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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Silva

Another year around the sun...

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

On the morning I complete my 36th year of living in this body, I am awake at dawn, eyes swollen from crying myself to sleep. I will, over the next few hours, text my therapist, FaceTime with her, open a birthday card from my parents which will make me cry all over again, light a joint, drink the last tiny bit of red wine left in the glass from last night. We’re surviving a pandemic, a psychic and spiritual war, any number of potential or actual apocalypses. We’ve been surviving for so long. Maybe all life is is surviving.

I’m not actually this nihilistic, though I am feeling a bit like a 21st century lady-Hemingway, what with the joint and the red wine and the gruesome self-loathing. I’m not actual self-loathing anymore either, although my thin-skinned exuberance has once again crumpled me into a pile of tears and ash. For years I existed on this razor-thin edge of emotional destruction. Now it’s more like a quarterly vacation spot. Maybe I backslide when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, which is usually when I’m stretched too thin. A lifetime of grooming to be accommodating will do that to a girl.

A kind male friend of mine texted me early to check in on me, after a slew of vague and distressed posts I made in a grief stupor around midnight, as a solar eclipse I couldn’t witness sent electric shocks through my subtle body. “Life is pain babe” he messaged, along with many kind and supportive words, which didn’t stick quite as much. I think of a quote from The Good Place, one of my comfort food binge shows: “We’re all just a little bit sad all the time.” Because we know we’re going to die. But that’s what gives life its meaning.

I wrote a lyric in the early stages of the pandemic lockdown:

I’m not afraid of dying/I know that when I’m gone

I’ll be at peace and leave memories/behind in all my songs

I meant it when I wrote it and it still feels true. The inevitable ending doesn’t make me sad at all anymore. It’s the pressure I put on myself to make the absolute most of it while I’m here. Not because I believe in any curated ideal of the afterlife (I don’t), but because I feel really lucky to be here, and to be this version of a human expression…after all the ways the patriarchal world has tried to convince me to hate myself, I actually really like myself a lot. I try really hard. I care a lot. Telling the truth matters to me. So does compassion.

Attempting to pinpoint the core of my sadness, my thoughts turn to my mother. I think of all the ways our mothers were abused and all the work they did to protect us, their daughters, from enduring the same abuses. Every woman my age who I’m close to has expressed some version of this awareness. It becomes more difficult and more necessary the older we grow for us to reconcile our evolving identities with our mothers’ shortcomings. They are impossibly hard on us, and then we grow up and are impossibly hard on them. So really, we’re all impossibly hard on ourselves. I’m not claiming that women are alone in this catch-22 as a gender identity, but the source of most of my rage these days is in the patriarchal power structures that condition Women to be the burden-bearers. The silent, passive, beautiful, sweet, kind, loving, accepting burden-bearers.

My rage makes me want to scream in refusal to bear the burdens of others. My own is enough to carry alone.

I don’t actually give a shit about traditional celebratory events, but I do like to be included and I love jumping on bandwagons with vigor and sparkle. I’ve made a big fuss over myself in the past, and I didn’t feel moved to do so this year. The reason I’m a crying puffy mess isn’t really because I feel alone (I don’t). A wound has reopened, and what better time for an emotional bloodbath than a birthday?

And so I turn to autobiographical writing to help me unearth the true root of my suffering. I’ve long adored memoir writing and have been itching to tell so many of my own hard-won stories. But I’ve been neglecting myself a bit in an attempt to “heal” and “get better” and “progress” on some socially acceptable terms. I’ve begun to wonder if maybe the actual healing my heart needs cannot be accomplished on my own, by fixing my credit score, moving into a bigger apartment, making more money, fixing my teeth and taking my vitamins and going to the gym. I’ll keep doing all that shit, sure. But I’ve never been one for tidy reflection…my “meltdowns” are sacred to me. They are kundalini energy unbridled, more powerful than I have yet learned to control. My therapist read my energy and told me my power center was staggering in its intensity. Try living with it. No wonder I’m so perpetually exhausted.

The stories that keep resurfacing are the painful ones…the stories of manipulation, gaslighting, others fucking with my sense of reality to save their own egos. I’m at an age where I’m questioning, constantly, if I’ve ever really had an internal compass at all, guiding me through interactions with potential abusers. Am I, as one such toxic “friend” posited, really to blame for my own mistreatment? Those are the sort of accusations that make me want to give up. On everything. I am not a masochist. I can feel aggressive, violent energy in my tin can of a car as I circle Los Angeles County teaching rich kids how to play violin. Masculine rage has a violent edge to it; Feminine rage gets shit done.

You hear what you want/ignore the rest

You see what you want/my very best

You take what you want/and leave a mess

And move on to the next

Lyrics I wrote about a man who made it his mission for a time to squeeze every bit of love and light out of me and leave me emotionally bankrupt. I was suicidal for most of our affair. When I finally broke away from his attempts to hold me hostage to his own insecurities, he stalked me online and in public, provoking me over and over again, gaslighting me when I expressed anger and pain, refusing to let go of his hold over me. I think he eventually got bored. I moved on to the next devastating trauma bond. Seeing people who used you, took you for granted, discarded you when you failed to serve the narrative they cast you in…all over town, co-existing in spaces that feel fundamentally unsafe based on who occupies them and who celebrates those occupants, never knowing how they’ve demolished your insides and how hard you’ve had to work to repair the damages…and at what great personal cost…these shadows still haunt me no matter how many nightlights I sleep with, no matter how many flashlights I keep on hand. I quite literally sleep with lights on every night, have for years. Occasionally I keep slow burning candles lit for protection. When people tell me to “do some self-care” or “let it go” I want to scream I AM DOING THAT CONSTANTLY. The letting go is less in my mind than in my physical body at this point. My nervous system fucks itself up constantly from mundane interactions in the grocery store to going to events I’m booked to play at knowing there will be someone there who has sent me emails telling me they don’t want to be afraid to see me at a show. Afraid of what? I’ve responded. What are you afraid I will do? Who do you think I am? Has anyone ever seen me bully anyone else? My therapist (and most of my friends) would remind me, it’s not about me. Projection is a solitary game. But what about re-traumatization by a specific person or situation? If someone has bullied me before, why wouldn’t I be cautious of it happening again? But when someone tells me “I’ve been bullied” and that they’re afraid of me doing the same thing to them, are they merely casting me in the role of their former abuser?

Actions speak way louder than words, baby.

My ego is fierce and my temper is vicious. I’ve often coped with despair by puffing myself up, glamming myself out, and bursting into the room determined to outshine every motherfucker in the joint. It’s like theater. You want to see a happy face?? I’ll GIVE YOU a happy face!!! Like an aesthetic fuck you. Fuck you: I’m fabulous. Maybe that should be the title of my first real memoir.

The living is for the stories! It’s for the experiences! It’s for the exquisite privilege of experiencing both pain and pleasure! It’s to be thoroughly used up, as Shaw wrote, when we expire. I want to be of service! Is that what I want? Do I even know anymore? The surviving is so exhausting, man.

I have an appointment next month to see a psychiatrist for the first time ever. I’m hoping to get evaluated for ADHD and treated. I’m 99% sure I have it, it runs in my family. I have this idea that when I get diagnosed and treated for this new/old thing, that life will begin to feel more manageable. I’ve learned that I need to work for myself to be optimally productive and functional. I’ve learned that I need to charge more money for most of my services, and that only I can establish the value of my time, talent and energy. And experience! Which is my greatest currency. With all these experiences though, I need rest. I need space held for me as well sometimes. I’m terrible at asking for help, used to being the helper, though I’ve gotten better at accepting help when it’s offered generously. For all of my growth, I’m still holding myself to an impossibly high standard. Because I know I can reach it! I believe in my own potential, just as I believe in the potential of every small child I teach and champion that potential fiercely. I now champion my own as well. Although it gets difficult to do with minimal support. How does one break themselves out of the habit of self-reliance? Isn’t this the very thing women have been told to cultivate in order to liberate themselves from patriarchal control? What am I doing wrong???

The inner voice says softly, kindly: nothing.


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