Things haven’t gotten any easier in the last month. Every week feels like at least a decade, and I’ve been dealing with blow after blow, just trying to roll with the punches.
But I am exhausted. I tried to take a Quarancation last week but it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. A young, queer, badass organizer acquaintance of mine got caught in some gunfire in SF and didn’t survive, social media was particularly toxic, and I had two interviews (no luck). It’s been rough inside my brain lately.
I feel lost and at loss.
It’s hard to fight existential dread with hope when hope is hard to come by; and I keep failing in my attempts to reach some kind of financial stability. It feels easier to give up. To resign myself to the exhausting freelance hustle that I’ve been doing for the last 4 years instead of continually trying without success to get hired in a traditional job with hours and benefits and a fair wage. But I don’t want to continue this dance with the abyss. I want pay and benefits and reliable hours. I want to be able to provide for myself and my family, it devastates me that I can’t seem to hack it.
I feel like it’s a failing on my part that to even get to the point of an interview I have to work through decades of trauma and lies my parents told me about work and relationships and whether or not I am worth being paid for my time and energy.
When I interview and get rejected, even nicely, it feels like they were right: Maybe I am worthless and undeserving and unskilled Maybe I don’t deserve stability or self-sufficiency Maybe my lot in life is to suffer at the base of the hierarchy of needs for ever, because that’s all I was ever equipped to do – that’s what years of not being allowed to accept pay for labor, belittlement for external success & competence, and suffering the consequences of bad financial decisions at the hands of my parents has conditioned me for.
But I don’t want that to be true; I just don’t know how to make it untrue.
In these plague times, I and my partner(s) are high risk, so it’s not safe for me to get a job at a grocery store or coffee shop where I’d be interacting with the public at-large who somehow don’t seem to understand that the mask has to cover both nose AND mouth to be effective.
I’m just exhausted and sick with anxiety even though today, I’m financially okay. There’s no guarantee that will be true in a month or two. I’ve applied to work the census and be a contact tracer, and have heard nothing on either front. I know the answer is to continually apply and interview and send resumes to everything I see because maybe there’s a chance, but I am out of hope that a chance like that exists for me right now.
I know that depression is a lying liar who lies and I am competent and good at so many things from websites to grassroots movement building, I’m hard working and driven and self motivated, and yet. Everyone is happy to benefit from my labor and zeal but I can’t get hired to use or grow these skills and stay afloat.
I keep organizing because that’s how I move. It doesn’t pay but it’s something to do that can eventually improve the quality of life for myself and others. I keep doing the hustle because I need to survive. I somehow make an impact and impress people with my ability to get things done, but can’t consistently put bread on my table without help and after a while, that just gets to me.
It’s a trigger because it makes me feel like that the work I do is appreciated, but I am somehow not worth the monetary investment in sustaining myself or developing my skills. I know this is a lie because my patreon exists and I am eternally grateful for everyone who is able to continue supporting me there, as that has been the most reliable stream of income I’ve had since moving to the Bay and I wouldn’t be able to even survive without it (so thank you).
But sometimes life just hurts and lies feel like truth, and I’m feeling that a lot right now.
I’ve been managing okay focusing on creating resources and organizing my building and my block…until today.
Today I feel sideways and depression is loud and all encompassing and I am tired despite not doing much. I lost my balance while doing a grocery run today which was the first time I’ve left my apartment since Friday night at 9:30pm, which kinda just added to the chronic pain flare I’ve already been managing.
In therapy I keep coming back to discovering trauma I didn’t realize I had around Y2K and how my parents’ lack of survival preparation due to desperately hoping the rapture would happen wound up affecting me. I wasn’t allowed to feel all those fears and the angst and even the anger about not-so-subtly being told that life isn’t really worth living at the age of 9. If the rapture will probably happen tomorrow, then there’s no reason to think about the future.
Turns out, that’s a whole lot of bullshit to not be allowed to process when you’re 9. So, cut to literally 20 years later and uh I’m finding myself fighting the urge to kinda curl up and do nothing and also this endless anxiety driven desire to run myself into the ground fighting. Somewhere, there’s a middle ground but today has been a complete physical and emotional crash from that realization.
I’m grieving a lot for the 9 year old me who was handed all the worst ideas and shut down because the dissonance was too great. I’m angry that she had to carry the weight of feeling guilty about wanting to live. I don’t really have the energy to work through it all right now, it’s just so much.
Instead, here’s what I have been doing for the last 3 weeks:
I also downloaded a coloring app called Pigment and have been coloring on my phone whenever I need something else to do besides look at news and twitter.
Please share these widely, and if they were useful to you – consider setting up a (tax deductible) monthly donation so we can continue to offer support and create resources like this.
Together with my fellow tenants and neighbors I’ve been working on organizing mutual aid infrastructure for my building and block. We have weekly zoom meetings and everything. It’s been super helpful to work with neighbors (some of whom I haven’t met in person yet!) to build something that y’know, we feel like we can count on given that the federal government’s response is lacking and bureaucracy is slow.
I definitely recommend joining your building’s tenants union and your neighborhood group (or starting one!) if you have the spoons but haven’t yet. There are so many ways we can help eachother even without getting our molecules close together.
Here’s what we’ve been doing to organize my block:
Started a public facebook group for our neighborhood
Facebook is the resource sharing/info hub
Posted flyers on the block to raise awareness and get members
Started a slack for folks who wanted to help create infrastructure for a proper support network
Weekly zoom meeting
Currently working on: setting up values/code of conduct, communications (email, google voice number), website, paypal, neighborhood census (google form for facebook), building organizing letter/census templates (google forms & printable doc)
Here’s what we’ve been doing in my building:
Building a tenant’s email list through writing letters and slipping under doors
Using the listserv to share news, resources, check if anyone needs groceries
Regular zoom meetings to discuss rights and recourse as tenants and how to help each-other with the bonus of cat interruptions
And, like everyone else on the planet with a Switch, I’ve been vanishing to my not-at-all-deserted island called Interriver and building ALL THE THINGS.
And the most exciting bit of news: I finally. started. Androderm (patches).
I’ve started and stopped more posts than I can remember in the last month since COVID19 ate everything.
I’m trying to find humor and light to what feels like my religious upbringings’ flavor of tribulation coming to pass in real time.
I can’t. I’m not going to try anymore. Today I am angry and hurting (stress migraine and raynaud’s flair and cptsd is locking all of my muscles so tightly) and I just cannot.
Everything sucks. The world sucks a lot. I want to be writing more eloquently about what sucks and why it sucks and how we can make it stop sucking but I can’t.
Oakland has been observing Shelter In Place since the 17th. I’ve been working on CRHE’s COVID response, joining the mutual aid network developing on my block, checking in on homeschool alumni who are all just as triggered as I am, building community on discords and slacks, and trying to navigate my own healthcare on top of this (which was one of today’s many nightmares).
Despite all of this, doing all the right things – staying in, organizing online, staying 6′ away from people when I do need to go out, having zoom calls and hangouts, playing animal crossing – I feel so lost and tired and a little hopeless.
I still cannot get my testosterone patches that would make the next indefinite period of sheltering in place manageable. I have two backup plans in the works but they still involve injections and I’m so tired of fighting this battle. It should not be this hard and I am so stressed out.
CA does not have statewide renters protections yet and rent is looming. Newsom talks a big game but his actions amount to less than helpful.
Oakland and Alameda County have not fully stepped up to plate for this either. First steps are coming on Friday for an eviction moratorium that does not suspend rent (to my knowledge).
Kaiser (the biggest hospital group in the east bay, based in oakland) is threatening to fire nurses for bringing their own PPE to protect themselves so they can treat COVID patients.
I want to be able to be sewing masks but the brain fog from cptsd flare makes understanding instructions impossible and I hate it.
I cope with trauma by out organizing it. I don’t have the capacity to out organize this fucking pandemic and that’s fucking with me.
What I am trying to remind myself is that it’s okay to not be okay.
After 2 years of fighting to get tested and treated for the sheer inability to focus when I need to on the things I need to, I finally found a psychiatrist who listened to me and prescribed me the babiest dose of Strattera. I’ve been documenting it, as I do:
This is day 2, and my brain IS SO QUIET. It feels like a relief.
Yesterday I caught up on projects that I have been putting off for months, and today…I have nothing? on my to-do list? And the constant nagging anxiety about forgetting something has been muted. Such that I feel like I can actually enjoy the fact that today is a quiet day, without guilt?!
It has been such a long and devastating fight to get here, and I’m so relieved that I could cry. Instead I think I’m going to actually relax this afternoon? for possibly the first time in my life?
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. — Matthew 5: 11-12 (KJV)
Or, in my parents translation:
You’ll know how good (#blessed) of a christian you are by how hard your life is: how much you’re being persecuted, and how many people are angry with you. If your life is full of suffering, that’s god showing his love to you. Take joy in that suffering because you will have the most treasures when you go to heaven.
In practical, lived experience terms, this looked like watching my parents choose homelessness because they believed god told them to pay a friend’s mortgage and they couldn’t do both. God got the credit for my grandparents saving us by pulling some strings for a place the day we had to move out.
This looked like being kicked out of churches every 2 years after leaving the cult because my parents would get in an argument about faith healing with the pastors and swiftly shown the door. This was proof that we were right and doing the right things.
This looked like watching my parents make financial decisions based on how much stress it caused them, which they interpreted as a sign from god that this was his way.
Heavenly treasure isn’t really a comfort to a child who instantly lost contact with every almost-new-friend they were making. It does nothing to quell the anxiety about how to keep track of 4 siblings on the streets. That promise felt more like a curse as I aged, but I was never able to see it that way because to do so was blasphemy and called my eternal salvation into question.
It’s not that it didn’t occur to my parents that maybe the choices they had were ways to provide for our family and live in relative security and comfort (which is also blessed by god!), they believed that was sacrilegious and we were called to suffer.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:” — 1 Peter 2:21 (KJV)
Because Jesus suffered for us, we are called to choose suffering; so we can be an example.
Add that to being raised inside extremegenderroles and taught (+ reinforced by experience) that it would be sinful for me to pursue a future that would make me happy, a future where I had autonomy and independence. Not only would that be sinful, but my life would be awful and my salvation rescinded, which makes for some really interesting results in adulthood.
By interesting I mean, the struggle is extremely real and it never had to be, but that was out of my control as a child and now I have to live with those consequences.
This is the crux of what I’ve been working on in therapy for the last 3.5 years now.
Between Spiritual Abuse and CPTSD, getting divorced, moving out on my own with no education or much in the way of job experience, life has been hard. Harder than it should be.
Magnitudes harder than it is for folks whose parents didn’t intentionally stunt their education to force them into a life of 1950s-meets-1800s in the 21st century after looking at their infant’s genitals and deciding that’s all they were good for.
I turn 29 this month and I feel like I’m suffocating from shame at my lack of education and abilities, and poverty; neither of which are my fault, but both of which I get to carry because of choices that unlike my parents, I did not get to make.
My parents chose to put me and my siblings at risk, they chose to keep basic life necessities out of reach, they chose to shame and guilt us for expressing needs and wants, they chose to punish and squelch any form of independence including employment, they chose to reinforce that my time and my energy is worth nothing by making me return payment to neighbors who wanted to hire me to watch their kids, they chose to spend 18 years of my life telling me that I am worthless and deserving of nothing.
And here I am at almost 30, working my ass off and making my chronic illness worse just to survive and yet constantly getting in my own way because the instant I make a decision that would better myself I panic. I internalized all of their choices because I had no exposure to anything else as a child, so clearly I was the one in the wrong.
Those lessons that my parents taught me? About how I need to follow in their exact footsteps, give to the point of harm, cast aside my dreams and stay at home to support other people? Even though I am extremely aware that they are all 100% lies, 100% abusive, and 100% meant to keep me in line with their plan that never ever included me? are still there.
They’re still powerful and strong and loud in my head every time I get rejected or ghosted on job applications. Reminding me that I wasn’t “meant” to do this. I wasn’t “meant” to be self sufficient, I was trained to be a helpmeet with no needs or wants.
I know better now, but those beliefs are still stuck to my core.
So it’s really devastating that when I do make choices to free myself (getting divorced, moving to CA, starting HRT, starting school, applying to jobs, doing the hustle), I spiral and fail because I haven’t yet learned the skills required to succeed. Unlike people who went to school and had jobs and income that was theirs to manage before being thrown into adulthood with debt and bills.
I am so good at what I do, and it’s so difficult to be able to survive well enough to do it. I’m trying to do all the right things, I go through the right motions – I apply to jobs, I write really good cover letters, I volunteer, I make friends, I was a year out from getting an AA! I have multiple income streams between patreon, and podcasting, and freelancing gigs. I work until I am exhausted and I am nowhere closer to being able to provide for myself let alone support others the way I desperately wish I could. *
*this also probably has to do with things I internalized as a child being taught about masculinity that I also need to hash out, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Which is where the lies come back into play: that there must be something wrong with me or something I’m not doing, or maybe my parents were right all along, and maybe I am worthless and only meant for domestic duties because that was all I was ever allowed to be. I’ve been out for almost 11 years, and I have grown so much, but I’m still so far behind my peers. On bad days, I can’t help but wonder if that’s because I’m still wrong somehow, even though I know that’s a lie.
Every time I get close to “making it” something happens that strips it away. My politics aren’t pure enough, or my health plummets and ruins my ability to work and even function, or fascism intensifies….it’s a struggle to not see those coincidences as signs confirming my parents’ worldview.
When I get scared and triggered in the same way I did as a powerless child, I find myself defaulting back to those thought patterns…everything bad that happens to me is a punishment because I’m out of alignment with “gods will.” If I were in-line with “god’s will” then….these things would still happen (per my parents’ view) but I would be less scared about it?
The faith arguments really don’t hold up for more than 10 seconds after I start thinking about them, but that doesn’t make them go away and it doesn’t make them feel any less real.
That is the most insidious part about spiritual abuse: just because the faith has been left and the arguments don’t hold up against basic questions, doesn’t mean that the roots of these beliefs went away. Especially if this was instilled through the entirety of childhood.
Simply knowing a belief is wrong doesn’t magically vanish it. Which I find rude.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in the almost 11 years I’ve been deconstructing here it’s that all of these have to be fought, and it’s not a one-time thing, they come back. For me, fighting looks like this. Exposing these lies to daylight by writing about them candidly weakens their power. Something about seeing them outside of my head makes the beliefs easier to let go of.
Maybe it’s a professional mistake to be so open about this type of fighting, but silence hasn’t saved me (or payed rent) and if I were to guess, I’m not the only person facing this type of dementor.