Song of Myself

How a book of essays reacquainted me with my emotions.

Song of Myself

No matter how open a person tries to be, mental health is still a challenging topic to broach. It means different things to different people; it can be intensely emotional; and there’s significant stigma attached to the subject.

As most of my friends and family know, I’m transparent about my longstanding struggles with bipolar II disorder, depression, and anxiety. But there are aspects I don’t often discuss because they’re so painful: how much I mourn the children I’ve decided not to have; how rigorously I work to mediate strong emotions of any kind because I know they can lead to a black hole; and how my life is a continuous calculation of what I can and cannot handle at any given moment.

All in all, these are small prices to pay for the life I lead, and I try to embrace gratitude. Sometimes, though, I’m aware of a blunted sensation, an unwillingness to live too loudly, that makes me sad. If I’m lucky, something comes along to jolt me out of my emotional ennui — which was the case when I picked up Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds recently.

What a force that woman is! I’ve read few other authors who wear their heart on their sleeve so ferociously. “I want to be a baby fawn on the lawn,” Slate writes, “to have spots on my coat that remind people of a mousse-y and chilled refrigerator dessert, and also to shock onlookers by reminding them of how young things are able to be, so young that they are closer to energy than flesh.”

Reading these words, I reeled. It’s been so long since I’ve let myself truly want something, especially something so silly and splendid and soft.

Not so Slate, who bares her soul with every new essay.

“I’m beginning to suspect that I swallowed a rollercoaster and it is lodged between my heart and my stuff,” she opines in one piece. “Am I too big or too small or too much or too little?”

Girl, sing it!

“A Prayer” consists of a single sentence, but it’s a powerful one:

“As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”

“So, yes, it has been a hard day and nobody could say differently,” Slate concedes in “Creed,” continuing:

“But it occurs to me as this long day ends…It occurs to me as I fight so hard with myself that these cruel and persistent voices are the echoes of trauma from the times when people treated me like I am now treating myself. And that, perhaps, it is possible to close an inner door and shut out voices that are not mine. In the last light of a long day, I sit on a chair on my porch and watch the sky drain colors down and out and I realize I want to hear my voice and only mine.”

In one of my favorite YA fantasy books, Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, one’s courage is something that can be scrubbed up and reborn in a special bath made by a soap golem. Combining this idea with some newfound courage spruced up inside me by Jenny Slate, I took the baby step of compiling my own list of wants:

I want to sit under an endless sea of stars in a pine-filled forest and listen to only the crickets and the crackling of a fire. I want to sip lemonade in the dog days of summer and feel it go through me like a citrus icicle. I want to feel the curve of my old dog’s body nestling up against me as I read, close enough that I can smell her scent, assuring me that everything is right in our corner of the vast, wide world. I want to walk in beauty and with beauty before me, behind me, above me, and around me, as the Navajo say, and I want part of my legacy to be how fiercely I loved.

Mariko Hewer is a freelance editor and writer, as well as a nursery-school teacher. She is passionate about good books, good food, and good company. Find her occasional insights of varying quality on Twitter at @hapahaiku.

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