The alarm buzzes for the third – or is it the fourth? – time. I sit up and slap the top of my digital clock, trying to keep my eyes closed enough so that I don’t fully wake up. I try to keep myself wrapped in the safe blanket of slumber, which feels cozy and friendly.
But I do start to wake up, enough to realize that I no longer feel safe and protected. Instead, I feel the sneaking in of unwanted guests. They are hard to detect at first, it’s more just a hunch, a premonition. But they start reaching from under the bed, at first gently caressing my bones. They have the power to lull me into a false sense of security, until I realize – too late – that they are only pinning me down. I’m now too heavy to move. They very thought of resisting their weight is exhausting, and I’m not sure I can move even if I wanted to. I, in fact, don’t want to because it would be too hard. Anyway, it is better here in bed. Here, there are no emails to respond to, no requests or complaints, no pressure to do anything perfectly, no news, no comparing to online friends, no small talk, no decisions. The guests soothe me with their evil lullabies. The tune starts out harmless and even self-indulgent: you’re tired, you deserve more sleep, you’re working from home so take advantage, it’s ok not to feel good, take care of yourself, you work hard…
But then, almost seamlessly, the voices change. They become deeper, guttural, mean. You’re so lazy, look at you what’s wrong with you, you can’t even get out of bed, why don’t you get up to run you fat lazy slow pig, you’ll never succeed like this, no one will like you, everyone is judging you, imagine what they would say if they could see you now, no one else has this problem, what’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with me?
The alarm rings again. I have to battle the guests, who are now using all their weight to hold me down. They sit on my chest and stomach and even my brain. I succumb and flow back onto my pillow. There are days where this is where I stay, and the guests are happy. There are days where I can poke a hole into their web. I wriggle and moan, trying to shake them from my soul. Go away, go away, GO AWAY.
They do not go away. They reluctantly let me out of bed. But they follow me into the bathroom, where I stare into my dull eyes that stayed unfeeling even as I bare my teeth into an exaggerated fake grin. They follow me into the kitchen, where I kick at them like pigeons, hoping I’d scare them away long enough to make coffee. They pour extra granola onto my yogurt. They bang through the cupboards for more food to satiate their mindless hunger. They sit in my lap as I open my computer and navigate my browser to all the blackhole sites that feed their insatiable thirst for instant gratification, for that hit of dopamine that make them stronger. They point out that all emails are an affront and direct proof that I’m incompetent and unworthy. They dance in my skull to remove any hint of focus. They relegate me to complete mindless tasks and avoid direct communication. They add weight to the piles of laundry. They interrupt my decisions so that I loose track of what I wanted. They convince me that doing dishes is a monumental task. They tie me to my chair and inject me with a numbing elixir that slowly infuses my blood and muscles and bones and brain. Moments—long ones—pass before I wake up out of my stupor long enough to realize I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing or wanted to be doing.
There is still a little corner of my brain, that is often overtaken by these guests, but today is whispering ways to weaken their hold on me. This part of my brain answers the phone when my sister calls. This part of my brain tells J I’m not feeling good. This part of my brain doesn’t cancel lunch plans. This part of my brain can acknowledge that I wasn’t strong enough to go on a run but that I am strong enough to move through some yoga. This part of my brain doesn’t want the guests to win.
I can’t evict them. But, I can take them off of my shoulders and out of my lap. I can—not with a switch but slowly, and even if I don’t know how to make it happen—want to feel better. If I don’t know how to make it happen, I can at least go through the motions of my life and expand this part of my brain that glows. This part of my brain that isn’t afraid of feeling down but doesn’t want it to be a permanent condition. The part of my brain that gives me a break for needing to deal with a depression that doesn’t always let me see the glowing part of my brain.
This time, I wasn’t strong enough to notice the guests before I got out of bed. i wasn’t strong enough to keep them from following me around all day. But, today, I am strong enough to know I don’t need them, that they aren’t an automatic part of my life.
These guests will always be just outside my door. I’d like to be able to say I just won’t let them in. I can build locks and a moat with therapy and running and writing. But they are vicious and sneaky. And they do get in. But I can bundle them up and throw them out. It may take time to find them all. But I don’t have to ask them to leave and then wait for them to get tired of the party and leave. I can throw on the lights, I can kick them out, I can give the stragglers a push. I can even listen to them when they explain why it’s hard to leave. That they’ve gotten comfortable, that they’ve been thriving on a diet of swallowed feelings and a timid voice. That they, in fact, think that the’yre making my life better by preventing me from failing or feeling or leaving my little bubble.
On the good days, I can take away their fuel. I can use my voice. I can release my feelings. I can ask for what I want or chase my goals even if they tell me I’m wrong or undeserving. I don’t have to believe them.
Chasing them away means acknowledging that they exist. Their exist does not mean I’m a bad person. Just because they exist doesn’t mean they get to take over. I don’t have to invite them in. I can say hello, look them in the eye, and then close the door. They will be tempting in their pleas, so there will be times I slip, times I listen to them, times I let them come in. This, too, doesn’t mean I’m a bad or weak person. It means I’m human. As long as I trust this glowing part of my brain and nurture it on the good days, I can chase them out again.
It’s exhausting, thinking about a lifetime of chasing them away. This exhaustion also gives them strength. But in the in-between moments, if I am grateful and mindful, I forget about them all together and can bathe in the glow of my true self. These moments are what I chase.