At the retreat this weekend, they asked us to speak about a visceral memory from young adulthood. I went first, unfortunately; otherwise I would have had time to adjust my story to be more along the lines of the others – mothers smelling the tops of their babies’ heads for the first time, men experiencing the first time they ______ (insert base jumping, sky diving or another ubiquitous early 20’s male experience here), a few people sharing extremely frank sexual encounters. But even those didn’t have the shock value of my little anecdote. I think it actually proves that my memory was, in fact, the most visceral, since people seemed to feel ill themselves after hearing it. It was the first thing that popped into my head and I figure, hey, this must be what they want, right? Honesty? So I talked about when I first got into Teach for America and I was at a middle school in Newark with 300 children who seemed to hate me with the intensity of one thousand red suns. I got so anxious about what they were going to do the next day (whether it be rip out a sizeable patch of their classmate’s hair or all 40 fail the same first grade spelling test), that I couldn’t sleep, and a very sympathetic Teacher for America alum/liberal psychotherapist prescribed me sleeping pills, calling them a magical solution to life’s challenges. And they were magical, at night. It was at 5am, when my alarm went off, that I found myself in the “challenging life” part of the equation. My eyes would be glued shut, my systems shut down like a hibernating bear getting being stubbornly poked in the middle of January. The tremors and heaving would continue through the shower, breakfast, teacher’s meeting/beatdown and into first period. The TFA alum suggested exercising the pills out of my system, and although I was down to 134 pounds already from stress, I agreed.
So this is my most visceral memory that I shared at a retreat of HR professionals: each morning I would wake up, get out of bed, and grab my thick, heavy-handled jump rope. Although every part of my body was screaming for me to lie down, give in, I would start to jump rope. Haltingly at first, as my heart figured out I wasn’t kidding and went from 25 bpm to over 200. That started the process. Next I would feel my sweat glands opening and beginning to pour liquid down my face, matting my hair and souring my mouth. This is where I would pick up the tempo as I felt the bile begin to rise in my throat, my stomach alternating between hitching and rolling, my abs contracting in preparation. When I reached this point every morning for over a year, I wanted to sit down, wipe off my face, and just quit. Quit the jumping, the teaching, the trying to be a person who handled adversity in an admirable way rather than with insomnia and BK Broilers. But I kept jumping, went past the point where I could stop, and then felt sweet, indescribable relief as the vomit poured up from the depths of my stomach, powered through my throat and mouth and streamed down the front of me, immediately feeling the sleeping pills vacate my system.
I probably could have stopped there. After all, what working professional hasn’t taken a sleeping pill or two in their time? But I think it was my description of the luxurious time after the vomit, when I described sitting in it and weeping with happiness, absentmindedly rubbing it over my skin before taking a shower and mopping the floor that really turned the crowd against me. I don’t think they were looking for that much of a release.