“The only way to survive is by taking care of one another.”
Back when I used to be able to go hiking, I loved it. A dear friend and I would go on ridiculous adventures that we were generally not well prepared for. On one such uphill trek, with heavy backpacks, a lot of exhaustion, and worry about reaching our campsite by nightfall, we learned a trick to make things easier. When going uphill, having someone gently put their hand on your lower back magically makes the walk WAY EASIER. It sounds like a lie, right? The person doesn’t need to push or apply pressure, just needs to put their hand there. So we took turns helping each other up the hill, delighting in the difference a simple touch could make.
I think about that a lot. There are ways we can take care of each other, help and support each other, even when we are exhausted. What a gift.
As a trainer I know that if one person has a question or is confused, likely others are too. When one person is restless and ready for a break, they are acting as a guide for the rest of us, helping us all to see that we may need breaks too. These are just a few ways that we help each other and ourselves.
For many trans/nonbinary people finding support and offering support can be a challenge. Many survivors of intimate partner violence, especially LGBTQ survivors, report that they want help breaking the isolation of the abuse and connecting or reconnecting with community. For others, the impacts of trauma, violence, and stress can lead to us withdrawing from others. For many of us the process of (re)connection can feel overwhelming. People are busy, exhausted, stressed, at the very least.
For the past seven years or so, no one I know has really been okay. We’ve had moments of joy, embraced incredible, beautiful changes in our lives, and lived with ongoing dread, despair, and/or fear. During these times (and for centuries before now), people still take care of each other and ourselves. In part because of how tired everyone is, I keep hearing this idea that caring for others is a burden. Sometimes care is framed as a necessity, but almost always as exhausting, hard, or stressful. Sometimes care is those things. Sometimes care is joyful, beautiful, and profound. Being present with those we love through the good times and the bad, teaches us, brings us closer, helps us see our own lives and needs differently. Or it can.
A friend once shared with me how she reframed her decisions. She was becoming a full-time caretaker for a parent. At first she worried this would keep her away from everything else she wanted to do. Then she was able to realize that caring for this parent was part of what she wanted to do – not separate from it. She wanted to be there and to invest in that relationship. She wanted to act from a place that finds time spent on caring as meaningful instead of wasted. That stuck with me. I try now to shift my thinking from “I have to” to “I get to.” I get to walk the dog. I get to sit with a friend who is upset. I get to figure out how to navigate our healthcare system. What a gift to get to be there with people, to be invited into the precious and tender parts of their lives.
We need each other and that’s a good thing. None of us can live our lives in isolation. Our actions impact more than just ourselves. Thinking of the world as a collective, a community, helps us to make it better for everyone. When we show up, when we make cookies, when we sit quietly together, or dance or play video games. When we listen, when we help put away the groceries, find a wheelchair, walk slower so no one gets left behind. All these things are acts of care, and they are not burdens. Loving each other, being a part of a community is a gift.
Being supportive can increase our well-being, both physical and mental. We may feel more connected to our values, more connected to others, or more in control, knowing that we have something to offer. Taking positive actions after an upsetting event can also reduce our distress or trauma. This is one of the many ways that offering care is a gift to all of us.
Unfortunately, we aren’t often taught the skills of being in supportive relationships with each other. These skills can include being able to listen to each other during big feelings, to engage in conflict and disagreement in constructive ways, to understand and express our own wants and needs, or to recognize our own strengths and share them with others. Instead of being taught how to care for each other, we often hear messages that encourage individualism. Ideas about the importance of self-sufficiency and independence can imply that it is not okay to rely on others. Negative messages about asking for support, depending on other people, and the value of relationships can get in our way when we try to express our needs or invite others to ask for help.
Research shows there are different types of support that we need. These include:
We may get these supports from different people, and we likely offer different supports to different people in our lives. I think about the person I go to when I’m sad, how my sister helps explain banks to me, my friends and family who help with daily living tasks when I’m especially ill, and my closest people – my belonging. Seeing this list written out, helped me to remember that I don’t need to be all things to all people. It is okay that I can’t or don’t offer tangible support to many others. I do offer emotional support.
“When it feels like change is not happening, or is moving in the wrong direction, I choose to see the change around me. The change that I have created in the world. I spend time with the patients whose lives I have touched and changed, I speak to mentees and those I have trained and inspired to do this work. I receive back some of what I give. This energizes me to keep pushing and creates an endless flow of energy between me and the work I care about.”
— Blair Peters, a gender-affirming plastic surgeon at Oregon Health Science University and LGBTQ+ activist
Maybe we will always feel like community is important, “now more than ever.” And it is. And it feels sometimes harder to find, harder to support, because everyone is exhausted. But let’s be exhausted together. Let’s find strength and rest through our connections, even when we’re far apart.