Trans Day of Visibility: Pandemic Edition

Today is the first International Transgender Day of Visibility that I am open to most people in my life, and the first one after my legal name change. It saddens me to not be able to celebrate in person with others and to wear pride colors. I decided to combine being supportive of healthcare workers and TDoV together by participating in Hearts for Healthcare Workers and hanging handmade heart cutouts in my window, with subtle shades of blue and pink included.

I think of queer art as a way to self-identify and create representation that carries a deeper meaning for those within the community. This was one of the first ways that I’ve directly connected with that tradition. So, if you are trans, Happy TDov, and, for everyone, participate in the local actions that are taking place to show support for the healthcare workers that are risking their lives for us all right now!

Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

Finding Calm in the Whirlwind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Well, my life turned upside down in the last 24 hours. My job is moving online for two months, a situation which requires a tremendous amount of planning and action all at once. I have over a hundred students depending on me to get it right, so no pressure!

I feel empowered rather than defeated, as I can finally channel my excessive energy into something productive. At the same time, the human element is what scares me in terms of having to navigate competing interests and balance my time. The potential implications for a total lockdown of my area is creeping into my consciousness as well.

As I was thinking of all of this, I ran into a neighbor (from a safe distance!) that I haven’t seen in a while. She offered to help me if I get sick. Having someone who lives so close offer this meant the world to me; I really needed to know that I’m not alone. Again and again, I keep coming to the truth that, as long as I feel connected to a community, my personality and inner world is created for a time like this. I feel galvanized to a degree I thought I’d lost. What’s been your moment of peace today?

Tips for Coping with Social Distancing Measures

There is evidence of community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 near where I live, and daily life is rapidly changing. Events have been cancelled, my job may be moving to e-learning and social distancing is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. I wanted to share a few ideas I have about how to cope.

Action and acceptance

I wrote about this topic yesterday. In terms of steps to take, what I want to share is to encourage you to take steps to deal with the situation at hand that are measured, within your means and accessible to you. I’ve been stocking up on basics since January, so I’m now in the stage where my anxiety is fueling me to want to purchase, for example, a 3K generator. It can be really difficult to discern between what is rational and what is panic-based; if at all possible, for larger purchases, I try to wait 24 hours before making a final decision.

In terms of acceptance, there may come a point for each of us where we reach the end of our capacity to prepare or to respond to the crisis. I won’t provoke your anxiety by laying out examples as, if you are as skilled at freaking out as I am, your mind has no trouble delivering these to you. This is the place where I think practices of spirituality and faith in humanity have to come to bear. My hope is that something greater than myself will guide me and someone kind will meet me if I arrive at the end of my means. The groundwork for this response, for me, has been years of inner work and (much less successfully) attempts to build a social support network. Each of us might have more at our disposal than our scared inner children let on.

Self-Compassion

Give yourself permission to be only as active as you need to be to maintain your health and responsibilities. I’m seeing a lot of posts about learning a new hobby, finishing the book you were writing or completing a home repair project if you are asked to stay home. Although these suggestions are well-meaning and perfect for people who need to stay busy, they can be overwhelming to those of us with workaholic tendencies who may feel that we are not being as productive as we should be.

I do encourage you to develop a daily schedule with as much time as you are able to devote to self-care and reflection. It is healthy, in my opinion, to pause from time to time to check in with yourself and your loved ones and to see how you are coping. Mindfulness and other practices can help get us out of the past or the future into the present moment.

To the extent that you are able to do so, be present with your emotions. It is okay to feel angry, scared or sadness. I’m struggling with an angry “I told you so” after my concerns as to what was coming were dismissed and mocked by several people IRL. Rather than stuff down what feels like smugness, I’m sitting with it and asking myself how I might respond differently in the future when someone ignores my advice. Our feelings are excellent, in most situations, at helping us identify our underlying needs.

Community Connections

As I shared above, social support is key to making it to the other side of the pandemic in a way that tends to our mental health needs. This is the time to get creative and to find ways to connect with loved ones, even if it has to be through virtual settings. A monthly meeting I enjoy attending has been cancelled, so we are considering hosting it virtually if the quarantine continues next month.

Take a mental headcount of the people in your neighborhood or local community with whom you might partner to meet basic needs. I’m learning about so many agencies that exist on a city and county level that I did not know were there to support the community. If it suits you, determine whether there are ways to support healthcare workers who might be highly affected by this crisis.

What are you doing to cope with social distancing if it has been implemented in your area? If it hasn’t been yet, what can you do to prepare?

In the Fullness of Your Humanity

For today’s post, I decided to consider the qualities of a relationship that enable a sense of my full humanity as well as allow me to acknowledge the full humanity of the person or people to whom I am relating. I will be continuing this post in the next few days in order to answer the reflection questions I included. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported

Reflection

Which of these characteristics speaks most to you? Are there any that feel uncomfortable, or for which you know you have caveats? Are there any that you value but find challenging to offer to another? What might you add to the list?

Observing an Insect (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Ants are creatures I most associate with beings that make piles of dirt and which swarm en masse to discarded scraps of food. However, for today’s simple pleasure, I watched ants crawl down an old oak tree. Their tiny-legged journeys inspired me.

At first, I thought the red-hued ant I was watching was solitary, which struck me as odd because ants are known for living in large groups. It eventually traveled in close proximity to another ant and I then saw more. For a while, though, it traveled down the coarse bark on its own adventure. Every scramble forward felt at an impossible angle and I wondered how it was able to cling so adeptly to the wood. The ant wasn’t racing; it meandered. It stopped every so many paces and wiggled its antennae to direct its next motion. Finally, it disappeared into an oaken crevice.

The lessons I took from observing the ant were firstly to pause and “sniff” the air on occasion, by which I mean to check in with myself and my surroundings instead of barreling through the world without reflection. I also marveled at the idea that my journey through life may seem at a certain angle and level of difficulty, but could be viewed entirely differently, were I able to shift my perspective. Finally, I loved the idea of surging into community, greeting others along the way, but also withdrawing into dark and cozy places of rest as needed. What is the last insect you observed? What did it teach you?

Unsolidified: My Self-Definition

I knew my reason for existence before I knew who I was as a person. I’m here to aid in the soul-recovery mission of reconnection lost, buried and disowned parts of self with Self. I’m a shame-eater; someone who lives as unabashedly authentically as possible in order to provide space for others to do the same.

Coming to know one’s self when all you have to go on is chips of cracked porcelain takes patience and reconstruction skills. Nothing feels permanent to me about who I am; the projected image fills in and reshapes faster than I can process at times. I work often from the outside in; I alter my external surroundings, my appearance, my relationships and suddenly another motif of identity is emblazoned on the wall of my being.

Above all, I am fluid. Every pot I shape that bears my image solidifies only so far as I shield myself from the kilns of predictability and unity of self. I gaze with envy at those who know themselves, not simply as well as I know my pieces, but who know themselves whole and as one. I can tell you the story of how I move but not where I’m located; my being resists roots, resists entombment, resists place.

This is for survival, this ability to reshape and reform at a moment’s notice. Quick, gather the shards and make haste at any sign of danger. Present as battle-worn and shield or as open and tender, whatever works in the moment. But others take my façade as being; the true cracks are too well hidden and the visible fissures their “aha, weakness” distraction lines. They see me as I want to be seen, as I need to be seen, not as I am.

I go piece by piece, holding each up to light, notating its edges aloud, and still I without witness. My dog, truthfully, can ferret out my lost selves better than any, which somehow makes it worse. Lacking community, I must be mirror and container and wall and ground for myself.

Many of my margins break from center. I am nonbinary. Panromantic. Asexual. A sexual abuse survivor. A person with dissociative identity disorder, multiple anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, chronic pain and on and on. A person without family, home, deep cultural ties or social support. I am paradox: rigid, brittle and yet able to bend and restructure myself instantly.

I know why I’m here and what my task is. I know why I was shattered beyond recognition early on. The unfairness of it is irrelevant; my purpose is fixed. I find myself and know myself and super-glue myself as I live it out. I know joy in simplicity and hope through endurance. Little that I have has come easily. Nothing makes me prouder than being present as a cracked and worn piece of self is cupped in palms with delicacy and honor. Even flecks of glass catch the rain.