There is an expression that usually captures my attention, something that sometimes I had used with myself as well, and that is related to the question: “how are you?”, the phrase is: “I´m fine, well, I´m getting by it”.
I think this sentence holds a great deal of content. A content we are hardly aware of until certain alarm bells start ringing, sometimes physical alarm bells, those physical “warnings” that try to help us to interpret our needs, and sometimes our wishes. Something in your body or within your whole being warns you: “watch out, you are driving with the fuel of the reserve!”. This can vary a lot in each case: maybe aching, sometimes extreme tiredness, other times hyperactivity, hyperalert… It can change depending on each person and his/her system. Again, “Mental Health” definition goes by the hand of social and political contexts.
Other times we are really aware about what those alarms involve, but, either because of the context in which the question is formulated, or the degree of trust and genuine interest that is perceived with the speaker, or maybe the rush of the moment, or the permission that the person gives to her/himself to name what is shouting from within… the thing is that frequently that phrase emerges: “I´m getting by it”. It is accompannied by a smile that, depending on how transparent the expressiveness of the person that holds it is, it will give glimpses of a more or less overwrought state.
If, apart of the mentioned variables, we add the gender filter, either the assigned or the one you identified with, and we sum the “gender expression” and how do you interpret that you can express your qualities and needs (shaped by emotions) according to what it is expected from you as man or woman, (and that your circumstances allow you to manifest), then we will encounter another key from which decode that great statement: “I´m getting by it”. And the content will be sent more or less: expressed, watertight, canned, stoic, resigned, displayed, illustrated, insinuated, camouflaged… but almost always, (and I remark, depending on the context of the conversation), it will arrive very decanted. What is the content behind that “getting by it?” phrase?
The problematic part arrives when these external social filters, those formal straitjackets that have been held by structures we have been building and that are larger than us, are internalized up to a point in which they rule and arbitrate from within, regulating what we allow ourselves to feel, and the access we grant ourselves to have towards our needs and wishes. As well as how to express them, signify them, and, depending on the moment, how to fulfill them (or not).
The connection with our own needs (and expectations of being met), I believe relies over a continuous coreography or homeostasis between the identification of them and the respect for the other person´s ones.
The connection with our own needs (and expectations of being met), I believe relies over a continuous coreography or homeostasis between the identification of them and the respect for the other person´s ones. Which requires the learning of boundaries setting and also of the continuous reflection about the concept of freedom and responsability, so then it can make you grow as a person but also can make the person you have by your side grow as well. Likewise, this works regarding external goals and meanings, and the internal ones.
One of the implicit demands (and more explicit during past times) of a patriarchal society and also neoliberal, as the one we live in, is that, anyhow, and at any price, you will achieve what it is expected from you (and that you have internalized and sometimes owned), without really having to never shut the machinery down. If at any point you had to cry, you better not to become a burden to those around you as that is “too much”, involves “weakness”, and maybe it happens that seeing you cry could make the others be reminded about their own vulnerability, and that´s why to accompany can hurt. As it happens during grieving processes.
Maybe you will finally achieve the goal you set (professional, academic, personal…) or you may be on your way through it; right, which is the landscape that will surround you?: on one hand, an environment wherein the discourse is about growth and personal wealth, where what it counts is “taking part”, but in which if the goal that you anguish for is not remunarated or it does not involve a certain amount of status, (not too much, so roles and power structures would not feel threatened), it will have an impact on the self perceived effort and your self concept, starting these two to be observed suspiciously… and starting to appear the poisonous “I´m worhtless”, or “I´m not enough”. (I suggest to check the video below, by Agnes Török).
On the other hand, all of this will be wrapped up beautifully with a wrap paper that will carry on being attractive and yummy, and that may show a couple of wrinckles or scars, but only in favour of that goal, of that medal. Otherwise, which other reason would justify to take a break, or to make the decision of listen and care?
While on the subject of medals…, we have recently had the peculiar pleasure to witness through the media The Olimpic Games of Río 2016, with such a great journalistic(?) coverage to whom I am so grateful. I am grateful to it as it has been so trasparent that has showed that male chauvinist bias, this time displaying it in a context where, again, the ambivalency of perverse messages gains more strenghth: arriving to Río and taking part is what counts, the team work, the long-distance race…, but, if you don´t win a gold medal, your effort will not be acknowledged, not by a long shot. You will not be quoted in the references neither. And, on top of that, if you are a woman, your success will be linked to a man. Where does this leave that thing about: “taking part is what it counts”?
Where is the sporting spirit left after such apology of elite competition, that moreover is just a whimsical glance from somebody´s dream, as most athletes live usually precariously the rest of the year?
By thinking about medals, I began thinking about the working and economic context that surround us; I don´t discredit how useful can be a healthy competition and setting better personal records but, I would rather reflect on the blinding and dangerous glances that prizes can deliver when they are used as a motivational method but when they are not supported by circumstances that could guarantee: 1, equality and equity of opportunities, and 2: honesty regarding what it is beyond the competition. Because the thing is that in the neoliberal context mentioned before, and in which we all navigate, most of the times contradictory messages are sent:
make an effort, fight, be bold, dream, be unique (but don´t trouble anyone), take care of yourself (but never stop), take care of others (but be individualistic and predator: 1 vacancy, hundreds of applicants), grow up, nourish yourself, be strong, him/her who really is determined will achive anything, be a winner…, but eventually, do accept (if you are lucky enough) precarious working conditions where you can hardly reconcile your life with your work, and where your stability prospect will last 1 year, in the best case scenario.
And suddenly, we find ourselves hardly hobbling using the fuel we have on the reserve, as the fuel tank run on empty long time ago, but we didn´t see the “warning”, we were dazzled by the external indicators and filters, maybe also by our own values and compensatory self-demandingness. Those indicators that say which point you must reach and when to stop, and that modulate how to express yourself according to being a man or a woman, and that tell you when somebody must be valued: when the gold is winned. Or those indicators that align youself with those who stay at home, as your income is lower. Something that use to happen to women that, by the way, would take care of that dependent person in the family, saving the money that would have gone to a professional.
As it happens within an abusive relationship, we internalize the contradictory external message and we expose ourselves to the most painful edge, ignoring our own survival signals.
As it happens within an abusive relationship, we internalize the contradictory external message and we expose ourselves to the most painful edge, ignoring our own survival signals. Unless we can connect with a core of dignity when listening to something, that can help us to bang one's fist on the table (taking place differently on each case), stopping the beating to ourselves, or stopping the feeding of that which is depredating us. Learning to ask for help. Then, step by step, … we progressively stop feeling that we are worthless unless we are paid or we are working. Something that many people feel nowadays.
Hopefully, we will keep on re-signifying gradually what it is implied at the caring labor meaning, and we would be able to look at what does this concept involve for us
Hopefully, we will keep on re-signifying gradually what it is implied at the caring labor meaning, and we would be able to look at what does this concept involve for us; maybe we can bestow it with human value and richness. We will also hopefully honour those people, mostly women, that used to develop that role, and celebrate those men and women that could today choose, I wish more freely, to care for other person, ideally supported by any structure that could facilitate that caring work, avoiding to reproduce the past.
There is something very patriarchal underneath these constructions, which is the message of doing of other´s circumstance of vulnerability an opportunity to instrumentalize and exploit him/her, instead of an opportunity to accompany and nourish, instead of caring.
The citizen that finds herself/himself within a working break, whatever the reason, use to find easier to adopt the narrative of “being not enough”, so then everything can make sense. Nevertheless, the erosion and invalidation of this narrative involves a really high emotional price.
I am confident that, by reviewing continously our way to enjoy caring for ourselves and for those we love, and by re-thinking whether those “medals” are real or a hollow glance, we will develop a sort of vaccine that immunize us from internalizing the perversity of that message, facilitating a conscious dialogue between external goals and own meanings.