In therapy on Monday, I said to my therapist, “I’m done! I’m done.”
And that was immediately followed by the expression, “I don’t even know what that means, because I am not going to kill myself, so I don’t know what I am done with, per se, or what I am quitting, exactly.”
I’m relatively certain that was followed by an “ugh” and a deep sigh … and probably dropping my hands to my sides in a dramatic fashion that symbolized my giving up.
This morning, as I updated my fundraising site, I once again expressed that I can’t go on. And when I am talking with friends or family about serious topics, it comes up as well—I can’t keep doing this. I’m done. I give up. I can’t. I can’t even.
I don’t know if other people feel this level of frustration. I don’t know if it is a “normal” thing to be overwhelmed by life that you do not want to keep going forward with the living. And, like I mentioned above, that isn’t a suicidal ideation or proclamation. I don’t want to die. I just don’t know how to keep on living in this current state. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want a different sort of living, I suppose.
Many people want a different sort of living, I suspect. There are always goals and changes and opportunities that we are reaching toward. We see an article of clothing, or a car, or a home improvement project, or a new bit of technology, or some other thing that we want and we strive toward it. Or we admire a person or a way of living that we see outside of our own self and culture, and we seek to emulate the qualities and characteristics of that person or place or way of being. We want something different—something “better”. This is true of pretty much all of us, whether we are seeking more, or less—the minimalist or the consumerist lifestyle. We are working toward something that we currently do not possess. We are seeking change.
I think that what I feel, however, and what a lot of people in marginalized spaces or situations feel, is a bit different than that sort of desire and that sort of change. There isn’t just a drive to be different. There is a desperation. There is an evolutionary demand for fighting to survive.
I was watching the show Sense8 on Netflix the other night, and there was a line that struck me. One of the characters said that he realized he was slowly dying of survival. And that resonated with me so much that it brought me to tears. Because it is not only my situation, but the situation of millions of people like me. We are slowly dying of survival. And I am just coming to realize it, like Mr. Hoy on Sense8. It is breaking me.
Nothing has broken me so much that I couldn’t get back up and keep fighting. I have more sequels than Rocky Balboa could ever have. Even if he keeps training up new, young recruits until his death, I’ve still got him beat in the comeback department. Over and over and over, I survive what the world throws at me. But that is the best and the worst thing. I survive. I survive. I survive. And that isn’t enough.
We aren’t meant to survive. Not just to survive. Not only to survive.
We are meant for love and beauty and good. We are meant for the Arete of the Greek philosophers, so long ago. We are meant to thrive, to create, to live, to love, to transform. And surviving doesn’t let you do those things. Surviving makes you cautious, paranoid, isolated, resourceful, resilient, manipulative, strong, intimidating, disconnected, dissociated, and a great fighter. And some of those things can be positive qualities—most of them can be positive under the right conditions. But those of us who are fighting to survive are not living under the right conditions. We are living under the worst fucking conditions, which is why we are working so hard to survive. And the skills that we need and master to survive are not skills which help us to thrive, create, love, and transform. Those skills aren’t the ones that offer us the love and beauty and good. We survive to death. We just keep on making it past the obstacle that is most immediately harming us and our life, and then looking to the next obstacle. There isn’t room for anything but the fight. We fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we die.
Because fighting obstacles doesn’t change the world. Creating new systems and eliminating the ones that are harmful and unjust changes the world. Developing programs that increase wellness and decrease poverty, sickness, and violence changes the world. But we don’t have the opportunity to create and develop, because we are so busy surviving. We are so busy fighting that we don’t have the resources left to create and develop. We don’t have what we need to thrive.
And the people who are not surviving—the people who don’t live in our situation, and don’t feel the weight and lack the resources and don’t fight the obstacles every moment of every day—don’t spend their energies (for the most part) creating and developing the systems that would change the situations of those of us who are marginalized. Because they aren’t the ones fighting the unfair fights, over and over and over again.
At some point, you stop wanting to fight. I’ve reached that point this week.
I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep fighting battles in a war that I know cannot be won. The futility of the military action in Vietnam comes to mind when I think about what I feel today. So many young men were injured, killed, and left with life-long mental illness because of that action. And nothing was won. There was no “victory”. The westside of Chicago is the Vietnam of my age. The southside of Chicago is the Vietnam of my age. But the “enemy” isn’t quite as clearly defined here. The enemy is us, and we are also the one battling. It is a strange thing. It is a confusing thing. And while I don’t understand why we are fighting battles against ourselves in our own cities, and I don’t understand how we, the victims, are blamed for the fight, I do understand that we are fighting to survive this war.
And we are slowly dying of survival.
The thing that is crazy about all of this—well, one thing, because there is so much crazy about this that I cannot even begin to express all of it—is that it doesn’t matter that I am too tired and too frustrated and too raw and too pained to go on.
I need to go on, or I need to die.
And my instinct—my evolutionary imperative, coupled with my very high dose of antidepressant medication—will keep me alive. I can’t give up, even though I want to.
I can’t choose to be done. I can’t be done. I need to fight the next battle.
So, where does that leave me?
Done. But not done.
Do I work hard to develop hope, just so it can be dashed once more? Do I adopt a rote series of movements and dissociate from my actions, protecting my heart from more pain, but closing it off from love and good and beauty in the process? Do I fight hard and believe that this time will be different, only to find another obstacle on the other side, and to break down once more?
I don’t know.
This post doesn’t wrap up in a sweet little bow. It ends in a sorrow. It ends in a question. It ends in a desperation and a struggle that doesn’t seem like it will ever end.
And that sucks.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know how I will respond to the next moment—the next challenge, the next need, the next unpaid bill, the next overdraft, the next pain, the next fatigue that cannot be overcome, the next spike in my heart rate, the next gunfire heard, the next overdose witnessed, the next rejection, the next extension, the next continuance, the next whatever the fuck gets thrown my way. I only know that I have one option: to face it, and to fight it, and to hope that I can overcome.
If you don’t know what that feels like, you should seek out someone who does. Listen to them. Learn from them. Help them. Try to find ways to develop and create systems that help and do not harm them. Offer them the chance to thrive, instead of allowing them to slowly die from surviving.
I don’t know the end to my story. My journey continues. A new friend told me this morning that “my best version” is coming. That gave me a tiny glimmer of hope, and reminded me that the end isn’t here until the end is here. And this day, I believe, is not my end.
So, I am still moving toward my best version. I hope that version includes creation and beauty and good and wisdom and love.
For now, I fight on.