What I've Been Up To

Saturday, July 13, 2019 / 10:41 AM

"So what have you been doing this summer?"

Honestly? I've been talking to people.

Let me explain. In my "9-5 job" (that was more like "6-10"), I talked to a lot of people: colleagues, freelancers, potential collaborators. I talked at at least one meeting every day. I talked about web traffic and trending topics and whether or not we really needed that semicolon. I talked about invoices that got stuck in a system and how I wasn't ignoring an email, I just never received it because of some spam filters I have no control over.

It was, like I said, a lot.

What I felt I never had the time or mental energy for was to talk about myself. It sounds selfish, I know, but even in those moments where I'd meet up with a friend and they would ask, "How are you doing?" I went into autopilot. "I'm fine," I'd say, or, "Doing alright." I never felt like I had the right – the audacity – to tell them how I was really feeling: Burnt out. Tired. Even more anxious than usual.

It's not that I didn't think they'd listen or care, but I felt guilty even expressing an ounce of dissatisfaction after being told over and over that I was lucky to be doing what I was doing. Those who had chastised me for daring to call myself a manager at 26, with no professional managing experience beforehand, constantly reminded me of the privilege I was given and the opportunity I was wasting by being unhappy.

It was also a reminder of what I'd been told my whole life: Life is hard and you're lucky to have your head above the water. Those feelings you're feeling? Put them aside.

When I was 15 and had my heart broken for the first time, I went down to the living room in tears and sobbed on my mother's shoulder. She allowed me a few minutes before telling me to go to bed and the next day, we never spoke about it again. In my family, it was uncomfortable to openly show emotions and to talk about feelings. Doing that took up too much time and space when we could be focusing on other things like school, work, etc. If we had intense feelings about something, the message was clear: keep it to yourself and get over it. Life moves forward.

Of course life moves forward.

Since leaving my job, I've been sitting down with friends – people I've known for years, people I formed friendships with out of work and collaborations over the last year or two – and really talking about feelings (not just mine, but theirs too) and how I haven't been "fine" or "doing alright" for awhile now. In the immediate aftermath of saying "goodbye" to the career I've known, I was feeling pretty good, but then something triggered a crash and I was brought back to 15 years old again and being told to go to bed instead of expressing an emotion. Every anxiety and insecurity I felt that had built up over the last couple of years ballooned into an uncontrollable mess and by the time I realized I hadn't eaten in 2 days, I knew I had to do something before I drowned.

So I started talking – over coffee, boba, meals that kept getting rescheduled because work had consumed all of my attention. I wrote (a lot) and even sold something (which led to more talking with friends and strangers). On the Fourth of July, I spent nearly 4 hours at brunch and then another 4 hours that night on the phone. I got off of social media – for the most part – and started sleeping earlier. I caught up on podcasts and binge-watched Superstore and read Tan France's book. I made a shit ton of salad.

I came to realize how much my identity had been tied up in my work, and how suddenly lost I felt without it. It didn't matter how burnt out I was; I thrived off of having this routine that took over my life. Without it, who was I?

But in those catch-up sessions that became conversations, I was reminded by somebody how not-alone I was in having any of those feelings. Isn't that why we read personal essays and listen to music and tweet our thoughts into the void of the internet? On some level, we are all anchor-less, searching for a connection that will help us stay grounded the second our ropes are loosened and the wind kicks up.

That metaphor isn't perfect, but neither are feelings and emotions – and I'm OK with that.

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