It’s been a helluva summer.
I’m grateful now to see the last week in August ahead, and more grateful for the change in weather. The windows are closed today and I’m wearing a flannel over a t-shirt for the first time in a while, after some of the hottest, wettest weeks I can remember. We don’t have air conditioning, so heat and humidity mean sleepless nights and listless days, which gets stressful over time.
I can usually handle seasonal stress like that. We’ve never gotten an air conditioner because I always say, “It’s only bad for a handful of days every year. I can survive.” (Living upstairs, I’m the one who deals with the most stifling heat.) This summer, though, it’s not what my nervous system needed. After figuring out I’d have to reboot my career, after my mom being all kinds of under-the-weather in July, after a flat tire and road trips and family visits, I’m just abuzz with all kinds of unpleasant sensations.
I just read a little article about anxiety that’s all, “Everyone feels jittery sometimes! It’s normal! Just make sure you eat well and continue to exercise!” Tell that to my indigestion that’s been giving me chest pains for the past three weeks. Tell that to my flip-flopping heart that was flip-flopping all over while posting Maria Catt gifsets today. Tell that to the muscle in my calf I seemed to have strained trying to keep my leg from shaking yesterday, while showing my mom a Youtube video on my phone balanced on my thigh. I never could have held it steady in my hands.
The problem is, all summer I’ve been slaying dragons. All summer I’ve been coming up against my fears – coming up against the closet door – and throwing a shoulder against it. Posting these blogs, posting on tumblr – posting more and more of my authentic truth on my main tumblr, under my real name – buzzing off 2/3rds of my hair, sharing a ridiculous video of me playing the ukulele, spitting out the words “She’s stunning” in front of my more conservative family members, trying to talk, trying to be truthful, trying to be fully myself. Every time I make one of these moves my body reacts; one of the first blogs I wrote here was all about this reaction. Every little push is another battle with real physical costs. I am exhausted. I feel sick and weak and unwell and my anxieties feed off that further and tell me I must be dying, but I keep facing those dragons anyway.
Because you know what? It’s working.
On Saturday we had a family picnic, the first we’ve had in a long time, with a good number of people and kids sitting around a picnic table under a tree in the yard. Beautiful sunny day, iced tea, tasty salads, ongoing conversation about people’s lives and jobs and so forth. For the first time I can remember, I sat comfortably, not editing my posture, but indulging in my natural “lesbian slump”. When I spoke, I wasn’t nervous, and spoke naturally, with my real unedited inflections. I told the kids what to do when I needed to tell them what to do. I made jokes. I shrugged things off.
For the first time I can remember I wasn’t self-conscious in front of other people.
I’ve spent this summer surrounding myself with positive influences, with people and ideas that inspire me and make me happy, pumping myself full of them in a way I’d never let myself before. Others had always warned me off, scoffed or laughed or asked me if I thought that was really wise or perhaps ridiculous or come on you can’t be serious. This summer I said fuck’em and slayed that dragon and did it anyway, indulged like a madwoman. I don’t know if that’s some kind of therapy, but it should be.
And I’ve spent this summer revisiting my past, daring to go back and process events never processed before, things that seemed too unpleasant or uncomfortable to dissect. Along the way I revisited my journals that I’ve kept since I was fourteen, and I’ll tell you something, nothing is more harrowing or enlightening than rereading the past in first person. So much joy. So much pain. So much survival and simple continuation, the turning over of time until now.
So comforting, in a way. So comforting, in fact, that I found I could let so much of it go.
A week or so ago I came across a Myers-Brigg Personality Type testing site I hadn’t seen before, and idly stepped through the questions on my phone after dinner. Way back in 1998, a guy my mom was seeing introduced us to the personality types and had us take the great big long questionnaire, and I initially tested as an INTJ. Part of me was a bit proud of being a “rare type” but the description always seemed lonely and clinical to me, with descriptions like “The Architect” or “The Mastermind.” All that Thinking and Judging, all alone, no less. As the years passed I kept taking further tests, checking to see if that really was me, because I always thought there must be more, something else, something to reflect all I held inside. But I was always still an INTJ.
Then this test came along, and suddenly, it had changed. Just one letter – INFJ – but what a difference to suddenly be “The Advocate”. What a difference to be FEELING instead of thinking. I went around the Internet taking alternative versions of the test (as spontaneously and authentically as I could!) and it kept coming up INFJ. The profiles all spoke of emotions, of feelings, of sensitivity, of compassion and connection with humanity. They all spoke of a person I always felt I held within, too scared to show, locked away sometimes even from myself.
I realized I’ve spent my life thinking about how to feel. Buddhism tells us to stop thinking and just be, but though I’ve spent almost three years on and off the meditation cushion, I couldn’t just do it. I couldn’t just be myself. There was so much else I had to do. So much to let go of. So much to embrace. So many dragons to slay.
A friend once told me I was scary on the outside but a soft marshmallow on the inside. I balked. I have always been a fighter, I told her. I have always been slaying dragons and standing up again and trying to survive in my armor with my sword oh I am a knight surging forward. I held that image of myself in my head so hard I didn’t even know what I was anymore beneath that ideal.
Because the truth of the matter is, that soft marshmallow has been locked in a breadbox for a very long time, simply dreaming of riding out in armor to slay dragons. It was way too scary to imagine actually exposing myself to the light of day.
What I learned this summer is that even soft marshmallows can face their fears and slay dragons. Maybe it hurts every time, but at least I know it’s actually me hurting and actually me fighting, and actually me standing up again and feeling so much, learning so much, experiencing so much in the aftermath of every battle. Learning that you don’t have to be tough to survive. Learning that some triumphs can come from an offense of compassion instead of a defense of anger. Learning that it’s better to be a soft marshmallow and feel and experience all of this, if that’s what I really am.
We can change, sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, but ultimately delightfully.
Even if it’s exhausting and we feel we need to sleep for days.
The nights are getting cooler. The sun a little lower in the sky. My mom is doing better, and I don’t have to be afraid to be myself anymore.