how to be quiet


The wave arrives:

It’s 10 a.m., I’m sitting in my office behind my desk with my door closed except for a tiny sliver through which I can see indiscernible bodies pass by in various shapes and colors. It’s Halloween. I didn’t dress festive per the day’s dress code, and person after person walks through my door anyway telling me we’re taking a group picture, come join the picture, everyone’s taking a picture up front, let’s go.

I don’t go. I don’t say no in a diminutive way, I say it like an ax. I say it like I mean it. And while the no’s ricochet from my lips like gunshots, something is happening to my body. I’m cold like I’ve been swept out into the middle of the ocean. My fingers are clammy and frozen. I wrap myself in two sweaters and I still can’t get warm. Tears well up in my eyes, heart knotted inside my chest. I close my door all the way and sit in my chair for fifteen minutes, just breathing.

Even my anxiety attacks are quiet.

I open the door. I make a long, impossible list of things to do and do them each, crossing every task off in green pen. I make a phone call I don’t want to make. I take the long walk to my boss’s office to ask a question I don’t want to ask. I am shivering like someone has turned off the furnace inside my body and I am laughing uncontrollably because I stripped a screw on the tripod stand at work that I need to shoot recipe videos. I feel crazy but it feels good to laugh, to do, to expel. It feels better to channel this cold, wild energy into something light-hearted than to let it feast on my insides.

The laughing breaks the fever but I am still getting carried away on this thing that’s probably small but feels like a tsunami.

I do things I know I shouldn’t do when I’m anxious. I gorge on McDonalds fries. I drink too many sugary chai lattes that make my heart beat erratically. I lay on the couch with the computer in my lap and the lights off, binging an entire season of Fleabag in one sitting. I fall in love with fictional priests. I wake up at 2 a.m. and fixate for hours on minor obstacles. I lean on the anxiety like it’s a friend. I feed it after midnight, let it into my bed where it leaves me with chaotic, restless dreams: a quest, a woman screaming. Usually no one can scream in my dreams but she is screaming so, so loud and she will not stop.

I beg myself to relax like a body begging to come up for air but sometimes it feels so good to feel like shit.

The wave recedes:

The weekend is a warm hug full of exhibition basketball games, books, my mom’s voice on the phone, a long walk with my favorite podcast. I finish a blog post, ask my sister if she’ll read it, then feel tingly in my stomach and in my arms at the prospect of sharing.

I start meditating again. I know I should have never stopped but I don’t realize how much it helps until I’m floundering. The first day does nothing. The second day everything goes quiet and every breath feels like resetting. I am so grateful I have lungs.

I put on an 80’s playlist and dance around my apartment like I’m made of fireworks. I’m a lightshow, heart pounding, reckless energy dissipating through the soles of my feet. It helps, the dancing. My body has a way of saying things I can’t articulate. It makes me feel powerful. Present. It brings me back to myself.

My co-worker checks in and I tell her in a blunt, awkward, unpoetic way about all this shit. We talk about life and making time for ourselves to rest and recharge. It feels late, like I could have used this conversation a week ago, but I’m glad I said something. I am not good at saying something when there is water in my chest, but I am trying something new.

Sometimes riding an anxious wave is unavoidable. Five years ago the wave would have lasted much longer and I would have been much crueler to myself in my attempt to escape it. Now, usually, I absorb the wave and let it carry me back to the shore where I run full steam ahead to the things I know release the pressure. I speak kinder to myself. I let myself feel my feels because in the words of Fleabag’s Hot Priest, “it’ll pass.” I search my shelves for good books. I go to the library. I drive around and listen to music, sing loudly, use Fleetwood Mac or The 1975 to displace this invasion of hostile energy. I talk. I let myself admit that I’m human.

I try to write soft words to explain hard things.

The waves arrive, and the waves recede.

It’s 8 p.m. and I am sitting in my rocking chair opposite my Christmas tree, telling myself a story that ends like this:

You won’t always be afraid of the sea.

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