Last spring, I attended an eight-week therapy group for chronically ill folks. In it, we developed a language around talking about the times when our bodies are pushed too far and force us into inconvenient rest. In an attempt to reclaim that rest as something necessary rather than, as a capitalist society would have us believe, laziness or failure, we started discussing as you would a perennial: it is the natural cycle of a perennial to sprout, bloom, and then fade into dormancy, awaiting the spring only to sprout and bloom again. We started calling these bodily-enforced periods of rest as “returning to our bulb state,” from which we would reemerge when our body was ready.
Today, much like the hyacinths and bleeding hearts beginning to sprout in my flower beds, I find myself gradually emerging from a recent bulb state. My mental and physical health were taxed beyond what was sustainable and I had to leave my job at the beginning of the new year. My pain levels had been consistently rising, making my already easily fuck-with-able mental health increasingly ramshackle—my friends and family had been concerned about me but, by the time I resigned, I was worried about me. I had been buffeted by illness, injury, personal issues, and the demands of work such that by the time I’d had a chance to do anything about my rapidly approaching limit, I was well beyond that limit.
So, with the support of my friends, my mom, my sister, and my therapist, I left my job, albeit less gracefully than is ideal. Intent on trying to support myself by freelancing and working toward selling my art, I ordered business cards and passed them on to a few folks who had previously been interested in my work. I set up a new work email address. I started working on building a website. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks—the absolute exhaustion that comes from months and months of living in emergency management mode, compounded by chronic and mental illnesses. I had somehow managed to convince myself that leaving my job and taking on work on my own schedule would be enough to allow me to recover. Sometimes, I am such a sweet, summer child.
Suddenly, it was all I could do to stay awake for more than four or five hours at a time. My body and my mind needed a period of dormancy, to return to the bulb, to the dark, warm, loamy earth, to the fertile womb that is my bed. Even now, nearly two months on, the days I don’t need to seek out the cradle of my bed and blankets are far outnumbered by the days I do.
Photo credit Gian Cescon on Unsplash
I want to wrap this story up here: I went to bed and now I am all better—commission me or buy my work here! But that’s not how it works. Before a flower can bloom or a plant can fruit, it has to struggle—it slowly reaches upward through the darkness to the light, it grows, it changes shape, its needs change. Similarly, I am emerging. It is a process. And as I emerge from beneath my blankets and my physical and emotional exhaustion, I am discovering that my needs are different than what they once were and the ways I need to fulfill those needs are different—sometimes that has meant making time to take care of medical issues that I hadn’t previously been able to address and sometimes that has meant spending whole days isolated and quiet, letting my mind process the last several years of my life and sometimes it has meant laughing maniacally with my friends about some video on the internet. And, yes, it has also meant getting back to work on building a website, brainstorming future projects, working on commissions, and working toward building a stock of fun things to sell.
Emerging has also left me staring down the business end of this new, joyful, terrifying freedom. Aside from the never-ending gauntlet of appointments with my doctors and my therapist, I am in complete control of my schedule. I am answerable only to myself and the people with whom I choose to work. If I feel I will be more productive at ten o’clock at night, then I work at ten o’clock at night without worry about the next day’s schedule. I don’t have to work with people whose politics seek to deny my personhood. I determine the projects I want to work on and the subjects of my art. I actually have the bandwidth to return to my writing again. I can talk freely about my experiences and my points of view with whatever audience of my choosing without being scolded about not reflecting my employer’s brand. No one else can take credit for my work. I can take the time I need to take care of my body. These are all wonderful things!
The flipside of all those wonderful things is that I have no steady income—especially after having to hibernate for two months. I have no steady income and I am disabled. I lucked out in that I have a social safety net of folks who support me; these folks won’t let me do without food or shelter or transportation. I still have health insurance and access to medical and mental health providers. But until I have a marginally consistent income, I am wholly dependent on others. I have been this dependent before and it turned into a terrible situation wherein we both resented each other, we were both angry with the circumstances, both of us took that anger and resentment out on me, and I lived for years under a smothering blanket of shame. Being dependent on other people has always been scary—honestly, I don’t know a single person who is pleased as punch to be dependent on other people—but now I carry the additional fear that dependence will lead me down a path back to the familiar resentment and shame and rage.
As much as it feels as though my future dangles on a thin thread of hope, dangling over a chasm of potential despair and pain, I know that I would not have fared better had I kept walking the tightrope I had been. And, despite my absolute and profound dread of being dependent, it is invigorating to feel that I just might be able to trust this safety net of people who love me—and that trust in the face of my fear is in itself a hard won victory for me and an indicator of my growth over the past few years (my therapist is going to be so proud of me for acknowledging this achievement, A+ for me!).
I am emerging from my chill hours. I am reaching toward the light. I am sprouting.
And I am immensely grateful to the web supportive people that I have woven into my life for allowing me the freedom to try to bloom.