For the first few weeks people were asking me,
“Where is your blog?” “Are you going to write one?”
For a while, I wasn’t going to write a blog for this trip. Here’s the real reason, I wasn’t in a good place. I was starting to realize that I was struggling with extreme burn out.
I’m only writing about it now so others who may be experiencing similar things will know they’re not alone.
Here’s a little background:
From 2011-2015 I was making a documentary film with one of my best friends. When we graduated college in 2012, we both moved home to different states to focus on finishing the film and saving some money for the project. We were both working multiple jobs: nannying, waitressing, freelancing, house and pet sitting, and other odd jobs. We would meet in one of our hometowns every few months to hardcore work on the film together and we worked on it while we were apart. Each of us were learning this whole “how to make a documentary film” process as we went along. I taught myself basic film editing because we couldn’t afford to pay an editor.
When the film was finished. We went on tour in America in the spring of 2014 and in Europe in the winter of 2015. While these were amazing experiences, I was not prepared for all the stories of trauma that were shared.
It was beautiful that the origin story of Home Alive and the documentary could create this safe space where people could share their own stories of trauma. There were people at film screenings who told stories they never had before because they thought people wouldn’t believe them. Friends, family members, and others I hadn’t talked to in years were reaching out to me. It was an honor to be a part of those healing moments and to try to do everything in my power to share resources that could help them. At the same time, it was incredibly hard to bear witness to so many stories of relationship violence, rape, sexual assault, and trauma every single day for months.
After the European tour in 2015, I took a little time to travel and then returned home to work, crank out a portfolio, and apply to graduate school. I got a job at a youth media non-profit, I was freelancing again, and picking up odd jobs here and there. Plus, I had to finish eight art projects for my graduate school application. In addition, I became one of the co-directors of a local activist group that focuses on creating awareness about street harassment. There were a solid few months where everything was great but then that overworked feeling of anxiety set in again.
Here’s the lie I kept telling myself: “it will get better when…”
It will get better when: the grad school application is finished, when I can stop freelancing and just have one job, when the next major work event is over, when I go on vacation before graduate school. I just have to push through these next couple days, weeks, months, and then I can have a break.
That break never came.
When I finally got to vacation last summer before I started graduate school, my grandmother died. I am her only grandchild. This August will be a year since she passed.
Then the first year of grad school came and while there were wonderful moments, it was another overwhelming year. Full load of heavy theory classes, working 20 hours a week, attempting to make art that doesn’t suck, and still trying to have a hand in activism. I felt present but absent for a large majority of the year. There were times when I couldn’t remember what I was working so hard for. I couldn’t remember what I was fighting for or what I wanted. I just kept pushing through everything.
Write the paper, do laundry, wash the dishes, go the studio, stare the wall because you don't know whether to write, draw, read, or edit, go home, take out the trash, answer e-mail, look at world atrocities on Facebook for 3 hours, etc, etc, etc.
Here came the lie again, “it will get better when…”
Over these past few years I was not taking care of myself in a sustainable way. My weight was fluctuating 12 pounds up, down, up, down, up, down over and over again. I was not making time for myself to meditate, go for walks, do yoga, cook healthy, and spend time with friends. I would go hard at all these things for one or two weeks and then fall back into feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and stop the self-care because “I didn’t have time.”
When I do not take care of myself, I feel like I carry it in my body. It feels like heavy pressure on my heart and my back that needs to be release. My back starting breaking out with acne, in what I believe to be a physical manifestation of the pressure I was putting on myself. I was putting doctor prescribed cream on it and also trying aloe but nothing was working because I was not treating the real issues.
Finally, after years of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with short reprieves, I decided that I was going to take this summer to really take a break, try to reset, and attempt to live one of my dreams: learning how to surf. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that everything came together to make this happen. But then...
During the second week of the surf camp, I had been feeling a little overwhelmed with all the thoughts and questions bouncing around in my head.
All the things that happened in London (the art show, the hostel issues, the terrorist attack) had triggered a lot of these thoughts about life and my place in it. Sucking at surfing, wearing a wetsuit every day, and listening to people speak multiples languages were moments that started to trigger notions of failure and body image issues. I felt like I could not turn my brain off for days.
I decided to go for a walk by myself. Even though I loved the house, the people I was with, and the experiences I was having, sharing a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a common space in a semi-isolated location for two and a half weeks was starting to get to me a little bit.
As I was walking towards the top of the cliffs that overlook the ocean I noticed a little path off the side. I had wandered passed it before a few times. The ocean would have been beautiful but I knew I needed to be completely alone.
My feet slowly stepped down the tiny trail surrounded by bamboo and I wandered into the unknown.
At the end of the dirt path there was a fence, large rocks, and more bamboo.
I sat down on one of the rocks and, for the first time in months, I sobbed.
I grabbed the bottom of my dress and screamed into as I cried uncontrollable for what felt like hours.
When there were breaks in my cycles of crying, I wrote.
I cried because there is so much suffering in the world and I felt powerless to do anything about it. I felt like I was failing to help. I felt guilty for having so much when others have so little.
What can I do when I see there is a terrorist attack in London or Paris or Stockholm or Malawi? How can I truly be a part of solving all the world’s problems that I know are inherently connected?
People of color are being killed for no other reason than that they are people of color, women and people who identify as queer and/or trans all over the world are abused and killed by people they know and by strangers, children don’t have loving home or the educations they deserve, the environment is dying, forests are being destroyed, coral reefs are being bleached, and the list goes on and on forever.
The most infuriating part is the root of all of this is power. We have the solutions to many of these problems but the powers that be believe it’s not profitable to heal our world or share power so, the suffering continues on grand and small scales. I also firmly believe, some people do not want to know. They’re not ready or willing to learn or believe that we need to do hard work to change these oppressive systems. There are moments when I think, "if I have to have one more conversation with someone who doesn't believe that sexism, racism, or any of the other "ism" exist, I am just going to quit life. But then I come back down to earth and realize I can't quit life, that's not a thing, and I have to have these conversations or nothing will change.
On a personal level, so many friends and family members are hurting. I could not believe some of the things they were going through. Within the past year everything from racism in the work place, to having cancer in their twenties, to needing to repeat another year of graduate school because this person’s advisor is an asshole and didn’t review their dissertation, to parents stealing money from them, to a family member being murdered, and every other extreme horrible experience was occurring. Another friend has lost every single member of their immediate family. Mother, father, and this year, her little brother have all passed.
What the fuck?!
In these moments, when the weight of the world hits like a ton of bricks, I don’t know what I believe anymore.
What am I supposed to say to her? What am I supposed to say to them? That everything happens for a reason? I’m not sure that’s true. I say the only thing that makes any sense to me,
“I am so sorry. I am here for you. I love you.”
For someone like me who is goal oriented, used to taking control, and who really cares about my friends, family, and the world, these atrocities hurt because there are certain things where the truth of the matter is this: I have no control. There was nothing I could do to prevent many of those situations or protect those people.
There were so many questions with absolutely no answers.
In addition to all of this, I felt so lost.
Am I on the right path? How do I stay involved in all the issues I am passionate about without burning out all the time? How do I take care of myself: meditate, do yoga, meal plan and cook healthy, do homework, work, be involved in activism, be a good friend and family member, travel, and make art that creates awareness and doesn’t suck? How do I continue to set goals and learn new skills: languages, software programs, how to drive a damn manual (more on this later), learn how to cook something without lighting it on fire, and continue to educate myself on all these issues? At some point in my life, how do I also factor in being a good wife and mother while hopefully working a dream job that provides a sustainable living? If I never made art again, would it matter?
I mean honestly, how does one person have the time and the energy to DO all these things?
There are days when I constantly feel like I am failing and constantly feel like I am behind in where I should be in my life.
Shouldn’t I be fluent in Spanish by now? (Si.)
Shouldn’t I be living on my own and not with my mother? (Probably, but rent in Baltimore is ridiculous. That stipend from school is not adjusted to cost of living. Also, I would like to have a savings.)
Shouldn’t I know the difference between tone and hue without checking the color book? (Yep.)
Shouldn’t I know not to take a bite of piping hot pizza? (Always burn the roof of my mouth, always.)
Shouldn’t I know how commas work? (They’re tricky bastards.)
I am learning to surrender.
This does not mean I am giving up on anything. It means I am learning to let go of what I cannot control or change.
Surrender to the darkness. Surrender to the unknown. Surrender to feeling lost. Surrender to complicated emotions.
That break that I was waiting for never came because I never gave myself a break.
Not a sustainable one.
I never gave myself a break because I didn't believe I deserved a break. I know that other people in the world cannot afford to take a break, so why should I?
I choose to work to between 60-80 hours a week and I choose to not integrate balance. I choose not to let myself feel sad or cry because I felt guilty about feeling sad.
I am also realizing that I am a workaholic and a people pleaser. These are inherited traits.
I put work and others first before I take care of myself. I am great at working my ass off like a boss. I am horrible about balancing my life out like a boss.
I need to learn to take care of myself first so that I can be fully present in activism, art, work, time with friends and family.
I am learning how to say "no."
This is what “they” never taught us, taking care of yourself is hard. It is work. It takes constant motivation. "They" also never taught us, that it's okay to take breaks when you're exhausted and need to re-evaluate.
There are times when I feel guilty about how much privilege (white, upper middle class, straight, educated, able-bodied, parents who love me and support my artist/grad school choices both emotionally and financially, etc.) I have. I know I can use that privilege or “bend” that privilege for the greater good. Feeling guilty does not help anyone. Channeling my anger, frustration, pain, and passion into positive action does help.
I don’t have it all figured out and I am learning as I go. I do know this. We all need to take better care of ourselves so we can take better care of each other, our communities, and the world.
We have to show up for each other.
After crying and writing, I felt a little better. I think we were made to be able to cry so we can release that negativity out of our bodies. Let it all out. You're not alone. Don't quit.
When I walked back to the house, Jana came up to me, and hugged me.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Better," I replied.
After this hardcore cry and few weeks into this trip, the back acne aka bacne, disappeared.
A few days later, I saw this e-mail from Stephanie Gailing. Oh thank God I’m not losing my mind. Blame Neptune Retrograde.
"June 16, 2017
Neptune Stations Retrograde
Feeling a bit underwater? Inundated with a sense of unclarity? Bathing in a sea of emotions? Perceiving the world to be a sea of illusion, confusion and disillusionment?
This sense may be stronger these days given that energetics associated with Neptune-- boundary-blurring, permeability and sensitivity—is quite palpable given its stationing retrograde today.
Surrender to your feelings, letting them pour over you. Consider how taking some time alone, floating by yourself, can be nourishing over the coming days. Perhaps it's a way to connect you to your center, allow the streaming of soulful longings stream through you. Take time to infuse yourself in Neptunian activities--swim, bathe, read/write poetry, see/make art, read spiritual texts, smile at strangers, pray, meditate, radiate compassion, do creative visualization...anything that touches and moves your spirit.
Yet, if spending alone time isn't nourishing, then come together with friends, family, and community who are also swimming in sensitivity right now and hold space for one another. Join together in activities that move, touch and/or inspire you. Use your direct hotline to the reservoir of compassion and focus on creative manifests that move, touch and/or inspire others. See art, make art, be art-- remember it for its ability to channel and stream love, acceptance, and empathy.
As Neptune infuses a sense of floating and waviness, some people experience strong Neptune times as ungrounding. Watch for this, and do what you can to stay centered so that you don't lose your center and/or have accidents because of your head being in the clouds."
If you're into meditations, check out these by my fried Megan Skinner.
I am leaving the comments on for this post in case people want to share stories and/or resources to help each other. I am also invoking the "Bambi Rule," if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.