This episode of the podcast Invisibilia called “The Problem with the Solution” really struck a chord in me. It’s about chronic mental health issues — and the radical notion of acceptance for healing. But this acceptance, this idea that no one needs to be fixed, is counter to our culture and our society (and capitalism’s need for you to feel broken or inadequate or dissatisfied, to fix all the things, by buying all the things.) Criticism, hostility, and over-emotional-involvement (aka you deeply want the person to get better) can be triggers for a person with a chronic condition. The ironic part is that strangers may be better at accepting a person for who they fully, truly are because on some level, “they don’t care whether you get better or not.” Those who are not family, who are not close friends, those are the people who are able to see you as a person and not just “a bundle of problems that need to be fixed.”
This idea of nobody needing to be fixed reminded me of this episode of Invisibilia-turned-This American Life called “Batman” about a blind man who can move around the world as well as any able-bodied person because he learned how to use echolocation as a kid. He’s on a crusade to change our culture, so that we stop treating blind people as disabled, so that they stop thinking of themselves as disabled. The heartbreaking part of this episode is at the end when a mother pulls her son back from the road during a mobility lesson—a split second before he gets the extra time he needs in order to learn how to truly be mobile on his own. It’s her love that holds him back. In our culture, love often means protecting or helping and usually comes with the kneejerk habit of fixing (I am guilty of this myself)…what if radical love meant accepting and just being present with the other person? What if radical self-love meant accepting and just being with ourselves, instead of trying to make things better all the time?
The idea of nobody needing to be fixed reminds me of a lot of meditation practices which are really a literal practice in accepting what is instead of dwelling on what was or what could be. See for example, Tara Brach’s RAIN. (Here is a guided meditation for the same concept.)
- R – Recognize what is happening
- A – Allow life to be just as it is
- I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
- N – Non-Identification.
This idea of nobody needing to be fixed and “allowing life to be just as it is” reminds me of Yumi Sakugawa’s zine There is No Right Way to Meditate, wherein she reminds us to be aware of our pain body but to remember that it is separate from us.
In her book, Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe, Sakugawa also suggests that you invite your inner demons to sit down to tea because “when we realize and truly embrace everything that is within us, that is when we can truly feel healed and whole again.”
This idea of nobody needing to be fixed reminded me of the idea that there are no “good” or “bad” emotions because all emotions are natural and normal because we are human and because all humans have all emotions. Which reminded me of Evan Rachel Wood’s interview and conversation with Amanda Palmer, wherein they discuss the intensity of giving birth without unintentionally labeling it as something to fear.
“I wouldn’t want to call it pain. I try explaining to people: Pain is this thing that comes with harm. Sort of like having periods cramps—you know that no harm is coming to your body. You don’t have to go into a defensive position because you might not be alright or stop to check if you are going to bleed to death, you know? It’s a different sensation. It’s an intense experience, but you are also standing on the threshold of motherhood about to meet the most important person in your life, so there is a simultaneous joy that comes with it that doesn’t come with getting your foot run over by a car.
So if you can undo the script in your head that tells you, “a really intense sensation is bad” and remember your body is not in harm’s way, then you can kind of control the narrative and allow your body to surrender to the sensations and not have that extra layer of actual pain that only comes when your body is in fear. I give a lot of credit to years and years of yoga practice.
Yoga is about sitting with an experience and really understanding the difference between sensation and harmful pain. Not just assuming everything that is uncomfortable is bad.“
The idea of nobody needing to be fixed but living in a culture where everyone feels like they need to be fixed reminded me of Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory,” a thesis on how “sickness” is an invention & requirement of capitalism. (That link is the text version, but this video of Hedva reading “Sick Woman Theory” out loud is quite powerful.)
“Ann Cvetkovich writes: “What if depression, in the Americas, at least, could be traced to histories of colonialism, genocide, slavery, legal exclusion, and everyday segregation and isolation that haunt all of our lives, rather than to be biochemical imbalances?” I’d like to change the word “depression” here to be all mental illnesses. Cvetkovich continues: “Most medical literature tends to presume a white and middle-class subject for whom feeling bad is frequently a mystery because it doesn’t fit a life in which privilege and comfort make things seem fine on the surface.” In other words, wellness as it is talked about in America today, is a white and wealthy idea.
Let me quote Starhawk, in the preface to the new edition of her 1982 book Dreaming the Dark: “Psychologists have constructed a myth – that somewhere there exists some state of health which is the norm, meaning that most people presumably are in that state, and those who are anxious, depressed, neurotic, distressed, or generally unhappy are deviant.” I’d here supplant the word “psychologists” with “white supremacy,” “doctors,” “your boss,” “neoliberalism,” “heteronormativity,” and “America.””
This idea that nobody needs to be fixed yet the fact that we’re living in a culture in which we’ve been taught to believe that we are all broken and that everyone needs to be fixed reminded me of this (frightening) comic by Connie Sun:
So here’s an idea: Nobody needs to be fixed. So you don’t have to fix ’em. And you yourself, you don’t need to be fixed either. You are enough. You are exactly who and where and when you need to be. You are enough.
EDIT: Here’s the trick. Here’s the rub. Here’s the thing. I do think there are things in the world that need fixing. I do think our systems need fixing. I know that these systems manifest in each of us, and that each of us individually embody + enact + make up our systems. Therefore, there are things that we think and do and feel that come from the broken system, which do need to be challenged, which do need to be changed. There is a difference between the things that are you and the things that have externally been imposed into you, which you have now internalized as you, but which are not you. I don’t know if I can make myself clear on this point. It is hard to see the distinctions sometimes. My should’s are the system speaking. My need to write is me speaking. My fear of being judged a failure is the system speaking. My sitting with the discomfort of the pain of the world is me speaking. My belief that my shoulders are too broad and my arms too fat are the system speaking. My ease when I am climbing with those same shoulders is me speaking.
Further complicating things is the fact that there are things which are you which the system does not like, which you have now learned to dislike and wish you could change: you are fat, you don’t want to work 60 hour work weeks, you don’t want to work at all, you experience anxiety, you need so much time to grieve, you get angry when bodies are dying in the street, you untwist all the buttons on your shirts each day in order to quiet the voices. And there are things which are not you which the system encourages, but which are part of you now and which you have internalized as things you feel like you should strive for: you are scared for your safety so you pay more and build walls and self-segregate, you worry about the future so you look for stability and steadiness in the work that you do and in the relationships that you build, you feel not beautiful enough so you spend money on make up and time on hair and judgment on everyone and everything around you, you have learned how to hate yourself and criticize and paralyze and stop yourself from doing the very things you truly deeply need to do.
So maybe those last things are things I wish I could help you to stop doing and saying, and maybe that feels like I’m trying to fix you. And there is an industry that is about learning how to love yourself and how to practice self-compassion and how to meditate and how to accept yourself and those around you— and maybe all of that sometimes still feels like self-helping and helping and fixing. But I am trying to fix the system, not you. Reframed, these are just ways of helping you to unlearn the system, to let go of the system’s mandates, and to remember who you truly are and what you truly need to be doing. They’re helping us remember that we are enough just as we are.
But fuck, this is all so complicated. And it’s a fight I fight on a daily basis for myself, so in that sense, no I am not trying to fix you. I’m too busy unbuilding and unlearning the systems inside of me first. So that I can create the garden of my mind that I want to build (The garden is a metaphor by Emily Nagoski that I love).