I've got a lot of questions in the box along the lines of "the world is very scary, how do I keep going?"
And I'm like, HEY GOOD QUESTION.
Last week in therapy...which I'm going to again...I yelled about nuclear war and the sheer stupidity of humans having to deal with Nazis again given all the painstakingly documented stuff we know about them. My therapist said she's reading Man's Search for Meaning and I jokingly asked if we should start a book club and she was like "maybe?" and so I picked it up (I've had a copy forever but never cracked it open) and I am about halfway through and my brain is like, um, Jennifer, this is really unhelpful right now and I'm like um, brain, I agree (we're still in the Holocaust memoir part and we haven't found the meaning yet) and I mean, Holocaust memoirs are very important and I read a ton of them in college especially when I lived in Eastern Europe, I visited the camps, I worked on oral history projects, I studied totalitarian states and how they happen and the ways the regime uses ordinary people to police each other and survivor guilt. I'll always love my sixth grade reading teacher Mrs. Gusky for assigning Elie Wiesel's Night to us. When parents asked her about it and suggested that maybe it was a little bit intense for 12-year-olds, Mrs. Gusky said "Wiesel was 12 when this happened to him, and this happens to 12 year olds all the time in the world, why should your children be safe from knowing about it?" and then she stared down the entire PTA and you better believe that we read Night and The Diary of Anne Frank and I will never forget it. So Holocaust accounts are very important and we should read them and maybe there is no time like now to read them but I don't think I can.
So this week just now I went to therapy and was like, so, Man's Search for Meaning, what do you think so far and my jerk therapist hasn't even started it yet, she's like "I'm so close to the end of American Gods and I just need to finish that before I start something new" and I'm like "So, no book club?" and then we both started laughing and crying a little bit because, the world right now.
I don't know how to keep my shit together right now.
My anxiety and depression meds are not working - have not worked for some time. They are also messing with my sleep schedule and my ability to have a sex drive (RIP, the only two things my body was ever sort of good at) and the truth is I haven't had a solid night's sleep in about three years. I have doctors and insurance (for now, at least), and I'm getting a bunch of health checkups including a sleep study soon - this is not a request for medical recommendations of any kind, more of a State of My Brain at this moment in time, one in which the mind-body connection is not a happy one.
The meds are not working partially because if you haven't noticed there is some stuff to be anxious about in the world. Normally my anxiety is at a Mr. Clippy-level (yes, the Microsoft Office Paperclip that interrupts you all the time), like, I'm trying to live my life and then here's Mr. Clippy in the margins, trying to help but doing it all wrong. My anxiety is like "You seem to be trying to create a mail merge" and I'm like "I am literally never trying to create a mail merge, go away" but now it's like "You read an article about not using hair conditioner in the case of nuclear fallout because it binds the particles to you instead of washing them out" and I'm like minimize MINIMIZE back button oh god if there is a nuclear war please let me just die and not have to worry about hair products ever again but also please let someone from the last presidential administration have sensibly taken the real nuclear football home and hidden it in an unused dorm fridge in his garage in Northern Virginia while we wait out the present regime.
Somewhere in there my friendly, familiar, annoying Mr. Clippy-level of anxiety has morphed into Cappy, my childhood Great Dane who would sometimes get scared of thunder and eat his dog bed. Like, just rip it up into shreds and wolf down most of the pieces and then be like "I'm scared and also where do I sleep now?" If you don't know Great Danes, they are huge, their beds are huge, this dumbass dog would basically eat a twin-sized mattress once a year and no matter how much my parents would want to be like "fine, sleep on the bare floor, maybe you'll learn your lesson!" they'd just buy the poor thing another, hopefully more durable kind of bed. He was a dog. What can you do? Yelling at a dog and hoping really hard that this time it will sink in doesn't teach it anything. Same with my anxiety-dog.
So answering these "How do I keep it together?" questions from readers I feel like I could ask experts or crowdsource the information but how I am feeling right now is so far beyond "try these 10 helpful tips for combatting existential dread!" blog post.
Here's what I know:
- I gotta training montage/Hero's Journey my aching carcass and irritating, overly halpful brain through this somehow. There is no giving up, the sheet cake is a lie, there is only moving forward.
- It's scary and vulnerable to talk about and write about, which means I probably have to talk about it.
- Evil wants us to be sad and scared and paralyzed. It wants us to be isolated and feel like we're the only ones. Being mean to ourselves only serves its ends.
- Channeling the anxiety into action helps, even tiny actions.
- You can spend a lot of time agonizing about the one true perfect action and beating yourself up for not finding it. Just...start somewhere. Start. Do one tiny thing to heal the world. I think my thing is going to be voting rights, voter suppression, rebuilding the Voting Rights Act, making sure every citizen can vote. I can care about other stuff and make calls and protest about other stuff (there's so much stuff!!!!) but I'm going to keep bringing my attention back to voting and voting rights.
- It's better for me when I do these actions with other people, in solidarity with other people and also literally using the buddy system to keep me accountable and help me through.
- It's better for me when I don't listen too hard to people who want to yell at me for caring about things wrong. That doesn't mean tuning out all criticism but it does mean not arguing with the "Why are you focused on ___ when the REAL ISSUE is ____?" people who will suck all of your time away if you let them.
- Reminding myself of the ways I am privileged is important, it's part of the work in how I relate to other people. Using that information to beat myself or vomit that guilt and fragility onto other people up is paralyzing and/or rude. That's not part of the work.
- I felt better after I yelled at/in the direction of my therapist about all the things that terrify me for an hour. Getting the feelings out helped. Giving them names helped. Writing about them helps.
- Reading and looking at and listening to brave, smart, beautiful art helps. My friend Megan's book gave me permission to write this all down today and show it to people, for instance.
- Pretending that I was keeping my shit together was not helping. I have not been keeping my shit together. I am still doing work. I still am loved and love other people. I still have value even when I'm all cracked open. So do you.
I may put this on the blog proper at some point, thanks for letting me workshop it here with you.