My friend, Shona Moonbeam, over at www.knomochoicius.com, shared a piece of a William Blake poem with me tonight.
We were talking about a book I’m reading called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson.
I’ll write more about the book later, but for now it’s enough to say … wow. Seventy-eight pages in and I’m blown away.
From the front flap:
In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger shows us that the key to being happier is to stop trying to be “positive” all the time and instead to become better at handling adversity.
“Fuck positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest; sometimes things are fucked up and we have to live with it.”
Silly me. For most of my life I’ve been under the mistaken impression that we can reach a state of satisfaction and happiness without suffering. Mark says this is impossible, because the human condition includes both joy and pain … or “joy and woe” as William Blake said.
I’m propped up in my bed on Sunday morning, skittering around the Internet while hoping a panic episode subsides. It’s a gorgeous day already, much like the one I wrote so happily about on Tuesday. But I’m not in that space now, and I’m wishing my dad was still alive to talk to about it.
My dad battled anxiety and depression his whole life. I can’t help but imagine how providing for our family of six placed a heavy yoke of responsibility on him and exacerbated his struggle. I never asked him about that, yet I think I understand it.
When I experience my own tsunami of anxiety, sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes traceable back to an incident, everything — even the things I cannot do anything about in the moment — make it worse.
Case in point this morning:
- I woke up feeling anxious, worrying about my future, overwhelmed by how busy I am and wondering how I’ll possibly get everything done this week.
- I read about tRump’s ICE raids that were to begin today, but in some places started yesterday, without warrants.
- The New York Times said some of the agents expressed concern about “arresting children” (thank God).
- It suddenly felt like Nazi Germany to me, which is terrifying and made my anxiety worse. What is happening in this country? Who are the collective “we” we are becoming?
- I thought about a book on CD I am listening to (thanks, Mr. Z), “The Demon in the Freezer,” about smallpox and anthrax, the horrendous ways people die from them, terrible experiments with the smallpox virus on monkeys and how this country and Russia — and who knows who else? — have huge quantities of the virus on ice that could be used for biological warfare.
- More terror, more anxiety.
My friend, B, told me I shouldn’t write about personal details of my life on my blog, because current and future employers might read it and that could ruin my chances at keeping a job or securing a new one if they didn’t like what I wrote. My daughter told me I should make my Facebook posts private for the same reason.
In fact, someone did read a recent post of mine, and for a minute I felt afraid, exposed, vulnerable. But wait. Do I not want people to read my posts? Do I not want to inspire readers to think and perhaps even be challenged? And if a potential employer was turned off by my expression of an opinion or description of an experience, would a job there work out for me in the long run, unless I hid who I am?
Who am I making my life for?
For those who like facts and figures, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (18%) have an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, approximately 8% of children and teenagers experience an anxiety disorder. Most people develop symptoms before age 21.
So why would anyone, employers included, stigmatize anxiety (or any type of mental illness) when 1 in 5 people have anxiety? (Statistically speaking, how many of those decision makers and stigmatizers have it, too?)
Anxiety is part of who I am. (So is depression, but that’s a post for another day.) And although anxiety made this morning difficult for me, I’m moving forward the best I can, knowing it will come and go … and come again.
One thing’s for sure: I’ve hidden my light under a bushel for a long time, and I’m not doing it any longer. Not for anyone.
There’s another reason I write my blog. It helps me regain my footing and take back my power.
I’m feeling better already.
The fireflies have appeared and flowers on the trumpet vine have blossomed. (I know they’re invasive, but they’re so beautiful, and they’re taking over the yard, and the blooms attract hummingbirds. Such is the yin and yang of life.)
Monday morning it was a refreshing 55 degrees as I surveyed my wild green yard.
What a difference two nights of regular sleep make. That and a leisurely walk with the dog, a return to bullet journaling and giving myself checkmarks for 15 minutes chunks of time spent cleaning and/or organizing my living space.
I’m beginning to feel human again, even hopeful that there might be better days ahead than the ones currently confining and defining my existence.
This morning I watched Jennifer Louden‘s Monday video at The Writers Oasis. Perhaps because of the different head space I was in, these words of hers gobsmacked me: “I love the way I’m making my life.”
Simple enough. The concept is simple.
Jen talked about pleasure (desire) and freedom and choice — that we are free to choose how we react to things in our life and we choose what to add to our life. As Jen said, she decides what to read, how she will react to the wind in the trees, how she creates a life with her husband and with her dog. She decides how to spend her time and what she focuses on.
None of this is new to me; not really. We are always being told that we alone are responsible for our choices. But today it struck me differently. There’s something about the words “making a life” and “choosing my life” and even “loving the life I am making” that resonated.
I often hear “create your life,” and it could be argued they’re the same. But for me, making my life is a different thing.
Making means building, taking individual components and piecing them together to design and craft the whole. It’s active in a hands-on sense that creating doesn’t get to for me. Maybe it’s that “create your life” is overused. It’s a nuance for sure.
Here’s what I know: For the first time in a long while I felt it was possible to love this life I’m making, and in doing so to love the process of making it.
Jen inspired me to be more intentional about the decisions I make and putting my attention on what I want rather than what I need (or think I need). The latter feels small and grasping; the former as wide open as the sky.
The water like glass
Reflects rippled clouds, a golden streak of sunlight;
The lake bottom is clear, small bits of white shells like baby teeth strewn about.
Black bugs pirouette above, briefly land to touch their partners: their silhouettes.
A fish disturbs the surface, leaving popples as it dips back beneath.
Something small — a minnow — skips across the water like a stone.
Overhead a great blue heron flies by, with a rhythmic pumping of wings.
The sun, which moments ago examined its face in the flat surface
Like a mirror,
Tucks back behind the clouds.
Another minnow leaps, this time 1-2-3 skips.
Beyond the water’s edge, birds chirp and twitter, simple sparrows. But is any of this simple? And isn’t it all?
A boat rumbles closer, traffic sounds rimming the lake pick up. It is a work day.
The spell is broken. And yet, it doesn’t have to be.
This snapshot, like a postcard, will remind me: I was here. I breathed this all in on June 19, 2019.
Like the dancing insects, like the shy sun,
I saw my heart’s reflection here,
and in the memory of yesterday’s unexpected visitors: a turtle and a toad (carrying messages I so needed to hear).
These can bring me here again and again
Until I return next year, to this place, to these writer friends, pen and notebook in hand.
Writing is risky business. You are a fisher of pearls.
You must be willing to jump in with both feet, submerge yourself (yes, head under water), go deep, scrape the bottom.
(While you’re there, sit awhile, like you did at those underwater tea parties you had with your childhood girlfriends. Enjoy yourself.)
Look around. Notice. See what you see. Then pick up treasures, as many as you can. Tuck them into your T-shirt, bottom edge rolled up into a long pocket. Fill it — and then fill it some more.
There will come a time when you can hold your breath no longer. Swim back to the surface (kick kick kick), breathe, empty your pearls onto the waiting page, and dive back in.