Gone Hiking

There’s a hard knot in the pit of my stomach. It’s been there since Tuesday, and the idea is to loosen it a little, by the time I’m done.

If writing doesn’t work, I’ll try walking. Outside is a sea of shadowy grays and greens, but even if the liquid wall of rain doesn’t exactly make me want to lace up my shoes, I’m anxious for some kind of forward motion. Stuck is a plan that’s not working.

It’s hard to believe a week ago I was looking up at a sky so blue it looked filtered five times.

It is insistently bright in Arizona. It is almost aggressively uplifting. Even the cacti look like they’re waving hello.

It couldn’t be more different than it is here, in Oregon.

I keep trying to find the beauty in it, even as winter drags on. It is beautiful. Raindrops sprinkle through the canopy and cling to fragile ferns. Little slivers of sun fight their way through gaps in the tallest trees. Everything drips and shimmers. Every once in a while, a whole section warms.

I don’t know why this continues to take me by surprise, but: I feel miles better in the woods, away from the sounds of the city.

How is it that I feel less alone sitting on a downed tree trunk in the middle of nowhere, with only the whistle of the wind and a couple of crows for company? I walk by a coffee shop and my eyes fill with tears. I want, I want, I want.

When the weight of the life I’m [still] not living feels crushing, and I’m brimming with loss and longing, I remind myself of something that hit home on a podcast I heard last night. When are people able to make real changes in their lives? When the pain of not doing anything different becomes too big of a burden to bear.

I keep thinking I’ve already gotten to that point, but in reality, I’m probably smack in the middle of the process. It feels like I keep slamming right up against the edge of all-I-can-take, over and over again. So it stands to reason that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It won’t always be this horrible, or this hard. Pain is information — that’s another perspective I like.

Part of me knows that even as sick and screwed up as I sometimes feel, my life is changing. And if I can recognize it as it’s happening, and bear witness to it, I can take some of the more miserable moments and turn them into something meaningful.

Arizona was such a welcome break. It took me all four days to relax, but on the last morning, just hours before my flight back, I finally did.

It felt so good. I stopped beating myself up for the spectacularly bad job I’ve done at prioritizing self-care these last couple of months. I quit worrying about being an A++ employee, for ever and ever, for all of time. I remembered what it was like to be a *normal* human.

What’s it like to go out to eat and not eliminate 90% of the menu out of hand, in a single scan? What it’s like to smile up at the server and order what you really want? What’s it like to care most about the person keeping you company?

What’s it like to not be so disciplined, so controlled? (So rigid. So harsh.) What’s it like to spend some money? What’s it like to be good to yourself and the people around you? What’s it like to think beyond The Bare Necessities and consider what might be fun (or just feel nice)?

What’s it like to stay out late? What’s it like to not be lonely? What’s it like to eat enough? What’s it like cuddle on the couch? What’s it like to be all there? What’s it like to love and love and love? What’s it like to laugh.

When I’m with my mom, I remember. “Normal” doesn’t feel so far away.

It actually feels stupidly close. Like if I just added a carbohydrate to dinner every night, made a couple more close friends, stopped worrying about every piece of chocolate, got better about lazy Sundays, tried harder to make sure work wasn’t the biggest part of my life, made room to meet someone, and scheduled some more trips out of town, I’d be fine.

But that sense of calm-happy-yoga-Zen lasted all of 48 hours once I touched back down in Portland.

Instagram told me spring had sprung in my absence (here’s hoping you have a feed full of cherry blossoms, too!) and I had my fingers crossed it would all feel significantly brighter when I got back.

But really, I’m right back in the same routine, which I now think we can safely call a rut.

I know progress is never as linear as we’d like it to be, but it does seem to be too much: to be here alone, to try to recover, and to continue to work as hard as I’m working. I don’t know what that means, exactly. But I do know I feel this enormous, full-body sweep of relief when I think about hitting eject — either temporarily or permanently.

Maybe if I write that sentence enough weeks in a row, I’ll get brave enough to do something about it.

While I’m frustrated with myself for a variety of reasons, I am proud of the fact that I’m not waiting for someone to swoop in and save me. I’m doing the saving. It’s just very slow, and there are certain things that make it exponentially easier, and some others that make it maybe more challenging than it needs to be.

I should also say this: despite all of my weather-related observations, I don’t think Portland (as a city) is to blame. Under different circumstances, I think I could be really happy here. I also don’t think my job is the number one problem. I think I’d be feeling pretty taxed anywhere, doing any type of work. But I don’t think it’d be very smart to spend much more time in this space, either physically or mentally.

I think it’d be helpful to take a break from the hurry-hurry-hurry, and don’t feel, don’t feel, don’t feel.

“You ask me, ‘How do you love yourself? How do you accept your flaws and strengths and offer your best to others while trusting they will make allowances for your worst? How do you be a person?’ Later, you also write, ‘It’s like I keep figuring this shit out, and then forgetting it immediately.’ Instead of reading like a cry for help, though, your letter sounds almost like a mission statement. Because even though you feel isolated and lonely, even though you’ve drawn circles around your so-called ‘bad’ behaviors and said, ‘I need to do less of this,’ even though you’re ready to get on the ‘right’ track and start feeling happy and whole, you also paint a pretty compelling portrait of how it feels to be a complex, sensitive, brutally smart human being in the very unpredictable world we live in. You’re doing the best you can. Breathe.” -Heather Havrilesky

“Everything is simple. It’s people who complicate things.” -Albert Camus

“We look down our noses at people who’ve made mistakes. Our superiority makes us feel better. But I’d bet everything I have on the fact that people to claim to have a perfect record — either in love or in life — are either lying or have very limited experience. Someday, unless you are very, very lucky, you will have a story to tell. Or not tell.” -Deb Caletti

{Hiking trail via @brianstowell, Cascade Falls via @meganleevoigt, sun-soaked woods via @nickcarnera, Portland sign via @thespicybee, plane via @caittcallahan, Cape Kiwanda #1 via @steveschwindt, Weaver’s Needle via @kaminskiphotography, sign via @letterfolkco, Portland sunset via @caittcallahan, cherry blossoms via @alison_wu, St. John’s Bridge and Portland waterfront via @jakeegbert, Mt. Hood via @caittcallahan — all on Instagram.}

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