The ‘off-ness’ you can not avoid: a letter to myself, and to you

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“To be closed from everything, and yet to feel, to think…This is the truth of hell, stripped of its gaudy medievalisms. This loss of contact.” ― Joanne Harris, Chocolat

Dear self…and you…yes, you,

When you get to ‘a certain age’, you may still not know all that much about anything, but at least you know when, after it’s been creeping up on you for some time, a certain ‘off-ness’ reaches an alarming threshold.

Perhaps your discomfort is sharp and cold. Perhaps it is a dull ache, a slow poison.

And maybe you are genuinely confused. But before you rush to dismiss what you feel, trust that by now you know how to distinguish between the frivolous, melodramatic variety of existential angst and the real thing. Which isn’t simply a whimsical or momentary apprehension but a very serious wake-up call.

It’s happening to you because you ended up in a space ranging from ‘not quite’ to ‘way off’. In some things…or maybe in all things.

You’re not being punished. This is an opportunity. Another one.

Yes, you’ve managed to sustain a role, make yourself walk yet another path of obligation, dedication, investment and perhaps even affection. You did what you thought was best. Or what you were taught you have to do. Maybe to took a chance on something unworthy of your gifts. Maybe you chose something that seemed like a really good idea at the time. And maybe you even made it work a little…or a lot.

But…as you can see, again and again, none of that holds. The masks eventually fall, the props collapse. No matter how pretty they are. No matter what the benefits, the alarms go off. And they keep going off.

Whether it’s a glass of wine shared with a friend that softens your fear…

…or a solitary moment of anger and defeat that boosts your courage…

…or the afternoon light that briefly penetrates the skin of all things to reveal their stunning fragility, allowing you to see…

…or an evening when some piece of music makes you feel painfully, beautifully alive…

…it will happen.

Again and again.

IT.

The opportunity to face the truth about who you really are, what you really need and want, where you are and how far that is from where you need to be. The truth about what you are worth.

And ultimately, also the truth about what you can and must do. Unless you imagine the option of spending the rest of your trek through this human life withering in your own shadow is ‘live-with-able’.

It isn’t.

Yes, you might be filled with dread in a range of dread for which the word dread is insufficient. This ‘off-ness’ is simultaneously ethereal and monolithic. If you fail to avoid it, things will get messy. You can just see your friends and/or family telling you that you’ve gone mad for changing course. You can’t please everyone or address everything, so it’s practically guaranteed some things will be left behind, some people will be hurt, money will be lost (it always is). And more.

Messy. And scary.

Then again, nothing is scarier than continuing to watch that long, funerary queue of regrets forming behind your indecision or outright avoidance. This time or again and again in the future.

Your discomfort will only deepen. The only way to prevent it all is to stop preventing yourself from taking a deep breath and a look at yourself in the mirror.

And then, to do what needs to be done for this person you see staring at you with uncertainty. And also with a flicker of hope.

Asking.

“Will you…this time, will you?”

I know…it’s not easy. Perhaps your life is not all that unpleasant. Or maybe you are simply exhausted.

Perhaps you are small, silent, and you’ve had enough. Perhaps you’re sick of looking at your mistakes, and uninspired by your successes. Perhaps you feel ashamed and undeserving. Perhaps you’ve lost your faith.

And, being human, you fear losing control. At least like this, ‘off-ness’ and all, you still have something.

Whereas facing truth means committing to change. Even a few small steps can fell like a drastic change. And it might seem to you like a suicide mission. Why would you expose yourself to error, failure or rejection? Who in their right mind would walk out of a warm house into what might be, at least at first, an ice storm? And if you barely have the energy to blink, how can you possibly imagine you can swim in what might be the roughest of seas for a while?

And then there’s the other thing…the what for. You remember trying this authenticity thing before. It was hard. You failed at least once, otherwise you wouldn’t be afraid now. Maybe it was all too real, too intense. Life should be easier. Truth brings too much responsibility. And it’s not like you can take a break from it. There will be expectations.

And even if you do everything and give like never before, what difference will it make? Will you get to be who you are? Will you get to be with the person you belong next to? Will you have a job that suits you? Will you finally grow, breathe and be free in your happiness?

Well…

I do not judge or preach…only write to you about what I know. And I know that this truth, this truth I’ve been trying to explain but don’t need to because you know it…can’t be avoided or buried. The ‘off-ness’ keeps coming back, at the edge of despair and happiness alike. It will always be there. Not to scare or hurt you, but to wake you up. To bring you to life. Your life. You.

It’s inevitable…that truth. A guardian angel of sorts, for as long as we draw breath. We are here to live it, to be real. We may be able to cage everything else…our bodies, minds, even our hearts. But this…the knowing, our truth…that we can not cage.

Regardless of where you are and what is going on in your life, good or bad, I know you are scared. And it’s ok to be scared.

But maybe this time, when you read this, you will remember some little detail about what it feels like to be awake for one moment…to feel that bit of magic you had never expected…to feel your soul smile because you are yourself, doing what you’re meant to do, connected. Creating something beautiful. Being trusted, grateful and loved. Belonging in your own life. Being home.

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