The Catch 22
When I finished studying, I thought I was set.
Set for life, set to make enough money, set to find and fall in love with my life partner and live happily ever after, set to succeed, fucking set, sorted. Set.
And in a way, I was. I might have made it, had things turned out slightly differently, you never know….
But, and it’s such a huge but, I was also all set to start judging. To start gaslighting. To start looking down on my fellow beings. To begin the unfortunate and often inevitable climb towards condescension and dismissal of the feelings and life circumstances of those not quite set yet. To disbelieve that hardship can hinder, break, unhinge, and derail.
The judging we do doesn’t begin as cruelty, but it can end that way. The opposite of Ahimsa.
It’s just easier. It’s easier to believe that if you’ve ticked the boxes, done all the right things in the right order you’re good, it’s all good, and no one is ever going to take it all away.
It was self affirming to believe that I had earned all I had achieved. To believe that I deserved a good job because of the hard work I’d put in to my degree, the long hours, the all nighters, the sacrifices I’d made to get essays in, costumes made.
That is after all where society leads us, it’s where the press ushers us, where the establishment guides us, where the voices of our hardworking elders take us.
If you succeed, all you. If you fail. All. You. And we hate you for it.
Which unfortunately leads to a world in which we look down on those struggling, and convince ourselves it’s all because of choices they’ve made. The decisions they’ve taken, the lifestyle choices they have embraced.
I was hard working, I exercised, I didn’t overeat, I didn’t drink too much, I’d given up smoking, I was all set and ready to go. To be a success. To win at life…..
And I failed. Epically. I am a complete failure by so called civilized society’s standards.
I have failed in the eyes of my family, my partner, myself. I’ve let everyone down. I am a burden, a nuisance, and essentially worthless, because I can't earn, I can't mother, I can't create. I have nothing to offer but me.
It's not enough.
Which leads to a question about those who were never all set. Who didn’t ever have an environment in which they could find firm enough footing to thrive. Those who didn’t ever have enough money, emotional support, kindness or love to win at the conventional rules of life.
Are they worthless too? Is that really how we are proportioning success?
I think the answer in the main is yes, and it’s fucking terrifying.
The most amazing people I have ever met have nothing. They are broken, breaking, and penniless. Ill, lacking in self-esteem and not remotely shiny.
I think they’re beautiful. They glimmer in the dark.
They’re the ones who have saved my life over and over again in the darkest hours, when the illness was just too much, when no one could hear me or see me. When everyone else was looking the other way, telling me to sugar coat it, suck it up, keep it to myself, pull my finger out and get a fucking job.
They are the ones who stop and pull you up when you can’t stand for shaking, and often they are shaking so hard themselves they risk going down with you.
Interestingly I gave everything I wanted and had worked for up before I fell ill. For my family. My dad. My sister. I let go of my dreams and turned my attention to them, to keeping them safe, strong and nurtured. I loved them more than I loved myself.
I paid a very high price for that. It’s not like the movies. They didn’t cherish me, we didn’t bond, they aren’t grateful. They took all I had until there was nothing left and then quite literally stepped over me and left me to die. Not any use once you’re ill. Not worth a bloody thing.
That was a hard lesson. A harder one was that they didn’t mean it. They didn’t set out to hurt. They just wanted to be okay. It’s the drowning man analogy.
But do you know what? I would do it all again. If being a success means walking away. Means looking the other way, looking down and stepping on and over people to climb higher, I’d rather not.
I'd rather belong to the broken than to the success.
It is a tough place to inhabit, however, it leaves you voiceless, which I suppose is why I'm writing these blogs. It leaves you powerless, to a degree, in the normal sense of power.
You have to dig deep over and over again to take the slights, the judgments, the looks, the dismissals.
I can't tell you how often I've been labelled weak, useless, not worthy. Sensitive, god I hate that fucking word, because it's rarely used kindly. How often I've been told that in the same position someone else would have coped better.
Really? With exactly the same restrictions, coping mechanisms, the same environmental factors and the same levels of support and illness? Really? I wonder.... Not saying they wouldn't have, but I do wonder.
And there you are, that’s me judging. It’s so easy to do. To un-ahimsa (new word) the fuck out of life, out of your fellow beings. Because there really is no doubt about it. It's a form of hurt, of violence.
Casting judgement is like casting a net of pain. For you, for them. We all do it. And we all have to forgive ourselves for it. We're just trying to place people. To order our world. To see where we stand. If we're okay.
I guess the trick is to find all that out without looking outside of ourselves.
Finding our power in other ways.
In acceptance of where we are and hope for where we might end up. Not the striving desperate hope which I so often employ (bringing in a touch of aparigraha in there just to round up my tendency to fuck up nicely).
Perhaps a quiet, calm determined refusal to give up while surrendering to the current okay-ish, the current pain or the current awful.
A smile and a nod of recognition to those around you, an unspoken understanding that they're all struggling too - in ways you can't even begin to imagine. That we are all in this together. One and yet not one.
I think that might be where the healing lies. In not judging those who are judging you.
Possibly not the healing of an infection that requires treatment, but the healing of the slighted, scared and damaged soul.
Had I succeeded, would I have learnt these lessons? I hope so. I think not.
And so, in essence I traded my voice, my power and my possible success for a multitude of pains and a multitude of lessons. Lessons I will always cherish.
I find myself in a position where I can't work, I can't earn, I can't place myself in the world and be respected for the normal things. I can only be judged for the normal things that I haven't got. And increasingly, I'm finding I don't care.
And so the vicious circle, the catch 22, of being judged and then judging. Of not being able to work and losing my voice further. Of either passing through life unseen, as so many people in my position are, or telling people how it is and being condemned for an illness I did not choose - it all starts to loose it's potency.
I'm slowly but surely taking its insidious power away and finding my own.
I lived in the dark for a long time. In the shadows. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. Scared to be judged. Scared to be the one judging.
I'd like to walk out into the light again with all I've learnt tucked in my life lesson backpack. That's what this is, my version of stepping out into the light, ready to be judged, and to not give a fuck.
And so, for now, while I surrender to the awful, to the challenging and the ever persistent Lyme, all I can do is attempt to live in a place of relatively peaceful hope.
Perhaps I'll encounter more beautiful souls on my journey. More beautiful lessons.
Perhaps I'll even manage to Ahimsa the fuck out of life and not hurt anyone along the way.