By Ilene Preston (she/her)
IG and Twitter: @ilenethebean
A writer based out of the American west coast, Ilene writes fiction and short nonfiction to make sense of the challenges the world brings us. After gaining an education from Chapman University under the BFA of Creative Writing program, she has used writing as a tool for social commentary and to showcase a light on the depths of understanding needed to make a change in the world. Art is more than a tool for expression, but rather a torch for change.
The I of the Storm
My therapist gave me a list of things to do when days are tough.
Hug a pillow. Right up to your stomach and with as much force and comfort you want that pillow to bring you in return.
Write in a journal. Then burn the pages and smell the smoke flaring off the pages.
Twist yourself into a pretzel on a yoga mat before laying down on your back for an hour staring at the ceiling.
Meditate for some time, listening to nothing but your mind rage while you tell it to shut up, your friends don’t hate you, your dog is fine, your family will be okay without you, drown in the white noise of silence instead.
Take your daily dose of Celexa. Or a Xanax you snuck out of your roommate’s room. Oh, or try magnesium supplements for your muscle tensing. Or CBD. Oh, sweetheart, here’s some anti-nausea for the side effects. Maybe try taking them a different time of day? Here, just take this new prescription for the higher dosage.
Hold your breath to seven. Hold your breath then breathe while imaging a Ferris wheel going up and down. Plug one nostril while breathing through the other. Then repeat. Then repeat.
This process, these “coping mechanisms,” all prescribed by every therapist I ever saw and what every top ten list those lifestyle bloggers want to preach out to you with their pastel pink “Mental Health Week!” infographic story post. Go exercise, go eat right, go see the sun, pet an animal, talk to your friends, go for a walk, turn off your screens, the list just goes on and on and on and you’re stuck, right there, right in the eye of the storm of advice mixing with the dark clouds spinning around you. Around and around they circle, and you’re meant to center yourself in the mix of it. “Find what works for you!” “It’s different for everybody!” “Choose mindfulness!”
Words, phrases, cliches, stereotypes, pity, frustration, all thrown at you. The storm is dark, but it’s bright, it’s blinding, impossible to not get dizzy in its flurry. It surrounds you and your every thought and action. Attracts the guilt from not being able to handle it all at once. The frustration of the juggle for a balanced mind. A sense of peace that they make sound so easy to obtain, if you would just change your mindset. “A positive mindset leads to positive change,” Pam would tell me. But when the storm is inside of your mind, how are you meant to just center yourself inside of the swarm?
But you can. And that’s the hardest fight inside the tornado, is that They’re right. They give you the advice and the tools, and you find what works for you. But you pick and choose, it’s never all at once. The neurotypicals can do it, They can take it all in at once. That works for Them. But for you, for me, it’s taken in steps. Brush your teeth once a day. Or once every other day. Call your friend back—wait no, text them, that’s easier than confronting them and hearing the concern in their voice after you went M.I.A. for four months. Screw the meditation, listen to an escapist podcast to shut the voices up instead. The Ferris wheel looks insane to your roommates, visualize the wheel instead, your nose is too plugged for the other exercise. Sit outside on the balcony, you don’t need to go for a walk quite yet, just sunbathe in a beam of light for some morning exposure. Or sit outside with your dog when he’s sunbathing and let him train you for a change.
These steps can be taken, but gradually. Oh so gradually. You don’t fight a thunderstorm with your fists in full swing, you wait it out inside your home while glaring at the clouds from the window. And it passes, slowly, but it passes. You learn that you can’t spend all your time committed to glaring at the clouds from the window, you join the Others in doing a rainy day puzzle to wait out the storm. You don’t have to smile and laugh and make jokes with them quite yet, but you can start by unfurrowing your brows and joining Them in company. A compromise, between you and Them. Their hands are outstretched, and you can lift a pinky at a time towards Them. You can center yourself in the hearth of the storm outside under a mindset of self-guidance. To change your life motto from the sick fakeness of “Everything is okay!” that They appear to doctrine to the more obtainable “I can be okay, even when everything around me is not.”