It’s Not Normal and It’s Not New

I hate the phrase “the new normal.” Implied in it is an expectation of psychological adjustment, without any of the requisite grief and mourning that adjustment will require for many. For some, their life narrative may have a framing of “life before COVID” and “life after COVID;” for others, this may not be the most significant shift in their story. Although the event is universal, the impact is unevenly distributed. I think it reeks of privilege and a shallowness of one’s capacity to feel to assume everyone, including people who are being disproportionally affected, should instantly absorb earth-shattering change and move on having potentially redefined nearly every aspect of their life as though nothing happened.

As a trauma survivor, the framing of the “new normal” is all too familiar. We have mantras like “forgive and forget” in our society as a way to absolve the bystanders of a need for collective grief when any one of us is harmed. This moment and the moments to follow deserve a witness. They deserve a deep grief, if not for our personal pain, for our collective suffering. I think we vary in terms of how much of this we can individually bear, but to mock and label cowardly those who do so on behalf of us all reveals much about one’s character. I hope life grants you the space and support to feel what you feel and to adjust to what is unfolding in your way and your own time.

Little Losses, Big Complaints

Can I get a refund on today? I’m sure almost everyone has had one of these days, where negativity and frustration seem to be waiting around every corner. I won’t bore you with my list of “all the things that went wrong out of nowhere” but it is growing by the minute. I’m searching for grace and it seems to be as elusive as ever, although I’m noticing that my body isn’t physically reacting as intensely as it normally would be by this level of ridiculousness.

I feel like complaining to someone and then I find myself swinging internally to a feeling of guilt for not being more grateful for the blessings I do have. The phrase “in the grand scheme of things…” feels like a necessary preface to everything that isn’t 100% positivity during the international crisis we are facing. I find myself judging others as harshly as I judge myself in this regard, having little empathy for those who are complaining about the celebrations they don’t get to have while others are forced to endure the lose of the opportunity to properly mourn their dead. How do we hold our own disappointment and give it the space it deserves without conflating it with trauma and grief? Can something one person might consider a mere disappointment be a real loss to another? (The answer’s yes, I just needed to write it out to see the truth). Is it alright to complain about a bad day when others are suffering more severely? (Yes, but how?).

I’ve found myself biting my tongue when people post “woe is me” style about minor inconveniences, at times wanting to insert a “check your privilege” in response. I don’t know that asking permission before complaining always sets things right, but it feels like one measure that can reduce an “I’m suffering–get over yourself” exchange. I also find tapping into the emotions that a situation is causing to be a way to connect. “I’m sad/angry/anxious because I no longer get to…” is slightly less obnoxious than “Can you believe I don’t even get to..!”

As I sit with my own anxieties and disappointments of the day, what brings things home for me is distilling the situations I’m facing down to the core fear they provoke–being rejected, being impoverished, going hungry (I’m pretty sure you would roll your eyes HARD if I shared the situations that are leading to these base fears). If I get to the heart of why something sets me off, it is easier to feel sympathy for myself for being upset by it, even if the connection to the fear is irrational. Complaints and “complainers” often give away more than intended. Listen hard enough and you might hear the child-level reaction the person is hiding through their blustering.

I think there is a lot to unpack on this topic and I will need to take more time with it to get there. If you’ve felt grumpy and then subsequently guilty for feeling grumpy, know that you aren’t alone and that it doesn’t mean you don’t care about others who are suffering. Unchecked rage at a small slight is one thing, complicated agony at life’s grind is another. In the grand scheme of things, my life is alright today. On a truth level, I’ve had a shit day that’s stirred up a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too.

Accepting My Fate with Dignity

This week I’ve been contemplating the scope of the crisis people across the world and in my neighborhood are enduring, and I keep returning to one idea: the extent of the devastation that has, is and is likely to befall us, at least here in America, is too much to for my brain to digest. I don’t think that this means current events are inherently profoundly traumatizing to everyone who is experiencing them, but rather that the potential shifts and cracks that are forming are too wide and too deep to fully comprehend. Our society may be remade, for better or for worse, and I feel so small in bearing witness to it.

I’m putting some of my energy into staying present and into the practicalities of my own life and I’m also making space to listen to those who are most directly being impacted. These would include those in nursing homes, disabled people and PoC who are being disproportionately affected. I feel intense rage when I hear the “Karens” of the world b*tching about not being able to get their hair cut; being inconvenienced and being oppressed are fundamentally different experiences and I cannot with people who reject any suggestions that humble introspection and community effort might be necessary.

The future feels both bleak and uncertain. This is nothing new to me, but, in this instance, it is a collective outlook rather than an individual one. I’m returning every time my mind reaches a peak of anxiety to the idea that, when I reach the end of myself, acceptance is the only path left to trod. I will not deny my own reality and I will not fight a losing battle. I desire an embracing of grief that I do not know if I have in me, but the idea of remaining proud, dignified and whole no matter what I face or what I lose appeals to the core of who I am. This isn’t an avoidance of emotion but rather a “being with” myself in compassion at any cost.

I always thought autonomy was the most important and highest value I held, but I sense this is part of the shifting that is happening. Some of the events of our lives, our fate if you will, are outside of the scope of what we can predict, make sense of or affect. I do not yet know how to surrender control in situations in which I feel threatened by doing so, but I know acceptance of my fate, whatever it may be, is the most important commodity I can cultivate for these circumstances.

Perennial Blooms (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Last year, back when going to a gardening center was a totally normal and not at all potentially life-threatening activity, I purchased and then planted five perennial flowers. I don’t know what type they are and three of them died within a few months. Two plants, the ones with white flowers, not only made it through the winter but are now bursting with new blooms. Their endurance and resurgence, coupled with the loss of the others, is a reminder that there is a seasonality to our lives that is not fully predictable. I still can’t fully discern what lines the boundary of gratitude and grief, of loss and life, but I’m sitting with awareness of it today. What symbolizes this edge for you?

A Ride Down (In the Cards)

I’m feeling quite down today and decided to draw some cards to see what Spirit had to say to me. The messages I received included that this is a time of darkness, which fits both the world at large and the fact that today is a New Moon and that opening to inner power will bring new understanding to my life. I don’t feel powerful because so much of the autonomy I’ve had has been reduced by the pandemic. I (as well as most people in the world today) have to think about safety and protection from harm every time I venture outside my house. I feel helpless in terms of securing my future financially and guilty every time I give into a “want.”

I can’t shake my dream I had last night. I am forever riding elevators in my dreams. Typically, they spin around and get stuck between floors and I can’t exit. In this latest dream, I started out several floors up in an opulent hotel. Eventually, I was able to exit what had turned into a service elevator to a gruesome sight of people dying and suffering. I interpreted this as bearing witness to both the external horror in which we are living as well as my own half-buried fears of a protracted death.

Perhaps that is what I’m holding onto–is it possible to surrender to the forces of nature and retain one’s power? Does physical suffering–walking in the shadows–hide from us the beauty of who we are or can we still see clearly? Is decay only misery and always misery? When it is unjust, meaning preventable, it is hard for me to see it as anything else, but what happens when it is inevitable? These are philosophical queries I would never want to ask anyone other than myself to contemplate, especially in the face of real loss and tragedy. Where meaning-making fails, there is human kindness and solidarity and that is abundance itself. What I will say is that I can see now that I’ve fully conflated autonomy and power as one and the same and I think now that they are both more vast and filled with uneven terrain than I thought possible.

A Shift in the Wind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I’ve been experiencing brief moments of intense grief since the pandemic began; today’s was a doozy. A friend whose baby shower was cancelled stopped by to pick up her gift. I stood by the window with my pup. He was so thrilled to see her and then seemed saddened when she left again right away. The realization that I won’t be able to spend time with her in person before she gives birth and may not get to see her newborn baby till who knows when really hurt my heart.

It’s been humid and unseasonably hot for a few days here. I walked outside a few minutes after my friend left to discover a sudden change in the weather. The wind was swirling the tree buds in every direction and the temperature had dropped considerably. I felt my grief surrounding me instead of locked inside me, as though nature was responding to the exchange that had just taken place. I came inside and snuggled with my dog as I re-calibrated my equilibrium, not quite the same person I was earlier today. Each loss, each moment of grief, however small, registers a note in the symphony of our life that we ignore to our peril. Witnessing nature play the melody for me was truly a gift.

Witnessing the Cold Waters of Grief and Loss (Today's Daily Remembrance)

I don’t “suffer” from the optimism bias that most non-depressed people enjoy. This means I don’t tend to look the bright side or attend to the positives in tragedy. I spend a good deal of time on this blog making space for my efforts to find that for which I’m grateful; for me, it has to be an intentional and deliberate process or it won’t happen. I firmly believe, though, that finding reasons for joy and laughter need to exist alongside, not in replacement, of the ability to feel sadness as it happens.

My grief at this moment is a witnessed grief more than a personal one; I am not in mourning for the ways in which I’ve been personally impacted by the pandemic, but more for the global losses that have happened and the havoc it is beginning to cause in the lives of people for whom I care. What I lack in “be hopeful” I replace with “be prepared;” I tend to lean too heavily into the idea that, as long as all contingencies are measured and mitigated, true tragedy can be averted.

I’m living in a moment, however, where this can-do attitude is failing as my national leaders prioritize the wealthiest among us over the rest. Horrible, unfathomable and potentially preventable things are starting to happen to good people on a scale I didn’t know could occur, coupled with with no one in leadership providing comfort and guidance. This is both the oldest story of my life and also the one that feels freshly terrifying; I knew this could happen to me (childhood trauma), but I didn’t know it could happen to everyone (save the moneyed).

All I know to do when loss occurs is to make space for it, to honor what is being missed and to mourn with those from whom treasures of love are being pilfered. Grief, in my mind’s eye, is a well of cold water, into which that which we deem precious can sink but from which no reflection gleams. I know that, in due time, some will find renewal there as they reconstruct their lives. Maybe bearing witness to grief is nothing more than keeping a fire going by the depths, allowing for the awareness that rage and fear and all the strong feelings that make us want to flee that place of loss are allowed here and matter here. What are you grieving today? What is fanning the flames of your emotions? What is slipping into the bleakness?

Autumn Endings (Daily Works of Art)

Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.

I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.

For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.

I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?

Movement (In the Cards)

I drew a card from my In an Open Hand deck that I have been creating. The card was Calm. For each card, I’ve created a series of questions to connect with different parts of self in relation to the theme, so I sat with those questions today. The focus for the Calm card is on change, loss and a sense of control over life situations.

One of the questions I developed related to exploring where life is causing me to change and where I am active in changing my life. I see these areas intertwining in that much of my life in recent years has been about acceptance. I’ve had to try to come to terms with my limitations as a person, the losses I’ve suffered and the fragility of my successes. I still do not do very well in the moment when life presents me with unanticipated stressors, but I do think that I show more resilience and a faster recovery than I did in the past in areas such as an unexpected financial setback.

At the same time, I’ve used up my reserve of faith in others after one relationship after another failed. I have a much thinner capacity for hurt when it comes to dealing with people, and each “lesson” seems to push me farther into myself rather than to help me move forward. I expect to be betrayed, used, abandoned and taken for granted by every person I meet, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in many cases.

Sometimes I worry that I am not in touch with how alienated I am. I can’t solve people the way I solve other types of problems because I cannot tolerate hypocrisy, a lack of integrity or poor follow-through and I give up when they show up. I don’t think I expect more than others than I do of myself, but rather I cannot seems to find people who hold themselves to the same set of standards to which I hold myself. I’ve been changed by my experiences and I’ve stopped my effort at changing them. I feel adrift, floating from one insufficient island of connection to another, no longer charting my path towards relationship.

The theme of the Calm card is the gut, which I view as the seat of intuitive knowledge as well as a change-maker for taking chances. I do not know what form it will take, but I want to try yet again in some form to find relationship. It feels hopeless and I feel helpless, but there is no way through unless I keep my boat moving, landing on each new shore and perhaps finding, at least for a time, respite. Where in your life are you being moved? Where are you moving yourself? What does seeking calm mean to you?