So This is the Desert, Then
Real talk: I’ve been sitting on this post for quite some time, writing and rewriting it, unable to find just the right words for this muddled grey within me. It’s like those magnetic words that you string together on your refrigerator door. I’m scrounging around this box of scrambled words within me, attempting to arrange them in a way that can adequately communicate the place I’ve recently found myself in.
So let me be straight-up with you: I’m not okay.
But hold up, is that okay to say? Can someone like me who has lived the most pain-free, comfortable life admit something like that without sounding melodramatic, ungrateful and attention-seeking?
My life is better than okay. It’s fantastic. I face no adversity, no trauma, no grief. I have a job with some crazy-awesome people. I live in a beautiful city where the barista at my favorite coffee shop now recognizes me (a personal victory!). I have friends and family that leave me questioning how I ever deserved people this amazing and goofy in my life. I even have a few trips inked on my calendar. I’m no fool to ignore the goodness of my life.
“I’m ready to go.”
That’s what I find myself telling friends when they ask me how life is going.
“I’m just ready to get out of here.”
I have so many friends—from back home and from college—that are moving all over the country and even abroad.
I am so ready for that. I am so ready to pack my bags and follow suit.
I feel restless in Nashville right now, like this city is a sponge that has soaked up all the memories it possibly can, and it’s time for me to move on. Not only am I questioning the place I call home, but I’ve also been grappling with what my entire life purpose is - the worst kind of conundrum for a person like me who harbors a maddening mix of ambition and control issues.
And now that all of these things I formerly felt so assured and safe within—my home, my career, my entire life’s calling—have been swept away, I’m left gaping at my fallen house of cards strewn about the floor, unsure how to even begin to rebuild.
But I don’t like admitting that, so I dress up my “I’m not okay” into something more palatable to both myself and my listener slash reader, in sarcasm and in easy answers like “I’m just ready to go.”
“It’s as though you’re using these sarcastic side-comments as a way to scratch through and write a big LOL across your most vulnerable moments,” Kendall told me about a first draft where I had sprinkled in a fair amount of parenthetical quips.
She’s right. I use humor as an armor. I use laughter as a shield.
You see, I’ve always considered myself emotionally strong. I’ve always thought I was the kind of girl who could laugh off difficulties and throw up a peace sign to show just how unaffected I was by life’s curveballs. I’ve always tried to lock my emotions safely away in a darkened vault in my heart, down one of those creepy Phantom of the Opera-like hallways lit dimly by candles lining the leaky stone walls.
“You’re only allowed to come out when the reason for you is valid,” I tell my feelings as I turn the the lock. “If someone dies, if you experience some sort of immense tragedy, that’s when you can make an appearance. But right now? When things are so objectively good? You have no place in my life. You have to stay down here.”
Turns out imprisoning your emotions doesn’t strengthen you; instead, it just leaves you vulnerable and unprepared when they do break down the cage bars. And apparently all it takes is a fallen house of cards to loose them upon you.
Because let’s be real, I came unprepared for this WHAT-IS-GOING-ON stage of life that I’ve recently entered into. My first few months after college were relatively stress-free. Sure, I was doing the whole job-hunt thing while working two part-time jobs to pay rent, but I still had a goal I was working toward, a future that I could mold at will (or so I mistakenly thought).
Then came July, and with it, me questioning everything.
It’s like I glanced at a postcard from God inviting me on a road trip, saw sand on the front and showed up for it with flip flops and a cute swimsuit coverup from Anthro, only to have God give me a funny look and say, “Lawls nah dude, we’re not going to the beach, we’re going to the desert!”
That’s the best way to describe where I’m at right now: like I’m in the desert, clinging tight to my beach tote and lounge chair because I’d so much rather be burying my toes in a different sort of sand.
So I’ve been praying more. After a “life is going fine therefore all’s good in the ‘hood” dry spell between me and Him, God and I have been chatting a lot lately. In other words, I grumble to Him about the same things over and over and over again. I think God’s asking me to let go of where I thought I was going, to lay aside the tote and chair and fun beach reads, and accept that this is where I’m meant to be right now.
Easier said than done.
“You can’t run away from 22,” my roommate told me one recent rain-soaked summer evening.
That’s what I’m trying to do, isn’t it? Trying to run away from 22 as though a new dot on the map to call home will prove to be an oasis in this desert. Yet no matter how many miles we may roam, we will still be facing the same WHAT-IS-LIFE questions that dropkick us in the face on a regular basis, won’t we?
I feel like no one tells you the truth about 22, really. Sure, they pull you aside, smile pityingly, and reassure you softly, “Don’t worry. You’re not supposed to have everything figured out right now.”
But what these well-meaning wise elders fail to tell you is what 22 feels like. No one tells you that 22 is so much more than a job hunt, a new apartment and maybe a quick trip to Europe to “find yourself.” No one tells you that 22 is really just an identity crisis cloaked in a poppy Taylor Swift song. No one tells you that 22 strips away your entire perspective and leaves your deepest insecurities raw on the surface.
But you can’t run away from 22 (or 23...or 24...or…). You can’t lock away your feelings in a metaphorical heart-vault and pretend that you can control such a delicate part of you. You can’t convince yourself that the desert is really just a beach, because it’s not. It’s the desert, devastatingly beautiful yet desolate and unbearably hot.
I can’t say I’m okay in this desert, and my goodness, does that make me feel guilty, guilty, guilty. How can I not be okay when life is so good?
It’s okay for me to not be okay all the time. That’s what I’m trying to convince myself and what I’m trying to convince you: It’s okay to not be okay in whatever desert you may find yourself in. It’s okay to recognize and acknowledge this, to yourself and to others. It’s okay to feel lonely and confused more than you feel happy and free, and not at all in the best way. That’s just 22 sometimes... that’s just life sometimes, isn’t it?
[Read the two-year-later followup to this post: Returning to the Desert: When Life Feels Dry and Despairing]