On Soft Love

It feels like everyone is going through it right now. Normalcy has been tossed out the window and each day is spent grasping at strands to weave it together again. There has been so much change, monumental change, in such a short amount of time – yet somehow, change still isn’t coming quick enough.

The past few months have been a wild ride, for my personal life and for the world. On May 1st, I drove out to Alabama with Tom. I turned 23 on May 5th somewhere in Mississippi. We celebrated our 7 year anniversary on May 11th. We spent a month buying furniture, stocking the fridge and pantry, visiting the local farmer’s market, and planning my own move back at the end of June. I kept pinching myself over the fact that I now lived with my best friend and high school sweetheart.

When George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020 and protests erupted across the entire country, I sat in my room with a pit of rage and helplessness in my stomach. I signed petitions. I donated. I researched and listened and educated myself – and will continue to do so forever, as best I can. I scrolled through Twitter obsessively and saw videos and stories and voices that weren’t being shown on major news channels.

On May 29th, I went to my sister’s 8th grade graduation ceremony, which was held in the parking lot, from our car. On June 22nd I packed up my belongings, rented a trailer from Uhaul, loaded my cat in the car and drove to Alabama with my mom. We arrived on June 25th. Since my mom left on June 29th, it’s just been me, Tom, and Gnocchi.

So why are all those random dates important? I guess they’re not, really. But it feels important to remember just how much personal and societal upheaval occurred in such a compact amount of time. I only recently realized that my body was harboring all that change, unable to process it fully. I can’t remember when it started, really, but I was looking back on a week at home, here in Alabama, and I realized I didn’t really feel anything. It was like looking at a photograph of strangers – sure it’s a nice picture, but it doesn’t hold any importance to me.

What was even more strange was that as I realized this I didn’t feel freaked out, even though I thought maybe I should; I just felt numb. And this strange sense of removal, like watching my life happen from an outsider’s perspective, continued on. There were moments that I did feel something – Tom making me a whiskey cocktail and doing face masks with me, Gnocchi rubbing up against me, watching New Girl, having dinner with friends – but the emotions were fleeting and that sense of blankness always returned.

I saw a woman named Kali talk about tough love on her Instagram story today. She was out on a walk, even though she didn’t want to be, because she knew that getting outside in the sunshine and moving her body would make her feel better. I had never thought about tough love as something you could give yourself – I had never really heard of it in any context other than something you project upon others. But it really resonated with me, this idea that sometimes you have to force yourself to do something for your own good.

I had come up with a bazillion reasons not to workout today – I could just push the workout schedule back a day, I didn’t have a clean sports bra, I felt anxious and tight-chested, I didn’t want to have to take a shower afterward, it was already late in the day, and the list goes on and on. But I remembered Kali’s story, and played some pop songs and did the workout. It truly sucked – my body is still sore from yesterday’s workout, my anxiety made it hard to get a real breath in, my room was hot even with the fan on – but when I laid down to catch my breath afterward, I was proud of myself. I had put my body through something tough because I knew it would make me feel good after.

So as I lay there, sweaty and sore, I thought to myself: “You deserve some soft love now.”

Rewarding yourself and your body for doing something difficult is just as important as making yourself do that difficult thing in the first place.

So I rinsed off in the dark (one of my favorite treats, highly recommend), I played a happy playlist, I put on a face mask, and I journaled. These acts of soft love should accompany the bouts of tough love. In a time where normalcy is being altered and norms are being challenged, I think we should keep in mind that our bodies and minds are resilient, but every once in a while, we should show ourselves some soft love.

And as I showed myself those little acts of love, I started to cry. It honestly came out of nowhere and kind of startled me. Instinctively, I tried to make myself stop. But crying is therapeutic, it’s a form of release and, in that moment, having a cry was an act of soft love. My tears suddenly subsided into laughter (seriously if you were observing this in real time you’d think I was insane). All of the sudden, that shroud of blankness had dissipated. I had a rush of longing for Tom (who has been gone nearly 3 weeks), hope for the life we’re starting together, happiness for my tough love, gratefulness for my soft love, and the joyous urge to write it all down.

The past few months I have been unable to find the words, the emotions, the meaning behind what I am doing here. I called my mom and talked to her about all of it (I do that, we’re very close) and she said that I was describing something that sounded like anhedonia (which Google says is “the inability to feel pleasure”). Having a word for it, a title, helped me not feel like it was some foreign entity – naming it gave me power over it.

Writing has always been a balm for my ups and downs, a way to comfort myself when life feels unsteady, and I haven’t been able to write, to soothe myself since moving here in May. One afternoon’s acts of love – both tough and soft – have helped me find my words again.

If you are going through it, keep going. Trudge forward through things you don’t want to do. Show yourself tough love to help yourself grow. But please remember to show yourself soft love, too.

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