Perusing Pain


Photo via Beyond Black Beauty by Assefash Makonnen


PART 1: Perusing Pain


It still stays.

“maybe a better long-term tactic for depression is to say it's ok to indulge in/admit you like the masturbatory practice of wallowing in your muck.”- Facebook Friend

Yesterday, I nearly finished an unopened bottle of wine while I ate pita chips and salsa. I’ve become a light-weight. I laid out, sprawled and folded, into and over mangled sheets and clothes, a corner of mattress peeking out from under the mattress pad.  The bed, the bottle of wine on one side, glass on the other, Girlfriends marathon on TV. The light was dim, but it always is in this house.


So, this is what the brink of madness feels like: an intimate, painful closeness, one gasp for air away from losing all control of where your arms flail to and what comes out your mouth and the kind of look you’ve got in your eyes and how many times you blink per second. My hands feel that weightlessness, that breathlessness, that reactiveness, they tell me I’m about to set off something heavy, something living.

I’m fearful of not knowing what can push me off the brink. Fearful in part because while the brink feels so thoroughly soaked in familiarity, it feels sharply foreign as it rings through my veins because I just can’t pinpoint its origin and why it scares me. These past few months, I’ve nested in this feeling, have packaged it between my hunched shoulders, underneath my belly, at the end of my back.

I’m pretty sure I convinced myself to forget this heaviness, to push it aside when it showed up as dark spots on my back, when it pushed me into lightheadedness and fainting spells, when indifference became the constant. At one point,  I knew the heaviness deeply and maybe at the time, I believed there was a solution, but right now, my washed out eyes are staring at Joan and Maya, and wondering if I should finish this last bit of wine or fall asleep. It doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been told, and I believe, that we inherit our ancestors' pain and memories and trauma and that shit feels a bit too heavy to hold, so I locate the pain in myself. I stare at myself, crying, in the bathroom mirror. I look at the redness in my eyes, scan the glossiness of the whites, the ghostly emptiness fighting to cover these up. I look at the lines on my forehead-all my stress sits in my forehead- I squeeze them together and loosen them one by one, hoping they disappear: they still stay. I let some tears trickle down in small waves, let myself sink into vulnerability and blissful release for a moment before I give my crying self a look-- cold, unmoved, unimpressed, unempathetic, unphased-- and the coolness floods my chambers. I’m back.

Only on 30 minute train rides do lost gazes and droopy faces feel welcome and reflected. That’s why I love the train. Anger and sadness curdle and puff out quick tears, and  faces droop further to make room.  They drip off my face. I let them linger, anxiously, at the roof of my chin before they loosen and spot the pages of my notebook. One tear blotches a letter and I wonder how I will remember or if I will even notice that I cried writing this.

My droopy face paces between dusty, pinkish fingers steaming up the metal pole, and fur hoods claw at my shoulders. Sometimes I think myself into claustrophobia. A stranger's hair flip swipes my face and drapes over my arm. I move my arm. Something about that cup of coffee makes me mad. Sometimes I think myself into claustrophobia. Our butts press. My bag heavy on my feet. My breath heavy on my face. I remember I didn’t eat yet and that on some days, I’m half-way to anemia. Today, it matters. Sometimes I think myself into claustrophobia, I stumble. I wonder what happens to depressed black girls. Fingers press against my temples. Our butts hold onto one another, the coffee clouds, pinkish fingers, coughs on the metal pole, my bag is heavy on my feet. My breath, heavy on my face. breath...I

Is any of this sitting and testing healthy? The way I test and train and measure and condemn in any moment of feeling? It only now occurs to me that it may not be. I’m trying to trace the roots of my heaviness with my fingers, feel the cemented layers and use my nails to chip away the purple wax that has melted over it all. I’m trying to watch how it  blossoms and take notes, watch how it weeds. I want to know its why’s and why not’s and I want to know why the fuck we never met before, why the fuck we never shared ourselves with each other. What the fuck were you hiding from? But is any of this healthy?



It was as dramatic as I had meant it to be. I meant it to be indulgent and pathetic and lazy. Masochistic, I guess. I wanted to sustain the depth of my sadness, draw it out so I could dissect and feel every boil and ridge and sweat pool. I just felt sleepy. I didn’t feel worse, I didn’t feel better. I didn’t come to any real realizations, I just sat in it. I contemplated possibly slipping into alcoholism, thought about how marvelously indulgent it would be for me to just slip into sitting in my shit for a couple more months. I woke up hungover. It’s not funny, but it is.

Assefash Makonnen is an Ethiopian-American black girl, who is dedicated to community building, inspiring compassion for self and others, and always honoring a revision process. Find her on twitter at @AsMakonnen for more on race, gender, public space and mental health. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Urban Studies and Africana Studies.