Tag Archives: self-care

M is for Mad

I went to bed anxious last night. I’m sure that I was not the only one—and while I do have personal reasons to be very anxious, my anxiety is nothing compared to that of the protestors, the families who have lost their children, their fathers, their mothers, their cousins, their neighbors, and friends, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, grandparents. Generations of family members lost to the violence and madness of racism.

I woke up mad. Mad about everything: mad that I’ve been cooped up for months now, cut off from life as I once knew it; mad that this country seems hell bent on self-destruction; mad that we don’t have a functional leader; mad that white people cannot seem to wrap their heads around the systemic damage done by centuries of racism. Mad that I had given up my morning runs at my favorite running trail because when lockdown began, people started swarming to the same trail, no one apparently concerned about spreading germs or vectoring the virus. Mad that so many people I know cling to their Facebook accounts; mad that I still post on my Instagram feed even though I know it’s owned by Zuckerberg; mad that he and Sheryl “Lean In” Sandberg refuse to make any changes. I mean, my mad has no end. Or so it seems.

So, I did what I know to do (I’m a therapist, after all, literally schooled in these things): I tried Mindfulness and Meditating. I put down my phone and my computer for two blissful hours yesterday and went kayaking, basking in nature: ducks, herons, turtles, geese.  I felt better in the moment, but today the anxiety returned, so I called my therapist for an emergency session. That helped. Buoyed, I decided to try returning to my favorite trail, for a walk, with a mask. Big Mistake.

Two other people on the trail today were wearing masks. Two! Out of dozens: old people, children, mothers pushing strollers, dads on bikes with their children. I get why runners might not wear a mask—I had trouble breathing through mine while I was walking, but put on something: a bandana, a scarf, a balaclava to pull up when approaching someone.  I started to get mad again.

And then I remembered. I remembered why I had stopped going to my favorite trail (to any trails, really) for the past three months: I cannot control what anyone else does. I decided back on April 1 that I couldn’t keep coming home from my morning runs mad because so many people were suddenly out there. That was defeating the purpose. I remembered, as I felt like screaming at the other walkers today “PUT ON A DAMN MASK!” that I can only be responsible for my actions. As I felt my blood pressure rise, I remembered, that I had made a choice to be here, and if I wanted things to be different, I needed to make a different choice.

So often, when we feel miserable (mad, sad, anxious, depressed, angry, lonely), we look outside of ourselves for both the reasons and for the answers, when in actuality, the key to changing our feelings lies within. We think “if only they would change, life would be better” while we continue to do the same things, over and over and over again, expecting a different result. That, my friends, is madness. We have done the same things over and over and over again in this country. Silence hasn’t worked. Tolerance hasn’t worked. Action might.

I am reminded of a short parable, that I’ll probably butcher, but it goes something like this:

I walked down a street and fell into a hole. (Distress)
The next day, I walked down the street and walked around the hole.  (Anxiety)
Finally, I walked down a different street. (Choice)

Want to stop the madness? Make a different choice.

For some, a different choice is protesting. Standing up, speaking out, marching. For others, a different choice is listening. Listening to understand, not to reply or to defend, but to hear. For others it is donating, writing, making art, singing. Reaching out. Linking arms. Lifting up.

Choose to do something.

As a counselor, I am ethically obligated to stand for social justice, to stand with those who face systemic oppression and disenfranchisement. And I do. I believe Black Lives Matter. I stand with the protestors.

F is for Friends (and Family)

(This is a long one, buckle up).

I am happy I waited (ok, procrastinated) on writing my F blog. I mean, so many F words have been careening around in my head these past weeks; I didn’t want to post a blog that would come back to haunt me. But I have to be real, too. I thought about an F word blog. So much is truly fucked up right now. I would have to be incredibly disingenuous to not acknowledge that a lot of life sucks at this moment.

And. Here we are. We can step into that choice I wrote about earlier. So, I chose to forego the F word blog and write about something more uplifting and hopeful. We can say fuck it, and then we can chose to do something about it.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog:  Friends and Family. I am so grateful for my friends (and family—I am so lucky to be able to call my family members my friends: brother, daughters, parents).

This morning I was up early, awakened by my anxiety, scrolling through the headlines (don’t try this at home), wondering what the F? I had the good sense to pivot to last night’s At Home SNL show before I succumbed to my ennui and inertia. Thankfully, I perked up at Kate McKinnon’s RBG workout skit and Weekend Update. I took heart in Tom Hank’s recovery (money and status notwithstanding).

I was busy envying Tom Hank’s typewriter collection when a message popped across my screen:  Easter at your doorstep it said. My friends had stopped by and left a homemade cinnamon roll on my front porch! And a satsuma! Happy Easter to me. I did not go back to bed, Dear Reader. Now I felt like I might be able to remain upright for the rest of the day. Not long after, my youngest daughter texted me a Happy Easter message, and I sent my eldest daughter video of our ancient cat, Mittens (he’s 19). We shared Mittens stories for most of the morning, back and forth with pictures and memories (yes, he’s still alive, but for how much longer?).

I opened my email to find the poems another friend had promised to send me, and Reader, I swooned to read her breathtaking words, so sharp, so wise, so heartfelt. I found myself on the back porch, Sarah McLachlan blaring on the stereo, tears streaming down my face. And suddenly, a large MEOW. Mittens had stalked me. The old guy can’t find his food dish to save himself, but he can track me down to shatter my reverie? And in the next thought, please don’t die on me buddy. We’ve become an unlikely pair of quarantine friends. Whodda thunk it?

The monotony of the past few weeks has been pleasantly interrupted time and again for virtual meetings with folks, groups of friends scattered across the country, with other pals nearby but oh so far, individuals and groups, former coworkers who have fallen solidly into the friend group, writing friends, friends made vis a vis the writing community. Friends from school. Regular emails from my Dad, texts from my sister-in-law who is at this moment taking care of her father through an illness unrelated to the pandemic in another state, chats and messages with my brother as he navigates the repopulation of his no-longer-empty nest as the college kids return, as if south for some interminable winter.

And between the online sessions (anyone else reminded of Hollywood Squares?), unexpected moments of kindness: salmon and grocery deliveries, neighbors with power tools and the willingness to use them to help me out of a literal jam. Friends making and delivering masks and coaching me through the final part of stitching them up.

So much richness. Such gratitude. And yet, there was a time when I despaired that I would be lonely forever, after what seemed at the time, a lifelong tendency toward false starts and unfortunate choices, not altogether bad, even rewarding in many ways, but not what I had imagined. Not always what was good for me, emotionally, financially, physically. Some choices drove wedges between myself and my family. Some choices healed those rifts. Some of the same choices divided me from friends, estranged lovers, and also brought change, second chances, and mended fences.

Building this community took time, long hard looks at myself and a commitment to be different, to be myself, to learn to like myself enough to make sometimes wrenching decisions. It also took a lot of therapy in order to tolerate the pain of many lonely days, depression, self-doubt, and anxiety. It took being brave, taking chances, reaching out, being vulnerable, sitting with my feelings, writing bad poetry (and some good). It took taking risks.

I remember standing in one therapist’s office and she told me to imagine I was on the edge of an imaginary cliff.  “Your life waits out there,” she said. “When will you be ready to jump?”

Eventually, I did jump. Into a vast sparkling pool of friends I call family and family I can call friends. Take a risk, friends. For yourself.