Updated: Sep 12, 2018
It's such a sweet sensation.
Warm, wet air kissed my face, caressing, tickling my nose as it sailed past. It clung to the walls of my lungs like a blanket, suffocating me just a little with its cloying pressure. A sharp squeal pierced the twilight, rending the air in two. A thud. A giggle. Soft rustling as I scrambled to my feet, back to starting position.
“Get down from there *right* now!” The last word was drawn out, shrill and low.
Uh oh. My stomach dropped.
I peeked guiltily over the edge of the roof, aware of what awaited me below. My mother’s furious face peered up, mottled & stiff, her lips compressed into nothingness.
This was FAR from the first time I’d jumped off our roof. I did it all the time. In fact, I was a bit of a bully about it with my friends. Jump off, I’d say. Just do it. It’s fun. C’mon. Look. I’ll show you. Whoosh. Thud. See? I’d call up to them. Don’t be a baby.
I was a very bossy child. Really, it’s a surprise I had any friends at all. Frankly, I’m still surprised I have friends.
My bedroom window opened out onto the first story, & I climbed out there constantly. I’d sit on the smooth slate and wish on shooting stars or watch the thunderstorms roll in. It was no more than 10 feet from the ground, but as a kid, it may as well have been 100. Whenever she caught me—which was often—I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Again, I did this. all. the. time. Honestly, she was just overreacting.
But as with many things, the adult experience—the anxious experience—has made clear why my mother was so angry. She was scared. Her nine year old—her baby—was jumping off of the roof. Like, come again? Oh I’m sorry, kindly CPS officer. It seems perfectly safe to me. There’s very little chance she’ll hit that enormous oak tree right next to our house & break every bone in her body. She’s nine. Gotta cut the cord sometime, amiright? That is my best impression of the nonchalant, alternate universe, string theory version of my mother. The one in this universe vibrates at a significantly higher frequency.
I find myself beleaguered by doubt, dampened by comfort, hobbled by fear.
As a lifelong fan of Greek and Roman mythology, I learned early the story of Icarus, a young man so similar to me in youth and foolishness. Many of you may be familiar. The son of a famous and talented craftsman, both he and his father were held captive in a high tower by a cruel king. To escape their imprisonment, Icarus’ father fashioned wings from a wooden frame coated in wax and feathers. “But be wary of flying too high,” he warned his son, “for the heat from the sun will melt the wax, and you shall fall to your death.” And as we know, poor Icarus, reckless and heedless, flew too close to the sun. As the wax holding his wings together melted, he fell into the sea and drowned. Impossible physics aside, the tale is commonly used an example of the pride cometh-ing before the fall.
But what many don’t know is that before being warned of the danger of hubris, Icarus was first cautioned against the folly of complacency. “Don’t fly too low,” his father counseled, “lest you be weighed down by damp feathers, for you will surely drown.” As I reflect on my choices this year, I find myself beleaguered by doubt, dampened by comfort, hobbled by fear. I have fallen victim to the cocoon of my safe spaces. I have been too afraid to venture past their confines.
As I mentioned in my very first post, my womb is wandering. In fact, the very word hysteria is a derivation of the Greek word for uterus. It was a strictly a woman’s disease, and throughout its history, there have been many proposed explanations and treatments to cure all manner of associated ills. Wandering womb? A light vaginal steaming oughta do the trick. (Turns out, Gwyneth Paltrow really knows her shit.) Demonic possession? Why not try a little exorcism or witch burning. Venomous uterus? A gentle poisoning should purge it right out of you.
But certainly the most (in)famous and benign of these ministrations is the well documented development of the first electric vibrator. Oh, that wasn’t what you were expecting? Well, strap on—oh my goodness, I mean strap in—for a bumpy ride through the annals of time as we discuss its buzzy history.
By an early 20th century doctor’s estimation, nearly seventy-five percent of women suffered from hysteria. Common symptoms included headaches, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, irritability, course language, and deviant behavior. The horror. While in many cases, hysterical women were coerced into sanitariums, or at worst, forced to undergo hysterectomies, therapeutic, ahh, massage was the treatment de rigeur of Victorian doctors to relieve the pressure of an hysterical mind. I imagine gynecological appointments must’ve been drastically different experiences than they are now.
One good doctor—beleaguered by his many patients and his chronically cramped fingers—sought a less, erm, manual method of treating what ailed them. And with a knack for problem solving and a mind toward efficiency, so was born the battery operated vibrator. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. As the saying goes. The first one weighed a mere forty pounds and sported the descriptive (and intimidating) moniker “Granville’s hammer.” That must’ve been a hard sell for the responsible ad agency.
I’ve found that we’re limited less often by what others think of us and more by what we think of ourselves.
I write this partially because it’s hilarious—which it definitely, definitely is—but I also think it’s important to recognize the contributions to the world that mental illness so often instigates. I think it’s important because, so often and especially lately, I feel like I have nothing to contribute. I feel inhibited and restrained and confined to the spaces where I feel comfortable.
I am anxious, so I can’t accept that job. I am anxious, so I can’t attend that party. I stigmatize myself, and ashamedly, others who struggle against the bonds of my expectations and society’s and their own. We are profiled as terrorists or murderers or vagabonds. Leeches or drunkards or weaklings. It may as well be a straight jacket, like the ones that bound us years ago, and I find myself reinforcing it even as I rail against it.
I’ve participated in this abuse against myself. I have been both the victim and the perpetrator. My diminished capacity for trust is largely my own fault, a byproduct of obsessive thoughts and powerful compulsions. It is also strictly my responsibility to rectify. In my small experience, I’ve found that we’re limited less often by what others think of us and more by what we think of ourselves. Just like Icarus, I have known what it is to fly and felt how it feels to fall, to both burn and drown.
I sometimes long for the days when I didn’t know the inherent dangers of jumping off of my roof, when my juvenile inexperience couldn’t empathize with my mother’s visceral fear. My dreams for adulthood were vivid, consumed by bold lines and electric colors. In comparison, my reality seems gray and listless, dulled by the battered veneer of my mistakes and my complacency. Isn’t that why we so often yearn for childhood? Why we still listen to the Backstreet Boys or watch old cartoons? Because for two and a half minutes, we’re time travelers, transported back to a life with little responsibility and limitless opportunity.
But our lives, our humanness, are keenly nuanced, scraped & molded by every experience.
Picasso was likely schizophrenic. As is Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter while clinically depressed. Sylvia Plath gave us The Bell Jar shortly before her devastating suicide. Howard Hughes invented airplanes’ retractable landing gear and struggled with debilitating OCD. Suffering acts as a catalyst for creativity, a deep need to externalize a pain so consuming that it eats you alive from the inside out. My suffering has wrought the creation of this space, this community where I expose my own pain so openly.
To feel the brief weightlessness once more, the innocent dive into nothingness, may be impossible for me. Knowledge, once gained, can never be unlearned. We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. But I am slowly learning to trust myself again, to push through the fear and fly high in pursuit of the sun. For I am realizing that if I am to drown, I’d rather do so by being too bold, too electric, too colorful, rather than too cautious, too damp, too gray.