Sunday, June 25, 2017

On persistence, tears, and love

Thoughts on the morning of Seattle Pride:

In an unprecedented time when the U.S. administration is unrecognizable to many of us as American, perhaps like you, I’ve been living with what can feel like insurmountable fear and loathing, feelings I fear and loathe. 

I live in a blue bubble here in Seattle, by intention, and I’m naturally optimistic, so I was one of those who kept saying in the fall of 2016, “Don’t worry, it will never happen.” I had faith in my fellow Americans to value their constitutional rights and freedoms more than the quackery and far-fetched promises and claims of a snake oil salesman. (Exhibit A in the “loathing” department.)

The night it happened, I'd bought a bottle of champagne to pop when the right thing happened. Instead, like so many others, the night ended in gut-punching shock, tears, and nearly the same level of fear I felt on the morning of 9/11, when we didn’t yet know how extensive the attack was going to be.

I’ve been through all the phases of grief many times over the past six months: denial, anger, sorrow, and every once in a while, a wee bit of acceptance that this is what is, for now. 

I’ve watched too much news, scrolled through too much social media, clicked through too many op-eds, and in the process, developed an obsessive behavior of clenching my jaw and teeth to the point that I give myself a headache every day. Sometimes, I wake up with one.

I’ve been through phases of not watching any media, of turning the other way at any sight or mention of the great pretender. Even so, despondency and a yellow-threat-level anxiety subsumed me. 

I’ve started meditating, using an easy online app. I’ve never been a successful meditator in the past; I’d written it off as something I’d never be able to do. Turns out, I can, and the more I do it, the more I want to. Talk about your soft addictions. 

I’ve sought treatment for the obsessive behavior, but after meeting with various western and eastern practitioners, I still face a months-long waiting list to enter a cognitive behavior therapy program, one that is not covered by insurance. Insurance does cover prescription medications, however—drugs I prefer not to take. 

(To be clear, I do take an antidepressant for a lifelong anxiety disorder, which has always worked well for me. I prefer not to take drugs that are addictive or that leave me brain fogged, like benzodiazepines. I believe in appropriate medication.)

So, I’ve embarked on developing my own damn CBT plan, combining meditation and mindfulness, bringing my attention back to a place of calm whenever I feel my jaw clench or working too hard. My ability to notice the behavior is spotty, as I do it while working and focusing on my writing, while driving, while solving problems in every day life—clearly, when I’m laser focused. But I keep trying. Many failures make for eventual success, if we persist. If we pay attention as much as we can, and forgive ourselves when we lapse, and lapse, and begin again.

I’ve turned to books about people who overcome adversity and persist, people who resist and keep on going. Who get knocked down and get back up. These are the kinds of books I’ve always read, from the time I was a kid, and turning my attention specifically to them now is like making new, strong and brave friends

The Sunday morning I write this is the weekend of Seattle Pride, a celebration that moves me to tears each year as I show up to be an ally, to be a supporter, to say “I’m so glad you’re here.” Pride is a celebration of our humanity as well as a community outpouring of support. It’s a testament to the fact that no matter what, love wins. 

I’m a lifelong volunteer for the same reason, to show up for others. Perhaps it’s because I desperately wanted someone to show up for me as a kid of a mentally ill mom, but didn’t know how to find that someone. I now have the strength and ability to be that someone. And as all volunteers know, what we gain through our volunteer experience is balm for our own souls. We give love, we receive it, even if not in the moment. We give of ourselves and we lose ourselves in the moment, focusing on someone else instead. We get out of our own way. We experience joy from being of service. 

So, now six or so months into this administration, when I’m worn out and weary of resisting, of persisting, I have to remember to remember: what makes me well? What makes me feel whole and calm, like me?

I’m no expert for anyone but myself, but in my nearly six decades so far on the planet, here are the places I land:
  • Resistance with rest. Focus with calm. Persistence with love.
  • Being an ally. Being of service
  • Reading good books. Taking time out. 

And because our souls need a good scrubbing every once in a while, tears. We move on through tears: of grief, of anger, of joy in knowing that no matter what, love wins. 

Love will always win.
 And now, I have a parade to attend.