Last Saturday night, I went to a performance of monologues at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In “Bodies of art: women of ink tell their stories,” five women shared stories about their relationship to tattoos. I’m here now writing about Charlotte Jusinski’s story about a the tattoo on her left shoulder of a semicolon followed by the word rest – ;rest.
After the performance in this intimate black box theater, I went onto the stage and gave Charlotte a hug. “We don’t know each other, but I’ve had a lifetime dance with anxiety and I value that you spoke about your experience with it. Thank you.”
A half an hour later, I was on my way out of the theater and stopped to listen to Charlotte talking with a few people. She explained that she is nervous about the performances appearing on YouTube. “My colleagues from the job, they didn’t know why I was off work for so long – just that I was ill. They didn’t know I was crazy.”
Charlotte had an extended period off work because some days getting out of bed was a huge feat, because she had episodes where she had been driving and her arms went numb, because she had reached a point where she no longer had capacity for work. The doctors ran test after test and all came up clear. The final diagnosis, as it were, was stress and anxiety.
A nervous system gone crazy.
Her tattoo represents her response to this craziness. The semi-colon is an instruction in life as it is in a sentence: pause. ‘Rest’ is the command they use at the dog-training center where she worked – particularly for a breed of dogs (I think it is german shepherds) who get very hyped up when being confined. The hand does a gentle up-down gesture, while the person commands ‘Rest. Rest. Rest.’ until the creature settles.
Charlotte explained that she would like to say she’s “all better now” – only she isn’t. She continues to grapple with the over-charged nervous system or what we tend to call ‘anxiety’ and daily life can be challenging. She is taking, by the sounds of it, one step at a time and finding her way. As and when needed, she commands herself: “Rest. Rest. Rest.”
When I overheard Charlotte express her concern about putting the monologues on YouTube, I inserted myself into the conversation.
“This thing we are calling craziness, many people struggle with and there is a stigma around it. Going public, speaking out, sharing our stories is brave, courageous and needed. There’s that point. And, well, what is crazy? Who is crazy? So many people leading lives that numb them, cut themselves off from the world around them, exhaust them.”
And then Charlotte inserted something to the effect of, “Yeh. Who are the crazy ones? They’re crazy, too. We’re all crazy.”
Yes, I do believe a lot of people in the United States are living with nervous systems gone out of control, bodies exhausted, spirits diminished.
Well done, Charlotte. For getting up and speaking our truth, for speaking our crazy.