So, I have to just say it. Some days, all that self-love talk is just that – talk. Bullshit. Couldn’t summon self-love if my life depended on it – and, it does.
Sleep helps. Good sleep, good diet, good exercise. These are the basic building blocks of self-love and sanity. Lately, though, I can’t sleep. Something has taken hold of me. Some kind of panic. I don’t know exactly what. Insomnia has always been an occasional visitor but lately it’s more like a houseguest. Every night. Every single night there are hours of awakeness that should be sleep. And I waste these hours of awakeness lying in bed, thinking, which only makes them longer and more frustrating and more terrible. So, here I am: 2:30am, a scheduled group run at 5am for which I will have to officially rise at 4:30am to prepare, and a long workday of individual conferences with students after that. I will be exhausted by 4:30am and almost unable to muster the strength to go for the run but I’ll go anyway. By noon, I’ll be yawning and almost unable to keep my eyes open (which I will apologize to my students for again and again). By the time I’m driving home at 5:30pm, I’ll be almost nodding off at the wheel (something I do with relative frequency these days) and by the time I’m home with my kids in the only two hours each day that I have to spend with them during the work week, I’ll be too tired to give them any part of myself that they would want. The bedtime routine will be stressful, to say the very least. I’ll be half-ignoring them anyway, answering emails and planning meetings and tidying up last minute work issues on my phone while I bark at them to brush their teeth and get their jammies on and stop fighting. The poor dog has a less than stellar life at the moment as he’s low man on the totem pole for attention and getting his needs met.
In short: I am failing at everything.
Yesterday, I could not get out of bed. I woke at 3am and didn’t get out of bed until 6:30am when the kids’ morning routine began. For three and a half hours I just laid still, eyes open, thinking, fearing. I fumbled through that morning routine, grumpier than usual, barely able to not cry, to not be horrible to some of the people I love most in this world. As the kids began to leave the house to go to school, I stood in my kitchen and said out loud: “Something has to happen. Something has to change right now.”
Once upon a time, I thought I would be a poet. I have kept every piece of my own writing – all of my journals and notebooks and papers and drafts – from forever ago until now in boxes and crates. A few months ago, I gathered these boxes and crates into my room and placed them near my bed. I have always wanted to make them into something. I think I have been imagining that hidden in all of these words was the key to achieving a long held dream of mine, to be published more widely, to be published more frequently, to publish something that many people would read and love. I don’t know exactly why this is a dream of mine. I don’t know anymore – at all – why I wanted to be a poet or a writer at all. I know why I keep this blog – because it’s a tiny foothold on wellness, on sanity – but that’s not the same thing as all of this poetry, all of these stories, all of these words that I’ve collected since I was a small child-writer.
But… I’m aware that the presence of these boxes and crates, of all of these words near my bed has been weighing me down and stressing me out. At best, this collection is cute. At worst, it is a big stack of look-what-JodiAnn-has-been-trying-to-do-all-her-life-and-is-STILL-failing-at.
So, yesterday, when I felt something needed to change “right now,” I marched into my bedroom and began recycling all of these words, all of this paper. I had visions of burning it all. I did that once with one manuscript during graduate school. It was especially cleansing to watch an entire manuscript burn knowing that I’d only need to rebuild it from nothing again in the next semester. But, my pragmatic husband pointed out that the volume of papers I needed to burn should not be burned in our barbecue grill – the only place I have these days to burn anything (and it occurs to me now: one should always have a safe place to burn things when things need to be burned). So, I recycled instead. I tore up old journals, I emptied old folders and files. All of it – gone.
And then I just started crying. Cleaning up the remains of little bits of paper and dust and the occasional paperclip and crying. Crying. Crying. Crying. And then I took a shower and I stood in the shower and cried and I sat in the shower and cried and I laid down on the floor of the shower and cried and I thought: I have no idea why I’m even crying.
Last week, my husband didn’t get a job that we both wanted him to get. A job that would have, eventually, required a move to a REAL city. We wanted him to get the job but we told ourselves – out loud – that we trusted the Universe. That if it was meant to happen, it would. Secretly though, I don’t (always) trust the Universe. I try to. I want to. I know it’s the right thing to do. But, I don’t. I didn’t. I told the Universe out loud that I trusted it but inside, I was saying “Something has to change. Now!”
(I think) I need constant change. I survive, thrive, exist, breathe on change and movement. Three years into living here, I told my husband that if we stayed here, my writing would die. I told him, if we stayed here – like, forever – I would die on the inside long before I died on the outside. It’s not that he didn’t believe me but my husband is not at all like me. He does not need constant change. He needs constant same. I provide all of the change and excitement he needs in his life – this is not a brag, it is a self-depreciating insult. The rest of the time, when he’s not dealing with my constant changiness, he wants constant same.
There’s honestly nothing at all wrong with “here.” It’s clean and pretty and sweet and easy to navigate. The people, though tending toward the too politically/ socially conservative for my taste, are as nice as people are everywhere. The people can be as fake and guarded and judgmental as people are everywhere. The people can be amazing as people can be everywhere. There’s no traffic (even when people think there’s traffic). There are good schools for my children. There are trees. There are flowers. There is lots of grass. There are lots of parks. I even appreciate the flatness of the land – a feature not many people love. I can understand why, for people who have family and many beloved ones here, it’s a pleasant place to live.
When I moved “here” it didn’t suit me – at all. I needed a city. I needed lots of people doing lots of things. THAT’S where my particular poetry, my particular writing would have thrived; where I would’ve thrived. Now, having been “here” for 10 years, I have no clue what kind of environment I need anymore. And when I moved here, I was not thinking about what my writing needed or what I needed. I’m not used to thinking about what I need. And even when I think about it and know what I need, I’m not used to making sure I get it. That’s just how I was raised. For better and worse. I’m only as worthy as how well I serve others. Knowing, recognizing, feeding my own needs is NOT important. So I serve Children. I serve Husband. I serve Family. I serve Students. I serve, I serve, I serve, I serve, I serve. It’s not a bad way to be – unless it makes you resentful, unless you find yourself sitting on the floor of the shower wondering when the hell it’s going to be your turn to be served or be anything that you wanted to be.
I’m some of the things I meant to be. I’m a teacher of English. At one point, I really meant to be that – I think mostly because I misguidedly thought it would bring me closer to a life of writing (the two actually have so little to do with one another that, when it comes to how close I get to my writing BECAUSE of my job, I might as well be flipping burgers). I’m a mother -- even though I only meant to be that later in life, I had to have meant it to have become it. I’m becoming a Mermaid! And, that’s something! But…
When I can’t sleep as a routine, the eating disorder comes back with vengeance. And becoming a mermaid is impossible. Mermaids do not overeat compulsively. If you know anything about how compulsive overeating or any other eating disorder works, you’ll understand this: I’ve been under the spell of my particular eating disorder for about five days now. It’s not the deepest, darkest spell I’ve ever been under and I’m aware of it. I see myself doing it, making choices I shouldn’t make. I’m aware of how the spell has settled in my belly – filling me with a constant, nagging, self-hating feeling.
The spell had been lifted for a long time. A very long time. Then, when I found out my husband didn’t get that job that offered me some very warm light at the end of what feels like the darkest tunnel of stuckness I have ever imagined I’d ever be in, the pixie dust settled over my head and food began to call to me as the only obvious choice, the only available coping mechanism. And here I am: sitting on the floor of my shower all meryl-streep-in-the-big-chill-like NOT trusting the universe. NOT at all.
Why? I protest out loud, in the shower, yesterday morning, would I TRUST that which took my mother from me, that which gave me a father that made me feel unlovable my whole life then took even the possibility of a father away from me? My born-but-not-born nephew, my brothers, my sister-in-law? Why would I trust that which brings my friends, my sister, my beloveds to their knees – just like me -- on occasion? What is so trustworthy about a Universe that takes everything everything everything away? Why would I trust a Universe that only lets me see part of myself – teaches me things about myself like “JodiAnn: understand, you need constant change to thrive” -- and then STICKS me, TRAPS me in “here?”
Of course, the answer is that it is the only thing one can do: Trust the Universe. It is the only stupid, blind, ridiculous thing one can do if one wants to get out of bed or get off the floor of the shower or if one needs to break the spell of an eating disorder or addiction. Trust the Universe. It sounds absolutely naïve and absurd in its polly-anna-ish simplicity. I hate it. I hate having to Trust the Universe. But there’s nothing else to be done.
Chop the goddamned wood. Carry the goddamned water. Trust the goddamned Universe. Okay. Okay.