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Fluid

I’ve always hidden half of me. Since I can remember, there are parts of my personality I’ve hidden, and other parts I’ve used like a defense mechanism to keep myself safe. We live in a misogynistic society. That means traditionally masculine traits such as individualism, competitiveness, and aggression hold value culturally and economically. 

As a response to this messaging, I have hidden one half of my personality from the larger world for most of my life. The characteristics I’ve hidden include:

  • Vulnerability
  • Sadness
  • Femininity
  • Humility
  • Silliness
  • Romance
  • Generosity
  • Grace
  • Queerness
  • Neediness

In order to protect myself, and win whatever game I thought life was, I projected these qualities instead:

  • Strength
  • Dominance
  • Possessiveness
  • Individuality
  • Arrogance
  • Masculinity

These are all inherent parts of my personality. But I wanted to fulfill some sort of vision of success. I wanted to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to be a “burden” or “inconvenient.” The interesting thing is, keeping half of myself shamefully hidden away created a self-fulfilling prophecy: I hid my femininity because I was scared of being rejected for my femininity, and I ended up being rejected my entire life for being a girl who presented as wholly unfeminine.

Because that’s the thing. I don’t wholly fulfill society’s definition of “woman.” And honestly, I never have. Part of why I think I’ve hidden my feminine side is because adopting it fully didn’t feel like “me” either. Basically what I’m saying is, I’m gender fluid.

What is gender fluidity?

It’s the idea that I don’t fulfill the societal definition of any one gender. 

I’ve felt this way forever:

The summer before fourth grade, I refused to get back-to-school shoes if they weren’t the light-up Vans from the boys section. I’ve been shopping in both women’s and men’s sections of clothing stores ever since.

I’ve never felt the maternal instinct to procreate. During early adolescence I was always confused when my friends would fantasize about their future husbands and children rather than climbing trees and digging for cool rocks. There was never a “stir” in my ovaries when I held my newborn nieces. I am bisexual. 

I chafe at domestic work.

I tend to be candid, direct, and blunt with my opinions and ideas; always expecting my voice to carry as much weight as my male counterparts. Only to be called a “know-it-all” or a “bitch” by all genders.

Even my body hasn’t felt completely “womanly.” I have endometriosis and PCOS; I’ve only ever had three natural periods. I am angular, broad, and flat from the waist up. I’m thick and round from the waist down. 

I’ve never understood what this all means to me. I still don’t really understand. I don’t feel wholly like a woman. I definitely don’t feel like a man. And I definitely don’t feel like I really fit in anywhere. 

Enter the term gender fluid. 

I have the femme expereince of being a woman; and all the consequences that come with it living in a patriarchal society (and all the privileges of being white because identity is complex). I present a feminine gender expression. But when I started working in circles of people who are intentional about asking for pronouns, I felt like a sham saying “she/her” and leaving it at that. 

The way we use gender in our society puts us into incredibly small boxes. By identifying with “she/her” I am giving others permission to make many assumptions about me that make me uncomfortable. By saying “she/her” I am betraying my identity. And then, when my masculine, competitive, individual side comes out, it unsettles people. It sometimes even makes them angry, or aggressive. Gender fluidity gives me the power to take back the narrative. It gives me the power to confuse people right away, and force them to come to terms with their confusion if we are to have a good relationship. It gives me the power to come out of hiding, and celebrate all sides of my gender identity. 

So, where does this leave me now? First of all, I’ve changed my pronouns in my email signature and social media profiles to she/they. I still identify with “she” because my lived experiences are important to my identity as well. I identify as “they” to be upfront about the fact that my personal gender identity is too dynamic to stay constricted within our gender binary. 

My goal has been to bring out my hidden side of my personality and put it on display. This is essentially what I’ve been doing already in my personal life over the last 10-ish months without realizing, as I literally became incapable of compartmentalizing when my mental health fell apart. Hiding like that forever gave me such low self esteem I tried to kill myself in October 2019. Stopping the habit was necessary for my survival.

I have felt like an exposed wound through this process; raw and sensitive. But, as I take stock of my growth so far I’ve noticed two overwhelming patterns that will be utterly essential to the next phase of my journey:

  1. Asking for what I want, calmly and directly, works.
  2. People like my vulnerable side.

It’s not necessarily that I always get what I want now, but I do more often.

I also haven’t completely gotten rid of my harder side.

Instead, I am learning to find self love in the fact that I can be both hard and soft at the same time.

I can be strong and vulnerable.

I can embrace my gender fluidity.

I can be myself. 

Disordered Eating and OCD: Please Don’t Congratulate me on Losing Weight

Side by side pictures from April 2020 and August 2020 that show the weight I've lost.
From my instagram @_r_d_b__

Changing in locker rooms, at camp, at sleepovers my entire life I would usually hear some kind of variation on “Ugh, I wish I was as skinny as you.”

I am privileged in that I have never struggled with my weight, and society has always rewarded me for it. 

But here’s the thing: societal beauty and weight standards are destructive for everyone. 

I have anxiety. Actually, I have lots of anxiety — four different anxiety disorders to be exact. Part of my anxiety is obsessive thoughts. My brain produces a couple specific thoughts that have taken root deep inside my sense of self. These are thoughts that have been there forever. These thoughts have influenced my behavior, made me lose sleep, made it impossible for me to get out of bed, made me feel like I have no control. They repeat on a loop in my head until I want to scream just to drown them out.

I can’t get rid of these thoughts, although I’m learning to stop them in their tracks. Within that process, I have begun to recognize the behaviors associated with each of my obsessive thoughts. And honestly, after 29 years of having anxiety, I JUST noticed that disordered eating is one of my symptoms.

Ok let’s back up. 

Why is this privileged skinny girl complaining about societal body image standards?

What does OCD have to do with all of this?

Think about it this way:

I’ve heard my entire life that I’m lucky because I’m “skinny” > being “skinny” is the goal > I obviously have to stay “skinny” > people are going to judge me if they see me eating like I’m not “skinny” > my brain with OCD > think about this every time I eat > stop eating in front of people.

Or this way:

Society reinforces the idea that I have worth if I just “stay skinny” > my anxiety gets triggered by something unrelated that I can’t control > my brain with OCD > obsessive thoughts over food (which I can control) feel safer than obsessive thoughts over things I can’t control > ignore your hunger > control your body > control restored > heartbeat returns to normal > stop eating

Then, after I stop eating for a while, I start developing anxiety when I go to eat at all. I’ll take a couple bites, trigger my anxiety, get nauseous, push my food away. In this way, my anxiety doubles down on my disordered eating behaviors and it feels like there’s very little I can do to get out of the cycle.

If you are a friend or family member and you’re reading this, please don’t freak out. The good news is I’m obviously working on this. Talking about my disordered eating has been difficult because of the privilege I know I have, but opening up about it has helped. I have an amazing, talented, knowledgeable partner who is trained in fitness and nutrition, and who always has my back. I have a support system that keeps me anchored in my worth, tethered to the knowledge that I am worthy of love regardless of how I look. I am grateful for the privilege I do have.

And, disordered eating needs to be a part of the larger conversation we have around mental health and eating disorders. We need to be more conscious of the ways we use language around weight. We need to examine our implicit biases with weight before speaking. We need to be conscious of the way we speak about weight, and ask ourselves if our words are productive, or if they perpetuate unhealthy bodyweight standards. We need to put more energy into self love. 

And we really really really need to stop comparing ourselves to one another. 

How my Triggers Slowly Unravel my Mind: a Metacognitive Case Study

Ok, so here’s how it happens:

The initial trigger is usually a miscommunication or something unexpected that makes me question a relationship.

Then I start over analyzing everything that has happened. I start building walls to “protect” myself.

These walls make me intensely fragile to any and all (even the tiniest of) triggers. And therefore the triggers start to pile up. And I start to get overwhelmed.

I start to question things that I’ve already figured out. I start to take everything personally. I make a career out of over analyzing every interaction to build evidence against myself. I obsessively try to read people’s minds and find all the places I’ve slipped up. I fall into all of the traps I’ve laid out for myself. I second guess all of the steps I’ve taken to guard myself against those traps. 

The next step is acting in ways I regret. I lash out at people when I’m really just projecting my own insecurities. I rehash every moment of my life where I’ve failed, or embarrassed myself. I make self destructive choices. I engage in self harm in several ways. 

These behaviors, and the realization that I’ve once again lost control, catalyze the synthesis of all my various anxieties into a viscous depression.

Lethargic, apathetic, exhausted. Depression will become my partner, my lover, my identity. I won’t be able to keep my eyes open for very long. I’ll need breaks from social interactions; leaving places early, going silent, wandering off to pet a dog midway through a conversation I lost track of minutes ago. Effort becomes physically taxing, sometimes even painful. Especially if I’ve successfully resisted the temptation to self harm, as the withdrawal gives me body aches. 

At which point it takes full time effort and some sincere grit to pull myself out of the hole I’ve dug. The difficult truth is: I do this to myself. This is my brain, and a combination of my genetics, and my trauma. This is me, reacting to triggers that are specific to my experience.

But here’s another truth I’ve learned:

Reacting to those triggers is not a measure of my “success” or “failure” as a good friend, a good partner, a good person.

I’m going to repeat that because I don’t entirely believe it yet.

Reacting to triggers is not a measure of success or failure.

Accepting that means accepting that I am responsible for my own mental health. That the reactions and feelings of others aren’t within my control, and often aren’t a reflection of how they feel about me.

How I’m working towards radical self-acceptance:

First and foremost, in order to accept these important truths about myself, and my mental health, and my strength, and my worth, I have to learn how to love myself. Without self love I’m never going to be able to accept anyone else’s love. Over the previous few months I’ve been slowly unearthing a fathoms deep sinkhole inside me I never knew existed. Each realization has triggered a grieving process that has not made coping with my social anxiety any easier. Each realization has simultaneously helped me recognize when my brain is lying to me because of my trauma. This is a good thing. This means every day I get better at recognizing when I’m projecting my own insecurities onto others. Which helps me catch myself like 80% of the time before I act on my anxious thoughts and become the burden I never want to be on all of my loved ones.

So I guess I need to give myself more credit. Yes, I am a fragile shell of my former self. And at the same time I’m practicing the skills I need to build the good kind of armor back around my soul. The thought patterns I need to trust my loved ones when they say they love me. To trust that their words and actions always come with the best intentions, and rarely reflect their feelings about me. 

I think my point, more than anything, is that gratitude is one of the most powerful tools I’ve found in this whole process. I didn’t realize that was the message of this post, until I arrived here myself. But, without the people in my life who are willing to hold me down regardless, I wouldn’t be alive right now. 

I’m not exaggerating for once. Suicide is always going to be present for me. A hard reality I’ve had to face is that I’ve traumatized my loved ones. I know that’s where their mind will go when I go off the rails like this. I can sense it in my partner as he starts to hover around me. He’ll become insistent on making plans for what I will do while he’s not home. I’ll get a few more random “I love you” texts than usual throughout the day. I’ll catch him staring at me, trying to hide the anxious look on his face. 

And regardless of my guilt, he stays. And so do so many others. Not all of them, but quite a few. That’s what I mean by gratitude. Regardless of my fragility, my neediness, my constant rollercoaster, I have people who stay. Who have stayed. And continue to stay. My inability to fully understand why is part of the problem to begin with, but it doesn’t mean I’m not completely, entirely, utterly grateful for those in my life who continue to carry my heavy-ass-self nevertheless.

My Dog’s Anxiety Ruined my Partner’s Night Last Night, and it was Hilarious

I woke up from a PTSD dream induced panic attack this morning, so I decided to write about something that brings me joy. My dog’s name is Goose. He is the worst. My partner and I adopted Goose when we were irresponsible college kids who had just moved in together. We were not ready for the responsibility of a puppy, and we were definitely not ready for Goose.

Goose getting ready to do our daily yoga

His paperwork said Labrador retriever mix. There’s no way this dog is a lab. I remember being at the shelter and asking my partner, “Does he have too much energy for us?” My partner, with big cartoon heart eyes assured me he didn’t. He definitely did (in our low moments when Goose is being particularly bad, I like to remind my partner of this conversation).

We never got a DNA test or anything, but we’re fairly certain Goose is mixed with border collie. For one, he looks like it. Secondly, he has more anxiety than any animal or human I’ve ever met in my life. And I have a lot of anxiety. Actually, our shared anxiety is part of the reason I fell in love with this damn dog, regardless of how frustrated he makes me. Goose and I get each other. He is a mama’s boy for sure.

His anxiety manifests in behaviors dogs don’t usually do. For example, when he goes out, whenever he goes out, he has to tear out of the house as fast as he can. He barks at the top of his lungs, lunges in a bee line straight at a tree, bounces off the tree, and shoots quickly off in the other direction. He does this so routinely, he has forged a “cow path” in a straight line in our lawn. He has also ruined every back doorway of every house we’ve ever lived in because of his jumping, barking, scratching, nipping insistence to GET OUTSIDE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. He is very well trained. His anxiety just makes some behaviors impossible.

One of these behaviors is something that annoys the crap out of my partner, but that I think is hilarious and endearing. Goose is terrified of fireworks. For better or worse, this dog is my little sidekick. Whenever he’s scared he needs me there to calm him down. No one else can do it. Well, I wasn’t there last night.

I was at a social distancing outside barbecue with my coworkers last night. My partner got home from work around 8:00 pm. He cracked a beer, lit himself a bonfire, and sat down to relax in a house that he hasn’t had to himself in months. And that’s when the fireworks started.

Goose started pacing the yard. He couldn’t go inside because he can’t be alone when he’s scared like this. He would just pace the house and bark. While pacing like this when Goose is anxious, he tries to restore his sense of control by knocking things over. Weirdly dextrous for a dog, he walks around and either knocks over, or flips over, anything he can manage. Usually until I’m done brushing my teeth and can cuddle him into calmness.

Well, like I said last night, I wasn’t there. And my partner is not a good enough substitute for Goose. No amount of love from my partner will calm this dog. So Goose started pacing as usual, unstoppable with me absent. Knocking over anything he could find.

He attempted to flip the lawn chairs.

Knocked over potted plants.

He hopped up on the patio table, as my partner tended the fire, and knocked his beer off and onto the ground.

All while my partner watched helplessly on, starkly reminded why we nicknamed this piece of work, “Goose, the Ruiner.”

A Threshold Crossed

I have no idea how to start this post.

I quit. I quit teaching. The decision to do so is something I have struggled with for months. Considering I barely taught this school year because I had to go on mental health leave twice, I’m sure this decision isn’t surprising to many people.

I know this is the right choice. I am happier and healthier than I have ever been with my mental health as the focus of my life. The physical, mental, and emotional demands of teaching have grown beyond my coping skills at this point, and I accept that. 

None of this changes the fact that I am heartbroken over the end of my teaching career. 

I love teaching. I love the intellectual challenge of breaking down complex concepts to help others learn. I love facilitating adolescents in developing critical thinking skills through inspiring them to fight for themselves and their community. I love helping adolescents develop socioemotional skills through modeling values-based community building. I love providing adolescents the space and autonomy to explore their curiosities and apply their interests. 

I also love working with kids! I love having a work environment where no one takes anything too seriously because let’s be real, it’s middle school. Everyone is out of their mind on hormones anyway. I love making up secret handshakes with students, and seeing them make a beeline to me in the hall, at the same time between CCA and first hour, every day. I love recruiting the kids to help me play pranks on my coworkers. I love calling kids out when they’re flirting in class, rather than paying attention. I love making stupid history puns using lyrics from Lizzo songs, receiving love notes and artwork from my students, and taxing the students by making them share parts of their snacks in return for the privilege to eat in my classroom. 

One time, one of my students thought he was hilarious and dropped my purple, glitter unicorn tape dispenser out of my second-story window. I noticed it was missing, assumed student involvement, and used my entire prep time to make copies of MISSING posters for my unicorn. I plastered the posters all over my school and classroom. I sent out pictures of the poster to my coworkers (many of whom displayed them on their “bell work” slides all day). I handed out flyers during passing time. 

Missing poster for my unicorn tape dispenser

(Eventually a student found the unicorn on the lawn outside and we got to spread the joyous news before the school day ended).

One day, I decided the floor of my classroom was lava. I taught the entire school day without touching the floor of my classroom once (and invited my students to play too if they wanted).

I would always play music during independent work time. I would get so much joy out of watching kids, usually so consumed with being “cool,” dance goofily in their seats while they did their work. 

I loved stuff like this, and so did the kids. It feels amazing to work in an environment that allows space for fun. It feels incredible to engage a kid in deep, rigorous coursework by showing them you have a sense of humor too. And I realize that any environment I work in with my peers will be desperately void of these things that made teaching so exhilarating. 

I have so many feelings about this transition. 

I will miss teaching. I wrapped much of my identity up in being a “teacher,” I will need time to grieve this loss.

I also am completely terrified about what’s next. Mostly because I don’t really know what’s next. 

I know building a writing career is central to my focus for my future.

I know I’ve already dedicated my life to antiracism.

I know that mental health needs to be central to my focus for the rest of my life.

I also know I have a partner, 3 fur babies, a mortgage, a small chunk of student debt, and an unfortunate penchant for minor, clumsy, injuries. 

At this point the “plan” is to stay grateful, stay open-minded, stay inspired, and stay true to my vision.

And I’ll keep working my ass off to take care of the rest. 

4 Considerations For White People Who Want to Protest

I would like to start this article by saying I am not an expert on race/racism or allyship. I am one white person who has done my best to seek education (formal and informal) in order to live an anti-racist life. I am sharing these thoughts because I am a white person who has taken part in protests in the past as an ally. As a queer person, I have also taken part in events where I’ve seen people with cishetero privilege take up inappropriate space. Therefore, I try to be extra conscious about the amount of space I’m taking up when I’m participating in a protest as an ally. 

And I’m really hoping that all white people who want to protest alongside and in support of Black and Brown members of our community will be conscious of the space they take up while there.

More and more white people are attending Black Lives Matter protests
More and more white people are attending Black Lives Matter protests. Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

1. Understand the Whole Issue You’re Protesting

If you think the publicized events you’ve been seeing on social media are ground in our current context, you need to do more reading. There is a complex, rich history of institutional racism being upheld by the police state. And it started in slavery, which is also much more complex than you learned about in school. 

There are so many print and video resources out there for you to educate yourself. Please listen to the voices of people with lived experience.

2. Check Your Motivations Before Attending a Rally/Protest

Why are you really there? Do you actually understand and support the causes put forward by the organizers? Or do you just want “credit” from your social media followers for being “woke?” 

Have an honest conversation with yourself. If your motives are the latter, stay home

3. Consider What Interactions With the Police May Look Like or Call For

More white people may increase police presence. Understand that a police presence does not mean safety for the people who organized this event. That’s the point.

If you are white, and you are not willing to put yourself at risk of bodily harm to provide a buffer between the police and the attendees of color, stay home. 

4. Talk Less. Or Not at All.

You may have feelings about the things you see and hear. That’s called white fragility. Get to know what that is, how to recognize it happening to you, and how to resist the urge to defend yourself. 

Because this moment is not about you.

I’m going to say that again. This moment in activism. This fight you’re trying to fight. IS NOT ABOUT YOU. 

Not all white people are bigots. Not all white people… fill in the sentence however you want. We get it. Talk to your therapist about your guilt.

All Black members of our community experience racism. That’s supposedly why you are at this protest, right? So, fight the urge to get defensive and listen. 

I’m Not Type A, I Just Have Anxiety

Those who have read my blog for a while are familiar with the fact that I’m an overachiever. I am a classic workaholic. Every personality test I’ve ever taken has told me I have a “Type A” personality. 

I excelled at school. I’ve exceeded expectations in all of my jobs. I have a reputation of being highly efficient, learning fast, sacrificing whatever is necessary, going the extra distance, and raising the curve for my peers. 

Being a teacher came naturally to me because I can multitask like crazy. Someone on twitter once said that teachers make 1,500 decisions per day. I have no idea if that number is true or not, but it feels like it is. I am definitely competitive, a perfectionist, critical of myself, impatient, energetic, and aggressive when it comes to getting the job done. All of these qualities are necessary when you are trying to appear “highly effective” on paper for your district and the state, make sure all students actually have an equitable chance to learn, and mentor each individual student through the hardest three years of their life. 

I took pride in my Type A personality. It made me excellent. I got honors. I won awards. I gave speeches. 

I almost killed myself last October. 

Honestly, our society values Type A personalities. They make someone highly efficient and productive; two things that fuel capitalism. What I’ve recently learned, though, is my Type A personality was made possible by unbridled anxiety.

I was a professional multitasker because I was obsessed with others’ approval. I literally felt like the approval of others was the only thing that gave me worth. I felt like once I had that approval, I had to continually prove I deserved it by earning it over and over again. 

I lived on a hamster wheel, in constant fear that I would lose everything I had earned if I dared to stop and take a break. I told myself that every mistake was a failure, and that failure could kill me. I embodied the Talladega Nights “If you’re not first, you’re last” mentality. 

Basically, I allowed my extreme anxiety free reign to run my life. I caught myself in the trap of constantly feeling worthless, not good enough. I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders when no one asked me to in the first place. I was miserable.

And, at the same time, why would anyone assume anything was wrong when I was doing so well? On the outside I was perfect. I was doing “it.” I was achieving my goals, supporting my family, and gaining approval from the people who “mattered.” 

Isn’t that what success looks like? 

Unfortunately, yes. This is what success in our society looks like. The narrative of the Type A personality is a convenient way to encourage at-all-costs productivity. As long as someone is productive, they are successful. 

By explaining my extreme behavior away with my Type A personality, I was able to hide my mental illnesses. I could avoid dealing with any of my problems and my trauma by adding more work onto my plate and being rewarded for it by my superiors. If I just kept going, and never stopped, I would never have to face my anxiety for real. 

I was winning awards based on my performance. My performance was fueled by my ability to pretend I wasn’t constantly on the edge of cracking, while I took on more and more work. 

And then I finally cracked.

And I’ve finally realized my Type A personality was really anxiety. And my need for the approval of others was trapping me in toxic cycles of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. So I’m officially letting my Type A self go.

Type A Renea is gone. I put her to rest in the name of mindfulness, happiness, self love, and stability. 

I am already grieving her absence. It’s hard to let go of excellence. It’s hard to accept that living a healthier life means giving up what once made me great. 

I am definitely going through a major transition right now. Living a mental health-focused life forced me to make a lot of changes. Living mindfully and focusing one day at a time isn’t conducive to success in a capitalist sense, but god damn am I much happier as a Type B.

Brain Dump: All of This is Probably Bullshit

How am I to create 

Out of sawdust

And ruined plans 

When these four walls hold me

Static 

I’ve been thinking about history a lot lately 

And the patterns that form

With the revolutions of

The earth around the sun 

A sense of history

And womxnhood

And how when it feels like the world is coming to an end

It’s that, which has often been considered “womxn’s work” which will have to pull us back on track 

That which has been considered “womxn’s work” due to the incorrect assumption that womxn were the only ones capable of being feminine. 

Caring. Living communally. Feelings of connection, belonging, sharing, warmth. Banning together as a village to make sure everyone rises. 

It is the work that, since the beginning of Western industrialism, has been considered less valid 

Less relevant

Less valuable 

Less worthy

But it is the work time and time again that salvages the world from the scraps left behind by the conquerors 

Squabbling over resources that languish under abuse 

And gives us a fighting chance.

Because the “us” is a living organism

Just like the individual.  

I’ve lived a life feeling that industrial capitalism 

was the only way to contribute anything of worth to society.

My worth would be measured in productivity.

My productivity measured by dollars.

My aggressive masculinity (separate from my biological sex) was the only side I felt comfortable showing to the world.

My individualism

My competitiveness 

My desire to be the best, the favorite

The one with the most social currency

And everything else felt weak. Felt pathetic. Left me vulnerable to colonizers, conquerors, rapists 

My femininity (separate from my biological sex) felt weak, felt unworthy, felt disposable. 

My biological sex felt weak, felt vulnerable, felt ravaged, felt numb

So I grew a shell

And I tried to operate within an institution that I thought would allow me to use my 

Magic

Connected to my 

Femininity

And

My 

Womxnhood 

To still be excellent 

In a capitalist sense

But that’s not what teaching is anymore.

I Freaked Out This Morning: Here’s why

I freaked out this morning.

Like full on, forgot all of my anxiety coping skills, spiralled into hopelessness, freaked out.

For the most part, I’ve been doing surprisingly well coping in a world with Covid-19. I’m not bragging, I just have done so much therapy I was weirdly prepared to put my head down and trudge through this type of trauma, rather than being thrown off my axis.

But this morning… Man, I freaked out.

I have officially been in quarantine for 57 days. That means 57 days of very little physical movement, very little physical contact with other human beings, no social contact outside of a screen, limited access to new experiences, little to no reason to groom myself, and increasingly similar tasting meals with decreasing nutritional content as rations dwindle. 

Additionally, social media has become the center of what-feels-like-everyone’s social lives as it is really the only pandemic-approved way to connect. But even social media is fruit of the same poison tree as it is saturated with death counts, protesters demonstrating how little they care for their community, and the stress and depression of billions of people undergoing collective trauma.

I’m not here to complain. You know all of this. You’ve been in quarantine too. 

I am also not looking for your pity, your sympathy, or your help as I have a lot of privilege that I am not trying to ignore. I have an income. I have a home. I have health insurance. I am white. I have lots of privilege (as usual, scroll down for links if you want to read more about how the impact of Covid-19 is imbalanced across communities and identities).

But even with my privilege and my skills, I have not been safe from this collective trauma. And I’m assuming you haven’t been either. And I’m here to tell you that it’s ok. 

It’s ok, every now and then, to take a look around you and freak the fuck out. This is scary. This is stressful. 

I, as it is, am on mental health leave from work because I recently tried to kill myself. I am having a full on identity crisis about my career at a time when the future of the economy is uncertain. I’m taking risks on a writing career that is the opposite of a “sure thing.” I am one individual going through so much shit and I’m also surviving an international pandemic. 

And on top of it all: we.are.going.through.collective.trauma.

We all already have a whole lifetime’s worth of bullshit, and stress, and trauma. We have hard things in our lives that are already difficult to cope with. Racism still exists. The patriarchy is still out there. We are still holding a presidential election in November. Not to mention, all of these landscapes are shifting as well, because of the pandemic. 

If I’m being completely honest, I’m writing this piece to try to make myself feel better about freaking out this morning. Since the start of quarantine, my main line on the situation has been “It is what it is. As long as I’m doing everything to help within my control, obsessing over the stressful parts will achieve nothing but a negative impact on my mental health.” 

This is still absolutely true. I still believe that practicing radical acceptance is the only mindframe that will help us survive this mess with our sanity intact. 

And, at the same time, there needs to be allowances for moments of weakness. For times when we just have to freak out. We need to be gentle with ourselves when it is just too difficult to accept and we need to spend our day under a weighted blanket. 

Covid-19 impact across communities and identities:

Racial Disparities- The Washington Post 

Racial Disparities –The Atlantic

Domestic Violence

Homelessness

Mental Health Maintenance

It’s weird. 

I’ve been falling apart for a while. I almost killed myself in October, but my mental breakdown started far before that. And it came in waves. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been a hot ass mess since I got raped in 2010. 

I have a brilliant support system, and everyone in my life has gotten used to my messiness by now. They have realized they can’t really count on me to show to social occasions. They’re familiar with my red, puffy, pale depression face and deadpan responses to small talk. They have come to expect my need to step away from the group to cope my way through panic attacks. They may not completely understand it, but they know. And with that, naturally comes a certain measure of emotional detachment. You see, I am not always the one who is stable enough to listen to their woes or give them advice. I have been the “broken friend” for a while, but I’ve started to own that.

The weird part is, lately I’ve been experiencing a subtle role-reversal. 

Since Covid-19 came in and turned the world upside down, I have noticed that I seem better equipped than most of the people I know to handle the anxiety and depression triggered by such a catastrophe. It’s almost like the years I’ve spent in therapy, the roller coaster I’ve been on, the personal trauma I’ve gone through, have prepared me with the skills one needs to maintain mental health through quarantine. 

Those who don’t suffer from mental illnesses (or haven’t sought help for them yet) on the other hand, have no idea how to cope with the shared trauma we are experiencing in our current context. 

All of a sudden, I have gone from being the “broken” friend to being the friend giving advice about skills that can help everyone  survive Covid-19 with their mental health intact. 

As of now, our governor is considering extending the quarantine for even longer, and I’ve had 3 of these types of conversations with my friends over a 24 hour period this week. Therefore, I thought others may benefit from some of the materials I’ve made to help myself cope. 

The links below are to downloadable google docs with journal pages I originally designed for myself. If you find them helpful, you can print and fill in the blanks, copy the prompts into your own journal, make a copy into your own drive and change it around to suit your own needs, etc. 

Scroll down below each worksheet and find a model of how I’ve filled it out for myself.

A note on sources: I created these materials myself based on what I learned by participating in a Partial Hospitalization Program at the University of Michigan Hospital. All of the skills I utilize in the worksheets are based on the work of Dr. Marsha Linehan in developing Dialectical Behavior Therapy. 

Worksheet #1 (click here to see downloadable google doc): A set of questions/prompts to journal about over your morning coffee/tea/breakfast. These prompts help me practice Radical Acceptance, help me ground myself in a purpose every day, and give me ideas on how to spend my unstructured time that day. 

Worksheet #2 (click here to see downloadable google doc): A worksheet I use for every individual emotion I struggle to cope with. I have made one of these babies for when I’m feeling depressed, anxious, socially anxious, triggered, and panicky. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but I keep my journal with me everywhere I go. And, as juvenile as it feels sometimes, I need to refer back to these pages when I’m overwhelmed with an emotion. It is not always easy to remember all your strategies “in the moment.” 

Worksheet #2 is based on a strategy I learned for reframing cognitive distortions. If you have ever gone to a therapist that practices Cognitive Behavior Therapy, examining how your thoughts impact your emotions isn’t unfamiliar to you. While engaging in this kind of therapy, I’ve come to realize that my thoughts make patterns, and specific negative thoughts are recurring. This worksheet allows you to break down the process into a reference tool for dealing with the most common negative thoughts you have.