I spent a lot of time in August thinking about how fucked-up and traumatizing the past year of my life has been. August is always a rough month for me, as the two most difficult things I’ve lived through both happened the first week of August, in different years. But taking inventory of what I’ve dealt with over the past 12 months has been a different beast altogether.
In the past year I’ve gone through two job changes, four months of the most toxic professional experience of my life, and the person I loved breaking up with me basically out of nowhere. Beyond that, there’s trauma around the good things that have happened.
I’ve run two half marathons and am in the process of qualifying for next year’s NYC Marathon. Before 2016, the farthest I’d ever run was five miles. Believing I’m not a runner is only one of the stories I’ve stopped telling myself.
I’ve gone from believing I had an anxiety disorder and a broken brain to having basically no stress in my life and reincarnating the Type A, hyperorganized, clear-thinking Business Kat I thought was Old-Taylor-style dead. I’m newly bereft of the constant feelings of guilt and failure that had been my companions for seven years. I love and forgive myself daily, and most of the time I truly believe I am perfect exactly as I am, flaws and all.
I’m less judgmental and more optimistic. I’m palpably less afraid. I can detach from outcomes and trust in the universe with the most spirited of spirit junkies. I believe in The Power of Now.
But all of this is unfamiliar territory. All of it seems to apply to a person who is not me.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to let someone get to know me when I’m not even sure I know me anymore. I’m usually warm and open and easy to learn. But now I have walls up, and I don’t know how to tear them down. Instead, it seems like I’m always trying to build them higher. Where I look for the unwavering romantic I used to be, I find something more akin to an acerbic witticism generator.
I’ve barely cried this summer. I actively avoid crying by never letting myself think about what I’ve lost, or more accurately by only thinking about the bad times. I think about the Sunday tantrum instead of the perfect weekend that preceded it. I think about the panic attacks that accompanied flurries of texts instead of the serene summer morning spent kayaking. The times I felt scared, not the times he was the only person who made me feel safe. When he told me I was incapable of empathy, that I wouldn’t be a good mother, that I didn’t appreciate the things I had — not when I was exceptional, a goddess, the best woman.
I spent this summer trying to run away from what was left of my life. I went to Florida, Mexico, Cape Cod, even fucking Indiana. I made new rules: If I start feeling like my life is pointless, I do something kind for someone else. If someone or something disappoints me, I eat burrata.
I have eaten a lot of burrata.
When I was in town this summer, my schedule was full. Tuesdays were my only free weeknights in July and August, and most of the time I filled them up as well. I dodged plans with people who hadn’t had a front row seat for what I went through during the first third of the year, unless they could provide a sensory distraction from it. I didn’t want to tell the story again. I still don’t.
I’ve been distancing myself from the person I was. I don’t cry, I don’t get anxious, I am zen and above it all. The person still suffering from emotional whiplash, well, that’s someone else. I’m a shiny new person with an always-clean apartment and Crème de La Mer skin and minimalist clothing you can only buy in Copenhagen. I manage my stress through a steady diet of self-help audiobooks and an endless roster of races.
I want to take the average of where I am and where I was. I want to believe I can fall in love again — hell, that I can fall in trust again — but I need to do it with my eyes wide open. I want to remain aware of my emotions without trying to control them so tightly. I want to get through my to-do list but still have blank dates on my calendar. I want to be at peace yet feel a deeper sense of urgency around what I intend to accomplish. I want to meet someone I’d commit arson for without letting him burn down my life.
I fell down an internet rabbit hole recently that led me to the final stanza of the Mary Oliver poem “Starlings in Winter.” It’s one of the only things that makes sense to me these days:
I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.