After vowing to “just keep going”, I've had a real struggle trying to figure out where the hell I should “just keep going” to. I unburdened myself with my first two posts, and felt such a sense of relief, and started to feel so much better! But I also became completely overwhelmed by all of my feelings and the seemingly endless list of subjects about which I could write (my lack of self-esteem and how it’s held me back; my internalized sexism that has fed my shame for what I do; the dos and don’ts of personal finances; this election; #BlackLivesMatter; rape culture; reproductive rights, and on and on and on…)
After writing roughly ten different posts about completely different topics, all of which were going nowhere, I took a deep breath; stopped; checked in with my feelings, and started to write about my confusion. As I began writing and internally cataloging my feelings, a familiar pattern became clear to me: my fear cycle was rearing its ugly head again. Although this time, it wasn’t specific to one aspect of my life (my career); I recognized it as the emotional cycle that drives much of my everyday life. It’s not just a fear of failure that keeps me from moving forward; it’s this constant feeling of being overwhelmed by everything around me and life itself:
Alarm blares: WAKE UP!!! Get ready; try get to work on time; hope it’s a job that you love, because you’re supposed to “love what you do; then it doesn’t feel like work! <smiley emoji>” But you probably don’t love what you do; you just do it to keep a roof over your head and food on the table; so you feel bad about yourself, but you “do what you gotta do” because “it is what it is.” And you go through your day getting stuff done; and putting stuff off and putting out fires and trying to connect with your spouse and help your kids with their homework and pay your dog walker and then you check Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram and Twitter and everyone else has a nicer house and a better family and they’re all smiling and look happy and you feel like shit and then you read the news and another black man has been killed by the police; and 5 cops have been killed in retaliation; and another woman has been raped; and another white rapist “with a promising future” is released from prison; and another transwoman is murdered; and another bomb explodes; and twenty people are stabbed in a mall; and another border scuffle has broken out between countries that have been stable for twenty years; and another civil war has erupted; and it’s the cop’s fault; no it’s the protestor's fault; no it’s Obama’s fault; no it’s Hillary’s fault; no it’s the Republicans’ fault; no it’s Trump’s fault; no it’s Putin’s fault; no it’s black people’s fault; no it’s white people’s fault; no it’s because you’re racist; no it’s because you aren’t doing enough to fight racism; and oh look, a cat video and that’s a cute baby and we really should be more like that 6-year-old who wants to give that Syrian refugee boy a home; and good night honey: peck on the cheek and lay back-to-back because you’re too physically tired and emotionally drained to have sex and then that damn alarm is going off again…
And yes, these are more recent examples, and it hasn’t always been exactly like this, but there’s always been this feeling (is anyone else hearing “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel in their head, or is it just me), only now, everything seems faster and more intense, and while we move on to “the next big thing” before we can even react to the last one, the emotional residue is left behind, and I feel like I’m dragging through quicksand on a daily basis: getting nowhere terribly, terribly fast.
But the data, the precious data tells us that life has never been better than it is now for most of the people on the planet! Well if that’s so, then why don’t I feel like things have never been better? Why is there such a disconnect? Is it just me? Do I just lack coping skills or the right information or should I be medicated? If things are so great, then why do I feel like I am barely hanging on, and the lifeline I am clinging to is getting more worn and thin and frayed? And if I’m not alone in my feelings, are we all suffering from a mass delusion or some collective ignorance? And if it is collective ignorance, and the data is correct, then how do we make this acute feeling of insecurity and disconnectedness go away???
The fact is, we don't ask for most of what happens to us. We don't ask to be born. We don't ask to be abused, or to get cancer or, get divorced, or for our spouse to die, or for our children to get sick or hurt. More often than not, we follow in the footsteps of those who came before us, hoping that by treading a well-worn path, it will ease our burdens and reduce the number of scrapes and bruises we accumulate along the way. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't. We don't have control over so much of what happens, and that is scary as hell. Terrifying. But we do have each other, and we can never forget that or take one another for granted.
We all react to stress and difficult circumstances differently. I have had the tendency to retreat into myself. I don't want to burden people with my problems, so I keep smiling; projecting to others that everything is okay, and I keep everything to myself. How unhealthy is that? We are so starved for community that we created digital platforms so we can share every moment of our lives with each other in real time. And what do most of us do with it? We hide behind filtered pictures so we can share carefully crafted, "perfect" moments, when so many of us feel the same pain; anguish or sense of dissatisfaction. We continue to hurt in silence behind our perfectly manicured lawns and pretty box houses and our shiny new cars and our whitened veneer smiles on our Botoxed faces. Why aren't we talking to one another- holding one another and supporting one another? Why aren't we in communion with one another?
We all have our support networks, and thank god we do; otherwise the world would be an even bigger mess than it is. But we all break off into our own “safe” spaces. We segregate and isolate ourselves by neighborhood and community; by religion, and specific houses of worship and sects within those religions; by gender; sexuality; race; ability and country of origin. When we isolate ourselves inside our own “safe” and “comfortable” communities, we simultaneously segregate and force “others” out of our community. Feelings get hurt; misunderstandings are born and perpetuated, and cycles of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, islamaphobia and every phobia and ism imaginable continue to thrive. I am guilty of all of this myself- I am not saying, I am better than anyone. But as I am coming to discover, and not just believe but know in my soul to be true: the magic happens when we break out of our comfort zones. If productivity happens in the corporation or at the manufacturing plant when we “think outside the box” and “leave our comfort zone” and “learn to be more innovative”, you better believe it can happen in everyday life, too.
Generation after generation plays the same tug o war, with one side pulling you into the future and the other side pulling back equally as hard, trying to stay in the past. We get older, and look around and see we have changed; our friends have changed; the world around us has changed, and we long for the comfort of "home", whatever that means to us. It is not a place as much as a feeling. That emotional space where you think, "I feel right here... I belong." It is harder for some to find that space than others, and it often gets harder to find as you get older because of all the change happening around you. And very often the feeling is fleeting. We seek it in material things and specific neighborhoods and trendy restaurants and alcohol and opiates.
We are all so caught up in this cycle of "achieve!!!" Get your kids to this game and that class and that event and get yourself to work and that meeting and finish that project and get that promotion so you can get that bigger house and see your family on holidays where you have the Pinterest perfect table made of reclaimed wood with a burlap runner, and before you know it, the evening is over, and we are back to the frenetic disconnect of our daily lives.
We need to take a collective deep breath and fucking stop for 5 minutes (MORE than 5 minutes, damn it) and look our neighbor in the eye and ask, "How are you?" and actually listen to the answer. The fact that ‘how are you,’ has become a rhetorical question and hastened greeting is a despicable example of just how far we've gotten from what matters. We want data to drive every decision we make, but we're forgetting about the nuances of emotion and blood and flesh and fragility behind every terabyte of data that exists.
I don't know if everyone feels the same way as I do- I'm sure they don't. But I know I felt better when I stopped; took a breath and started to check in with my feelings: really get back to myself. And as I get more in touch with myself, I can take the time to look at my friends, colleagues and even the person next to me on the subway and see them as more human. When I feel more like myself, I feel more in control, and when I feel more in control, I am less afraid. When I am less afraid, I am able to appreciate what I have and the world around me, and the data doesn’t necessarily seem so skewed. But it is a daily struggle – sometimes a minute by minute struggle, because seemingly every day something else happens that makes me hurt and angry and fearful. But if I’m not going to let my own internal fears stop me from being who I want to be, I can’t let the external fears stop me either. That doesn’t mean I ignore what’s going on around me; pretend it doesn’t exist. On the contrary: it means I have to roll up my sleeves and look that fear in the eye and challenge it. Not from a place of anger and pain and hurt, but from a centered sense of inner strength; community and solidarity.
We are all pain and anger and hurt and happiness and love and so much more. We just keep forgetting it; losing sight of it in our day to day trials of survival. We need to be more ourselves. We need to drop the filters and masks and cover-ups and be more real. I know I do. And if I’m more real, then maybe you can be more real, and we can all stop playing games with one another and hiding behind all of the walls we construct to keep one another out, and start letting people in. It’s certainly time for me to put down my walls I didn’t even realize I had constructed. But I see it now, and I’m taking action: by sharing myself. It’s all going to be here; warts and all. I will just keep going… moving toward a greater sense of self and community. Deconstructing and reconstructing. I will rise. We will rise: together.
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.