I have not been okay lately.
In late March, a dear friend’s husband passed away. In April, I almost had the chance to acquire a home — something rare for Millennials and even many Gen Xs — but due to family reasons, it fell through. Then friends’ pets kept passing away or getting very ill. As mentioned a few times here, I have thanatophobia, a rather unpleasant phobia of death. In addition to being pretty empathetic and caring about my friends, this was all rather hard. My co-author and dear friend’s Greater Swiss Mountain Dog also died rather suddenly, and despite our locational differences, it was rather hard.
Normally, I like to present a clever conclusion or a flourish of words, a solution or suggestion that might benefit people both individually and at large. I’m not sure I have one of those today. Despite the fact that vaccines are rolling out in rich countries, my own included — I got my first shot of Pfizer yesterday — this pandemic is not going to be over any time soon. In addition to personal struggles, the world is in the middle of a very prominent and unavoidable crisis.
Instead of trying to fix it, something beyond my power, all I can say is that it is time to learn how to accept things being not okay. It’s not just the serenity prayer bit about accepting what you can’t fix, changing what you can, and knowing the difference. It’s about understanding the scale of this situation, and also the value in merely enduring and surviving. In order to do both of those, I know that I personally have to adjust how I talk, as well as what I say.
What’s wrong with me
It’s not just about diagnoses or individual situations; it’s about the way life continues on after a situation ends, or changes. Just because the initial situation of harm is over doesn’t mean that the after-effects vanish instantly.
After talking to local friends and online friends, I can say this — making room to just not be okay is extremely important and valuable. Furthermore, though, not trying to perform happiness or okayness or tranquility is extremely important. It’s so easy to just shove those feelings in a box or hide them from others or just not talk or be present when one is in a bad place. I don’t just mean this in a cute, self-care-y kind of way; I mean it in the “getting by day-to-day” way. Personal and international ongoing crises are persisting, and they will persist after the pandemic — and the culture I’ve grown up in is particularly ill-equipped to handle that. So I find myself trying to make a better way, and sometimes grappling with direct lacks and absences in my frame of reference.
Do words really matter for therapy?
Although we can’t change the pandemic directly, there are unhealthy, dangerous, and unhelpful thoughts that we can challenge. After all, one can talk about society and culture — but we are also part of society and culture, and what we change in ourselves is a gift we can offer to others. Being able to destroy social constructs we’ve internalized, and which are harming us, is useful.
A friend of my counterpointed, “but shouldn’t we just say ‘fuck society’ and get on with our lives?”
The problem with that is that we carry society with us. There’s so many little tiny things and rules that I picked up to survive, and I know other people have learned the same. So if I can build forge tweezers from the stuff in my soul — I’m gonna hand them to someone else when I’m done. Sometimes you gotta pry ideas out of yourself like the head of a tick lodged in skin.
There’s a good side, though — I am not alone, and neither are you. Humanity’s greatest gift and weapon is our requirement for others. We are social animals, and although Rousseau and many others saw other people as our chains, chains can also be used to pull something out, not just hold it down.
Some chains must be broken. Others can be forged. The work does not end, but new works can still begin.
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.