Disintegration of self
notes from the undertow
Wild Letters is a weekly newsletter about self-exploration, where each Monday I share what I am currently exploring within myself. Thank you for being here with me.
My dear reader.
I write to you today from two distinct places.
The first is a tangible place: my home studio, with its brightly colored and mismatched rugs, stacks of books, walls covered in botanical prints, beeswax candle burning in an amber-tinted jar on my desk, bottles of herbal tinctures placed next to The Artist’s Way on my altar. This place is where I currently sit, fingers on the keyboard, mug of green tea nearby, humid air thick outside the open window.
I am in this place, but at the same time I am in a second place as well. A place with no fixed walls, a place I cannot see, a place I did not choose to go. I have recently begun to call this second place the undertow — a strong current below the surface of everything that has swept me away. Not “away” to somewhere new, just… away. Away from myself, away from groundedness, away from joy. Away from all of the things that used to work but no longer do.
I am sitting in my studio right now, but only sort of. Mostly I am in the undertow, spinning, dizzy, lonely, lost.
It feels to me that I was never not coming here, to this second place, this undertow.
I see the warning signs now, the ones that I missed over the past six months, the past 12 months, the past however-many-lifetimes-we-have-lived-since-before-the-start-of-the-pandemic.
I see them now, all those years of ignored warning signs, I see them blinking back at me, bright and silent, trying and failing to grab my attention. It would be so easy to scold myself for not paying attention sooner, but instead I am comforted by the truth that if I could have, I would have.
Sometimes the pain has to get worse before we will listen.
I am listening now.
It has been 21 days since I said the words out loud, first to myself and then to my partner and then, a few days later, to two trusted friends.
I am not okay — those were the words. Other words came after, words like burnout and depression, words like what is the point of anything and oh my god how do I make it stop.
“Each time I go to open my laptop,” I said to Gent, “my heart begins to race and I feel a painful throbbing behind my eyes.”
I couldn’t believe how awful I felt. I was shocked by it, now that I was actually paying attention. Shocked that my energy was so low that I needed to lay down between almost every single task. Walk the dog, nap. Work for an hour, nap. Go to the grocery store, nap. Had my limbs always been so heavy? It felt like someone had drained all of the blood from my body and replaced it with tiny chunks of lead.
Admitting the truth — that I was not okay — felt like a relief for a few moments, but then it felt like a crisis. I had not touched this degree of inner darkness in a long, long time. How would I ever find my way out?
The first step I took was an intuitive one: I got off Instagram. I did not know how to help myself in any big, profound ways, but I knew instinctively that social media would only make it worse. So I put up a post sharing that I’d be off for the summer, and then I deleted the app from my phone. Gone. The energy it took to do even that one small thing knocked me out; I took another nap.
In the days that followed, I made lists. Breakdown lists, I told myself. Because wasn’t that what was happening? Wasn’t I having some kind of breakdown?
Here are the lists I made:
Things that are draining me; things that I dread
Types of support I think I need, and where I might be able to get it
Changes I think would help (that I can implement right away)
Changes I think would help (but that I am afraid of making)
How I actually feel
How I want to feel
Ways to put rest and recovery first this summer
What it might look like to let myself fall apart
But not ‘fall apart’ in a cute way, I amended in my notebook. Not like some kind of Instagrammable hot mess.
I do not want to be Instagrammable, not right now and likely not ever again.
What I want is to be a caterpillar — hanging upside down and spinning a cocoon around my entire body, within which I will then dissolve. A complete disintegration of self. An unknown period of time spent as mush, as goo, as soup of the self, with no plan for what might come next.
My dear reader.
I am writing this to you in real time, without any answers to share. I am writing as I fall apart.
This, for me, feels absolutely correct. The one thing I know (even when I otherwise don’t know anything) is that writing is my forever portal. I write myself through hard times.
Or rather: and/also, I have slowly realized (and I will share more about this soon, in a coming essay) that a significant cause of my particular burnout right now has to do with so many years of being so accessible to so many thousands of people across so many platforms without clear enough energetic boundaries. Finally understanding this is why I am not using social media right now. It is why I will soon be quitting a few core aspects of my job (taking a massive pay cut, the subject of another forthcoming essay) in order to give myself the desperately needed space to recover and also to eventually (and more thoughtfully) evaluate the kind of business ecosystem I want to build next, based on what I am experiencing now. How many people can one writer, one artist, one facilitator truly hold space for, and in what ways? That is one of many questions floating around me in the undertow, and it is why I will be writing for a much smaller audience here on Wild Letters this summer, only for paid subscribers.
That is the container of reciprocity that feels most supportive to me right now, and the one that will allow me to use my writing for myself (because I know that whatever comes through me comes for me first) while also allowing the writing to be an offering for anyone who is navigating their own hard time, asking their own seemingly unanswerable questions — all without the feeling of over-exposure that I can sometimes struggle with when writing and creating for a much larger audience.
I hope my decision to cocoon, and to temporarily shrink things into a right-fit size for myself, is one that you will understand (and perhaps even cheer for!), whether you are a free subscriber or a paid subscriber.
May we all do whatever we need to be well.
PS - The amount of time I have spent sprawled on the floor and cathartically sobbing to this song over the past few weeks, my god. A true anthem for hard times.