how to keep going

on feeling overwhelmed at the state of the world

Hannah Giorgis, one of my favorite writers, summed up the current moment with this tweet:

I can’t believe we’re all just supposed to keep going.

In the past year we’ve witnessed (amongst many other horrors) the ubiquitous Black death at the hands of police and vigilantes, anti-Asian violence, millions of lives lost from an unending pandemic, 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, and, just this week, the death knell of abortion rights in America in the form of a new 6-week abortion ban in Texas.

I try to remind myself that the world has always been chaotic. I try to remind myself that human chaos, specifically, is as relentless as a waterfall. Things have always been this bad. Climate change has always been a looming threat. Abortion rights have always been the target of bigots and misogynists. 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, especially if we are blessed and the chaos (seemingly) does not meet you directly at your doorstep. So we make our 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”. We tweet and text about 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 and feign urgency over the mundane. At night, we fall sleep, if we can sleep. The next day, the world is still in shambles. Somehow, we keep going.

But what does it mean to “keep going” in these circumstances? To “keep going” suggests movement, momentum. So why does it feel as though we’re standing still?

Yesterday, on my IG story, 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”

“frustrated”

“Emotionally wrecked! I can’t focus on all the probs in the world. I’m angry and sad”

“Nervous!”

“Feeling overwhelm & despair at the disasters unfolding everywhere”

“Depleted”

“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.

The other night, 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 got pruny. I climbed into bed, 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 dam of so-called resilience for way too long.

How do we keep resounding faith in this chaos? How do we keep going?

I of course have no clear answers to those questions, no special recipe for rising above the calamities of this modern human life. This entire essay is largely just an exercise in release. Because something I do know: Resilience is a scam.

I’ve always been a soft person. I crumble under stress and I am often stressed. 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 now realize that softness can be a kind of gift, if you allow it to be.

Embracing softness helps me to recognize and then honor when I’m feeling overwhelmed rather than just powering through, pushing down my exhaustion with toxic positivity and complacency. Softness helps me to cry when I need to cry. In softness, I 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 complacency, numbness, 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.

Some words I saw Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. post on their IG story the other day in regards to the Texas abortion ban enabling civilian bounty hunters that really struck me: “Out of words to sufficiently describe the vile present we not only exist in, but the one folks are actively committed to.”

Please understand. 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 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.

And yet, 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.