This afternoon as I walked to the subway, headed to my desk job between teaching my afternoon and evening yoga classes, I heard something I haven’t heard in years, “Smile, baby, it can’t be that bad.” I used to hear this a lot while walking down the street in my early twenties. Some women got catcalls, I was told to smile. It’s been quite a while since a total stranger has told me to smile. These days I usually have a soft, open expression as I walk down the street. It is not unheard of for me to even walk around with an actual smile. Today, however, I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. After working too many days in a row without any time off and the heat of summer lingering so thickly I was beginning to forget other seasons with cooler weather ever existed, I had slipped back into my hardened shell.
I spent a lot of time being angry in my early twenties. I walked around with a don’t-fuck-with-me-I-hate-life scowl all the time. I used that anger to cover up all of my insecurities and fears. I hardened my exterior to protect my soft interior. I had, in my short life, had what I perceived to be really awful experiences and really great experiences. I was bound and determined to ward off anymore awful experiences. When I let myself feel anything I felt it too deeply, too painfully. I figured it best to just keep the lid of my Pandora’s Box of feelings shut. I hadn’t yet learned that you can’t pick and choose what feelings to block out, you either feel everything or block out everything. I existed in a place where everything annoyed and nothing amazed. Life felt more difficult than it really needed to (or was).
At some point in my life, after lots of shitty experiences and lots of great experiences, and a whole lot of in-between experiences, I began to realize that this was the way things were always going to be and I could enjoy the ride or keep being miserable. I started softening my exterior, exploring the messy, swirling emotions of my interior, and figuring out how to go with the flow instead of fighting everything that came my way. I had begun to think that this new way of being in the world was my new default mode. I assumed that the old, hardened me had been laid to rest. Being stretched too thin, having too many feelings that feel too messy and intense to fully feel, and nothing really going my way right now, I somehow slipped back into that hardened shell. Truth be told, I’m not very happy, but I am very comfortable. I feel like I have slipped on an old, comfy sweater. And yet, as comfortable as I am, I know it is time to crack this shell once again.