Get Well

Self and the City: Shades of Peace

by Jessa Chargois

Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to hannah@chillhouse.com.

I believe that now, more than ever, we must find our pockets of peace. 

––

With the sun beaming down on my already scorched forehead, I waded deeper and deeper into the Massachusetts water.  Attempting to wash off the unplaceable melancholy overwhelming me, I plunged myself into the frigid waters. Was it possible to already feel nostalgic for memories that haven’t been made yet? 

Two weeks ago, my beach boy and I escaped our daily routines and took the trip up to Martha’s Vineyard, a vacation born out of safety rather than tourism. With a friend offering his rental home on the island to us for a week, beach boy and I were able to see one another for an extended time, normally separated by hundreds of miles throughout the global pandemic. Rather than take the risk of staying at an Airbnb or hotel where we were not aware of cleaning procedures, our friend opened his home, taking into consideration our health and necessary precautions. After two weeks of preemptive quarantines, beach boy and I loaded up my car and made the four-hour drive to the most eastern edge of the Massachusetts coast.

With the current state of the nation, my employment (furloughed), and the stress of moving back in with my parents, I was aware of the tension that was rising in my chest. Over the last few months, my pre-existing anxiety had become debilitating. Unable to focus, to write, to sleep, to eat nutritiously, I became acutely cognisant of the need for space to just exist. In a time where simple requests are luxuries of the past, Martha’s Vineyard felt like an unfathomable haven, as if beach boy and I stumbled into a beautiful surprise following all of the chaos. Wrestling with the guilt of venturing to a luxurious destination, beach boy encouraged me to breathe, and allow the fortunate opportunities to come into my life. Taking all the necessary and recommended precautions, I gave in to the idea that there was a possibility of traveling responsibly in this unprecedented time. While there are rules, there is no social guidebook on how to navigate the guilt of being healthy. With so many struggling, I have to recognize my privilege, the ability to get away and find my peace during an unprecedented period of pain. So I will say it again–Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Follow the regulations of the states you are traveling between. 

Venturing from New York to Massachusetts, we were free to come and go without a required quarantine. With this in mind, we chose to plan an itinerary of exclusively socially distanced activities such as eating outside, spending our days on the beach spaced safely on the sands, and driving ourselves to our destinations, rather than utilizing public transportation. With that being said, I challenged myself to lean into the concept of “relaxing”. 

See, if you know me, you’re aware of my awful inability to unwind. I have an urge, as many of us do, to maximize my time. Whether it be reading a book or laying in the sun, I am usually composing lists of potential ideas for future endeavors, time-sensitive chores, or inspiration for a creative undertaking. During massages, I am anxiously awaiting the chance to open my notes app to jot down all of the new additions to my grocery list I thought of while I was on the table. When I’m working out, I feverishly type out nonsensical gibberish that may inspire one of these editions of this very column. Having picked up on this restlessness, beach boy encouraged me to take an entire day on the beach to simply “be.”

On the rocky shores of Martha’s Vineyard, I found myself vibrating on a new frequency. My freshly freckled face was tension-free, (though it was not sunburn-free, sorry Hyram). Digging my feet deep into the sand, I was drawn to the shores. Recalling a childhood memory, I planted myself on the damp sand, just above the point where the waves break on the beach: my mother and I would walk the shores of New Jersey on family vacations. Searching for colorful shards of glass, worn smooth by nature’s natural rock tumbler, sea glass was a way for my mother and I to spend time together on vacations. Unable to sit in the sun for extended periods, we combed the wet silt, filling our hands with shells and polished glass. Ranging in shades of clear, Aquas, teals, browns, and dark blues, sea glass connected me to less complicated times. Compulsively, I found my now-adult hands picking at the beaches, searching for shades of blues foreign to the natural landscape of the rocky beach. As I wandered up and down the beach, my anxious thoughts drifted away. Empty, my mind was still and at peace. Occasionally, I would snap back to reality, hands full of sea glass and shells. What started as a meditative state became addictive. I was blissful, periodically catching beach boy smiling as he watched the tension melt off of my shoulders. Joining me, he became immersed in the hunt, laughing together as waves caught us off guard from behind, sweeping our legs out from below us. Tumbling through the frigid clear waters, I felt as light as I was buoyant. 

I caught my heart melting, watching this man who has come into my life at the most unexpected time, hunt tirelessly for perfectly tumbled treasures. Running through the sand, shouting with excitement, he offered his haul to me, only to run back into the waves. Several times, I felt anxiety creep in, the compulsive need to open my moleskin or notes app, filling the pages with details of the day. From the way he would sprint into the water to the colors rippling through the sky as the sun faded away for the evening, I began to question if I was nostalgic for the events currently unfolding. How do you live in the moment when your anxiety begs you to document every minuscule detail of it? 

After days of exploring the island’s rocky coasts, and finding enough sea glass to fill every pocket we had, I have come to a conclusion. Maybe, we can’t ever control our anxiety completely. Maybe, that anxiety is what defines us as storytellers. Maybe, just maybe, that compulsive need to document is what shapes the way we look at the world around us and experience the moments that define our lives. Possibly, the answer lies in balancing our need to remember with our desire to find our little pieces of sea glass throughout our lives. For some, sea glass may manifest itself in the form of ticket stubs, keychains, forlorn playing cards, or heads-up pennies. For me, the question remains, how do I find the serenity that was present on the rocky beaches of the Vineyard? 

As I sit typing this very piece, my jar of sea glass sits in the sunshine radiating in from my childhood window. I am no longer waist-deep in the chilly waters of the Massachusetts coast. After weeks to decipher the waves of stillness that washed over my sunburnt body, it has become clear that my constant urge for documentation is a blessing and a curse. I have to avidly work to find more “sea glass” moments in my current environments and spaces that I inhabit. While I cannot control everything around me, I have to continue to romanticize the turbulency of my own life. My pockets of peace can manifest in countless ways, from time spent listening to the nature around me, to going for a walk devoid of all distractions. It has become clear that inner peace is something that takes practice, similar to riding a bike or spotting small pebbles of sea glass amongst the rocky shores. Listen to your inner thoughts and acknowledge the feelings you have. Without the acceptance of my anxiety and constant need to document, I wouldn’t be the storyteller I am today. With growth comes little pockets of tranquility, in the shades of aquas and blues, the waves of your growth shaping your sea glass. 

Take care of yourself.

Feature Image via Jessica Golightly

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