A week left in my staycation and two days before my birthday as I sat on my bed in 90+ degree darkness. My spouse is asking me if I want to evacuate as our apartment building was potentially on the verge of burning down for the third time in 12 hours. I acknowledged what they had said, turned my head to where I could hear the cats playing, then stared again out the window and gave them a noncommittal answer.
Before continuing with this post, I want to take a moment to describe how I hope the future director of my biopic crafts this:
I am played by either a middle age Keke Palmer or a hologram of Eartha Kitt (if we are at that point in filmmaking) wearing an eye patch, and short but perfectly coif 4c hair. Disheveled but absolutely snatched. The spouse is played by Tilda Swinton. Cats played by a black dog with little self-preservation and even fewer teeth and a goat with a glamour complex. Keke sits in an oversized chair in a dark room with only street lights and the city outside. The shadow of horizontal blinds is cast across her face. She takes a slow drag of the cigarette (note: I don’t smoke but growing up in the late 80s/early 90s certain tropes have been imprinted on me), blows out the smoke and responds, “Let them come for me”
Two things you should know:
- My response that night wasn’t even close to what Keke says. I parroted something that was an amalgamation of various coping strategies from therapists over the years.
- Luxury apartments are a fucking lie; they just spend slightly more of your money to fix your dishwasher but not the 50-year-old elevator that has been obsessed with trying to kill residents through fire for the last 6 months.
Two years of the COVID pandemic, the death of half of my known family, and various other existential nightmares that the universe likes to sprinkle over human existence for flavor. Through all of it, I had held it together with medication, therapy, and a small stoic Dulce de leche center that I pride myself on that keeps me going when everything else fails. I have Social Anxiety Disorder and have dealt with several periods of major depression and that hasn’t made life easy. That is why I was surprised, as I found myself utterly mentally shutting down when faced with my apartment’s final boss elevator. Sitting on my bed, frozen in panic thinking that this is what gets me. All the other shit that has gone down in my life. A rogue elevator. After the last two years where I didn’t just exist but thrived while dealing with my mental health.
But see, there’s the gag. I wasn’t thriving when it came to my anxiety. Once the electricity and fire threat had passed a few hours later, I realized I had been only rain-checking the most prominent issues under the guise of living my Beyoncé Renaissance, and one night in August 2022, all those issues had shown up to be redeemed.
Nope, and I haven’t been that outside since March 2020. I have grabbed tacos or karaoke round the corner with friends maybe once or twice, but being in airports, hotels and given talks in convention halls. Actively and passively interacting with thousands of people in my space is another outside. All while navigating with a physical body I have neglected for the past two years AND dealing with the effects of having COVID earlier this summer. Also, I have never been a fan of flying on planes, even on my pre-2020 best days.
Sure I can spend two weeks traveling to two major conferences to present a talk and also acting as an ambassador of accessibility both in and outside of my company. This is a significant opportunity. Maybe this crushing professional insecurity, I feel, will disappear if I just get out there and everyone can see my efforts and drive. People can’t overlook and invalidate me, then, right? I mean, Maybe I can ask my psychiatrist if he can just fuck my shit up with a temporary Xanax prescription I can get through those two weeks?
What am I doing and who am I doing it for?
Every project I commit myself at work and on my own time I give full effort. I do this because I care and believe in the work I do. I am extremely fortunate to be in this position and grateful for the opportunities I have, but that fortune and opportunity didn’t come without concession. My mental illness worked its way back into unchecked prominence in my life under the concealment of professional and work stress. The constant building of inadequacy and chasing of validation. Prove what I am working towards. Prove what I believe in. Prove myself?
One of the last things my grandmother said to me before she died was, “Don’t live your life for someone else. Your life is your own.” I held these words close, and they guided me during some of my darkest times. Once again, those words echoed in my head.
My life is my own. My mental illness is forfeit.