When I get angry or sad, I shut up.
I shove it all deep inside me and I make myself small, watching the world from behind my eyes, the windows of my self-imposed prison.
We don’t really need to get into the why — maybe it’s that I tell myself that a person who looks like me is much more desirable if I am happy, smiley and agreeable, that it’s not socially acceptable for a person like me to express the rage that boils inside of me — or the how.
All I can say is that it’s been the case for my whole life, and that recently, it’s become the all-encompassing state that I live in. At first, it was just a happy, agreeable mask that I wore. But then it shifted. I stopped being able to talk around certain groups of people. Instead of being my gregarious, flappy self, I saw my brain consumed with a whirlwind of thoughts that left me powerless to speak as I sifted through all of them trying to figure out what they meant, what, if anything, was worth sharing, what to do with all of them.
Then, with the murder of George Floyd, COVID-19 and all of the drama, I just stopped talking all together. Instead I spent my weeks draining my energy trying to appear competent and thoughtful at work and on the ice rink and I spent my weekends falling into a severe depression because I had no more energy left to do anything else.
I tried so many things to help myself. I stayed off social media, especially on the weekends. I couldn’t handle the photos of people’s seemingly perfect lives, as if nothing was going on, as if they were unaffected by everything that has led to so much trauma for me. I couldn’t handle the rage other people were displaying, even though I agreed with most of it. I couldn’t handle what people were saying, and how they were saying it. It all just made me retreat further into my brain.
Working with my hands has always helped me not really forget how I’m feeling, but at least divert some of the energy stuck inside of me into something else.
- I made stuffed whales — at first for a friend’s new baby, but now I have a growing pod on my desk.
- I made up a pattern from scratch for stuffed sharks in the style of the whales, and now the best ones sit behind me in all of my Zoom/Teams calls every day.
- I learned how to make matcha souffle pancakes, practicing the recipe each Saturday morning until I was happy with it.
- I set to work perfecting the best buttermilk biscuit recipe, and once I did that, I started working on a variety of biscuit toppings. The newest one is a peach and rosemary concoction topped with homemade whipped cream.
- I bought five pounds of clams and turned them into a decadent and creamy clam pasta sauce.
- I took photos of things in the sky, both comets and birds.
- I designed a figure skating step sequence that forces me to think about how the steps tie together, what it really means to be “on an edge” and what’s physically possible when you tie steps together.
- The list goes on.
It’s all great. The stuffed animals are soft and huggable, even the early shark attempts, which I have deemed “shark blobs.” The food is tasty. My photos are neat. The figure skating is challenging (in a good way) and I’m stronger than ever. But it all still feels like grasping at straws. At the end of the day, I don’t really feel any better. Still lost. Still afraid. Still lonely. Still broken-hearted. Still disappointed in everything. Still angry. Still silent, because I don’t know what to say about all of it, and to whom.
Yesterday, we went for a hike through part of what is called the Valley of the Silent Men. It was a trek to get there and suddenly we were on a tiny, twisty, easily lost trail in the middle of a huge forest. Everything was covered in a layer of moss. Trees somehow sprouted from the tops of giant rocks. And it was silent, hauntingly so. How could a place so obviously teaming with life be so quiet?
And I recognized myself in this forest, buzzing under the surface of nothing.
Please don’t use this post as an excuse to connect to me if we haven’t talked in a while or as a place to provide me with advice or cheering. This isn’t a cry for help, and it’s not even really for you. This is my attempt to break the silence, to free myself a little. Even though I know it won’t change the situation I’m in — that we’re all in whether we admit it or not — I want to be able to talk about it.