When I was a toddler I would stand by the door, waiting. I would say “let’s go!” and they would say, “where?” and I would say, “out!” I didn’t care where – I just wanted to go.
By the time I was 7 I was helping my family at community functions; escorting elders to seats, setting up, serving food, cleaning up, tearing down. I learned about The Struggle, and my place in it.
Through 13 years old we volunteered as a family, after that I began doing so on my own; taking a bus into the city to meet up with local groups. I was sent to Alaska unescorted to attend cultural camp and learn about our Alaskan Native heritage.
At 15 I was in a Native American youth theater group taking overnight trips to perform in far-flung places; my first paycheck came before I could drive. I also helped care for my young cousins while my uncle was working and going to college concurrently.
16 marked my first steady job, I worked while attending high school. I was the youngest page editor for our school newspaper, as well as being a teacher’s assistant for the head of my school’s english department.
My senior year of high school was my 3rd year as teacher’s assistant (for the same person), while also being co-editor-in-chief of both the school’s literary arts magazine and the school’s newspaper, and was promoted to a shift supervisor at my job.
I sought treatment for a mood disorder for a short time after high school, then abandoned treatment although the issues remained.
At 19 years old I suffered a debilitating injury when I was hit by a drunk driver. I worked at Dick’s during the first 2 years of my recovery period; often shifts ran until 2:30am and I had to be back at 10:30am the next day – but my commute was 2 hours long. I also shaved over 70 lbs off of my starting weight, just from working hard every day.
For the next 2 years I would work grueling hours at Dick’s, struggle with finding myself, and was the one that people could count on. I fed them, gave them a place to stay, lent them money, helped them move, held their hair back while they vomited, counseled them through breakups and held their hand when their “trip” almost turned bad. I also built the foundation for the relationship of a lifetime together with my true love.
By 25 I had two jobs, and had moved up from receptionist to tax professional, and from tax pro to leading an office of tax pros.
At 27 I gave birth to the second love of my life, and devoted a mere 5 weeks to recovering from birth before returning to work. I began to do contract landscaping as well as working full time, to better support my little family.
As so many did in 2008 I lost my contruction-related job and went back to school. But then I got a new job right away, and kept going to school simultaneously.
At about 30, I got a promotion to a great new position just in time to compete with the hardest parts of my college degree, and let’s not forget the landscaping, and my partner and my kid in there somewhere. I also helped nurse my grandfather in the end of his battle with cancer.
I continued to work full time, do landscaping, and attend college full time (including one of the summer quarters). My partner ended up needing surgery two different times, lost his father far too early, and suffered a crippling injury that would keep him from walking for weeks, and from walking properly for months. I did my best to nurse him back to health inbetween dealing with our 5 year-old daughter’s bitter struggles with life’s twists and turns, earning our way, and trying not to lose myself in hardship.
For a time I tried to participate in my Alaskan Native community again, but found adding it and participation in the The Struggle to be deeply involved and energy consuming – both physical and emotionally.
At the height of the convergence of all those things, my long-time boyfriend asked me to marry him.
I won’t hesitate to say I drove every aspect of the wedding, as was probably expected.
I finished my degree, and got married. After getting married, we had a few weeks to breathe before trying to make the holidays special – no easy feat when your kid’s birthday is 5 days before Xmas.
At the beginning of this new year my commitments reached their lowest level since before I hit puberty – that’s about 20 years if anyone’s counting. As I am prone to, all the stress and trauma I had internalized for years resurfaced in a blaze of glory. I went down in flames and envied those who have the freedom to enjoy a full scale mental breakdown. I still needed to earn a living more than ever, and suddenly I felt completely overwhelmed and had to shut down.
I had became volatile and dysfunctional, unable to cope with even the most mundane of issues. It drove away the dwindling social support that I had come to need more desperately than ever before.
I found myself adrift in a world struggling as hard as I, with little hope or expectation of anything improving. It took several months to get myself to a place where I even wanted to get better – to not be depressed or anxious, defensive or aggressive.
Caring for myself has never exactly been a priority of mine – there’s too many other things that need doing, and we handle business before we enjoy pleasure. Asking for help has never really been a strong suit of mine, nor has saying “no” to a request been in my repertoire, overall.
I could never stand the trite advice I’ve seen encouraging people to step back and care for themselves – because I felt like they already do too much of that and not enough actual work. But perhaps that advice is meant for people like me, who really have paid their dues, done their time, worked enough for a dozen others.
Maybe it’s ok for me not to save the world, or myself, or anything else. Maybe the entirety of The Struggle, my loved one’s lives, and achieving “success” do not actually rest on my shoulders alone. I have always believed that each of us holds the responsibilities that we share as a society. But just today, right now, that’s not on me. I’ll be back again soon when I can hold up a weapon, because I can’t fight battles if I can’t stand strong, and I can’t stand strong until I take a moment to rest.
30 years is a long time to go full-steam ahead.