when we’re not ok

graffiti, two people holding balloons, talking to each otherGood morning, good morning. I was up again in the middle of the night last night, and didn’t get back to sleep until probably 2:30 or so. So when my alarm went off at 4 o’clock, my body laughed quietly, hit snooze, and proceeded to sleep for another hour.

The last several days, I take a dance class in the afternoon – which consists of me watching videos created months ago.  I’ve been dancing along to a video that the instructors put together in honor of breast cancer awareness, and in the mix are two songs about okness, it’s ok not to be ok, and another one, the name of which I don’t know, but which always makes me cry: the singer is telling a friend or maybe even me, her listener, that I’m going to be ok, that I just need to keep going, keep on. (I look it up: Keep on, it’s called.) This song has been making me cry – fortunately, this song comes during the cool down part of the workout, so I’m not weeping through burpees or grapevines or something.

Something in me is grieving, is feeling a big loss. I wonder if it’s something that I’ve held in my body since 2012, when I qut my day job in order to focus my attention only on the workshops and writing, and proceeded immediately to have a huge back spasm that almost immobilized me for a month or more. Though the big pain eventually wore off, I’ve had a lingering tightness in my piriformis  or sacroiliac joint (or something) that created some numbness down my leg and into my foot. Nothing too alarming, at least for me – I could move, I could walk and run and exercise and dance, and the more I moved, the more the numbness would let up. I just figured I needed to keep working, and eventually that little remaining tightness would release. It wasn’t exactly ok, but it was all right.

And so now it’s been 9 years. During this time I’ve been through I don’t know for sure how many doctors – going from Obamacare to mediCal to Sutter to Kaiser to now healthcare here on the East Coast. It’s a drag. I never had the same primary care physician for more than about a year – never enough time to really build a relationship with anyone. So though I’d mention the spasm and the lingering impact, and the doctor might glance at me with interest while I was describing it, it fell out of her awareness when we discussed next steps: fill prescription for anti-depressants, schedule mammogram, anything else? Nope, nothing else.

I didn’t even know what to ask for when it came to this deep tight muscle and the numbness in my thigh. I pictured a little fist in my right glute, holding tight onto a but of muscle and nerve and tendon, unwilling to let go, unable to relax, always certain that we were still under threat, still in fight or flight or freeze mode. So I did pigeon and cobra poses and got massages and went to the hot baths at Kabuki (going from the hot steam to the cold plunge and back to the hot steam several times in a row tended to loosen that fist up a bit) – but for all of that, she never completely let go.

This dancing is having a different sort of impact, though – working out hips and butt and bouncing and jumping seems to be getting inside there more than anything else I’ve tried. Or maybe it’s 9 years of cululative effort. Or 19. Or 29. But whatever. Things are shaking loose, old and frightened things, and so when the voice says, you’re going to be ok, just keep ok, I start to cry. The other day I nearly just sat down on my bedroom floor and sobbed.

We can hear over and over that it’s ok not to be ok, but how much do we believe it, given everything else going on around us all the time? Given the voice of hustle culture reminding us that every minute we aren’t on our game, performing our brand, giving the people want they want, someone else will do it and might do it bette and people will take their attention away from us forever. So we better be on. We better be polished. We better be pretty and performative. We better keep playing, keep pedaling. Don’t stop, don’t look down, but don’t look scared either. Don’t act like any of this matters to you. Don’t act like you’re terrified you might not make your rent again this month. Say yes to all the asks: yes to the person who wants you to give them writing exercise ideas (for the gig they got that they’re getting paid for); say yes to the conference that wants you to donate a workshop for the cause (even though the organizers and the keynote presenters are getting paid, of course); say yes to the person who wants to try on a session or two for free; say yes to the person who wants you to write with them one on one and maybe hire you full time sop you take a week to prepare an entirely new curriculum and you travel to where they are and you sit with them while they proceed to chat with you and don’t actually want to be writing and they thank you for your time and say they’ll be in touch to schedule the next session and then you never hear form them again; say yes, you’ll show up to perform at a fundraiser for the another community organization; say yes to the person who wants to come to your workshop but can’t afford it so you’ll give them a discount/scholarship (and then later on you find out — because, given that you don’t want to shame people, you don’t ask for specifics about finances before agreeing to give scholarships — you find out that this person has a full-time job that pays far better than yours and has to miss class because they’re going on vacation to Aruba) — you have to say yes to all of it, of course, because any one of these things could lead to your Big break, and aren’t we all just waiting for our Big Break? For the person or influencer or coverage or whatever that will get us noticed and take our hustle to the next level, so that we can find a little security and finally start to relax?

I have a whole long thing I’m working on about how much I want you to stop hustling, even though I’m afraid that you can’t I’m afraid that we’ve destroyed the economy to the point that hustling is now inevitable – and so if you have to hustle, what I want to say is that it’s ok if you are not ok. Maybe you have a community of people around you who tell you this and to whom you can honestly talk about how you’re doing, how stressed and panicked you are. I didn’t, not for most of the time I was in my own creative hustle, because I was building my business in the my own community, and so I was terrified of ever looking not ok. It was hard for me to relax even with people who were becoming my friends – given that they might write with me sometime, or talk to someone else who might want to write with me, and the last thing I wanted was for it to get around that I was stressed or anxious or human, for gods’ sake.

I needed someone around me, more than one someone, with whom I could fall apart. I needed someone, more than one someone, to be tender with me, not condescending but loving, someone with whom I didn’t feel like I was in some kind of competition (because they two were in their own hustle, and their hustle looked kind of like mine, unfortunately). Someone who could say, you’re going to be ok. You’re going to get through this hard time to the other side. You’re going to do some really good work. You’re already doing good work. Someone who could help me take a wider view, who would sit with me while I stepped away from the capitalist precipice and could help me see the work through the lens I cared about: were more people writing? Were more stories out in thew orld? Did I get to spend my days making a life with and through words? Then that looks like success, girl.

Someone who could tell me, it’s ok not to say yes to everything. It’s 0k to get mad that the whole world expects women to offer every single bit of themselves up for free, gets mad at them when they push back, expect to get paid for the work that we do, because, you know, women are supposed to be working for the love and care of the community, right? 

Maybe you have a whole coiterie of friends around you, people in the work, in the hustle, in each other’s corners all the time. Maybe you don’t have trouble with friendship the way that I have and do. Maybe you weren’t trained away from friendships during your formative years (because, of course, if you’d had any good friends, they might have asked about the bags under your eyes or your constant stress or the way you were losing weight or how weird you acted around boys, maybe they would have wondered what home was like for you, and the man in charge of things in your house didn’t want anyone who might ask that question, and so he taught you to be wary of other women, and to treat men like stud animals, and even though it’s been more than a generation since you were in junior high and beginning to be indoctrinated into this way of thinking, there’s still a wall between you and other people, there’s still a worry, there’s still a certainty that they don’t really know you, don’t’ really want to know you, just want from you what you can give them, but don’t want to love and hold you in all of your messy humanness, can’t really hold you in all of your messy humanness).

It’s embarrassing to be vulnerable, to need. It’s a place where we can be wounded. And being hurt by friends is a particular kind of hurt, isn’t it, different from the hurt we feel in other intimate relationships, with significant others/lovers/sweethearts? When we are betrayed or left or abandoned by a friend, it stings differently, hurts in what seems like a tenderer place.

It’s embarrassing to be this old and be describing trouble with friendships. And I’m not saying I have no friends, or that I don’t have people I love in my life. It’s just that my closest friends have to be the sort of people who can just pick up on a conversation after a long separation, because the truth is that I will fall away at some point, will fall out of communication, will seem to disappear. My oldest friends know this, know I am not gone for good, will welcome me when I come back. But, of course, disappearing impacts a friendship, any relationship. Disappear and sustained don’t go together. So I watch my beloved with her close friends, watch their comfort with each other, watch their ease, and I wonder what that’s like. And I whisper to myself, it’s ok, you’re going to be ok, even if you’re sad now.you’re going to be all right, because I learned so well such a long time ago to be the only friend that I needed – because then I had no one who could be wielded against me, or taken away.

 I want to be one of the voices whispering in your direction today, if you need it: you’re ok. You’re going to be ok. It’s ok today if you don’t feel ok, though. It’s ok if you are stressed or angry or disappointed or sad. And say, too, that if you were trained away from people at some time in your life, during abuse when you were young or during a controlling adult relationship (or both/and), I can meet you in that grief and struggle (even though I’m meeting you from all the way over here). It is a very particular kind of pain, to feel lonely for friends, for the ability to be a friend, for a skill that should have been developed during adolescence but was wholly forclosed agains. Maybe you know that pain, too.

I send my love to you, and my love to my friends, and to the dog who cuddles with me when I am weeping after a workout and doesn’t mind me sweating and teary all over her. And I throw this lifeline of words out in your direction. We will be ok. We will keep on going. We will keep struggling with the tensions and the fists of grief and loss that linger long, long after the abuser has gone from our lives. We will keep on keeping on, because that’s what we do. We know how to survive. And it’s ok if surviving is hard sometimes, or if it feels not at all ok some days. That not-okayness is not forever. Be easy with you in it today, ok?




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