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mini-essay: just try
a gold star for giving up
CW: scenario #2 contains a mention of fatphobia and anorexic behavior.
scenario #1. For the last 5 years, you’ve had what some would consider an unusual career path. Your parents don’t understand this choice and regularly express their concern, but you love the flexibility and quality of life this job provides. One day out of the blue you’re offered a full-time job at a good organization. Taking this job would set you on a more traditional track and provide some stability, but you like your life as it is. If you happened to come across a posting for this job, you wouldn’t apply for it. And yet.
scenario #2. Being a runner is both your habit and your identity. You run every day, partly because it improves your mood, focus, and energy, and partly—you can admit—because internalized fatphobia and diet culture have you terrified of what would happen if you skipped a single day of exercise. Tonight on your way home from work you stumble and twist your ankle. You know what you need to do now: rest your body. Let it heal. Running would only make it worse. And yet.
scenario #3. You have plans to go see a movie with a friend. You’ve both been looking forward to this outing for weeks. A few hours before you need to leave for the theater, you start feeling acutely ill. You know that going out right now would be a very bad idea. And yet.
scenario #4. You find a flier in your mailbox: your town is giving away free compost bins. All you’d have to do is put your food scraps in the bin each day and bring it to the drop site once a week. For another person, this task would be effortless. But you have sensory issues that make the smell of rotting food intolerable and an illness that can keep you housebound. Intellectually, you know that composting is simply not a good fit for you. You know there are other ways to help the environment. And yet.
scenario #5. There’s a person in your social circle who makes you uncomfortable. You feel tense and on edge whenever he’s around. The other members of your group tell you to relax, that he’s a nice guy, really, that you should give him a chance. Everything in your nervous system is screaming at you to stay away from him. And yet.
It’s not too hard to fill in the rest of these sentences. Why? Because of the sly, cold feline voice in our heads hissing at us to Just try. You know the one: Just try to want something you don’t want. Just do something you know will be bad for your health. Just destroy yourself so other people will be comfortable.
Earlier in our lives, Just Try was a survival strategy. We had to coexist with a creep or pretend to be healthy or swallow our sensory overload so that the people we depended on for our safety wouldn’t turn on us. And that strategy worked: we’re still here.
But we’re the adults now, and we don’t need to do that anymore. While it’s scary and may feel unacceptable and is waaaaaaay easier said than done, I can skip Predator Vibes Guy’s birthday party and take a rain check on that movie date. I can rest my body and watch bad TV for a few days. It’s ok. I’m good right now. I’ve tried enough.
Thank you to the friends who named the Just Try voice, and to those who gave me permission to use their experiences for some of the scenarios. You’re my favorite teachers.
And (as always): thank you for reading all the way to the end. I’m so glad you’re here.
small magic will always be free. ⭐️