• Kayleigh Shuler

I'm Under Construction

I told my therapist recently that I feel I’m “under construction.” I was built 25 years ago and now, as my 26th birthday looms just beyond Christmas, I have taken a wrecking ball to the face and am under construction.

For 25 years I have been making surface-level repairs to the place, avoiding the more daunting projects that I knew existed somewhere deep down below; spackling and painting over holes in the walls (that’s how that works, right?) and throwing ornate rugs over missing floorboards. But one day, this past summer, I got too comfortable in that mess of a home and fell straight through the floor to the basement of my being with a *thud*. It was dark down there. I grabbed a flashlight and started poking around. My God, the damage. Pipes bursting, mold growing, a mess in every sense of the word. This year, I had no choice but to take a long hard look at what I had been living with for 25 years. The damage ran too deep and there weren’t many scraps to save. I have to start from scratch.

I then complained to my therapist about how I don’t feel as motivated or driven as I used to. As a Capricorn sun (what up), my work is a huge part of how I identify. I complained that I don’t work the way I used to, to which they simply replied,

“Well, when a building is under construction... it can’t function the way it used to. It’s in the process of becoming new.”

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been consumed with trauma and confusion. Starting from scratch means asking hard questions. It means looking at the damage and naming it, out loud. Have you ever noticed how a to do list can wage war in your mind for weeks, but once it actually makes it to paper, it’s a lot less daunting? Or, sometimes, it’s still daunting. But it’s there. It’s not hiding in the dark, scary and unknown.

I recently asked a kid I know what made them feel excited. “Cats,” they said. I then asked what made them feel scared. They paused, for a good 30 seconds, before finally saying,

“Maybe the dark? But it’s more like when something is even darker in the darkness. Like, if I saw your purse in the dark. I might think it was a monster.”

I asked them if they thought what they might fear the most is not knowing what it is; that it could be anything, and their mind is left to wander and wonder and create things like monsters.

They smiled, understood, and said yes. I knew that feeling, deeply.

I’ve always seeked solutions, ways to fix and improve, and so I immediately began to wonder what the right method for handling this fear of the darkness in the darkness might be. Would it be to simply flip on the light and have an answer: it’s a purse? A part of me isn’t satisfied with this: it feels like the “easy” or “quick” way out. Another part of me is satisfied with it: what’s wrong with quick and easy anxiety relief? I wonder, though: would flipping on the light every night get exhausting? (I can say from my own experience that getting up to touch the lock X number of times before bed does get quite exhausting).

But then, I realized quickly and simply: There’s nothing to fix. Fear is normal and valid. Fear doesn’t arrive to be fixed; it arrives to be felt. It tells us something about ourselves. The more time we spend “fixing” it and flipping on the light, the further we get from the basement of our being; the fact that our minds fear that there are monsters in our bedroom, or people trying to barge in through our doors.

Here’s the scary thing, the part we don’t tell kids: There could be monsters. Someone could break in. It’s a crazy fuckin’ world out there, and we have no control over it. Flipping on the light switch and checking the lock helps temporarily, but it’s not what’s going to help us sleep at night. (Obviously locking your door helps. Lock your doors. I’m referring to compulsive checking.) What helps us sleep is the deep work. The basement work. Being able to tell ourselves, “It’s not a monster. I’m here. This is what breathing in my bed feels like. The door is locked. I’m here. This is what breathing in my bed feels like.”

That kid and I didn’t discuss how you might avoid that fear; there was no mention of how you could flip the light on or call for your parents. Instead, we sat and wondered if reminding ourselves that we’re safe is enough. If we, in our own minds, might be enough to protect us. (Though, if it helps, flip on the light. Who cares?)

So, if you know me and it seems like I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth or I’m out of touch or hard to reach or not quite myself... it’s true.

I’m under construction. I’m rubble and random pipes strewn across the floor and buckets of paint at the ready. I don’t function just as I used to, and I won’t ever again. I’m in the basement. I’m taking my time building a whole new place to call home.

Your messy friend,


Ps - If this resonated with you and you feel motivated to do some basement-searching of your own, 10/10 would recommend a solo dance party to “Bodies” by MUNA and The Knocks. Listen for the lyrics, "My body's in the basement."

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