I go to coffee shops to get work done for the same reason people go to gyms to work out. If you’re surrounded by other people and also possess a healthy sense of paranoia, you will feel extremely motivated.
Consider this sampling of my Gold’s Gym inner monologue: I HAVE to run this mile instead of letting myself walk every other minute. There are people watching me! The mom next to me just run an eight-minute mile and I think she has three kids! Why have I done this to myself! I am so sweaty no one look at me oh God why why why. Okay, hang on. You can totally run on pace with this Jay-Z song. Okay. This is your moment. Go.
Now compare to my Bennu monologue, one iced coffee in: Hanna, put down your phone and type with a purpose! Finish that project! Send that email! Check your LinkedIn! Stop dancing in your chair — people will think you’re blowing off work! Do NOT open Facebook! Why are you so restless please sit still and focus for the love of God above us. Wait, I know how to phrase that poem I’ve been working on for a week. And that email will take 15 seconds to send. Okay, this makes sense. You can do this.
It’s a lot of panic when I sit down in a crowded place. I have always been acutely aware of my presence in public. How much space I take up, how loudly ice clinks in my glass, how my hair looks from every angle, how often my phone accidentally buzzes. I want to be small and quiet and unassuming. I don’t want to annoy anyone with my typing. I don’t want to draw a single unnecessary thread of attention.
I’ve always been like this. A unfortunate by-product of an overactive empathy gene and a too-big body.
Then, somewhere in the din of worry in my head, a chord strikes clear and clean. Focus, like the ever-elusive stray cat you’ve been trying to feed treats to for years, slinks into the room. For fear of spooking her, you keep typing, keep breathing. It’s like hitting a runner’s high. That sweet spot around mile five when your body slips into auto-pilot and your mind gets to freely wander without screaming about aching joints.
There is a calculated risk of letting myself get in my own head. More often than not, it doesn’t go well. I accidentally jostle a wasp’s nest of decade-old stressors. My brain chemistry remembers that it has total control over my day and decides we haven’t had a good cry in about a week so why not right now in the car with my mom that should be fine? Remember that time you were unintentionally really mean and never properly apologized? Yeah, that person probably hates your guts right now. Let’s stop and think about it for a little while.
But when you dig deep on a good day, when it’s warm outside and your head isn’t clouded, you can make some really great art. You hit your writing stride. Sending emails doesn’t make you want to crawl into a hole. Projects magically break themselves up into completely attainable steps. Items fly off your to-do-today checklist. It’s a goddamn miracle.
Today I stopped putting off my productivity. I finished projects that got swept under the rug during last week’s mental health breakdown. I applied to a really cool job. I wrote this blog post. I semi-successfully resisted a full-on Chance the Rapper dance session in the middle of a cafe.
When you wake up every day with a risk of a Bad Brain Day, you learn to embrace the good ones. Being vocal about feeling happy is a surefire way to remind my sad self that things are going to be okay. “See, Hanna? You will be happy again. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now. I know you’re upset and stressed. I know you feel lost and useless. I know you want to sleep and not speak to anyone. But it always gets better.”
Even after an entire winter of sadness, I always find myself staring into the sun, blinking with disbelief.
So don’t be afraid to tap into the scary stuff. Don’t be afraid to put your headphones in and take up space in public. Don’t be afraid to write the truth.
Or, be afraid. Be terrified. Seeing truths written out in front of you can be horrifying. Realizing you are not, in fact, “over” that one thing. Or that you don’t know what makes you truly happy. Or that you aren’t sure if you’ve ever been in love. It’s enough to make your heart stop.
So go out into this giant, terrifying world of ours. Drive to new places alone. Don’t talk to boys who are mean to you. Practice spoken word poems. Write love letters to your best friends. Let yourself be happy, even if you don’t know why.
Be scared. Be brave. Drink some coffee and start.
I’m a little scared that all my blog posts are starting to sound the same. But, regardless, here’s this. Thanks for listening to my babbling!