Musings

Opening Another Door

About 15 years ago, I decided I should die. I was failing at everything: relationships, school, health, finances, and happiness. Somedays, I would swing high enough I could see a way out, but that zenith never lasted long enough for me to memorize the path out of the darkness. So in one of those valleys when the shadows deepened into an oozing gloom, I decided I should just get it over with and die, save myself and the world a lot of trouble. But try as I might, I failed at dying, too.

Talking about that time in my life is still difficult and isn’t something many people who know me know about. (Though, I guess now it’s out there in the public domain. So there’s that.) I don’t talk about it because most people are looking for something “happy”, especially when they’re scrolling through the internet in a time of crisis. People look for hope, and I don’t blame anyone for that. I do the same. It’s a coping mechanism. However, I think, now more than ever, we need to destigmatize talking about mental and social-emotional health because there are only so many things that corgi videos and chocolate will fix.

Writing is my wellspring of hope. I wrote yesterday about putting on a brave face even though there are some Grand Canyon like cracks beginning to show under the strain of pandemic. However, today was not a great day, and I started the day with anxiety medication for breakfast after my husband showed me eBay posts where people are auctioning a 4 pack of toilet paper and the bids are pushing it above $200. I. Just. Couldn’t. Deal. So down the hatch went a couple of pills. I have absolutely no shame in admitting that.

The day kind of spiraled out of control after that as my husband introduced new guidelines on mail handling, using separate hand towels, and washing produce with soapy hot water. I am ashamed to admit I lost it with him. I started to feel like I was an unwanted contagion in my own home. I snapped and snarled and huffed and sighed. I cut him with words because I was in an emotional free fall.

I don’t do well with sudden change. Never have. I like things orderly and in control — a rhyme and a reason for everything. I will notice the smallest item misplaced or missing in a room, and I will be uncomfortable until it’s righted or returned. (I know this hints at some major underlying issues for which I am compensating, but that is another blog post.) You can imagine, then, how I am handling the constant capriciousness of the last two weeks, and how I will respond to the inevitable inconstancy of the coming days and weeks (and months). 

I get COVID-19. It’s a virus. It’s predictable. It’s logical. It’s constant. Its sole function is to infect and replicate.

What I don’t get are people. They’re erratic. They’re illogical. They’re volatile. They have no sole function, no true purpose, and they often undermine their own well-being. It’s frightening.

In keeping with my stance that communication helps all things, I explained this — that it’s the scarcity of resources and the reactions of humans, not contracting coronavirus, that terrifies me — to my husband tonight while apologizing for the way I treated him today. In talking with him, I realized that he is dealing with his own fears and that it’s not his fault that our fears, and therefore priorities, are different. I explained to him that I am not afraid of dying, but what I am afraid of is sinking into the tar pit of depression that poisons all the vibrant life around me — that I am afraid that my relationship with him will succumb to human panic and perish as everything did almost 15 years ago.

I don’t know why I didn’t die all those years ago, and I guess it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. What I want you to take away from all this is not for you to reach out to me about how I’m doing. I have my good days and my bad days, but I have a support system that is looking out for me. Not to mention, I have 26 letters that can construct all manner of constant comforts. What I want you to take away is the lesson of turning to your support system and asking them “What do you need to feel safe right now?”. Because chances are, they are probably not doing so well, and we need to let them know it’s okay to not be okay and to talk through whatever comes.

Featured image Nathan Wright on Unsplash.

Musings

A Brave Face and A Weary Soul

I have started and deleted and started and deleted this entry about ten times now. I’m trying to be witty and turn a clever phrase, but to be honest, my brain is a bit short-circuited. I envisioned sitting down to write about my first day of instructional coaching via digital distance, which went quite well because I have some of the best teachers on my team, but my mind and fingers keep taking me somewhere else.

I consider myself an extroverted introvert. I receive immense pleasure from “me” time, whether it be curled up with a book in the bath, curled up with the remote on the couch, or curled up underneath a fluffy blanket taking a nap. I am a queen of “me” time. However, I don’t like to feel lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be alone, but there is a difference in those two words — alone and lonely. Being alone doesn’t make one lonely just as being lonely doesn’t mean one is alone. I need people. Hell, we all need people. “No man is an island” and all that. Even with my husband and sister-in-law at home with me, I feel lonely — loneliness that exhausts the soul.

It may or may not be a surprise, but I put on a brave face a lot of the time because no one wants to hear when they ask “how’s it going?” that you are a terrible fucking mess on the inside. How do I know this? People usually ask this question when they have their bag on their shoulder or they’re cruising by your room (or cubicle or what-have-you) or when you’re passing each other on the way to somewhere else. Before someone can point out that I’m “people” and call me a hypocrite, I am guilty of this, sometimes, too.

Right now, I am putting on that brave face but it’s starting to crack. In the 5 years I have been with my husband, I have never seen him get so much as misty-eyed — not once — not even when we got married and that was pretty damn magically emotional. Today and yesterday and somedays before yesterday when we sat down and made plans in the event one of us contracted COVID-19 and succumbed to the infection he has been more than misty-eyed, and I have been there to tell him we will figure it out no matter what comes. Soon, I’ll have to put that brave face on for my students because they will need to see it. They’ll need to reclaim some steadfast normalcy in a world that’s swinging from uncertainty to uncertainty. They’ll need someone to tell them we’ll figure it out no matter what comes.

Last night, my husband and I went for a walk, and we hypothesized about the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and how long recovery will last. It was a macabre subject, but talking through things helps us deal, helps us take back our lives while we’re isolating and social distancing. Ultimately, we couldn’t come to an agreement on how long it will take the economy, educational institutions, and supply chains to stabilize, but we quickly agreed that the effects on social-emotional and mental health will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

And so, I am weary. But I write because it’s one of the ways I reclaim my sense of balance and push back the veil. It’s how I slow down the violent vacillations of the world and reinforce that brave face.

Featured image by Photo by Elisabetta Foco on Unsplash

Musings, Unbound

A Brave New World

I love dystopian fiction. Can’t get enough of it. I’ve been reading it since I discovered Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in high school. Admittedly, it was the only school-assigned book I read that year (sorry Mrs. Roos). What can I say? I had my priorities mixed up like most high school students, and I, oftentimes, continue to have my priorities mixed up as an adult. In my 36 years on this earth, I still have yet to really figure out what it means to be human. And now figuring out that crucial element seems to be a Herculean task.

Two weeks ago when my husband said, “Here’s the grocery list for the week. I put on extra because we have to be ready for coronavirus,” I laughed in. his. face. Like the good-natured man he is, he weathered my criticism, and I humored him as we picked up a much larger toilet paper package, extra bags of dried beans, some canned and frozen vegetables (an oddity since we always buy fresh), two extra packages of spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, and a huge bag of frozen chicken breasts. On top of our weekly essentials, it was a shopping trip that cost us upwards of our total monthly food budget. I scowled and derided his “hypochondriac over-anxious” reactions, but he calmly replied “If I turn out to be wrong, at least we won’t have to buy groceries for a while. We can’t really lose.”

One week ago, as my husband and I sat at the dining table after a late breakfast, the news alerts on our phones go off: “WHO declares COVID-19 (coronavirus) a pandemic”. Within a few hours, the university I attend and others in the San Antonio area extended Spring Break for a week and hinted at extended closures. My social media feed blew up with posts both expressing concerns about the impending crisis and spreading the idea of a “Democratic hoax” to which “liberal snowflakes” were overreacting. The stock market started hemorrhaging which cast uncertain economic forecasts on people who were already scared that the big bad “P” word had been used. That’s when my husband looked at me, and instead of saying “Told you so” and making me eat crow (which he totally could have), he asked, “Have you heard about Italy?”

Five days ago my sister-in-law who lives with me became ill: cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and slight fever. She sought out medical advice and tested negative for strep and flu, but the doctor told her she likely just had a cold and that she should self-quarantine to be on the “safe side” because it wasn’t likely she had COVID-19 and she didn’t qualify to be tested anyways. As she sat down with me and cried out of fear (she’s asthmatic and frequently uses a nebulizer by-the-by), everything became real for me. It was a sobering moment for my ego.

Now, everything is uncertain — the state of education and whether my job will even look the same in six month’s time, the health of the economy and whether another recession will wipe out finances again, the supply chain of stores and whether I currently have enough toilet paper to last me until things stabilize. Schools are closed and stores are shuttered and restaurants, bars, and nightclubs have had their “last call” for now. Things are quiet, and I’ve had time to reflect. I have been foolish in my personal fallacy which I have waived about with mortal bravado. I have been wrong for a long time about many things — most recently that about COVID-19 and the need to take it seriously. 

Today, I’m eating the crow my husband was too kind to ask me to eat two weeks ago, and I acknowledge that we, as a human race, are truly entering a brave new world… and we are not ready.

Featured image by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Musings, Unbound

15 Things: A List in Opposition

1. I make lists of things I want to accomplish that go unchecked.

2. Thoughts about what I’ve done which I can’t seem to forgive myself for keep me up at night, and thoughts about what I should do to make myself into someone better haunt my days.

3. I track everything I put in my body and everything I sweat out of my pores, but this never equates to a body size I feel comfortable in.

4. I start “self-care” regimens, but they quickly devolve into self-loathing.

5. I want to be unique, to be special, but I find I’m not even a one-in-four kind of person.

6. I’m told that no one’s journey is the same and that my struggles are valid, but more and more it seems like people say those things as a general platitude, a way to make themselves feel better when they don’t really care to listen to the struggle of others.

7. I write poetry that exposes my optimistically raw hopefulness, but I never share it with anyone because I just can’t bear how the pessimistic views of the world will tear my optimism to shreds.

8. In regard to #7, I also can’t bear for someone to call me a hypocrite when I do share a struggle. Even though having hope and struggling emotionally and mentally are not mutually exclusive, it seems the world sees them as binary opposites.

9. I want to write, but I’m afraid of what will come out on the page.

10. When I do conquer that fear and write, I want to share it, but I can’t stop comparing myself to others and wishing I had even one ounce of others’ talents. (See #5)

11. I know I shouldn’t read the comments section, but I just can’t help myself. I always hope to find some redemption for humanity, but it seems to be slipping further and further away. And still… I hope. (See #7)

12. People tell me how smart I am, but all I feel are the inadequacies of shit decisions I’ve made in my life.

13. I want to be a part of a “sisterhood” so badly that I will give everything to the detriment of my own happiness to female friendships, and when those friendships inevitably fall apart, I always blame myself.

14. My mother was one of my only anchors to being able to feel connected to the world around me, and I’ve felt so alone these past 4 years even though I am far from lonely.

15. I don’t know who you are, but I love you anyways.

Feature Image: Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Musings

Internal Editor

Where do I even begin with what needs to be said? Fingers pressed to my forehead, I contemplate all the words I know are inside of me and try to figure out how to edit them before they make their way onto the page. Or once they do make it onto the page I hit the “delete” key until what is left is nothing like what needs to be said.

Here’s the thing: I want to be a writer. Here’s the problem: My internal editor says I’m crap. And I believe her.

From stream-of-consciousness to word association, I’ve tried all the ways to turn my brain off and turn the writing on, but it’s never just… easy. Listen – I know writing isn’t easy. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes getting told “no” ninety-nine times before you’re told “yes”. It takes finding honest readers who will tell you your writing is crap and then give you suggestions on how to fix it. However, it would be nice to even get words on the page, to begin with, to get to those stages. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking of all the things I need to do before bedtime rolls around and I have to get ready to go to work tomorrow. Therein lies part of my problem.

I make a living as an English teacher. I spend most of my day teaching others how to write and how to read. As glamorous as that might sound, I get little time to further teach myself how to write and how to read, not the least of which do any of that for fun. And before you start in about “weekends” and “holidays” and “summers”, let me just straight up tell you: All that “time off” I spend thinking about YOUR kids and how I’m going to be a better teacher for YOUR kids. Lest this digresses into a rant, I’ll move on.

Prior to, oh, ten minutes ago, when I edited myself to write “I make a living as an English teacher”, I would claim “I am a teacher”. It may not seem like it, but there is a big difference in the way these two sentences are worded. The first implies my occupation is a temporary one, a stop on the way to something more. While the second implies that my identity is formed by being a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I think it’s high-time I am seen as something more by myself, by my students, by my administrators, and by society.

In a “take a left at the light, go down two blocks, cross the bridge, and take the first right at the mailbox shaped like a duck” way, that’s really what I’m trying to get at. My internal editor both keeps me from being a writer and keeps me locked into a job where I am finding less-and-less reasons to stay. This started out as musings on how we inhibit our ability to actualize what we want in life (e.g..: be a writer) and ended up something on the way to realizing what part of the problem may be (i.e.: the unhealthy and impossible tasks placed on being a teacher in the 21st-century).

It’s nothing profound, according to my internal editor, but at least it’s a start.

Featured Image by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Musings, Teaching, Unbound

Reality Bites

Three and a half weeks. Twenty-three days. Five hundred fifty-two hours. Thirty-three thousand one hundred twenty minutes. That is how much time remains until Christmas break.

It’s a bit comical that school resumed from a week long Thanksgiving break today and I am already counting down until the next one.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I have the best kids that a freshman Pre-AP English teacher could wish for.

It’s just that I feel I can’t hear myself between the shuffling of papers, clickety-clack of keyboards, white noise of whispered conversations and sometimes garbage truck rumblings of class discussions, and the high pitched bleating of a period bell. Even now I am struggling to really put out what I mean because thoughts of tomorrow’s lessons and papers that need to be graded are vortex within me.

Last night, I wasn’t tired when it became time for bed. I wanted to write, but the words were stuck behind the grading, planning, and professional development I felt I should’ve done over the break. Instead, I stayed up to watch a few episodes of the show I’m currently bingeing. Two and a half hours after I should’ve been asleep, I lay stationery in bed while my mind raced against the coming of an early morning.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, a few tendrils of light filtering through my curtains lit up the edge of the journal on my nightstand like an invitation. I tried to remember when I had last written an entry and what that entry had concerned. I knew then the real question should have been why haven’t I written in so long.

Before the Thanksgiving break, I was a frenetic madwoman on the precipice of panic. I teetered back and forth in the cacophony of sound that was my day to day, and my ability to be who was needed in the classroom and in my relationship started to fail. Over the break, I had the chance to listen and to write and to renew. I knew this is what I needed, of course. It’s just sometimes that voice is drowned out by life.

Looking at the neglected pages of the journal, I was promptly reminded that I am only as successful as my ability to hear myself emptied upon the page.

In response to Daily Prompt: Bite
Featured Image: Pixabay – “Silence” by pasja1000 (CCO Public Domain)
Musings, Prose, Unbound

The Smallness of Us

There are these moments when I picture myself benevolently aged, a bittersweet smile of the past playing about the crow-footed corners of my eyes.  What I wouldn’t give to have a conversation with her.  The woman who weathered storms.  The woman who brought storms.  

What would she think of me with my self-pity and social angst?  

“Child,” she would say, sipping Zinfandel through her favorite My Little Pony mug a lover from long ago gave to her, “It is not the darkness in the life of an artist that creates art.  It is the hope that the darkness will end that helps the artist create life through art.”

I would cast a side-eyed glance at her, but since we occupy the same mind and body, she would guffaw at me and kiss her teeth as she knocked back another swig.

“It’s just like that story we loved as a girl and would always cry at every time we came back to it.  You know… the one where the guy crashes his plane in the desert and meets the alien boy and he tells him this story about a fox and a rose,” she would prattle on.

“Le Petit Prince,” I’d sigh back.  “Everything that is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“Exactly. Except there are also scars the eye cannot see, but that doesn’t mean we let them pervert our heart,” she’d sagely nod in the annoying way old people do right before she takes another gulp which causes Twilight Sparkle to mock me with her smug smile.  “Like this wine.  The fruit of which is sweet from the vine but fermented can leave a bitter aftertaste both in the mouth and in the actions taken under imbibed persuasion.”  

Adding punctuation to her words, she would put the mug down and lean forward in her chair, donning the doggedness that my mother wore when you knew she was right, when you knew she didn’t bring the storm but was the storm, “We must savor the delicacies of our lives, no matter how bitter.  We must not take for granted the world within the smallness of us.”

In response to Daily Prompt: Savor
Featured Image: Pixabay – “Storm” by Free-Photos (CC0 Public Domain)