Adrift: One Year After

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It’s been one year since I last posted on this blog. I didn’t intentionally step away. I drifted. That’s a good descriptor of the past year for me overall, in fact–drifting. I’d just come out of a year of caregiving for my wife, undergoing grueling treatment for breast cancer. My family was reeling and rebuilding after a flood devastated my childhood home and much of my hometown. I felt unmoored in a new city where we’d relocated only months before my wife’s diagnosis, giving us little time or energy to settle and find community before all our attention turned to fighting cancer.

And suddenly, shockingly (though perhaps it shouldn’t have been), I felt unmoored in my country as well, as hate seemed to pop out of every tiny tear in our societal fabric and everything felt so achingly consequential. Suddenly the stakes were higher–for me at least, as a white person who’d felt little of the oppression others had lived with long before. Suddenly, the bend in that arc of history felt longer.

And suddenly, I stopped. I didn’t stop caring or hoping or paying attention. But I stopped advocating and speaking up and showing up. I drifted away.

Maybe no one noticed. But I feel the need to explain my silence, if not to excuse it. With all the personal challenges 2016 threw at my loved ones, the year ended for me on a determined note. I wanted and needed to be part of a positive change, despite the odds. I spent the last month of the year committing to daily deeds to start 2017 on a better foot. Then, two weeks into the year, a quick and heartwrenching illness took our beloved dog. Soon after, my wife’s father got sick, and we shuttled back and forth from the Midwest until he succumbed to a cruel tailspin of compounding symptoms, leaving us swirling in grief and concern for my mother-in-law. Other family health issues cropped up, at times quite serious and frightening. Hurricanes aimed for the hometowns of my family members, filling me with anxiety. New responsibilities at work became all-consuming and outstripped my depleted stores of energy, attention, and time. And, hard as it is to admit, my marriage damn near fell apart under the stress of it all, as wave after wave crashed down on me and my wife and pulled me farther from her.

At some point, it all became too much for me to focus on anything other than staying afloat. So I drifted.

I let myself drift.

It may not have felt like it at the time, but my ability to do that, to step away from playing an active role in working for the better world I hope for, was privilege. I could drop out of the conversation in large part because the impact of Trump’s actions and the erosion of rights in cities and states around the country do not threaten my day-to-day liberties in anywhere near the same dire way they do for people of color, families living paycheck to paycheck, undocumented folks, and trans people. As a woman, and as a lesbian, I’m far from immune, but I’m not in the same immediate danger, and I could step away without it feeling like I was surrendering my own well-being.

So I stepped away, whether intentionally or not. I didn’t see the self-sabotage in that, the different kind of danger my disengagement presented. I process and learn best by writing (which is probably a surprise to exactly zero people who’ve read anything I’ve written before), and I started this blog because the research and reflection it has required have transformed the way I think about issues of social justice and made me more aware of the extent of injustice so many face.

When I went quiet here, I essentially went quiet inside as well. I stifled my sense of indignation at the state of the world, I blunted the sharp grief of loss and shushed the fear of more on the horizon, I dealt with my stress and anxiety by doing more and more at work and engaging less and less with the people I love. I was drifting. I was in that place we’ve all felt on occasion, just going through the motions, trying to make it through the day.

My wife, thank god, called me out on it, not once but persistently over a few months, until her words finally sank in. She snapped me back into focus as I was fading. She pulled me from the water as I was drifting. I’m grateful and humbled by the love and courage and compassion that took.

Over the past few months, I’ve committed to taking better care of myself and being more honest about what I need. I’ve taken up regular yoga and meditation practices, found incredible therapists (one for me and one for my marriage) to help me gain perspective on the tumult of the last few years, devoured writers who have pushed me in productive and necessary ways, and started journaling regularly as I dipped my toes back into writing as a way to process. I’ve tried, not always successfully, to put down my damn phone–to disconnect from the noise as a way to reconnect with myself. I’ve been uncharacteristically candid with my family and several friends about the toll the past couple of years have taken, and I’ve found nothing but open hearts and ready shoulders.

All that “self-care” sounds indulgent–and often feels that way. Like my ability to step away to begin with, it’s yet another sign of enormous privilege, and I have to grapple with that. How can I make sure that I don’t lapse back into using my privilege as an unearned buffer when things inevitably get tough in my life again? How can I use my privilege–particularly my time and financial resources–to gives others the opportunity to take care of themselves as well?

The powerful paradox of all this self-care and self-reflection is that I’ve found it’s only expanded my capacity to care for others. To do for them what I can in a way that doesn’t deplete my emotional energy like it used to. To be okay with the fact that I can’t always solve everyone’s problems and that some problems can’t be solved at all, but to know that I can show up… from a place of compassion rather obligation.

And I’ve found that being honest with myself means reconnecting with my outrage–as well as my optimism. It means that my lengthy silence is increasingly deafening to me. So now, I’m ready to raise my voice again, in solidarity with the many who are struggling, who are harmed by the appalling actions of our government and far too many of our fellow citizens.

I share all of this not to excuse my long absence from these conversations or to congratulate myself for finding my way back into them, but to speak to others who, after more than a year of fighting and outrage and resistance, may find themselves depleted, or numb, or drifting. Ask for what you need to replenish, take the time you can, and when you’re ready, reach out, grab hold, and find your way back.

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