I don’t know when things fell off a cliff, but they kind of did. There’s been some minor upheaval — a new job, a new relationship that got intense pretty quickly, maybe before we knew whether or not we even liked each other — but nothing to justify this level of me freaking out. I’m miserable and anxious all of the time. My boyfriend says he understands, but I think I am freaking him out. I worry about how much I’m worrying. I’m just a mess. I should just get a grip and stop acting like this, right? Before I screw up my new job and the boyfriend leaves and I drive all of my friends crazy?
Getting a grip is such an interesting image. Your hands wrapped around something, hanging on for dear life. But also, it looks like strangling.
So you got a new job and a new fella, and those are not minor things. Those are things that force you to rewire. Suddenly all of the tiny little routines, all of the things you could count on never really having to think about — your morning schedule, your commute, the default social interactions, sleeping arrangements, the way you abandon teacups all over your apartment — have to be thought about. Re-evaluated. The two places you normally exist, your workplace and your home, are newly strange to you. Even if the boyfriend is only a visitor, he’s there, in your intimate space, and so are all of these tea cups you keep leaving everywhere, and maybe he thinks that is gross and you can tell.
Habits are comfortable, as is routine, and you’ve just had to give up a large number of both. Whereas once you could get through the day sleepily, now you have to calculate a large number of your movements. It’s exhausting. And all the more frustrating because you’re not aware that is what you’re doing. You think you should just adjust, as if you could simply remold yourself into an entirely new shape. But you cannot, dear. We humans tend to snap back into our original shapes, which might not be appropriate, or helpful. It takes work, and you have to give yourself the time to do the work.
In Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole, a man accidentally ends up in a city he does not know, hearing a language he does not understand, surrounded by people he cannot connect to. Unsure of how long he’ll be there, desperate to return home, he fights and he snarls. He spends his time in the shower berating himself for small failures. (A scene that might seem familiar to you.) “He was angry with himself for having set himself a difficult task and failed. He did not dare think back over the last two days since the whole period seemed to be one of muddle and guilt and the feeling that he couldn’t go on like this. That, in fact, was the one thing he could see with absolute, blinding clarity.” It is terrifying, the moment when your life is suddenly unrecognizable. And no book, I think, has captured that terror and the pain of readjusting better than Metropole.
It is good to periodically clear out your old habits, like flinging old boxes out of your basement, making the unconscious conscious. But it’s unpleasant. Probably scary. But as in Metropole, the only real change is possible when your grip loosens. Only then can you really see the new life you are trying to drop into.
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Illustration by Thea Brine.