“I can’t take it anymore,” she said, as matter-of-factly as she had ordered a lentil burger just minutes before. Her hand wrapped around her diet coke with lemon like the proclamation was just another mundane part of our conversation, just another cog in the machine of our workaday lives.
And you know what? It was.
We’ve become accustomed to desperation, as a society. As a generation, maybe. Living on the edge of impossibility seems to be the expectation and we buy into it because we need a job, we’ve got loans to pay, rent to cover, food to purchase, drinks to ease the pain of living up to the standards set for us that we should be on the edge of breaking down every, single day or we’re slacking off, we’re not doing something right, we’re not stressed out enough to mean we’re trying as hard as we can.
We brag about how little sleep we get. How much coffee we need just to function.
“So don’t,” I wanted to tell my friend. Get off the hamster wheel. But I could see her face if I did, the slackening of the mask she wears, that we both wear. That life on the edge of the fiscal cliff is normal, is OK. Because it has to be.
But what if it doesn’t?
Sometimes, I sit at my desk and I feel the exhaustion settle into my bones. It starts at my fingers, that tap-tap across keys all day, all evening most days too, in a frenetic dance that would make a chiropractor weep. It continues through my back, my shoulders that creep stress-fueled toward my ears all day and send shock waves down my spine. They feel like a creeping I half-remember from middle school dances when I didn’t know what a boy’s hands felt like and didn’t want to find out and desperately needed to know, at the same time. I remember when my body knew sensations it didn’t understand, but overworked anxiety has dulled all that until we thrum stress, stress, stress and pay people to bring the gentle relief a weekend used to be.
We don’t get weekends anymore, do we? We get upward-mobility engagements. Obligations that require high heels and long-wearing lipstick. We get social calendars and cocktail hours and benefit galas. We get what we asked for as children, before we knew what that was.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I found myself saying one day, as I turned on my computer to work at my second, no, third writing gig after I got back from my day job at the paper. So I shut my computer and opened a book, fell into poetry like breaking through the face of cool water.
I didn’t sign up for an adulthood that consisted of competition in misery. I’m calling bullshit on allowing 15-hour workdays to become the new normal. I’m taking a stand against the race to the top, against leaning into work with so much force, we break our own wills.