Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

So we distance

Nothing’s changed.

My husband is still working from home. My son is still doing school from home. My daughter is still practicing her writing skills from home. I’m still washing dishes and doing laundry, constantly. At home.

None of us are vaccinated. We don’t have any more protection than we had a year ago. And so we distance.

We sit and watch as case numbers go down. Oh yay, maybe we’ll consider putting our kid back in school! And then, as a result, the governor lifts more restrictions. And we continue to watch as case numbers rise again, because that’s what they are gonna do when restrictions are lifted and more contagious variants are in play. Facepalm.

Kids around here started going back to school two weeks before spring break. At first we wanted to wait and see how the school did with enforcing social distancing, etc. We also realized we wanted to wait until significantly after spring break because people would travel even though we’re all still advised not to. And so we distance.

We choose very carefully what events we’ll go to, because each outing comes with risk and a considerable amount of anxiety. I can’t control if my friends and strangers wear masks. I can’t control if other people don’t social distance when I/my family is present. I can’t guarantee that my kids will social distance in public, especially when other kids are present. I can’t control if events are scheduled in person. Or at a restaurant. Or in someone’s home. But we can make sure to wear our masks. We can protect ourselves as best we can while also respecting the health and safety of others. And, save everything else, we can choose to stay home.

Please know that for a lot of people, it’s terrifying to watch as more and more people gather in large groups, stop wearing masks, take vacations. Six feet of distance in schools shrinks to three. Restaurants open for indoor dining. In the same day, the CDC director begs people to keep distancing and my Facebook feed is full of maskless, hugging, smiling faces.

Rapidly and increasingly, we feel left behind. We’re exhausted from making constant risk assessment decisions, trying to balance perceived danger with a need for human interaction. Tired of asking/expecting/hoping people to wear masks and feeling discouraged when they don’t.

So we distance. Staying home is easier than trying to navigate a world we can’t control, a world that is desperate to get past these plague times. A world that is opening up too quickly.

Wait and Ruminate

I’m spinning out today.

Some days I feel fine. Great, even. Others it feels like the sky is falling. Today is the latter.

I woke up with a cloud over my head and, because I live in a glass cage of emotion, immediately began sifting through the contents of my brain to figure out why. I came up with a few reasons, and my guess is that by embarking on this blog post, I’ll discover one or two more in the process.

Recently some people close to me have gotten their first dose of the vaccine. This triggered a simultaneous range of emotions. First, I am happy for them. I want them to be healthy and protected. I was also filled with jealousy. And I’m owning this as a reflection on me, not on my loved ones. If I were in their shoes, I’d have gotten the shot too. In a heartbeat. This is about my longing to feel safe again. I see others around me getting what I desperately want, and of course it’s going to trigger a reaction. It reminds me of how I felt when friends or acquaintances announced pregnancies when my own fertility status was unknown and precarious. I remember telling my therapist that those yucky feelings were getting in the way of my happiness for my friends. It’s my own junk that I have to work through, made more difficult by the fact that I have no idea how much longer I have to wait.

This is all compounded by my firm, often stubborn, adherence to standards of fairness and justice. Oregon leadership has decided to vaccinate educators ahead of seniors, and it makes my blood boil. They have decided that opening schools is more important than saving the lives of our parents and grandparents. Even so, many school districts are charging full speed ahead and are partially or fully opening even before educators have had the chance to get both shots and have enough time to build the required immunity for full protection, all in the name of getting kids into school buildings for 8 weeks – behind masks and plexiglass and glued to desks and working on computers. All this, while thousands of seniors wait and die waiting for vaccine doses with their names on them.

I have never been more glad that my parents do not live in this state. I’m angry now, but if I had to watch my parents wait through this, I’d be absolutely livid and out of my mind with fear for their safety.

The other fairness piece is that my immediate family and I have been social distancing as health experts have advised. We have sacrificed a lot in an attempt to ensure our family doesn’t get sick and that if we do, we won’t get anyone else sick. It’s hard for me to sit here, feeling like I’ve been a good girl following the rules, and watch other people enjoying extracurricular activities. I understand that my ability to social distance to this degree is a largely a function of privilege. My husband has a white collar job that he can do from home. We can afford for me to stay home and do unpaid childcare, unpaid tutoring, unpaid-keep-the-house-from-falling-apart. We have stable housing and a reliable internet connection, etc. etc. It’s because of this privilege, including that I’m young and white and healthy, that I can afford to wait longer for the vaccine than almost all other populations. As it should be.

At the same time, we’ve also made many, many choices to stay home when we very well could have gone out and socialized and taken risks. In that sense, I can’t help but feel anger and resentment when I see others get vaccinated who haven’t “followed the rules,” whatever that means. My “fairness and justice” button is large and sensitive.

And so I continue to wait and ruminate and worry and doom scroll. (Not to even mention the slow-motion race we’re in to vaccinate people ahead of these more contagious covid mutations and that’s not even mentioning the Brazilian or South African strains that may not respond to current vaccines…welcome to my brain.) I remind myself on a daily basis that I am safe (what a relative word that has become) – and some days require more intense persuasion than others. That I am doing what is right for me and my family. That this hellscape will not last forever. In theory. You know.

We’re all doing the very best that we can

This is getting hard. It’s taking a toll on me, and what’s worse is that it’s taking a toll on my kids.

We’re currently toeing the line of social interaction, and my kids desperately want to be normal, and I desperately want to let them. I really, really do.

They beg me and I explain, one more time, that we can’t get too close and we can’t share toys and it’s all because of this nasty, tricky virus. They blame me, and say I’m mean and that’s okay. I don’t expect them to understand because how in the world could they? And who can blame them when they see other kids playing together, other kids sharing toys? I just keep telling them that it’s my job to keep them safe and I am doing the very best that I can. And then I die a little inside. Am I making the right choice? Maybe we should just stay home. Would that be easier or harder?

Today, once we got home my older kid was off playing by himself so I took a moment to thank him for handling the situation so well, because he really did. It’s not easy hearing your mom say no again and again. I hate doing it. But he didn’t yell, he didn’t throw a fit. He disagreed with me and expressed his feelings like someone years older, and then went to sit in the car. I’m so proud of him, and I told him so, and yet, my heart breaks for him. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not normal and this is going to get harder before it gets better and I’m so sorry.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

We’re all doing the very best that we can.