apocalypse of the self

a rusted car in front of a concrete block structure, all covered in climbing vines and other flora

cw: pandemic, climate change, death

In the last piece I wrote, I described seven different apocalypses (which are, probably, facets of the greater ending-beginning that is happening now), and the last one in that piece was the apocalypse of the self.

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to describe the profound changes we’ve gone through — and are going through — as an apocalypse. Our interactions with each other have taken on a completely different tone than they did in 2019, and even then we were facing the consequences of what the 45th president of the United States was doing to us.

In naming this period of death, change, and transition an apocalypse 1Apocalypse definition at the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, I am attempting to describe in general the fact that the world of what we used to do has ended, and is in the process of ending, and that we have to find new ways of being or we will not survive.

we were never safe, but now it’s obvious

We have become painfully aware that an interaction with anyone outside our own bubble during this pandemic (these overlapping pandemics) could mean at the least sickness, and at its worst death, for you or for someone else you interact with, regularly or in passing.

We have become painfully aware that a lot of people are willing to knowingly lie about whether they’re unsafe to be around; and that there are a lot of people who have not paid enough attention to themselves to even be able to honestly answer a question about whether or not they’re safe to be around. As a collective nation, we are becoming sicker and sicker, and many people — as many as one in three — now have “Long COVID,” and they will carry this illness (potentially a cluster of chronic illnesses) for the rest of their lives. 2Sources here and here

Mask-wearing is where science and love/justice meet. When I see pics of unmasked folks who could be masked, I know: either you don’t understand science and/or you choose privilege over love and justice.

tweet by @access_ecology on Sep 26, 2022 at 2:47pm

Many of us, mostly the chronically ill and those of us closest to understanding the raw data, are still in bubbles. We are still wearing masks everywhere except at home. We are still getting boosters where and when we can (fuck our healthcare system, by the way). We are still observing quarantine procedures. We are still isolated. Hopelessness increases, alongside our disconnection from others. There’s a fuzzy strangeness to knowing that you are becoming part of the wallpaper of your life, because you have to say no to almost everything.

There is a specific and terrible loneliness that comes from avoiding the intimate interactions with others that we crave, because we want to avoid harm more than we want to breathe the same air as someone else and hold them close.

we’re hurting each other, and we don’t want to think about it

Our shared isolation since March 2020 has put some things in a stark relief: increasing intimate partner violence, police brutality, structural racism, transphobia, and a social safety net with such large holes in it that almost everyone falls through. Add in an often-horrifying news cycle and the observable changes to our climate as it goes quickly toward its own apocalypse, and nobody wants to think about the things that are upsetting because who would want to think about those things for more than a moment? A person can only manage so much existential dread in one day, and there’s more than enough to go around.

There are so many necessary-for-survival asks for monetary help on my timeline that there is no way I could help them all, and no way for me to share them all. This isn’t to say that I don’t share them, but I can’t share all of them, and I feel profoundly awful about that. Not all of us will make it, which has always been true, but observing in real time the frantic last gasps of a person in need is harrowing.

and when we do think about it, it feels too big and too impossible

And you know what? It’s hard to want to keep existing in a world like this one. These times we live in have dragged us nose-to-nose with the idea and the reality of our own death. We’ve realized that we could be the reason someone else gets dangerously sick. We have come to a hard stop at the reality that our choices affect not only ourselves, but others as well, in a spiderweb of consequences that is too big to see in its entirety. Nobody wants anything to be their fault. It’s so hard to acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake; it is so difficult to untangle one’s feeling of self-worth from an experience of making a mistake and owning up to it without excusing it.

Our society is shored up by (among other things) the idea that making mistakes is what a morally bankrupt person does. This is not a hill that anyone wants to die on. We would rather pretend to ourselves that there’s some other reason that a bad thing happened as a result of choices we personally made, than face our own flaws and learn to live in reciprocity with those around us.

what causes an end can also bring a beginning

And that, I believe, is the end point of this apocalypse of the self and the reality toward which we should strive. We need to learn to live in community with one another, valuing each person as well as ourselves, willing to be truthful and to be told the truth, willing to speak up and willing to listen, willing to stay up all night talking through a complicated subject because it’s important and has affected someone in our circle of family. Willing to seek non-carceral justice. Willing to be an abolitionist of the old ways because they do not work and we have proof written in blood and tears and pain.

Apocalypse seems, if you take the Christian view, to happen inevitably. It comes as a consequence of none of us being able to do the right thing in the right way enough of the time. It’s a punishment that happens from on high, by a deity that has decided we fucked up too much. It happens to us; we are powerless. But I think that idea is only part of what is true. I think that apocalypses are both causation and correlation. I think that tipping points, created by our collective choices, are catalysts for apocalypse, and that once we have tipped toward it, we probably cannot avoid it.

The way things used to be is gone forever. We have new ways of hurting one another, and new faces of new variations of hatred that were formed from the ashes of older hatred. We are faced with consequences of actions that were taken long ago, either by a much younger version of us, or by people now dead. This is a reckoning that has needed to happen ever since the first harm was done. This is a chance to do it better this time.

As my tradition teaches, each must be free to choose. We each have a varying number of choices available to us, and this is a gift; what we choose is ours to decide. I can’t tell you what your apocalypse will end and what it could begin in you. But you can.

featured image is a photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash


Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.

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