First / by Emma Mead

It's been almost half a year since I left my life.

I still don't really know how to tell the story, but I think that's why I'm doing this; In hopes that writing will sort out some of it, release some of it, make sense of it, help nurture it. A dear friend of mine suggested I keep a blog and even writing this now feels so much better than my journaling has felt lately. I can't keep writing to myself, it feels too stale. Writing to you feels purposeful, like spring, like little sparks igniting in the darkness. So thank you, whoever you are, for lending your eyes, your hearts and your imaginations to these words.

A little over half a year ago I was a twenty-something who owned a pretty successful photography business in New York City. I had a network of incredible friends, a family made up of my beautiful girlfriend, Sarah, our street cat, Icarus, and a pup named Fitzgerald (named for the writer, not the President in Scandal. I only mention this because that was the most common question I was asked when walking him in our neighborhood.) We lived with our roommate, Megan, in a pretty brownstone duplex in Sugar Hill, Harlem. I had favorite lunch spots, bodega buddies, neighbors who looked out for me. I even had a therapist downtown who I saw every other week.

Now I am thirty, living with my parents and taking 24 hour care of my sick mama. I'm writing to you from my childhood bedroom where ironically I spent countless nights crawling out my window to the roof and dreaming of moving to New York City. Fitz is sleeping soundly at my side. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "Oh, she left her life because her mother got sick." Maybe you weren't thinking that at all, but in any case it wasn't because of my mom, not at first. I first left my life because I was sick.

In retrospect, I think so much of me was sick: my body, my mind, my soul. And I am utterly floored at the thought that had events not unfolded the way they did and knocked me on my ass to where I physically couldn't function and had to leave- I might have continued in that way for years, decades, a lifetime even. That thought kinda terrifies me and simultaneously fills me with utter gratitude.

Glennon Doyle Melton (author of Love Warrior) once mentioned that the Latin root of the word crisis means 'to sift.' The first time I heard that, I added it to my mental book of 'things- that- make- me- feel- better.' I imagine the process to look like panning for gold. Crisis being a great, universal sieve that dredges up all those unsee-able parts that have been left undisturbed and sitting deep inside you for years. Somewhere in those layers of mud and rock are precious stones that lay forgotten settled into the muck. Until one day, when you least expect it, the sieve plunges in and disturbs everything. It all goes up in an atomic cloud of mud and grit and you're blinded. Then, as if you're not already terrified and confused enough, the sieve starts madly shaking and shaking and shaking all that shit until everything falls apart truly and completely.

In the span of two weeks, I went from renovating my brand new photo studio space I had worked years for, to being brought to my knees by the sudden loss of a dear childhood friend and my grandmother and then a car accident. It felt like my life went under siege, like BOOM BOOM BOOM thar she crumbles! The week after I got back to the city after going home for Eliza's memorial I was hit with intense vertigo and panic attacks. My body became twisted and bent, I could barely walk and when I did I looked absolutely crippled. And I was. This lasted for months that felt like years. Months where my life was scooped up by that giant, unstoppable sieve of the Universe and was shaken until everything I thought I was, everything I had built for myself was stripped and sifted and shaken away.

I know some or all of you know what I mean. You have been sifted before, we will surely be sifted again. But if you know what I am talking about then you know how painful it can be to walk around this world stripped of armor. And so I left. I decided one day while lying on the big brown couch in our livingroom. I was dizzy, sick with anxiety and full of despair. I stared up at the dried roses hanging in the window and listened to the sounds of Harlem outside and felt the buzz of the city and the smallness of the apartment and the far- ness of the woods and the rift in my soul and I knew I might die if I stayed. And that was that. The love I had for my girlfriend of over four years or for my friends, my work, my home, even my life weren't enough to sustain me. And that is a stunning realization to have. When you realize you must choose yourself above all else or perish. 

That sounds so dramatic. It was and also wasn't at all. Since then I've been flooded by the joys and consequences of my actions. So here we are at the end of something which is also the beginning of something. And the only thing to do is keep going and exploring and creating.