Surely, You Must Know

Writer: Alicia Lutes
Editor: Mica Arbeiter
Reader: John Tessitore
Producer: Mike Esposito
Photographer: Unknown

She said it with the sort of exasperation that only comes from really caring. It wasn’t ignorance, it was loving desperation. It was pure in intentions, but that didn’t make it hurt less. “Surely, you must know how smart and beautiful and amazing you are.” She was trying to soothe the tears neither of us was were prepared for, here anticipating appearing in the middle of a too-hip Los Angeles bar on a Sunday night. But here we were: a dear friend from out of state, visiting for work, who had clearly seen me, her friend, struggling very openly on social media the past few months and, was trying in earnest to set me free from the thoughts that plagued my mind. “You just gotta...stop.”  Some phrases can utterances make a person feel broken and incompetent. This is, unfortunately, one of them. It unlocks the door to the voices you try so hard to suppress. You’re enabling your most selfish, infantile—self by allowing yourself to feel this way. If you just pretended not to listen, the voices in your head—your depression, your anxiety—criticizing every single aspect of your being, would just…stop. By the transitive property, if you act happy, you will be happy. Your mental state as a performative trick. Simple. I cried even harder. I didn’t want to.: I didn’t want my friend to feel as though she’d made it worse. And I was mad at myself for crying, the subsequent self-hatred building the more the tears came. Not because I felt that her comment showed some level of misunderstanding about how depression and mental health works, but because it was all I wanted to do. To just stop? I would give my tits (which I love dearly), to feel such a moment of calm so of simply. I speak mantras to myself in my head, hoping one of these days I'll be able to put an “X” across my emotions—capture them in a ritualistic, salted circle like the mental demons that they are—and immediately render them moot. In my most luxurious of daydreams, I am the sort of person who just breathes. Who is present. Who feels a sense of calm and inherent security in my own existence and being. A person who believes it when others tell them nice things. Someone who doesn’t immediately assume that they’re the work of a friend person feelings obligated to do so in order to build me their beloved back up, or a stranger trying to make an awkward interaction with a stranger less so. I could get drunk on the thought. I often do: Maybe I could just stop. : If I just breathe, take a few baths, dodid some yoga, meditate, and ignore the gnawing voice at the back of my mind, maybe I could just…stop. Thoughts are just, well, thoughts after all. : j Just push them out of your mind. Bury it and forget, like Kate Bush sings. They only have power if you give it to them, after all, yes? Surely, this would be easy—when the thought comes, banish it away! Tell yourself the reality others impress upon you: you’re kind, you’re smart, you’re doing your best. You’re not the burden your mind’s convinced you are. Your intentions come from a place of compassion. Your brain chemistry is a powerful thing. Smart, unafraid, instinctual. Hard-wired. I’m not a scientist, but I know chemistry affects synapses and also create physical things;: not just emotional responses but corporeal feelings—your heart races, limbs go cold, sweatiness, feeling dizzy. Sometimes thoughts beget these things, and other times it’s vice versa. To reverse ingrained reactions, responses, thoughts, and feelings related to one’s sense of self—especially when the prism through which you experience these things is warped and tarnished—is a Herculean task, particularly when you cannot control outside interlopers. Every negative response my brain or body has to something I “surely must know” is immediately followed by an internal conversation. “No, don’t think that.” “Come on, just breathe.” “You brain is just telling you this because you already feel sad.” “It’s okay, your body is betraying you.” “Just because this feels like the logic, doesn’t mean it is.” “It’s okay to feel, to take up space, to have boundaries.” “They wouldn’t say those things if they weren’t true.” “No, this rejection does not mean you are completely unworthy.” “Have compassion for yourself.” “This doesn’t mean you’re a burden that shouldn’t be alive.” “This doesn’t mean they don’t love you." But the negatives fight back, they love to fight back. And they do it so well. You, on the other hand, are supposed to exist outside this raging battle, this internal war upon the sea, and stay out of the churn. You’re expected to believe that, in spite of how very real this clash may feel, if you lie to yourself and the world, if you plug up your ears and pretend the pain is not real and yell about how great it is that none of this is happening, the truth will be revealed. And you’ll just…stop.  After a few moments, my friend touches my arm. I looked down at the ground, ashamed at how the word “stop” had made my ears thrum, my face grow hot as tears spilled over. My heart was lost somewhere in my stomach, and I tried to ignore all my racing thoughts. “I try…every single day,” I said. There’s a rush of guilt that washes over me for admitting it now, that this exchange had truly gutted me. I adore this friend and don’t want her to feel bad for simply trying to show that she cared. But I guess that’s the struggle of talking about these things: hurt begets hurt begets hurt, when all we want is to feel a little better. To slowly build ourselves up. To remind ourselves and each other. To feel stability, maybe even a little bit happy. It's hard to do that when unintended pain feels inevitable, you know? And yet, we must carry on.