Death by a Thousand Cuts

Have you ever looked down and realized you were bleeding from a cut you don’t remember getting? This happened to me this morning. I looked down and saw blood streaming from a scrape on the back of my hand. Only once I saw the blood did I feel the pain. 

The paradox of this intrigued me. How could I not feel something that had obviously harmed me until I observed the physical evidence? 

My mysterious gash got me thinking about other kinds of injuries that sneak up on us when we’re just sitting around, minding our own business (say, eating oatmeal and thinking about what’s going to happen on the next episode of Pose). The non-physical kind. 

For me, this shows up as a feeling of unexplained uneasiness or even nausea. I’m anxious, but I don’t know why. And then the reason slowly reveals itself to me. It’s usually an uncomfortable moment or an unwanted exchange. It almost always something I sleepwalked through at the time, or laughed off, or just tried to get through as quickly as possible.

I’m not afraid to call people out in the moment or to stand up for myself when someone is obviously disrespecting me. But I know I experience enough slights and microaggressions that to stop and address them all would entirely consume my energy. So, my brain finds a way to insulate me—up to a point. 

Eventually, those emotional nicks start to bleed. I get anxious, and that anxiety pisses me off—at the offenders and at myself. Why do I have to deal with this shit? And why didn’t I say something at the time?

It pisses me off for other people, too. I’m a very privileged individual. The number of times someone underestimates or makes an assumption about me or takes liberties with my body or my feelings is a fraction of what many women and nonbinary people feel, particularly people of color. Not to mention, living under our current president is basically a test of how many daily outright attacks on women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants we can endure. Vigilance for some can be the difference between life and death.

You might be expecting me to wrap up this musing with a statement about how important self-care is—and it is—but that’s not where I’m going with this. 

Joy and connection are a matter of spiritual survival for anyone who lives with the daily individual reminders of structural biases and -isms. Death by 1,000 cuts is real. Even if we don’t feel the cuts at the time, that doesn’t mean they don’t harm us.

Sometimes I have trouble convincing myself it’s even worth it to care about the world in its current state of fucked-up-ness. But I do care, and I still believe things will get better and try to make them better. I try because I have a community of people around me who inspire and love me, and the joy they ignite in me helps the cuts heal faster so I can keep trying. 

Without my them, I would not be writing this today. And, if you’re reading this, you are them. Thank you. 

I’m lucky. Not everyone has a strong community or the energy to be a source of joy for other people. But all of us get to make decisions about where to put our energy and time—our most precious resources. For anyone who feels hollow and hopeless, spend these resources seeking out people who have scars of their own but who still have a light inside them that allows them to keep fighting. They know a thing or two about how to stop the bleeding before it’s too late.