Avoidance

I’m supposed to be paying bills.

But there isn’t enough money.

So, I am doing this thing that I do.  Some like to call it procrastination, but I’ve started to use terms that are more honest wherever possible, so this thing is called “avoidance”.

When the thing cannot be done comfortably, efficiently, without stress, or with relative ease, I avoid doing the thing.  “Avoidance”.

Right now it is about the bills, because there is stress, discomfort, inefficiency, and a bit of struggle involved in trying to figure out how to make money multiply without a magic wand or the art of alchemy to assist in the task.  I don’t know what to pay and what to leave unpaid.  I don’t know who might be gracious and who might attack the credit score I have been working so hard to improve.  I know that all of the things need to be paid, eventually.  And I know that one way or another, through begging or borrowing or more high interest loans that bury me in even deeper debt, things will be paid, but that doesn’t make the job of maneuvering and managing a too small budget less uncomfortable or less stressful, so I still want to avoid it.

A long overdue blog post is better than an attempt at bill payment … even one that details the stress I feel over the bill payment attempt.

I think that part of this avoidance is built into our DNA.  We didn’t survive as a species by running headlong into danger with great stupidity and zero planning.  We avoid situations that seem like losing scenarios as a matter of survival.  Avoidance helps us stay alive, in many ways, so it can be an excellent mechanism for the continuance of the human race—which is likely a good thing.

But there may also be a negative side to this tendency toward avoidance.  That negative side is the part that I think frequently trips me up and leaves me face down on the proverbial pavement of life.  It is the tendency of our culture to avoid any sort of suffering, pain, or pretense of unease—or dis-ease—whatsoever.  It is the glossing over of the lament in favor of pretending that all is well and good and easy, all of the time.  It is the lie that we don’t just avoid the things that are uncomfortable, but that the things that are uncomfortable don’t exist—and if they do exist, that something is wrong and needs to be “fixed” and fixed immediately.

If you’ve read anything else that I have ever written, you already know that I suffer from chronic illness, both mental and physical in nature.  Something will always be “wrong” with me.  And the desire to either “fix” or deny the existence of the problem is, therefore, always with me.  I’ve found, through many therapy sessions and lots of searching of my own spirit, that this desire is based largely on cultural perceptions.  It is shameful not to “work”, “have a job”, “do something with your life”, “have a purpose”, and it is shameful to “beg”, “live off other’s hard-earned money”, “take what I didn’t earn”, “play the victim”, “act sick”, “sit on my ass all day”, “be lazy”, or not “suck it up”, “get over it”, “take some Tylenol and get off my butt”, “push through the pain”, or to be like “my friend”, “my husband’s cousin”, or any number of other people and “run 5k’s”, “go to work every day”, “take care of five kids”, even though they have [insert one of my illnesses here] “just like you”.

Not only do I cope with my illness every day, but I deal with the public perceptions and the cultural shame that goes along with being chronically ill.

A court has determined that I cannot work—that there are no jobs that I can do given my particular limitations, diagnoses, skills, educational background, work history, symptoms, and the way that those things intersect with the job market in my geographical location.  “There are no jobs.”  That is literally in the court transcript for you to read, if you were to read through the lengthy hours of Q and A that were required for us to get to the point where a judge determined that I am disabled.

But that transcript doesn’t matter to probably about 85% of the people who I come into contact with in my day to day interactions.  It doesn’t matter because of this negative sense of avoidance.  I’m supposed to avoid suffering and illness and flaws and bad shit.  I’m not supposed to acknowledge that, but fix it, and fix it fast.  I’m not supposed to admit that I can barely sit at this desk right now because of the pain in my back.  I’m not supposed to admit that I’m at this desk and not a “work” desk because I am disabled.  I’m not supposed to BE disabled.  I’m supposed to take some Tylenol and get off my ass and run a 5k like aunt Janet from West Virginia!

Because we avoid suffering.  We get over that shit, or we lie about it, or we become the kind of people who complain all the time but only a small, acceptable, mundane amount of complaining that is socially acceptable around the water cooler at our jobs.  Because we are allowed to be moderately miserable all the time if we are still productive.  But real, serious, deeply affecting problems are not socially accepted.  Those we avoid.

I sometimes wonder who decides which challenges are acceptable and which are not.

When all the women have ovaries that stop producing more eggs, we call it menopause and call it normal.  When all the men start having limp, less adept penises and lower sperm counts, we call it “erectile dysfunction” and make a billion-dollar industry out of making them hard again, instead of accepting that aging men can’t always perform sexually on command.  It’s normal for a woman’s sexual function to change, but it is a problem to avoid and be “fixed” for a man?  Who decided that?  The pharmaceutical companies?  The medical professionals?  The sex work industry?  Who made this a thing?

And who made being chronically ill unacceptable but being terminally ill perfectly fine?  That question makes me sound like an asshole all the time, I know.  But it only makes me sound like an asshole because of the perceptions already infused into those terms.  Chronically ill.  Terminally ill.  One is a drain on society.  One is a sainted state worthy of all the compassion.  We all know which one is which.  I’m not the sainted one worthy of all the compassion.  I’m the other.  And I am an asshole for pointing out that there is a bias.  I am an asshole for pointing out that dying faster somehow makes you worthier of care.  (At least in the eyes of many in our society, that is—it doesn’t actually make you worthier of care.)

Who decided that I need a “real job” to be treated like a “real person”?  Who decided that I am allowed to be treated poorly because I am in a state of poverty—or that I deserve to live in an impoverished state if I cannot work due to illness?  Who decided that $750 per month is the amount that a disabled person who has less than 40 work credits should be forced to live on, making this entire post even a thing that exists?  And why do I not get any credits for the early years of my work history when I was delivering papers and babysitting, or for the years when I was working two part time jobs and going to school and raising a daughter as a single parent.  That was more damn work than I have seen most anyone do—ever.  And that doesn’t “count” for anything.  Who decided that doesn’t count as work? Who decided I get $750 instead of $3000 because of those years?  Who decided that my life isn’t valuable enough to be offered what I need to not be sitting at this desk, in pain, avoiding my bills like the plague.

If I had the plague, I would get more benefits.  Because it would kill me.  If you are dying they let you have a better quality of life than if you will live.  Oh wait … not socially acceptable.  We already went over that.

So, this avoidance, this thing that was written into our DNA as a positive survival instinct has somehow become a thing that we use to cover up and shame and deny and harm whatever is connected to our socially unaccepted suffering.  And I don’t know that I will ever get a complete, straight answer about how that came to be, or who determined and decided what was or was not acceptable, but I do hope that I will someday begin to shape the conversation around why we do this, and why we need to stop doing this.

We need to stop avoiding suffering and pain and bad shit that happens, because it happens to all of us.  It is part of the human experience.  And it is an important part of that experience. While much of my suffering was regrettable, and I obviously would choose to go down another path if I could, the person I am today was forged in the flames of that suffering.  Those challenges shaped me.  And they made me a better person.

They didn’t make me a better person right away.  In fact, they led me down a dangerous road to some very dark places.  But that happened when I was trying to hide and avoid and stuff away all of the bad things.  If I had been able to and allowed to cope with what I had experienced as a child, or a teen, in positive ways—expressing the pain and the betrayal and the confusion and the suffering openly and in a safe space—I would have avoided that road and those places altogether.  I might have avoided mental illness and chronic pain altogether.  (Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia, in distinct terms, so I cannot know that for certain, but it is linked with stress and often presents in tandem with post-traumatic stress, so it is possible that without the PTSD there would be no fibromyalgia.)  Our society’s insistence that pain be hidden likely caused me more pain.

But now that I am in a space where I am able to process and cope with and express all that I should have been allowed to express all those years ago, I am becoming strong and wise and good in ways I might not have were it not for the experience that I went through.

Lament shapes the spirit in beautiful ways.

Pain makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  That is not something that we should hide.  And that is certainly not something we should avoid.

We still shouldn’t run, stupidly, toward danger without a plan.  But there isn’t a need for us to hide and avoid something that makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  Frankly, hiding that seems like a stupid run toward danger … it probably is.  And that is probably why so many things about our society today seem so messed up, in the sense where one person refuses to lay down their “right” for the lives of, potentially, thousands of others.

We are in danger, and we are being stupid.  Because we have hidden so well and avoided so effectively the thing that makes us compassionate and kind and understanding and gracious and loving and connected and strong, that we have become the sort of society that breaks apart and leaves individuals to be slaughtered as “they”, somehow apart from us and without our compassion, rather than feel the pain of the truth—that we have become so unfeeling that we cannot mourn our own brokenness, so we deny it again and again.

We have put some imagined dessert to rights of the individual above the conscious collective of the society.  I now becomes more important than we.  And that is a grave error.

We, the people—that is how it begins.  Not, I the individual who wants a gun and an erection despite the compassion and the biological facts that are required for me to understand the world around me.

“I don’t suffer.  I don’t have pain.  I take a Tylenol and go to work.  I have rights.”

But that isn’t true.  We all suffer.  We all have pain.  We all have days when no painkiller will dull the ache we feel—be it physical or emotional.  And, most importantly, WE have rights—all of us together, in concert, and being accountable to one another.  The only way to accurately see that, is to start to uncover the pain and suffering and to acknowledge it, to express it, to cope with it, and to begin shaping yourself and your life into one that has compassion, kindness, understanding, grace, love, connection, and collaborative strength.

Stop the avoidance.  Embrace the lament.  Feel.  Suffer.  And come out the other side a better version of yourself.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to suffer through paying my bills.

 

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Food Chain

I’ve watched this progression happening inside my home over the past month or so.  The container garden in my sun porch at some point brought little flying bugs into the environment.  Whether they came from the soil or from the great outdoors is unclear, but they arrived, nonetheless.  And I have tried several remedies that promise to remove the microcosmic infestation in the front window, to no avail.

But the progressive part is that as the population of the tiny insects increased, so did the incidence of spotting arachnids.  Spiders.  I hate them.  I have an irrational fear of the spiders.  I’m the Ron Weasley of the real world—freezing, crying, losing the ability to speak, and basically freaking out when a spider comes calling.

For the most part, the arachnids have been tiny, in correlation to the tiny bugs, I suppose.  So, I am coping with relative sanity.

Next have come the “creepy bugs”.  Someone once told me not to kill them, because they consume spiders, so they are apparently a friend to the arachnophobe.  But they are no friend to me, because I consider them creepy.  They look downright scary.  They are some sort of centipede, I suppose, but they have legs jutting out the bottom en masse, and they have a symmetrical wealth of leg-like protrusions on the top of their bodies.  I’m getting a shiver up my spine just imagining them for long enough to describe them.

I remember a time with my friends Nic and Adam had a snake in their second floor apartment.  We lived in the same apartment complex, and when the snake showed up in their environment, I immediately jumped into anti-snake mode.  That meant a concerted effort to trap and kill any and all mice or rats that could be present in or around my apartment.  I’m not sure how you snake-proof a home, but the concern I addressed was the food supply for snakes, not the snakes themselves.

I never had a snake in my apartment.  I did catch some mice.  And the mice were present because some lady in another building on the complex had made it her personal mission to capture and send to shelters the cats that lived around the apartments.  Had she left them be, the cats would be eating the mice, and the snakes wouldn’t move in because they would have no food supply and a potential predator in the cats.

So, as I watch this little cycle of life in my window sill, I think about where I sit on the food chain.  And by this I do not mean that I am concerned with who or what might consider me meat.  By this I mean, what threats and resources are affecting my life, and why.

I’m not high on the list as far as human hierarchy goes.  I’m a disabled, impoverished, woman.  So that is at least three strikes against me.  I’m also white and educated, so I am offered some privilege.  I suppose if we were to consider the hierarchy of my society (and several others) a food chain, I might be the spider. (Ironic, since I am petrified of them.)

I might be the one who had a few being “below” and a few “above”.  I am not in the worst position, but I am not in the best.  I assist others, but I also need assistance.  I live in this middle space, clinging to a rung halfway up the ladder.  And it gives me, I believe, an interesting perspective.  I can relate to those with more and those with less.  I can relate with the “haves” and I can relate with the “have nots”.  But there are days that I cannot relate with either—or I don’t want to.

There are days when I want to leave this underserved, loud, dirty, potentially dangerous area.  I get tired of the noise—the sirens, the yelling, the gunfire.  I get tired of the long commute to anything and everything.  I get tired of not fitting in or looking right or getting stopped by the cops because of my white skin.  I get tired of being followed by dudes yelling “damn” at my ass.  I get tired of trying to explain away how or why I live here without outing myself as poor.  And I get tired of all the other people who seize stereotypes and make assumptions about this place I am tired of being in, because despite its faults, this is my home, and there is much beauty and strength in this place.

There are days when I want to be a person with greater means.  There are times that I feel jealous of the friends with cars and homes and second homes.  There are times I want the “American Dream”.

There are more days, however, when I want to scream at the people who have all of this, and to tell them what selfish, self-serving, privileged bullshit they participate in, without even knowing.  I get tired of people who are wealthy pretending they are poor.  I get tired of people whining about the inconveniences of their gigantic remodel.  I get tired of people saying they are broke and then going out to dinner every night.  I get tired of being associated with this type of upper-middle class person just because I am white and educated.  I get tired of people assuming that I belong with the “them” while I feel like an “us”.

Frankly, it is exhausting to be in this middle space, between two worlds, because I feel like I must constantly critique and defend one to the other.  I want everyone in my neighborhood to know that there are some generous and kind, rich, white people.  I want everyone who would not desire to set foot in my neighborhood to know that it is filled with intelligent, hard-working, kind people.  I need to constantly justify all the things to all the people.

And then there is the added stress of my own situation needing to be constantly justified.  I need money.  I need help.  I need time.  I need energy.  I need surgery.  I need to make it sound acceptable to have all of these needs, or people refuse to take seriously or meet those needs.

The middle is an impossible place to live.  You can almost touch the better things, but if you reach up you risk falling back down into a worse space.  So you stay, clinging to the little that you have.  Hustling and hoping.  Wanting more but not able to live through less.  Clinging to the place where you have barely enough to survive.

If that sounds depressing, it is.

There are no questions as to why my antidepressant medication dose keeps increasing.  This rung is a depressing one.  This middle of the food chain feels like a constant threat, but also like a huge blessing.  I’m not at my worst.  But I am also not at my best.

And here we arrive at the statement “ignorance is bliss”.  Because if I didn’t know the best, or the worst, I wouldn’t feel trapped in this middle, fearful of losing my grip and too paralyzed to attempt upward mobility.  The people around me hope with an unyielding strength I have never seen before.  They keep believing in the more, in the higher rungs, and in a new and better day.  I know that the new and better day is not what it appears to be.  I know that there is just a dollar or two between rungs.  I know that there is prejudice at the top that keeps those with enough dollars to move up tumbling back down.  I know that there is abundance and that it isn’t being offered to the people on the lower rungs.  I know that if the people above would just share, the whole fucking ladder could turn on its side, leaving us with equity, and even footing, and no need to compete at the climbing.  I know that those people don’t share unless it is in their self-interest, and their dollars come with strings attached.  I know because I am in the middle.  I know because I am the spider.  I know because I have one foot in poverty and one foot in opportunity.

The proverbial food chain allows for ignorance at the bottom and ignorance at the top.  But the middle is the space filled with knowledge—frustrating, hope-stealing, anger inducing, devastating knowledge.

I know poverty and possibility.  And I am not better off for it.  I am tortured by it.

The wealth of the top is achieved upon the backs of the ones at the bottom.  We are the macrocosm of the microcosmic activity in my window sill.  We consume one and escape the other.

And I can’t stop thinking that this is wrong.  I can’t stop thinking that humanity should be behaving with a more evolved and more educated system than the insects.  I can’t stop feeling that we are very far from what we were intended to be, and that the ladder and the food chain and the striving and the inequity are all distractions from where our attention ought to be placed.  I can’t stop believing that we should be placing our attention and energy on justice—on ending the ladder.

There is this line spoken by Daenerys Targaryen, a character in J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series, that mimics the sentiment that I often put forth.  After the many powerful houses of the era are named and called spokes on a wheel, she says with great conviction, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”

In saying this, she expresses that she will not simply be the newest in the line of leaders that overtake the current system.  She is, instead, going to destroy that system.  She is going to make a new way of being possible by taking apart the system of injustice currently in place.

I’m going to break the wheel.  I’m going to break the ladder.

I’m going to create a new system, and not allow the once unjust and oppressive way of being to survive.  I’m not going to tolerate the present and hope for a better future, but I am going to smash through the present to create a new present.

What if we stopped being a glorified food chain and broke the ladder?  What if we let go of the ideas of “earned” and “deserved” things and status?  What would Daenerys do today?

WWDD: What Would Dany Do?

How do we break the wheel in our own society?  How do I stop being the spider and consuming the fly?  How do I keep the creepy bugs from chasing me?  How do we create a system that doesn’t look like the unevolved and inhumane clamoring for power and money and resources, and instead looks like cooperative and compassionate co-existence?

I’m tired of being in the middle, but I am more tired of the idea of the middle.  I’m tired of caste systems and hierarchies and patriarchy and all the other systems of oppression and power that make us predators or make us lunch, depending on the situation.

It is time to function on a higher plane.  It is time to break the wheel.  It is time to end this system and find a new one.   It is time for human beings to step outside of the food chain, and use our enlightenment for good and not for evil.

It is time to stop treating one another like meat.