I worry that I only share my midnights with you. In the cathartic release of prose, have I only ever given you nightfall? Because there are daybreaks. Moments crescenting like the amber hue on the horizon– slicing through the black to awaken all the sleeping giants. Not every day is an endurance challenge I must outlast. There are good days.
On the good days, I breathe easy. My shoulders, unencumbered by the gravity of going, drop. My lungs spread wide with all the oxygen they can grasp. In a low whisper, anxiety reminds me how fleeting this is, begs me to sweat every second until it is gone. My ears go deaf to that whisper. Good is good. We don’t need to put a stopwatch on it. The bravest thing I do in a single lush moment is to hold it open without expectation. In the continuum of calendared days, I’m not flipping forward or backward. I, with lungs broad and hands spread wide, bask in this temporary joy.
I used to think a good day must be a momentous one. Parades and raucous activity swarm the hours to qualify it as good. Grandure would coil around this window and wrap itself in a bow. These days, it isn’t quite as ostentatious. A good day is a day where I am alive, preferably without any panic attacks. A good day is when I remember my mom is proud of me. I good day is when my body doesn’t hurt, and I feed myself. A good day comes in a smile from the cute barista, a warm text from a friend, a colleague acknowledging my work, and maybe, a good day is just one where I recall how wonderous it is to be alive.
Most depictions of mental illness ruminate on the darkness. I get that. My skull is all too familiar with the all-encompassing force depression and anxiety wreak onto everything. It darkens sopranos into baritones and turns yellows into purples. But isn’t all music sound? Aren’t all the shades color? This is to say that even in those opaque perils, there is a relief.
While hospitalized, I sat there in my gown and socks. I invested years into performing normalcy. With clothes and makeup and jokes, there is a mastery in assuring everyone around you that you are fine. But in this ward, my attire was the megaphone to my mental state. No one had to speak to me to understand why I was there. I really liked orchid pink as a color before I had to put this smock on. The psych ward is cold and crowded. The antiseptic aroma plows through your nostrils. Something that announces its sterility with such gusto is never trustworthy. There are more people than beds or chairs. There’s nothing between you and everyone else. No protection. The withdrawals and traumas and those whose minds can’t permit their stability– all inches away from your face.
I didn’t feel like a person. My powerless body slumped as my soul pounded against my chest to leave. Amidst the panic, in the haze of chaos and concern, I cowered into my seat. If I wasn’t going to be tended to, I at least didn’t want to get hurt. The thing about psych wards is that so many people in there cannot control whether or not they hurt you. You’re confined in this close space where the employees are obligated to operate under legislature that does not necessarily favor the patient.
“There’s that pretty girl again,” rang a voice. It was the same older woman I met as I was admitting myself hours prior. I remembered her remarking on my appearance, and me politely thanking her. She accompanied her adult daughter to this facility, and they sat next to me. The older woman and I began chatting. She didn’t ask me why I was there. No traces of judgment lingered in her eyes. No, she wanted to know about my travels abroad. She perked up as I described how my mother worked for the FBI when she met my father, a Marine, and together, they moved to California. In contrast, she had always resided in Kentucky. My many moves seemed unfathomable to the coordinates of her conscious. Life denied her a college education, and she cooed at my description of two majors and the four years I poured into Ohio State. “I bet your mother is proud of you,” She smiled. “I hope so,” I shrugged. In the eyes of a stranger, I recognized what a life I’ve lived. That doesn’t discount my traumas or struggles. Rather, it amplifies the strength of joy, how it radiates in the darkest of places. Because I have endured, but I have endured while loved, while strong, while traveling, while adored, while connected. The gifts of this complicated existence do not dry up in the suffering.
We talked about life– her seventy years alive compared to my twenty-five. My self-criticism seemed to irk her– how deeply I punish myself for being imperfect. Her creased, thin hand rested on my knee. “You know,” she said, “being happy isn’t hard. People make it hard, but really, it isn’t”. My bottom lip retreated between my teeth, and I nodded. I had no rebuttal. We conversed some more before her daughter was discharged. As she rose from the seat, she turned to me and mentioned, “I don’t get to talk to many people these days. I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life”. A few tears stung my eyelids. “Take care of that one, okay?” She called after the hospital staff as she pointed to me, “she’s special”.
The twelve hours I spent in the hospital traumatized me almost as much as why I went there. In retrospect, I do not know if I needed to check myself in. I don’t know that admitting myself was the best choice for me. Yet, even an emergency room where I was a patient before I was a person, a glimpse of good found me. This does not mean that the other eleven hours weren’t hell. This brief joy doesn’t absolve the agony of my experience. I write about this because joy can co-exist with trauma and despair and all kinds of nasty shit. They do not separate like oil and water.
There are good days. I am learning to cherish them without fearing their loss. It is the same as teaching myself that I deserve good things. So much of my anxiety surges from abandonment. I can count the years of my life in footsteps away from me. And if people leave, why wouldn’t the good things? But everything that left made space for other things to arrive. It is not good’s job to stay. The grace of its presence is the gift, and it’s my responsibility to recognize and show up for my own blessings. Whether the sunshine, or an incredible kiss, or a bouquet of kind words, I no longer obsess over how I will ruin everything. “Let yourself have this, Marisa,” I demand, “Just let yourself have this“.