I don’t have a self-care budget, but I’ve definitely blown through it this month. Lately I will pay for anything that might help me get to the bottom of What Is Wrong With Me and How to Fix It. Sometimes that looks like signing up for rituals and courses involving self-reflection and intention-setting, others it means committing my New Year’s Day to a retreat where I’ll load up on sparkling water and Trader Joe’s fruit leather and cry in front of strangers.
One of the things I’ve gotten used to in the pandemic is that no one asks me about my life. This was true before 2020–I am a single woman and people generally assume that if you’re not publicly dating someone, you have nothing going on–but it is significantly truer now. Everyone is busier than ever, and is being abused by the institutions they’re employed by more than ever, plus every person I know seems to have had a top-10 worst life moment happen in the past couple of years. Early in the pandemic, we all talked about how every person was currently living through the caliber of crisis where, under normal circumstances, all of their people would rally around them. But because everyone needed support, no one was getting it, at least not fully. I haven’t heard anyone talk about that in a while.
Rarely this year has anyone asked how I’m doing, and for most of the year the answer has been: Really Bad. For close to a year now I’ve been dealing with a traumatizing situation that I’ve openly described as such, but I guess the fact that I appear to have deftly handled it undermines my words. Anyone who’s looked closely at my life this year would notice some serious unraveling at the seams; fortunately, almost no one has.
I feel self-absorbed for even noticing, because the truth of it is that, as in 2020 and 2021, everyone’s had a bad year. On the rare occasion that I acknowledge how difficult mine has been, I feel the need to immediately concede that the person I’m talking to has also had it rough and possibly rougher. I’m so unused to talking about myself and my life that doing so now makes me extremely self-conscious, like I’m a thief of airtime that belongs to someone else, someone whose life people care about. A couple of times this year I’ve considered quitting therapy, then realized that if I didn’t talk to my therapist each week, I would literally talk to no one.
A couple of months ago I saw someone I know slightly who, on paper, definitely had a worse year than I did. In an attempt to, I don’t know, find some common humanity or something, I mentioned that it had been a really hard year, the implied word being “collectively.” It wasn’t an attempt to minimize the other person’s challenges, or to start a contest over whose year had been worse, but that’s how the response felt. It was jarring to feel like I was supposed to agree that my life-threateningly bad year, the details of which I did not mention or allude to, was “not so bad” compared with someone else’s. I spent most of this year in a depth of despair that even I barely noticed; how can I expect other people to have picked up on it?
And the irony is, now people will ask. But if I’m talking about things, I’m fine. If I’m writing about things, I’m fine. If I’m posting about things, I’m fine. Anything that smacks of honesty and vulnerability in my public persona means I am fine. It’s handled, or it’s in the process of being handled. By me, generally alone. Which is a strange sort of comfort, really, as I’m the only person I’m certain will always be here with me. I almost feel inclined to build my walls higher, because despite the supposed shared experience of an awful few years, I find it hard to relate to anyone these days. I wonder if I’m jealous of people who can openly state that they’re in crisis, or even those who view every tiny setback as a crisis, a sign that God has it out for them, personally, when I think it’s pretty clear He has it out for all of us. I don’t feel sorry for myself; I’m aware that I do have it much, much easier than many people. But I do feel a bit sad.