When Unity Unties

21 years ago a little movie called The Matrix came on scene. From my experience, people either love it or hate it, with very few on the spectrum in between. As a dyed-in-the-wool nerd, there’s some bylaw somewhere stating I have to love it, so thank goodness I did. While the premise is fiction, the commentary on humanity at times is keen and astute.

One of the most thought provoking bits for me came from Agent Smith when he was describing how the matrix works and said this to Neo:

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.’

Pretty bleak view of us as a species, but how far off the mark is it really? Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the idea is at least as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Paradise doesn’t seem to be enough for people. They want to battle, conquer, see more, do more. A never-ending quest for that which is just out of our grasps, but that which we believe is ultimately attainable. Often times though it seems that it’s the very ideal we’ve left in our wakes that we’re reaching toward.

I’ve had the fortune of being on the planet for almost half of a century now. In that time there have come some glorious peaks, but also some soul-darkening valleys. In the darkest of times, there sprouts a sense of unity in humanity to go against whatever adversary is plaguing us or preying upon us. In the US post 9/11 you saw a resurgence of the “United We Stand” motto. It lasted shorter than most honeymoons, however, when it came time to move forward into action. Factions quickly broke off and the mindset quickly shifted to a more “anyone who isn’t with us is against us” feeling.

We’re experiencing it again in the era of COVID. “We’re all in this together” could be heard (and can still) through every radio and television across the world. Everyone joining together to battle the microscopic virus. Front-line heath care workers literally saving lives, sometimes even sacrificing their own in the process. Essential workers stepping up to make sure our day-to-day needs are met, while the rest of us do our part by staying at home and flattening the curve. But once again, the unity untied. Personal interest outweighed public interest and political interest did what it always does…divides us.

Have you ever been on a walk with a friend or a loved one and noticed something off in the distance? You try repeatedly to point it out, even stretching your arm in the general direction, but they still can’t see it? You try other means of communicating where and what it is and they look at you baffled with no signs of recognition? Then out of frustration…you just give up and say “Nevermind.” That’s where I am right now at this very moment.

I have repeatedly tried to throw up sign posts and navigational markers for my friends, and even for total strangers. I’ve tried to get people to see the perspectives of others and that it isn’t as cut and dry as “us” and “them.” It’s all for naught though. People are going to see the world in the way that makes them comfortable. For whatever reason, unity isn’t special enough for some. They want someone to rail against, someone to blame, someone to put beneath their feet to somehow elevate themselves. It’s an ongoing cycle that I, for one, am bone-weary of witnessing.

I’m not giving up on surviving this, or giving up doing my part to make sure it doesn’t devastate my family either physically, emotionally, or financially. I’m just ending my quest for people to see what it is I’m pointing to. My arm is tired. My brain has run out of adjectives. I will continue to write and share my own experiences, but leave out the parts where I attempt to compel. I, like many, need peace. That’s what I’m striving for. And in truth, I’m tired of leaving it to convince others how great it is, only to be fought tooth and nail.

So, as always, I wish you health, happiness, and a hope for a unity in the future that’s tied so tightly that it can’t untie so easily.

Pretty Little Lies

Bill the bard once penned, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Along those lines I proffer that a lie by any other name is just as fact-less. While I’ve had occasion to know a few pathological people who like to lie, I’ve yet to meet someone who enjoys being lied to. If you pay close attention to most any form of media in the era of Covid, you can witness lies on a daily basis. I’m not alone in seeing them, nor am I the first to speak of it, which makes it all the more puzzling when I see how many people are still ingesting them like mother’s milk.

One of the most prevalent seems to be the false dichotomy. I recently witnessed one governor equate re-opening to death. When called out on the comparison he quickly shifted and guaranteed that while it may not mean your own death, it would certainly mean the death of someone else. While that is a distinct possibility for some who may cohabitate with members of the high risk groups, it’s not the inevitable outcome for the majority or even for the minority. In the most recent research I’ve studied, the mortality rate for those under age sixty-five is around 1.4 percent. The Washington Post published an article on April 28th by Joel Achenbach stating, “..when all the serological data is compiled and analyzed, the fatality rate among people who have been infected could be less than 1 percent.” One tiny kernel of truth slipped in the mix of bloated statistics stoking the flames of panic.

When more than two choices exist, an offer of only two is a fancy way of lying

Another false dichotomy running rampant is the propensity for people to use death tolls from wars to show how much worse this illness is. This one on its face alone causes my blood to boil. First off, as a member of family who currently has a brave soldier deployed overseas in a war zone…stop acting like life here is more dangerous than what he faces on a daily basis. Less than half a percent of the US are currently enlisted in the military. If you want an accurate comparison, try taking the number who died in war time and dividing it by the number of people who were serving. For example, 16,000,000 soldiers served in WWII. 1, 076, 245 died. That’s a mortality rate of almost 7 percent. Compare that with 61,504 deaths in the US from the novel virus out of a population of 328,000,000. That’s .018%. Which would you rather face?

Since we’ve delved into the realm of numbers, another pretty little way of lying is by rigging statistics. One favorite quote of mine has been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. In years since some believe this to be an erroneous attribution, but regardless of who said it the sentiment resonates. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics are actually very useful tools when wielded by honest hands. They condense large helpings of data into palatable morsels for the masses to consume. In essence, a straightforward statistical analysis allows any layman to understand a complex concept. The problem lies when experts find ways to skew those statistics in order to support the narrative they want you to believe. Much like the false dichotomy above about wartime casualties, many times an errant comparison is used to accomplish this task.

Early on in the coronavirus crisis this type of lie was aided by using global death rates to exacerbate fears. Hopes in this case were pinned on the fact that no one recognized that not every country has access to first world medical facilities. By adding in the number of deaths in developing countries and third world countries without access to cutting edge medical treatment, fear could be heightened. As the number of deaths have increased, that’s no longer necessary, so they’ve now chosen to merely withhold comparisons altogether. No one is pointing out, as I did above, the total number of deaths juxtaposed with the total population. Nor are they declaring what should be obvious but apparently is not, that population density is a key component. They’re focusing on the worst case scenario in the dense jungle of New York City rather than giving mean rates from across the entire country. If you live in New York City, it’s of course valid for you, but the majority of the US does not reside there or even in a similarly dense locale.

I was shocked earlier today by another manipulation that I came across when looking to the CDC for data surrounding the mortality rate of COVID in the US. The data currently being given is based on ILI or influenza-like illness. Those numbers include pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19 rates. Despite trying to lump in more diseases to skew the statistics, percentages of cases are still decreasing and below baseline and mortality rates are decreasing as well. In correlation, recovery rates are increasing as more is discovered about treatment.

The last lie I want to discuss is the one with the least chance of exposure, or being admitted to: the lies people are telling themselves. In particular the ones people with good intentions are proliferating. Most of us want to be seen as compassionate people, some even want to put the welfare of others at the forefront of their day to day lives. However, if you are sitting from a position of financial comfort, whether it’s because you’ve been deemed essential, work remotely, or are wealthy, you cannot empathize with someone who is not in your position. You can attempt to sympathize, but without the bills piling up in front of you, the growl in your stomach caused by hunger, or the potential loss of the home you’ve established.. you cannot perceive the fear. Your world is largely unaltered, so preaching “musts” to those who aren’t as blessed needs to cease lest you become the new “one-percenters” in the era of COVID.

That’s not a condemnation without judgment against myself. I only recently became aware of my own culpability when a family member who had been essential was furloughed. Thankfully they have enough stashed away that they can ride it out for another few months, but my thoughts went immediately to those who didn’t have that luxury. Condemning someone for wanting to not have their family out on the streets when the worst of this passes is not something any of us should be participating in. As the saying goes, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

The truth of our situation is enough to come to terms with. We don’t need lies, exaggerations, and well-intended scolding to muddy up the waters and impair our perception. If you want people to stop being mistrustful, start by being honest with them.

As always, wishing you health, happiness, and the ability to spot a lie even if it’s wrapped up in a pretty little bow.

Wet-Wired To Adapt

I don’t often borrow worry. Growing up I was raised that tomorrow is never promised, so you train your focus on the day ahead. That’s not to say that you don’t plan, but you should always prepare to hear God laughing if you do. Because of that trait, I find that I’m quite a bit more malleable than many people in my orbit. Many of my friends balk when I don’t get worked up and stressed out over things that are worrying them. Some actually quit speaking to me altogether in stressful times, as they tire quickly of hearing me reply, “Well, it’s not like there’s anything that can be done about it.”

It’s a mistake, however, to dismiss anyone who shares Doris Day’s and my “Que sera, sera” attitude as being unable to comprehend the severity of a situation. Knowing that earthquakes are destructive has nothing to do with the ability to affect change on shifting tectonic plates. Aside from researching where they are least prevalent and choosing to abide in that spot, there’s little more that can be done if Richter scale readings are the source of your angst. Equally, I can understand peoples’ fears of contracting the novel virus, but aside from following the protocols to the letter (which I do) not all of the possibilities of contracting it are left within my control.

I surmise that it’s that lack of control that has much of the populace skittish at the moment. That’s where the analytical realist in me feels lost and detached from much of the world, including some closest to me. If the world shifts on its axis, we’re all toast, but I don’t spend my days worrying if it will. I have other hamster wheels that occupy my neurons regularly, so adding to them doesn’t do me or anyone else any good. It’s all very black and white to me in the sense that it’s broken down in my mind in two distinct camps: can I do anything to change it or is someone or something else at the helm?

With things that fall under the former, I do whatever I can do. Things in the latter category though are largely ignored by me. Maybe it’s conditioned into me after years of tracking political movements and human behavior, but my bar of expectation is un-limboable when it comes to my trust in groups of others making any decisions I’d agree with. If you look at any large group, it’s unlikely you’ll get a consensus on even the weather. One person’s “balmy” is another person’s sweat fest. Heck, a mere ten dentists can’t agree on the best toothpaste to use, so how can one hope to reach a global accord on anything?

What I do know is, we are wet-wired as a species for adaptation. Our brains take in information regularly and use it to assess a situation, evaluate potential actions, and send signals to our bodies to act. For some, it’s second nature and happens without serious effort. For others it requires contemplation, a pros and cons list, hesitation, re-evaluation, and then action. Regardless of the time it takes though, we’re all capable of doing it unless we consciously force ourselves not to.

Standing resolute and immutable has merit in certain situations. If there is a moral law or principle you’re trying to uphold, I can understand the inclination. Contrarianism for its own sake, however, serves little purpose, especially in a pandemic. Far be it from me to prevent anyone from living their life how they choose, but in the same vein…don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work out for you. I’m very justice based and my sympathies rarely incline toward people who expect the same results doers get when they do nothing. This is especially prevalent in my sentiments in regard to re-opening workplaces and stores.

The day before yesterday Governor DeWine laid out the plans for my home state’s re-opening. One of the mandates included was that people working at or entering a business were required to wear masks or some homemade PPE apparatus. The next morning I was online purchasing some washable and reusable coverings. In my head, logic dictated I do so. While I was perusing Amazon though, apparently a large contingent within my state were inundating the governor’s office with emails about their displeasure. Cries of slippery slopes, totalitarianism, and fascism filled the wi-fi waves. Equally loud were the angry retorts from people who felt like it was too soon to even contemplate re-opening. Most of which, I can almost guarantee, are not at the point of feeling the financial pinch.

Neither of these groups seemed inclined to stop and realize what their lack of adaptation would mean for anyone outside of themselves. Again, not shocking considering what we know about human behavior, but disappointing nonetheless. With PPE’s it’s in the name for crying out loud. It’s designed to protect you as a person. And as for not re-opening until there’s a vaccine…that’s not remotely feasible for a huge segment of the population. So, if you don’t want to be required to wear a mask, don’t go in public. If you can afford to live off savings and not work and are fearful of returning, stay home. But if you lie anywhere on the spectrum in between those two extremes…adapt. Do what is within your control to protect yourself, and have faith that the things out of your control will present a scenario that you can adapt to.

As always, wishing you health, less worry, and the ability to adapt. It’s in you.

This Side of the Dirt

I was born into a family of routine one-liners. Mom’s call from the kitchen of “Are you hungry,” would be met with a chorus of “I could eat.” Anyone who asked any other question involving an affirmative response was likely to hear “You bet your sweet bippy!” It didn’t matter that none of us had a clue what a bippy was or what made it sweet, it was what you said. Much like the call and response segments in a church service, everyone knew their lines, and if someone new came into the mix…they learned them quickly and joined right in.

My favorite was always my Dad’s response to some variant of “Good morning. How are you?” Without fail his mildly irreverent retort would be “I woke up on the right side of the dirt, so that’s something.” Having grown up in the hills of West Virginia, this was his folksy way of expressing gratitude for another day of life. It was also a tool to set his focus on the blessings any given day holds.

Each day is a blessing

It seems that until some untimely tragedy or premature death enters our lives, we’re wired to assume each day is a given rather than something to be grateful for. Phrases like SSDD (the second “S” being “stuff” or a swear depending on the strictness of the household) prove the expectation that the sun will rise tomorrow offering the same limited fare, but we’ll be there to drag our feet through it from dawn to dusk. Much like any stereotype or assumption though, breathing life into it through speaking it aloud doesn’t mean it’s true. Often when the stark light of reality meets the rose-colored tint of thought, we recoil.

That reaction is what has followed me so far throughout quarantine…a constant state of recoiling. At first, as I’ve written about before, it was the mandates. Always the hint of a rebellious teenager hidden within my 49 year old frame, I rebuff at anyone telling me what I can or cannot do. The bratty side is small in comparison to my typical authoritarian nature though, so I capitulated. My next jump backwards occurred after the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of March 2020. Still haven’t quite figured out how or why that happened, but happen it did. The idea of people lining their basement or garage walls with rolls upon rolls encased in plastic, while others had to resort to their glove box napkin supply made me shudder.

A veritable treasure trove in times of need.

Then came the nags on social media. Their bounty of free time dedicated to scouring the platform of their choice for any pictures or posts that violate their interpretation of the quarantine policies. Cringe-worthy indeed, especially considering they rarely if ever take into account that the object of their disdain might not be in the same circumstance as they are. So what if your daughter and her husband are essential and have a two year old child and daycares are closed? You aren’t supposed to cross state lines! Thank you for your input, Negative Nelly, but my grandson isn’t old enough to be a latch key kid. I found no argument I offered could sway their black and white view of our circumstances, so I’ve learned that the scroll button is my best course of action.

Most recently there’s been the Grand Re-opening debate. Yet another war of opposing sides where I fall in line with neither. The bittersweet fate of any independent thinker. Screaming and cursing at front line workers is daft…let me just clear that up right away. First of all, they aren’t making the rules. It’s like screaming at the janitor instead of the principal because of school dress code policies. It’s stupid, so stop it. I get that you might be frustrated that your small business is floundering, but direct your concerns to the mayor’s office or the governor’s mansion. Address someone who can actually affect change instead of harassing people who are doing their best in a bad situation.

The optics aren’t the only thing horrible about this.

The other far end of the spectrum doesn’t suit me either. I’m a realist. This shut down can’t go on indefinitely and we need a way to start functioning again. Allowing healthy, non-immunocompromised people who aren’t in the high risk segment of the population seems to be the best course. Keep the PPE measures in place as well as the social distancing. Excuse the segment of the population that is most vulnerable from attendance until it’s shown they have some measure of safety in returning. There is never going to be an All Clear. No Olly Olly Oxen Free to be had. That guarantee of an illness free tomorrow never existed, nor will it now. We need to stop trying to convince ourselves that it did. According to stats from the CDC in 2017, anywhere from 7-8000 people in the US die every day without a pandemic. There is no future death-free world, so kidding ourselves serves no purpose.

What we can do in the meantime is be vigilant, and compliant. We can also realize that in between those far reaching extremes that seem to possess the loudest voices, there is a ton of middle ground to be had. The false dichotomies need to cease so truth and reality can prevail. We can also start being grateful that, for today, we woke up on the right side of the dirt. It’s a gift and a blessing. Treat it like one instead of taking it for granted. As the Good Book says, “We are a mist that appears for a time and then vanishes.” Make sure what you do while you’re here is a benefit rather than a hindrance.

As always, sending hopes that you are well, have a reasonable expectation of safety, and that you’re can find gratitude for being on the right side of the dirt. XOXO

Fighting for Autonomy

They say that anger is a secondary emotion. By “they” I mean the often faceless cadre of professionals with mix and match letters after their names. Those letters denoting a devotion to sitting in lecture halls longer than many of us cared to or could afford. That dedication often confers upon them a freedom from questioning or doubt by the masses. Even so, through my own experience with anger (and my obnoxious need to question everything regardless of who says it) I find it to be a primary emotion lately, and particularly primal.

If I suspend my disbelief, however, and take their collective word for it, then anger stems from fear or sadness. So the obvious follow up question as I try to discover why I’m teeming with rage at the moment is, “What am I afraid of or sad about?”

What’s troubling you today?

When I wrote recently about the stages of grief, a friend of mine pointed out that she hadn’t looked at our quarantining experience as a grieving process. I, on the other hand, see every episode that causes my depression to flare up as a time to mourn. The key for me to get through it is to figure out what loss I’m mourning and why. The big three for me at first blush right now are the loss of freedom, security, and autonomy.

The concept of freedom has been watered down in recent years. It’s used as a catch-all and often politicized mantra. A major component of those inalienable rights of which our forefathers bespoke. Those of us in the US can sometimes take it for granted, because by way of gestational geography, we were born into it. It’s hard to comprehend the lack of something you’ve always possessed until it’s taken away. And much like the young tyke whose lollipop is stolen by a bigger kid on the playground, we cry and fuss and meltdown at the loss. If you look at it closely enough though, only a rare few off-gridders ever truly possess it it. We’re all governed by laws that detail how free we really are at any given moment, so freedom in its broadest sense is therefore born into confinement. Following that line of logic, we’re only having our playing field adjusted slightly, and if you’re deemed “essential” it’s an almost imperceptible loss.

Security, or more pointedly safety, is next on the list and something that’s been tested quite frequently in my lifetime. Those raised in nurturing homes are blessed with it for eighteen years straight and sometimes longer. Sheltered by helicopter parents from the ways of the world, and like Linus from Peanuts we toddle out from under their rotors gripping it tightly in non-blanket form. The myth of it is shattered, however, when we step from the shadow of the blades into full sunlight and our vision is unimpeded. Random acts of violence, illnesses, inebriated drivers, or warring combatants can steal any sense of it from our grasp. So our actual security only exists until it doesn’t. That kind of crapshoot can’t be the underlying fear I’m bucking.

Security blanket STAT

By process of elimination then, it’s the stripping of autonomy that I’m railing against, or to quell my ego…fighting for. It’s a concept that’s often danced around, but rarely do you see it caressed and called by name. Merriam Webster (sorry OED fans) defines it as “self directing freedom and moral independence.” It’s basically the ability to do what you want, when you want. That, my friends, is what has many of us in knots right now, and with social distancing we can’t even hire a masseuse to work them out! The laws of the land have always been in place, so while we don’t necessarily have the total freedom we’re told we possess, we do have the ability to work within those laws on our own terms. Or at least we did.

That imperceptible shift in the playing field lines that I mentioned earlier has actually forced a major shift in our daily lives. Picking up a package left on your front porch has now become an exercise worthy of Chemistry class. How much bleach in conjunction with sunlight over time equates to COVID-free? Our places of refuge outside our four walls are also no longer viable getaways. Stepping into a building with your mouth unfettered by some PPE apparatus is an act of, at minimum, shunning and at peak…ejection from the premises. We no longer have a say in what we wear outside of our domiciles, where we go, or how close we stand to someone. That autonomy, that choice, has been snatched from us. Our lollipop is in the hands of someone with more power than us and our brains are creating their individual Tyler Durdens ready to form Fight Clubs to take it back by force.

Oops, I just broke the first rule of Fight Club!

It appears that the degreed ones were right. My anger may be primal, but it isn’t a primary emotion. It’s stemming from the fear that my autonomy will never be recovered. With no end in sight, my mind is extrapolating my circumstance out to the worst case scenario. One where I no longer get to do what I want, when I want…and that is scary. It’s also sad, which doubles down on their assessment of where anger derives its fuel from.

So the next time the rage bubbles up, rip its mask off. Like Scooby Doo’s band of misfits, we can reveal that it’s not anger that’s been has been chasing us through our hallways. It’s the fear and sadness of these uncertain times. Without access to some scrying mirror or one of Dionne Warwick’s psychic friends, I have no way of predicting how this will all pan out. I do have faith, however, in the adaptability of human beings and in the collective ability of our spirits to find our way back to some sort of peace within ourselves. As ironic as it sounds, peace is what we need to be fighting for.

As always, I wish you health and safety, and now also a prayer for some semblance of peace to quell the fear and sadness.

Stages of Grief, Rinse, Repeat

Since I began the journey of introspection back in my early 40’s, I’ve relied heavily on the stages of grief chart to help analyze where I am in processing a given issue. There are several opinions out there in regard to how many stages there are, but I’m old school and stick with the five: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There have been occasions where I didn’t experience all five, but for the most part, they’ve been tried and true in helping me decipher my emotions and get past life’s obstacles.

As with anything that becomes rote, you stop questioning it and go along with the program out of habit. One less thing to analyze in this world of endless questions, right? With all of this free time on our hands now though, idle minds have unfettered freedom to wander into the under-explored habits…and wander I did. My mind actually took a hike equivalent to summiting Everest.

Where’s a Sherpa when I need one?

I ran through the stages that I had experienced since COVID entered my consciousness. Denial? Check! I had utterly denied that this was anything more major than the flu. That our hyper-focus on the issue was magnifying it to disproportionate levels. Akin to the graphic they use on every program of the virus itself. Blowing it up to the size of a baseball on our screens when in reality it is invisible to the naked eye. Much ado about nothing, as ol’ Bill would say.

Next came the anger. My friend, and as an Aries, my constant companion. Few people see this side of me, but my husband and kids can attest to its existence. I’m constantly railing against some perceived injustice. I like things to be fair, and let’s face it…they rarely are. So I’ll bemoan the government, the lack of compassion in the world, the price of produce. You name it, I’ve groused about it. In this corona realm it was the hyper-stringent mandates put in place by my state’s governor. Funnily enough, he’s being praised now for those same measures. Shows what I know.

Born of Fire

Then came the bargaining. Okay, Governor DeWine, I’ll wash my hands, but I’m not singing “Happy Birthday” while I do it. Deal? Sure, I’ll stock up on a few things, but I’m still going to make my weekly trip to the grocery for perishables. Fair enough? I rarely travel anyway, so your recommendation not to travel is an easy one, sir. But I will need to make the trek to Kentucky every two weeks to care for my grandson. It’s just one day in fourteen, so I’m doing my part.

The shortest of all of them, ironically enough, was the depression. As an introvert by nature, this reclusive life was pretty much my norm anyway. I secretly reveled in not being able to be asked to attend some event that I’d rather avoid. A lunch date you say? Sorry, we’re in quarantine. No can do. The perfect excuse handed to me on a silver platter! It would be rude to refuse a present like that. So despite my diagnosis, depression wasn’t really an issue.

So I sped on my merry way straight into the arms of acceptance. The one thing in the world I could still hug. I churned out blogs, both personal ones and TV recaps at record speed. Bon mots and offerings of hope in the darkness. I wanted to be sure all of my friends on the journey could join me in the Paradise of pacified understanding of all of the benefits this new way of life had to offer. My moment to shine had come, and I could be the introverted Moses leading all of the social extroverts to the new land of Canaan. Manna from Heaven provided for all who’d just listen.

Although s’mores do sound good right now!

Then something strange and unexpected happened. I was getting angry all over again. Miffed at the nitpicking Nellies who had nothing better to do than to nag people for not following mandates to the letter. Annoyed that things like my birthday and plans made months in advance to see Wicked with my granddaughter were now up in smoke. Deeply bothered by the inability to escape the mention of the virus and our circumstance. Every freaking commercial that came on about how we’re all together in this amplified my frustration. In my head I was screaming, “shut up…Shut Up…SHUT UP! Stop talking about it already!”

If Nancy doesn’t know by now to social distance and wash her hands, then screw her. If Fred wants to go out without a mask on and risk his own health…let him. If he winds up on a ventilator, well, he asked for it. Darwinian survival of the fittest in action. Vicious and vile thoughts about people were piling up and I barely recognized myself. What was happening to me? I had already processed these emotions step by step. Did I not delve into them thoroughly enough? Am I some medical anomaly that they no longer apply to thanks to my depression? So. Many. Questions.

I don’t have the answers yet, so I can’t wrap this up in a shiny box with a sateen bow for you. What I am discovering though is that the stages of grief may not always be linear. In some cases, it’s not unlike shampooing your hair. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed. Apparently with COVID…I need a second go.

As always, I wish you happiness, health, and the freedom to be uniquely you, no matter how many washes it takes. XOXO

To Write or Not To Write

First I want to offer my sincere apologies. My goal in quarantine was to share the positive insights I was gaining as I went along. Then out of nowhere, the dark hit. Not out of nowhere precisely, because there are always precursors, but it felt like it went at the speed of dusk. The watercolor sunset I had been viewing donned a pitch-colored robe replete with clouds that blocked the flashes of light from twinkling stars. But that’s how it goes with depression, right?

Where did the watercolors go?

Our lives are shining beams on the good days, that others can warm themselves by. Because of the sharp contrasts, we’re able to witness it all more vividly than someone whose brain rides that glorious, sought-after happy medium. Being able to witness all the tiny nuances also makes it easier for us to describe the landscape to the residents of Pleasantville. We know their sunny days at seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, so we can relate to them. They, however are blissfully unaware of the storms, the droughts, or the days that the sun shines so brightly that sunglasses aren’t ample protection.

By wanting to only be a light-bringer in these uncertain times, I was doing myself and anyone reading this a disservice. I was setting an unattainable goal not only just for me, but for anyone on the journey of depression. By sitting quietly in the dark and not sharing, others are left alone in that darkness. Some left to ponder if their medications were no longer working, or in the worst cases…people thinking they were doing something wrong by not being able to overcome their dark as easily as others.

So I’ve been battling internally with the decision whether to only share light for those in need, or if I go the “warts and all” approach of sharing the whole picture without the gloss-coating that reflects those amber beams of warmth to the hearts of others. Is light the only need in darkness? Or does truth hold a higher importance in the world?

Looking for direction

Rather than bore, trigger, or upset anyone (and in all honesty, to get myself off the dang hamster wheel of thought) I’ve decided to put the question to anyone who is generous enough with their time to read these. Do you want the whole picture, or do you just need to be lifted up right now? Please be honest with your answer, because I’ve personally decided that I need to write and process, so the only way your decision affects me is when it comes to making my thoughts public by hitting the “publish” button.

You can comment here or on the tweet with the link attached. I appreciate your consideration and as always…I hope you and yours are safe, happy, and healthy.

Spoiled Rotten

Growing up I never considered myself to be spoiled, but my sisters saddled me with the moniker anyway. I think that’s a burden many youngest children bear whether it’s fitting or not. To be honest, from my perspective, it was the complete opposite. They had later bedtimes and a bigger bedroom. My bedroom made Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs look positively palatial. They also got 50 cents a week in allowance when I only got a quarter. True, they had more chores to do, but still. Throughout my childhood nothing could convince them that they had it better, nor could anything convince me that they didn’t.

Me..spoiled? Not compared to Veruca.

When I got married for the first time at the ripe old age of 19, I didn’t feel spoiled either. Barely eking by in a stark walk-up apartment with steel casement windows and hand-me-down furniture didn’t reek of pampering. Most everything we purchased was either second-hand or something we scrimped and saved for to buy new. I didn’t feel deprived, but I certainly had no notions of being blessed.

After that marriage crumbled to pieces, I was forced to take my two young girls and move in with my parents until I could find my financial footing again. Gratitude for their generosity abounded, but in giving up all of my worldly possessions (meager as they were) in exchange for primary custody, I didn’t feel like it was an embarrassment of riches.

I did, however, start to feel more blessed and spoiled when I remarried. I finally had a life partner who was loving and placed me above all else, and I wanted nothing more than to reciprocate in kind. Twenty-one years later I still get razzed by my more feminist of friends for making him breakfast in bed every workday. Little things like that go a long way in reminding someone daily how they are appreciated. I don’t see it as setting back the women’s movement, but rather repaying the kindness he’s shown me for decades.

Even though I was now in a happy environment with my needs being met on a regular basis, I felt like we had it better than some but tougher than most. When we made the decision that I would be a stay-at-home mom, the luxuries that two paychecks afforded flew out the proverbial window. Belt-tightening was in order and sacrifices were made. It was bearable though and provided our children with unfettered access to a taxi driver, a maid, a cook, and a laundress. On par with Cinderella pre-Fairy Godmother. Hardly spoiled.

As the nest emptied, the belt was able to be loosened. Luxuries like ghost hunting paraphernalia and camera equipment came on scene and provide us with some fun hobbies to fill the time that had been freed up now that we were no longer running here and there with the girls’ activities. Everyone had hobbies though. In a world where twenty-somethings can be billionaires by displaying their lives on reality tv and becoming brands, it hardly felt extraordinary.

Enter the pandemic and quarantine. Store shelves that were once stocked to the brim were now barren. Everyday items that we’d assumed would always be there had vanished and become rare and covetable treasures. People were actually posting on social media with glee their toilet paper and hand sanitizer finds. And moreover, their friends and followers were congratulating them! Who could have imagined such a thing a mere six months ago. It would have been laughable to even suggest it then.

The underappreciated bounty

Come to find out, all of my life I had been spoiled. Spoiled with the option of my favorite brand of toilet paper. Pampered with the ability to leave my home whenever I wanted without imminent fear of contracting a possible life-ending illness. Graced with a bounty every time I stepped foot through motion-sensor operated glass doors at the grocery.

Odd that for all of the moments in my life where not only my needs, but my wants were met that it occurs to me now how spoiled rotten I am. I am blessed with good health, and a home in which to shelter in place. I’m the undo beneficiary of the labor of the essential workers keeping the economy going and our lives as normal as possible. And I am graced with the many online friendships I have made that give me an abundance of people with whom I can share experiences.

What a glorious bounty indeed. I only hope that once this time passes and “normal” life resumes again, that I keep the same level of gratitude when I pick up a 6 pack of Brawny paper towels. Not to do so would mean all this was for naught.

As always, I’m wishing you continued good health and safety. For those who are struggling, you have my daily prayers and can always contact me if there is some way I can help you. XOXO

Where Did All Of The Balance Beams Go?

I gaze down the length of the path before me, barely as wide as my foot. The amber-colored wood hewn from a majestic pine has a slight sheen to it, reflecting the gymnasium lights. I take my first steps with all of the grace of newborn giraffe testing its gangly limbs for the first time. With my second step, my arms start to flail and fear sets in. The drop is only 4 feet, but considering my slight eight year old frame, it might as well be a net-less plunge from a high-wire. I recover on my third step, my inner Nadia Comăneci rising to the surface. But I look toward my left on the fourth and go tumbling to the padded blue mat below.

No, I’m not some young Olympic hopeful, though I had admired their graceful exploits in Montreal. I’m just an average young kid in gym class, doing what all my classmates were instructed to do as well. Learning the balance beam. It’s remarkable and somewhat humorous to me that a scant few years later, the apparatus was deemed unsafe. Apparently lightly urethaned wood isn’t the safest surface to walk on, and suede-covered versions were now required. My elementary school ruled in favor of lower liability insurance rates and forgoing replacement costs and banned them altogether.

Never one to be daunted by what I deemed to be the irrational fears of grown-ups, I began a quest for other ways to practice. I’m a Gen X-er after all. We’re most easily recognized by our braggadocio filled memes about surviving a childhood drinking from hoses and riding our bikes without helmets. (It’s likely the head injuries incurred by not using safety equipment that makes us feel this is something in which to take pride.) So I continued my pursuit and found suitable replacements in felled logs and the metal beams still adorning the playground.

Through practice I got pretty good, if I say so myself. Once I found my center of gravity it became a breeze and I barely fell at all. When I did, I convinced myself that the scrapes and bruises were reminders to keep my focus at all times, and to keep my eyes facing forward at all times instead of looking downward or off to the sides.

Mastery created boredom and I began to try other activities. First ballet, then band, languages, and then boys soon followed. My gymnastic dreams were a distant memory now and my life in balance was now filled with pendulum swings. Not quite manic, but the ebbs and flows of joy and defeat that often accompany puberty and life in general.

It wasn’t until my late thirties that the concept of balance reentered my thoughts. Not in a physical sense, but a more behavorial and somewhat esoteric one. I was in the midst of a deep internal struggle between selflessness and selfishness. I had begun caring for an elderly family member. Running errands, doing chores, balancing checkbooks. All of the things that younger bodies and minds are more adept at than those that have been worn down and ravaged by time.

At first it was a symbiotic relationship, and I was getting a sense of usefulness in exchange for my labor. As time progressed, however, my labors were met with greater and greater dissatisfaction. If I spent three hours doing chores and visiting, I was chastised that it should have been four. If I made a cost-saving suggestion that would place the person in a better financial position, it was greeted with resentment and hostility. My sense of usefulness waned and it became drudgery and had morphed into the dark feeling of a parasitic relationship.

Friends and family on the outside looking in deemed me selfless; an angel. Their words did little to allay my growing displeasure. The stress of the situation wound up manifesting itself physically in the form of facial paralysis. My doctor recommended I avoid stress for a while and see if it didn’t improve. There it was…my out, and I pounced on it. I ceased responding to all requests and allowed other family members to take the reins for now. After all, it was their turn, right? I’d been doing it on my own for two years. Surely they could manage it with their combined forces.

As I lightened my load, the incidents of numbness decreased, and then fell away entirely. My doctor had been correct in his assumption, and that should have been answer enough. Then the rumblings began. My halo now had a black patina and was slipping. The kudos for the selfless angelic one fell away and were replaced by how selfish I had become. Only looking out for myself, with no regard for how stopping my aid affected others. I was blindsided.

I decided to pursue the concept of balance again, but what was the mid-point between selflessness and selfishness? Through trial and error and the same commitment to practice I put into learning physical balance, I discovered it. The answer was self-interest. The same mentality that you’ll hear when traveling on an airplane. Put your own oxygen mask on first before coming to the aid of those around you.

It applies just as much to my life today as it did years ago. As we face the pandemic we need to remember the balance between selflessness and selfishness. We can’t be reckless about our own health. We need to take proper precautions. To properly serve others we need to be strong. Neither though can we let our scales tip to the side of selfishness. Hoarding needed supplies or deciding we don’t feel like adhering to the guidelines may not put ourselves at risk, but it’s definitely gambling with the lives of others.

Had the balance beams not been chucked aside in our youth the idea of finding the center may have taken a more deeply rooted hold in our hearts. Then again, sometimes the memory of a fall is just what you need to be more cautious.

Stay strong, blessed, and healthy my friends. We shall rise again, and hopefully with better balance.

No Time For Scold Culture

As I continue to adjust to life in the time of COVID, concepts and ideas that had previously gone unnoticed in my world, now have ample time to take center stage. Our once busy lives filled with work and activities have slowed down for most of us to a snail’s pace. Island time has lost is crown as the most leisurely measure of moments, supplanted by Quarantine time and clock hands with barely perceptible movements.

It never takes much to send me off on some untrodden path of thought. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I’m so focused on the destination, that I don’t see the obstacles or impediments lurking around blind curves or sheltered from sight by soaring timbers. My thought basket was packed in this instance with goodies of gratitude and parcels of positivity. My journey’s course was set for a missive that would hopefully inspire and shine light in our overcast days of uncertainty.

Staying positive and keeping my blessings square in my sights has been a key component for me to remain in a mindset of faith vs. fear. I’ve been especially attuned to how our current situation has unified so many of us. Rich, poor, young, old; we are all in this together. Of course there are degrees of distinction between how deeply each are effected, but if you look at the panoramic view rather than the microscopic…the vista is very similar.

We’re not only finding a sense of unity, but we’re also becoming more connected than I can recall us being in the recent past. Young people phoning their older relatives to make sure their needs are met. Neighborhoods gathering at designated hours for social distancing compliant dance parties. Even entire communities applauding out their windows and doors for the essential workers keeping the world spinning.

The fact that we can create such heartfelt moments in times of tragedy is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. When we work together towards a single purpose we all benefit and make this life something to behold. It’s been moving me to the point of tears regularly.

I’ve always tried to have a heart of gratitude, but the world can beat it down. Sadly, this time has been no different. While basking in the revelry of my fellow citizens of the Earth, a foul stench seeped in. The distinctive scent of arrogance and belittlement. My stomach churned instantly as if stumbling across some decomposing bit of rot while gleefully skipping through the woods.

It permeated my senses and distracted me from my goal. This lurking musk from the wolves of the world. Wolves in their animal form serve a much needed purpose in the circle of life. The lupine-like human versions walking upright, however, hold no noticeable benefit barring Lon Chaney movies or Warren Zevon songs.

Yet there they were, lying in wait, ready to pounce on contentment with a ravenous appetite. The scold culture. The nagging harpies of the world who are always dissatisfied and want your company in their misery. Always willing to divert their beady red eyes away from something that might make them feel grateful or blessed, and hone in instead on the things they can preach about.

The most disappointing fact is, if we allow them to, they can absolutely steal our shine. Coating our surfaces with their murky negativity so the light can neither penetrate, nor reflect and provide light for others. Such was the case for me recently and my charted path took a detour down a much darker bridleway.

At my age I really should know better. Things are never perfect where humanity is concerned. There will always be pitfalls and marshes making the trek more complicated. I allowed myself to get caught up in the why of it though. Why can’t people be grateful? Why is the negative such a draw for their thoughts? Why can they not understand that there are many roads to Rome and that not everyone has to do it exactly the way they do?

It was that last questions that brought me to my theory. The scolds can’t see beyond their own perspective. They don’t take the time to practice empathy, much less introspection. They are completely and thoroughly convinced that they have the only key to the chest of world knowledge and the rest of us are idiots for not following their lead. There is no room for anything out of lockstep adherence and if you dare buck that trend, you will be castigated, trolled, and placed in stocks in the town square for all of their hive-minded friends to toss tomatoes at.

Creativity cannot blossom in an environment like that. Neither can innovation nor growth. The monochromatic landscape of everyone only thinking like everyone else does would be as bland as a barren field in winter. I don’t want to bear witness to a world lacking in the vibrant color of a field of wildflowers. I want to celebrate the midtones and hues of each distinct variety. I want each bud and plant to line the edges of my walk through this life, be it through woods, valleys, or mountainous peaks.

Instead of falling prey to their ways, I should have practiced the preaching that I’ve always adhered to and that I’m wishing that they would as well. Stay the course. Be the light that others can reflect while at the same time reflecting the light of others. Color your world with as the as many choices from the super-sized Crayola boxes that you need to draw your own landscape. Join those shining beacons and colorful artworks together to cast out the negativity and greys to ensure the way is well lit and welcoming. Doing so will guarantee the basket of goodies reaches its destination with a beautiful view while traveling. Even though it seems we have all the time in the world at the moment there is still much good that can be done, so for me there’s never enough time for the distraction of scold culture.