Image by Jennifer Lyn Bartlett

Exhaustion lives in me, resting now underneath the skin. It threatens to weave in and around my muscles to eventually seep its permanency into the marrow of my bones.

I’m not sure the last time I got decent sleep. I lie awake descending into a bed that has a difficult time supporting a heart that sinks even deeper.

Anxiety. Where the hell do we go from here? The news continues to get worse each day. It causes me to take a closer look with judgmental eyes at the people who I allow to take up residency in my life. If I take a break from the doom, the guilt rears its ugly head. I’m not doing enough to help. I never have.

I keep watching performance videos of large concerts, desperately reaching to feel connected like that again but the feeling of thousands of bodies standing close, experiencing together, listening together, and feeling together is irreplaceable. Unable to be replicated.

Years ago in a life coaching session, I sat raw in front of Jill. We didn’t know each other at all but I felt safe enough to turn my insides out. Her questions lead me back to the stage and a bolt of electricity ran through my veins. She asked me to describe the feeling that I had when I was performing.

As tears fell down my cheeks, my lips parted to mutter:

“Free.”

Image: Jeff Brinn Photography

It has since occurred to me that the freedom I’ve always chased is permission to outwardly feel; to express myself no matter how uncomfortable for anyone. To be me. To connect with others fully without judgment of myself or worry about being judged. Because if someone gave me a microphone or a platform to stand on, it was someone saying: “It’s okay, Jenn. It’s your turn to speak freely. We won’t challenge or question you until you are finished. This is your time.”

It took a pandemic for me to realize that I have been pushing that need — that ache, that desperation — aside for too long.

I worry that it’s too late. But I suppose if it is too late, there is no sense in worrying because there is nothing that can be done to change it.

But is it too late?

Is that just another story I tell myself to self-sabotage?

And so at the beginning of a pandemic with not even of a hint of when the virus would let up and our health would no longer be in such great risk, I decided that it was time to step away from a successful career in the cosmetology industry. I walked away from financial independence, a booming clientele, and the last twelve years of building a name for myself. Truthfully, I should have done this a long time ago but then again, I would still find myself amidst a pandemic in, perhaps, much worst financial shape. It’s hard to say. But if I would have asked anyone if I should throw caution to the wind to begin a writing career that I know nothing about and focus on music when our country is in so much duress; when live performance, the thing I attached so much freedom and permission to, may not be back for a few years — they would laugh in my face.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing but regardless, I’m going to do it.

Because what becomes of the caterpillar who never builds the cocoon?

She dies a caterpillar.

Musician & writer in LOKELLA. Pen-yielding page scratcher.