They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But what if every time we uploaded a picture to Instagram, we also had to post the stream of consciousness that accompanied it?
When Covid hit the states, I had an empathetic and anxiety-induced response of concern for humanity that lasted several weeks to months. Which … is good. I think that means I care about humans and the planet and I’m happy with that aspect of my being. But what I haven’t talked about is that I also remember breathing a huge sigh of relief. I’d almost venture to say I even felt expectantly grateful — as if I had a hunch that this was coming. As if I had been waiting for the universe to say, “Yes. It is your time to stay home and take care of yourself. That is your one and only job right now.”
I’m also aware that even being able to feel this way was a privilege that not everyone had during this time.
But I did. I went deep-deep-deeper into my work on myself. I questioned my thoughts. I sat with my feelings. I read, I walked, I meditated, I journaled, I cried, I rested, I podcasted. I doubled my therapy. Some days I chose to be an inspired creative and some days I chose to be a depressed failure and other days I chose to be both or neither of those things. I had moments of enlightenment and moments of suffering and again, moments of both or neither of those things. I began locating the people in my life that I felt I could truly be a messy, complicated human around, and I fortified my bonds with them. I brought closer into my life the people who I felt really fed with love the parts of me that most needed to be fed with love. It felt like I was giving out permission slips that said, “You see me. I see you. Let’s stop the pretending together. Let’s do this freaking friendship thing. For real.” I began accepting my beautifully broken self and allowing my damage to be a vehicle with which to meet other beautifully broken and damaged people who felt lost out on this crazy and exhausting road that is life. I began realizing that not only are people broken and damaged but the system is broken and damaged, and it cannot be rebuilt in the same way. We cannot just return to “normal.” We have so much work to do and so much of it has to start with our work on ourselves.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a ton of anxiety in the past several months around the world speeding back up. I mean, is everyone else ready for that? Haven’t we all been opening ourselves up and taking apart what’s inside? I feel as though I arrived on a vacation (or maybe for the purposes of this metaphor, a mental health retreat center) and I unpacked all my things and was getting all settled in — and then suddenly, it’s time to check out and all my things are still all over the place, plus some souvenirs that I collected while away that don’t fit into the suitcase I arrived with. Do we not all need a moment to collect ourselves? What are people doing with the souvenirs they’ve gathered during this time? Why does everyone else seem to be able to fit themselves and all their things back into the same suitcase that they arrived with?
I guess I fear that other people also feel like all their stuff is still scattered all over the place, and I don’t want to just post a celebratory picture of myself shirtless at Pride as if I didn’t feel like a constant work in progress all day and, at moments, a failure. As if I didn’t put everyone else’s experience before mine all day even though I had vowed to myself that morning that I would take responsibility for my experience and my experience only. As if I didn’t question every piece of food or drink that I put into my belly (which is supposed to be round) in an effort to look good even though I had vowed to myself that morning that I would have a body-positive attitude about my appearance regardless of what I look like. As if I didn’t struggle to monitor my relationship with alcohol all day even though I had vowed to myself that morning that I would listen to my intuition as to whether I actually wanted a drink instead of just drinking out of social obligation. As if I didn’t struggle with irrational feelings of abandonment in the middle of the afternoon over a communication misunderstanding and a temporary lack of perspective. As if I didn’t fight a constant battle all day of honoring my introverted nature versus sucking it up so that I could partake in and not miss out on the fun I was theoretically supposed to be having. As if the juggling of small talk and making everyone feel like a recipient of my presence wasn’t massively overwhelming and exhausting for me. As if I didn’t have physical pain in my neck all day that kept intruding on my experience. As if posting this picture doesn’t make me wonder if people think I’m attractive enough or if I’m being judged for being “too gay” — suddenly remembering the email I got once that asked me, “Why does everyone who is gay have to be so gay?” As if, when I was introduced as “the gay kid from School of Rock” not once, not twice, but three times this day, that it didn’t make me wonder why these people I call my close friends can’t introduce me as a thoughtful and compassionate human being. As if that wouldn’t be interesting enough, so instead, let’s use this one item of worth I’ve been defined by my whole life even though it was really just something I did once nearly 18 years ago.
This probably sounds like a heavy suitcase I’m carrying around, and you are right. But it feels even heavier when I don’t set it down and unpack some of what’s inside. On a day like Pride, that’s hard to do … and yet, Pride is meant to be a celebration of one’s fulfilled feeling of belonging. Recently, someone slid into my DMs and said, “I took a survey and the feedback is unanimous: more shirtless pics please.” I wonder if that same person will read all of this. Does everything that’s inside my suitcase belong here or do you just want to see the outside once everything is zipped up and packed away?
I don’t think all my stuff fits into the suitcase I arrived with anymore. I do not want to pretend like it all does. And I do not want to return to whatever “normal” people keep referring to. I understand that I can’t stay on this retreat forever, but I’m coming back with more than I left with and it may not fit neatly into the somehow smaller suitcase that is our capitalized and normalized society. I think I’m going to have to be OK with that. I will continue to unpack my bags wherever I go. And I’ll try to keep some space in my bag for anyone else who finds themselves with baggage that feels like it doesn’t belong.