It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks—well, a few months, really.
I’ve been up.
I’ve been down.
I’ve been somewhere in the middle.
I’ve laughed so hard I’ve cried, and I’ve cried so hard I couldn’t do anything but laugh at myself as I choked on my own snot (attractive, I know).
I’m a bit of a hot bloody mess, and I’m slowly coming to terms with how okay I am with that.
Like many young people heading into their late 20s (good God, it hurt to write that), I am struggling to process everything that is happening in the world while trying to work out my place in it.
The job I thought I loved is exhausting me. The people I thought would be in my life forever are distant. The pocket of the planet I live in that I assumed was safe is more interested in money than humanity. I feel guilty for not asking for a straw and having one arrive with my drink on a night out. I jump in my car to grab groceries for dinner and berate myself the entire drive for being too lazy to take my bicycle.
I feel I have a constant tug-of-war taking place in the pit of my stomach. One team is telling me not to feel guilt or shame for missing a friend or crying as I watch the new “Lion King,” while the other team yells about how the planet is dying and families are being deported and to have a little perspective, for goodness sake. Each team pulls and strains and wriggles and roars and elbows and pushes their heels down ferociously, determined to win the flag and drag their opponents over the line.
My mind battles to gain control, my lungs fight for air, and my eyes give it their best attempt not to leak in public. Every time I feel I’ve just about got a handle on things, the guilt wave comes again. Sometimes it arrives at knee height, knocking me gently and reminding me of its ever-persevering presence. At other times, it arrives as a tsunami, swallowing me whole, my rag doll body having no choice but to twist and turn at its mercy until the anger subsides, finally finding myself floating atop the whitewash.
It’s a strange phase. I’ve experienced similar sensations in my lifetime, but never like this. When did this start? What caused it? I’ve been having so many of the same conversations of late. This is not a singular feeling belonging solely to me; this is a wildfire that is starting to rage and rear its unruly head in so many of us.
Perhaps it was realising if we don’t do something about climate change, there is no point in picking out names for children whom I’d feel too guilty to bring into the world, or reflecting on the super I’ve saved for the retirement I’ll never reach.
Perhaps it’s realising my parents’ divorce affected me more than I realised, and I avoid commitment or choose to invest in those I know can’t commit to prevent being hurt.
Perhaps it’s listening to stories on the news of security guards who lure small children to danger.
Perhaps it’s watching a group of students who took a day off school to protest for the planet neglect to reuse the plastic pockets they ate their lunch from.
Perhaps it’s arguing with my sister about a pair of sandals she borrowed and never returned.
Perhaps it’s turning on my air conditioner and feeling my stomach drop and the waves start lapping at knee height again.
Perhaps it is all of these things and more.
And, perhaps all of these things are completely rational and just as valid as the next.
This feeling of moral mayhem, of inner turmoil, of responsibility, isn’t new. It’s just time to talk more openly about it. A guilt-free discussion.
It is completely okay for me to worry about population growth and the depletion of natural resources, just as it is for me to stress about the wording of a text to a boy I like. It is all valid, because it is all me.
My body sends me thousands of messages a day—an uneasy feeling when I meet a person I don’t trust immediately, a rush of joy when I see 90-percent dark chocolate on special at the supermarket, a churning gut when I hear yet another politician is making a fool of themselves over sustainable decisions for the country, a thrill when that boy finally messages me back. It’s all important, it’s all worth talking about, and it doesn’t need to be suffocating.
In this relentless game of tug-of-war, there is no winning team, but there can be a truce and a mutual acknowledgement that some days, one team’s shouting will be heard louder than the other. It doesn’t mean the other team doesn’t have a voice; it doesn’t make the other team less valid.
We are so wonderfully human. We are flawed and cracked and fragile. We are strong and resilient and shining. We have every right to feel and to experience the vulnerability of each wave of the human experience; this is just the next upsurge.
With the state the world is in right now, it is no surprise we are feeling this way, but we need to stop berating ourselves for it and adding to the ever-mounting pile we drag behind us. Rather, what if we turned to embrace it? Gave it a long, hard look and appreciated how incredibly tough we are for dragging this with us.
For some reason, just acknowledging the normality of its existence makes it feel lighter. Looking around and saluting other mounds stacked behind family, friends, and strangers lightens it some more. We are all in this together.
There is hope.
My hope lives in the notion of knowledge that these conversations are happening, we aren’t hiding, and we aren’t trying to cover our fear or uncertainty. There is power in our voices, one made even more powerful when that voice becomes collective.
I am valid, you are valid, we are valid…and everything we feel is part of who we are. It is only when we stop feeling that we need to worry.
Feel it all, learn from it, grow with it, talk about it, act on the things you can control or influence, gently acknowledge the presence of the rest.
There is hope.