Yeet Me Into the Sun

I don't know exactly what "yeet me into the sun" means, but my daughter and her friends think it sounds hilarious, so they say it just to hear each other giggle. They also laugh at buzzwords that are familiar to me from my work in social justice and my own personal healing--like "anxiety" and "triggered"--not in a mean way but in a cleverly playful way, which I think is healthy and gives me hope for the kids these days. So yeet me into the sun that my triggers and anxiety may be pwned.

I am looking forward to taking a break from both my day job and my creative work-in-progress to spend some quality time with my daughter and other family. We are going someplace sunny during this brutally cold time in the Midwest. And it's not just the weather I'm talking about.

Social justice is the Lord's work if there is any, but damn if it isn't hard. Hateful, ignorant people are the easy part. They can be ignored, dismissed, deleted, blocked, or asked to leave the premises. Sad, wounded people take more care, but it feels good to comfort and support folks in their times of need. The hardest part of my job is dealing with people who are mean, who exhibit behaviors pop psychology calls "toxic" or traits of "emotional vampires," not because they are regular entitled jerks but because they are traumatized or clinically psychotic or cognitively impaired and, for whatever reason, they are among those who have learned to manipulate or viciously bully others as a way of coping.

Working with such people can be emotionally draining. Over time, it can cause issues like compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. Actually, those are risks posed by simply needy people (or other living beings) who don't lash out at those trying to serve them. Add in nasty, aggressive, bullying, and dishonest behavior, and it's a monumental effort just to respond appropriately to each plea, demand, and attack as they come. It can also be scary at times. Exactly when do we dial 911? Does this behavior count as a threat of violence or suicide that we must report? Or is this a bid for attention that calling in authorities would escalate unnecessarily? These are questions my coworkers and I, who are not professional mental health experts or emergency responders, must ask ourselves on a fairly regular basis. And no matter which decision we make or how satisfactory the outcome, someone may be furious with us and retaliate with harassment.

It takes a great deal of what pop social justice jargon calls "emotional labor," by many of its ever-expanding popular definitions, to retain compassion and composure and resist getting sucked into the downward spirals of pain addiction and self-defeating behavior. Sometimes I feel like Psyche traveling through the underworld while the lost souls grab at my ankles and cry out for me to turn away from my mission and fulfill their cloying demands. I feel not only shamed for continuing on (How dare you not give up your privileges of being alive and empowered when there are dead, hungry ghosts who might be comforted by seeing you become one of them!) but deeply saddened from within that I cannot just reach down and yoink them up out of the gutter and fling them into heaven, one by one. Every fiber of my being wants to give them whatever they're begging, even when I know it's only a trap set to trick me into enabling another cycle of dysfunction and personal failure. A cycle that will not only put my own safety and security at risk but won't ultimately help those who are pleading with me, even if my downfall gives them a momentary thrill of schadenfreude. I will not be a martyr for misery.

This is not to say that there isn't hope for such people. The hell they are in is an illusion. They aren't really dead or doomed, and it is possible to recover completely from toxic behavior patterns. But effective recovery has to be led by the sufferer--who can be empowered but not saved. My role requires me to practice a great deal of restraint, patience, and refusal to enable. And all that does is give the sufferer time and space to make their own decisions on healing. I cannot save anyone from their own self or force anyone to make meaningful changes.

But sometimes! Sometimes, when my coworkers and I and enough other people in the community do succeed at holding that detached, compassionate, patient space over a long enough time, sometimes we get to witness damn near miraculous personal transformations. We've seen it happen more than once.

The work I do makes a large, positive difference in my community, not only to the emotional vampires but also to a great number of lovely, warm, beautiful souls who are simply down on their luck or need a simple accommodation to succeed and contribute to the community. The organization I work for empowers not just the lowly and sick but the average, and the privileged and blessed, to collaborate on joyous, life-saving, and uplifting projects. Most of my work is creatively satisfying and spiritually fulfilling, and sometimes--much of the time--it is a pleasure. I have healthy working relationships with my bosses and coworkers. Most of the people I serve are abundantly appreciative and sweet to us. And my job offers valuable flexibility and fringe benefits that allow me to support my own well-being and my family's. One of those benefits, which I dare not waste, is the gift of long vacations that let me recharge my batteries and come back to my work stronger and softer and more flexible and creative.

So yeet me into the sun! I hope to bring some warmth and shine back with me when I return, which, like a flame, multiplies when it is shared.


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