January 22, 2018
Digging up weeds
When the things I enjoy drift away from me, it is never on purpose. I don't consciously self-sabotage when I'm at the brink of achieving a goal, it just kind of happens. Sometimes, when you think you have a fantastic handle on things, that’s when your grip can slip. Maybe that’s the mistake? To believe that it is possible to have a handle on everything. I only have two hands to hold onto those monkey bars and not the best upper body strength.
I was forced to admit that I couldn't hold on shortly after I began turning my passion into my job by jumping in as a "real writer." Everything feels different when you take the step to turn passionate art into profitable income. At least it does for me. When I wrote in my journals, I was never concerned about anyone’s approval. So much so that there is some juicy shit in those notebooks that I hope never reaches the light of day. Writing and work used to be distinctly different.
I always liked having a traditional job. My first job was when I was 13, I filled in for a few weeks as the office administrator at a mortgage company. Future jobs hovered around one of three occupations: childcare/teaching, computer work/design, and hospitality. It's fun to work as a team and satisfying to know you've done your job well. I thrive on a schedule of going to work and coming home and leaving my work at work. I didn’t have a job I truly despised until I lived in Scotland, and the job was short lived and really bizarre (I spent most of the time crying in the stock room while taking hideously tacky clothing out of plastic bags, don’t ask, I don’t want to talk about it).
When I moved to Argentina, I needed to find a way to work from home because I didn’t speak more than a few words of Spanish and the job market in Buenos Aires was not awesome. Plus, unbeknownst to my conscious-self, I was beginning to experience extreme feelings and exhibit disruptive behaviors that were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms that made me fearful and got in the way of living a normal life. Writing allowed me to pay (some of) the bills and I didn’t have to worry about a panic attack at work.
Deciding to write for a living didn’t come out of the blue, it is what I have always wanted to do in some capacity. As a student at Mount Holyoke College my major was self-designed and titled writing and anthropology. The shift from in-person jobs to writing probably felt less dramatic than it was because I had made the even more dramatic decision to move to a different continent (again).
I found myself living in Buenos Aires, chasing work as a freelancer, and drinking more and more to cover up and excuse away the traumas that had begun to show themselves in my emotions and through my reactions. I didn’t have a job with other people where I could forget about myself for eight hours. I had to create tasks for myself to complete, there was no one paying me to fulfil a certain duty, it was all on me and there was too much alone time.
It presented another element I didn’t anticipate, finding out that I cared a lot about what other people thought of me. I was under the impression that I didn’t care what other people thought of me. I realize now that I didn't care what other people thought of the controlled persona I presented to the world. Or the uncontrolled but still surface level things that people often gossip about. I didn't care if people thought I was ridiculously awkward or if they rolled their eyes because I couldn't (and still can't) dance worth a shit. I didn't give a fuck if someone was secretly judging my clothing choices or the fact that I always spill food on myself. I did not care.
I was funny, in person. When I acted ridiculous, I felt safe in the laughter. Humor really is a kind of armor. I put it on to turn myself into an invincible warrior who deflects negativity with LOLs. When I write, I’m not putting out a funny-persona. There doesn't seem to be an equivalent kind of armor for when you want to also express the other parts of yourself, or at least it isn't an innate ability for me. I was afraid of sharing my pain with others myself being hated by others. Perhaps that is where a lot of my anxiety was living, in the fear of the most vulnerable parts of myself being picked apart and judged.
How could I do this work when I was so afraid of criticism? How could I speak openly about my feelings when I was dampening my emotions with alcohol? I lost my voice in the shuffle. I forgot how to bring ideas to fruition. I constructed a wall to stop my words from crossing the threshold of mind to paper. My voice ran so far away that I lost the will to transcribe even the random ramblings of my brain into a journal. A journal! This coming from someone who spent her life filling up dozens and dozens of diaries.
It was a perfect storm. I was completely incapacitated. It was not the worst time of my life, but it was the most difficult because I couldn’t do what I knew I needed to do. I couldn’t even get myself to do what I wanted to do. All I could do was what I didn’t want to do, which was drink and harm myself.
I allowed a seed of anxiety to grow and take roots in other parts of my psyche. It is kind of like when a tree brings water up through its roots to nurture itself, only in a much more fucked up and non-poetic kind of way. Instead of water it drags up hard memories and instead of nurturing life it’s been fueling fear.
That seed grew into an anxiety plant more terrifying than Seymour’s Audrey Jr that would wreak havoc on my brain. I grew up with a garden, I know it is not easy to get rid of invasive weeds once they take hold. I will from here on out call my terrible description of an anxiety plant, Kristin Jr, for no other reason than I’m not the biggest fan of being called Kristin instead of my real name (honestly, how hard is it to just add the “ce”/”ss” sound to the end of that? That’s a rhetorical question). Unlike Audrey Jr, Kristin Jr didn’t have to whisper in my ear, because she was already inside my brain.
When she was just teeny tiny, she probably had a positive purpose. Reminding me to be aware of my surroundings, you know, like intuition and common sense. Then she got real cocky and started thinking her job was more important than any other job in the entire body. She started making me think that trying was too risky because failing would be too painful. Infusing almost everything with fear and feelings of anxiety. As if I couldn’t make it without her.
Deciding to give sobriety a try was been me formally calling her bluff. I said it here first, she is going down. Accepting responsibility for choices that made difficult situations even more difficult is not easy, but I thank god/goddess/G-d/Universe that I went through that. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work on this and I have another shot at life.
These past few years have been just the beginning. I’ve rolled up my sleeves and I’m digging in. If I want to really transform this soil I will have to go for the roots of Kristin Jr and see what she's been feeding on. So here I am, in all my honesty and contradictions, just like everyone else. And it's a wonderfully confusing place to be.
22 January 2018
By Kristance Harlow