Navigating Doubt

A personal blog post about my mental illness struggles, having empathy, having anxiety, and the world being such a shitty place so much of the time.

Navigating Doubt

Content notice: brief mention of suicidal ideation, struggles with despair, anxiety, and depression.

A few years ago now, I was working with this social worker through one of the darker periods of my life. But as my allotted ten weeks with her were used up through the program I was enrolled in, she recommended me to a psychologist to continue working on my therapy. I was really reluctant to stop seeing this social worker, but she was leaving the program anyways, and it was time to move on. This new psychologist was nice enough, though in retrospect I realise now that there were some obvious ideological differences that made it impossible for her to really understand what I was going through. Over the course of many sessions, it felt like I was paying her to teach her Feminism 101 or Transgender 101 workshops. Often, it felt like I was explaining the most basic shit over and over again, and there were a few memorable sessions were I had to explain to her how online harassment worked, why it wasn't really an option for me to shut down my social media accounts, and why the sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace or in the classroom was a large contributing factor to my anxiety and depression.

As I didn't have insurance to pay for therapy, my sessions with her quickly went from being frustrating-yet-I-should-probably-stick-with-this to becoming an emotional, intellectual, and even financial burden. I'm pretty sure therapy isn't supposed to give one ever-worsening anxiety, cause an increase in panic attacks, and an increase in depression. Yet out of a perverse cocktail of insecurity, fear, exhaustion, and simply not knowing how to express that this wasn't working out, I stuck with that psychologist for over a year before I gathered the courage to stop.

(I was also nervous about embarking on what seemed like the difficult task of finding a therapist who understood queer and trans issues, understood class, understood feminism... understood me. I knew that therapy wasn't working out. But I knew my therapist had good intentions, if not much else. What if I found someone even worse? I realise now how self-sabotaging this line of thinking was.)

2015 was the year of a lot of things. To me it was a really difficult year in terms of the political and social climate I was working and moving through. It was also the year of burnout, of trying to recuperate from burnout, and then burning out again. The internet harassment campaign for ethical journalism in video games — read: let's harass feminists & LGBTQI2S+ people & BIPOC online — was still in full swing (though the media uproar and mainstream indignation was already dying out), and in my life offline I was encountering some serious issues with regard to men abusing their power, and was facing repercussions for some of the equity agitating I had participated in at the university.

During one of my sessions with that psychologists in 2015, we had an exchange that has really stuck with me since. As I was explaining how depressed I was by the political atmosphere in general, and how with every year that passed I seemed to discover just how toxic, poisoned, and hopeless the world really was, she told me the following:

"You know, most people don't really get depressed when they read the news. Usually, when there are good things going on in their own life, they manage to separate the outside world from their inside world."

It has been my experience that when doctors and psychologists use the term "most people" in situations such as this, what they really mean is "normal people" or "sane people". It's not a particularly subtle form of othering.

While I sort of get her point, that it is sometimes or even often necessary to compartmentalise in order to function and not fall to despair, I found the manner in which she expressed this to me to be dismissive, and overall very telling of her own blind spots. Perhaps this is unfair of me, but I think that when you're a married older person with a lot of money, class privilege and a lot of cis white heterosexual privilege, you might be lacking some of the experience (and be full of that pure liberal ideology that divorces you from the reality of your material conditions and positionality) to understand why I might find the impending cataclysms of climate change, the failing economy, and spending so much of my time online and offline being called a psycho-r-word-feminazi-bitch becomes really difficult to compartmentalise, especially when I have a mental illness that makes it already difficult to believe in, imagine or visualise my own future.

While I was equipped with the phrase: "the personal is political" (and vice-versa) back in 2015, I still struggled to make this clear. I struggled to fully recognise in myself the ways in which sexism, queerphobia and transphobia pressed me down, in the workplace, in video game spaces, in the academy.

What I had such a hard time articulating in therapy — to the point where when I'm walking down the street today reliving these conversations, I wish I could say what I am writing here now — is that fundamentally, I can't really just decide to stop being scared about climate change or pollution or rape culture or transphobia or queerphobia or an economy that sucks because even if "things" are going well in some areas of my life, I live with the constant low-grade terror that all of this is an illusion masking just how bad "things" really are.

This is a personal text so I will share this: in my darkest moments, I have a tendency to harbour a suicidal ideation fuelled by hopelessness that the world will not get better. That I will never heal. That people won't heal. That war won't end. That the damage to our climate and environmental pollution are irreversible and will eventually kill us. This is definitely a feeling entangled with my mental health struggles — but I'm actually pretty damn sure it's not only because of my mental health struggles that I have these fears. I can distract myself and I can remind myself that there are definite, tangible good things in my life I am grateful for and which keep me anchored to some sort of hope for the future. But even in my brightest moments the struggle between despair and hope is never resolved.

This February has been rough. A lot of bad news, a lot of ongoing tragedies in many of my and near communities, a lot of injustice going unrecognised, a lot of chronic pain, a lot of stress, too much anxiety. The things that keep me going: the small and not-so-small kindnesses of people and friends, my partner's gentleness, my work for Game Curious which honestly has kept me from total despair because the people organizing it and the attendees are so awesome. This week I attended two events, one by âpihtawikosisân about the failures of Reconciliation at Universities (and everywhere), and later in the week I was able to squeeze into the Métis in Space podcast live show on Thursday, which was a balm. But within hours of that uplifting moment my wallet was stolen, and online I discovered the verdict of the Tina Fontaine's murder, and the video game Death Eaters are back on Twitter which means that social media harassment is at a crescendo right now — and I am so very tired of the ups and downs.

And most of all, I haven't written creatively on any of my personal writing projects at all so far in 2018. I don't know what I'm waiting for. To hit rock bottom and let despair fuel my writing? Or for hope to grab me a little more vigorously, so that I can finally feel like writing is worth it? Why am I so numb?

There's no "feel good" end to this post, so I'm stopping here. Thank you for reading.

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