thick skin.

or: fever dreams in the trenches

no sooner do you cross your doorway than your feet curl out of those binding heels, tall and strappy like the ladder you climb daily.

your toes sink into your rug — an off-white runner not yet discolored by feet trudging across it — and you nearly fall to your knees. or, you would, if you were not wearing a pencil skirt. instead, you discard your shoes, your H&M blazer, your leather messenger bag by the door.

you carry the messenger bag instead of a purse because you were warned against that in a workplace. especially in this industry.

it’s 10pm, and you haven’t been home since 7:30am. your head is a little foggy from the cocktail you had at your networking drinks, and you go to your kitchen, only a few steps from your front door as you live in a tidy studio.

it’s too late to cook: you snatch some cuisine of the lean variety and put it in the microwave, too smart to be eating something so full of sodium but too tired to care.

tired. you contemplate this word for a moment as you watch the microwave count down. then, you force yourself to tidy up as your food cooks, always multitasking, always moving because there isn’t time to be still.

it’s when you’re sitting at your high-top dining table hunched over your nuked food that the bone-aching lethargy hits you.

it’s a feeling that carries you to bed, and clouds your thoughts as you awake at 5:30am to carry out a morning routine meant to make time for what you love, but results in a lackluster workout and several pages written in a delirium of exhaustion instead of by light of a muse.

and when a three day weekend hits, you clear your schedule, save for some socializing and workouts. you go to a few coffeeshops to make some progress on your art. the rain keeps you indoors. the coffee keeps you going.

and yet, the exhaustion still creeps into your blood, and you find yourself most comfortable curled up in bed, half-asleep, reading or watching but not entirely living.

there are times the tiredness lifts: a morning of soft relaxation in the sun spent driving around, windows down, alongside the golden coast. a good, tough run. moments spent at bars, with friends bathed by string lights and good tunes, laughing in a moment that passes just as quickly.

the fatigue is easy to pinpoint but hard to remedy. you were once livened by opportunity; now you are handcuffed by it. a sense of duty. a sense of doing what’s expected, what’s pragmatic.

you think you hit your lowest point that night. on the way to your apartment on a soggy evening, the sky threatening to give way to a storm, you hear a cry: the soft, vulnerable pleas of a cat’s meow. you see it: a black cat, hiding behind a cold metal dumpster. you drop your bag, your keys, and get to your hands and knees on the soaked cement, level with the helpless black cat and its green eyes. it cries again, and when you approach, it hides further back behind the dumpster. tears spring to your eyes — why won’t it let you help? why can’t you save something?

the cat runs into the night. you walk inside, water soaking through the front of your black pencil skirt. you cry because you can’t help. not another living creature. not yourself.

thick skin. you hate the phrase.

it’s a point of pride for the people you meet. one tells you, gleeful, how she just stopped feeling in the face of mistreatment. and how that made her unstoppable.

that makes you uncomfortable, but you just nod, wondering if you’re on your way to this numbness coded into so many job listings. must have thick skin. must be able to suck it up, repress feelings, and get on with the job.

when you get to the page that night and the words ring false, you decide it must be working. you’re beginning to have thick skin. and it’s ruining you.

becoming unhappy is a gradual decline. you find a grey hair. than another. you cry more than you used to, and still admit it to no one because you were not taught to share your struggles because you are not weak. you dream of the what’s next. you have to actively pretend to others that everything is fine, because that’s what’s expected and required from you. you have a job, a place to live, opportunity. what’s there to be unhappy about?

you’re too young to be disillusioned. or at least that’s what you’re told.

you make some changes: you decide to volunteer at a local animal shelter. you reconnect with some old friends. you read widely, and not just for work. you work out and sleep more, and eat better. you write this blog post, deciding it’s probably to personal for the internet, but you post it anyways. maybe one day someone else can read it and get into glimpse into why you felt the way you did.

you’re trying to get better, but you and your new thick skin is the wall between you and others trying to help.

maybe one day you can express how you feel without fear of being seen as vulnerable.

until then, here’s to not feeling a thing.