When the COVID-19 lockdowns began, I had only been back home for three weeks. Prior to that, I’d spent five weeks in the mountains of New Mexico at a retreat. The purpose of that retreat was to re-examine my life, learn new ways to live, and let the awful things that needed to break me do their worst.
Raw, reeling, fresh with vision, I returned to my life…and to the things that had driven me into the desert in the first place. I excercised some of my new tools: openness, mercy, and patience.
I allowed the things that had been leeches to, perhaps, show me a new face. A few did; most did not. I was just about at the point where I needed to do something about it when the plague struck and we were all relegated to isolation.
Fatality #1: Career
I’ve been a public librarian for twenty years. I went to grad school while working a retail job to get where I am. I climbed the ladder: from volunteer, to part-time front desk, to full-time front desk, to capital-L Librarian. At one point, I even thought I was on the management track.
If there’s one thing that the desert/mountain retreat showed me, it was that I’m not a Librarian anymore. It isn’t how I define myself, and is no longer anything other than a paycheck with really good benefits. I don’t want to be here, and I can tell that, despite having received promotions and the occasional pat on the back, I am not wanted here.
I had invested so much of my energy and identity in being a Librarian, I hadn’t even noticed how little I was wanted. Stepping away for a while let me see it. Letting go of needing to identify myself through my work is allowing me to find out just exactly who I am…and what I am and am not willing to tolerate.
The plague has given me the solitude and expanded boundaries to do exactly that; being a Librarian broke in the process. It feels loose and liminal to not immediately attempt to find some other career title to fill that spot. But I’m waiting and watching. Identity isn’t as important. I can exist in chaos and flux. I can even flourish.
Fatality #2: Work Ethic
Among the many things I inherited from my family of origin was a version of the mythical American Work Ethic: do good, follow the rules, excel, and you will be rewarded with success and satisfaction. Despite the fact that it led to neither for either of my immediate progenitors, they never stopped drumming that into my head. And I held on to that, made it mine.
I’m not saying that I no longer have a work ethic. What I’m saying is that the one I’d clutched like a chunk of pyrite broke in the wake of the retreat and the lockdown.
It needed to go: it wasn’t mine, and holding onto it was poisoning me.
Instead of hearing the mental voice of a man raging at me that playing video games and staying up late were the signs of a lazy, aberrant personality, I’ve begun relaxing into the things that I’ve always enjoyed. It doesn’t mean I do no work. It doesn’t even mean that I don’t work hard. I just stopped beating myself up about it.
It’s okay if I have a day when I get up late, make a luxurious breakfast, work for a while, play video games or go for a motorcycle ride for an afternoon, then decide whether to do more work or not. I can do that – I’m a grownup. It isn’t sloth if I’m not go-go-going full-tilt all of the time. That’s exhausting and toxic.
And it had to go.
Fatality #3: The Hero Complex
Aforementioned immediate progenitors (they don’t deserve the moniker of “parents”) left me with a long list of toxic ideals that I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy learning to see as not mine. The plague isolation has driven the final nails into many of them, but one in particular has far-reaching effects: the need to be a hero.
It’s why I became a Librarian, why I needed to follow the “established rules of society”…even why I have loved comic books for so long. I needed to save the world, to prove to everyone that I’m not evil. To prove that I am worthy.
As I sat in isolation (okay, not quite. My other half and the cats were there, too), helpless to do anything but survive and learn to live daily with my anxiety and trauma because I couldn’t do anything to run away from them, I was able to achieve a place of clarity. A place where I get to define what is good and what is evil. A place where heroes aren’t relevant anymore because we’re all just people trying to get through life the best way we can figure out.
And the best people to save us are ourselves.