I spent two hours today reviewing what I’d recorded of the things I did this year. Between Patreon, the blog, and paintings, I produced over 70 pieces. This astounds me because I was incredibly busy outside of my creative work. I’ve been trying all day to figure out how to sum things up on this final day of the year. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on the new year. A reminder somewhere on the Internet said we’re going to enter 2022 quietly and carefully. As my partner Ryann put it, “2021 was like, ‘I’m going to fuck you so hard that 2020 is going to seem like a good time.'”

This past year has been…rough. The live music and dance performance above has been a source of gentleness since it was released early this month. One of my sponsors sends amazing gift packages, and in the most recent one was a little blue notebook. On the cover are the words “You deserve good things” in gold. It resonated so strongly with me and reminded me of the lines in this song. “With no greed inside her mind, she knows what she deserves.”

Growing up, I was taught to put myself last. God was first, then others. I was surrounded by so many people that needed my care. It never occurred to me that there was wisdom in self-preservation in the case of an emergency. I remember once hearing the story of a child who died after rescuing all his younger siblings from a house fire. That stuck with me because I felt that I would do the same. Of all the things we overlooked in homeschooling, proper fire safety training and fire drills weren’t one of them. All the kids practiced crawling around the house, and the older ones were supposed to grab the ones who couldn’t escape a burning building fast enough. We had a lot of fire warnings and evacuations in Colorado.

When I was 16, I was researching pragmatism for debate and found a simple example of oxygen masks. Before planes take off, the passengers are told what to do in case of an emergency. We are always told “please put your own mask on before assisting others.” I used the argument in debate rounds that practicality meant self-preservation, but it was only for the sake of debate. The early teaching that I should be more concerned with the wellbeing of others than with myself had been impressed upon me too deeply. After all, at home I had a dozen younger siblings to look after. In practice, I was making sure everyone else was taken care of. I feel as if I’ve been going through life deprived of oxygen, making sure everyone has a mask on but myself.

In March, I met the therapist I am working with now. One of their first observations was that I had been in a caretaking role all of my life. My identity was so lost in caretaking that I didn’t realize it. During the first 21 years of my life, my parents exploited my labor. Three years later, after a rocky introduction to a variety of intimate relationships, I thought I’d found the person I’d spend the rest of my life with. Gradually, this person convinced me that they were in desperate need of being helped in every way. Last year another disabled person entered my life. Ryann demonstrated that it was possible to need help without demanding every bit of my time, energy, and attention.

We fundraised to move into our new place, the three of us, last November. A year later, there were two of us left. Thank you to everyone who helped! We’ve renewed our lease and will likely settle here for a good long while. The stability of a consistent place to live with our basic needs met was something my ex couldn’t handle. Chaos was their favorite state of being. Ryann was infinitely patient as I sorted out my confusion with the relationship I’d been in for years. There are more details in my recent posts.

I am learning that it makes sense to consider my own needs. Those needs include having time to myself, instead of constantly worrying about the emotional state of someone else. Finally, I am saying this mantra to myself everyday: “I deserve good things.” It is not greedy or in any other way wrong to take care of myself. For so long, I was told that I couldn’t pour from an empty cup or nurse an infant from a malnourished body. It didn’t click until I stood up for myself and ended the relationship that was poisoning me.

I deserve better. I didn’t know it for so long. I thought my light was a balance to their darkness. It actually threatened to suffocate us both. I thought I could save the world, then just my family, and then, finding these efforts futile, I thought I could save just one person. This year taught me that it’s not my job to save anyone at all. Salvation is for the religious. All I can do, ultimately, is calm myself with slowly taking in oxygen.