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COVID Journal Day 6

COVID Journal Day 6: I started this yesterday but I was too sick to finish it. Today I’m feeling slightly less awful. I’m sorry to those who want to hear that COVID is no big deal and that everyone is overreacting. It is a very big deal. Sometimes I wish I could be more like those people who don’t need to speak up all the time. But alas, I am what I am.

Why do you share so much Erin?

A number of years ago, an authority figure in my life chastised me for sharing too much about struggle and illness on Facebook. I was able to navigate the conversation with calm, logical explanations about generational differences, realness, and solidarity; but what I heard in that moment was a truth that I was not willing to accept - “people only love you, respect you, want you when you’re perfect.” She would never have believed me if I had pointed that out to her, instead I would have gotten a line about professionalism, appropriateness, and decorum. Which - without us even realizing it because it’s so ingrained - is a belief that no matter the good I have done or how hard I have worked, the world of humans surrounding me are not capable of holding the reality that sometimes I don’t feel well and I say so on Facebook - and still seeing me as worthy of respect. I cannot accept that and remain alive in this world.

I internalized that criticism as I tend to do with every criticism, no matter how illogical or immaterial, that I have ever received. I still have the voice of my high school boyfriend in my head asking me why I sing “that way” when I crescendo at the height of a dramatic song. More than 25 years later, I still have the slightest doubt when I hit a high note. It doesn’t stop me but it does accompany me. I’m sure there have been times when I have allowed that little voice to keep my crescendos smaller, to keep me from fully expanding into the world. I know there have because since I was a child my enthusiasm, emotionality have been more than some could take.

In those cases and thousands more, I experienced another human react in real time with discomfort at my honest display of vulnerability. I don’t share this as an opportunity for you to feel pity or sympathy for me in these comparatively minor experiences of rejection. I am highlighting them as a study in human interaction.

I became an expert in observing others as a very young child. I couldn’t yet control my own emotional responses to a world that I felt to extremes. The counter blessing to my emotionality was a capacity to truly see how uncomfortable it made some people. I grew to understand my own safety with others as a function of who could be allowed to see me for real and for how long? I knew there to be a limit. There was always a limit. The key was to never get too close until I discovered what the limit was because the shame and fear that accompanies that moment of discovery is more than I can bare.

Why are we so uncomfortable with real humanity but we seek out contrived suffering so readily in our media to such extremes? That’s easy, I suppose. It’s safe and distant to watch someone to whom we are not expected to respond bare their soul. When faced with the purity of another person’s actual, honest, unfiltered response to their experience of the world we are faced with our own experiences, pains, and mistakes. I’ve had people get just as annoyed with me for my joy as they have with my sadness.

And I have had times in my life when I became unhinged at another’s humanity. The anger expressed by a sick friend whose ownership of her own despair made me feel helpless and feeble but my age and practice allowed me to sit with her and wade through the muck of death with love and patience. In contrast, my younger self felt enraged by the unadulterated ease and faith of a young woman I worked with two decades ago who took on life with a fearlessness that implied she had felt safe her entire life, that no one had ever been annoyed by her joyful exuberance. I hated her for that. I was not kind to her.

I think about all of this when I decide to share. I think about how my grandfather was told to remain silent about his mental health symptoms as a child and that so much of his humanity was denied him for so long. Even after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and blessed with the gift of a life that was far better than thousands of others had ever dreamed possible in a time when a severe mental illness meant a life of institutionalization, barbaric “treatment” and inhumane conditions with near certainty. He had a family, a home, love, humane interventions - more than most in his position could have imagined - and yet some still treated him like garbage, emasculated and undermined him at every turn.

I think about the young people I work with each day who, nearly a century after my grandfather’s experiences, still face the same fears of rejection, disregard and institutionalization that he did, which keeps them small and afraid. I struggle to help these young people learn to navigate systems of oppression that expect their silence and demand their acquiescence, all the while sending messages of a world more accepting of diversity. This is not limited to mental illness.

Shouldn’t they just be happy that things are better than they used to be? That is not good enough. The only way to make a world more accepting of diversity is the endless, repetitive presentation of truth inviting us all, as often as possible, to see and be seen in the magnificence of our own complexity. Understand that what we attempt to explain as “diversity” is acceptance of the whole rather than the diminution of that which is different, other, or makes us uncomfortable.

No one ever had a right to do that - to diminish or erase one another. Yet, humans have always done this to one another in the tiniest of ways in cliques and classrooms or through genocide, enslavement, imperialism. It is all based in the same desperate need to feel in control, to deflect rather than feel pain, and to assuage the fear of being alive.

I think about the women in my life who have been born with an inclination toward serving others that became twisted and dark with messages of the valorous nature of silence and austerity. How many endless stories do we internalize of women who cared for their families and communities while always put together, without complaining, never taking a sick day, always with a smile on her face? We aren’t supposed to let “them” see us because it’s dangerous to be vulnerable. Instead we pass along this sick vision of perfection from generation to generation re-packaged into a lovely box of “strength, politeness, and duty” rather than what it really is - a denial of our right to our feelings, our boundaries, our autonomy. This is an identity that expects we will obtain every last drop of our worth from others. We have been expected to be hollowed out stumps flitting about waiting to be needed, desired, or demanded to perform.

It’s not possible to deny ourselves in this way and to remain healthy. There are always glitches in the matrix. Those austere, women turn out to be passive aggressive, manipulative, petty and cruel when no one is watching, or simply dead of a heart attack or cancer before their time. “No one here gets out alive.”

We expect this denial from men too and it has hurt them in equal measure. It turns them into mangled expressions of power and perpetration. Denying the full spectrum of our emotional experience hurts us all. Imagine that all it takes to curtail our pain and the pain we cause others is to be invited to say what is true about our experiences. So simple and yet the single most terrifying thing for humans to do.

So I share. Some say over share. I own that. I believe in my mantra “It’s not my job to stay quiet so you can stay comfortable.” It’s not because I seek to create discomfort. It’s more that I know the despair of inauthenticity and the loneliness of that, I decided, is worse than the fear of your judgement. You may feel like this is a ridiculous over analysis of why one opens up about their experiences. I have been accused in my time of being overly analytical, of reading too much into too little. I own that as well.

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