A few months ago, after Texas passed a near-total abortion ban, I asked my online community, "Life is wild. How are you feeling, really? How's your heart?"
A flood of answers about anxiety, fear, numbness, and anger came my way. Answers like:
"Very VERY bad"
"sad for my fellow texans affected by the ban"
"Emotionally wrecked! I can't focus on all the probs in the world. I'm angry and sad"
"Feeling overwhelm & despair at the disasters unfolding everywhere"
"I feel like I need to cry for 24 hours straight"
"Trying to keep resounding sense of faith amongst the chaos"
To know that I am not alone in any of these feelings is a kind of bittersweet comfort, a hand-squeeze. As 2022 looms ahead, many of us are holding on to the hope that the "very VERY bad" days are behind us. And yet, to know that so many of us are similarly spiraling with no recourse and no relief? It makes me wonder if and when our collective emotional dam will finally burst. Because, after all, it must.
One of my favorite writers, Hannah Giorgis, summed up the past year — the normalization of constant catastrophe — with this tweet:
"I can't believe we're all just supposed to keep going."
This phrase was, to my mind, the slogan of 2021, perfectly capturing our collective disbelief, tempered with weary resilience, as we observed the chaos of these times. In the past year we witnessed (among many other horrors) ubiquitous Black death at the hands of police and vigilantes alike, anti-Asian violence, an avalanche of anti-Trans legislation, a devastating earthquake in Haiti, a category 4 hurricane in New Orleans, major flooding and tornadoes in New York, wildfires, mass shootings, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, more Israel-Gaza violence, the death knell of abortion rights in America, and millions of lives lost from a seemingly unending pandemic, now spiking with the rapid spread of the latest COVID variant, Omicron.
In times like these, I try to remind myself that things have always been this bad. The world has always been chaotic, and human chaos, specifically, is as relentless as a waterfall. Climate change has always been a looming threat. Abortion rights have always been under constant attack. And the pandemic, as much as we've tried to convince ourselves otherwise, is not going "away" in a real sense anytime soon. What we are experiencing now is not a new chaos, or even a particularly unique chaos. We are experiencing an old chaos, a chaos that we have been conditioned and encouraged, generation after generation, to endure.
Enduring looks like many things. If you are lucky and the chaos (seemingly) does not meet you directly at your doorstep, enduring can even approximate a sense of normalcy. We wear decorative face masks and take our booster selfies. We make our little donations and share our mutual aid links, our colorful infographics explaining "HERE'S WHAT'S HAPPENING IN AFGHANISTAN" or "HOW TO HELP PEOPLE AFFECTED BY IDA" or "HOW TO GET A FREE PCR TEST."
We tweet and text about all the mayhem with our friends. We agonize over our own personal crises, the ones we don't talk about. We try to find levity where and when we can, in memes, in TikToks, in reality TV. We go to work on Zoom and feign urgency over mundanities like emails and deadlines. At night, we fall asleep, if we can sleep, in a simulacrum of normality. The next day, the world is still in shambles. We keep going.
To “keep going” suggests movement, momentum. But what does it mean to keep going in a world frozen in a state of disorder?
Back in August, after getting home late from a physically and mentally taxing day (the same day that Abbey Gate was bombed at Kabul Airport), I walked through the front door of my apartment, dropped all my bags in a pile on the floor, stripped naked and went straight into the shower. I stood under the water, silent, with my eyes closed, and let the hot hot water run over my skin. I prayed for it to wash away the day, the week, the month. I stood there until the pads of my fingers became pruney. I climbed into bed, still naked and wet, and asked my boyfriend to hold me.
Then I cried. Hard.
I had no idea why I was crying at two in the morning. I couldn't locate the actual trigger. It wasn't the fact that I was feeling uncertain about my career, or that I was worried about the precariousness of my finances and mounting bills, or that I felt lonely, or that I was utterly exhausted — though all those things were very present for me. I knew I was crying not just for me. These were tears for everyone, and every thing, and they had been stuck behind a brick wall of so-called resilience for way too long.
Resilience is a scam. As a Black woman, for whom strength has often felt like a trap — a way to perpetuate that softness has no place in my world — the scam of resilience has become abundantly clear. Resilience asks us to keep going without calculating the emotional or physical cost. Resilience demands an elasticity of spirit and a capacity for pain that, in times like these especially, borders on the supernatural. And we are, after all, only human.
As writer Zandashé L'orelia Brown tweeted back in May:
"I dream of never being called resilient again in my life. I'm exhausted by strength. I want support. I want softness. I want ease. I want to be amongst kin. Not patted on the back for how well I take a hit. Or for how many."
To "keep going" suggests movement, momentum. But what does it mean to keep going in a world frozen in a state of disorder? What does it mean to keep going when to do so means compartmentalizing our weariness, denying our softness?
I've always been a soft person. I tend to crumble under stress. This used to be a thing about myself that I really didn't like, that I wished to change. I now realize the reason why I didn't like being soft was because I was constantly fighting it, constantly willing myself to be stronger and braver and as numb as possible because that was what had been modeled to me as a key to survival. I know now that softness can be a kind of gift, if you allow it to be.
Embracing softness helps us to recognize and then honor when we are feeling overwhelmed. Rather than just powering through, pushing down exhaustion with toxic positivity and complacency, softness creates the space we need to process. Softness allows us to cry when we need to cry, rest when we need to rest, break when we need to break. In softness, we can access a different kind of resilience, a true resilience informed by empathy and connection, not isolation and indifference.
When we train ourselves to ignore the times that we feel lost, overwhelmed, angry, sad, or afraid, we train ourselves to ignore other people's pain as well. This results in our gradual acceptance of the unacceptable. We can't "keep going" by ourselves. We have to keep going together.
If you are hurting as you witness these times, whether directly or indirectly affected, know that you are right to hurt. Know that you deserve to give yourself space to process, to rest. Know that you can resist the state of the world by resisting the urge to downplay or dismiss your own chaotic and complex emotions. Know that healing is not linear, and that world-making takes intention and care. Know that survival requires softness as well as fortitude.
It takes commitment to make a world like this. It takes intention, dedication and discipline to create chaos. It takes people waking up and literally choosing violence. It's a horrifying thought, to know that there are people who are content with making such a shitty version of the world and watching it burn as long as they and they alone have access to capital, power and privilege on a dying planet.
Here is another thought, a kind of answer to a society that wants us to "keep going" to nowhere: A world can be made, yes. But if a world can be made then it can be unmade, too. And this, I think, is the ultimate 2022 resolution for all of us: to reimagine what it looks like to survive. You can survive a shitty year, yes. You can keep going, yes. But what would it look like if survival was more than just enduring, more than just getting through the day, week, month, year? What would the world look like if all of us, more of us, channeled our despair, our weariness, our rage, into love in action? What if we refused to keep going just for the sake of it? What if we slowed down, or stopped altogether? What if, in the silence, and in the stillness, we clarified for ourselves where we actually want to go?
Zeba Blay is a culture writer and author of Carefree Black Girl. A version of this essay first appeared in her newsletter under the title, "how to keep going."
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