When I was a senior in high school, the cast of Macbeth gave me the “Atlas” award during our mock award celebration. I’ve always struggled with feeling like I need to take everything on, full force and on my own. It’s probably the reason I have such severe anxiety. Trusting others to shoulder part of the burden of a situation has never been my strong suit — from something small like the fate of a high school play to something big like the fate of all humanity. As I experience the growing awareness that I will be a “real adult” and part of the “real world” in as short as a year’s time, my Atlas complex has become incredibly paralyzing and destructive. After all, there seem to be so many things to worry about: capitalist greed, environmental degradation, terrorism (domestic and international), growing class inequality, racial injustice, gender inequality, artificial intelligence, disease, corruption…. the list in my brain seems to get longer with each week of headlines.
Crises and unrest are nothing new to society– in fact, to a degree I believe they are very much a product of the human condition. We seem to constantly struggle through one perilous situation to the next, always peppered with a lack of understanding of and lack of compassion for one another. It’s exhausting, and for someone who possesses not only the desire to fix everything, but also an overwhelming surplus of empathy, it’s terrifying. So terrifying that I go through bouts where the only thing it seems my brain will do is fixate on its problem of the week. Sometimes, I can turn it off long enough to actually eat a meal and enjoy the company of Boyfriend, my friends, or my family… but many times, Atlas-brain doesn’t stop. It just keeps going until all I feel I can do is curl up in a ball and cry myself into oblivion… or, try and get someone (normally Boyfriend) to talk me down, and then freak out if he doesn’t see the problem as cripplingly serious as I do. How dare he have a clearer perspective and trust other people!
It should come as no surprise that despite my Atlas-brain, I absolutely cannot fix every single thing that is wrong with the world. I just can’t. Atlas-brain thrives on control and does not bode well in the you-can-only-do-so-much mindset. If I can only do “so much,” who’s going to do the rest? What if they don’t do enough? What if I don’t do enough? What if one of Atlas-brain’s prophecies come true? What if, what if, what if.
Okay. I have no interest in living to 85 wrapped in a casing of fear, anxiety, and guilt, but when I become overtaken by Atlas-brain it doesn’t feel like I have much of a choice. The thing is that fear, anxiety, and guilt don’t really do all that much in the grand scheme of things. They trap me into a scary little box so I don’t do anything because I can’t do everything. No one can do everything, but we can all do something, and the compilation of all of our little somethings can add up to the big, bad everything that seems so scary and unobtainable. Sometimes I think that’s the biggest problem we face when tackling an issue– we all see the “everything,” and forget that tackling a problem doesn’t have to mean a complete upheaval of our routines and lives. It can be as simple as remembering to recycle whenever you can, signing a petition for something you believe in, discussing your opinions with a friend, or taking the time to learn about which political candidates will speak best for you.
We have a long way to go until we tackle every source of strife and stress in the world, but almost everyone I know is taking their own few steps forward to get there. We are starting to take the time to have tough conversations about race, gender, and the massive amounts of inequality so many of the world’s people experience. We are slowly learning that there just may be more to life than pizza and Netflix ( I know, crazy, right?). We are beginning to recognize the depth of our toll on the environment, and slowly are all making our own efforts to make amends with our home and animal neighbors. We are beginning to remember that compassion for one another is so much more important than living rich in a mansion alone. Yes, there is an incredible amount of scary, life-threatening, unjust, and stressful things in the world. But I have to believe that the sum of our good is still greater than the bad– otherwise, I think we probably would have “bad-ed” ourselves out of the picture a long, long time ago.
Every day, I do my best. I recycle, I buy local whenever possible, I spoil my beautiful cat, I stand up for what I believe in, I write, I pray, and I try my best to show every person compassion because I know most people are struggling against things that I may never know of or understand. I fight to be a force for the kind of world I wish to see, and most people I know are willing to do the same. We have long become dormant and complacent in our ways, but I see many people shaking off the sleep and working for a better tomorrow. I am not Atlas. I cannot do it all. But I can do all I can. And so can you.