beTTer

[3-min read] I’m a little embarrassed about this. It’s not the sort of thing I would typically share. Up until the past couple years, I prided myself on my ability to function as if I had no problems. Nothing got to me – physically or emotionally. I could have a migraine, or someone could have unexpectedly betrayed me, or I could be spitting mad at myself for not handling a conversation like I wanted and you would never know. “I had no idea,” you would say when I told you. You wouldn’t believe the rage I’ve whistled my way through rather than exposing my feelings. Anyway, here it is: This evening I’m joining the Permission to Feel book club. Permission to Feel is the book. The only book. It’s a club about feeling. My imagined reaction of yours is a big reason Marc Brackett wrote the book. Ugh. Gross. You’ve turned into one of them.

Brackett knows I often view feelings as an inconvenience. Also, the last thing I want to seem is weak and definitely not vulnerable (bear with me, Brené Brown). It’s not like I haven’t felt anything lately. I’m feeling like I’ve felt way too much this past year, past four years, my life. In reality, I’ve spent more effort trying to shove aside anything but joy or positive enthusiasm, than I’ve allowed myself to feel something uncomfortable. It’s a family trait. I come by it honest. If I’m not feeling gratitude and optimism, I must be ungrateful and that, my friends, is shameful.

Can you imagine? Can you even imagine a life-long struggle with feeling guilt about not feeling only gratitude and optimism? About these past few years? About 2020? What a tragic waste of energy that guilt is. And it does take energy. It also leaves me susceptible to feeling what everyone else is feeling, which means not feeling what I’m feeling and letting the mood of the collective bring me down when I’m not. These days, what precious moments are those when I’m not feeling down.

I’m several chapters into the book and a great point it makes is that simply labeling our feelings legitimizes them. It gives us permission to feel them – hello, book title! The act of giving ourselves permission to feel our feelings can be a tremendous unburdening.

I think it’s already working. Sure, some global things feel like they’re slowly changing for the better. That and this feeling experiment are what I’m crediting for how I’ve recently, occasionally, spontaneously burst into song indoors and out. (Apologies to the neighbors. A singing voice is not my gift.) I’ve had a couple giggle fits. Allowing myself to feel authentically means feeling the bad and the good richly. So yeah, I’m doing this feely book club thing. Judge me if you must.

oNe iN thrEE

[4 min read] I decided to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I posted on social media that it was out of respect for beyond-physically-and-mentally exhausted healthcare, first responder, frontline and mental health workers. Full disclosure: I had already decided not to travel because my husband and I both have a little asthma and our family is in Wisconsin, where COVID numbers were blowing up in October. No way could we resist bear-hugging our grand-niece, who’s been attending school. Then I heard a news report that the most recent spike in the pandemic wasn’t deterring folks from traveling and mingling over the holiday. I needed to do something to support the people who will suffer, arguably, as much as anyone who lives to regret mingling. Or knows someone who will die.

Periodically, I’ve checked articles about the Spanish Flu of 1918 to compare with COVID. It’s eerie – exceptionally eerie – how similar the circumstances are and how people’s actions then are mirrored now. Of the world population, one in three people contracted the Spanish Flu. Around 675,000 Americans died. As of November 30, the US is past a third of the way to that number of COVID deaths, and rapidly climbing.

In one article, Brittany Hutchinson, an Assistant Curator at the Chicago History Museum says that back in November, 1918, concerned citizens urged for “putting the smallness of the individual into perspective with the vastness of humanity.” One hundred years later, we haven’t changed. Concerned groups are still urging and less-concerned folks are less cautious.

It’s been forever since we saw our loved ones in-person. A good conversation with one finds me lying awake at night aware of a heart so full, it might burst – a feeling I might not have honored in the past. We’re lonely. I get the same adrenaline rush from a social interaction with a barista or Farmers Market vendor that racing down a mountain on skis or a bike would give me. We’re bored. We’re so over all the restrictions. While there is flickering light at the end of this long tunnel in the form of a vaccine, it’s elusive. It will still be a while before we get the sort of respite we needed, like, yesterday.

Missing out this year on a Thanksgiving with friends or family reminds me of the year after I had ACL reconstructive surgery. I missed out on a lot. I went on a short ski vacation with my husband and a couple of our nephews and their wives. I thought I would be okay, especially since one of the wives didn’t want to ski. It sucked so bad. Three mornings in a row, I did my PT routine alone in the fitness center staring out at the slopes, tears sliding down my cheeks. I was cranky the whole weekend. For over a season, I missed out on social group bike rides and post-ride libations. It was a lonely year. I learned to appreciate a slower pace and simpler thrills.

Eventually, I could dabble in a semblance of my previous active lifestyle. For the sake of a successful recovery, I didn’t push it. I wouldn’t risk re-injury for one day of fun, no matter how desperate I was. I had been through too much, worked so hard, been disciplined. I wanted to fully experience the reward of confidence in my strength when the time finally arrived to enjoy challenging activities again.

We’ve been through too much. We’ve sacrificed so much. But we aren’t hard-wired to opt for the long-term reward. If we haven’t had COVID or personally know someone who has died, we’re tempted to roll the dice for a little gratification sooner. It was the same in 1918. People celebrated the end of WWI and the winter holidays in group gatherings, often unmasked. The Spanish Flu ravaged the U.S. a third time in January.

What I appreciate most about COVID being a global pandemic is that it forces the consideration of individual action against the paradigm of “the vastness of humanity,” regardless of which country we live in. This human experience is universal.

Here is where the paths diverge: Around the summer of 1919, before a vaccine was developed, the Spanish Flu essentially had run its course.

If only we could be so lucky.

tHErAPEutIC

“Are you settling in?” It’s a common question from faraway family and friends. I hate to cause them concern, but I am not settling in. I don’t like admitting it because I brought this major change on myself and I want to be right about my assertion that I would love living in Minneapolis. I love Minneapolis! Right after it snows – it has already snowed hard – the sidewalks are shoveled to maintain neighborhood walkability! And if Lizzo says it’s “magnetic” and “really cool,” it’s really cool. But I am not settled.

I have a hangover sense of having no home. It stems from moving out of my Albuquerque house sooner than planned; staying in a Sante Fe casita (it was lovely) rather than with Albuquerque friends, as originally planned; temporarily living in a basement in Minneapolis; sleeping on an inflatable mattress after my husband and I first bought our condo. It’s a little melodramatic. The reality is, we’re getting the bathroom remodeled partly by choice and partly by necessity. Just as we were beginning to establish a sense of familiarity in the condo, it was time to pack up and move to a rental to spend the winter holiday season somewhere unfamiliar. We have moved out and into somewhere new four times in eight months.

There’s the physical sense of settled and there’s being emotionally settled. Too much is still unpredictable and complexly layered. I was working past the emotional crazy vicariously through the young kids next door, who occasionally scream at the top of their teeny lungs like they’re recording for the “Let It Out,” release your scream campaign of Iceland. I want to scream like that. Once a week, the woman in the condo above ours has a guest over and they laugh hard and shriek and have a raucous time. It sounds therapeutic. A mental health date. I’m envious of that, too.

I haven’t figured out how to cut loose to the extent of my neighbors, but a half-bottle of chardonnay and a good TV show can be a lovely distraction. Toss in the surprise of a house centipede racing across the living room floor at 1.3 feet per second – literally – and you get my husband and me joining in on the neighboring vocal expressions. It was unexpectedly cathartic. Tempted to freak and frazzle out, after a moment to regroup, I reminded us how we used to have frequent black widow visitors in our Albuquerque home. We got this.

I’m also practicing a tactic I used a few years ago, when life presented me with a difficult, unpredictable challenge. I imagined then that things didn’t go badly, because what if something I’m worried about turns out good? Last time around, it happened. Now I try to imagine an outcome better than I could script.

Ask me again in 2021. Fingers-crossed, I’ll be settled. In the meantime, I need to be patient with myself. And kind.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, okay?

CoVIDiNG

[5 min read] It’s a verb, right? To COVID? I’m COVIDing right now, sitting on my yoga mat in my living room, waiting to livestream a yoga class and hoping the person in the condo above me is finished playing piano in time for shavasana. I was COVIDing while I ate breakfast and watched the interview-via-Zoom on 3rd Hour of Today, entirely distracted from what the person was saying by all the book titles behind her. It thrills me to imagine how print book sales are skyrocketing because everyone who’s anyone giving an interview needs a good collection as their background. If I wasn’t so busy COVIDing, I would have wrapped up my own manuscript and book proposal by now, and funneled them off to an agent.

Surreal is the adjective I’ve used most often to describe 2020. Back in March, my husband and I moved from New Mexico to Minneapolis as the pandemic was starting to seem serious in the US, which meant I wasn’t able to hug goodbye friends before I left. No social closure. (COVIDing.) When we first arrived, “home” was a cozy 230-square-foot basement Airbnb. It had everything we needed, like a washing machine drainage sink for washing our dinner dishes and a choice of three chintzy chairs my husband could alternate between to feel less ass-numb as he sat through meeting after remote meeting with coworkers, COVIDing. We had moved to Albuquerque way back when hantavirus was a thing and in 2020, we landed in Minneapolis during a pandemic. Having planned the move for close to a year, it felt magical to succeed regardless.

Anxiety is the noun that punches me in the throat for what I would have deemed no good reason before 2020. Everyone has an interesting story and mine is that we sold everything and moved despite COVID. It might be the most stressful thing I’ve ever done partly because it’s still impossible to feel settled. After my husband and I first arrived in Minnesota, it took about a month to remember to brush my teeth before lunch. My time was consumed with figuring out how to get groceries and lots of red wine in an unfamiliar, locked-down city. I can be obsessive, so in addition to things inherently complicated to accomplish during a pandemic, like buying a car, I would obsess over whether my teeth were going to move if my retainer failed after all the Invisalign torture I’d been through, or what I would do when my special leave-in hair conditioner or zinc supplement ran out. (I know. Trivial sh*t.) It was that the big things could crack me, so my brain picked a couple minor concerns for sustainable torture.

I nearly had a panic attack the second time I had to let a plumber into the condo we purchased, after he told me he didn’t “believe in COVID.” At least he wore a mask, which was especially important because he had to return to swap out our toilet for one that wouldn’t leak sewage into the subfloor of the bathroom. That’s when I noticed how the slightest anxiety gave me a constricting sensation in my throat. Maybe it started with the smell of sewage. Maybe it kicked in just after we emerged from the basement to move into our condo, because George Floyd was murdered and sometimes, I tried to hold back the sobbing. But Every. Single. Thing. about the tragedy was wholly devastating. And the city was under curfew. And I could see helicopters hovering nearby and fires in the distance. Sometimes, I awoke mornings with tears sliding into my ears, heartbroken for my new city, this country, humanity.

It’s October now and apparently, humans even adapt to surreal. Things have become sort of routine. Before I walk out the door, I have a mask routine. When I get groceries, I use my no-cooties unpacking routine. On Friday evenings I have a routine of racking my brain for something to make it feel like a weekend and not just a couple days of COVIDing.

Priorities have inevitably shifted some. I’ve been working hard: to get to know myself differently; focusing more on gratitude and compassion; educating myself, reaching out, donating to progressive causes. Evolving. I tried hard every single day at first, but it was too much and I cracked. Now, I sense the importance of preparing for the long haul. This COVID thing has teeth and they’re all K-9s. I’m certain of ecological magnificence as restorative necessity. Physical and emotional survival. Does that make sense? We are re-learning to crave the spectacular outdoors. There’s a lesson in the reality that we can pool with a crowd indoors and beckon illness or move outdoors into nature and stay more well. One point seems clear: Outside has always been home. And we are most certainly all in it together.

Thank you for indulging me in a silly grammar exercise. Until next time, stay solid.