I know that what you’re saying is about all the advice that can be given about this sort of thing — you have to take care of yourself, and to do that you have to value yourself, and to do that you have to make space for yourself, before even thinking about anyone else — I just wish there was some other answer.

Between September of 2014 to now, I spent a year without work. I was fortunate, in that it was my own decision, and I had the resources to support myself for a while. I wasn’t sure why it felt so necessary at the time. I remember writing to myself:

As a software consultant, I have always succeeded at my work, and so I have perpetually been assigned successively more difficult tasks. But I know how hard I struggled that first time, and I never figured out how to feel confident. So I need to go back and learn to do things at a more basic level. And to do that, I have to start by being answerable only to myself.

I think that I found what I was looking for. I did a lot in that time, but at the end of it I’d found something that, for the first time, felt like a solid emotional grounding by which I could protect myself from the incessant floods of anxiety that had paralyzed me until then. I’ve been working for a month and a half now, and it still feels like I scored a victory. I’m beginning to see what the real work is and was, though, and I find myself despairing again.

The thing was, I was able to stay balanced at the time because I had a trump card — I don’t HAVE to do anything unless I think it’s important. And no one is paying me, so if I fail, it’s just me that feels it. Now that I have others depending on me (or something, I am still wrestling with what my actual responsibilities are), I’m having to balance that with stress and pressure outside of the office as well. And so I feel the same way you’re describing, but I’m not even doing social work!

What I think is missing for me is a place of refuge. No, not just a place — a relationship, a community of some sort that can pick up slack for me when I need to lay down. Because determination, will, vision, belief, whatever you want to call it, is an act just like anything else. And like all action, it requires effort. Sustaining an effort constantly is so exhausting that we all have to find a place to put down that load sometimes, even if it’s “only” mental. But when the burden you need to put down is the knowledge of your share in the responsibility for the well-being of yourself and everyone you care about, how do you take breaks from that?

I think that finding an answer to that question is probably the real key to surviving the sorts of pressure that come with clear consciousness. A source of unconditional support that can carry you even when your will is drained from you. But how on earth is any person supposed to find something that?

At least, though, the company of like-minded individuals is some comfort. It’s a relief to able to speak passionate thoughts in my own idiom, and so I am again grateful to you for being receptive. Though it takes time to read and think and write exchanges like this, it feels more like gaining something than losing it. It’s amazing, how the sensation of “not having enough time” and “not having enough energy” can be so directly exorcised by simply doing something that feels important.

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