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.

 

Advertisements

The Song that Never Ends

I feel like shit.

I could probably end there, and just let that be my post for the day.

But I keep putting “write” on the schedule that I don’t follow.  I’d kind of like to cross that off my list.

So, I feel like shit.

And that isn’t a new thing at all.  Which is why the song that never ends seemed appropriate as a title for this post.  I say this all the time, because I feel this all the time.

Last week I was diagnosed with bronchitis.  It is a blow to the body and to the psyche to have bronchitis.  I’m getting to the point where I think that living in a bubble might be preferable to being exposed to the outside world.  And by outside world, I don’t just mean dirty places or contagious people, but literally all of the world outside my apartment.

Environmental allergies.

Dust and mold, for starters.

I’ve been treated every which way—including the much debated and often frowned upon NAET treatments that a person desperate to stop being sick will try–because that person would try almost anything to stop reacting to things and becoming violently ill.

And bronchitis is violent.

My whole body aches from the depth of the cough, which makes the muscles that you never think about or concern yourself with spasm and become pained and fatigued.  There are times that I end up on the floor after a particularly brutal coughing fit.  I double over, hoping that somehow that will reduce the struggle and help me find air.  I’m not sure that it helps.  But I am sure that it seems like the only action one can take to combat the effects of the onslaught.  Double over and gasp for air—it seems the only natural resistance.

I don’t intend to whine about my situation here.  It comes out that way at times.  And some days I do wish for the slightest validation of my suffering, because it deserves to be recognized.  I deserve to be recognized.  But today is not one of those days.

Today is simply the day that I keep saying what I am always saying—that I feel like shit.

If you know me well, you have been around that feeling for a long time now.  If you don’t know me well, you still have easy access to the information.  It is obvious from what I say and do and write that I am suffering more often than I am not.

And I think that it must get really boring and annoying and redundant and frustrating to hear me complain time after time that I feel like shit.  It must be tiring.  It must suck.

It is a really stupid thing to feel, but I feel guilty for being sick.  I feel guilty for burdening others.  I feel guilty for not showing up and not participating.  I feel guilty for going along and placing limits on what we can or cannot do while we are out.  I feel guilty for offering the truth of my situation as a part of our conversation.  I feel guilty for having nothing more fabulous and exciting to discuss.  I feel guilty as I see the eyes of those across the table shift from attentive to numb and indifferent while I explain my newest challenge, or offer details of my situation.

I get it.

It is the song that never ends.

I always talk about sickness and disability and poverty and medical care and socio-economic patterns and the evils of capitalism and the failures of our systems.  And most of that is hard to hear, and even harder to want to engage with any sort of energy.  Because it sucks.

There are not a lot of people I know who feel that they are in a place where they will always remain.  I don’t mean a physical space, necessarily, but a situation that they will never have an opportunity to change.

Most of us—most of you—get to change at will.  Change careers.  Change partners.  Change clothes.  Change perspective.  Change schedules.  Change environments.

And that change might not always be easy, but it is possible.

My never-ending song/story is such because the possibility of change at will has been stripped away.

You want to believe that isn’t the case.  You want to argue that I can still make choices.  And I can still make choices; but I never get to make a choice that isn’t influenced by my disabilities.  Everything revolves around that illness.  Each step that I take considers that, first and foremost.  It dictates all the things, all the time.

I feel like shit.  And that determines everything else about my day, my week, my month, and my life.  A bad day can quickly avalanche its way into a bad year.  It is even determining the words that I type right now.  I keep thinking that I am no longer making sense, and that I have lost the point that I was seeking to make.  I don’t feel well enough to concentrate.  My chest hurts.  I can’t breathe.  My hands are shaking.  I’m queasy and light-headed.  My stomach has that flu-like feeling that can only be described as “yucky”.  My toes are suffering what feels like being stabbed.  My head feels full of cotton and not brain matter.

And I am not going to stop feeling like this.

I will stop feeling it for a while.  It won’t always be this bad.  But it will always be.

I will always be at risk, afraid of the environment and its effects on me, feel guilt about the social implications of my illness, suffer the pain and frustration and challenge of my disability, struggle to find the words to express my life story without making it sound pathetic and desperate and sad, and waiting for the next time I feel like shit.

Yes, this song doesn’t end.  Yes, I will always be talking about my physical and mental health.  Yes, I will always have bad days.  Yes, I will always share my experience with honesty, and show the bad alongside the good.

Today there isn’t a whole lot of good.  Today is mostly bad.

But to be in my life, you need to be okay with a life that is mostly bad.  You need to let this song be sung, and maybe even sing along.  You need to accept my disability and disease as a part of who I am and what I am and where I am.  And you need to know that will never change.  If you can’t handle that, then you don’t belong in my life.

That sounds harsh, I know.  But my life is harsh.  And I need to be honest about that.

I’ve recently said that I will no longer keep the secrets of others, to my detriment.  And part of letting those secrets be freed is accepting that there is a lot of pain and suffering that will also be unleashed.  So, the bad days might increase.

I’ve opened the box, Pandora.  And the chaos that comes out isn’t something that can be controlled.  I can’t plan for the ways that affects my person, my situation, my family, my friends, or my life.  I can only wade through the waters, not stop the flood.

“Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?  Will I wake tomorrow, from this nightmare?”

A line from a song in the musical RENT seems to echo what I am currently feeling.  But the last question has already been answered for me, and for the characters in the show.  We won’t wake from the nightmare.  The bad stuff—the feeling like shit—is still going to be here tomorrow and the next day, and the next.

But the question of my dignity and the question of the others who may or may not care remain.

Can you love a person who is always “deficient” in some way?  Can you care about someone who has no foreseeable economic gains?  Can you respect someone who doesn’t have a “normal”, professional career?  Can you accept a friend or partner who has obvious limitations?  Can you live in the space where the never-ending song plays on?

I must live in that space.  I don’t have an option.  I can’t leave my limits and challenges behind.  They come on the journey.  They stay packed in my baggage and carried along.  They are a part of my life—a part of me.  So, when the never-ending statement, “I feel like shit”, comes along, how will you address it?  How can you best interact with it?  How can you cope?

You can do as I do.  You can honor and validate and give heed to the struggle.  And by so doing, you offer grace and peace and confidence and trust and understanding that transforms.  The song will still be the same, but it is made more beautiful by the harmonies of a choir.

Joining in the honest acknowledgment of my limitations, and knowing that they are not the whole of me, but a valid and important part changes the score.

It transforms pain into beauty.

It makes beautiful music.

 

Production

Yesterday I deleted some people from my friends list on Facebook.  This isn’t uncommon, as far as my activities in a normal week might go.  It is uncommon that I have such a visceral reaction to the things people say that get them removed from the list.

These people clearly hit a nerve.  So, I dug into that nerve.  And my digging brought about the realization that they were saying things that I say to myself, and that is why it was so hurtful.  I haven’t talked to these people in years.  They know nothing of my situation, and never bothered to ask about it, but felt incredibly free to judge it, nonetheless.  And they judged not just the situation, but me within the situation.  They were making attacks—entirely unfounded attacks—on my character, and calling me a person who lies and steals.

Why, you might wonder, would I call myself a person who lies and steals?  And I have an answer.  Society.

When you are ill and cannot be “productive” in some hyper-capitalistic sense, you are called lazy and worthless on a pretty regular basis.  And if not called it, then at least made to feel it.  North American society oozes production.  We over produce and we over consume and we are basically a big fat nation that hogs all the stuff and money. And when you don’t buy into the system of making too much and having too much you get all sorts of push-back.  Has anybody been called “granola” or “hippie” for letting go of the idea that we need all the things all the time?  Has anybody been chastised and berated for being too slow at making a latte or typing a document or responding to a text message?  Has anybody been given the side-eye because they ordered a side salad for dinner at the steak house?

We are expected to fall in line and over produce and over consume and to always want more and always be more and never fail or slow or stop.

So, when you cannot play that game, and you sit the bench, you feel the disdain of the whole of your society.  It pours over you.  And you start to feel it inside of you.  And it becomes not the mourning and coping that it ought be—the letting go of expectations and settling into your new truth—but a self-hatred that you never deserved.

Bodies and minds are complex and beautiful.  And because they are such, we don’t always know what they are doing or why.  My rheumatologist said today that I was pretty much stuck in the disabled column “unless they come up with a miracle pill”.  And it would be a miracle pill because they don’t even know what causes my illness, much less how to treat it effectively.  Barring an act of god, I stay this way.  I stay broken and in pain and unproductive.  And I hate that.

To hear someone else say to me the things that swim through my mind.  To have relative strangers and former friends voice those things was hurtful because they were my fears realized.  I am lazy.  I am bad.  I am not enough.

None of those things are true.   Not one.  But I feel like they are because of the way our society treats people who don’t produce in the ways that they deem fit.

I do produce.

I write when I am able, and I create works of art when I am able, and I am trying to learn to sew again, and I have a lovely little rosemary plant that I am growing in my front window.  I also encourage and offer love to my friends and my daughter and my dad.  Sometimes I talk with the neighbors, or send coloring pages to friends.  I often spend time meditating and doing a few yoga poses and listening to or reading material that helps me cope with my illnesses.  I listen to music.  I play with my dog.  I bake cookies once in a while.  I compare theories on racism or feminism or Game of Thrones episodes with friends.

And that is more than enough.  That might even be better than the Almighty Dollar or the shoddy product or the other service I might provide.  If I could make a Big Mac, and not sit and braid a rug when I have the dexterity and energy, would you respect me and value me more?  I hope not.

I mean, I’ve been a fast food worker, and spent much of my life working in the service industry, so I am in no way belittling the people who make your Big Mac.  They deserve a thousand times more money and respect than they are currently receiving.  But, what are the parameters for successful production?  And who made them?

I’m choosing to reject them, no matter who made the parameters or what they are.  I am enough as a disabled woman working her hardest to make ends meet and to jump through all the ridiculous hoops the state demands of me in order to get the benefits that are legally and rightfully mine through the Social Security Administration.  And if that isn’t enough for you, then maybe you need to evaluate how you value people, and not evaluate what I do or don’t do with my time.

It isn’t like I break into your house and judge your parenting or cooking skill.  And if you asked me to mail a letter on your behalf, I wouldn’t assume it was acceptable to judge all the areas of your life because you asked for one thing from me.  And why would it be okay for you to put a spotlight on all the areas of my life because I ask you for one thing?  Is it because that thing is money?

If that thing being money makes the difference, then you value money more than you value lives.  If asking for a favor and asking for money are on two completely different planes, in your estimation, then you serve money, and not humanity.  Because if you would pick up some milk for me, but not give me five dollars, you are placing undue value on the dollars.  Of the two, five dollars is probably worth less than the favor, if you factor in the price of gas, the price of milk, and the value of your time.

I’m currently listening to a song that has lyrics that repeat, “Have you ever lost every part of yourself?”  And this resonates with me, because becoming disabled felt like losing every part of myself.  I can’t do what I once did.  My mind isn’t the same.  My body isn’t the same.  My capabilities and skills and gifts and occupations and expectations all came to a grinding halt.  I lost everything I was, in some sense.

Until I realized, and people reminded me, that I didn’t lose all.  I still have my sense of humor and my fabulous snarky sarcasm and my beautiful eyes and that face that always shows what I am thinking (even when I want to conceal what I am thinking) and my love for humanity and my passion for justice and my artistic spirit and my love of music and the power of Wonder Woman as my guiding light.  I am still me, but I produce at a slower rate than I once did.  And this is only problematic if I keep buying into the idea that my value is directly correlated with my rate of production.

No person’s value should ever be directly correlated with their rate of production.  Not ever.

So, these people who are no longer on my friend list did me a favor.  They reminded me of who I am and what I am capable of, instead of keeping me stuck in a place where I was focused on my own lack of production and means of production.  They shook me out of the place where I valued myself only as the hyper-capitalist society valued me, and brought me back to the peace of knowing who I am, and valuing myself as a human, and not as a mode of production.

Would it not be incredibly transformative for each of us to have someone push us into that knowing and that valuing of the self?  What if the people working 65 hours knew that they would be just as cared for and valued if they worked 32 hours?  They would likely all choose the 32.  What if we all believed that our passions were worth living out, instead of things relegated to the spare room or the moments when we finally retire from the 9 to 5 production race?  How many people would be writing a concerto instead of punching a time clock?

What would happen if we all looked at ourselves and one another through a lens that included valuation based on humanity and joy and kindness and love and passion and friendship and interest and curiosity and so on and so forth, instead of one that valued only production, and subsequent dollars?  I would LOVE living in that world—and not just because it would mean I struggled less with seeing my disability as a failure of humanity, but because the whole world would be filled with good and love and joy, not stuff.  I would much rather have the love and the joy and the good than the stuff.

So, I am not deficient.  I am actually less so than those who would judge my inability to produce as a marker of deceit and theft. Because I value humanity above productivity.  I look at people and see people, not burdens or benefits.

How do you see people?  Do you see them at all, or are you too busy trying to prove your own productivity?  Take a breath.  Let it go.  And look deeper.

You are not the sum of your production.

You are a person.

And you are valuable.