This is your reminder to exhale.
Your reminder to unclench your jaw.
Take a moment, notice where you feel tense, and ask yourself, what are you bracing for?
I’ve started to become more aware of the moments when my body is in defense. When I suddenly notice that my jaw has been locked all day. When I realize that my hands were in fists, or my shoulders were nearly up to my ears with how contracted they were, or I notice that I’ve been holding my breath.
And sometimes I notice when my mind gets involved too. My bracing sounds like a lot of prep work in my head, for conversations to be had, explanations to be given to someone, my mind creating scenarios to brace against whatever reactions or responses I think I might receive. Constantly plotting, preparing, sometimes agonizing over the details of moments that have yet to come. I haven’t looked up the definition of “anxiety” in quite some time, but what I’m describing sounds like a textbook case. Instagram infographics about depression and anxiety (as if they operate on some false binary) tend to remind the reader that depressive minds tend to focus on the past while anxious minds tend to focus on the future. As if it were that simple. But we’re not really here to talk about that, and as I’ve mentioned in a few blog posts before, don’t worry about my future focused-ness. My therapist and I are working on it.
I’ve let this post sit for a few days and my bracing then seems trivial compared to what I realize I am constantly prepping myself for without realizing it. Preparing myself, shielding myself, arming myself so that I might be able to somehow go about my day, somehow find joy, somehow find spaces of peace, amidst the protests and the shootings and the health crisis and the constant undermining of basic rights and so on… And maybe my bracing is in the form of mental reflexiveness because as I write about my constant underlying worrying about these things, I have to remind myself and you that I’m coming from a place of privilege here. That I have the privilege to safely sit in my apartment and ~think~ as we “intellectuals” do and write about what it feels like to hold these worries and fears and many others in my body and mind and how that affects my movement through this world, while holding, too, the relative privilege that I have to sit somewhat removed from what’s happening on the street.
Maybe that’s what some of my bracing comes from. From holding so many truths at once. From holding the idea that I can feel both safe and not safe at the same time. I can feel joy amidst the heaviness. I might laugh on a day where I feel like I want to cry for reasons that I’m not quite able to explain. I noticed today as I was signing in the shower, that even my singing holds more complexity than I sometimes feel able to — as I might vocalize because I hear a song I like, I might belt because I’m having a good day, or I might string together some notes to keep myself from letting out a scream. Or a groan. Or a sigh that turns into some other sound that might feel like defeat or might feel like the weight of the heavy that comes with the sometimes-joy might finally come crumbling down around and inside of me.
This writing, like the singing, is another way of calculating the shape of my would-be screams.
Another way of trying to force myself to unlock my jaw.
A way to make my fists unclench by forcing them instead to spread across the keyboard.
Some way to help myself feel “heard”, whatever that means in this context.
Heard by whom? I don’t know. Maybe myself in the hopes that I can look back at this some day and maybe not feel the same, feel better I hope.
When I started this post a few days ago, I was bracing because I was nervous about what a co-worker would “think of me” as I started to work on their project. (And now this is a funny moment as I write this because I’m remembering what I actually wanted to say in this post when I started it then. A rare moment where I’m able to get back on a lost train of thought.) I was bracing because I was worried about what they would think of me and I learned later that it was an instance of me feeling out of control. I was feeling out of control then because I learned via Instagram that people pleasing is one way in which we try to control others’ perceptions of us. So I was feeling out of control because their perception of me is not within my control, and as much as I would like for this to be an easy concept to grasp, an easy cycle within myself to break, I am here to inform you that it is not.
So I was feeling out of control and I was bracing. I was preparing for some rejection. I was preparing for some form of negative reaction from them to the me that they were seeing. I wrote something a minute ago about wanting to be heard in some way, and that is often paired with a strong desire to be seen — but only in the ways that I think are best. But here I am, getting lost again in my train of thought about bracing and something about control and I’m wondering why I care so much about the ways that other people see me that I forget to fully take a look at myself. To see myself, in all my forms, beyond just the things that I want to see.
Are you with me? Just checking in.
So I was bracing then to protect myself from my own project of my insecurity onto what I was thinking my coworker would think of me… Because that makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I stopped bracing for that because I was still trying to push myself through that train of thought today (and we’re in performance review time, which is literally all about getting other people to say what they think and perceive of your work, so imagine how fun that is for me).
This post is starting to feel like a public whine. A public display of what I think the tears would say if they would actually come out of my eyes. A long form stream of consciousness that might be speaking on what this clutching feeling in my chest, what my desire to retreat, is wanting to tell me. So instead of putting it in my private journal I have decided to put it here.
To talk about bracing in all of its forms. And as I think about my privileged forms of bracing I think about the bracing that takes place when I go outside. When I go outside and am reminded that the veil of safety is thin at all times. As a person with a body that is perceived as small, as woman, as an invitation. As a person with skin that is seen by some as an insult, as another kind of invitation, as a threat. I’ve learned to smile really hard with my eyes over my mask to mitigate others’ perceptions about who my body is and what it might do (and let’s not even get into all of the “intellectual scholarship” about Black “bodies” and what they do, who they are… writing that gets so far into the performance, and the socialization, and the display of the vehicle through which Black people actually move through the world — do you ever see anything written about white bodies? Doesn’t it seem weird to you to talk about humans like that?).
Where was I? Right, bracing.
I guess I could keep going until my fingers fall off about all the things that I try to do to make that veil of safety seem thicker than those around me without my best interests in mind would have it otherwise.
I’m bracing, and yet this writing at least right now feels like some sort of release. Like I might be able to go back to binge watching Scandal or maybe paint or maybe sing as loud as I would like to scream and find some space for release. Just maybe.
So if you made it this far, this is your reminder to exhale.
Your reminder to unclench your jaw.
This is your time to take a moment, notice where you feel tense, and ask yourself, what are you bracing for?