(reposted from instagram for accessibility)
The phoenix. A brilliantly colored bird that burns to ash only to rise again & fly away home in an ever-repeating cycle. A resurrectionist, practiced in the craft of making themselves whole after tearing themselves apart. A kindred spirit to those of us with brains that like to upend things.
While many cultures describe an immortal bird that is associated with the sun (i.e. the Chinese fenghuang), the myth of a bird that rises from the ashes is thought to originate with the ancient Egyptians. Bennu, a bird who represents the soul of the sun god Ra, is described as living 500 years before dying in a blaze and rising again to carry the ashes of its ancestral self to Heliopolis. This cycle of death-birth-rebirth repeats until the end of time.
Where the phoenix myth appears, it is used as evidence of the cyclical nature of existence, of our resilience as humans who can die little deaths and still continue on. For me, I see the phoenix myth as instructive of a way of being, a practice: fall apart, come together again, repeat.
As a disabled, multiply neurodivergent person, and as someone who experiences extreme emotional states and altered realities, I find that the human-made world in its current configuration can be too much to bear, too often. Sometimes I can’t move, speak, or process information. Sometimes I just need to detach myself from reality and let all the laundry build up and gnash and wail and moan until there’s nothing left in me.
I fall apart in slow motion sometimes, over a period of weeks, months, years. But always, I come back to reality, gather my ashes, fly home.
Falling apart is a practice. An honoring of the cyclical nature of the self. We need to be able to fall apart safely, but too often, we must fear the repercussions. Falling apart can mean missing work, missing meals, missing rent. Falling apart can get you institutionalized. Falling apart in front of the wrong people can be a death sentence, especially if you are Black. And still, falling apart in safe spaces is how I survive.
I know from experience that the emotions I fear might break me will pass through me like a wave if I lean into them. I know that I can remain tethered to shore by my love and breath and purpose, that I will not disappear into the vast ocean of myself if I allow these realities to unfold. I know that I am capable of incredible feats of magic: I have put myself back together again multiple times despite believing myself irrecoverable.
Right now I am in the process of slowly falling apart again. The world itself seems to be slowly falling apart, and it is overwhelming. It feels like we will not arise from this, that this may be a final disintegration. But I remember having felt this way before and risen the next day. I know that how it feels in the midst of a transformation is not reflective of the final result. I know that no matter how uncertain we might be about the outcome, we can still share wisdom with each other, we can still engage in acts of love and communion and resistance. We have worth even as we are coming undone.
As the phoenix burns, does it suffer silently? Or does it cry out, pleading for respite from its fate? Nothing in the mythologies I’ve read mentions the torment a phoenix must endure, but I can imagine, because the deaths I myself have experienced were not gentle.
The death our society is experiencing is not a painless one, either. And a resurrection from the ashes of whatever is left when this is over will also need us to curse and toil. But there is always joy to be had, and celebration. As long as we remain within the cycle. As long as we live to rise again.
Creating space/time to fall apart safely within will help make sure we do.
If you feel like falling apart… lessons from the phoenix
- Set up an emergency plan, a mad map (check out pubs by @fireweedcollective), and/or a psychiatric advance directive, so if anyone catches you mid-collapse they’ll know what to do.
- Talk to roommates or family about your needs. If you’re close enough, explain to them that you’re dealing with x mental health struggle and you need some spacetime to just let things out, so please don’t worry, and you’ll check in when it’s over. If you’re not close, just tell them weird stuff will be going on in your room/space/etc. for x hours/days/weeks, and you need them to be chill about it and not call the cops.
- Depending how long you plan to be a mess, make a plan to check in periodically with friends, whether online or IRL, or family, so they know you’re still alive.
- Find a space where it’s safe to cry, scream, throw things, dance naked, whatever you need to let this move through you. Do this for however long you need to/are able to. If self-harm is a concern, remove things from the space you might use to hurt yourself (ask for help with this if needed and available). The closer you can get to creating a space where you can completely abandon societal norms around behavior and masking your crazy, the better.
- When it’s over, baby yourself back together. Order takeout if you’re hungry, get in a warm shower or bath, masturbate, do art, watch trash online. Whatever best eases you into this reality. Don’t plan too much for the days after a scheduled collapse if you can avoid it. Let the tender edges of your self heal over first.
- Integrate time to fall apart into your routine if you can. Once a day, once a week, once a month, however often you need. Allowing yourself to feel and experience what you must suppress to get through everyday life is a powerful tool for self-preservation.