anxiety, be a better human, books, community, empathy, family, giving, kindness, social media, strangers

Break [it] down

Though it seems like in many ways, we are getting used to the ‘new normal,’ there are plenty of ways this drastic change continues to be upsetting. My friends continue to have panic attacks and breakdowns of all sizes, and my empathizer heart is hurting. On a small scale, all my basic needs are met, and yet.. Fear looms large, and it blows my mind/fuels my rage/makes me sad that our food system is so broken that more people than average (!!) are going hungry right now in this country of plenty. I’m reassured that our quality of air worldwide is improved due to fewer cars on the roads and less pollution from closed-down industry. But more on my hippie tears at a later date.

I’m going to write about what has been helping me to cope, and what is inspiring me to change. As sometimes happens, I read the perfect book at the perfect time. After all, how many of us are simply struggling with how Not to Do the Things? How to deal with the limitations/unavailability of most everything but the virtual world.

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How to Do Nothing made the hairs on my arms stand up. This woman artfully (she is an artist, after all) emphasized that our culture has largely lost our connection to place and our need for context. This is true on an ecological level; we need to get outside more–into our surroundings, to become familiar with the land that we occupy and the other creatures that also do. This grounding/contextualizing shows us that we are not the only ones here. We are part of a system and the system deserves our attention and respect. 

This need for context also appears in our social [media] interactions. Modern comforts and technology have made it so we can curate our daily lived experiences and only have to interact with people who agree with us on nearly all points. [Information silos, old news.] The media lives on sound bites that are designed to enrage and distract us, further driving us into our polarized opinion camps. I took the time to manually transcribe this part of her book because it spoke to me. She states that if we only interact with people who agree with us we:

“never run the risk of being surprised, challenged, or changed. Never seeing anything outside of ourselves. Including our own privilege. That’s not to say we have nothing to gain from those we have many things in common with, on paper. If we don’t expand our attention outside of that sliver we live in an I-it world where nothing has meaning outside of its value and relation to us. And we are less prone to the encounters with those who turn us upside down and reorganize our universe… Those who stand to change us significantly, should we allow it. Of course having encounters entails risks that not everyone is willing to take.”

Holy wow, yes. Now is the time for change. If you haven’t done Anything Different this entire quarantine, who even are you? It is a time for thought and discussion. For dismantling the egocentric views we hold. To interrupt our regularly scheduled programming and do Something different instead. Something caring, something creative. Something revolutionary. 

Because when I’m worried about the Fate of the World and all the big, Capital Letter Things, I have to focus on specific actions to take. I have to break it down into manageable, actionable pieces. What can I do? What effect does staring at my phone, scrolling through instagram or facebook really do for me? What can I do instead? Do I really need to buy more clothing/home goods/products? I understand the temptation to hunker down and feverishly, anxiously repeat the usual distraction purchasing patterns (and I am very guilty of doing this myself). But if you have the expendable income to spend right now, I hope you consider others. I hope you donate to organizations that feed and care for others. Because just as thinking too large-scale is harmful, so is thinking too small-scale. Think outside of yourself, and consider that this is a terrible time for everyone, and that your help for others will help them and you. No, I do not mean to minimize your suffering. I am just saying we are all suffering. And suggesting that you contextualize it, and allow it to serve you and others. Allow your suffering to help Something. Ask for help. Reach out. Do something different.

So I’m doing some familiar things, and some new ones. I’m talking more than usual on the phone with my family. I’m reading. I’m wildly busy at work, so I’m doing overall less mental berating of myself. I’m playing Words with Friends, going on walks, fighting with the skunk who keeeeeps spraying directly outside my window (not all nature is good, I concede), cooking, baking, or just making macaroni from a box and not judging myself about it. I’m not immune to the simple allure of tv (but try to be social and talk about it afterwards). I love exchanging letters with people, so I’m trying to do a lot of letter writing when I’m in the mood, especially because I know people like getting fun mail. Because I’m not always in the mood to be my best self. I’m trying to work out/journal/meditate one per day, but sometimes I am lazy and cranky and don’t. I have virtual therapy appointments, and I’m still moody and easily irritated and mad at myself for trying to multitask (usually looking at my phone). I too do not particularly trust the person who is living their best life at this weird, isolated time. But if that’s you, good for you!

This time is unique in that it is allowing us more than ever before to hone in on what matters, and to opt out of the parts of our society that do not serve us (or anyone). It is providing us the opportunity to help others, to reach out and strengthen personal ties, time to heal ourselves and our brains and how we think of ourselves (as helpless or capable, isolated or part of a community). There is not much else to do other than go outside and walk or run, familiarizing ourselves with the species in the area. Noticing that we are not alone. You have neighbors, and postal workers, and all sorts of animals and plant life around you (some of which might be blooming these days). It’s a time to  make the best of what’s around. It’s not easy, but there’s no getting around it. We have to go through!

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