Reticent was a word my mom used to describe me. I remember she said it with ease as if it were just a matter of fact. She was speaking to my kindergarten teacher who had growing concerns about my ability to socialize. Not convinced by my mom’s ‘live and let live’ approach to parenting, Mrs. Beckwith suggested I be held back a year. In addition, she strongly encouraged my mom to start enrolling me in summer programs that would keep me active among other students my age. Too often I spent recess working on solitary crafts, painting at the classroom easel, stacking wooden blocks into cities, and creating sculptures out of Play-Doh. Teachers encouraged me to play with the other kids, but willfully I ignored their persuasions.
Acutely sensitive to people in my environment, I perceived other kids as being too rough, too mean, and too quick to tell me what to do. Once in a while I’d entertain the idea, playing along for some time, but quickly I would retire, stealthily making my escape over to the book nook where I could thumb through illustrations with delight, and dive into fascinating stories. Being alone was a haven, a place to retreat where my imagination could evaporate into the ether and later recondense with an image or an idea to bring to fruition. Solitude was an invitation to quietly observe or tinker with ideas. It was an open door to investigate forbidden spaces or daydream without interruption. Most profoundly, in isolation I found consolation, it became a refuge where I felt safe to express my feelings unabashedly.
Little did I know then, that within the solace of my seclusion, I was sowing seeds of self-reliance and establishing a practice that fortified my wellbeing, a practice I haven’t been able to keep up as an adult. Responsibilities have come with certain sacrifices. Doing my best means mitigating the whiplash I experience when my attention pivots from one thing to the next. All the while I try to resist the siren songs of distraction and procrastination that threaten to leave me wrecked on FOMO island.
I was filling my schedule with events and to-dos outside of the hours I spent working at several jobs. As I reflect on it now, it’s clear to me that I had been straddling the fault line of burnout for a while…
Despite my teacher’s concerns, I grew up having a very active social life. Cultivating and sustaining friendships became my top priorities, filling my heart, and keeping me the best kind of busy. Rarely did I have a moment to spare. I was filling my schedule with events and to-dos outside of the hours I spent working at several jobs. As I reflect on it now, it’s clear to me that I had been straddling the fault line of burnout for a while, struggling to say “no,” and with every “yes” feeling the crevice shake and widen just a little bit more. This was up until the lockdown when all plans screeched to a halt, and social distancing became the new normal.
The shutdown was difficult at first as every aspect of life entered a state of limbo. Daily rhythms became dissonant if not a distant memory. Empathy became the only thing I could manage to exercise, as the death toll on the news kept bringing me to tears. A subconscious need for some semblance of control revealed itself through the compulsive washing of my already chapped and bleeding hands. Emotions were overwhelming, flooding my system in light of the present crisis, but also because I felt I was catching up on the past few years when I had been too busy to fully acknowledge my feelings at all. Weeks went by before I noticed a shift in the chaos – a return to that familiar sense of groundedness I had found in solitude as a child. Being alone more often was giving me the brain space and energy to do the emotional labor of processing heavy thoughts, allowing me to shift inward, reevaluate my priorities, and ruminate on the unusual times we are still living in.
One of the hardest truths I’ve come to understand during this time is that when confronting something as sinister as white supremacy and racism, silence will make you complicit in crimes against people of color. I’ve been urged, as never before, to extend my body and voice in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to remain steadfast as I stood face to face with police officers releasing tear gas and pepper bullets into the crowd, was an act that contradicted my own self-image of being reticent. Perhaps up until now, it had been an excuse for me to stay back.
Introspections and revelations such as these continue to keep me deep in thought. I hope to hold on to this practice of mindfulness as we renter the world. There is still so much to untangle. May humility be my North Star as I persist to comprehend all that I still can’t fully articulate.
Photograph by Rebekah Ostrander
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC