Healing by Laughing at Myself
I made a plan for the morning of July 9th, 2017 the evening before. I was going to walk from my apartment in Harlem down Lenox Avenue and go to the North Woods in Central Park, a quiet, shady spot on the upper western tip of the park that most tourists don't reach on their summer vacations. It would be a much-needed break from that pungent New York stench that's been looming since June. I would find a big rock to sit on, dive into my tattering copy of War and Peace, and enjoy the company of the trees.
On that Saturday morning, the cat licked my face around at 6:00AM and gently woke me up. I put on a tank top, nylon capris, and sneakers and started walking downtown. I stopped by Lenox Coffee for a cold brew and a kiss from my favorite barista/fiancée. I continued walking downtown and watched the East-facing brownstones get their morning bath in light. Central Park was in sight as I edged out of Harlem and soon I was at Frederick Douglas Circle.
The North Woods was as calm as I had hoped it would be. No one was there and the squirrels were at ease in the branches above me. I began to explore to the soundtrack of rock and folk oldies by The Turtles, Donovan, and Neil Diamond. I followed tiny paths, felt the bark of the trees, and, of course, took a picture for my Snapchat story. Everything was lovely.
About ten minutes into my mini-retreat, I found myself on a rock overlooking another new path I could ramble down. The climb down the rock looked a bit steep, but I thought I could make it. What I didn't account for was that it had been raining all night. I took one step onto the wet rock and slipped, landing right on my butt at the base of it. I quickly realized I had a giant hole in my pants and that I had gotten a cut. My tote bag and I were covered in dirt. My butt was bleeding and the blood was getting all over my clothes and the rock.
After a moment of soaking each and every factor in, I began to laugh.
I clearly would not be able to continue my Saturday forest jaunt with the present conditions. I stood up, pulled my shirt down as much as I could to cover my bare bum, and made my way to the nearest bathroom to clean myself up. I did my best to examine the damage and wash my wound but toilet paper was the only resource in the park bathroom and I couldn't get a great view of my own behind. I left the park and grabbed a cab, doing everything in my power to avoid getting blood on the seat. The cut wasn't as bad as I thought it had been based on the amount of bleeding. My back was a bit sore but otherwise I was fine. I sincerely hope no one witnessed my unfortunate plight, but someone could have and I kind of hope they laughed too.
When I was in the cab driving back to Harlem, I began to think of how the Baby Georgie, a clumsy, furby-loving loud mouth, would have handled that situation in 2002. I concluded that Baby Georgie would have most likely been a heaving wreck, unable to shake off the shock. Furthermore, I would've reacted that way if this same event had happened even a few years ago when I was a college student. I had always been sensitive.
When I was a chubby fourth grader, I remember sitting on a plastic desk chair in my classroom when the chair legs promptly went out from underneath me. As soon as I hit the ground, I began to cry. I was in front of my peers and I was embarrassed. Everyone started laughing and calling me fat. I was physically unable to get a word in, overtaken by panic. The teacher excused me and I cried in the bathroom for a few more hours before going home.
For whatever reason, any moment that wasn't good or perfect was detrimental in my mind. When I was upset, it was all I could be. My failures, missteps, and accidents would entirely consume me. And the worst part is that I would become helpless.
I was quickly labeled as a sensitive child by my friends, teachers, and family. People told me I was overreacting whenever I had one of these meltdowns but I didn't believe them for a while. It took a long time to realize that not everyone had these reactions to life's tough moments. Others could seemingly brush off the same problems that would ruin my hour, day, year.
As a teenager, I began to take ownership of the trait, unsure of what else to do. My father's motto has always been, "it is what is is," and I started to believe it in a passive sense. I told myself I was just a sensitive person. I tried to look at the bright side when I could: Sure, anything and everything could upset me, but I could also feel deeply and genuinely empathize with others. I embraced the positive side as much as possible, but the draining nature of feeling too much and too deeply for nearly twenty years took its' toll.
I spent a lot of alone time in my college dorm room feeling sad and scared to face the next class, presentation, or professor. Rehearsing a scene or meeting with a professor filled me with dread. I went from functioning to nonfunctioning during my senior year of college, yet I was secretive enough for my family not to know. After my college graduation, I traveled through Europe for five weeks to fulfill a long-time dream of mine. I dined in the Eiffel Tower and climbed the hills of Salzburg and all of my friends and Instagram followers probably think I had an amazing time. Every single day of that trip included a freak out and crying episode. When I got home from Europe, I was able to acknowledge that what was happening wasn't healthy. I finally reached out to my parents and friends for help.
A therapist and a psychologist would get me to realize that my self-torment wasn't a personality flaw but mental illness. I have anxiety and depression. Both sides of my birth family have a history of mental illness issues and they passed down to me. It was a relief to accept the genetic part of it, but I still had a journey ahead of me. I had to confront my issues head-on or nothing would change.
Therapy, anti-depressants, time, and the support of my loved ones made it all more manageable in a matter of months. I learned how to meditate. I know which scents tend to calm me. When I can't fall asleep at night, I think about my dream house in a faraway land and design the rooms (my chateau in small-town France is looking marvelous these days). I know to avoid drinking coffee when I'm in a high-pressure situation. I try not to judge myself so harshly. I trained a new, positive voice to combat my own inner demon. I made serious changes in my thought process and began to fight for myself.
It'll be three years in August since I first got help. Life is a lot better now. I am a stable partner and am more productive than ever. I can go through a day without crying but can still cry when I want to. When I feel anxiety creeping into my shoulders, I use multiple tools and coping methods to try to calm myself down. My father's motto makes sense to me in a different way now. Job interviews, rejections, and career missteps are learning experiences instead of meltdowns. I can handle unpleasant experiences in a more sensible way and think things through before letting my emotions get the best of me. I can move on when bad things happen but stand up and take action when I need to.
I was able to laugh at myself when I cut my butt cheek on a rock in Central Park and I'm proud of that. When I got back to the apartment after the incident, I took a much-needed shower and washed off all the dirt and blood. After I got out, I looked over my shoulder, examined the cut in my bathroom mirror, and had one thought: It is what it is.