This morning, I dragged myself out of a warm bed at 5 AM because I’ve set aside this time to write. I didn’t know what I was going to blog about, I just knew I had to write something. Then, I checked Facebook, and saw the news – over and over again, from multiple, reliable sources – about the Independent Ethics Office being reduced to an Office of Complaint Review.
Mixed in there, somewhere in my feed, was the post of a physicist friend of mine. To paraphrase her sentiment, she compared the country and its political direction to a toxic relationship that she needed to cut ties with. She acknowledged her privilege to be able to do that. She voiced exhaustion and despair – like so many others in my feed. I’m sorry, but those are luxuries we can’t afford.
Preppers Aren’t Helpless
Because I write post-apocalyptic fiction, I tend to follow and observe the people who prepare for the apocalypse. However, because I write post-apocalyptic fiction, I do a hell of a lot of research into what would actually work. (For example, the 5 gallon bucket of seeds is not a good investment. Seeds will mold, and they are a finite resource. Instead, get heirloom seeds and learn how to germinate, plant and re-harvest seeds from your veggies now.)
I have the brain of a prepper, just not the off-grid storage and prepared bag full of gear. You see, what preppers are doing is they are doing something about their fears. They are making sure that they don’t feel helpless. That they still have options even if the very worst occurs.
It’s sort of the same mindset I see in Emergency First Responders. My husband has described responding to an accident as work – not an emergency. As a paramedic, he is doing everything he can to try to help the people injured. I am made more upset by passing an accident on the highway without stopping to help. The thing that hurts is helplessness.
Don’t Be Helpless
Stop the hand-wringing, already. I see so many people saying “There’s nothing I can do.” That sense of helpless despair is what will render you powerless. It will eat you from the inside out.
The first thing you need to do is recognize the actions you are capable and willing to take. Are you able to donate money? Are you willing to? At its most basic, as functional adults, we should be able to call or write our representatives. Is that something you’re willing to do?
So often, “There’s nothing I can do” really means “There’s nothing I am willing to do.” I’d like you to acknowledge that difference deep in your own heart, even if you never say it out loud. Then, if you want to do something, figure out what that is for you.
What about something smaller and closer to home? Are you willing or able to feed a homeless person? Are you willing or able to give voice to an unrepresented demographic at work? Are you willing to be a bringer of hope for others? Are you able to be a poet for the rest of us?
I have come to accept that I’m not likely to overtly change the world. What I’ve also come to accept is that I am very likely to subtly do so by living my life and being me. So, I’ve got to commit to doing that. I’ve got to get out of bed at 5 AM and write something, even if I don’t know what that is, because words matter, and stories are powerful.
How To Go the Distance
I know a thing or two about endurance. Physically, I’ve hiked over 250 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve done sprint duathlons and run a half marathon before. A fifty mile bike ride isn’t out of the question. My husband is an Ironman.
Beyond physical endurance, I also know mental and emotional endurance. I’ve written two novels and edited them and rewritten them. I’ve worked in some unending situations, and been in the long haul of relationships, where everything gets dark.
The steps to keeping up emotional and physical energy reserves are really the same, either way.
- Don’t go it alone
- Take care of your body
- If you have faith, lean on it
- Name your demon
- Just do the next right thing
Don’t go it Alone
It is a hell of a lot easier to hike a long day when you’ve got someone else with you. The conversation, the joking, even just the other person setting a pace. These things keep you going. Even when I go hiking solo, I have a backup plan in case I run into trouble.
I would encourage you to find other people who are capable and willing to do the same things you are and to organize amongst yourselves. Even just the validation of hearing other peoples’ experiences can be helpful.
Take Care of Your Body
The most important first aid on a long hike is water. And then nutrition. Then, making sure I prevent blisters and sores on my feet. Everything else is extra.
A few weeks ago, I did some googling on how to prevent burnout, and diet and exercise played heavily into that plan. Self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
If you Have Faith, Lean on It
This one seems pretty self-explanatory. Faith might help a person define what they are capable and willing to do. If it’s an organized religion, it might help organize others of the same mindset.
For me, faith can serve as a wellspring of energy when my resources are depleted. It can serve as a guiding light to know what the next thing I need to do might be. It encourages me.
Name your Demon
This is a trick from endurance runners. Everyone has a demon. It whispers all of the reasons why you can’t do a thing. It tells you why you’re doomed to fail. It mutters the things that make you want to stop moving.
Learn that demon’s name, learn that demon’s tricks. And then befriend him, make deals with him, acknowledge him.
I have different demons for different things. Elise is my inner editor. She is incisive and crisp. She frequently tells me that I can’t write, that I shouldn’t write, that all of my work is shit. She has extremely high standards for the written word. I make deals with Elise. If I’m drafting something new, she’s not allowed to talk. But when it’s time to edit, she gets free reign.
Just Do The Next Right Thing
When we’re hiking, and it’s a horrible slog, the thing we say to each other over and over again is “just put one foot in front of the other.” No matter how heavy your pack, no matter how steep the hill. Just put one foot in front of the other.
You don’t have to do everything today. Or even this week. Just do the next right thing. And then the next one. Maybe today’s right thing is self-care. Maybe tomorrow’s is a phone call. Maybe the day after that is hugging a stranger, or writing a blog post.