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!

anxiety, information, joy, kindness, let it go, meditation, social media, strangers

Dating Anxiety

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.]

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This is now my standard practice. Delete the evidence that I gave a shit.

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Sorry I’m too lazy to crop these photos!

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Running through my mind at any sustained period of silence

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Me when my hopes are all the way up only for someone to change his mind

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!

be a better human, depression, empathy, family, giving, reading, social media, stuff, talking

Lightbulb Moment

I don’t know about you, but the holidays do weird things to me. Maybe it’s the expectations, the build-up to the plans and alllllll the social media posts about gifts received, proposals accepted, pregnancies announced. I’m not alone in that I compare my life to others’ online depictions of theirs. Maybe it’s the fact that when an acquaintances asks how the holidays were, the mutually assumed answer is somewhere along the lines of “great! Relaxing! Quiet! Perfect!” And it is definitely the pressure of the societal narrative for New Year’s Eve. Overall, the holidays can leave me feeling single af, jealous and lame.

This one didn’t.

This season, there was plenty of weird. Plans that fell through, my underemployed status yet going to work for a few hours when family was in town… And then the sympathy cards.

Three people in my circle lost parents this holiday season. I knew none of these people, but I know the loved ones they left behind. I know that no sympathy card ever feels just right. Each one got closer and closer to me and my daily life. And as an empath, I hurt for these people. I hope that I can help share their sadness and pain, and that they come to find peace.

But despite being a little sad, I did not stay in my room during all of my downtime. I did not get angry at myself each time I slept past my alarm (often). I did not beat myself up about not having plans. I did not fixate on my closet (at least, not more than usual) or try to find comfort in retail therapy (JK JK I did both those last two, but in the interest of getting rid of things I don’t wear). So, some of my old habits sneaked in, in the form of spending money I don’t have and some social anxiety stuff, but overall I was more present.

Nothing drastically different than what I usually do, but this time I was nicer to myself about it. Just let myself do what I was going to do, without wishing I were somewhere else doing something fancier with more people, more fun, more photos or more gifts. In the interest of doing/getting more of what I need, I called people. I wrote and mailed letters, gave myself permission to watch Netflix, snuggled with my cats, and read some books. I enjoyed spending time with my mom and brother during their visit (and picked fewer fights than usual). I made my New Year’s Eve plan on New Year’s Eve and though I only knew one person there, it turned out to be great because that one person is a great friend. When I’m feeling like I don’t want to/need not to be alone, I only need to reach out to my people and be honest with them (hard for people who want to be self-reliant/independent).

My holidays may have been at times great or quiet, but they certainly were not perfect.  They were indicative of real life and the pleasures and pains that arise from it. While the rest of the world is feeling like “back to work, aka real life,” I:

  • a) don’t have to go back to work yet–don’t be jealous, as I would LOVE TO. Seriously, if you have something you will pay me to do, I am ALL EARS. Especially if it is cleaning out your closet, because that is one of my passions in life. I would also do this for free lol
  • b) never left real life.

The holidays were the affirmation and reboot I needed, proof that I am making baby steps towards being a better family member and less anxious, more fulfilled human (though still obviously have plenty of work to do).

As I mentioned, I frequently judge myself for not having plans/staying in. During these times, my room felt more like a cave. Yesterday, I happened to look up, and I saw that one of the bulbs in the light fixture had burned out. It undoubtedly has been out for months but I was too depressed/didn’t pay enough attention to investigate/find a solution.

There may not be a better symbol for 2018. The room (and year) is already looking a little brighter.

anxiety, be a better human, judgment, kindness, social media, writing

Being 30 on Facebook

Not long ago, our public library did a large renovation and an entire floor was completely closed and furniture dispersed. This displacement meant that the computers were now in a more central space near the entrance. This more prominent location meant there was far less inappropriate viewing behavior, ie. anything you wouldn’t want someone accidentally viewing over your shoulder. I’ll leave that to your imagination. That said, there are many regulars who tend to sit at the computers for lengths of time. One of them spends his internet time arguing with people in the comments sections on Facebook. Unclear whether he ever knows the people he’s debating, but he gets heated. When he gets heated, he either 1) slams his fingers onto the keyboard, loudly or 2) hums, loudly or 3) hums, loudly and aggressively. When I say loudly, I mean audible from a great distance. He knows he does these things, and library staff (librarians and building monitors alike) have spoken to him many times about respecting the library computers and not disrupting fellow customers.

Another repeat customer I helped with his resume similarly had a volume modulation issue. Upon seeing me when he walked in, he would somehow not knowingly shout “HEY! TEACHER LADY! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? CAN YOU HELP ME WHEN YOU GET A SECOND?” I generally love working on resumes, but always felt a prickly sense of dread and wished that I hadn’t told him that I worked at a nearby school too.

Hip to the noise concerns of many customers, I was not the only one who felt dread and anger rise when certain customers spoke/shouted/watched videos without headphones. But as much as I despise those anxiety-inducing behaviors, one day I was proud of them.

A well-dressed middle aged white woman asked me a question at the desk, and, glancing at the row of people using computers, she asked me with a plain sense of disgust, “what are they doing on the computers?”

Pretending to be confused, I responded, “anything that you would need a computer to do…”

She scoffed. “But, why here? Don’t they have computers at home?”

Now, I didn’t have to pretend to be confused. Did this lady really just ask me that?

As calmly as I could, I said, “maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but we have them in order for people to use them.”

She accepted this, walked away, and I feared my explanation did nothing to pull her from her cozy privilege cocoon.

Some people do not have computers at home. Maybe they have one, but don’t have internet. Maybe they don’t have air conditioning, and don’t want to sit in their home as they apply for jobs for hours. Maybe they are using our databases to do genealogical research, or print out their boarding passes, or print out really anything! I was outraged that this woman had been so blatantly judgmental at the “riff-raff” who sit at the public computers, because it is their right to do so! The public library is for everyone! That is literally the point of our existence!

Now, though I do not myself spend time on Facebook at the library, I spend plenty of time on it at home. Last week, I did something that I ordinarily hate: I wrote about my feelings and shared it on Facebook. My perception of people who do this is that they are attention-seeking, craving validation, and emoting for emoting’s sake. Oversharers.

My intention was much simpler: I hadn’t felt like posting anything in two weeks, when I generally try to write at least once per week, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about except being sad. Didn’t even bother tying it to anything library-related. It was an off-brand, atypically personal post. And, I want to address the phrase “lightly depressed” that I used. I was not talking about the past two weeks of crying over my failed relationship. It had been a while since I was just plain sad about something specific, and I didn’t distinguish it as a separate entity from depression. Being sad can exist away from depression. I used that phrase not to diminish depression, because the point of depression is that it is not finite; it permeates through time and darkens joy. Depression is when you can’t climb out of the dark cloud. When I used the phrase lightly depressed, I meant my tendency of the last two years to say no rather than yes, to stay in rather than do any activity out of the house, to remain stationary when I needed to get up and moving my body. Functional depression, as I could always go to work, make dinner plans with friends and take trips to friends’ weddings. I wasn’t trapped in my bed for days, pondering the meaninglessness of life and futility of love like I have before. I just didn’t want to go to the grocery store or cook.

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And Facebook is not the place to be when you are depressed. As a 30-year-old, I see a feed of baby photos, engagement announcements, weddings, pregnancy/career milestones and gorgeous views from hikes and vacations with smiling significant others. As I read in (the fantastic) America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman, people are likely to share the highlights of their lives on social media rather than the struggles, proclaiming their happiness and picture-perfect, filtered lives. The sense of inadequacy I feel when I see acquaintances’ posts is enough to make me want to leave Facebook. The happy is brilliant, blinding, and I can’t help but compare my circumstances unfavorably. And I did so, successfully deactivating for around a month in the fall. (I reactivated before my birthday so I could collect the yearly messages.)

The added nonsense of violated privacy agreements and Russian meddling and all the political posts (of which I am very guilty of sharing with many expletives) has prompted me to legitimately defend to myself why I am still using the site. Once, I wanted to hoard the photo documentation of years of my life, since people my age don’t generally have photo albums that aren’t digital. Now, I am moving toward cultivating non-attachment, so should be willing to let go of this (possibly vain and controlling) desire for a digital footprint.

But, now I have this blog, and I predominantly share it with my Facebook network. As a digital tree in the woods, if a blog is written but Facebook friends aren’t there to click on it, does it have a readership? There are ways to follow my blog (scroll up on the page and the word “follow” appears at the bottom right–click it!), but I want people to read what I write, and so don’t want to deactivate and lose the visibility.

Plus, the reaction I got from friends and family last week was pure and good. Many reached out, because as much as I can turtle and not want to talk about Feelings, I have an awesome support network who are there to help. An analog network, away from the internets.

So, thank you for that, reader-friends/loved ones! After a weekend accidentally spent completely analog and instead with stationery, meals with girl friends, meditation and reading in the park–as well as a brief surprise visit by Spring, I’m back in the writing saddle. And dedicated to using Facebook for its merits: connecting with a broad group of cool people I somehow know.