Updated: Apr 2, 2021
In the midst of a recent conversation, I recognized a brand of exhaustion that I know all too well. It’s the way a woman breathes out when she’s had enough but she’s not allowed to quit; it’s the way her lungs suck in air but protest the entire time- as if the very organ she depends on to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide has a mind of its own and is afraid that something she’s inhaled will be ignited by the spark in her belly and result in spontaneous combustion. Unaware of silent tension behind her every word, she fights to put together sentences that make her sound normal when what she really wants- what she really needs- is to scream at the universe...
She's accepted that the roller coaster she's on has highs and lows and stomach-flipping barrel rolls, but what it doesn't have is an end. And she wants to get off, she wants to feel her feet sturdy on the ground if only for a moment. Let the food in her stomach settle a bit. Let her get her bearings. Let her breathe. What she wouldn't give to feel that jerky sudden stop, hear the hiss of the hydraulic safety bar coming undone...
I listened to her pain and sifted through the phrases we've all been taught to hang in the air like white flags, so we don't have to explain to the people who love us what it means to not want to be here. In this body, in this moment, on this planet.
Nobody wants to sit still with you in the dark, they just want you to snap out of it.
We are daughters and mothers and sisters who are constantly and harshly judged by our own daughters and mothers and sisters. To falter is to be faithless, unappreciative, ungrateful. Go to church, read your Bible- if you feel like this, you must not be in the Word enough. You don't get to be mad at God because you didn't read the fine print about what He meant when He said he would prosper you... your anger is misplaced, your will is your problem, and maybe you should fix what's broken in yourself and your relationships and your house before you wallow in self-pity...
It doesn't really matter because all of the answers to our problems wreak of weakness, and we're just not allowed to be weak. We hold the world up on aching shoulders while wearing three-inch heels, we grow entire human beings in an organ the size of a fist that is humorously situated right on top of our bladders, yet we're the butt of jokes in political arenas about nuclear warfare because our bodies are as cyclical and powerful as the moon. And the very thing that makes us miraculously capable of giving life is from the same bite of the apple that reminds us how tragically temporal life really is. All the while the world is focused erasing stigmas and patting itself on the back for promoting self-love, and in a world where we’ve been given so much we weigh our troubles on a scale that’s countered with feathers and convince ourselves it’s really not that heavy. In the midst of entitlement and in the name of self-empowerment, we ignore the weight and rotten stench of darkness.
She's still choosing words gingerly when I say, "I know what you mean. I know what it feels like to not want to be here, but to not be suicidal, either." I don't think people understand that. I think people hear despair, and they immediately put you on a spectrum that goes from wanting or needing attention to hiding the knives and devising a plan to save you from yourself complete with therapy, prescription drugs and books about self-care. I thought maybe, even if just in a conversation on a dreary Tuesday morning, I could stop her rollercoaster and meet her in her darkness. Let her know it's okay to need the break we can't afford to take. That the glory and light and good we carry in our souls is indeed fragile within the bounds of a body and an ego that's forced every single day to make sense of chaos. That it doesn't make you weak to be tired, and it doesn't make you faithless to be mad at God.
As human beings we want to fix people, or we want them to fix themselves. We want them to emerge from the shadows and rejoin us in the outside world, we tell them we’ll ignore the smell of sulfur on their breath and the heat they hold inside like a secret if they’ll just come on out and be “okay”. If we can keep them out of the cave, we can save them from their own nightmares. It would be insanity to join the dragon in the darkness, to sit with them in a damp, dark cave- be vulnerable enough to expose our own capacity to become something no one wants to see.
Depression, fear, anxiety, exhaustion, anger, sadness... I told her that I, too, have tasted these things on the tip of my tongue and swallowed them in an effort to see the light. That maybe the key is to stop trying to digest our pain. Maybe we stop apologizing for it, like we’re the reason it’s even here, like we Doordashed it. Maybe we fix the scale and admit we need help carrying it. Maybe we sit with it, there on our plate, until everyone else at the table acknowledges it for what it is... poison that will make our bellies boil and our breath stink, turning us into dragons that prefer the dark.