I just read a great post on the “2B Aware” site that posits an interesting Question. As the writer, Snarky Faith suggests: “There are two basic needs that we are hardwired for in life: security and significance. We want to feel safe and, at the same time, know our life truly matters. The only problem is you can’t have it both ways.” Snarky went on to talk about this in detail and it made me take a look at my own life and how this concept has played itself out over time.
I’ve always been one who has chosen to take a path of risk, of taking chances, to try to make something significant of my life and do things that I thought of as important to help humanity and the world of Nature. Whether it was planting beautiful gardens or managing a food co-op, producing mind changing music and events or providing a safe place in a non profit educational center for people to come together to express their ideas and change the world. I’ve taken chances and it’s been a great life.
But when I was 45, some 17 years ago now, I was stricken with an episode of Bipolar Disorder and a physical breakdown that so drastically changed my life that it has never been the same since. I haven’t been able to work a job since then and have been on disability for this whole time. It’s changed my whole world and it has changed how I view the concepts of risk and safety.
I used to feel safe even when I took risks because I believed that I was invincible. It’s a part of that hypomania that so often goes along with those of us who are Bipolar II and I was no exception. I felt I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to do and I usually succeeded in it. I was changing the world and that’s what mattered to me and I was mostly content with that choice. I took extreme risks with myself and my well being and with my security most of all.
When I had the breakdown and things changed I had to make my safety and security the top priority. I had to take care of myself for a change. Put myself first instead of everyone else. I had to look at what I’d done to my health and my psyche by being so out there on the front lines of the struggle to make a better world and I saw that it cost me a lot. I realized I could no longer afford the cost. I was broke and living on a shoe string, tho I’d always done that, but this was extreme and I had to make decisions differently than I ever had to before.
I’d always been able to create a job for myself doing something worthwhile, or else joining with others who were, such as with the food co-op or the collective cafe where we provided good food for pe0ple. Same with the cultural collective where we presented gay mens music that had political content to it in the early 80’s, a time when most of gay culture was vapid and into who looked the best and who was sleeping with whom. I tried to offer different options for people to grow and change to become more fully themselves.
But when I couldn’t count on myself to be able to create work for myself anymore, and I certainly couldn’t work for anybody else because I was so messed up in my head and my body so trashed as well, I found that I longed for safety and security like I never knew I needed. I needed a change and it took a long time to create it in my life again. The change I needed was Love and I finally found it after much searching and longing.
I’ve changed a lot in the years since then and am now in a secure relationship. This has made a huge difference to me in terms of both my financial security and my emotional stability. I am loved and it’s not that I wasn’t before. I was. But this is different. This is a lifetime partnership that gives me a stability I’ve always lacked. I’ve come close to it in the past but it never was quite right for me or my then partner. Now I have something where I can feel safe for the first time in my life since I left home as a youth.
I’m not taking risks like I used to. I’ve discovered that living with so many illnesses is a constant form of risk taking every minute of my existence. Like the Bipolar disorder or the chronic pain as well as all the other things I have to deal with it’s all overwhelming to me and it’s all I can do to stay a somewhat stable course most of the time even now. To take a risk with that stability just seems plain dumb. I absolutely Have to love myself or I’ll die.
But I feel like I’ve abandoned my calling in some ways. I still talk to people and I try to say things that are helpful in these blogs and in my life. I write letters for organizations I believe in and do a little activist work in that way. But it’s nothing compared to who I used to be. I just can’t do that anymore and I have to say I miss it.
I haven’t abandoned the struggle but I have to approach it in a different manner and put myself first, something I see that people who are involved in social change often don’t know how to do, as I’ve seen firsthand in many years in the trenches. The rate of burn out in social activists is high, and I’m just one casualty of it.
So what’s the answer to the questions that I began with in this post? Do we have to choose security or significance or does the indecision make us melancholy and depressed as the writer of the article suggested.? I think you can have both. I think there’s a way to love yourself and your life and still to love the world and be engaged in it and take what risks are appropriate. The thing is to learn what battles are the ones to fight and which are the ones to let be. At least that’s how I see it.
What do you think about this quandary? How do you live your life? Have you made a choice towards one or the other or do you try to embrace both as I do, and are you happy at it whatever your choice? As you can tell this has been and is still a struggle for me and I suspect it is for many of you too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter if you’d be willing to share them.
May you find Peace, whatever your choice,
PS. Thanks again to the “2BAware” site for posting this article that got me off on this post. Read it. It’s a great site. The article is called “The Most Important Decision You Can Make”. http://www.2baware.net/self-awareness/the-most-important-decision/#more-2914