Increasingly in the last few months, there’s a mystery scene that plays in my head when I’m anxious (and probably crying). It appears as 3-second GIF of this girl who just wails, “We can’t keep stopping and starting like this.” Sometimes the scene has a caption, sometimes it’s just her voice. I have no idea where it’s from (if you recognize it because it’s some NC-17-rated thing, let me know — my library of horny-sad content is *too* slim right now), but it’s been appearing a lot more.
It is how I’ve felt, a lot, with my continuous effort to make it through the year of our Lord COVID-19. Starting and stopping, like driving in rush-hour traffic, where half the experience is self-induced whiplash. I’ve made some progress — maybe enough progress, where leaving my slow lane would feel like a loss.
And yet in the event I do complete a thing, it’s been hard to feel accomplished. Most of the time, I’m just exhausted. After I shared this with my therapist, she said, “It’s because your brain is too full.” Turns out, I’d spent so much time worried about losing progress that the fear of failure ended up defining my experience. Crossing the finish line wasn’t enough, for me to exorcise accumulated stress.
Christobel Hastings (and my therapist separately confirmed this) describes this feeling as a nasty side effect of hustle culture, poisoning my capacity to be uncomfortable with inexperience. Which made me realize that to really start over, I had to value inexperience. And I’ve been practicing that a lot: accepting the reality that starting over doesn’t mean starting from where I last stopped but rather back at the beginning.
As Paola de Varona points out: If escapism isn’t possible (because of finances, career prospects, and life), spending your time dreaming rather than living could be more damaging to your mental health. It’s like wondering why you haven’t moved in traffic without realizing cars have been cutting in front of you.
I had that “I’m stuck and I’ve got to move” moment this May. The pandemic had turned my formerly secure living situation into a stressful, trauma-triggering routine, so I’m ditching this lane and moving. My stomach churns at the thought of having to start over, especially in another city, but fortunately, Reina Sultan moved before I did. She’s graciously outlined her guide to safely boxing up your life in the era of COVID for us.
But resets aren’t only physical. We tend to forget how often the internal ones happen too.
If you’ve ever had to rediscover yourself after a breakup, you know what I mean. That sage advice has led me to discover that I’m, in fact, a very needy, sensitive person! I value validation and affirmation way more than I realized, and asking for it has been hard. But I’ve found a lot of help in this guide to building healthy communication and relationships by Elly Belle (whom I’ve unofficially declared an intimacy expert for Greatist).
The old story about anxiety goes like this: Our bodies were once really good at telling us to pay attention to something, but when panic attacks happen over something we think shouldn’t be a big deal, we might minimize the warning.
Minimize or ignore your body’s warnings enough times and, instead of panic attacks, you might find yourself unable to do “basic” things like eating (hello, me) or watching TV. That’s your body’s way of shifting energy so you can do whatever else you’ve prioritized — which, if you’re not eating, is not yourself, FYI.
Truth be told, I didn’t realize how much I sucked at taking care of myself until I read Rachel Charlene Lewis’s entry for our new series “Ready, Rest, Reset.” I’d asked her to write about what a perfect day of rest looked like, and I was in awe when she chose a weekday, not a weekend. Reading it nearly made me cry as I realized that yes, a day that makes me feel energized and restored does, in fact, include work. Like I said, restoration can’t be defined through escapism.
The reality is there are some things, from living among police brutality to living with mental health conditions, that we can’t just reset away. As oppression and injustices around us continue, this is a reminder that ignoring the past would be a disservice to starting over. When reading this piece about learning from protests on the streets, I was reminded that it’s not just my fight or flight I have to listen to but others’ fight or flight as well.
To reap the benefits of starting over, don’t expect to be starting from the same place. See it as acknowledging inexperience and where you are now as ground zero. Give yourself a chance to shift your perspective and reflect on what isn’t working.
It doesn’t matter how old I am when I start those things if I can prioritize the self-compassion I need to grow and make mistakes and if it means allowing myself to ask for much-needed validation or comforting guidance.
The best part of embracing starting over, though? It’s that then age truly is not a number but a story — it allows me to be, in my truest Aries state, and unironically say, “I’m baby.”
Christal Yuen is a senior editor at Greatist, covering all things beauty and wellness. Find her musing about therapy on Twitter.