I saw an op-ed today about how everyone has hit a simultaneous mental health wall this summer, and I don’t know why I bothered to click on it, since the message is right there in the headline, but I did. I guess I can see the catharsis in having this sensation named, getting public affirmation about your private experience: Yes, we really do all feel pretty shitty right now, yes it’s too hot out, also. But those types of articles always leave me with a sense of So what?
We all feel terrible, and now you’ve said so. Why? What are you going to do about it?
I’ve been trying to dig into my reaction to this, which is clearly less about the op-ed than about me. I do worry, a little, that I’ve developed a bit of a stiff-upper-lip syndrome, holding myself together in order to function smoothly, while something else goes on below the radar. But I don’t really see what the alternative is. Aren’t most people tired and anxious, most of the time? And aren’t we still capable of carrying on, and even finding joy, if we put a bit of muscle in?
For the past couple of months, I’ve been using our exercise bike more often than doing yoga, since a big part of what I like about yoga is getting someone else to tell me what to do, on the micro-muscular level, so I can stop thinking as I stretch. When I’m at home, even with a video teacher, it isn’t quite the same. I feel more seen, and less. Anyway, the bike takes less time, and I actually think the extra cardio is good for me. I’m more worn out by it. That can feel satisfying.
But I’m also left with tight muscles, even if those muscles are strong. The muscles of urgent forward movement. This reminds me of being in Berlin a few years ago, after my first novel came out. I had been so tightly wound for so long—anticipating publication, reacting with a positive public face, feeling the swells of joy and fear and accomplishment and pain wash over me—that I was no longer even aware of it. I thought if I could continue forward at an even pace, forever, I’d be alright. In what way? I’d outrun death? I’m sure I wouldn’t have put it in those words.
As an adult, I rarely go out to nightclubs of any kind, because I don’t like the feeling of being stuck somewhere, over it, while everyone else wants to keep going. I like the ease of going home, getting some alone time (ha ha ha to me at this point, right?). Anyway. In Berlin, I ended up going out dancing with the friend I was visiting, and we stayed out all night. We mostly drank cold yerba mate and water, and all the things I usually hate about going dancing—techno music, blinking lights, smoke machines—were transcendent. I felt my consciousness lifting out of my body. Which is to say, I felt myself relax, stop thinking, let go of my ego, for the first time in too long.
On the way home, we ate sausage croissants, and then slept until 4pm.
Of course, this exact experience is not currently open to me, but I can’t help wondering, all the same, how else I might be able to let go. There is great pleasure to be found in order. I thrive on it, personally: the hour-by-hour schedule that keeps me going from morning till night. But perhaps there are still places to slip through the cracks. Places to come unglued. I don’t know the answer. But I do wonder.