There are barbells strapped to the corners of my mouth, but luckily I'm a gold medalist in heavy lifting. It didn't always used to be this way, obviously. It takes practice, patience, breaking oneself down, building oneself back up, and repeating that whole process over and over and over again.
Before I go to bed and when I wake up, I do ten reps in the mirror---"Today is going to be a good day"---lift---"I am happy to be alive"---lift---"Today is going to be a good day"---lift---"I am happy to be alive"---lift---"Today is going to be a good day"---lift---"I am happy to be alive"---lift---"Today is going to be a good day"---lift---"I am happy to be alive"---lift---"Today is going to be a better day"---lift---one more---"I want to be alive"---lift.
I stare deep into the black browns of my eyes and I try to remind myself why I'm doing this: because Lesley is the funny girl who is always smiling, always laughing; because there's no way Lesley, the funny girl, feels sadness or anger ; because funny girls like Lesley, who always look at the brighter side of things, can't possibly have triggers. I stare deep into the corners of my mouth which have already found their place holding up the apples of my cheeks.
This is the easy part.
Leaving my room is when it gets tough. In there, it's just me. There are no expectations, no reputations, no stigmas, just me and I don't have to lift for anyone or anything. If I never left though, I would never value patience. Patience comes when you hear that one song with words too similar to his words, when someone says something they didn't know they shouldn't have, when the girl across the room has the same haircut and glasses as the girl that hasn't texted you back for three months, when some tells you you can talk to them about anything.
In all those moments, I can feel the corners of my mouth buckling under the pressure. My muscles are shaking and every fiber in my being is begging me to just let go, let the barbells drop to the floor, let my emotions take control. I can feel tears begin to well in the shallow of my eyes so I close them.
I imagine myself with barbells strapped to the palms of my hands, lifted high above my head. On top of the barbells are people I know, people I love, people that depend on me and my happiness. On top of the barbells are my talents, my hobbies, my work, everything that depend on me and my happiness. On top of the barbells is my past and my future, both of which depend on me and my happiness.
I imagine myself, the one with barbells strapped to the palms of her hands, calling out to me, telling me that she's got everything under control for now. Soon enough we'll be in private, she says, soon enough we'll be behind closed doors. Soon enough we'll be able to put down these weights. When I open my eyes, I remind myself that soon enough I will be okay.
And I am okay. For the most part. I continue with my day and I am okay. I didn't get to be a gold medalist in heavy lifting by just practicing in front of a mirror and being patient. For me to have become as strong as I am, my limits had to be tested and surpassed, tested and surpassed. I had to be pushed to my breaking point so I could know just how to prepare and ready myself for the heavier weights in my future.
It wasn't very long ago when the corners of my mouth gave way and the loud clank of barbells hitting the floor rang in my ears. When I look back at what caused it all, it was merely a joke that flew in as easy as the breeze, nothing I wasn't used to. But it was a joke that examined under a separate light, a brighter light, shows to be one of distaste, of ignorance, of unawareness.
But even then, it wasn't the joke that caused the corners of my mouth to give way, but rather all the unpleasant thoughts it dug up, ones that I hid away deep in the trenches of my mind so I didn't have to deal with them.
How could anyone know that it would affect me that way? Certainly, if this person had known my past and my feelings toward things, they would know not to say those kind of things to me? Or at least this is what I have been saying to myself to justify the situation.
I try to remind myself why I'm doing this: because Lesley is the funny girl who is always smiling, always laughing; because there's no way Lesley, the funny girl, feels sadness or anger ; because funny girls like Lesley, who always look at the brighter side of things, can't possibly have triggers. I stare deep into the corners of my mouth, soft and restful, warn, exhausted.
Exhausted of trying to uphold this image of calm and collectedness, of light and airy fun. There is already enough sadness in this world, what is just a little bit more?
I am nervous of what people would think if they saw me this way. I am nervous that people will leave when they realize that I'm not always as peppy and happy and funny as they want me to be all the time. I am nervous that I'll become a burden to the people that stay around. I am nervous that I'll get too comfortable lying here on the ground. I am nervous that I won't be able to get back up.
And then I remember something pivotal: this isn't the first time I've fallen. I can't remember how I did it back then, but somehow I was able to get back up which means that there's a good chance that I'll be able to get back up after this too. This newfound hope, this rush of adrenaline, this extra boost gets me back up off the ground and because I'm still a little sore, I pick up the lighter weights.
It may take a couple days, maybe even a couple weeks, but I know I will be okay, because I have been in the past. If there's anything I've learned, it's the importance of letting our guards down, to feel, to process, to better move on and become stronger.
I always wonder that because I don't know the person I am without these barbells, if that is a person I would want to be. As I finish this piece, I would have to say no because even though there are barbells strapped to the corners of my mouth, I am a gold medalist in heavy lifting and I am proud of how far I have come.