Recently, I had the good fortune to spend time with a few people I used to work with and hadn’t seen in a long time. One of these awesome ladies brought her 7-month-old, so I got to snuggle with him (oh, how I’ve missed babies throughout pandemic life). The other awesome lady asked me if I’m still writing my blog, because she is so nice.. I can’t believe people I don’t interact with all the time actually read it. English teachers are my people, after all!
“Honestly… no,” I told her. Not wanting to go into the nuances of mental health, I demurred about how nothing has really happened for me to write about. I haven’t been entirely trapped in a cave of desperation, but much of this year has been painfully boring. Or just depressively boring, aka not the worst but when I’m alone and don’t have plans, my brain convinces me I have no friends and no life and I’ll be alone forever. This is extremely frustrating/distressing to me since it feels like any/all my meditation/anxiety reduction/zen/confidence/trust in the universe that I had curated was washed away at the end of last year. Or, I have to unearth it–carve it out from beneath layers of self-criticism, negative self-talk and heaps of insecurity and shame that the shitstorm of last year dumped on me.
These days, life is gently returning to ‘normal,’ including a much-anticipated switch back to working on campus, aka isolation reduction. The past two weeks, I even wrote in my planner for the first time all year! All year! Maybe it’s the vitamins, maybe it’s the weather, but I do feel like there might be something worth writing.
The fuller truth is, though, that the biggest change this year has been not working at the library. As much as it burned me out to work a part-time on top of a full-time, it has really sucked not being there. I now realize that my library was most of my social life and my local family. Missing my people aside, I did get most of my ideas from interactions from work–who is the Angry Librarian if I’m not a librarian anymore?
That just leaves Angry, and that doesn’t seem to fit–not working in a customer-facing public service job means my anger is totally gone! hahahahaha just kidding. Mostly, I just don’t think the Angry 9-5er has the same ring to it, nor are my musings particularly interesting without a bookish context.
However, until my blog identity crisis resolves, here is a list of things I was almost going to write about during my months of silence. It’s a start.
Running through the retirement community next door as a strong gust of wind pulled a barrage of helicopters from a maple tree onto the sidewalk, I passed a gentleman and we remarked about how cool it was as the little seeds pelted us and the ground in such numbers
Running on the sidewalk, I passed two people and the woman told me “good for you!” unprompted (seriously, kindness from strangers is so great)
Running on the trail, any day the sky was that pure, bright blue (with or without puffy white clouds)
FaceTime (surprise or scheduled) with my friendos who moved to another state
Assorted loved-one time
So, it seems there will be a forthcoming longer thing about running, but overall I’m crawling out of my slump. I’ll do my best to post again before it’s a new year!
To my dedicated base of readers: happy holidays. I myself did not get to fully enjoy Thanksgiving, nor celebrate Chanukah, nor celebrate Christmas. New Year’s Eve, I was bedridden, recovering from a 3-week hospital stay. I’m not ashamed of why I was hospitalized, but at the same time I do not feel like going into it now on the wide-open internet, but I will say I physically suffered from being in the hospital. I pray you had a less-shitty (which is to say less 2020) holiday season and you got to see your people safely and that everyone was in good spirits and good health.
My illness (and two hospital stays) means that in addition to having been away from blogging (but you knew that), I’ve also been off from work for almost three months. For a fun thought experiment you can try at home, try taking the largest source of empowerment and self-worth from a person with anxiety. Hilarity does not ensue. I love my job and the people that work with me, and I am unmoored without them.
The anxiety over wanting to return to work was nothing new; I’ve had anxiety for at least four years! What’s new is that it faded. I don’t feel anxiety because I am resigned. I know there is nothing I can do or say to speed up the return process. What positive updates, you may say! Not quite. I am numb with how much has been taken from me or otherwise lost. I physically cannot give any more fucks. The fucks have run out. This also translates to not really wanting to talk to or see others. I feel a sense of connection to family and friends who have reached out to check on me, but I am hyper aware of people who knew I was sick and did not reach out. (That said, my phone entirely died during the hospital stay and I have zero record of anything sent to me most of December.)
Despite the many loved individuals reaching out to me, I’m struggling with feeling community-less. Part of this is covid.. there is no in-person group activity happening at all in my circle of friends. Of my two main communities, one community won’t let me back in just yet, and the other I chose to step back from in November. Can I still be the angry librarian if I’m not working in a library? (I hope so, because WordPress just auto-renewed for another year.) I chose to quit because pandemic hours meant I had to go in for one two-hour shift each week and it was too much effort to juggle, and I will be happy to work there again once our hours normalize. It feels so different walking in now, but some of that feeling is due to pandemic/masks/plexiglass screens. I know that I am still part of the community, even though technically my role has changed. Now, instead of fearing that I’m the last to know library goings on, I actually am the last to know.
And for the first time ever, I’m okay with being the last to know (or, gasp!, not knowing). I’ve disconnected. I don’t even feel the anxiety over politics (thanks, Obama) because we are on our way to making the country operate like a rational entity again. Oh, and, I haven’t read the Skimm since November. It’s a wonder what being uninformed can free a person from! I was by no means a news junkie, but even the one political email I opened per day was stressful as hell. I’ll dip my toes back into the water eventually, but for right now, I’ve eliminated or disassembled many of my triggers. Medication helps, too, so I should not pretend I’ve reached this non-anxious state alone.
In summary, the last 3 months of my life have been not great. I have struggled with how to talk and write about something I don’t want to talk or write about, and this is intentionally vague to support that effort. It goes without saying, but I wanted to emphasize again that last year was a terrible year for traditional community-building methods, and I still miss our old way of life. I entered the hospital (still) a nervous wreck about the pandemic and exposure, and left as a person who often forgets to bring a mask on the way to run errands. Cured, or broken? I write to again remind people to check on their squad. Just because things are “looking up” does not necessarily mean all people feel up. I write to remind others and also hold myself accountable, as many people have reached out to me and I feel guilty only texting them back because I don’t want to talk on the phone. I write to say that yes I am jubilant about Biden and Harris in the White House but even that joy isn’t enough to motivate me when I have absolutely nothing to do. Biden and Harris can’t be my workout buddies, nor can they decide whether I do instacart or go to the damn grocery store myself.
So please excuse me as I go prepare for my day (yes, it is 11:30am). I will shower, put on real pants and go to the holy land of Trader Joe’s. God willing they will have the fancy gluten free muffins and I will even allow myself a seltzer purchase (and maybe, too, I’ll take a peek at the greeting cards). This is truly the one thing I have to do today. Here’s hoping I can find the motivation to pull it off. Though honestly, I might do my taxes instead out of procrastination. Tonight I’m meeting one of my beautiful friends for a virtual chat as we watch Uncorked, a Netflix Party of 2.
Slowly but surely I’m finding ways to pass my time as I enter week 3 of the attempt to reenter work. This month has been nowhere near as hard as being in the hospital, so I can’t hyperbolize, but I’m definitely not responding to the situation well. Send mail, send texts, even send thoughts and prayers. Anything is better than nothing!
I might be the only political person in the country (aka voter aka person who cares about the outcome of the election) who is not watching election coverage. As someone with anxiety, I have to draw a boundary to protect my mind. I cannot abide the ambiguity. If I were to watch ANY coverage, the calculations, the iterations of the possibilities, the ifs then thises, the going down the rabbit hole….. it would make me explode.
No. That kind of exhaustive extrapolation is how my brain attacks itself, and I’m not inviting that in, because my brain is actually kind of functioning for once! Watching the results would not make me more informed, it would only make me suffer. Give me the results when they are available. I can wait.
I know I have done what I can. I returned my ballot a couple weeks ago, I wrote postcards to Wisconsin and Michigan voters, and I am SO THANKFUL that yesterday is in the past. I have never been more grateful for the passage of time (and my/my family members’ continued health) because the anticipation has been brutal. For more than a year, we Americans have been tortured with the pre-election circus. On top of the psychological torture of a pandemic and the societal torture of administration (and fellow citizens) that don’t care to put in place/cooperate with orders to protect public health so that fewer people literally die.
If I had a nickel for every time over the past months I digressed about public health and mortality………… (fuck this administration, they will rot in hell).
Digression reclaimed: I have done all I can do. I cannot control anything else from here on out. It is now up to time and actions. The actions of good people, both submitting and counting ballots. Time to make sure every single voice is counted.
And I fully recognize that I do not have as much at stake in this election/this year than others. However, it is huge to me regardless. The soul of our nation is at stake. I can only cling to my hope in our country until we have a final tally. I need to believe in the basic and widespread good of my fellow citizens as long as possible.
So no, I’m not watching the in-between part. I’m listening, to music: soothing folk and jazz, and to loved ones’ voices. I’m rewatching a movie about a playwright and finding your own voice. I am basking in the glow of the birthday love my amazing friends and family have shown me over the past week. I am hoping that the good in the country overwhelms the bad in a way that pleases its antiquated system (that drastically needs to be amended, cue my next read Let the People Pick the President). I’m breathing. I’m praying thanks for all the love and joy in my life and clinging to them. I’m treating myself nicely. I’m planning out birthday/holiday gifts at independent bookstores. As per always, I’m writing letters.
And I’m hoping. I’m hoping so hard that people care about their neighbors and science and the environment and voted accordingly. I am hoping the blue wave can drown all this hatred and madness.
And right this moment, I’m going to order a 2021 calendar.
Last week I logged on to my library account, like nerds do, and had only one checked out. An error! I could have sworn I had checked out multiple books. A library insider, I had definitely gone to the building, sanitized my hands, taken my temperature, recorded it in the designated google doc on the designated computer in the designated room, sanitized the thermometer, followed the arrows to pick up two tiny books, and then brought them home. The books were on my nightstand. I had, however, forgotten to check them out.
I was only in the building for maybe three minutes, and 95% of what I did was not part of the pre-pandemic skillset/the typical shift. I forgot to do the 5% that was entirely familiar and library-related. Especially considering it wasn’t the part involving sanitization, I argue that this was not a big deal, and in the regular times many of us have forgotten to check out books before we took them home. I remedied this situation right away once I realized, so no one will be expecting the titles to be available when they aren’t. No harm, no foul.
But, as anyone with anxiety, depression or a perfectionist bent will recognize, this made me question the inner workings of my mind. What is going on in there, as I forgot basic processes?
Likely, I was thinking ahead to the other errands I was running. Or I was replaying all the quippy responses I could have said in any one of the million conversations I run over and over in my head. The recursive thoughts are tough, because they can be anything from actual lived experiences (positive yet finite! Negative but persistent!) to arguments either real or hypothetical, to entertainment, to worries about the election, to worries about the future in general, to an actor’s face or a clip of dialogue that I frantically try to identify. My mind is a labyrinth of past/present, minor/major, dreams realized/dreams deferred. One thing was for sure; my working memory, overloaded by the 2020 of it all, was not working.
Recently, I heard two nuggets of wisdom. The first: “a buried emotion never dies.” It made me wonder how much of my revisiting and reminding and wearing the grooves of my brain to fit memories is in order to keep them comfortable for the long haul versus how much is my trying to work through them. And how much is an obsessive need to categorize (one of my librarian-est tendencies) because I am only as good as the information I can remember. Or maybe whoever remembers the most is the most right?
The second, from a piece of poetry I heard aloud: “we are all radiant, but sometimes we forget.” It’s true with eating right, it’s true with anything where you know the right thing to do and choose not to do it when push comes to shove until it fades from importance. As usual, mindfulness is key–to recognize the slide between what I prioritize and the choices I make or the memories I’m holding onto that keep me from living like I want to.
One anchor I’ve been cultivating relates to my childhood friend who three of us traveled to be with almost exactly one year ago. We had gone to school together as kids, and she was a marvel. She also happened to be dying. I have always run away from the hard stuff, or at least, if I have shown up, I do it quickly or from a distance (ie, with a letter). Sitting with and truly facing discomfort is not my strong suit, my own or anyone else’s. Walking up the stairs to her house for that weekend was sad and scary. When she opened the door, seeing how much weight she had lost from being sick and undergoing treatment was sad and scary. Watching her talk about her illness and mortality was sad, but it was not scary. It was inspiring, and noble, and unifying in a way only things that break you open can be. It was so deeply human.
The memories of her that pop into my mind are not all from that weekend, but many are. One is sitting next to my two friends watching her give that interview, all three of us beyond the help of tissues. One is of the only twenty minutes the two of us were alone the whole weekend, and she was warm and happy to have our company, to be together after more than ten years. The feeling was mutual.
During that conversation, I mentioned 10% Happier and she lit up, saying she had worked on that team. I froze briefly, but went with it, saying yes, it’s a great resource for new meditators. This was something we had connected over; half a year earlier, I had opened a listserv email to discover an essay with her name in an email digest and reached out to her afterwards and we had a nice chat. As loving as her energy was, she had forgotten. Justifiedly so! We hadn’t spoken in the ten years before she got sick, and she was in constant pain with limited energy. Her body and mind were under siege. I am the archivist in my friend group, and I try to document/preserve/remember everything, so sometimes gaps like these hurt. However, I understand that the connection meant something to both of us at the time, and we were together in that new moment, with or without it. We were connected and present, making another memory, regardless of not sharing the old memory. We are only human after all, and all we have is now.
Anyway, all this to say, I think about her a lot, and how she eliminated the gap between how she wanted to live her life and how she was living it. She had to do this. She had to say what she needed to say because she was running out of time. And often, this meant she was a terrible texter/user of social media. She was present for the people lucky enough to be closest to her.
There is a LOT happening every day both locally (within my intimate circle and various communities I belong to) and nationally/globally. Society has gone off the rails, and there are so many things to think/protest/speak out about. Depending how you use social media, it is mostly photos of lifestyles you may want (ie babies, spouses, houses) or political outrage. I shared all the things to be mad about, all the injustices, and… It’s all just screaming into a void unless people take their actions to the real world. And it’s so easy to completely overload maintaining a woke/activist presence on the online. As a huge empath, alive in the weirdest year and approaching the most contentious election, I had to change something. Something had to give.
So, I dropped off the face of the media. Gone are the Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone. With the help of my best friend (identifying my post-breakup behaviors as obsessive), How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price, and depending where my passwords are saved, I may never get back on… If it’s not in the Skimm/Mel doesn’t think I need to know, I may not need to know. My philosophy is not that these sites/apps are all bad, despite how much I want to fully remove myself after watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix. The idea is that I use the media for specific purposes because I choose/want to, not because I am compelled to/addicted to them or they are the default time-filler. Closing the gap between how I want to live and how I am living. Facing the memories jostling around in my head, retiring the ones that don’t serve me out of active rotation, foregoing the social media presence in order to make sure I can function and cultivate presence in real time.
Hi, my name is Emily, and when the summer turns to fall, I get sad! There is something about the cooler air that carries a bouquet of self doubt and self loathing, reminding me of the falls when I have torn my life apart, made bad decisions or just generally dreaded the winter (which is COMING). Working mainly in schools as I have my whole “career” means that September is a big transition time, full of change and expectations for that change to be positive. More than birthdays or New Years Eves, the start of the school year makes me take stock of how I’m doing heading into the cooler months of the year. This year was already full of taking stock, and the warmth of summer was extra cheerful and hopeful and the promise of sunshine/longer days filled my world with possibility–this could be the year I go camping! This could be the year I find my person! This could be the year I learn to proof emails before I send them! This could be the year I or my life change! And then the cold hits, and I still haven’t gone camping, found my person, or magically learned how to be professional or diplomatic. The season is changing, but my situation is not.
That said, the past two weeks I have felt off. And then when I felt off, I got anxious about the uncertainty of why. It’s not great enough having anxiety and depression separately, so sometimes they give me the gift of feeling them together! But I didn’t notice until I zoomed out. I didn’t notice how abrupt the air went from warm to cool even as I added a fleece blanket on the bed. I didn’t notice as I unpacked all of my sweaters and packed away my shorts. Something hugely sad happened (as it seems is happening all the time now) and I couldn’t stop crying. Parents shouldn’t kill their children. Police shouldn’t kill unarmed, innocent people. The sky shouldn’t be orange. This shit shouldn’t happen.
The grief is understandable. The sadness and rage are allowed, and, I believe, an almost mandatory human response. I had to let it out (in safe spaces/to safe people) to clear it. Say it with me, people: emotions are better out than in! I sought connection and joy. But even in my responsible processing of that big incidents, I made the minute mistake of thinking that summer joys were the best, if not the only ones on the horizon. The past is the best! It’s all shit from here on out! Change can’t possibly be good!
I understand the allure of memory. Good times are golden. Change after something good feels bad. But, just as with good, so with bad. The power of memory is so strong that it jerks us out of the present, for better or worse. Recently, I consoled someone who moved out of a toxic roommate situation. I saw on his face how even the mention of his ex-roommate brought a flood of bad memories over him, like he was reliving the horrors. I wanted to shake him into the present but all I said was “you’re safe now! You’re on your own!” Memories aren’t now! But I remember that feeling, the bad memories clinging, still too close even though they aren’t the reality anymore.
Seasons change. Relationships change. Good memories are precious, but there are more to be made. Joy is not finite, nor scarce. (Neither, on the flip side, is darkness.) I’ve been clinging to the specialness of the summer and refusing to accept the change of the seasons. Which is, of course, lunacy. Time does not do personal. It just keeps passing, and resistance is futile. The cool weather is not good, but it is also not bad. It just is. The sooner I accept that, the better. Simply identifying that I am having trouble with the transition to fall has helped. (Mindfulness: season edition!) I can’t shut down because summer is ending. Cooling down doesn’t have to mean closing down.
Because the thing is, the past two weeks have not been tortured, awful or ones where I replayed golden memories of relationships or summer or the times I should have said or done something differently. I didn’t spend every minute wanting to crawl out of my skin. There were moments of that, sure, but the universe forced me to see all the good happening around me. I celebrated and marveled as two of my best friends in the world brought new babies into the world. I cooked for them and myself. My aunt continues to be a formidable Words With Friends opponent. In the closet transition, I’ve gotten rid of a ton of clothing and made some money off of it. Two of my amazing friends consistently ask me to go on walks. I bought a new puzzle, and fell in love with it, and finished it. I went to kundalini class and though it was 50 degrees, I did not suffer. I just wore a fleece. There is magic in the outdoors no matter the weather.
Sad Negative Emily wailed to her therapist that the world is ending, only for her therapist to reply calmly and patiently “the world is not ending, it is transforming.” And that is the kind of woo woo hopeful shit Upbeat Grounded Emily says when she’s feeling normal!
I deeply appreciate that the Jewish new year is happening right now (Shana tova to my people!) It feels like a more natural transition point than January 1, and I’m taking the opportunity to set some intentions. I am going to remain open and curious (and hopeful though sometimes that’s the first one to go), and continue to ground myself through the hellscape that is the remaining weeks before an election. I am going to take care of my body, mind and spirit, which means I’ll continue to speak up when I see injustice, and shout my gratitude for my amazing family, friends, and the occasional stranger who does right by me.
So in that vein, this was the summer I went into the outdoors when it was all degrees of precipitation. This was the year I paused to breathe (more, not always ) on the phone with my family. This was the year I learned that “hard work” means anything you are putting your energy towards, emotional energy included. This was the year I actually got involved in civics, signing more petitions and donating more money and writing 200 postcards to voters in Michigan and Wisconsin (and I seriously hope they don’t all go straight into the garbage). This was the summer I learned not to take it personally when someone doesn’t want to keep dating me. And this was the summer I was reminded again and again what special people (and animals) I have in my life whether on my street, in my workplace(s), on the phone/zoom/discord/hangouts/facetime or in the mailbox. We are all going through it. We’ll get through this shitstorm together, one way or another.
Strap in, people. There will be heavy-handed metaphors. Due to what can only be called the 2020-time-vortex, the past two months have felt both like a year and a week. In late May, I looked at the thistles growing through and above the bushes in front of my door, and decided to tackle them. I had seen one too many neighbors walk by and admire the beautiful irises only to visibly judge the massive weeds overtaking the whole plot. The leasing lady had told me that tenants can either garden for themselves or the maintenance crew would do it. Based on the height of the weeds and my recognition that their only method was a weed whacker, I took matters literally into my own hands. This would take time and effort, and no one was going to put in the time and effort but me.
Did I properly outfit myself first? No. I attempted, but the gardening gloves I got were not made for thorns. The thorns attacked my hands and thus they lived to see another week.
Did I endeavor to start under proper conditions? No. I first tried pulling the weeds after a stretch of warm, sunny days. The weeds immediately snapped at the ground. The roots stayed in the soil, to regroup and grow again.
Did I learn and watch out for ideal conditions? Yes. Did I get impatient and decide then to jump on ideal conditions despite not having proper equipment? Heck yes. Before long, it was raining for an entire night and morning. Did it look like an ideal day? No. Did it look like an ideal day…for pulling weeds? YEAH BUDDY. I grabbed my lil cat-grooming gloves (non-permeable though not optimal) and went to town.
These deserved better
The source of shame
And it was GOOD! The blooms were so heavy that the stalks couldn’t hold them up–their beauty forced people to look at them, if only to walk around them. I knew these flowers deserved less toxic neighbors. It was righteous work. The damp conditions made the soil more forgiving. Some of the bigger, more established weeds were still resistant, and I had to let it go when they snapped instead of coming out completely. I would just have to try again later. The medium/small ones came out, though, roots and all. I thought about how our brains are gardens, and the food we put into them has the power to influence or dominate. I thought about how efficient it would be to pay attention to small distress signals/thoughts, face and address them. How they’d give up their hold before taking root and growing powerful and entrenched.
This was a mindful act. I observed the spots of the soil that were more rigid (near the concrete sidewalk) and the spots that released. A wasp landed on a flower next to me and I nodded at it. We coexisted. The wasp did its wasp thing, and I left it alone and did mine, taking care that I didn’t bump/ripple the plant it was on. I saw those teeny tiny green bugs crawling on plants, on my arms, and then had the feeling they were crawling on me for the rest of the day. I pulled so hard, squatting over the plants, that I fell backwards when the target thistle relinquished. I laughed because of course I tried so hard and yanked so aggressively that I ended up hurting my butt.
All in all, I loved it. It was great for anxiety because it was mindful, sensory, tactile and it was a patch of green that I felt some level of control over. Not total control, because weeds are living things who are programmed to survive too, but I was glad when with each effort, the pile of thorns got bigger and taller. I made a visually measurable difference. I cleared the shame-weeds! I made room to honor beauty!
But yeah, a lot has been happening. Much political, some personal, but the common thread in my pandemic survival (in addition to/to balance out limited social encounters) is being outside. For YEARS (high school + into adult life) I would only be outside in transit or playing softball or when the sun was at an amenably low position to eat dinner on a patio. At some point I developed allergies, so the incentive to go outside for being outside’s sake dwindled even further. I’m a monthly supporter of the Sierra Club; I didn’t have to go outside to show my support of nature. Doing so might mean subjecting myself to sweat/precipitation/moisture. Best to avoid the whole thing.
Then this year. I had to get outside, if only because that was where/how I was allowed to see my friends without fear. I need my people, and the people were outside! If you had told me prior to this year that I would voluntarily go on walks, I would have thought you were crazy, but now I look forward to them. The outdoors is a place for observing and chatting and overall just being anywhere other than in my apartment, in front of my tv or computer. It can be lightly raining; I don’t care. I’m walking. It can be high 80s; I don’t care. I’m walking. I’ve made peace with my less than ideal conditions. It’s almost like I cannot control the weather, so I gotta do what I need to do to make the best of my day. Best not to avoid the whole thing.
To be clear, I have not become a professional or even a hobby gardener. I have planted zero plants. I have weeded two times in the last two months; the initial weed-slaughter was all I needed. But this experience made me put my hands on plants, and thus appreciate them. The strangest part is that I didn’t even have to go far to ‘find’ the nature/beauty. It was literally at my fingertips. Nature isn’t only found in far off destinations, full of hiking trails and recreational watersports or whatever else people take instagram photos of. It was within three feet of my doorstep.
So, obviously, plenty (both political and personal) has happened since this initial glorious gardening outing. The flowers have bloomed and shriveled in that cyclical way they do.
Fullness and decay!
Shriveled nubs of formerly full irises
I realize it’s an abrupt shift of topics, but…the country remains on fire. I used to just rail against the system of capitalism and the various ways corporations exploit their workers/the environment. This is to say, I thought I knew/did my part to be aware. But what I was ignorant of was that in this country, systemic racism (which is to say white supremacy) is interwoven into all of this. I used to avoid the discomfort that comes from learning about racial injustice just as I avoided sweating. I recognize this comes from a privileged place. But it’s time to face it, which starts with learning and leads to discussion, activism and change. The past two months, I’ve mostly just been reading and learning and talking to loved ones and just being human. If you want to know what I’ve been reading/watching with the frame of how to improve the country/world, here is a list:
Racial – film (included on service indicated, can rent on other platforms)
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.
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!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I resist writing even though it is beneficial to do. Now, though, as the world is seemingly falling apart, I might try harder. Even before I would write this blog today, I spent 30 minutes on hold for Apple Care to change my password in order to update my iOS (non-essential but on to-do list for literal years), I went to the grocery store (carefully) and I made tapioca pudding. Scraping the bottom of the to-do barrel just to put off writing. I do not understand (but greatly respect) how people do this as a career.
In the interest of maintaining my sanity and eating my peas, I need to actively recognize that there are some things I don’t want to do, that feel like a hassle, and I have to do them anyway. This is ridiculous, because I really LIKE writing, but sometimes it just feels tiresome to talk about myself and my life and my thoughts and maybe my handwriting isn’t great that day and blechhh. I prefer to blog and share entertaining anecdotes or stories.
I don’t have any current stories right now. This upsets me. The library has been closed for a full week, though we are answering emails/phone calls, and people are in various states of panic and sadness. My heart goes out to the college kids who can’t return to campus for the rest of the year and have to endure professors attempting online instruction. I am not jealous of people with school-age children going stir crazy with cabin fever, but I am happy to hear parents acknowledge that teaching is HARD and teachers are UNDERPAID. And, these safety precautions aren’t going anywhere in the near future. I understand that people are sad when events they looked forward to are canceled. There is a grief in not being able to throw your small child a birthday party, not being able to attend a concert three months away, or a milestone college reunion. Some people have to cancel their weddings upcoming soon, and women who give birth right now are not permitted to have their partners with them. I really wanted to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday with her family and friends, but that is not happening. These things range from heartbreaking to a shame to a small price to pay in order not to contract or spread this virus.
The anxiety also makes sense to me. Anxiety over the turbulent rule changes, the closures of restaurants and businesses, anxiety over possibly catching or spreading deadly disease. Anxiety over making rent/bill payments after losing non-salaried work. For the general anxiety, I would say follow the rules suggested by health professionals and limit the information intake (aka only look at news updates once per day at a designated time, or only read articles if tv news stresses you out too much). Essentially, control what you can control. For the money anxiety, figure that shit out! You can’t control the fact that you’re out of work, but you can sure as hell sign up for unemployment or look for other work that doesn’t compromise your health.
All that said, I’m lucky. I have a salaried job that I can do from home. My office was ramping up for at least a week ahead of time getting us set up with the technology to feel like we were in the office. I don’t have school age children, and I am mobile enough at least in theory to take walks and exercise in my home. I have a car and so don’t have to deal with public transportation being germ-ridden or closed. My biggest complaints to date are that I miss my coworkers and my fancy desk chair & I’m eating too much/moving too little.
I try to have anecdotes for the blog, which I like sharing, but even in personal writing for just myself, I drag my feet. One of my professors in college preached to us the virtues of her own daily morning ritual: to fill a page. I thought it was silly; what could possibly be so different from the day before? How is that interesting to write, much less read???
When I avoid journaling, I tell myself that what I’m thinking and going through is repetitive; I’ve been here before and flipping back a few pages reveals similar themes and patterns. Why bother writing it down? I talk to my friends and my therapist about my inner world, and I write in my journal when I have something particularly weighty on my mind. Why make it a daily habit?
And maybe this is a “duh” moment for you, but I never really put together that daily journaling is the meditation of writing. Writing every day to assess the quality of my mind seems to me like an affirmation that my thoughts/feelings have power and that I should pay more attention to them AND an outlet for them so I can clear the ones that don’t serve me. After all, just because my thoughts are boring and repetitive, they’re still swirling around in my head, and my motto is better out than in! Since I have been trying to meditate every day (to mild success) I am working journaling into my as-often-as-possible routine too.
Not coincidentally, this happened when I received a gift from my cousin. She, a practicing clinical psychologist, published her own journal to help people write, reflect and grow. So if you need to build a new routine now that everything in life is drastically different, I recommend it–I like the open-ended prompts and the focus on being present. Check it out!
If you are struggling this week, reach out to your loved ones. Reach out even if you aren’t! And now that we have a little more alone time, maybe look inward too. Grab a pen and paper of some kind and see what happens. Of course, you may just write me a letter bitching about this whole situation, and that would be fine. I love mail 🙂
At some point within the last month, I have been both on a roll and in a funk, and today marks day 19 of a 19-day streak without a day off (3×5-day workweek + 2 straight weekends = 19). Oh, and, the world is ending.
The weird: a skunk sprayed directly outside my bedroom window. Three. Weeks. Straight. Always on Sunday! The smell was so strong that it woke me from total sleep. And it lingered. No, lingered is too gentle a word. It sat, chokingly heavy in the air in my bedroom. Stayed for almost a full week despite 24-hour air purifier and vinegar water to draw it out. I was convinced I was wearing the smell out of the house. JUST when my room stank only faintly, it would strike again. For three weeks. It was the closest thing to torture I’ve ever endured, and if it were an interrogation, I would have cracked. My favorite place (my bed) was not relaxing, and it was not safe from this nastiness.
The good: I was feeling kind of bummed out when I wasn’t hearing from a couple close friends. For some reason, it is still unfamiliar to me that even though I reach out when I have a lot going on (because I need to be out of my head and into the world) close friends might want to retreat from the world and go into their heads. The good came from finally making contact with said close friends, understanding where they were coming from, and spending loads of quality time together. GOOD, aka the calm before the storm.
This good was influenced by reading an empowering book about diet/health: Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, the author of the book that made me go gluten-free (Grain Brain!). More fermented foods (hello, kombucha!) and more healthy fats (hello, avocados!) and I was feeling calm for the first time in forever.
During this time of joy and such, I attended meditation and the leader guiding the meditation had a cough. As I sat there, I was still peaceful despite his intermittent startling cough. I remarked to myself about the unconditional positive regard I have for this man, and how with my “good list” of people I will waive annoyance that readily pops up in response to the same behaviors by any other person. How do I get more people onto the good list? If nothing else, that would spare me more annoyance…
The bad: Just when I had gotten into a rhythm of working out at lunchtime, our employee workout classes were canceled. All fun has been canceled this week. At first, I pouted, sad that this was “taken from me.”
Not only is one of my coping mechanisms not available, but the anxiety is ramping up. Just when I had finally found places to hold end-of-year events, now we are unsure if they will take place. Almost everything I have been working on is now on hold because of drastic changes to the very core of the student experience. There are known cases of coronavirus in my community, and I work two places in the community. In short, people at work are freaking the fuck out. All week, I’ve been hearing about how there is no toilet paper at the stores, and that people are stockpiling, preparing for being on a multiple week lockdown. I generally do not fall prey to public panic, and I typically resent the behaviors and mindsets behind them. In short, people outside of work are freaking the fuck out.
And instead of resenting those people, and instead of bitching about every change in policy, and while only minimally judging (because unless you plan on eating toilet paper, there is no need for you to purchase that much of it).. I’m listening.
I’m hearing a lot of rational, caring people on conference calls trying to mitigate and support others through a messy situation. I’m hearing a lot of compassion and a lot of flexibility from my supervisors when I mess up various things because my mind is not at full strength or focus this week. I’m hearing my coworkers tell me their children are feeling a lot of fear and anxiety. And that they are too. It helps to know I’m not alone (but honestly how could I be?).
And I listened to myself today, and advocated for what I needed (aka asked not to come in to the library due to the anxiety I was feeling). And I was met with support! It was great!
Since the new year, I thought we wouldn’t have to hear about 19 ever again. It was a trying year, and it seems to be extending its disasters into 2020. This public health scare is crazy, and it requires precautions that make sense. I am not alone in my fun being taken away. Pro/college sports, theater, comedy.. it’s all put on pause. And though social distancing is extremely hard and uncomfortable and sad for me, maybe it forces me to really take care of myself. Yes, working out is now part of my mental health regime. Yes, I need it and yes, it will be unavailable to me in organized groups for the foreseeable future. Yes, I may still brave the yoga studio, and yes, I may choose to still go to the grocery store or out to eat (one or the other!).
Even though I would like to consume less, I need to be a part of a social fabric, and saw this poem today and love it so much. It reframed this whole stay-at-home crisis for me. Obviously, when people get sick, it is scary, but my anxiety lessened when I thought of the precautions in these gentle, respectful terms rather than scary, disease terms.
The grammar nerd in me wants to point you towards the double entendres of the title: I am “dating” anxiety. Of course what I mean is that I have anxiety about dating, or that I am dating [with] anxiety. Since many of the other areas of my life I was unhappy with have fallen into place (my therapist would point out that I toiled and suffered and took chances and overall put a lot of effort into making these things happen) over the last year… so “the boyfriend question” is literally always on my mind. It is the next issue to tackle. The missing piece, if you will.
Maybe because my readership includes mainly my family and possibly my ex, I have only alluded to the ongoing drama of trying to find a stable, kind, human male with whom I have all of the chemistries for to settle down and make babies. And I do care what those people think. It’s hard to draw the line between anxiety and people pleasing; where one stops, the other one fills the gap. I care about making people I love/d uncomfortable or sad, so I won’t go into any gory details, though I still wouldn’t even if I didn’t care about offending anyone’s sensibilities (the internet is OPEN, y’all. Discoverable!). Nothing is secret, if a librarian (or god help me someone with more credentials or beef with me) wants to find it.
Some of my lack-of-relationship stuff is because I didn’t like my life, so I told myself I could compromise on what I want (for example: babies). Part of my lack of relationship is continuing to fall for the trap that is males who consider themselves attractive to the point that they have shirtless photos on their dating profiles. (They may say they are looking for a relationship, but are they? ARE THEY?) Those are easier to let go of. No, what they think about me is not as devastating as when I get excited about someone and think I have a chance and see them multiple times, only then to be ghosted because they were scared away by honesty (or by triple texting).
Because putting myself out there, over and over, for new dudes to fully see and judge me is exhausting. And nerve-racking. So when it seems to be going right, only to have the dreaded 24-hour-without-texting mark roll around, that stings. The rejection is very real and it hurts and however many weeks or months I looked forward to hearing from that guy now has been time wasted and time detracted from the search for MY PERSON.
And all of my non-attachment and let-it-be-ness goes straight out the window. Along with my pride. “Maybe that last text was too awkward/personal/not funny enough to get a reply; I’ll send a follow-up hedging it and trying to be more entertaining!”
Is it anxiety that I cannot let go of the idea of the object of my fixation working out?
…Considering that going through my head is an all-caps disaster script along the lines of: NO NO NO WE LIKE THIS ONE DONT LET HIM GET AWAY THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER MAN AS GOOD AS HIM… Yes. It’s fucking anxiety. Because, at least statistically, there will be another one as intriguing and promising. And eventually maybe even one who won’t be scared off by my anxious behaviors (or I can learn to manage my sky-high expectations and also to not text too much/get my hopes up too soon).
[Side note: the texting. FUCK TEXTING. People who have been monogamous for at least the past 10 years do not know the blessing of not being on dating apps and living through the hellish texting culture therein.]
I do not write this because I resent everyone in a happy relationship. Nay. (Nor do I write this to hear that I am loved; please let us avoid these awkward lines of dialogue.) Though I may not have opened social media this past weekend and so therefore did not ‘like’ your lovey-dovey posts, I still think it’s great that you found your person. I hope that you get to be your truest, weirdest self with them. If you do, you give me hope.
That’s the dream.
Perhaps the biggest source of the anxiety is indeed the fact that I want that dream so bad. I go into everything thinking this could be IT! He could be HIM! and that is an unhealthy amount of pressure to put on A) him B) me C) the whole situation. The only way to find my person is to wait. That’s all. I have to wait, and take it day by day (NOT minute by minute staring at my phone), and take the time to think about who I’m curious about. Who I want to get to know better. Who makes me feel like my best self and simultaneously like I can improve my best self. To watch and see who proves himself over time. Only when those things come together in one person should I get all aflutter.
So for now, I’ll go back to swiping, and trying to trust that what’s meant for me will not pass me by. If he passed me by, it is because someone better is on his way.
And, request to relatives: please wait for me to volunteer information rather than asking for date updates. Please!