A photograph of an orange and white striped cat laying on a pink-red bedspread.

Can I Cease Striving and Start Living?

I’ve stopped asking who I would be without my disability and begun to consider who I would be if I lived in a society that centered the needs of disabled people such as myself and which treated us as something more than the sum total of our “productivity.” I’m disturbed at how fully and uncritically I’d bought into capitalism and work as a measure of worth. Had I known where my effort was leading me, I would have course-corrected long ago.

An aspect of this reassessment has been to realize that many of the aspects of what I’ve consider success in other people are most likely, at least in part, the result of privilege. Yes, each person faces their own struggles and challenges in life, but some of us have a much shorter path to travel to arrive at the “American dream” than do others. Something has always felt off when people have praised me for prevailing against the odds and said they were proud of my accomplishments. I wonder if this is because reaching those accomplishments took from me or prevented me from obtaining core securities such as trust, relationships and safety.

Even writing this feels self-indulgent and disempowering. I don’t want to become stuck in anger, facing off with those with more power saying “fix it,” although that is likely a much more appropriate assignment of blame than shaming myself for being disabled. I want nothing more than to disengage from our capitalist society entirely and either emigrate or become wholly self-sufficient.

There are real limitations to what I can do right now to achieve these goals, so I find myself gravitating towards trying to accept a reality I despise. I would not miss my job or where I currently live for one heartbeat, but, in leaving abruptly, I would be choosing at least a time of severe poverty and lack of access to healthcare. I am at least burdened with a choice; I feel a new level of empathy for those who are trapped in relationships with family, partners and/or friends who cannot leave because our society’s lack of provision and accommodation for their disability prevents them from doing so.

I am sitting with where I’m at and allowing myself time to notice if any answers arrive. In the meantime, one question I want to begin to ask myself more frequently is the following: “What would I like to be doing right now?” rather than “what should I be doing right now?” I am so afraid of acting in a way I classify as lazy; I need to explore the discomfort of that space instead of busying myself in a futile attempt to subvert it. How much are you affected by needing to feel busy and productive? How much would you be or are you impacted by the word “lazy”? How far apart does “what I want” and “what I should do” feel to you?

Living and Working with Disability

During this past year, I sought out and was granted a disability accommodation at my job. My work is about to start back up after a natural break and I am filled with constant dread. I’ve searched for years for an alternative to working where I do and I’ve concluded that my disability (primarily PTSD but other issues as well) is so severe that I may need to seek permanent disability status. If I knew that I would be granted this if I sought it and that it wouldn’t be taken away from me, I would have applied for it yesterday. That’s how difficult it is for me to make it through each day at my job.

I am about a decade and a half from the earliest at which I could potentially retire with some benefits. I cannot imagine how I can possibly get through this as I feel that I’ve been running on fumes for the past three to four years and am about to coast to a full stop. The triggers that are present at my job are constant and intense and, as such, they overwhelm my capacity to cope. I’ve had time off and have done nothing but worry about what is to come in the next year; even away from it, my job consumes nearly all of my mental and emotional energy. Coming out as trans and non-binary has only escalated the situation and increased the likelihood of triggering situations.

I feel less stuck now that I’ve come to accept the reality that there isn’t another type of job that would alleviate my symptoms. I both can’t do my job and I’m choosing to do my job for right now as I weigh the pros and cons of applying for disability. I do not feel any shame about getting to this place, but it is bewildering to think back to my early 20’s where I never would have imagined I would be at this place (in fairness, I was frequently suicidal so I often saw no future at all for myself during that time).

I’ve told people again and again that getting up each day and taking care of food and shelter has felt as though it has taken everything I have in me, but I didn’t actually hear what I was saying because I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t forced into an impossibly stressful and overwhelming experience every workday. I’ve significantly reduced my commitment at my job to the bare minimum of full-time work; in doing so, I’ve given up tens of thousands in income every year. This change has helped but, when a person is running on fumes, pushing with less intensity on the gas pedal still uses up whatever fuel remains.

I would be extremely grateful to read about your experiences if you’ve been on disability or thought about pursuing it. There are so many stereotypes and judgments about “not working” and I’ve definitely fallen for them myself for far too long. It took a lot for me to apply for disability accommodations and I regret not going down that path earlier, so I want to keep an open mind about my options now as well.

A Brief Update

I’ve been absent from writing here for a few months. At first, I was overwhelmed with work and then, more recently, I’ve felt stuck every time I try to write. I know how healing this process has been in the past for me, so I want to at least post here and there even it is to say that I don’t know what to say.

I am struggling on a daily basis with feelings of judgment. I feel so angry at others for not doing their part in facing what we are dealing with as a country and as part of the human race. My rage shields me from the helplessness of the moment in which we are living (at least in the U.S.). I cannot control so much of the systems that are failing the most vulnerable at every turn.

I’m someone who can’t shut off from reality for very long because I fear losing myself back into a state of denial as I did in regards to the abuse I endured as a child. Oppression and the genocide of indifference sit with me. I feel called to hold vigil for all whom we are losing and who have been lost. I want to hold space for the collective suffering that is upon us. Only then will my rage be transformed into whatever grace finds me.

Air after Rainstorm

I have been posting less frequently as of late. I thought I would be entering a time of rest and relaxation and have instead learned that I will likely have to begin a lengthy period of intense focus and large amounts of unpaid labor related to my job. I’ve gone through pretty much all of the stages of grief in relation to this. I was at first furious and then depressed that my plans had been dashed; I’ve now adjusted to the news as best I can and finding glimpses of gratitude.

In the context of this time of transition, the weather where I live has been equally unpredictable and out of sync with what it would normally be for this time of year. Today, though, we’re getting late-spring heavy rain. I went outside during a break in the downpours and was blessed by the intense earthy and floral perfume that seemed suspended in the saturated air. I have a pine tree and I noticed drops of water clinging to the end of each needle–the moment before, now and after co-existing in the surface tension.

The most joyous part of my meditation was the birdsong. It was bursting from trees in every direction and I felt that I’d stumbled into the middle of a sing-off between rival bird groups. For once, there was more non-human than human noise where I live and I relished the moment. How is nature showing up for you today?

It’s Not Normal and It’s Not New

I hate the phrase “the new normal.” Implied in it is an expectation of psychological adjustment, without any of the requisite grief and mourning that adjustment will require for many. For some, their life narrative may have a framing of “life before COVID” and “life after COVID;” for others, this may not be the most significant shift in their story. Although the event is universal, the impact is unevenly distributed. I think it reeks of privilege and a shallowness of one’s capacity to feel to assume everyone, including people who are being disproportionally affected, should instantly absorb earth-shattering change and move on having potentially redefined nearly every aspect of their life as though nothing happened.

As a trauma survivor, the framing of the “new normal” is all too familiar. We have mantras like “forgive and forget” in our society as a way to absolve the bystanders of a need for collective grief when any one of us is harmed. This moment and the moments to follow deserve a witness. They deserve a deep grief, if not for our personal pain, for our collective suffering. I think we vary in terms of how much of this we can individually bear, but to mock and label cowardly those who do so on behalf of us all reveals much about one’s character. I hope life grants you the space and support to feel what you feel and to adjust to what is unfolding in your way and your own time.

Little Losses, Big Complaints

Can I get a refund on today? I’m sure almost everyone has had one of these days, where negativity and frustration seem to be waiting around every corner. I won’t bore you with my list of “all the things that went wrong out of nowhere” but it is growing by the minute. I’m searching for grace and it seems to be as elusive as ever, although I’m noticing that my body isn’t physically reacting as intensely as it normally would be by this level of ridiculousness.

I feel like complaining to someone and then I find myself swinging internally to a feeling of guilt for not being more grateful for the blessings I do have. The phrase “in the grand scheme of things…” feels like a necessary preface to everything that isn’t 100% positivity during the international crisis we are facing. I find myself judging others as harshly as I judge myself in this regard, having little empathy for those who are complaining about the celebrations they don’t get to have while others are forced to endure the lose of the opportunity to properly mourn their dead. How do we hold our own disappointment and give it the space it deserves without conflating it with trauma and grief? Can something one person might consider a mere disappointment be a real loss to another? (The answer’s yes, I just needed to write it out to see the truth). Is it alright to complain about a bad day when others are suffering more severely? (Yes, but how?).

I’ve found myself biting my tongue when people post “woe is me” style about minor inconveniences, at times wanting to insert a “check your privilege” in response. I don’t know that asking permission before complaining always sets things right, but it feels like one measure that can reduce an “I’m suffering–get over yourself” exchange. I also find tapping into the emotions that a situation is causing to be a way to connect. “I’m sad/angry/anxious because I no longer get to…” is slightly less obnoxious than “Can you believe I don’t even get to..!”

As I sit with my own anxieties and disappointments of the day, what brings things home for me is distilling the situations I’m facing down to the core fear they provoke–being rejected, being impoverished, going hungry (I’m pretty sure you would roll your eyes HARD if I shared the situations that are leading to these base fears). If I get to the heart of why something sets me off, it is easier to feel sympathy for myself for being upset by it, even if the connection to the fear is irrational. Complaints and “complainers” often give away more than intended. Listen hard enough and you might hear the child-level reaction the person is hiding through their blustering.

I think there is a lot to unpack on this topic and I will need to take more time with it to get there. If you’ve felt grumpy and then subsequently guilty for feeling grumpy, know that you aren’t alone and that it doesn’t mean you don’t care about others who are suffering. Unchecked rage at a small slight is one thing, complicated agony at life’s grind is another. In the grand scheme of things, my life is alright today. On a truth level, I’ve had a shit day that’s stirred up a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too.

Suffering Fools and Finding Grace

I’ve been burning with a bottomless rage for weeks now, the flames of which only intensify every time I read another news story or see another image of people without a moral core demanding their “freedom” to infect themselves and the rest of us with the virus that causes COVID-19. I’ve finally been able to put a name to what I’m witnessing, which is dehumanization. We’re being told that, if we are “true” Americans, we should be willing to die for $10/hour to prove our “patriotism.” We are disposable and our physical vulnerability is an inconvenience to the machine of capitalism.

Wrapped into this package of dehumanization is a concept of fairness that sickens me. People would rather a good portion of their fellow citizens die than risk anyone sitting “idle,” taking from others out of laziness. Undeserved generosity and kindness are viewed with more contempt than preventable suffering, disability and death. On these fools’ lips, “I helped someone who wasn’t as grateful or as invested as I believe they should have been” is a worse outcome than “I spread a deadly illness to others through my selfish desire for, let’s say, a haircut.” No, it isn’t “fair” when people take more than they need, but it sure as f*ck isn’t fair, right or moral when one’s actions kill others because of their own unquenchable want of “freedom.”

I feel no empathy for people whose craven stupidity endangers us all and I want karma to find them. I lack grace; I find myself in my mind’s eye at a moment of decision–would I swing fate their way if given the choice–and all I want is vengeance. They force me to confront my inner demons of hate and my inability to turn away from wanting payment for injustice. They are still human, they are still made of the same stuff of which I’m made and yet I cannot bear the thought of them existing anywhere in my daily life.

I believe that my lack of care is part of the legacy of unresolved trauma that I bear. Having been violated and having no justice served me for my childhood, my rage looks for new villains and finds them in every direction. I know grief is the answer; as I sit with this notion, what comes to my mind immediately are the innocent that are suffering and that will suffer because of the horrible choices people are making. The restaurant worker forced back because they will otherwise lose their unemployment, only to be exposed by a customer who just had to meet up with friends. The healthcare worker who may make it through the first wave only to bring the virus home to a loved one after exposure to a person who decided a vacation was in order. I feel so powerless because COVidiots do not listen to reason, but I can focus my energy on the people who are doing their best to protect and support others during this crisis and on those who are most vulnerable to its effects.

I ventured to a nature area today and witnessed dozens of people on my journey who were violating the mask-wearing and social distancing mandates in my state. My anger grew exponentially and I flipped off a sh*thead who drove his bike around my car despite a fire engine coming from the other direction with lights flashing. I’d about lost hope when, with a block from my house, I passed a young person wearing a flowing purple and blue bandanna around their face. The elegance of the mask-wear’s choice of garment brought to mind my bedrock belief: in the midst of our present suffering and our subjugation, there is more beauty than pain in the world.

Tell Me More–A Relationship Red Flag?

I’m very curious to learn what others think about this topic. Despite my extensive formal education in psychology, I cannot recall learning about this behavior as a sign of a personality disorder or other psychopathy, although I believe it has to fit in somewhere. It is, at the minimum, a defensive posture and, if deployed with malice, an astute way of assessing someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To what am I referring? Namely, asking personal questions without offering any emotional intimacy or depth in return.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon in two areas of my life. The first, the more benign but still infuriating of the two, happens when someone posts a question on social media but does not offer their own stance, opinion or response. I’m learning to stop myself from responding to first check whether the person “put themselves out there” and shared where they are coming from before responding. I think I’m beginning to formulate a flexible rule of “you go first” when someone asks for vulnerability. Obviously, in situations such as healthcare, I do not expect my medical doctor or therapist to tell me their problems before I share mine. There are some relationships that are meant to be one-sided. I keep having a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, though, that those posting certain types of questions on social media either have ulterior motives or are not brave enough to start from a place of showing up authentically. “Sure, I’ll share….., but you go first” feels right in some contexts.

The more ominous of the situations occurred in a face to face situation in which I found myself the past few years, in which someone I once counted a friend and now only consider in our professional capacity repeatedly asked me prying questions while sharing minimal vulnerabilities in exchange. He would sometimes be arrogant and unrelenting in his questioning, which led to a traumatic experience and a whole host of other fallouts for me. I realize now that a giant red flag should have been raised internally simply from him asking too many questions without opening up in a corresponding manner. I don’t want to over-simplify here–every question does not need a like exchange. A pattern, though, of asking highly-personal and emotionally-charged questions, coupled with very little openness by the questioner, is a concern that the person is gathering information not being a friend, and is not interested in and/or capable of developing emotional intimacy.

I’ve always been alert to potential scammers. If I answer the phone when I don’t recognize the phone number, I will not even give my name or acknowledge anything until the person tells me who they are. If there is a paranoid to gullible continuum, I am far on the paranoid side. Where I’ve been lax, however, is in treating emotional and personal queries as being asked out of kindness, since so much of my experience growing up was of being ignored. “They’re interested in me” tracks way too quickly into “maybe they care about me” when in fact there can be all sorts of motives as to why someone wants to know more about another person. In this case, there is a relatively clear-cut way to know whether to lower my guard–am I being entrusted with secrets or only asked to unearth my own. I felt violated in the former friendship I described above when I realized the person had succeeded (for a time) in hiding so much of what they really believed and who they really were from me. I am someone who typically only needs to experience something like that once to get it. At the same time, I don’t want to over-react in future situations and get lost in inventorying how many vulnerabilities have been traded. I think I’ve shared a good deal of my own perspective here, so I hope my readers will share theirs!

Home-Grown Herbs and Pasta (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I enjoyed a homemade beef, soybean and veggie pasta for lunch today. My dish also included a variety of snipped herbs that I’ve been growing, as well as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, honey and abundant amounts of olive oil. The pasta is a whole wheat rigatoni; the tubes were perfect for holding all the sauce.

Part of my inspiration for this dish was Gaby’s sandwich on the latest Bon Appetit video. She included lemon juice and vinegar, but I realized the tomatoes I added brought the acidic brightness the dish needed. I also added capers which I feel often take any dish I’m making to another level of sophistication.

Soybeans are an unusual inclusion in this type of dish, but I’d never cooked them before and wanted to see how they would taste. I actually loved having them in the dish, as their texture was almost like that of a cooked peanut (more snap than the mush of a typical bean) and they complimented the pasta without altering the flavor. I can tell I haven’t been getting enough protein lately so I’m trying to find ingredients that boost my intake.

All in all, this dish was hearty and I felt proud that something I grew actually made it onto my plate. I have been avoiding grocery stores and getting items delivered, so I worry that my food is going to become boring or lack creativity because I can’t grab special ingredients the day of cooking, but I felt pleased with how it turned out. What’s your latest culinary creation and what inspired it?

Rising to Morning Dew (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This week I’ve awoken and walked outside into springtime. There are dandelions running riot over my lawn and the air is warm and humid. A favorite moment in greeting each day has been to witness the dew clinging to the blades of grass as the day begins. It rained last night so everything was permeated with hydration and the promise of sunlight; together, they form live-giving and sustaining necessities. It’s been the type of memory that I want to imprint on my soul, a brief moment where the season feels encapsulated in a dewdrop. What sensory memory speaks “springtime” to your heart?