I have been either a student or a teacher nearly my entire life, and I still forget what is happening until I am right in the middle of it. We were all out for a night walk on one of last week’s warm and leafy days and I said “we better stay out as long as we can it will be,” and I ticked off seven fingers, “seven months before it’s this warm again.” What a shitty thing to say on such a lovely evening.
I’ve been writing about how it took me eight weeks to notice the gorgeous ginkgo tree outside my office window, how good it feels to be in the middle of chaos that’s all moving toward a tangible goal, and what it’s been like to process some of my own history during this academic semester’s (psych, OB/GYN, end-of-life care) coursework and clinical experience.
Anne Helen Petersen’s writing has been so important to me throughout what began as a pandemic and then turned into just life, and she articulates what I’ve been feeling maybe for all of these Octobers so perfectly in her newsletter today.
She says, “Instead of masking that brokenness, lean into it. Give the wound some oxygen. Be vulnerable and needy with one another. Go ahead and consider or even make big life decisions. You’re not acting emotionally; you’re actually listening to your emotions instead of blunting them, and there’s a very real difference. Refuse the rut and your own complacency with it. Life is hard and will always be hard in different ways, but given our advances as a civilization, there’s no reason it should be this hard. Be mad about it. Acquaint yourself with how you’re feeling and refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed with those realities. What feels like a personal regression is usually your mind and body reacting to an ongoing societal one.”
I have pages of writing that span from early in pregnancy with my daughter (2018) to this week that keep spiraling around how inarticulate I feel, and how furious and primal that frustration is. And sitting at my desk today, as I keep rolling my chair back to gaze at that ginkgo and forward to spoon August blueberries into my mouth and sprinkling purple across my keyboard; I understand that this is not mom brain or overwhelm, it’s not the cognitive thud that I feel when depression rolls in, or overextension: it is existential. I re-entered the world as a mother of a young child, and found it not just lacking, but purposely cruel and limiting.
My son was born six months before 9/11. I was 20-years-old and quite actually just beginning to learn anything. I had a wide, supportive family and my closest friends did not yet have children. Humiliated and frustrated with the requirements for financial assistance and healthcare, I entered the workforce quickly and without a lot of thought. We had eight years of consistent (enough) political leadership. We had progress and hope.
Everything is different now. I have ambitions and successes I could not have dreamed up. My friends have wonderful children and lives, and my family has shifted so interpersonally and geographically that we were on our own before COVID.
As I walked through our cramped and dirty living room the other night, depositing dirty dishes in the sink, my partner looked at me and asked, “are you okay?” to which I replied in succinct Roy Kent fashion, all eyebrows, “fuck no.” But I am as okay as I could possibly be in this world, in this moment – and that’s enough.