, stress levels, hunger, or discomfort, the bridge between thought and speech remains completely intact. This bridge is sturdy, reliable, and never fails to support all the little thoughts as they make their journey across the mind and out the mouth. Those little thoughts can easily put on their adventure caps, and use this bridge to trek over the waters of the mind, and make it safely to the other side, producing real human words.
Now, my mind works a little bit differently. Sure, there is still a river of sorts that runs between the place where my thoughts reside, and where they exit my face through my mouth hole. But I don’t particularly think that there is a bridge to get from one side to the other, but rather, something closer to an old rope swing from one of those coming-of-age romance movies set in the rural 1940’s countryside. Oddly specific, I know. But I have a feeling most people can picture this sort of rickety abandoned rope swing that everyone in town knows about despite nobody knowing how it got there. So I think that given the nature of this rope swing, my baseline ability to speak my thoughts is at a disadvantage. Rope swings aren’t always reliable, they require some skill and practice, and unfortunately there are a lot of factors that can prevent somebody from using one to get across a body of water successfully. In this scenario, however, when I say “somebody” I mean “my thoughts”.
Sometimes if I’m in a crowd, and I have a little thought forming that I really want to say, It’ll gear it’s little self up. My thought will get ready to soar to the other side, grab the rope and push off. My thought can see where it wants to go, and it’s going. And it’s going, and going, and then somebody I don’t know looks at me, and it’s like a huge gust of wind comes along and knocks my thought right off the rope swing into the river. Damn. Not dam though, because it’s a river. Maybe sometime later I have another thought forming, and I’m ready to try again. Off on the rope swing my thought goes, but this time, out of nowhere I get a tummy ache and the thought falls into the river again. Or my ex walked in, another thought thrown off the rope swing and flows down river. Or I have a missed call from my mom, another thought. Or a missed call from my dad! Or I suddenly feel like I’m about to pass out. Or I need a glass of water. Or somebody changed the subject and I don’t want to try and drag a group of people back to the previous subject so that I can say my thing that was probably stupid and irrelevant to begin with. All of these things can affect my ability to get my thoughts over that river and out into words. It’s kind of exhausting, It’s kind of embarrassing, and I swear if somebody asks me “Gabby, why are you being so shy?” the rope swing will fucking break. Believe me, I would love to answer that question with this intricate and expansive rope swing analogy, but if I’m asked that question, then it’s already too late, because the swing just broke. Now I can’t even get my answer across, let alone get out enough words after that for me to actually convince people that I’m not as shy as they think. At that point, I’m done, I give up, and I want to put sweat pants on and go home. All of the thoughts are lost, flowing downstream, and they’ll fall out of my butt in three to five business days. And that’s just the way it is. Sometimes it sucks, I can feel small and voiceless, but other times it can be amazing, because when I feel comfortable and supported, I can feel my mind flourishing in fantastic ways.
It has taken many years for me to accept this about myself, and even more to embrace it. I understand that this isn’t the case for everybody, but it is for me. And regardless of how many of the thoughts that I really want to speak actually make it out of my mouth, I still feel like a whole and complete person with thoughts and ideas and feelings. Sure, we all occasionally say things that we don’t mean, and don’t say things that we do mean. Everybody has their own different relationship between thought and voice, and however they are able to manifest their voice in different crowds and environments, that is okay. It is okay to be shy. Because regardless of your ability to produce certain words in certain social environments, you are still a whole and complete person.
I knew one person at that party that night. I had one beer, met three people who’s names I forgot instantly, posed for one photo, and left. And that is okay.