I Opt Out: Why the Desire to Return to Normal Is Utterly Abnormal to Me (And the 6 Lessons I Learned While Sheltering-In-Place)
So many desperately want to return to normal, but if that means I have to give up all that I gained while stuck inside for many months, then I opt out.
I opt out.
So many are rushing to return to normal, gushing breathlessly about how elated they are to see live shows again, sit on patios and drink a cold brew with friends, get a haircut, hang out at the cottage, attend conferences, and do whatever the hell they please without any restrictions in place.
“Nothing can take the place of interacting in person,” say Joe or Jane Q Public in every person-on-the-street news interview, as if reciting from the same predictable script.
I simply do not have the capacity to return to normal.
By normal, I’m not referring to a restoration of consistency and certainty. Returning to familiar routines is one way to protect and improve one’s mental wellness during a period of time that tested even the mentally strong.
What I reject is a return to the status quo. A circling back to a time where the oppressed and marginalized suffered injustices in silence while those with privileges were blissfully unaware.
Because let’s be honest…
Normal wasn’t working.
So, I opt out.
I opt out of a culture that protects predators, backs bullies, and nurtures narcissists.
I long for the day when those who cause harm are NOT rewarded with promotions, platform, and profits.
I opt out of social gatherings where my life choices are scrutinized or picked apart by those who say they love me.
If I want to remain a childfree adult, cannot have children, desire to be one-and-done, or want to have the equivalent of a starting lineup for a basketball team, whatever I choose to do with my womb is not an option for debate, analysis, or investigation while you get yet another slice of apple pie.
I opt out of workplaces where micro-aggressions, office politics, and crude jokes were part of the corporate culture.
No, it’s not funny when you make fun of someone’s religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, country of birth, gender, gender expression, gender identity, accent, pronouns, and I’m tired of hiding my disgust just so I can seem like a team player.
I opt out of social media platforms that have become nasty, noxious, and noisy.
If I provide your platform with my intellectual currency, I expect you to protect me from discrimination and disinformation.
Stop telling me that someone using the n-word in a post or the comments don’t go against your community guidelines.
Just because I occupy a digital space doesn’t mean I have to accept abuse or theft just because I navigate this world in a body that doesn’t fit what the dominant culture considers normal.
I opt out of the long forget.
Telling me that I must get over the past because you, personally, didn’t steal land or my ancestors’ labour. Your ancestors did the dirty deeds, and not you, so let’s move on, right?
Yet, if I asked you to give up the lands, heirlooms, and wealth you inherited from your ancestors, you’d fight me, saying it’s rightfully yours. Funny how you’ll easily claim all the good that your ancestors left, but reject the harm that they passed on.
I opt out of the disease to please and being everyone’s mule.
I reject the superwoman avatar that dehumanizes me.
I will no longer sacrifice my mental wellness just to be accepted, affirmed, or appreciated.
I opt out of conversations that defend, dismiss, or debate someone’s real experience with oppression.
Yes, you’re entitled to your opinion, but not if it’s at the expense of dehumanizing someone else.
And I’m not gonna stop being sensitive.
Because if being on the side of justice makes me sensitive, then I’m sensitive AF.
Something shifted for me during the pandemic. While there were many losses, there were also many gains. I learned so much during a time I was forced to shelter-in-place and stay inside. Here are the six things I learned.
Lesson #1: Becoming nobody helped me to find me.
For too long, I was conditioned to believe a particular narrative around my social, biological, and ethic identities (SEBIs). As a result, my SEBIs were weaponized against me to keep me silent and subdued. This created a false sense of self, a counterfeit identity. It was only when I used journaling to strip away the labels, I discovered the deep complexity of my humanity. In other words, when I became nobody, I finally found me.
Finding me means I have to disappoint, not only the white gaze, but all gazes. I’m am no longer satisfied with survival; I crave freedom. Freedom can only come when I refuse to warp, twist, or contort myself to fit the mold of who someone thinks I should be due to the shade of my skin, the reproductive organs I carry, or the lineage that birthed me. I’m okay with being misunderstood. No one can reject the me I fully accept.
“Until I could love me, flaws and all, there was no way I could embrace the flaws in others.”
Lesson #2: Generosity is more satisfying than overgiving.
For too long, I tried to save, fix, and rescue all who came into my life. This included clients, dating partners, colleagues, family members, and friends. If anyone shared just an inkling of what was bothering them, I’d become like MacGyver, pulling together ordinary items to produce extraordinary results. I couldn’t see it at the time, but my relationships never worked out because trying to save everyone around me, especially when they didn’t ask, created deep resentment.
There’s a difference between overgiving and generosity. Overgiving is when I shared from a place of depletion. It was exhausting because it meant I had little energy left over for myself. I was suffocating in the “o” zone; losing my breath under the pressure of overgiving, overcaring, and overworking.
In order to breathe again, I gave up overgiving and embraced generosity. I could not stop being kind and caring, but I realized that it’s unkind to try and save, fix, or rescue everyone, especially without their consent. I had to interrogate why I didn’t love me enough to put me first. Until I could love me, flaws and all, there was no way I could embrace the flaws in others. Because that’s what I was doing when I tried to save others. I was trying to fix the flaws in them so I could avoid addressing the flaws in me.
“We cannot declare, decree, or positively think our our way out of grief. We need to sit with Grief, embrace Grief, honor Grief, and know Grief.”
Lesson #3: Grieving is necessary no matter the loss.
So many lost so much so often during the pandemic. The virus shortened the lives of so many. Who knows what was left undone and what humanity will never have due to the untimely and unexpected loss of so many lives.
I’ve also learned that grieving isn’t only a process to lament over the loss of loved ones. We can also mourn the ways in which the virus has removed our sense of safety, stability, sovereignty, and security. We can weep over the return of addictions and other harmful coping strategies we long thought we had overcome. We can ache over the failure of friendships, marriages, family cohesion, and social connections. We can lament the loss of savings, cancelled trips, jobs, and income. We can long for the days when when our homes were more quiet, our neighborhoods less chaotic, and our plans more clear.
Grief is not only in our tears; the sorrow is also held in our bodies. Feeling all the feels means tuning into what our body is trying to tell us. We cannot declare, decree, or positively think our our way out of grief. We need to sit with Grief, embrace Grief, honor Grief, and know Grief. If Grief becomes too much, seeking the help of a mental health professional is a wise step. While grieving may make you feel alone, you are never alone in your grief.
“My church became hiking trails and my pastors became the trees, animals, insects, and elements.”
Lesson #4: Religion is not the only source of wisdom.
I was raised in a fundamental Protestant religion and led to believe that only that religion was the true source of all that is wise and knowledgeable.
Then something happened while I was sheltering in place. With churches being closed, I spent even more time in nature. My church became hiking trails and my pastors became the trees, animals, insects, and elements. I contemplated on the sermons of the chirping of birds, the thundering sound of waterfalls, and the rustling of the wind through the trees.
While I am not indigenous to the land I’m settled on, being in nature heightened my deep appreciation of the ways it supports me. I’m thankful to the lands for providing a home so my lineage can finally stop migrating and equally thankful to Indigenous people who continue to lead settlers in how to have a better communion with the lands. I now see why they are fierce defenders of the land, waters, and ecosystem.
Wisdom also comes from my ancestors, both those who are still living and those who have passed on. I am the child of the oppressed and the oppressors. For a long time I did not know what to do with the oppressors in my bloodline. Yet, as I dug deep into Lesson #1, I realized that to reject any of my ancestors is to reject all of me. All have lessons to teach.
God would not have created these guideposts for us to simply ignore. My belief in the Creator has expanded because they have embedded wisdom all around us. While the things created by humans are finite and have a limited shelf life, divinely created things are where God shows up fully, openly, and authentically.
“I no longer want to pass on pain and suffering; I want to pass on healing and joy.”
Lesson #5: History teaches me what is worthy of my attention and action.
In an interview for Good Ancestor podcast, my friend and host, Layla F. Saad, asked, “What does it mean to be a good ancestor?” I responded by saying that history is the only thing I answer to.
What do I mean by this? As a social historian, I know that history records the big moments. It doesn’t get mired in the second by second minutia of each tweet sent, each email read, or each word uttered. Before taking action, I ask myself:
“Is history going to record these actions that I’m going to perform? Are historians 150 years from now going to look back on this moment in the life of Leesa Renée and add it to the timeline? Will reading about this particular thing that I did, will that inspire my biological and non-biological descendants?”
If I believe that history is not going to care about this particular thing, then I just don’t engage. I don’t participate. It’s the response I do not write, the words I do not speak, the attention I do not give. Instead, I do as the Iroquois Nation teaches which is to look forward seven generations and ask myself how will my actions affect the future. I no longer want to pass on pain and suffering; I want to pass on healing and joy. I read a meme that said that if it has always run in the family, it runs out with me. I want my descendants, biological or not, to look back and say that, yes, she was indeed a better ancestor.
“Like Elsa sang in Frozen, ‘the inside doesn’t bother me anyways’. Well, she didn’t say inside, she said cold, but if she were in a pandemic, she would’ve sang inside.”
Lesson #6: Inside isn’t so bad after all.
Sheltering in place seemed strange at first. No one knew what the virus would do, so staying inside and away from people seemed like the best course of action. While some passed the time binge watching the shows they never got to watch and others tackled home improvement projects, I explored my interior.
I could have never come up with the previous five lessons if I did not interrogate myself, journal my thoughts, and wrestle with my Inner Oppressor, that part of me that bullies and torments me into submitting to the dominant culture, and captured its ramblings in my journal. While Elizabeth Gilbert travelled to countries far away to eat, pray, love, and find the truth of herself, I did all my eating (well, snacking), praying (well, journaling), and loving (self-loving to be exact) by travelling to my interior using writing prompts and journaling as my tour guides.
My interior was rugged. Strange. Unfamiliar. I went on an Inner Field Trip, excited by the adventure, but groaning under the weight of what I was learning. Like a hiking trail in the backcountry, I had to forge my own path through that part of me that I had ignored for so long.
Journaling and interrogating myself is a daily practice. I don’t use it just to get all that whiny, angry stuff out of my head, as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way. I use journaling to explore my unconscious biases so I be on the side of justice, all while protecting my energy. Like Elsa sang in Frozen, “the inside doesn’t bother me anyways.” Well, she didn’t say inside, she said cold, but if she were in a pandemic, she would’ve sang inside. Being inside is a gift, one that I will protect at all costs.
I am not quitting humanity…
Nor am I running away. There is so much good we can do together. I am, however, opting out of a system that won’t give me the space to envision what a future without oppression looks like. I’m opting out of a system that won’t allow me to be a better ancestor.
What are you choosing to opt out of? Share in the comments.
If you’re not sure, go to www.IOptOutOf.com for five guided prompts you can use to get clear on what you’re choosing to opt out of. #IOptOut #IOptOutOf #StumbleBravely #TheGreatOptOut