It was sweltering and the walk was punctuated with my silence. Any words I wanted to offer seems to be insincere. My caffeine high should have been loaded but all I could muster was, “Some days, it takes more effort to stay alive.”
It has been a week since I snapped out of an emotional catatonia, as I would like to describe it. I was functioning and I would like to think that my ability to shower and get dressed before noon or by noon was that line before the depression. I was living a stupor — a part of life where there was stillness, a raging stillness. It is like a rip current. From afar, it looked still with light water ridges, and no white foam crashing. But in truth, this silence was pulling me away and snapping out of it required me to swim parallel to the shore, towards the crashing waves. I was not any one part of the ocean and shore. I was the entire system.
What is this emotional catatonia? Like all _ Anonymous programmes, it begins with acknowledging the problem. I needed a name because after last week or so I’ve realised, it had been six weeks since I last wrote and painted something for myself. If typed words and brush strokes were my media of expression, I have not been speaking.
Returning from a trip that was curated to get as much nature into me as possible might have led to this catatonia, along with unemployment. The city got too loud, even where I was staying in an area at the end of the train line. Lights permeating my blinds from common corridors were too bright compared to pitch darkness I have had for months. The sounds of cars, of errant drivers, of e-scooters seemed to pile on to this city’s muchness. If you ever wanted to feel needed, the city would do good for you. It demands all the senses that you have and some.
I am not recruiting a pity party. I expressed my state to my partner and added, “Tell me when I should shut up.”
To which he replied a minute later,
“Stop whining. It’s not just you, this whole city. When you are not happy about something, change it.”
I am trying and if you need to try or if you are in your version of emotional catatonia and whining, have a scroll.
1. Avoid people
The problem with being in an emotional catatonia is that your silence exists with the noise in your head. The problem with this silence is that when nothing leaves, everything gets absorbed. You are this soaked dishwashing sponge and when someone adds on the noise, it is like lentil soup being poured on to this soaked sponge, the liquids flows but the lentils stay. Your purpose as a sponge isn’t to collect lentils.
There will be people who tell you how you have done wrong. The issue is, you know the problem, thanks for stating the obvious, can we move on? No one knows when you have had enough. Sometimes it helps to enunciate it or act upon it.
I told my mother the other day, you could ask about my job and relationship status every Friday because y’know between Saturday and Sunday evening, no one answers emails.
Revised: Avoid some people
There is only one of YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. There are some people who could give you advice that you would listen to. Perhaps it is because they are wordmeisters, perhaps you are in love with them or perhaps you know that they know what they are talking about. Hold on to these people and have them watch your back (occasionally for period stains). With the rest, tell them you will be back.
Revised: Avoid some people and meet new people
While being in this non-expressive state of being, I realised that I stop trying to prove myself. While you are busy avoiding social engagements, meet strangers at talks (it is difficult but try). There is always a free event out there that is dying for an audience. I am not telling you to lie but meeting strangers demand a non-committal conversation and along the way of expressing yourself, perhaps you’d soon realise, there is hope after all.
P.S. Please be wary of too good to be true scams and phone-scams. Frail hearts are occasionally ever-ready to leech on hope sauce.
2. Find your purpose in life
Revised: Find something that keeps you away from social media
Your purpose in life is not to find a job. It is primarily to stay alive — it is the pre-requisite to everything you hope to do with your one dear life.
The good news is, nothing is forever. Except for birth and death.
I took up knitting in my last week on the road, learnt two basic stitches, got a two dollar roll of yarn and I have been knitting. It doesn’t do much for my resume but between searching for jobs, it gives me complete solitude. It is repeatedly one pocket of time where the voices in my head go silent. I have knitted on public transports and at every ride, I have spotted at least one person just watching me and forgetting they have been watching me. That must be how the voices are too.
I have picked up some Adobe Illustrator skills and that too has made me forget about time with more frustration involved.
As a once self-professed bookworm, I cannot read anymore, the calamity in my mind does not find solace in my childhood safe place. And I’m telling you, it is okay to change.
Social media is as addictive as cigarettes. It is so easy to forget that the statuses and ‘grams you read do not provide a back story. It is okay to unfollow (see #1). An illustrator I followed once wrote about how she unfollowed some accounts because they make her feel terrible. I have to confess, there are those that I unfollow because it makes me feel inadequate. I cannot explain but some people wants you to grab life by the horns and then there are some who make you want to crawl back in your pyjama and a big tub of fried chicken wings you cannot afford (6 piece chicken for $9 piece at KFC on Tuesday, by the way) because you will never be them, click unfollow. You have other battles to fight and your self-esteem on social media is not one of them.
There is a Malay proverb that I love, ukur baju di badan sendiri. Which literally translates to measure your clothes on your own body, it means to act or spend as you can afford it. Sometimes you just do not have the same mental capacity and to measure your worth with somebody else’s pockets does nothing.
3. You can’t do everything
There is no revision to this one fact and I attribute the opposite of this to be the primary reason for my catatonia.
“Babe, you need to focus.”
There is a time to think about the big picture and a time to think about the pieces. Small pieces make for a nice big piece. The big picture was my future and finding the elusive rope that binds everything together is a weight that is too heavy to carry every damn day. For the first five days of snapping out, I did a fairly good job at this and I was mostly happy. As I took up transitioning to illustrator and a “big picture” thought infiltrated my mind, I have had moments where I audibly said, shut up. My aim was to finish this piece and I did. I said shut up to voices that said I was noot good enough. I said shut up to a voice that said this painting gets me nowhere. I said shut up to voices that said I should search for jobs every waking second. I said shut up to regret.
Here’s a bonus:
Do not regret
This is your DNR. I found myself talking to a young woman a few days ago after a free coding class got cancelled. As we commiserated on our unemployment, I asked how old she was.
She was a good half a decade younger and I told her, “I don’t have many years under my belt but, Girrrrrrl, you have years, trust me you have years.” As we parted ways, It led me to think, how would I have done things differently? Truth be told, I would have made the same “mistakes”. Except maybe I would buy fewer artisan coffee, saved more money and started drawing and writing earlier.
Because you see, when you have nothing, are you going to discredit this one life too? I have woken up every day telling myself, for what it is worth, I have stories in me. I have spent two months looking at beautiful skies that compelled me to pick up the brush and fucking believe I could print it on paper. That one trip was my highway to painting better.
Compare this from 9 March 2017:
to 17 December 2016:
The minimal headspace that you have has no room for regret. You can learn lessons, but do not regret. Regret is not productive.