Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.
Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.
Some weeks ago, not long after the murders at Pulse, amid all of Black Lives Matter and the presidential race and international crises, I started noticing that I was very tense.
I couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep. I kept wanting to cry. Everything startled me. I had an internal monologue that simply repeated “go away, go away, go away.” My fatigue, always present, ramped up. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Seeing emails in my inbox, even innocuous emails, made me flinch and feel a deep aversion. Internally, I couldn’t get a hold on my thoughts or feelings, because they were always in a tangle.
I finally concluded that the world was too much with me, to bastardize Wordsworth, and that my body was hanging out in that stressful state known as fight or flight. We usually think of it as a response to an immediate crisis, but the whole world seems to be in immediate crisis right now, and sometimes our bodies get stuck there even when there are no immediate crises.
Fight or flight isn’t meant to be constant. It’s meant to save us when our lives are in danger, and then we return to rest and digest. Only, when we never get out of fight or flight, we never spend time in rest and digest, and all kinds of things — fatigue, chronic illness, etc. — can ensure. Since too much fight or flight is one of the likely things that landed me in the physical state I’m in, I knew I needed to change something.
I can’t change the world. But I could change my world.
I stopped watching CSI and started rewatching (if I watched anything) Dawson’s Creek. I stopped visiting all social media other than Instagram, since my feed is basically pretty trees and mountains and my friends’ cats. I asked my sweetie not to talk to me about any of the crises happening in the world. If I happened across a crisis, I shut my eyes and moved on as quickly as I could. I declined to watch movies that were emotionally intense and instead watched silly, frothy things that made me smile. I started rereading the Peter Wimsey mysteries which, while they deal with death, are by comparison to modern novels so circumspect and mannered (and funny) that they didn’t trigger any of the same anxieties. I tried to limit my caffeine.
It worked, although I didn’t realize how much it had worked until a few weeks later, when my sweetie accidentally set off three smoke alarms at once. (There’s nothing like three asynchronous smoke alarms to send your system straight into adrenaline.) Within two hours, I was so fatigued, so shaky, so confused, and so weak that my prior by-comparison energy, focus, and good cheer was notable.
A week or two back, I felt better enough that I started expanding my world again. I checked in on Twitter. I read some Facebook. I watched Numb3rs. And within a few days, I could feel everything descend.
For better or worse, right now, for my own well-being, I’m in hibernation mode. I’m strictly limiting my inputs to things that are reasonably restful. I’m doing only things that are either necessary or supportive. I don’t know for how long this will continue, but I suspect it will be a while.
It’s not that I don’t think the crises are important. I simply don’t have the energetic bandwidth to handle them at the moment, and engaging them does nothing other than deplete me. And depleting myself, with no compensatory benefit, just seems ridiculous.
So I’ll be over here in my cave, with my novels and my crosswords and my jigsaw puzzles and my music and my pretty pretty pictures.
I’ve got two and a half days of work left before a two-week vacation, and I’m having that restless, alternately excited and exhausted anticipation. It’s been over six months since I had a substantial vacation (we tend to take two weeks over the winter holidays and two during the summer), and I might need to rethink this to take a week every quarter or something. But I find that it takes about a week for me to recover my energy, so I take two weeks so there’s a week of doing things I want to do instead of simply recovering. If I took vacation more often, it’s possible it wouldn’t take a week, but that’s not something I can figure out right now.
We’re mostly having a staycation, although we’re also visiting a friend further north and attending a queer women’s retreat. We do love a roadtrip, although for various reasons I’ll be doing more of the driving than I generally prefer to. My sweetie can be a terrible passenger, so we’ll see how that works out.
My new laptop caused me to start from scratch on iTunes, which means I’m going through my entire library, listening to quite a bit of it, to set up new playlists. I have one that’s kind of a soundtrack of a lot of my life, then I have playlists that are focused around various moods or emotions, because sometimes what I really want is music that feels fierce, or sad, or joyful. So I’m immersed in music that resonates me, which is somehow giving me energy despite being in the PMS energy hole.
Music is the thing that is most guaranteed to shift my mood, to center me, to give me physical and emotional energy, to ground me in my me-ness, which is sometimes a challenge given my Enneagram 9 type and the weird consequences of growing up in my family. I know it’s important to a lot of people, but I wonder sometimes what other people’s inner experiences of music are like. Is it nice but not transporting? Pleasant but unimportant? All-consuming?
Right now I’m on the Bangles (going alphabetically by artist), and it’s hard to feel sad and disconnected with the Bangles.
(I ended up abandoning the city altogether and taking my aunt and uncle to visit the waterfalls, which is always my preferred mode anyway. Waterfalls are one of my favorite parts of living here.)
I’ve been missing blogs the way they used to be in, say, the early-mid aughts: rambling, personal, personable, a place to process and vent and connect and generally write with an audience but without any aim other than connection. I haven’t had one of those in years, but I miss it, so here we are. Welcome to my brain.
My favorite aunt is passing through town this weekend. I haven’t gotten to spend quality time with her in years, so I’m excited to see her. She and her husband are in the “where do we want to retire” phase of things, and they’re checking out a place about three hours from here. I hope they love it, because other than my sister, she’s the family member I’d most love to have nearby.
And yes, in my family, three hours is “nearby.” Everyone else on my mom’s side is 3k miles from here, and no one on my dad’s side is closer than 1k miles from here. If you can drive there and back in a long weekend with abundant time for the people on the other end? Nearby.
As I’m writing this, I’m remembering going to college and, for the first time, living near family. Being in the military doesn’t usually keep you close to home, and there are understandably no Navy bases in Illinois. This same aunt and uncle lived about 45 minutes away, and she worked in the same town I was living in, so it wasn’t unusual for me to run into them at the mall. Now, that may be normal for you, but it blew my mind. I found it so strange to just … run into them, without any prior planning.
The challenge I’m facing is that she’d like to see some of the highlights of this place, and I have no idea what to do. I’m not much of a “see the sights” kind of person anyway, and when you combine that with chronic fatigue and life (working full-time, running a household, etc.) there are tons of things I haven’t seen myself. I did find an old brochure from the city government with a quite extensive driving tour, so I’ll probably crib from that, but figuring out what other people want is not my forte. I’ll probably include waterfalls, because who doesn’t love waterfalls?
Our household is in mourning, because we lost our beloved ElderStatesDog, Gracie, on Monday. She was nearly 15, which was remarkable for a dog her size, and we were able to let her go at home, with fabulous vet care, at just the right time.
There is no regret, only grief of many kinds. Grief for Gracie herself, for her specific, particular personality. Grief for a household with no dogs in it — so much quieter, likely to be so much cleaner. Grief for the unlikelihood of my ever having a dog again, given my health issues.
So much of grief shows up when our habits of mind collide with the new reality. Gracie used to lay primarily on one rug in the living room, so I automatically look there to check on her. When she isn’t there, I assume she’s outside. I think about offering her a bite of steak on my fork, but there’s no one there. This is about the time every day when she would come find me on the couch to ask if it was dinner time, and we’d joke about her turkey timer.
What I didn’t expect, what I hadn’t noticed before, is how much this grief activates all the other latent griefs. The other animals I’ve loved and lost. The children we decided not to have. The loss of my beloved island. None of these are regrets; most of the time, they don’t even generate any pain. But right now they are all tender, they all echo the strangely hollow feeling I associate with grief.
Our oldest cat was essentially chosen and raised by Gracie, and she has always had more of an affinity for dogs than for people. She loves me, but I’m a distant second. She’s grieving in her own way, hiding under the bed and keeping to herself even more than usual.
There is a hole, today, where my beloved Gracie has been. Part of me would like this part to be over. Part of me wants to hold on to this part forever, because I loved her just that much, and grief is not only the price of love, it is also its honor.
Rest in peace, my sweet girl. I choose to believe you’re romping around the rainbow bridge with Phoebe and snuggling with Max, and one day we’ll have a really great puppy pile together.
Consider the possibility that truth can only be revealed through you and not to you.
—Ashok Gupta, in The Meaning of Life Experiment