"Don't Worry, Everything Will Be Okay": An Insidious Form of Denial

I wrote yesterday about feeling that my energy was misdirected by trying to warn people who are complacent about the coming (or already arrived, depending where you live) pandemic. It got me thinking more broadly of how people respond to my fears and ways that I have come to discern between people who listen deeply and honestly and those who deflect. I’ve described both stances below (there are of course way-stops between these approaches and times we might use one or the other depending on our energy level) as well as ideas for self-care if you are an anxious person.

“It’ll be fine”

I have a standard retort for people who tell me my worries are unfounded: how do you know? Unless they are a trained expert in the area, at which time I will defer to their judgment, someone telling me I’m “worrying about nothing” gives me far more insight into the nature of their character than it does into the rationality of my anxiety. I definitely believe that some people operate from a default of denial–nothing is real unless it is affecting them personally. They obfuscate and deflect legitimate concerns because these anxieties hint at the fact that the world can be an unjust, unfair and brutal place. If it isn’t happening to them, it can’t be happening.

Yes, those of us with heightened anxiety can easily overestimate the potential likelihood of a danger occurring, but we can also spot trouble before it arrives. I contingency-plan with the best of them and, because of my efforts, I steer clear of certain issues into which others move without pausing. Holding back “I told you so” strains my throat when I notice my unheeded warnings coming true again and again. Attempting to protect one’s self by denying reality has as many consequences, if not more, than wasted worry.

“I have my doubts, but we’ll face it together”

Responding to someone who lapses into extreme anxiety does not mean engaging in panic yourself or denying your read on the situation. Rather, it is perfectly fine to share fact-based evidence that might help to mitigate some of their concerns, especially if you ask permission first. This is where I have would-be comforters lapped; I can quickly absorb a tremendous amount of factual information, so I am ready to go with the latest scientific statistics and projections while they share three-week old data they heard on a podcast. On the other end of the spectrum, anxieties that have little basis in reality might be easier to counter with science, but the people who struggle with them might also be less receptive to scientific reasoning.

To me, the best way to support someone who you might view as “fear-mongering” or overly worried is to establish what your objective take on the situation is, and to then focus most of your energy on the trust you have in both the other person as well as in your relationship. When I share my pandemic prep with people IRL, I wish at least one person would say something along the lines of “well, I know who to ask if I decide to prepare a list of items.” The most I’ve gotten so far was someone declaring they would come to my place if the shit hit the fan, which only angered me at their callousness. If you can connect to the person and let them know that you appreciate their forward-thinking nature, even if you believe it to be too trigger-happy, as well as let them know you will be there to help them cope if or when the situation fully develops, it may help them come down from flight or fight into a more productive, problem-solving state. Scared people make rash decisions; prep for an event such as a pandemic requires a rational response, not a panic-stricken hoarding of toilet paper.

Mental Self-Care for the anxious

If you are reading this as a highly anxious person yourself, here are some practical steps you can take if you are facing a situation that seems to concern only you and in response to which you are being told you are over-reacting.

1. If possible, consult the experts. Nothing is worse in my mind in regards to anxiety than getting riled up by people who have an agenda to push or those who base their ideas on fantasy. Find the scientifically-accurate experts who do not stand to benefit in a substantial way from peoples’ responses, and listen to them. In regards to the pandemic specifically, this is the person to whom I’m listening (as well as reading research as it is published).

2. Share your concerns judiciously. Even if your anxieties are pushing at you, decide whether the person to whom you want to speak is likely, based on past experiences, to listen carefully or to simply dismiss you. If someone acts as though you are completely irrational, consider whether there might be other people in your life that would be more open to hearing what you have to say.

3. Before taking any practical steps, if possible, make a list of items you might acquire or plans you might enact, and then wait at least 24 hours (or a good night of sleep minimum) before you follow through on what you are considering. I have worked myself up in recent days into wanting to buy an oxygen concentrator and a large solar power station. Because I slowed myself down, I realized the oxygen concentrator’s cons outweighed its possible benefits, and that I would face serious security issues with a solar setup as it would have to be placed in front of my house and would therefore be highly tempting for someone to steal if we actually end up in a situation where it would need to be deployed. By slowing myself down, I resisted panic-buying and have been able to better use my resources.

4. At the end of the day, remember that we all die, some of us in unexpected ways. I keep this truth in my mind not to feel depressed but to boost my feelings of acceptance of my life situation. When we run out of practice steps in handling a crisis, coming to terms with the reality of it can, at least for me, open internal space for contemplation and grace, rather than a raging “there has to be a way” as the elements consume.

5. Remember you are likely not as alone as you might feel you are. There is a limit of rational action that I can take at this point, and, as terrifying as it is to me, I find myself coming to a growing knowledge that I might have to *shudder* cooperate with my neighbors if things go really side-ways. In modern Western societies like the one I inhabit, there is a particular sense of individualism where people may literally never speak with or help out their next-door neighbors, not because they hate each other but because they are able to sort their lives in a way that does not necessitate such interactions. I am not so naive to think that my federal government will do anything useful, but I have a bit of trust in my local officials to try to mitigate disaster and in myself to work with others as needed. Scarcity can promote selfishness but it can also promote sharing; I hope that the latter is what rises to the surface in the areas where people are struggling right now.

In conclusion, a person’s level of anxiety is not the best marker of their capacity for acting in a rational way. People can under-react just as much as they over-react and can respond too slowly to a crisis as well as too early or without justification. If you are highly anxious as I am, my advice is to reserve your time and energy for acting with as much objective reason as you can, with the support of people who know what they are talking about because of their education and experience, as well as those in your life who offer a caring, gentle presence when your anxiety gets the best of you. Please share how you care for yourself as an anxious person!

Energy Drained and Recharged (In the Cards)

I am not someone who thinks of my life experiences as a universal force teaching me lessons, but I do like to reflect on what I encounter and to question my assumptions and the paradigm underneath which I am operating. Several events as of late have left me asking two questions: 1) what’s the best use of my energy if I hope to better the world in my own small way? and 2) what do I do with my anxiety about the current state of affairs? The conclusion I’m coming to is that there are people with whom my interaction is a squandered resource, but also that my anxiety might be useful in directing my energy productively. (Side note: none of my reflection here relates to my blog but rather to IRL conversations as well as posts on other social media sites).

In the past, if someone did not take what I had to say seriously, it would leave me questioning the veracity of the knowledge or experience I was sharing. I’ve come to see, though, that people often dismiss that with which they do not want to grapple. It is much easier to act like someone is over-reacting or too sensitive than it is to take their concerns, even if they do not match what you’ve experienced, as valid.

At the same time, there has to be a common base of knowledge from which everyone is working, or else people are counting in different numerical bases. I work from a scientific perspective and have had it up to here with people who believe, for instance, that drinking bleach (only a slight exaggeration) is a cure-all. It is not worth it, in my personal life, for me to try to convince people to care when we can’t agree on what the basic problems in the world today are.

As I’m living out this awareness, I keep coming to a point where I think “I could respond and explain myself again, but this isn’t worth my energy.” This is a new experience for me as I used to feel like silence was complicity if someone disagreed with me and I didn’t reassert what I know to be true, but I now know that if a person can’t take in what I’ve said, I stand to gain little by continuing to engage with them. The energy I’m bringing feels very masculine, like a “good enough, moving on” rather than a communal, connected “let’s dig in and work through this together” stance. I am tired, though, of giving mental space to people who create actual harm in the world through their anti-science and ill-informed actions. I’d rather focus on those who can be convinced to care and to act, who are open to listening and exploring their biases, as I am with them.

I’m currently convinced we are facing a global pandemic, and I don’t know what to do with the hours of research I’ve accumulated on the topic. The few people IRL to which I’ve spoken don’t even know what I’m referencing and I got no response when I sounded the warning on social media. Either I’m too anxious and I will have wasted some money stocking up on supplies, or, more or less, my worst fears will come true and “I told you so” will be a sentiment I’ll need to work on squashing. I want to have grace for people who come late to acknowledging danger and harm; I think this is where the energy reserves I withhold from them when they ignore science initially need to be used. I also need to focus on self-care and self-sufficiency in a sustainable way so that I am there for those who might panic as reality sets in.

I have never seen the evolutionary quandary anxiety disorders present so clearly as I do now. Were I living in a small group of hunter/gatherers, I’d be the person constantly testing the wind and sensing the slightest tremor in the earth. Most of my warnings wouldn’t bear out, so people might tune me out. But, when true danger arrived, I’d be the person packed and ready to go while others danced. Constant anxiety does have a survival benefit, but it alienates as much as it helps. By redirecting my energy away from people who will ignore potential calamity until death is at their doorstep, I can improve my contribution to society.

What behaviors in others tempt you into squandering your energy? Where do you fall on the “we’re all going to die now” to “everything is okay, forever” scale of anxiety? Do you see any advantages to your anxiety, if you are a highly anxious person?

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

Birdsong in Winter (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My day began by realizing I’d slept in until it was quite sunny outside. This made me happy as I felt I’d finally gotten a good night’s rest. As my dog and I walked outside in the rising sun, I heard birdsong cascading up and down the tree branches. There were at least two songbirds in chorus with one another. I felt my heart soaring and my inner well of strength filling; as I wrote recently, there is more beauty than pain in the world. For every dark moment, a candle burns, casting light beyond its wick into its surroundings.

My experiences in life have left me a vocal witness to suffering whenever I encounter it. I cannot look away and pretend all is well. But, in the same moment, I can find the flower peaking through the snow. I don’t need hope that things will get better. Rather, I need acknowledgement that, in the midst of despair, there is a space of honoring and being-with and a space of joy. When life completely devastates me, the trauma-voice in my head has one mantra “make it stop.” I don’t have the ability to end every negative encounter, but I do have the capacity to stand up for myself as I validate my own perceptions and to find the places where light streams through and the birds burst into song.

At the Edge, With Helplessness and Hopelessness (Today's Daily Remembrance)

It is not a good day for my capacity to feel optimistic and bright. My attempt to get accommodations at my job is beginning to look like I am going to be retaliated against or, at the minimum, discounted. I could not sleep last night and now have no appetite. In the face of this situation, I need to take some time to access my inner world.

I feel helpless and hopeless. I gotten to this place many times before in my life, but have often failed to label what I was feeling in the moment. I would get stuck on the external threat, perseverating on how to mitigate it, and would ignore all of my internal processes. After several hours of frantically searching the web exploring my next steps, I saw into my inner world and noticed how much each part of me was scattering in every direction at once. I could not calm or come back to myself at all until I acknowledged the state I was in. I’m feeling trapped, alone without anyone to help me bear the burden and worried that even more devastation lies–unpredictably and uncontrollably–ahead.

I fear that I’m at the edge of the crevasse I’ve done everything in my power to avoid, the place where I lose my job, my home, my healthcare and anything else that provides a semblance of normal life. I’ve never asked for accommodations because I feared doing so would lead to this outcome. Logically I know I’m many, many steps from this dire fate, but the landscape feels tilted towards my inevitable demise. That is what helplessness and hopelessness look like to me–drifting from “functional human” into an animalistic state where moment-to-moment physical survival is my only focus. Openly acknowledging the effects of my trauma feels like a direct portal into reliving it writ large.

The few responses available to me when I feel helpless and hopeless center primarily on either engaging in a fight for control or on surrendering in acceptance of my fate. The “be louder” side won last night as I spent hour after hour complying a list of questions and additional documentation for my employer. I won’t get any clarity for a few days at the minimum, and my energy is flagging quickly, collapsing into “come what may.”

The ledge I perceive to be closing quickly has never left me ever since I came to terms with my childhood trauma and ended contact with my parents. I knew living my truth meant I could lose at winning or fail at succeeding at life; I knew I had to take that risk over denying what they’d done to me in hopes of having a “backup” plan. I’ve sworn up and down I’d die on the streets before I’d let them back in my life and I mean it as much today as I did the first day I said it.

Rage starts overtaking me when I sit too long in this place. They (my parents) irreparably broke my mind and the thin lines of glue with which I’ve managed to cobble together a person are yielding to the pressures of my life. I’ve come to a razor’s edge but I’ve never been hospitalized or taken off any significant amount of time because of my disability. I’ve walked and ran and scampered to stay back from the ledge and I’m so, so tired of fighting for a foothold. I feel like I literally asked my job for one g-d extra rope to help me stay secured, and all that’s happened is I’ve slipped further towards the breach. I’m sure if I fall in, people will suddenly, magically gain an ability to see my struggles, all while totally and utterly failing to account for the shoves downward they gave me and the shrugs they offered when I extended my hand in desperation.

Let me, come hell or high water, not be a bystander to someone else’s helpless and hopeless moments, even if all I can do is point them towards available resources. That’s all my suffering ever teaches me, how to not add to other peoples’ struggles. I have no greater insight into when to fight and when to yield, or how to avoid my personal pit. How do you handle feeling helpless and hopeless? What feels like your personal “worse case scenario” in life, and how do you cope with its existence? What are some resources you use to keep from going over the edge into despair?

To Become (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw involves focusing on hopes and dreams, from a place of tender care for their fragility. As I sat with this invitation, what came to mind is a desire to create opportunities for self-reflection and self-compassion that encompass present-moment awareness. Ideally I would like these spaces to extend beyond myself, but I think experiencing them inwardly first is an initial step.

I’ve concluded in recent weeks that relationship drama pulls me away from the central source of my joy, which is my connection to the universe through my inner world. In trying to work from the outside in, I end up in situations that are unsafe for my parts, and which then force some of who I am into hiding or which cause me to feel isolated from other people. My healing has to flow from my Source, from the inner well of Spirit that I believe is available to everyone. Other people cannot reassemble me; I am my own unity.

To form and extend this indwelling of connection and clarity, I believe compassion for self as well as energy directed inward is necessary. My inner being needs its own workspace for creativity and spirituality in order to flourish, as well as a cozy den in which relaxation and downtime can occur. How much of my life have I wasted in social situations that were unfulfilling, trying to meet the needs of my parts without listening to them? How unloving and unconscious have I been in relating to others by coming from a place of scarcity and drudgery?

I exaggerate here, but right now writing this, I feel like if it takes me 99 years to come to myself whole, and I then spend my final year truly present with another, might that not show more love than expecting each other to heal our un-examined and unmet wounds without any inner work? I in no way want to make it sound like my path is everyone’s path; many people become their best selves through their relationships with others. I am harmed by attempting healing through relationship more than I am helped, and the window into myself I’ve opened has shown me another path forward. To what extent is your deepest meaning and fulfillment found in relationship with others? With your inner world? In other passions?

Emotional Self-Acceptance (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For as much of my life as I can remember, I’ve existed in states of flight, fight and freeze. I feel anger and anxiety more often than not. At times, I become so overwhelmed I go numb, losing my connection to my body and to the present. I crash from these fragile states into deep ponds of depression. Coming to terms with who I am emotionally, then, has not been easy.

One of the ways in which I’ve grown more comfortable with myself emotionally is that I’ve learned it is possible to have positive emotional experiences alongside the negative. Happy and sad emotions are processed, to an extent, in different places in the brain, so the experience of one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other out. Activities such as my Daily Writing have helped me to bring a little joy into my life amidst the sea of negativity in which I find myself floating.

In addition to having moments of feeling upbeat, I have also benefited from a fuller capacity (after much therapy) to give voice to not only the situations that cause me distress, but also to what I feel moment-by-moment when I am upset. Being with my body, even when it doesn’t feel good, has lessened my dissociation and helped me to feel slightly more confident in approaching stressors. There is a sense of “this will be over soon” that comes to me at times, rather than the timeless horror my trauma-brain foresees.

Finally, I think aging itself has enabled me to see my track record more clearly. No matter how impossible, how helpless and hopeless I feel, I muddle my way through things. I do not give up immediately when difficulties arise and I also recognize when something is intolerable and must be resisted or released. I do not trust life to be kind or easy, but I do trust myself to find a way to respond to it. What is the nature of your emotional life? What have you learned about yourself and how have you grown emotionally?

Watching a Shadow (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It is raining buckets outside, so today did not provide many outdoor viewing options for my observation. Instead, I used the light in my living room to notice the shadows. As I sat, I realized shadows imply form. They are created in the presence of both a source of light and an object. They focus our attention in a mystery or horror film because they give rise to the notion that something is there, something whose true nature cannot be fully discerned. They imply presence, but, in the absence of a direct view or a mirror, the presence remains without understanding.

I live with so many shadows of trauma in my life–they are cast long and in sharp relief, but the specifics of the events which laid them out are obscured in my memory. Snippets and feelings and pain are all that remain. Even if I am full of shadow, I live in light because I name the monsters. I let be known what I do know to be true.

What I cannot abide well are those who deny shadows, who pretend there are no monsters casting them and who seek to blot out any brightness that would illuminate their dark truths. When one of my abusers communicated their denial to me, they literally stated that there wasn’t even a “pinprick” of light that would show them what I was claiming happened had indeed happened. That metaphor kept at me for a long time, and, through today’s observation, I know why. Killing the light to deny the object to ignore the shadow, or vice versa is the modus operendi of evil and is anathema to what this world needs right now. Shine, stand and outline your truth.

Expressing Gratitude through Journaling (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I connect a push towards gratitude with invalidation and ignorance of injustice, especially when statements such as “well at least…” or “everything happens for a reason” come my way. It’s hard, therefore, for me to focus on that for which I am grateful in the midst of feeling grossly mistreated yesterday. If there is anything for which I feel appreciative, it is the experience of being fully present and settled in my body.

Present-moment awareness comes and goes for me as I contend with PTSD and dissociation. When I was younger, I lived for the future, thinking that if I changed my circumstances, I could change how I felt inside. Over time, I learned that the scars of my past would continue to ache, even if I left those who wounded me behind. My future seems as relentless as what as gone before: unknowable, uncontrollable and unlikely to make me happy on its own.

Where I find my solace now, when it happens, is in living awake instead of in slumber by connected to my body, my breath and the world around me directly through my senses. These are the moments for which I am grateful, when I am no longer lost in rumination or dread. I have to feel “safe enough” in order to turn my powers of perception from my inner mental world to the outer physical world; anyone or anything that enables me to do so is also an encounter I cherish.

Indulge in Self-Care (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

As a person affected by multiple chronic physical and mental health conditions, including trigemnial neuralgia, complex PTSD, neck and arm radiculopathy and an undiagnosed systemic illness that has left me dehydrated and exhausted after multiple episodes last night that included digestive distress, fainting and low body temperature, I have no spoons to give today. The daily chores that must be completed to keep me fed and my house cleaned seem significantly more insurmountable than they do when my physical state is healthier. Taking time to engage in a simple pleasure on a day like today is another task rather than a bright moment of joy, but I felt determined to persist as I know giving up when I feel like this will only restart a cycle of depression.

As I use my Simple Pleasures cards, I am giving myself permission to adjust their instructions to a certain extent. Today’s draw was actually to buy up to five dollars in lottery tickets, but I know the excited anticipation they could perhaps bring would be missing with me feeling as sick as I am. Instead, I decided to use the money to buy myself flowers, which have a coalescence connotation which feels appropriate to my current state. I like the fact that they will last at least half a week and will continue to uplift my spirit as they fully blossom. Everyone deserves to have the ability to engage in self-care when they are feeling down; I am grateful for the privilege of being able to do so for myself.