anxiety, be a better human, joy

Not Watching

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.

anxiety, be a better human, books, information, let it go, librarians, social media

Working memory

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.

Consider donating a book to honor a beautiful soul.

It’s a great book!

anxiety, be a better human, let it go

Cooling Down

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.

Feels like we skipped right to October, eh?

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.

anxiety, audiobooks, be a better human, books, empathy, lists, reading

I go outside now

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.

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.

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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.

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)
Racial – book
  • White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
  • The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander (longer form of the ideas in 13th)
  • How to be An Antiracist – Ibram Kendi (he also co-wrote Stamped from the Beginning with Jason Reynolds, more condensed, for YA audience)
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • So You Want to Talk about Race? – Ijeoma Oluo (Her upcoming book is called Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America)
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor – Layla Saad
  • Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own – Eddie Glaude (Teaser article in New Yorker recently)
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein
  • Women, Race & Class – Angela Y. Davis
  • Anything by James Baldwin but my favorite so far is The Fire Next Time
Sex/Gender
  • Good and Mad – Rebecca Traister
  • My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem
Environment/Sustainability
  • On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal – Naomi Klein
  • Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Safe our World – Josh Tickell
Economics/ Politics (connects to other categories as well)
  • Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer
  • No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need – Naomi Klein
  • The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap – Matt Taibbi
  • The System: Who Rigged it, How We Fix It – Robert Reich

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Why I care (spoiler alert, it’s because everyone is just a human doing their best and not caring is so so so harmful)

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From “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo