When You Can’t Go Anywhere, There You Are

Stripping everything down and staying in one place, limiting all interactions with people and the outside world during quarantine has created a strange intimacy with myself — a space I was too busy and mobile to notice before.

Since I can’t be physically present with most of my loved ones, I have become intimately acquainted with my feelings about everyone who matters. They have all become projections, a pixelated cast of characters in a weird new world. I am constantly exploring who I miss, what exactly I miss about them, and figuring out the shape of their absence within me. Each void has a texture and dimensions.

Not being able to stop by and surprise you at work is a cluster of hard, translucent spheres. Not being able to navigate a packed gallery by grabbing your hand and threading us through the crowd so we can get a better look at the art, and then go to the bar next door to talk about which piece we loved most and why is a droopy ellipse. Not being able to ride the subway to meet you at a restaurant where we can sit in the window, eat french fries and watch the cuties walk by on Canal Street is a chunky trapezoid. Not being able to hug you for as long as you needed when your grandmother died is a long, sharp triangle. Not being able to go over to your house for dinner and bring a weird wine to try and eat corn nuts on your handmade couch is the shape of your huge wooden salad bowl with a pool of garlicky Caesar dressing at the bottom.

I am learning about every component of all of my long-term relationships because I have the time to take each one apart and examine it piece by piece. I’m learning where there is joy and where there is excruciating pain. I am learning where I am generous and where I am myopic. I am learning my limits. I am learning what I have to give and what I get to want. I am learning about the rusty parts, the ball bearings, the squeaky joints, the loose screws, the parts that need oiling. What’s serving me, what’s become toxic, what’s pushing me in a good way, what’s become infected, what I can finally let go. The subtitles and nagging feelings are becoming headlines, blazing from a lit-up marquee.

Sometimes my learning holds me hostage. The lessons come to me in the middle of the night, leaping out of my brain and pouring through the pen in my sleepy hand into a sloppy scrawl on the corner of a notebook page.

I’m learning that often I think I’m feeling, but I’m actually thinking. In those moments, what I feel is myself thinking, which is different than feeling feelings. I’m in my head, not in my body. My thinking can be a bully: sorting, containing, analyzing and sucking the life out of my feelings until they become anemic, reduced to skinny little thoughts. I need to coax out my feelings, nurse them so that they become fat and juicy.

I’m learning to sit in silence and look inward toward myself. At first I have to physically corral my thoughts, nipping at their heels like a sheepdog. Then I stay still so that they won’t notice me. Once they race away, rushing distractedly past me, bumping in to one another, I can focus my energy on listening to what’s deep inside and let myself excavate what’s buried there. Thinking is noise, feelings are quiet.

I am learning that I can feel two completely different ways at exactly the same time. I can be fine and not fine at once. I can hold space for others while feeling like a total mess myself. I can want to go and want to stay. I can leave and feel abandoned. I can be impatient to take the next step and completely immobilized with fear at the thought of actually buying the plane ticket. We can be together when we are apart, and apart when we are together. I can tell you where I’m at, but then it changes. It can be enough, until it’s not. Sometimes the feelings eclipse one another, back and forth. Sometimes they split me down the middle. Other times I am taken over by one extreme, filled so deeply with it that I can’t imagine feeling any other way – until it switches like the moment day becomes night.

My deepest truth lies within these constant contradictions. You’ll find me balancing precariously in the middle of the tightrope stretched between two poles. Or you won’t find me because I’m a blur, racing back and forth between the two extremes. In my wildest dreams I realize that the tightrope is only one foot off the ground, and I step off it and walk away from the tension between the binaries, strolling at first perpendicularly, then simply meandering to elsewhere. It feels random, until I realize that I’m following my heart.

I got accustomed to soliciting second opinions before I had a first one. This is a process of unearthing. I am learning to be patient.

Illustration from @onlyonebabycancryatatime

Buried within all this there is a thread, something I can count on. I’m beginning to see myself within it all. Discovering my feet and elbows like an infant, understanding for the first time where I actually begin and end in the solar system of people I care about. I’m realizing that I am one of the planets, and sometimes it’s actually all orbiting around me.

I am learning about my body; what I need to put into it, and get out of it in order to feel present. I am learning how much food I eat and how to cook it. I am learning when I feel weak, what makes me feel strong and the moment that the scale tips between the two. I am learning how to conserve and where to let go. I am finding a balance between input and output. And the balance isn’t static, it’s a moving target.

I am learning what makes me feel big and what makes me small. Sometimes I spend an entire day at one size, and other days I shrink and grow constantly. I am growing from the inside out, like a sprout within myself. I am becoming my own bodyguard, learning about boundaries and invitations. I am learning about the strength of vulnerability — learning that I can put myself out there, and still be there for me when I return.

Founder of Business Casual, MS in Change Management from The New School, formerly @Etsy http://thisisbusinesscasual.com/