Somewhere between the hummus and the black beans at Safeway, my brain convinced me I was dying.
I know this sounds like hyperbole, but I’m actually serious. The rational part of me kicked in fairly quickly and talked me down to possibly dying, probably vomiting, maybe passing out somewhere near the bakery.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a panic attack but, for whatever reason, my body decided today was as good a day as any to rekindle that old flame. I did not, in fact, die, vomit, or faint. I also did not get all of the food. I also spent a good 30 minutes in the Safeway parking lot trying to make death seem less imminent.
It’s been 24 hours and I know there’s a center somewhere, but I can’t find it and all I want to do is breathe.
A wasp is deciding to build a nest on the ceiling of my porch, right outside my door.
Last summer, there were yellow jackets there. Two of them stung me, right in the chest, as I was walking out my door one day. Have I mentioned I’m allergic to beestings? Thank god for Benadryl.
Some days, it feels the world is trying to kill me. It seems plausible that the stinging insects that keep re-homing themselves right outside my door are reminders of this.
I spent 15 minutes sitting on my porch yesterday afternoon watching the wasp hang upside, creating his nest. It was strangely calming: like looking into the mouth of something that could harm you and finding it to be only a small thing making a paper house. For a moment, it made the world seem manageable.
Then his cronies came back and I remembered he does not work alone. And I remembered I have been stung many times, with unfavorable reactions. And, although the house is paper, it is out of reach.
Some days, it feels the world is trying to kill me.
I keep showing up at work.
I provide a client with the best recommendations I know – the ones I’m supposed to give, all the things I’m supposed to say, the things that make sense. I tell her, and show her, and model it for her, and I write it down. I believe in what I’m saying.
“You just keep telling me the same crap,” she says.
I don’t know why this one sticks, but it does, in the way everything seems to be sticking these days. Like a punch to the gut.
“Unfortunately, this crap is all I’ve got for you,” I tell her. “I don’t have any other tricks. This crap is what works. I know it’s hard. I’m sorry.”
I don’t know why I’m apologizing. I am so tired of apologizing. I tell her I’ve given her all I have, she punches me in the gut and I tell her I’m sorry. This feels like such a metaphor for life in this body.
I started seeing a new acupuncturist. Twenty minutes into our first session she asks, “how often are you afraid?”
“Not as often as I used to be,” I say.
She doesn’t say anything.
“That doesn’t really answer your question,” I say.
She still doesn’t say anything.
Neither do I.
A friend says she can’t quite understand why it seems like my job is so hard. “I mean, don’t you work with kids?” she says. “That has to be kind of fun.”
I look her in the face and say, “Sure. And I also had a 6-year-old beg me to tell his parents to stop beating him.”
I try to check myself and I can’t. I wish I had something fun and cute to say about kids, but all I can picture is that 6-year-old’s face, so I let the conversation hang there.
“Oh,” she says.
I never know how to reconcile feeling like I hold too much reality for everyone around me. In this state of exhaustion, I feel like a lizard shedding its skin. I have lost so much of my old self already, but now, I lash bits of truth out upon my tongue. Come too close, you will be struck.
Everyone comments on the fact that I am “always” calm. They don’t know about the grocery store panic attack, obviously, and I am really good at looking calm. I teach mindfulness and do talks about mindfulness to my colleagues. I pretend I have my shit together, and everyone talks about how calm I make them. On the day I admit that I’m losing it, my colleague suggests that I use the waterfall imagery I talked about, and mentions how much it helped her.
I want to tell her where to shove the fucking waterfall.
Instead, I smile in a way I’m pretty sure looked somehow serene and I thanked her.
Thanks are almost as exhausting as apologies.
I write poems as a way of moving the stories through me. I read that burnout is supposed to be a state where you feel things less, but it seems that all I do is feel. I can’t stop feeling. I wonder if something is neurologically wrong with me that I can’t turn off the feelings. My body feels like a neurological shitstorm of feelings.
Or a waterfall.
“How long have you been practicing?” someone asks me.
“Forever,” I say.
“It can’t be that long,” they chide, gently. “You’re young.”
There is a shame that is hard to hold and name in being this young and this tired. I see people around me who have worked for 40 years in the field, at this job, and I wonder how they have stayed alive. I remind myself they were not working under this administration, in this political climate. I remind myself they were not working in this time. Or this body. With this neurological waterfall.
It feels like I don’t get to claim this exhaustion, this anger; like maybe it’s a badge and I just haven’t put in the time. Like maybe I don’t have a right to this level of tired. Not with my privilege, not with my youth. I don’t get to be the wizened crone who sits back and reflects on her career, saying, “I’ve seen some shit, y’all.”
Tonight, I sit on my couch, wondering if I should even post this. It’s taken me days to write it and the burden of the shame of it weighs heavy on my body. I reach for a conclusion to make it feel alright for you, to tie it together, to bring you a sense of peace, and I’ve got none.
I take the dog out and stand on the porch, breathing in the hot summer air. My lungs expand and the air is sweet and full. The wasp is dangling upside down from the ceiling, making his house of paper.
I stand and watch him, his house so fragile.
He does not sting me.
This, too, is reality.