I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this blog post for about 3 1/2 years. At first I kept putting it off because I thought that one of these days I would come up with a solution to some of the problems I’ve been wrestling with and then I would finally know how to write this post. But at this point I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there’s never really going to be a solution. So I figured I might as well just write this and send it out into the world to see if it resonates with anyone else.
In January of 2017, a couple of weeks before Trump’s inauguration, I ended up in the hospital for 3 days and, honestly, my life has been pretty chaotic since then (to be fair, it was pretty chaotic before then, too, but I love the symmetry of that image). The chaos in the outside world has mirrored the chaos in my own life. And every time I think I’ve finally found my footing and can take a breath, settle into a routine, let go of panic, the floor crumbles underneath me right on schedule.
Since that hospital stay I’ve had months long battles with my insurance company over name/gender changes and medication coverage, top surgery (a good thing, but still major surgery with a long recovery) and a year of intense post-surgery nerve pain afterwards (not such a good thing). I’ve had to navigate changing insurance companies after Blue Cross left California (when they sent me the letter announcing they were leaving, my brain completely blocked it out, I had no memory of receiving anything, which is the only time that’s ever happened to me in my life). I’ve had to deal with changing the name and gender on my driver’s license twice because they lost my paperwork, and I’ve had multiple issues with my car. I’ve gone through several jobs, at times working two jobs at once (which is challenging even when not dealing with chronic illness) and I’ve dropped out of two different study programs (one in Waldorf education and one in library and information technology). I’ve also had to take care of a cat with serious health issues ending in her sudden death last year. I am probably forgetting something.
The point is, I was already exhausted. And then the pandemic hit and I lost my job, the job that I had spent YEARS trying to get because it was a part time job that actually paid enough that I could barely qualify for an insurance subsidy. I lost that job with no explanation, in the middle of a pandemic, during record unemployment, at a time when working outside the home is particularly unsafe (especially for someone on immune suppressants and living with a diabetic). And I’m in a better position than most people. I live with my parents so I don’t have to worry about paying rent. I’m on unemployment. I am probably going to be fine. But I don’t know what to do with the fact that I spent YEARS working towards this goal only for it to go up in smoke through no fault of my own. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that I spent so much time and energy chasing stability only for everything to blow up so spectacularly in my face.
And those are just the many upheavals in my own life. Alongside that has been the never ending litany of disasters that is the Trump presidency. There are the myriad ways in which this administration has targeted trans people and the myriad ways they’ve tried to do away with the ACA and the protections that came with it, like making sure those of us with pre-existing conditions can even get health insurance. There have been the ever-increasing wildfires in California, worrying about friends and family losing their houses and their lives, worrying about my parents’ house and our own lives. The ever-growing threat of climate change. And those are only the things that affect me personally.
Back in that long ago January of 2017, before I ended up in the hospital, I had this naive idea that I would spend the next four years of this presidency DOING something to stop all these terrible things from happening, to stop climate change, to stop Trump, to stop them taking away the things I was so close to achieving (transition! cheaper health insurance!). But then I ended up in the hospital and there was always some emergency to navigate. I’ve felt like a hamster on an endless wheel spinning between trying to take care of my health/navigate the medical industry (its own part time job), trying to get a better job/more financial independence, trying to have a writing career, and trying to do some form of activism even if it’s just writing letters to representatives or signing petitions. None of it ever feels like it’s enough.
And the result is that no matter what I’m doing I always feel like I’m doing the wrong thing. If I’m trying to get a better job I feel like I should be writing, if I’m writing I feel like I should be volunteering, if I’m writing letters to representatives I feel like I should be doing something like yoga to manage my pain, if I’m doing yoga I feel like I should be job searching. On and on. Only it’s worse because whenever I’m doing one thing there’s at least three other options clamoring for my attention. It’s paralyzing and it makes it so that half the time I don’t do anything because I don’t even know what to prioritize.
In the past, well meaning friends have suggested that I just do a little bit of everything, but that approach always leaves me feeling stretched thin like I’m trying to juggle twenty balls in the air and dropping them all on my head. Others have stressed the importance of self care, but self care in a state of emergency often feels like a luxury. If you’re standing on the beach in front of an oncoming tidal wave you don’t stop to practice self care. You get the hell off of that beach.
Now with the pandemic in full swing I feel even more overwhelmed. Do I drop everything and focus on finding another job? What would that even look like in the age of COVID 19 when all the things I have experience in (education, libraries) feel incredibly unsafe? Do I try learning new skills or take whatever I can get? Do I focus even harder on taking care of my body in case I get sick? Do I take this opportunity to write more now that it isn’t safe to leave the house and hope that that eventually leads to some extra income? Do I try to volunteer for an organization that’s helping people through this disaster if I can find a safe way to help?
The truth is I have felt enormously guilty over the past few years that I’m not doing more to fight back against all the awful things happening in the world and at the same time I’ve felt trapped by my body and my lack of independence. It seems like an enormous privilege to have the support of my parents and a roof over my head, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life financially dependent on them. And mixed up with everything else is the fear that every time I put off writing I’m putting off any hope of my writing dreams coming true for something that may very well fall apart like my other jobs have. After all, writing, like any art, so often happens in the cracks of a person’s life. We have to make that time happen or it doesn’t happen at all. We have to prioritize it.
A part of me feels like if the world is falling apart I might as well just do whatever I want to do (since trying to be practical has worked out so well for me 😒). But another part of me thinks about the people who are dying because of this administration, because of racism, because of climate change, a tsunami that’s already bearing down on us, and thinks, “How can I possibly sit here in my house reading books and writing? What good does that do anyone?!” And yet another part of me worries that in order to be truly helpful I’d have to become something I’m not. I have friends who are lawyers and activists, for example, impressive people who actually accomplish things! But I don’t know how to do the things they do and I’m not sure I even want to. I want to be what I am, which is a creative person. I just don’t know how to be that and be of use in a world that feels like it’s falling apart.
Anyway, this is a long and messy post but these are some of the things I’ve been wrestling with for years. Do you have the same struggles, reader? How have you figured out how to prioritize in these chaotic times? If you’re also a creative person, how are you finding the time and energy to create? And do you struggle with guilt too? I’d like to think I’m not the only one going through this.