Let us get this out of the way before all else: I couldn't have marched no matter what, because I live in Singapore, & in this country we do not have such luxuries as legal peaceful protest.
That, however, is not the reason why I woke up on January 21st, 2017 to a Twitter feed flooded with photos of women across the world protesting against the Donald Trump administration for the Women's March... & promptly burst into tears.
It is also not the reason why I spent January 21st moping around, scratching at my arms until they were red & swollen, crying, studying my hands as they shook uncontrollably, resolutely not checking the news, avoiding all photographs of the Women's March.
When I came home that day from our local library - the failed result of attempting to distract myself from the march I was not part of - my mother took one look at me & asked, in her there-is-definitely-something-wrong-should-we-increase-the-dosage-of-your-medication voice: how are you feeling today?
I have thought about that question many times since the 21st. I still do not have an answer.
In the days before the worldwide Women's March, calls rang out across my social media feeds, every one of my intensely feminist groups of friends, the liberal news outlets I subscribe to -
If you're a feminist, you'll be at a march. Resistance begins with showing up at a march. For the sake of America, march with us on the 21st.
Perhaps I could have made peace with myself if it was only my geography that kept me from marching. Found a way, somehow, to spread gossamer over my whispering soul, soften out the edges of my restless head, stifle all my little achings into something attributable to mere location. If only I weren't in Singapore, I could say. If I were in America, I would have marched. I would have stood with my sisters. It's only because of where I live.
Alas, it has never been in my nature to lie to myself. Even when it would be so much easier.
I did not join the 5 million people, mostly women, who marched on January 21st. And no, it was not because of my geography. Had I lived in New York City, New York or Minneapolis, Minnesota or Portland, Oregon or Atlanta, Georgia or Los Angeles, California (where many dear friends of mine were, in fact, protesting)... I still would not have marched.
And still, I would have found just as much dark-winged anguish in my own drowning silence. And still, I would have felt as if I was erasing the remnants my own soul. And still, I would have reached into the air for some concentric rings of comfort, some nonexistent hope spanning beyond my own betrayal.
And still, I would not have marched.
This is because I suffer from various anxiety disorders - most notably, in this case, generalised anxiety disorder & hyperacusis. Which means, among a great many other things, that crowds & shouting (of the sort generally found at these protests) induce the worst of panic attacks - my throat closing up, chest heaving, head spinning to hurricane, hands as birds so desperately trying to fly from this place.
How are you feeling today? my mother asked me on January 21st.
I wanted to say: I am feeling like a fraud. Like every word I speak of feminism grows hollower by the moment. Like resistance without marching the streets is no resistance at all. Like that sound of static in my mind is fear winning the war.
I looked down at my arms, red & swollen thanks to OCD wreaking havoc in my lovely disaster of a mind.
I am feeling fine, I said. And did not look up again.
What is a safe distance from the thoughts that know no escape hatch, & what happens when the howling does not stop no matter the precautions taken? The logical part of me (which, no matter how hushed, still exists despite everything) says: it is not your fault. Says: you are allowed to take care of yourself & still carry the flames of revolution.
Of course, the anxiety-ridden part of me (which understands no ways of gentleness) laughs this idea to the grave.
It has been three lifetimes of days since January 21st. Still I am unsure where I fit into feminism if I can't join friends & allies in the most tangible definition of this movement. Does marching save lives? Surely not, but still, all of the other verbs, the important ones, exist here: the fighting, the singing, the holding, the giving away, the moving, the staying, the resisting, the rising up.
And here I remain, locked away by the demons festering in my head.
The weight of missing the Women's March on the 21st rests heavy on my shoulders, far more than the concerts & rallies & fairs & so many countless other events I have sat out over the years because of my anxiety disorders. I have felt helpless & hopeless against the Trump presidency since the vote was first announced... & to skip this protest that so many across the world joined in only reinforces my own smallness. A bird flapping endless over the wide wild sea, no memory of landing, yearning for a place of rest.
And so, perhaps there is only this:
I am doing the best I can - even when it feels my best will never be enough - to forgive myself for the constant tremors. Though it aches like no other, I am tending the (few, wispy, tentative) flowers rather than the (many, sharp, raging) weeds in my mind. I am trying to support the women around me as they reach towards the sun... & to find light of my own, even if it is perhaps not in the same form.
I am comforting myself with this thought, trying to convince myself of the truth I know is there, nestled in its softest corners:
there are so many ways that we march without marching. Through our voices. Through our art. Through our donations. Through our words. Through our hope. Through our conversation. Through our listening. Through our prayers. Through every way we try to understand.
I did not march with my sisters on January 21st, 2017, though I would have given anything to be able to do so.
But still I am here.
And still I create.
And still I exist, breathing in & out in a world that has made it clear how much it would like to see me stop, once & for all.
And still I soldier through it all. And this - through the hurting, through the disappointment, the frustration, the endless indefinite isolated seconds of loathing that might go away or might stay forever, through every way a bone can break, through every method of light flickering out, through all my panicked murmurs, my chest & my birds on the sea, through every whisper, every rage begging to be known, through the things that scream & the silence that haunts, through the gaping in-betweens, through every battle-weary step against the wind in the direction that goodness lives, this -
this is how I march.
On, & on, & on.