in defence of not caring about anything

I'm writing this from within a mild panic attack, which with beta blockers I'm keeping at bay. The trigger was a book. Assigned reading for university about social movements; specifically, why people drop out of them.

For a long time I felt ridiculous for being literally traumatised by something as innocuous as student politics. I'd barely spoken about it to anyone before I raised it with my therapist as we discussed the issues around my returning to uni. She told me that it wasn't that surprising, considering that I was already dealing with PTSD from the same issue that the situation related to, and because other mental health issues had left me barely surviving (I had already suspended from uni), and because it involved people who I trusted.

Trauma is weird. It takes up the whole body: you sweat it out. It lives in your skin and in the depths of your intestines and between your legs. It shakes and dizzies and bends you double. Trauma can't be compared: it doesn't matter that someone else survived the same thing without a scratch, or that someone is getting by in a different way. Your body has its own rules and you have to follow them. It took me a long time to understand this.

My body's rules were this: run away in the middle of the night. Don't talk to anyone. Unfriend them all on social media. Disengage completely.

I had what might be described as a crisis of faith. Here, in my safe place, the feminist/queer bubble that had nurtured me out of an eating disorder, that had created almost everything I liked about myself, there were suddenly bad people. Dangerous, abusive people. They didn't care who they hurt as long as it didn't hinder their climb to the top of the BNOC (big name on campus) list. The phrase "safe space" was darkly comical.

Initially, I was provocatively problematic. I said callous things to test the reaction -- is your loyalty to me or to this language ("the language of liberation"). Once I was done with that tantrum I lapsed into the state of comfortable disengagement and denial that I've been in since. I ignore major political developments and aside from the occasional burst of anger (like this!), I am blissfully silent.

For a lot of people this is a problem. My silence is complicity. My failure to be fighting ALL THE CAUSES at once means that I don't care (I wish I could afford to care). This demand is unattainable for a lot of people: many disabled people do not have the energy/spoons to be engaged all the time. Any oppressed person gets exhausted spending so much time arguing for their own humanity. And there is no room for traumatised people like me, for whom silence is sometimes survival.

"You need to get out and shout more," a friend told me. No: I need to read and watch films and talk about something, anything, that's not politics (when you're involved in student politics it's every fucking conversation. All your relationships. Every nightclub smoking area. I don't know how anyone keeps it up.)

I'm finally healing (this is the first time PTSD has reared its head in a while, and I successfully sat an exam in Oxford last week) but I'm not done with my silence. I'm enjoying listening to music (something that was painful for ages because I was so overloaded) and watching films about monsters and reading my weird books. I'm excited about my degree -- which, like, is kinda the reason I'm there -- though I'm slightly bitter that my favourite part of the politics course is a massive potential trigger.

Briefly, I guess, this is my request that everyone fuck off. Leave me alone in my book cave and don't ask me to fight when I'm doing enough of that already. And next time someone doesn't comment on an issue, don't assume that they're too entitled to care. Caring is work that not everyone can afford to do.

2 comments

  1. PTSD IS ENOUGH !!!! ITS ENOUGH TO JUST CARE ABOUT THE SHIT YOU'V EBEEN THROUGH ITS ENOUGH TO WAKE UP EVERY DAY AND THINK WHY ...... WHY ME .......... WHY ANYONE ....WHY IS MY ABUSER HAPPY WHILE I AM NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    so many people criticise me for not engaging in social justice any more i DONT CARE im trying to engage with my own fucking trauma how fucking hard is it to look it straight in the face and to say yes this happened i accept it and i am taking steps to get better it is EXHAUSTING i dont CARE about your protest to stop the fox hunting ban!!!!!!!!!!!!! ok foxes are CUTE but dont GUILT TRIP ME you came from a private school you holiday in the caribbean youre not TIRED!!!!!!!
    when that thing about the maintenance grants being cut came thru i was so sad so angry so sad it lasted a day max maybe 10 mins idk i couldnt CARE it affected me directly but i just thought "figures" ppl on my facebook who were middle class were posting about it here i am a little pauper silent silent silent leave me be i like pics of cute animals and my dog and nice clothes and im rocking my inside to sleep im protecting myself from it all you have no right to criticise when your inside isnt crumbling

    thank u so much for writing this so much more Coherently you always speak the truth im glad you are putting it out there that caring about the outside world is hard when u can barely care for yourself

    much love xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  2. I needed to hear this, thank you. I was so heavily involved in organizing (public speaking, giving workshops, direct action) and then CPTSD & a physical disability just crashed my life into the earth, and I'm still in the bottom of the crater staring at the sky. I feel not good enough... and I'll never be able to be good enough again because politics was what I used to continually disprove my trauma's lie that I have no worth.

    What's the use of a cause which values itself more than the people who are engaged with it? How have we let our struggle convince us that our comrades are political objects first and people second?

    Fuck everything about that. I want a politics of communal care, without that there can be no real justice.

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