In brief: Sometimes things suck; it’s ok to say so.
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Sometimes life sucks. More for some than for others. Sometimes it really sucks — to the point of exhaustion and desperation and despair. Our culture tells us that acknowledging a thing sucks is tantamount to throwing up our hands and admitting defeat to said thing.
This trope (and its bootstrap roots) is some serious bullshit.
I went to my see my therapist on Monday — just three days after incurring the bill that will follow me the rest of 2015 making my monthly math (aka budgeting) an impossibly red number even if I don’t eat or buy basics like shampoo or socks. I haven’t been seeing this lovely, dryly humorous, late 50’s doc very long, so she had to do the requisite “You aren’t looking for a bridge, are you?” questions and she probed my use of the word “despair” like any quality doctor who is also an empathetic person. I said I don’t feel despair because I am not worthy or — even despite coping with a just-now-getting-started-on-treatment mental illness — that I don’t feel capable and smart. I feel all those things. I am smart, capable, worthy and make a contribution to society I feel is valuable. It is because of those things — and that I “did everything right” growing up and in academia, etc — that I feel despair.
If I am capable and smart and worthy of the wonder of life for the short time I’m allotted on this planet and I keep ending up HERE with a math problem that makes every day an impossible struggle no matter what I do or where I go or how many jobs I work and how much I’m willing to put my body through while ignoring my basic physical, mental and emotional needs….
…What exactly am I doing this all for? This isn’t living. THIS SUCKS.
My doc nodded and sighed: “You’re right. This totally does suck.”
I felt part of the anxiety dissipate when she said that. There is something powerful in having a professional acknowledge your feelings — especially when you grew up being told that your feelings were overblown, imaginary, or harmful to others. She didn’t offer platitudes or call me a survivor or look past the moment I was in for one second. She met me right there, where I was, and let me feel the feelings.
Most people are uncomfortable with other’s feelings. Bad feelings especially. Powerless feelings. We’re taught to respond with “I understand” when we don’t and couldn’t and can only sound condescending when we say we do. We especially don’t like it when people we view as capable and valuable express fear and despair. We need the strong people around us to maintain their appearance of strength so that we feel better about the world and its randomness. We don’t want to acknowledge that sometimes things that suck happen and we can’t control it and couldn’t have stopped it and that if it’s happening to someone else it could happen to us.
So we tell people “it’ll be ok!” and “you’ll get through this!” and force the person in despair to spend time and emotional energy comforting others to dispel the awkwardness. We should, instead, simply say, “Holy shit, that sucks. Is there anything I can do?”
I am spectacularly lucky to have more people in my network than most who get this. All of this. Not just because they’ve been food insecure or had the “I did it all right but GODDAMNIT” experiences. But because they know to say: “Shit. I haven’t been there and have no idea what that’s like. Do you want to talk about it? Can I help? Tell me what you need.”
To all of you — friends and strangers — who have sent those messages this past week:
Some pretty amazing things have happened since my last post. I’m still waiting on the state to see if the food assistance comes through and I’m pursuing SSI (a challenge as an independent contractor who hasn’t reported in CA yet because it’s not tax time until I get all my paper work from clients). My math problem, however, has taken a slight turn!
Four people have stepped up to say: “Your work is valuable; please continue.” and become monthly supporters through my Patreon page. Small donations (typically earmarked for activism costs like transportation) have always meant everything to me. When someone pledges $15 they have to think about that. I know because I used to support the podcasts I listened to every day as a dog walker with busy hands and free ears. I debated who I would throw my hard-earned, much needed money behind just as those who have chosen me at this moment must have.
Right now it means more than everything: it means I’m breaking even to start every month. The perspective shift that happens when the math goes from impossible to even is a relief I can’t adequately describe. It means I stopped hunting for a third job that I’m not sure I could even physically pull off. It means that I can spend 2015 getting well — even if that’s the only thing on my long-term list that happens this year. It means 2015 is going to be really fucking hard, but not so exhausting that 2016 is also a wash. It means that if I am able to find a few more supporters, I’ll be actually ok.
I can’t wait to see my doc on Monday. I’m looking forward to both updating her and telling her how powerful and important it was to have her meet me where I was. She never looked uncomfortable with with my show of emotion; she never told me to calm down. She heard me and recognized that “Yes. This sucks.” With that came the power to pursue solutions and accept the generous, loving support readers and friends have shown this week.
I’m closing with a reminder that mental healthcare is being reintegrated into “regular” healthcare where it belongs thanks to the Affordable Care Act. If you have insurance, therapy/psychiatry/meds are covered, typically without referrals necessary. (If you don’t have insurance, open enrollment for the ACA is ongoing; let me know if you need assistance and I’ll direct you.) The matching website through Psychology Today is an invaluable resource and will work no matter where in the U.S. you live. You can search by region, insurance, specialty, style, gender, etc and individual docs put up descriptions and pictures so you can narrow down the audition process that is finding a therapist who’s style works for you. I recommend asking questions on the phone ahead of time and making sure you see someone who understands that the first appointment isn’t a commitment; it is a chance for you and them to see if the match is good.
We have a long way to go with ending stigma and I’m very lucky that despite my long hours and work days, I can always flex and write super early in the morning or late at night so I can take time to make appointments. Not everyone has that; far too many would need to seek childcare and unpaid time off work to tend to their physical and mental health — making the cost of even “covered” treatment prohibitively expensive. I plan to be standing firmly on my feet at the end of 2015 with treatment beginning at my dentist, occupational therapist, and prescribing psychiatrist all starting next week. Once I’m put back together, I’ll be spending the rest of my life advocating for other people to get to that place.
To those who are in a place that sucks, please know you aren’t in that place alone. You’re welcome to vent in my in-box and in the comments here. I promise no one will tell you “it’s fine” unless they’re offering an actual solution from their experience that might help you out of your circumstances. I heavily moderate the comments, so there’ll be no platitudes or condescension. Please think of this as a community space; as the readership grows, there may be someone who has been right where you are who can point you to a resource you don’t know about. Doing “this sucks” alone, well, sucks. Let’s see if we can’t do it together.
This post is an entry in my year-long project documenting all the messiness and inconvenience and stigma of trying to get well in our culture. You can subscribe, follow, and join in the journey at #GetWell2015 here and on Twitter.