It is Autumn 2014. The person I love more than anything is sitting opposite me, and she has had enough.
I’m upset and in tears. Something or other is making me sad. I’m not even sure I can tell what it is anymore. I very badly want the person sitting opposite me to give me a hug, to hold me close as I bawl my eyes out. She won’t though. It’s not because she’s cold or mean-spirited. She is none of these things, but she sees that my melancholy has become toxic, and she has enough sense to know that she has to protect herself from it. Slowly, sadly, she backs away from me.
Not long after that, she backs away for good.
It is Autumn 2015. I’m at work and having a bad day. For what feels like the two thousandth time, something is making me upset and I’m very close to tears. I’m not sure I can even tell what it is anymore. The pity party I am holding in my head reminds that I am working 50 hour weeks, that I come home from work almost every night at around 10pm, that I always come back to an empty apartment, that I haven’t experienced any intimacy in months, that all my hopes and dreams are turning to ashes right in front of me, that I am always exhausted, that I could quit but I don’t know what else is out there so why take the risk, that I don’t know who I am or what I want, and so on and so forth. It all feels like too much, yet again. I excuse myself from the school break room and go to the toilet, so that I might assume the despair position and weep in solitude.
I close the toilet door behind me in what feels like a familiar ritual. I’m all set for a good old-fashioned sobbing. I’ve done this hundreds of times over. But as I stand there, a feeling comes over me.
You can’t cry anymore.
I pause for a second.
You can’t cry anymore.
I pause further. By now I’d be sitting on the toilet (with the cover down, obviously, I’m not a complete mess), but I’m not. Instead, I am thinking about what to do. This small, still voice inside me, having got my attention, elaborates further.
You’ve been crying for months on end, and it hasn’t changed a thing. If anything, it’s made you worse, because you’ve become addicted to sadness and you reach for it the same way an alcoholic reaches for a bottle of cheap vodka. The world doesn’t deserve your tears. It deserves to see you laugh and smile and have amazing sex and be a higher version of yourself. But it doesn’t deserve your tears. You can’t cry anymore.
I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and take a very long hard, look at myself. The voice continues.
It’s a tough gig, there’s no two ways about it. Coming out here has proved to be far more exhausting and overwhelming than you could have possibly imagined, but you still have a choice. You chose to come out here, and you chose to stick it out. And you have another choice in front of you right now. You can either sit on that toilet and cry, same as you’ve done a hundred times before, or you can take a deep breath, gather yourself and go back out there. You don’t have to love it. You can frown and sigh as much as you need to, but you’ve cried enough, and you’re not allowed to cry anymore. It’s time to try something else. You have to endure this moment. And you have to pass through it. And maybe, just maybe, you can build some kind of strength off the back of it.
Everything seems to be hingeing on this moment. I think of everything that has brought me to this point in my life. A slew of memories seem to flash before my eyes. I think of teachers in my primary school, telling my parents that I have all the ability in the world, if only I’d apply myself. I think of being bullied at school and recurring bad dreams. I think of my six-year battle with depression and anxiety and the day I was fairly sure I was going to be put in hospital. I think of a young woman in tears, shouting at me outside a bar in Camden, telling me she had nightmares for two weeks after I joked about killing myself. I think about all the things I shared with this person, and how she helped me discover a better version of myself along the way.
And I think of that same young woman, backing away from me slowly, sadly, just over a year ago.
I have a choice. I can submit to this sadness and I can enjoy the quick fix of endorphins flooding my brain as I hold my heads in my hands and let the tears stream down my face.
Or I can choose something else.
I can choose not to cry. I can choose to make something out of all this, something better and lighter than what it’s been up to this point. There are still moments of joy and beauty that I can claim as my own, there are still places I can go and people I can meet. Maybe the trick is to take things one moment at a time, however challenging that may be, and in those moments, seek out the stillness and happiness that I know is there if I look closely enough. Even if those moments are brief, if I can find enough of them, I can put them next to each other so that my focus changes and with it, my experience.
Even in my darkest, most weary moments, I always have a choice.
So what’s it gonna be?
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