Had a beer with a friend tonight, and our conversation is haunting me in many ways. I realize how drastically my coping mechanisms have changed in the last year, which I suppose is a form of self-preservation -- when one response doesn't work in reaction to trauma, develop a new response. At least, that's what I've found myself doing, whether I was conscious of it or not.
Two weeks ago, as I started conducting interviews and needs assessments for the transgender health project I'm working on, I realized I was internalizing a lot of my frustration and the pain felt by those I was interviewing. The more I asked questions, the more I realized how truly fucked up the system is. I knew that the healthcare system is fucked, and I knew that trans people face a wall of stigma, discrimination, ignorance, and abuse. But I started to grasp that every.one.has.a.horror.story and that the LGBT organizations which claim to help trans people are often the source of the worst damage. Bad information from good sources is detrimental -- it causes breeches of trust, puts trans people in compromising and unsafe situations where they expected to find knowledge and safety, and it further alienates them from finding good resources. Exclusion and discrimination by those who supposedly "belong in community with them" leaves them feeling further disconnected and unable to find support.
Sometimes I feel like I'm watching everyone in this community play politics and fight for funding, recognition, and personal prestige as those already on the fringes lose the most. It's so frustrating. It makes me angry and angry and angry and angry. I hate that I can't reform from within the community, and yet, I can't always reform from outside, either. It's an uphill battle, and I have such a love/hate relationship with the leaders, organizations, and donors in the NOLA LGBT/queer community -- and, for that matter, in the national gay rights movement.
And yet, I keep coming back. I come back because I feel drawn in, because there's a need, because I have experience and passion. I come back because it's personal. I come back because it's a paycheck, a thesis, a project. I come back because the people affected are those I love. I come back because I'm a masochist. Ugh.
As I try to decide what my next move in life is -- and whether to go to nursing school -- I worry about whether I have the strength to keep doing this kind of work. I worry that I will burn out, because the pressure, the politics, and the day-to-day frustration of working in non-profit, in low-income services, in direct services, is intense as hell. But on the other hand, I can't see myself doing anything else. I honestly cannot visualize myself as "happy" (or semi-content) and working in a job that doesn't involve working against social norms, against discrimination and stigma, against the system, all with the goal of lending a hand to those who need help the most. I can't quit caring. I can't walk away. Every time I do, I come back. I worry that nursing will be opening the door to another life-long commitment of caring, of investing in people, of giving too much of myself. I worry that what I will see will hurt, because it will sometimes.
But I don't think I could fulfill my life with anything else, either, because there will always be a part of me that cares too fucking much to walk away.
I think sometimes that the nice part of taking breaks to work in the service industry is that I don't take my work home at night -- I leave it at work. I don't stress out every day or feel overwhelmingly frustrated by categorical grants, clients who can't put food on the table, clients who neglect their children, or clients who have to fight their OB/GYN to get him to respect their birthing choices. I just put pizza on the table, and I'm done. But really, I'm bored as hell if I'm not involved, so that's not a long term solution, either.
But my coping strategy to the overwhelming, crushing frustration of seeing how fucked up a system is and how many people are being hurt, over and over, by the system was.... to go get drunk. Yep. At 1pm in the afternoon. Massive fail.
That's (recent) coping failure #1.
I wonder if it's the system that needs to change, or if it's me. Probably both. My reaction definitely needs some tweaking if I want to stay in this field -- somehow I've got to learn to survive without internalizing, because that simply makes me anxious and angry. But I do know that part of the cure for this is to make positive inroads -- because the discrimination and stigma can be eliminated, which leads to less frustration and personal craziness.
(Recent) coping failure #2 is totally different. A friend, someone who I count as relatively close, though we've only known each other a few months, asked me whether I slept with someone. I denied it twice, then finally admitted to it, and she told me she was really hurt that I felt like I had to lie to her.
I don't think I really processed what it meant to lie to her either time I did it. Hell, I'm not sure I put any thought into it. Immediately after, I wanted to get defensive -- I wanted to tell her it wasn't really any of her business, which is what I should have said instead of lying. But I lied, and there's no justification.
After months of my ex accusing me of lying, over and over and over again until it became easier to just deny everything and tell her whatever the hell she wanted to hear than to keep crying myself stupid, I find that my relationship with lying has changed. Drastically. I always used lying as a method of self-protection, especially with family members. But now I am so quick to deny or lie about anything and everything that even remotely makes me feel uncomfortable, that I don't even know what the hell I'm lying about anymore. Usually, it's anything emotionally painful -- such as my amazing ability to sugarcoat the hell out of everything shitty that happened in 2010. I don't even look at it as lying, really, but just self-protection. I don't talk to anyone about everything; I spread things around between a handful of close friends who each get parts and pieces of what's really going on. I don't talk about how hurt I am or how angry I am or how painful healing has been.
Massive (recent) coping failure #2 -- communication.
Oh lordy, I don't even know where to start on that one. I know roughly two people who communicate relatively well, and by that, I mean comparatively better than everyone else I know. I know this is one of those life-long growing pains. But damn, lying isn't a solution to discomfort, fear, or uncertainty. And really, the specific situation was pretty low-key, and the question didn't even bring up any emotional response -- simply me, wiggling out of the fact that I don't like direct questions about my interpersonal actions. But my problem is, when shit gets intense, I shut off or internalize it and keep moving until I don't feel the pain anymore. See also: not the most effective coping method. Ugh.
I am glad she called me on my shit. I do sincerely apologize to her for lying and for hurting her. No "buts." I really need to work on this stuff, and not in a cursory way. I need to make some serious changes, and I need to remember that when I face discomfort, running the other way isn't a valid response. If anything, writing about it helps, because it forces me to be introspective and get really personal. But it's also intense to put things like this out into the stratosphere and hope that the response is grounding, not terrifying.