My search for resilience begins here
There’s a special kind of rage that comes with a New York City heat wave. I felt its crackling electric shocks against the back of my neck as I stopped at the subway turnstile. A much taller woman stared me down on the other side, pushing her way through even though I’d just run my card through the reader. The hostile confrontation lasted seconds, but a ball of fury pulsed in my chest long after, as I stomped my 25-minute route through the garment district towards Penn Station.
It was still with me when I finally arrived on the block of my office. As I passed the backstage area of an event center I saw barricades covering the sidewalk. I followed pedestrians in a huff into the street around parked cars, where a roadie motioned for us to cross the street to the other side.
Any other morning I would have followed orders. But not that morning. I’d already been bullied once and besides, I’d just have to cross back over to the same side of the street again to get to my building. And anyway, where did these people get the right to make us cross in the middle of the street without any orange cones or anyone directing traffic so we don’t get hit by a truck and die? I ignored the roadie and kept walking straight ahead.
He yelled at me. Of course he did. I yelled back, “I’m going to my office, it’s right there.” He got up in my face. “Cross to the other side, cross to the other side, didn’t you hear me?” “Fine!” I yelled back. “Fine, I’m going!” But that wasn’t enough. He was so outraged at my disobedience that he followed me, still yelling. “Stupid bitch, the fuck are you doing, get to the other side, get to the other side!” “Stop yelling at me, I’m going, don’t you see that?” I snapped back. “ I’m already on the other side. Stop yelling at me!” “Shut the fuck up bitch get to the other side!” We kept going like that, in the street, yelling at each other, locked in a pointless duel of volume and fury. I turned to screaming. “Stop yelling at me stopyellingatmeSTOPYELLINGATMESTOPYELLINGATMEYOUSHUTTHEFUCKUP!”
I can't recall how this ended. All I remember is everyone standing stock still on the street, watching. And then I was walking to my office, a sick high jangling the nerves all over my body. Somehow I made it into the building, up the elevator, straight to a sofa just outside the office pod where I worked. I collapsed and sobbed for 10 minutes.
I don’t remember which came first in my Summer Of Stress (SOS, heh)—that meltdown with the roadie or coming down with shingles. But it was that kind of summer.
To be clear, I brought a lot of my stress on myself. I was grabbing all the ripe, purple figs on the tree of options and gobbling them all up as fast as I could in a frantic, 21st-century middle-aged reversal of Sylvia Plath paralysis.
There was the big move. left my home of the past two decades in Brooklyn for the suburbs with my 12-year-old son and my boyfriend of 3 years. We had been steadily, methodically merging households for the past 2 years, but this would be the first time we were all under just one roof. That’s going to go perfectly smoothly, right? Of course it is.
There was the commute. It’s only 40 minutes into the city on an express train. But from Grand Central I had to make my way to a point diagonally west, beyond Penn Station, almost to the Hudson Yards. My choice was either a two-train subway trip or walking 25 minutes each way. I chose walking because screw giving the MTA more money just to shave a few minutes from my commute.
There was the apartment to sell. I had an empty home, uneven walls filled with holes and cracks, that needed some TLC before I put it back on the market. For the second time. The first sale had fallen through when my coop board rejected the buyer. They said the price was too low. I said it was market rate for the size. They said it was bigger than I thought it was. I had it measured. They were right. I hired an unlicensed relative of my former agent to paint and repair and delay and delay and argue with me.
There was my dream job as the editor of the food and home channels at a women’s website. Like so many editors at most online publications I labored under the unrelenting pressure of growing traffic numbers while expanding the verticals’ vision, giving the people what we know they want while enticing them with what they do not yet know they want. Leading without leaving anyone behind. Never feeling like I was doing enough, feeding the insatiable beast.
There was the election, which had nothing to do with me. Except for the way Donald Trump’s Trumpiness filled the air like hazy red dust. New Yorkers were choking on it. Many of us hoped it would be over after November when Hillary Clinton was elected. (BITTER LAUGH) But we knew the hate genie had been let out of the bottle and would be hard to put back.
There was my new fitness addiction. Under the circumstances I decided now was the perfect time to take up Crossfit. Begin my work days with a hyper-intensive workout? At 6:00 a.m.? At the age of 45? Sign me up!
I had this prickling sensation in my back that wouldn’t go away. I did slow breathing exercises. At the advice of a colleague I read The Worry Cure by Robert Leahy. I did yoga. I did everything I thought you were supposed to do when dealing with that kind of self-inflicted stress we New York professionals bring upon ourselves. But I could tell from that prickling sensation, and then the shingles, and the street screaming, that my nervous system was pissed at me and that I’d better figure out how to bend or I’d break.
I wish I could tell you I had some dramatic epiphany where I figured it all out. But that’s not what happened. Little by little the heat of summer let up. I put some healthier cognitive habits into practice. I came up with a new rule: no wine unless I’m already happy. My apartment sold for a higher price. My little blended family had some important breakthroughs.
Through a series of small changes the pressure let up. The prickling sensation stopped, mostly. And then came the big change. On a Tuesday in January I closed on the sale of my apartment. Two days later I was laid off from my job. I cried out of relief. And then I took a step into the unknown.
So now what?
Very few people in this world get the chance to take a break and regroup. This moment, this pause in my life is a gift. I’m thinking about what I want to create. I’m picturing how I want my life to feel. I’m listening. And I’m meditating on the elusive attribute, resilience.
What is it, how do we build it, how do we make it last, how do we call upon it when pressure threatens to break us. I thought I had it until this summer. Now I’m learning all over again. Because this pause won’t last forever. I will feel the pressure again, and I want to be ready for it.