Content Warnings, Trigger Warnings, Hello World; you’re on fire.
“[Comfort] is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged – will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”
– from Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation Address
My facebook is filled with three things: The Cuteness (dogs, cats, sometimes goats and platypi), politics, and pleas for help. I overload on The Cuteness to balance out the other two. Politics is important, now more than ever, as every day into Trump’s presidency brings new horrors.
Manchester was bombed at an Ariana Grande concert. Think of that: teenage girls and their parents. Bombed.
The world, truly, feels on fire. There is so much fear and anxiety roiling and undulating through the airwaves and cables; we’re all feeling immense pressure to do and act and speak and #resist; we’re all still living our “regular” lives as well, with all the natural pressures life has to offer from school, work, relationships, figuring out our place in the world, and our own personal battles with emotions, spirituality, intellect, and achieving our potential.
July 21, 2013: I watched a man die. PTSD became my life, and panic attacks were my every waking moment.
Almost four years later, I’m still processing. My last fully-fledged panic attack was last winter, when my boss (a good friend at the time) told me he was leaving the company we both worked for. I’ve never been good with loss, and let’s be fair, I’d proceeded to get drunk. Always a bad decision for me. But since then I still have little panicky moments. Little vignettes throughout my day that threaten to turn into full blown attacks. Moments when I run out of spoons.
These days I read the articles on my facebook. I want to know, intellectually, what’s going on in these Interesting Times. I want to be informed. But when does being informed interfere with me living my life? When does knowledge become such a burden that it smashes through the walls of the brain and ride into the wells of the heart like the horsemen of the apocalypse?
It could be any single instant of any day.
Then there are the pleas for help. I’m in a wonderful facebook group: a group of people who identify as women that are there for each other to talk about issues that relate to women. When people are having anxiety attacks, when people are feeling down about themselves, when people aren’t as informed about intersectional feminism as they’d like to be, when people run into misogyny, hate, and intolerance, when people see ads or articles that promote these ideas; we come to this group to vent. Just the other day, a man yelled at me on the train, called me a whore. I vented to this group. I had a small fight with my partner, and I wanted my feelings validated: I posted in this group.
But most often, my participation in this group has been in the comments. There are so many posts, many per day, from women in the throes of panic attacks. Women who’ve been raped. Women in abusive relationships. Women who are suicidal. Women who are victims of racism and hate crimes. Women who feel helpless and alone.
And what do we do? We reach out. We help. We stand up where others can’t. We support, we lean into the pain and frustration and we say, “we’re here, you’re going to be okay.”
And the most common thing I comment is “the only way out is through.” And each time I do, like just a few minutes ago, I think of Ryan Losser’s face on the floor of the bar, turning green. I think of hearing a man’s last breaths. I think of the panic attacks every single day that followed for almost six weeks. I think of the thoughts that race through the mind of someone in panic: the world is ending, we are on fire, nothing matters.
Sometimes I am reflective on these moments and say, wow, look how far I’ve come. Other times, like today, I am back in my studio apartment, scared that the ceiling will cave in, staring at a toddler on a tricycle imagining he’s hit by a passing car; imagining his mother mourning. All in the blink of an eye.
The advice we give others is oft the advice we most need ourselves. So perhaps my commenting, my help, is not only for others, but for myself. The only way out is through. The only way to escape the devastation, the crushing sadness of reality, the fire of hell itself, is to walk through it. I’m burned, I’m scarred; I’m strong. I’m weak, I’m helpless; I’m a warrior. I empathize, I feel all feelings, I know pain and death; I am able to help.
And when I get the panics, the anxiety, when it’s all a bit too much, no more facebook. No more politics. No more of even The Cuteness. Just home, to my cat, my ever-so-patient partner, my books, my breath, my self, my pain, my loss. They are equally part of me as my laugh. If I do not sit with them, they overwhelm me, but when I sit with them, when I feel my weakest, I am able to see them clearly. I know their shapes, their voice. I know their cries, their rage, their fire. Only then can I find the yin to their yang.
So let the world be on fire. Let us accept where we are in history as Interesting Times. Let us find ways to manage our anxieties on a personal level and our and others’ oppression on a systemic level. Let us be here for one another individually and collectively. Let us be able to separate fact from opinion, let us educate those willing, and let us forgive those unwilling. Let us forgive ourselves. But let’s do it together, with tolerance, patience, humility. Let us mourn the lost, the oppressed, the weak, let us pick them up and fight for and with them. Let’s turn the fire against itself with raging compassion, like that of God Herself.