“Is that why they call me a sullen girl? Sullen girl…
They don’t know I used to sail the deep and tranquil seas.
But he washed me ‘shore, and he took my pearl and left an empty shell of me.” –”Sullen Girl” by Fiona Apple
Anxiety sucks. I’ve only recently become acquainted with just what this feeling is that’s hovered over me in much of my adult life past age 27. If I had to come up with a metaphor for what this emotion feels like, I’d say it’s probably similar to what Sri Lankans felt like on December 26, 2004 as they watched the ocean menacingly encroach upon their habitat, helpless against the raging onslaught of water that would devour their homes, places of business, streets, cars, friends, and family. Anxiety washes over me like a tsunami, and all I ever wanted to do was bask in the sunlight or sail peacefully with the wind in my hair.
It’s typically been my nature to be open and inviting to others – I’m not this way anymore. I used to enjoy social settings, meeting new people, and putting myself out there. In place of those things I’ve been busy building walls, withdrawing from relationships, and trying to patch up really old wounds that I thought had healed. I always thought that when I reached a point like this I would find myself sad about the shift in my attitude and behavior, but I’m actually really comfortable being this way because it minimizes my amount of emotional risk. I used to scoff at risk before, but now I refuse to take risks. I don’t want to be vulnerable to anything or anyone anymore.
The only place I feel truly safe and calm is at home. If I could lie in bed and eat yummy food and watch Netflix all day without consequence, I would. But someone has to let the dogs out. These papers aren’t going to grade themselves. I don’t want to be arrested for child neglect. Eventually, the groceries in the fridge will run out and I’ll have to go to the store to get more.
When I can’t sleep, I like to sneak into Kennedy’s room, grab her from her toddler bed, and lie down with her in the futon guest bed – there’s something so comforting about getting to snuggle with my baby who isn’t really a baby anymore. I’d do the same with Fabian, but since his body is bigger, he controls the cuddling. I can just grab Kennedy and snuggle with her and she’ll fall asleep no matter how we’re tangled up. Plus, I enjoy the tickle of her soft curls against my chin and nose. I want to soak up these moments now because one day she won’t want me anymore. When she’s a rebellious teenager, she’ll probably tell me she hates me because I won’t let her dye her hair pink or stay out ‘til 3am with her boyfriend. I just hope that by then I’ve found something else to comfort me that isn’t cocaine or excessive drinking or heroin or PCP.
Now, I know that the Christians and religious folks probably wonder, “Why doesn’t she just hand these troubles over to God? Why doesn’t she pray more? Doesn’t she know Jesus can save her?”
My answer to that: I do pray. I do read The Word. I do have a relationship with God and Jesus – a strong one. It is naïve to think that just because a person is going through troubles, they must be lacking in faith. Trials like these are where faith is tested. So-called good Christians are not free from troubles. Don’t look at someone else’s life and assume that everything must be okay just because that’s how it looks to you.
As with all stages in life, this one will pass too. Perhaps it will be in a few months, or maybe it will take me decades to dig out from under. Until then, the walls, distance, and mistrust remain. I’ve been so burned and shit on and it’s finally all catching up to me. I almost wish I could go back in time to 1992 or so and warn little young, bright-eyed, hopeful, friendly Antoinette that she should probably just stop it now, because it’s only a burden to have to keep up later. When you’re the person who is good at offering an ear to listen and a heart to care, all anyone is going to let you do is listen and care; they won’t return the favor. When you’re upbeat and lighthearted, nobody will allow you to be downtrodden or serious. Nobody ever asks the friend who’s a good listener if they have anything to say. Nobody ever reaches out to the girl who’s constantly reaching out to everybody else. Don’t exhibit strength or power in overcoming obstacles because then you’re never allowed to be weak. Helping make someone else’s bad days good means you’re never allowed to have bad days.