(trigger warning: rape)
We want to believe if we just straighten up and live right all our problems will melt away.
For a lot of us, that means living close to the land. It’s more than an aesthetic desire: it’s an ethical orientation. We’ve read Micheal Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver and Joel Salatin. We understand that food is a fundamental and primal method of connection and ritual and a means for social change and environmental justice. We use cloth shopping bags and recycle our (local) beer bottles and make things out of recycled pallet wood and worry over whether there’s glycophosphate in our kid’s Cheerios.
If we just straighten up and live right all our problems will melt away. For a lot of us, that means growing our own food and being as off-grid and sustainable as possible.
After college, I lived on an off-grid intentional community in the woods for two years. We were too far from town to drive in for work, and we weren’t an income sharing commune, so we needed to either generate income or have access to cash.
Mothers lived there whose husbands worked construction or climbed trees with chainsaws, they co-parented with a divorced husband living in town, they worked online or had businesses of bodywork or alternative healing.
Sometimes folks lived there whose parents subsidized their lifestyle. I used leftover financial aid money meant to cover living expenses, and I tried to work. As a single mother with no co-parent, I’d have to pay someone to watch my son. If I worked on the land, I’d get paid the exact same amount of money I’d turn around and give to the babysitter. We all received food stamps (shh).
For a few months, my son stayed with an older woman in the big house I lived in with a dozen other folks while I worked out of town. They believed in me and I believed in us.
Eventually I realized I just couldn’t afford to stay, and I left.It took me a long time to realize I’d started with myself in the wrong place.
I tried to be a farmer. I tried to live off-grid, later, until the effort of making sure batteries were charged and carrying in water and not having enough income to afford the repairs on my space became too much to carry.
You want to be a farmer? Do you have $10,000 an acre for land (minimum), plus the costs of building a home, or 10% down and credit good enough for a mortgage? Do you have the money for all of the equipment and infrastructure you’ll need up front? Can you afford to pay all of your expenses (mortage, equipment, labor, tools, seeds) for the first year(s) while you’re not making money? Do you have an extra half a million just laying around?
I mean I know folks who made it work without that. And they’ll get angry if they feel accused of not doing the work themselves. And they usually don’t talk about how it works, or worked, for them.
Maybe their family owns the land, a hundred acres in the family for generations. Maybe the husband is a carpenter who builds houses. Maybe there was a cleverly written USDA loan or even a grant that bought the farmland and built the house. Maybe there was incorporation into an LLC and investment income from straight jobs for several years while living minimally in an RV park. Maybe they just had their shit together early in life.
Finally I realized everyone I know who lives the way I wanted to has some kind of hand up or hand out that I don’t have. Maybe that hand out was just good health and a clear mind and a wise partner. I made the mistake of not realizing I was poor. I tried to live like money didn’t matter because I can make things with my hands and “make do” and put up with it.
Eventually I realized this door is closed to me, at least for right now.
I have disabilities that have caused me to be fired from a couple of jobs, and that preclude having intimate relationships (nobody’s gonna put up with this shit). Intersectionality is a bitch.
I’m still trying to shake off the hippy culture belief that mental illness is neither real nor valid and shouldn’t be treated with pharmaceutical medications. If you just lived in the woods in community and used the right kind of homemade plant tinctures you wouldn’t have depression or anxiety. Then again, I lived with people who believed “modern medicine” was contributing to the downfall of society and the destruction of the planet by preserving people who required resource-intensive interventions, like wheelchair ramps or oxygen tanks or dialysis or insulin. That’s called eugenics.
I have PTSD from domestic violence and more rape than I can count. The last time I was raped was at the big house on the intentional community, by someone I lived with there and loved. Friends there who knew told me it was an accident (yes, we both had too much to drink at a party) and to speak with him and forgive him. Yes, it’s my fault, because it was the only time I’ve ever been blackout drunk. When I realized how drunk I was I went to bed, he came with me.
Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night I still remember waking up that night, intermittently coming to consciousness, his fingers in my mouth. Sometimes having sex with someone I love and trust there’s a familiar taste and I go catatonic, unresponsive, and the person I love doesn’t notice and doesn’t stop what they’re doing. Retraumatization. I don’t bother trying any more. It’s too much.
Most of the time I forget. PTSD impacts short term memory. I just fucking forget everything all the time: where I parked my car, why I’m in the grocery store, what I just said yes to at work. I write everything down. If I write, it exists.
Therapy? The most effective treatment for PTSD is EMDR. Guess who’s too much of a special snowflake to use EMDR, because bilateral physical stimulation / eye movements are distressing and distracting? Hey there.
Oh poor me. So sad. Put on your big girl panties and deal with it. I’m such a fucking victim I even managed to get raped at a commune. Goddamn. It must be my karma. I must have to try really hard to be such a failure.
Around 9pm every night for the past year I usually text some friend or another: 9pm is the time suicidal thoughts start drifting through. I mean, it seems kind of reasonable when I tally up all my failures.
Mental illness is cool if it’s a meme on Facebook about awareness But we still carry this sense of revulsion and fear when we find out someone close to us has it. And that’s why I keep writing about it: because fuck all that. Especially lately, when I have a physical tick I call “retard hands” that gets me snickered at by other adults in public. Fuck all that. Other people carry things inside and you have no idea. Do you know me? Are we friends? I want you to remember, not about me because I’m not special, I want you to remember about EVERYONE you see every minute every day. The only thing I have left to give away is compassion. When you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail.
We are all struggling.
Yesterday I posted a picture of my new apartment on Facebook and a friend commented “You deserve this.”
And that’s so fucking important to remember.
I can’t do any good until I can sit down and forgive myself all my faults and failures. I can’t do any good until I can show up and do the work, and if I’m bringing my problems into a situation I’m just burdening other people, often without realizing it. But if I don’t understand how I’m impaired and affected by illness and disorder, I also can’t do the work, I can’t do anybody any damn good.
Recognizing that I struggle with non-literal communication means I can make adjustments in communication rather than getting upset over not understanding, or upsetting others when I don’t understand what I’m expected to.
I didn’t know I was poor. I didn’t know I was disabled. I can “act like it doesn’t affect me” all I want but I end up blaming other people for things that happen because I’m different. I bruised my wrist during a panic attack a couple of days ago: it wasn’t the fault of the guy in the Santa costume, he was trying to be friendly, he didn’t know. Before I realized how I’m wired, when these things happened I would get angry and blame the other person.
These days I can sit with it.
Sometimes knowledge is how you let it go.