You are tired. Exhausted. Your bones are aching. Your muscles are sore. Your eyes are saltier than sea water but it’s three o’clock in the morning and you can’t sleep – for no reason other than sleep eludes you. You’ve done a yoga for sleep and relaxation routine. You’ve tried deep breathing. You’ve had two cups of chamomile tea. You’ve counted sheep backwards right up to 696. You’ve started to make up names for them – Dora, Susan, Lola…You have even tried to visualize a blank space, a happy place, but the inside of your mind is like a bull-fighting arena in Ikolomani. Your thoughts are running amok.
Every time you start to fall asleep your body jerks awake, but eventually, you nod off for an hour or two. A few more weeks of this and you’re depleted. Empty. You have to figure out why you’re not sleeping, why your mind is on overdrive and why you are so gosh darn tired. It seems obvious, yes? You’re not getting enough sleep. But you’re wrong. This particular strain of weariness is one of the soul.
You see, every time you fall out of alignment with yourself and your purpose, Soul starts to warn you. Whispers at first, because soul is gentle. Every time you look back, you will remember the red flags you mowed down along the way, that gnawing you had at the back of your mind saying, “Stop. Stop now. Turn the other way. Take off. This isn’t you.”
But of course, you didn’t stop, didn’t turn the other way, heeded not a single nudging from your intuition.
You get swept up in the winds that draw you further and further away from yourself, subtly at first. They carry you like the wisp of a cloud on a day when the sun is hanging just right, and the shade of blue in the sky reminds you of the happier days in your childhood. It’s exhilarating.
At every turn Soul says, “It’s not too late. You’re not too invested. You can make a clean break.”
Do you listen? Fat chance. When she starts screaming like a famished, prepaid Kenya Power meter, you drown her out with idealizations and rationalizations.
“I’ll stop when it stops being fun,” you say.
She stops wailing. You wake up one day with a kink in your back and when you go outside someone says, “Beautiful day, eh?”
And you nod yes but when it blows, you realize that you can’t feel the breeze tickling your scalp anymore. When you draw a deep breath in, you end up coughing instead. You are choking on that silence in the inside. There’s a ringing in your ears that you can’t shake.
You go out for a walk.
You go out for a swim.
You pick up a book and read the first paragraph eighteen times.
The inevitable breakdown engulfs you one morning at 7:00 AM. You’ve been awake for 36 hours straight and the swollen dark circles under your eyes are a testament. It comes in the form of an axe splitting your chest open, but nothing falls out. Everything you’ve been repressing, the words you refuse to speak, the tears you swallow back, the emotions you shove down there – they have all crystallized and fossilized. Now your chest is filled with solid, black coal and it will not fall out.
Every first attempt to undo what you’ve been doing and fall back into alignment only shakes loose scattered tears and emotions you can’t piece together – soot.
But it’s a start.
Your recovery road begins in turbulence. It finally dawns on you that the reason your soul is so depleted is that once, you said yes when you ought to have said no.
Twice, you said, “I’m fine,” when what you were screaming on the inside was, “You’re losing me! I’m slipping from your grasp and you don’t even know!”
Thrice, you held your tongue when you should have squared your shoulders and said, “This is not what I believe in.”
Four times, nursing a drink you didn’t choose in a lousy club, with terrible music, you wondered, “What in the world am I doing here? I don’t even like these people.” But you stayed.
“Get up now. Say you have to leave,” Soul said.
But you didn’t.
You want off that slippery slope something bad. You skid, grasp at the air, tug on roots sprouting from the mud and claw your way out of there on all fours.
It is not without shame. You see the folly in thinking that you could ever make a person do anything by shrinking yourself, contorting yourself to fit their shape-shifting needs, chasing moving goalposts like a rat in a closed maze.
You laugh the kind of mirthless laughter that prickles your eyes with tears.
You are terrified, because in the realm of misalignment, you created a persona that’s grown stronger than its host has. Finding yourself again should be as easy as completing the statement, “I am…”. “I choose to be…” Yet you are paralyzed, impotent, lacking in willpower. Inside that kink in your back is lodged a persona who longs for the excitement of misalignment, unashamedly fantasizes about it.
But you don’t quit taking walks and you don’t stop going swimming. Gradually you get past the first chapter of that book, although you will have to reread it in two years, because that false start fogs up the whole book – but you are reading again.
One afternoon you will duck into a Bata shop at the Hilton – if only to get out of the hot sun – and you will realize that, “Hey, I can feel the sun on my skin again. I can feel the draft of the air conditioner in my scalp!”
This time, when you draw your breath in it will fill up your lungs the way a helium tank fills balloons.
“I feel like I’m floating. I’m floating! I’m floating!”
The squeaks of your Soul, finding her voice again.
With a new spring in your step, and with the universe now rallying behind you, sending a flurry of smiles from strangers your way, you feel the tentacles fused in your spine begin to unwind, one by one.
That evening, the smell of fresh leather still tingling in your nostrils, you take out your feather duster and wipe down your contact list unsparingly. It is a spring-cleaning that is long overdue, the final crux, before you step into a long stretch of slept-through-the-alarm mornings.12