Happy New Year, readers! The adventure(?) that was 2017 has ended, and 2018 has begun. Last year was a rough one on a global level, but while my generalized anxiety reached new heights, I can’t say it was a terrible year for me personally. Sure, I didn’t knit as much as I usually do and I spent a lot of the year feeling an overwhelmingly hopeless sense of doom…but I also strengthened some really meaningful friendships, went to Song School, wrote 20 new songs…and I survived. A lot of pieces of my life that felt chaotic and unsettled for a long time have calmed down significantly, to the point where I feel like I’m coming out of survival/energy conservation mode and into a place where I can DO things.
Which brings me to the point of this first post of 2018. I don’t do a lot with concrete resolutions, but I’ve liked the idea that I’ve seen of choosing a word with which to frame the new year. My word for 2018: Action. I am still sussing out exactly what that means for my year, but I know it means a few things for sure:
- Taking better care of my mental health, particularly in terms of anxiety. I am back in therapy with a new therapist, and my goal is to work on finding better coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with the anxiety that has become a constant under the current political administration in the U.S. I’ve identified some triggers and some key areas where I shut down, and while I know this will be hard work, I am at a point where I feel like I can do it.
- Taking better care of myself physically. I’ve started physical therapy for my right knee, which has been acting up since Thanksgiving, and as long as I keep up with the exercises, it really does help. Today I’m going to the doctor to follow up on some high blood pressure results from the last time I was there. I have a few other longstanding issues that I want to work on, too (chronic pain, follow-up on some issues I had before we moved to Chicago that should probably be checked out).
- Being more politically active. I want to call congresspeople, and be involved in local politics somehow, and stay outraged and stay active. Because this nightmare of an administration isn’t going away on its own. I can’t do everything, I can’t fix it all, but what little bit is in my control, I feel like I need to follow through on.
The brilliant S. Bear Bergman wrote a really wonderful bit about this in his Ask Bear column this week, and you should read it here if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed here at the start of 2018. Here’s to tackling this new year “bird by bird” (to quote Anne Lamott), or “one penguin at a time” (to quote Bear’s article). We can only do what we can do. For myself, that means better self-care and more external action. Inertia is hard to overcome, but it’s time.
Yesterday was a rough news day here in the US, particularly for those of us who are trans, as we learned of 45’s intention to ban transgender people from serving in the military, ostensibly because our healthcare costs are too much of a burden.
First off, this is bullshit for a lot of reasons. 45 spends more on his trips to Mar-A-Lago than the military would spend on trans healthcare. The military spent ten times more on Viagra in 2014 than the high end of estimates of what healthcare for trans service members would cost. Estimating generously, trans healthcare would take up, at most 0.14% of the military’s healthcare budget. (Teen Vogue, who are delightfully leading the charge in the media revolution, aggregated some of this great info [which I also saw several other places] here.)
I’ll be honest: I think we spend entirely too much money on the military (or at least that we spend the money in the wrong way, when we focus on warmongering rather than caring for veterans in the aftermath of what we’ve put them through). But I’m afraid for the 10,000+ trans folks currently serving in the military. I’m afraid for trans veterans. And I’m afraid for trans folks in general, military aside.
Because, here’s the thing: arguing that trans healthcare is too much of a burden for the bloated military budget to handle is only a short hop away from arguing that trans healthcare is too costly, period. As we watch Congress attempt to systematically dismantle the ACA and take healthcare away from millions of Americans, it’s not hard to imagine the GOP using this as a further selling point with their base. Because of the systemic oppression faced by trans people (particularly trans people of color), trans folks already often struggle to obtain and afford affirming healthcare. This is only going to make it harder.
Trans people are not a burden. Treating us as human beings and affirming our identities is not a burden. But as I look at 45 and his fear- and hate-mongering, I find myself wishing that I could be a burden on his conscience. Sadly, to do that, he would need a conscience.
It’s been another week, and there’s been more awful things going on in the world. According to the Washington Post Fact-Checker, every single day of the current regime has brought with it a slew of lies (and these are just from the Dorito-in-Chief himself). Which is unsurprising, but, you know, horrifying. It’s also been in the upper 50s-60s Fahrenheit. In Chicago (and it was in Minnesota, too, when we were there over the weekend). In February. But don’t worry, our government no longer believes that climate change is real, so it’s fine, right? (Deep breaths, deep breaths…)
Still, life goes on (for now), so I’m trying to make the most of it. Here are some of the things that have made life a little more manageable in the past week:
- On the recommendation of S. Bear Bergman, who decided he wanted to be able to get some news to start his day without getting inundated by it on Facebook first thing in the morning, I subscribed to theSkimm. It’s a little email digest that hits your inbox first thing each weekday morning and gives you some of the major news items of the previous day. It’s helped me feel like I’m in the loop without feeling the need to start my day off miserable by reading everything on social media, and that’s been really helpful.
- I’ve been writing a lot. Much of this had to do with this week’s assignment from my songwriting class (part of which stipulated that we sat down and freewrote for half an hour three days in a row). A lot of what I wrote for the assignment had to do with Liberty and Justice and how we’re failing to honor those values that we tend to think of as being core to what America is. It was cathartic, even if I feel like the end product fell a little short of where I wanted it to.
- I’ve picked up embroidery again, for the first time in about a decade. (When I was recovering from getting my wisdom teeth out in high school, my mother sat me down with an embroidery hoop, a tea towel, a pattern, and some thread to keep me entertained and out of trouble. I picked it up a couple of times after that, and always enjoyed it, but didn’t take any of that stuff with me when I moved to Chicago.) I bought a dozen handkerchiefs and some iron-on transfers and am enjoying how fast it is, particularly compared to knitting. (Not that I have any intention to give up knitting, but the instant gratification is a nice change of pace sometimes.) Here’s my first finished object:
a little green leaf embroidered onto a white handkerchief corner
So tell me, friends, what are you doing to make things bearable for yourselves these days?
I’m exhausted. It’s been less than two weeks since our new president was sworn into office, and the whole time has been a never-ending deluge of bad news. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next handful of years with this ever-present knot in my stomach (not to mention the knots in my neck and shoulders and elsewhere in my body).
I’m struggling to find balance. I want to stay informed, about the resistance and the things we’re resisting. And I want to help spread information around. But I feel like I’m so inundated with information every time I open Facebook or go pretty much anywhere else on the internet that I just end up paralyzed.
I feel guilty about this mental paralysis, too. Because I recognize that I have a lot of privilege, and the ability to take time to feel paralyzed and not act is, in itself, a privilege. Yes, I struggle with anxiety and I’m Bipolar and deal with chronic pain, and those all have an impact on my ability to react to things productively. But I wish I was doing a better job, and I know that wishing doesn’t count for much, really.
The sheer number of different destructive things this new administration is doing is, to put it mildly, overwhelming. I know that I’m only likely to be able to stay on top of two or three issues at once, but I care about all of them, dammit, and they’re all related, really, because they’re all human issues. Picking a place to focus feels like I’m letting down whatever group I didn’t pick, and there are few things that get under my skin like feeling as though I’m a disappointment.
I added this article to the end of last week’s post, but I feel like I need to keep rereading it to keep from going completely mad, so I’m sharing it with you all again: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind.
It’s been an anxious week. I got some good news on a personal front (that isn’t official enough to fully announce here yet, sorry), but the time leading up to that news was extraordinarily stressful. And the actions of the Dorito-in-Chief in his first week in office have been nothing short of horrifying.
I’m struggling to balance my intake and output of news-related information on social media, as well as the effect of that input and output on my mental health and general ability to function in my daily life. As a white dude, I have immense amounts of privilege that I want to leverage for good. To do that, I need to stay informed, and use my voice in the hope that I can help to inform other people. However, I also deal with chronic pain, anxiety, and the joys of being Bipolar, which means that the deluge of horrible news can be particularly paralyzing.
I don’t have answers for this yet, but I’m looking for them. I’m taking steps to get my life more organized, and am trying to exercise other methods of anxiety mitigation as well. Despite the fact that the last week has been more than a bit of a political dumpster fire, I’m determined to do what I can to make 2017 a year of forming better habits and breaking out of unhealthy patterns. I’ve struggled in the past to do this for my own sake, but I’m hoping the sense of urgency I feel now to reach out and create change in the world around me helps to propel me on to greater success.
There’s no point in lying and saying I’m super hopeful, because I’m not. I’m struggling with some pretty crushing despair and questioning where we’ll be as a nation in four years, or if we’ll be anywhere at all. But I’m clinging desperately to the hope that this is a wake-up call for a lot of people, not just for me, and to the belief that We The People are stronger than any attempt at autocracy.
Hang in there, folks. And stay alive. Sometimes that’s the greatest revolutionary act we’re capable of.
Edited to add: my partner pointed me to this article yesterday that is related to all of this and was really helpful to me. I hope you also find it useful: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind.
Well, folks, it appears it really is happening. Tomorrow, a thin-skinned, grossly underqualified, misogynistic, xenophobic nightmare is being inaugurated as President of the United States of America. I’m terrified, and I have relatively little to fear. I have spent a large portion of 2017 in denial. I have not been good at getting off my ass and doing anything about the growing nausea and terror within me.
I plan to join the Women’s March in Chicago this weekend. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of marching with that many other people, but I’m going to do it anyway. And after that? I’m going to look for ways to get involved in local political movements, because that is where you and I have the most power.
If you’re feeling hopeless and paralyzed, I get it. I’m struggling with the same feelings, and it’s really, really hard to push past that. But we owe it to ourselves, and to our fellow human beings, to try. It may feel like the apocalypse is imminent, but all signs point to this being a reality that’s going to be here for a while, so we need to do what we can to keep fighting. I’ve decided that giving up is not an option.
I’ve seen a bunch of helpful and empowering articles and videos around the internet the past few days. Here are a handful of them:
The post-holiday plague that I managed to come down with last week is continuing. I didn’t make it into the office at all last week. I worked from home Thursday, Friday, and Monday; I made it into the office on Tuesday, but just barely. I’m definitely improving, but it’s slow going.
Monday night, I had a gig. By the time I got sick, it was too close to the gig to try to get out of it, and I really wanted to go, anyway. I practiced over the weekend, and prayed I could get through the 25 minute set without going into a coughing fit.
It started off a little rocky. I felt shaky, and not just from the usually performance-induced butterflies. But as I continued to play and to sing, I felt myself falling into a groove. The longer I pushed through, the easier it got to keep going. By the end, I felt pretty good about how the whole thing went. As soon as I sat back down to listen to the rest of the performers, of course, I felt completely wretched. But what I want to focus on is the idea that doing the work is what makes the work easier to do.
I feel like this is going to be an important lesson to remember as the year wears on. There is no pretty picture to paint about the political landscape of America right now. There’s a lot of work to be done. I feel totally overwhelmed by it. But if I can just push through and take the first few steps toward sustainable action, the sense of overwhelm will, if not lessen, become easier to deal with. Just like practice improves ability at anything else, forcing myself out of my comfort zone repeatedly will expand what’s included in my comfort zone.
I’m not saying that I’m doing a good job of applying this lesson right now, because I’m not. But it’s a thing I’m going to work on. I hope you’ll join me.
I’m writing this Wednesday morning, as I work from home and try to process the fact that Donald Trump was just elected as President of the United States.
I posted on Facebook earlier that I have wanted my whole life to believe that people are basically good, but that this election is causing me to call that into question more than I ever have before. This should not have been a close race. A blustering white supremacist who brags about sexually assaulting women should never have even been in the running. But this is reality for all of us now. And if I listen and pay attention, I can see that the terror that’s trying to defeat me today is a terror that a lot of people (particularly anyone who’s not a white, cisgender male) were facing long before Tuesday night. Trump didn’t win out of nowhere. These societal rifts have existed for a long time; this election has just brought to light a lot of ugliness that we (white people in particular) have been all to willing to turn a blind eye to. The fact that it currently appears that Hillary won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote doesn’t change this.
It’s scary out there. I want to hide. I’m fighting back tears every few minutes. My impulse when I’m afraid is often to shut down.
But I can’t do that. Yes, I am queer and trans, and I have personal concerns in this political climate. But I am a white person who operates in the world as a man, and that means this is all going to affect me less than it will affect many other people. I have a responsibility to stand up for those people more adversely affected than myself.
To all of you out there who are Black, or Latinx, or Muslim, or Jewish…to all of you who are disabled…to all of you who are women, or non-binary, or somewhere in between…to everyone who feels not only disenfranchised by these election results but also afraid for your safety as you move through the world: I see you, I love you, and I stand with you. I am not perfect, and I am non-confrontational by nature, but I intend to do everything in my power to stand up for you at any opportunity. I am going to do my best to remember that although I am afraid, your worth as fellow human beings is far more important and powerful than that fear. I’m seeing a lot of #LoveTrumpsHate going around, but that’s only true if people in positions of privilege get off our asses and work to level the playing field.
Sorry for the late post today, folks; it’s been a bit of a nutty week, and I kind of lost track of what day it was.
- New England was great. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was lovely, I bought some gorgeous local yarn, I got to eat a lobster for the first time in my life, and I checked three new states off my list of places I’ve visited. There were a few hiccups along the way (including a horrifying moment where I brushed something off my cheek only to discover that IT WAS A JUMPING SPIDER), but for the most part, it was a really nice weekend away.
- I’m pretty annoyed with my country right now. Yeah, tomorrow is Independence Day and patriotism abounds, but the recent SCOTUS decisions allowing corporations to deny women’s health coverage on religious grounds and overturning the abortion clinic buffer zone law in Massachusetts are beyond maddening. The Hobby Lobby case in particular is causing all sorts of problems, and is going to keep causing them: If a corporation can deny health coverage on religious grounds, it’s not a great leap to allow them to discriminate against certain groups of people in their hiring practices, either.
- Aside from that frustration, though, I’m getting back to a better mental place. I’m still on the low end of this Bipolar cycle, but I’m not struggling as much to focus as I was last week. I feel like I’m actually accomplishing things at work. Things feel a little less hopeless than they did two weeks ago.
- On Monday, there were some pretty outrageous storms in Chicago. At one point, we had an enormous flash of lightning and immediate crash of thunder directly over our building (there was a lot of jumping and swearing in our apartment, and a car alarm outside started going off, it was that loud). Our internet went out. It’s not back yet. After two calls to our ISP, it looked like the problem was the router, so I ordered a new one and had it rushed to our house. I discovered when attempting to set it up last night, however, that it’s actually the modem that’s not working: the ISP can see the modem is connected, and they can reset it, but nothing comes through on our end. It is a little embarrassing how frustrating this has been. Being limited to internet just on my phone makes me cranky, apparently.
- Due to an unexpected change in her plans, my best friend will now be visiting us this weekend! I am unbelievably excited. We don’t see nearly enough of this human, and in fact yesterday we were bemoaning the fact that it had been too long since the last time we hung out with her. It is rare to find a friend I can have over without feeling pressured to entertain, and I am excited for a weekend of low-pressure hangouts with one of my favorite people in all the world.