“If you don’t produce, consume, or own matter,
then you don’t matter in this society.”
Oh how easy it is to fall into this thinking, especially in today’s political climate when freedoms and safety nets are being torn out of the fabric of our society.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Right now, I’m not contributing anything to society, except trying to heal myself so I can return back to the tribe more whole than when I left. And healing and becoming whole is not easy. Living with chronic pain is not easy. I figured out that I’ve dealt with chronic pain off and on now for 28 years and a neurological disorder for the past 16 years. But lately, very lately, I have not been working and am working full time on trying to repair my mind, body, and soul.
I have not blogged much but this has been very good for my spirit thus far. Getting “likes” helps me to know that I’m not alone. . . whether my words about living with chronic illness ring true or my poem gives you pause, I know I’m not alone.
We grow up believing in this country that we have to be rugged individualists. Fooey. I miss the days of knowing our neighbors and living 7 minutes from family. I miss having rituals like every other Friday night going for pizza and the opposite Friday night going for Chinese. I miss being able to drive over my friends house at any time, in any weather, looking however, and hanging out with her. But that’s not the life I am living now and it’s a lesson in acceptance.
I have to say, I’m in good company. Maybe it is something developmentally with my age group. I had a friend from college that came down with an autoimmune disease during our Master’s degrees. She had been told her whole life that she would have to care for her brother when her parents got old. Her own illness would keep her from that. I have another college friend who also has an autoimmune disease and he has trouble breathing. Luckily, he continues to work and have a life but it is stalled. I have a friend who had a heart attack and cancer in less than the last 5 years.
So what is it with all of these 40-50-somethings being ill? I have two other friends dealing with mental health issues. No, they aren’t crazy. I’m not even sure if they have a brain chemistry problem like psychiatry would have us believe. I do believe that there is something in all of our lives that is begging us to listen. And that thing has been calling out for a long time if we have gotten to the point of being ill.
I don’t know about you but I grew up with “suck it up and move on” parents. Or “don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about” parents. They also made sure we had jobs when we were 16 years old and worked every day since. Trust me, I’m not blaming my life on them. If anything, the only thing I have to blame them for our genes that were passed on. My family has been good to me. We heard a lot of things from our families. And I think some of them we allowed to seep into our DNA. I think society told us a lot of things and we also allowed that to unconsciously sway our thinking.
I’m glad to see millennials are looking at our lives and really putting their money where their mouths are. I read articles about them living in squalor to pay off student loans as quickly as possible. I hear they are doing things so they can try to retire early, though I am not sure if any one of us will be able to retire in the future. Maybe in the next generation or two we will our priorities straight. We will put money into education, into our environment, into healthcare. We will look toward countries that have better quality of life than we do and try to figure out what they are doing right.
I think about my own situation. For all these years, I went to school and got advanced degrees. I worked hard and have had a job since I was 16. I believed that if I put myself in debt and worked hard in school, I’d have the life I wanted. That meant not taking vacations, moving to get jobs or go to school, and working myself to death. My health was the cost and I never did obtain all the things I was searching for. But it’s taken all this time for me be able to stop and be able to regroup. Why isn’t this a part of society?
I read a book a long time ago, “Crazy Like Us” by Ethan Watters and it was fascinating. It looked at other societies and how they dealt with mental health issues — trauma, schizophrenia, grief, etc. And it found that other countries deal with this issues in much more organic ways. What I mean by that is what probably happened in this country at the turn of the last century, during our grandparents’ and their parents’ lives.
If someone had a baby, there was a mother and mother-in-law nearby. There were also siblings, cousins, aunts, etc to all help out. If someone was depressed, the community helped out. It’s not a great example, but think about the book Ethan Fromm. Ethan’s wife was sick and a young niece or cousin came to live with them. Families could do that back then. It’s not as easy today with families needing the levels of income we need today. When our grandparents were alive, if someone in the family had a difficulty with mental retardation, they lived at home. If they lived on a farm, they might help out despite a disability or they lived on a farm and were safe to wander the area without the danger of walking out into traffic or wandering into another families’ house. People could be unproductive, be non-consumers, and still be a valued part of society. But today, there is no time and as I said before, safety nets are being torn apart.
But what will this do to us? How will we be productive consumers when our paychecks are split between student loan payments and medical bills? Who can we reach out to in sprawling suburbia when we are caring for elderly parents or in the prime of our life and stopped short by cancer, heart disease, mental health issues, burnout, trauma, etc?
So my questions to you are these:
- What are you doing to keep your health, physical and psychological health intact?
- What are you consciously doing to prevent dis-ease?
- How are you cultivating community and a larger family?
- In what ways can you change your life today to make it more sustainable?
- When was the last time that you took off time and did nothing or better yet did something to improve your life — not taking a vacation to renovate the house or taking a vacation where you had to stand for hours in lines or rush around?
- How can keep from burning out?
- What is one thing that I can change so that I can consume or produce less and mean more, matter more?
And in case no one told you today, you do matter. You do have meaning, purpose, worth, and belong, no matter who you are or where you are. And if you haven’t been told that today, find some new people to bring into your life that will tell you that or remind me when you need to hear it.