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?

When We Fail (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Are the endpoints of success and failure the only way to encapsulate our life experiences? This is a question I am considering for today’s Daily Remembrance. In contemplating ways in which failures have helped me grow, I believe one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to look at the largest possible framework in any given situation. (Content warning for discussion of eating disorders below).

What may feel like a personal failure often looks quite different when we take the broader context into consideration. I did poorly on a science fair project in high school. I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself when this happened, to the point that it held me back in my future career. The main reason I did poorly was that I did not stay after school and work with a teacher on it. I failed to do this because I had an eating disorder at the time and was near collapse by the end of the regular school day. Had I received the treatment I needed and been supported in my healing, perhaps I would have been more successful.

I also believe “success” is relative. Success in the situation I described above might have been me working through the underlying trauma that led to my eating disorder, science fair be damned. In a lot of situations, someone “succeeding” on the outside by garnishing money, fame, connections, and so forth comes at a high personal cost. Those who “fail” to do so are often hampered by systemic imbalances that are out of their control.

I believe the freedom to choose what we want as our end goal is one of the most important freedoms we have. Disavowing popularity and financial riches as the ultimate measures of goodness or happiness or whatever can enable us to feel gratitude for what we are able to experience. Whether our success is individual or communal, disengaging it from consumerism and competitiveness would likely serve many of us well.

Where I struggle is in making my end goals affirmative rather than avoidant. If I’m honest, I often gear my actions towards “feel the least amount of stress possible” rather than “fully live in each moment.” Every stressor then becomes a failure, rather than each experience of presence being a success. I awoke yesterday and wrote a poem to the snowy morning. This action was incredibly powerful as I contemplated what it would be like to fill my mind with the abundance of the times I can both be and do with joy rather than the times I have to dissociate and survive. What are your end goals? How do you define success and failure? What has a past failure taught you?