This funny thing has been happening to me lately when things get particularly shitty. When I’m really in it - when my family is dealing with health struggles, when the COVID numbers out in the world look particularly dire, when the political climate seems even more violently anti-Black than usual - I look over at my loving, kind partner and decide to start an argument.
I’m a pretty good partner, most of the time. And my partner and I get along surprisingly well for people who have been together every single day through this pandemic. But this thing I do, where I’m stressed and overwhelmed and decide to get upset at him for….nothing…..or when I decide that he can’t truly be as happy as he seems so I begin to *poke* *poke* *poke* until he reveals the hidden unhappiness (spoiler alert: it’s usually just annoyance at how weird I’m being) that surely lies within, is not going to win me any partner of the year awards.
When this pandemic started my brother started working out every single day. He started going to therapy. He started playing basketball. He started creating new music. He was determined to take what control he had to strengthen himself. He wanted to shore up his vessel to give himself the best chance of weathering this storm.
I, on the other hand, am the person who tests leaks in her boat by stabbing at it randomly with a metal pole to see what parts might give way, shouting, “I knew it!” as I start to sink.
I fear, not just loss, but loss that takes me by surprise. Loss that I can’t prepare for. And there has been so much loss lately that we haven’t been prepared for. I have learned throughout my life that I cannot prevent bad things from happening. It would be healthy then to let that go, and focus on enjoying the present.
I mean, you could do that. I’m sure that’s recommended. But what if you just tried to force the bad things to happen more quickly so you could get them over with?
What if instead of treasuring my friendships and nurturing them in times of uncertainty I instead avoided all my friends so that if they get sick and die I won’t miss them as much?
What if instead of breathing easier when I see my kids adjusting to pandemic life and making new friends I worried constantly about what will happen when they get into arguments with their friends? What if I keep pestering my son about how things are going until he stops smiling and refuses to talk to me? What if I spend this entire school year, when my son is finally able to see other kids every day, worried about the isolation to come in summer?
I have anxiety disorder - that might be obvious to some of you now. So I’m always a little worried that disaster is just around the corner. But I don’t think this is unique to me or anxiety disorder. I think a lot of us are in a hyper-vigilant space right now due to the extraordinary amount of trauma these last two years have brought and we are all becoming a little (or lot) self-destructive. I have a friend who becomes convinced she’s going to get fired from her job whenever she gets stressed, even though she’s a great worker who has never had any negative feedback from her boss. I have another friend who is regularly convinced that any friend who doesn’t post online for a day or two has died. I have another friend who has called the doctor for every sniffle, lump, bump or soreness, convinced that they are trying to stay safe from COVID just to die from some other silent illness.
The logical part of my brain, the part writing now, wants to tell you some wise truths right now. My logical brain wants to tell you that of course we can’t ever truly prepare for loss. That we know that all good things will die. Relationships end. Jobs end. People get sick. We all must die sooner or later. But I have been trying to reason with myself for a year and a half and it’s not really helping much. Knowing that I can’t be prepared for loss doesn’t seem to stop me from trying to be prepared in the only way I know how.
Right now I’m trying to focus on at least being aware of what I’m doing a little sooner. The other day I apologized to my partner for being cranky with him for no reason (ok, the reason was that he didn’t want to hang a picture up in his studio where I thought it should go, but the real reason was because my son wasn’t home that day so I couldn’t see for myself that he was ok at all times so the least I could do was make sure that this picture was hung up in the best possible place even though I would almost never see it because it’s in my partner’s studio). My partner looked at me with surprise, because I hadn’t said or done anything to indicate that I was cranky with him, because I was able to recognize the fight I was gearing up to start before I started it and mostly I was apologizing for the dialogue that had been running through my head. But most of the time now I can at least catch myself enough to say, “I’m doing it again. I’m over focusing on this relationship because so much in my life is out of my control and it’s making me scared.”
Knowing what I’m doing, even if I can’t stop doing it, Is helping me to let these moments pass more quickly. It’s stopping a moment of insecurity from turning into an argument that ruins my whole day or week. And it’s giving me the one thing I actually want, a little control - not of the world or my relationships, but of my own actions.
I need people. We all do. But in these times, when there is so much uncertainty, and when it is literally unsafe to be around people, I need to find a way to accept love and joy through uncertainty. I have to learn to trust the connections with people in my life even if they will always be as fragile as we are. Because there is no alternative. I can’t stop being human. And I can’t stop the people I love from being human either. So, I’m working on it.
I’m not going to start working out every day. I refuse. And we know what happened with the whole basketball thing. But I’m trying to find better ways to cope with the uncertainty of life right now. I’m trying to be more present and to see the beauty that is around me.
Everything good will die. But so will everything else. So what do we want to live in for whatever time we have? Misery will not grant us immortality. It is an honor to know that we we have loved and lived so well that we will one day mourn and be mourned.
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"Misery will not grant us immortality". That one will stay with me. This really resonated ✨
Everything by you that I have read (And that is a lot) helps me navigate through life more clearly. Your words are both sustaining and nourishing. Thank you