breathe

Covid City 13: My Gratitude List

img_4455April 3, 2020, 9:30 am

I started a new practice yesterday: every time an anxious thought intrudes into my mind, I inhale, exhale, look around, and focus in on one thing I am grateful for. Then I do it again, and again, until I feel calm.

You know what? It works.

In this current moment, I am sitting at our dining table while M eats scrambled eggs and strawberries beside me. Dave is cooking pancakes in the kitchen. L is playing games on my phone on the couch. Basil is lying on the hardwood floor at his feet. The cat is sleeping somewhere, probably in my closet. No one is asking for anything from me right now, and so I could check Twitter, scan a news article, or give in to one of the many thoughts swarming my brain.

Instead, I am grateful for:

  • Our continued good health. The facts that none of us are high risk, that COVID-19 goes easy on kids, that no one is injured or in pain right now. It’s a privilege that Dave and I have a home, that we can focus on our family’s emotional process instead of on our physical health, that we’re all able to stay here and go through this together.
  • The past version of myself who went to therapy and worked hard to manage my anxiety. Thank you, young me, for establishing practices that I still use today.
  • My union-protected job. It’s easy to get frustrated by all the bureaucracy and by the assholes abusing power, but I’m glad I have these things to get frustrated about.
  • My immediate boss. Her support, understanding, and flexibility throughout all of this has been huge.
  • Journalists, academics, politicians, and everyone else who is writing and talking about how we can repair our classist, racist, colonialist country.
  • That delicious baby. Squeezing his huge, chunky, squishy thighs is like squeezing those stress-relief balls but with the added bonus of silky baby skin.
  • My precocious preschooler’s sense of humor. He is straight-up hilarious. Not just
    goofy poop jokes but well thought-out, set-up-in-advance, actually funny pranks. Then he laughs with this full-body ripple where he throws his head back and stomps a foot and my heart explodes.
  • The way my husband hugs me.
  • Also the way my husband explains audio technology to L as they set up our at-home recording studio. And then the way L proudly over-annunciates his words when sharing this new knowledge with me.
  • How my old dog cleans baby food off the floor, except for peas.
  • Hot coffee.
  • Cat purrs.
  • The strange cacophony of sound when multiple friends laugh at the same time on Zoom.
  • Sitting on my balcony in the rain, staying dry under its roof while I listen, smell, breathe, and let myself relax a little.b6fa470c-0af0-470f-a6cc-4acfa131e5f2

 

Covid City 11: An Ode to Anger

img_4046Written last night, 3/26/2020, at 9 pm

I am mad today. Really fucking mad. At everything, all of it.

I’m mad that my kid lost his school and his friends and a teacher whom he adored. I’m mad that his fifth birthday party is ruined. I’m mad that his sense of safety has been shattered, that he’s been forced to grow up so much in the past two weeks. I’m mad he won’t ever get this time back.

I’m mad that none of us are sleeping, that no matter what we try, the baby wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and then again at 5 am, bright-eyed and ready to climb bookshelves. I’m mad that his formula, diapers, and wipes are so expensive. I’m mad that for him, life in Covid City is all there is, that he won’t remember a time before this.

I’m mad that my dad, my siblings, my nephews, the whole rest of my family, is far away in Kentucky. I’m mad that my granny is alone in a nursing home, just waiting, watching, wondering.

I’m mad that I still have to work and my husband doesn’t. I’m mad at how my body aches and my brain hurts. I’m mad that we can’t go out to a restaurant or a playground or the Botanic Gardens for our annual romp in the cherry blossoms.

I’m mad that our apartment has only four rooms but that celebrities have mansions with pools and theaters. I’m mad that I’m jealous of them. I’m mad that anyone is living in quarantine with an abuser. I’m mad that so many others are facing this pandemic on the streets, in homeless shelters, locked in detention centers apart from their families, while billionaire landlords are provided mortgage relief. I’m mad that our political leaders are incapable and unethical, and I’m really mad that despite how the coronavirus has exposed this country for the sham it is, so many people are still defending it.

Fucking Wednesdays. Or whatever today is, I don’t even know anymore. Life as a parent on lockdown means there is no weekend. That pisses me off, too.

But you know what’s pissing me off the most right now? The fact that Dave and I are supposed to be packing for our 10-year anniversary trip to Miami. Without kids. To rub salt in the wound: I’m still receiving automated trip-reminder emails from Spirit Airlines. Each ding in my inbox brings me back to how, just one month ago, life as a full-time working mother of two had worn me down so much that the only thing getting me through was the promise of a vacation where my husband and I could rest, recuperate, and relish in each other. Instead of Miami, we get Covid City.

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I don’t have a cheery “but then I did this and was happy” message to wrap up with. I meditated, I ran, I wrote. These things helped, but even now at the end of the day, I’m still edgy. I guess I have to learn how to just be okay with that. I can’t stomp around yelling at my family, but I also can’t pretend I’m not angry. Perhaps part of staying sane in Covid City is letting myself feel whatever comes up. Some days will be positive, others will be angry. I have to just let that be. 

***

Update: I am posting this on Friday morning, and after having slept for six hours straight in a row, I am feeling better. I hope all of you got some sleep, too. My morning meditation self-care goal for today is to walk. Whether it be a simple circle around the apartment, a loop around the block with the dog, or a trip to the beach if I get so lucky, today I want to walk as much as I can.

The Best, the Worst, Here.

Do You Ever Think.jpg

I’ve always held myself to impossibly high standards, standards that I don’t expect from other people. In fact, if someone else makes a mistake, I’m often the first to empathize and offer my support. But when it comes to me, well, I’m supposed to be perfect. Don’t my family, my friends, my students, the world, deserve the best from me?

In the first few months after my mom left her body, when I was so consumed by grief that everything else ceased to matter, I had a major revelation that “the best” doesn’t exist, that it’s just a construct we’ve created that keeps us disconnected from our present reality. During this period of intense grief, I would sometimes think the best choice was to go out with my friends, but then the moment I arrived at the bar, it felt all wrong. Other times it seemed best to stay at home and read, but then I’d cry and feel lonely and wish I’d gone out. Then there were times when whatever I’d chosen, whether it had felt right or wrong in the moment of choosing it, was exactly what I’d needed.

Because “the best” had become so nebulous and easily changeable in my mind, it started to seem not only unreal but also silly. Besides, the grief I was constantly grappling with overpowered everything else and made the process of analyzing if I should have gone out or stayed home feel unimportant, a waste of time.

Humans, or Americans at least, seem to despise discomfort. Even a little bit of it. We’re constantly complaining about how cold or hot the air is, how hungry or full our bellies are. We can’t seem to find that perfect situation. But instead of seeing that it doesn’t exist, we get lost in searching for it and then feel angry or sad that we continually can’t find it.

Now, four and a half years after my mother’s passing, I feel stronger, tougher, and wiser, but I’ve also fallen back into old habits of expecting “the best” then feeling guilty when I don’t achieve it. In a weird way, I miss those few months right after she died. I don’t miss the pain, but I miss the clarity it gave me, how it temporarily freed me from these constructs that I – we – have created.

But I don’t need all-encompassing grief in order to free myself again from these thought patterns. All I have to do is breathe.

 

Amazing comic by Gemma Correll.