Double Edged —It Isn’t Pretty

I consider myself a needy person. If you subscribe to the enneagram camp, you’d say it’s because in those times I’m an unhealthy two. However, I just see it as form and function of how I was raised and who I am—it’s good and bad at times. However, this quality gives me a unique relationship with social media. I can endlessly scroll through my FB or IG feed looking at photos, reading articles, commenting, and liking. It’s natural and gives me a sense of connection to those with whom I follow. I can keep up-to-date easily with friends in other countries, with relatives we rarely see, or others who land on the periphery of my daily life.

But social media comes at a cost too. There are times I’ll get down a rabbit hole of checking in on an old buddy and find myself viewing photos of their family reunion from three years ago (how the hell did we get here?). Or I’ll get easily overcome by the FOMO of online posts (cool, my friends are hanging out without me…oh awesome, they’re engaged/pregnant/starting their own business/etc). I can obsess about whether folks have commented or liked my “recent”, mindlessly opening and closing apps to see if there is any new notification. Those are the extremes.

Throughout the pandemic I think this got worse, who knew that was possible! For a long bit, online/virtual was my only social outlet. And I let myself succumb. As things have started to open up and I’ve been connecting in real life with people, this techno-need hasn’t quite dissipated. But what I’m realizing (or perhaps I’ve known but I’m now admitting to myself) is that it isn’t healthy. Set aside the screen time and damage to my eyes and neck: social media takes a toll on my mental and emotional health. I’m not blaming the platforms, I fully recognize it’s my bad habits and internal struggle that makes it difficult. And if FB/IG/SC didn’t exist, I’m sure there’d just be something else in their place. I can’t change everything. My nature (susceptibility?) is not going to change. But there are things within my control: I choose how and when and how often I engage. And so I’m doing a social media inventory, figuring out what’s important and what’s not. I’ll make changes to meet my own needs. Does it mean I may miss out on your kid’s 1st birthday cake smash photos? Yup. Does it mean I may miss announcements of engagements and weddings and babies and retirements and funerals. Yup. Does it mean that I might not see as many conversations (polite or otherwise) about current events and the state of the world? Yup. It’ll be an adjustment for sure, and I may not always succeed, but I just might be okay with new habits. And hey, maybe it will give us something genuine to discuss when we next meet for coffee/see each other at the store/grab lunch/go for a walk/FaceTime/chat on the phone.

If I’m honest, there is part of me that will miss the drama. Hi, I’m human and I’m prone to gossiping—social media definitely fuels that (for me). So all of this to say if you see me posting and engaging less, if you notice I’ve unfollowed or quieted or taken a break from this or that person, if I’m somehow absent from a platform due to deleted account, know this: I’m trying each day to take a little bit better care of myself. This has been ongoing—it started with diet and exercise, which I feel I’ve gotten a handle on. Now it moves to social/emotional health (I sound like a School Counselor). And this is just one piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps you feel (or have felt) the same way I’ve described. If so, I see you, it’s not easy. Sometimes just being acknowledged helps. I’d encourage you to do your own self-reflection and inventory surrounding social media. How do you feel when certain things happen? Are there specific people that are triggers for you? What changes do you need to make for you? It’s tough. I think it’s worth it, though. Not everyone will understand the decisions you make. People are bound to have their feelings hurt along the way. Hopefully if they are your people (tribe/inner circle/posse/core group) they will understand. And if not I think it says more about them than it does about you. If you needed the push, here it is: take care of you.

Evaluate

I hope you’ve been able to use this time productively to learn more about yourself.  I sure know I have.  I wrote a blog a month or so ago about living in the “grey” during this pandemic.  It was raw and honest, and I think this is going to serve as a sort of follow-up as we head out of quarantine.  One of the positive things I’ve found in the last 11 weeks is that it has allowed me to explore deeper who I am and what I want, without some normal responsibilities and distractions that are usually a part of life.

I’ve approached work differently as we’ve navigated WFH and virtual interactions and meetings.  My expectations have been changed, the way I gauge my success/failure has been modified, and my identity as an Associate Minister (who primarily works with kids and youth) has been rattled.  It’s been tough.  So much of my energy comes from interacting with my young people on at least a weekly basis.  And that either hasn’t happened face to face (for obvious reasons), or it hasn’t happened at all.  I’ve been mourning the loss of our Camp experience for the Summer of 2020.  So the grey of how to operate in this pandemic has taught me that 1) I am capable of more than I thought, 2) I need to remain flexible and resilient, 3) I can make things work in ways unimagined–I just have to dream it and follow through.

I’ve had to be adaptable with my school work and classes this Spring and Summer.  Part way through our second semester we moved to online classes and Zoom lectures.  In some ways, it was nice to not drive to campus every Monday night.  It was nice to make food during class, sit on the couch, and just be in my own space.  But there are pieces I don’t like about this style.  I don’t get to interact with my people.  Our cohort is really close and we love the break time during/between classes to catch up with one another.  This same sense isn’t there when remote, and I miss it.  But I recognize how privileged we are to be able keep learning virtually.  So the grey of what is to come for our program and classes has taught me 1) to apply things I’ve learned to my own experience–at least we can continue and this doesn’t stifle our ability to meet, 2) I need to remain vigilant to my studies–it’s really easy to get off track, 3) I really value the colleagues I have in my cohort and care deeply about them–we support one another.

I’ve seen my relationships have morphed as well.  Quarantine has had a away of shifting the flow of things–things grow fast and deep, other things maintain status quo, and some things find their natural end.  You can’t often predict which life a relationship will take in the climate in which we’ve lived.  Typically I am what I’d call an “initiator”–I generally reach out to my people and ask for hangs/etc.  But quarantine has pushed me off of that game.  I found that I didn’t feel my normal pull to check-in on those I usually keep close tabs on.  I was experiencing my own type of social grief and it didn’t feel comfortable to put myself out there.  I was evolving (or perhaps some would see it as regressing).  This isn’t easy or comfortable to acknowledge because it is so counter to me, but it’s what I needed as I processed the emotions that came with the pandemic.  Quarantine became a time I could experiment with who I am…it gave me a safe space to be introspective and evaluate what I really want in life.  It gave me flexibility without repercussions.  Coming out of quarantine this fluid reality has become more rigid.  I’ve been able to see and connect with my people again, and the things that were filling that void are slowly finding a new space to hold.  The grey reminds me that 1) it’s okay to step away and work on you, your people will understand and still love you 2) some things have a specific space and time, and mourning those things is a part of moving through (I don’t think we ever move on) 3) life is hard, and complicated, and weird–listen to your own needs, if they aren’t being met change something so that they are  4) vulnerability and honesty are just as important now as they’ve ever been 5) people and relationships feed my soul.

I’d be remiss not to not mention other events that are happening in our world as well.  As the news of COVID instances and death tolls has lessened, it’s made room for news of movements and riots.  There has been much of it that I haven’t been able to watch (yes, I recognize my privilege in that).  As an empath and HSP, I have to start taking care of myself and my emotions first (though this isn’t normal for me).  I am sad, distraught, confused, and feel at a loss.  I recognize that on both sides there are those who are going to extremes and causing hurt; and on both sides there are those seeking justice, peace, and collaboration.  I’m taking time to learn more, I’m trying to have difficult conversations even when it hurts, I’m trying to think about what my faith and my God calls me to do.  I don’t have the answers, I don’t always make the best or right decision.  But I know in whatever small way I can I need to keep moving forward, keep trying, keep elevating the voices of others.  Small steps are still steps.  Originally this post was called “When grey becomes black and white” but including this last paragraph made it feel too much like I was making light of the situations at hand.  And thus it changed.

I can only control me, I can’t control how others react to me.  I seek to do/be better.  And I think it starts with open and honest (albeit difficult) conversation.

I thought you were done with other people planning your life. --Sweet Magnolias

Maasai Mara is my Home. The Maasai are my people.

One of the questions I asked my kiddos this week on our biweekly zoom was “what’s something you haven’t done for a while that you’ve gone back to?” I shared with them the example of how growing up I used to wear soccer shorts and fancy tops (much to the chagrin of my sisters). And that in quarantine a few times I had noticed that my “laziness” allowed for me to don similar outfits. They each shared something lighthearted and it was nice to see them all giggle with one another. Boy, do I miss these kids.

A few days later I was standing outside on the deck and did something I haven’t done in yeeears, I balanced on one foot and rested the other on my knee pointed straight out in front of my. I used to stand like this all the time as a child. My dad would call me a Massai warrior. And I claimed it and felt a special camaraderie with that tribe. So much so that I chose them to do a project in in seventh grade. But standing like this again felt natural. It made me smile and remember my time in Kenya. It made me think of my mom’s time in Zaire—I can hear her words from the journal she left behind if that time. And I thought about my dear dada (sister) Winnie who I met in the states through the Umoja project—though I will forever hate the roof we worked on that year of ASP, I will always be thankful Jack needed me to sub for him that summer.

Maasai Mara ni nyumbani, Maasai ni watu wangu. (Blog title in Kiswahili).

Rattled

After hearing from many how raw and honest and refreshing a few recent blogs have been, I’m hoping to open up and show up in new ways. As always, these are for me and not for others. But the added benefit is sometimes someone else gets something out of them. And it’s wonderful to hear feedback along the way (keep it coming).

For the most part I’ve been navigating this “new landscape” surprisingly well. It isn’t an environment I enjoy and I definitely struggle with it, but one day at a time I’ve been making my way through. This week, however, has been the worst yet. Maybe it’s because we started summer intensives for school (one week in and they are already overwhelming). Maybe it’s because I still feel unsettled and a drift and have been navigating between two households. Maybe it’s because I miss seeing and interacting with my people/tribe/core group. Maybe it’s because whether real or imagined life feels lonely and bland and like I’m stuck in a Groundhog’s Day loop (cue the radio alarm clock, and “Phil? Phil!!!”).

I haven’t quite put my finger on it, and likely it’s a mix of many things compounded. But I feel anxious. It makes me operate from places I’ve tried really hard not to operate from. When I spend too much time in my head I get sucked into bad/unhealthy patterns. I spend too much time thinking about my feelings an worthy compared to/assessed by others. Not something I’m proud of, and it feels like slipping back into old patterns that I worked so hard to get away from but I have to acknowledge it and feel it and accept it before moving through it to the other side.

As an enneagram 2 I place a high value on connection—that’s just one of the many reasons this quarantine has been difficult. I find virtual connection a poor substitution for being in person with my people. Typically I am the one who reaches out to my friends—by text, phone, or to initiate hangs. This can be a struggle sometimes as I balance feeing too needy versus feeling people don’t care enough to ask me—both heightened extremes. But in quarantine I’ve found myself not initiating as much. It’s not because I don’t love people, or don’t want to—I feel somewhat stifled and paralyzed by it. In this climate my gut isn’t to reach out the same way, somehow it’s overwhelming. I can only take in and take on so much. And so I have to force myself to concentrate on me more than others. Which is a 180 for me in many ways. My personality is normally to give and give and give to others before myself. The quarantine is surely giving me opportunities to learn. And I’ll come out a different (better?) person on the other side. But it’s mind boggling right here, right now to see the way it’s affected who I am/who I’ve been at my core.

And that’s all okay.

“I only dog paddle…”

My sisters and I can quote (probably) the entire The Princess Bride movie. It’s one of the movies we grew up on and watched over, and over, and over. So the best (and worst) parts have been etched in our minds. This week there’s one quote that has been rolling around in my head quite often, it goes like this: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something”. I’ve written a little bit here briefly about my struggles and (slight) disdain for online dating. This quote seems to align with my feelings.

A friend and I were commiserating about the absence of social interaction and how we were both coping. I shared my want to be dating and meeting someone. I joked that maybe what I needed was a form letter to send to my closest, most trusted friends that encouraged them to set me up on dates. We bantered back and forth with her throwing in”don’t forget to include tour resume”. But that got me thinking more seriously—why not reach out to the people who know me best, who I trust? It seemed a little weird, and admittedly awkward. But these folks already have proved they accept me for me—what was there to lose? Obviously what I’ve been doing up to this point hasn’t been working, time to try something new.

And so on somewhat of a whim I crafted a letter. I explained my need for self growth over the last few years. I talked about vulnerability and laid out a request in front of them. It felt silly. It felt strange. But these are people I trust, who know me, who have sound judgement. Who better to have your back in the dating world helping you make connections? I was nervous though how folks would respond. But like my sister reminded me, this letter is very me and these people would get it. Thankfully people responded well. People applauding the cleverness of the endeavor. People repeatedly saying “we will keep our eyes out for you”. People saying they are proud of me. It’s reassuring and gives me a confidence boost. I’m not putting all of my weight behind this endeavor helping me go on more dates, but I am excited to feel like I have more people in my corner. Because, dang, something’s gotta give.

Thanks to Brian Andreas for this little gem.

Feelings from All Sides

I don’t know how to celebrate Mother’s Day anymore. And perhaps I don’t need to know how. I could choose not to recognize the holiday at all. I told a friend this week that I didn’t think Mother’s Day would ever feel happy again unless I was a mother, the one being celebrated. Without my mom here, it feels like a ruse—like all of the air has been let out of a heart shaped balloon. It doesn’t feel special or momentous or good. And so I struggle with the lead up to the day, and with the day itself. Usually that Sunday morning I hide behind a fake smile and wish a Happy Mother’s Day to the women at church. But it’s uncomfortable and makes my skin crawl. So in a weird way I’m thankful to be distancing socially on this Mother’s Day. I can just be me, and I can feel everything I’m feeling—whatever that is at the given moment.

Over the last few years I’ve highlighted other women who have been role models and mentors and surrogate mothers to me. Like my dear friend KSH who gives me life advice and words of wisdom, who always makes me laugh and reminds me it’s okay to dance to the beat of my own drum. She’s not my mom, but she sure does help provide comfort and confidence and so much compassion, all of which I’m thankful to have. I think about my mom’s two dear friends Rosie and Pam: how they’ve held onto us even after her passing—how we can share photos and memories, and how their love for her lives on in their love for each of us. It’s wonderful knowing their are others who keep a flame burning for her that we can call on if the need arises. I think of my sorority mom and all she’s been for me over the years. I think of my dearest friend who I call sister (as jokingly “mom”) who always has my back—through it all. I think of how each of them has helped mold me and I let myself momentarily slip into the land of “what if” and consider how my mom would react to my life decisions (the good and the bad) over the last few years. What wisdom would she impart? But that’s a future that will never be.

These last few months have reminded me that we don’t really know what the future holds. And that even though we should plan for the future, there is much anxiety and stress that goes into issues we can’t control—a reminder amplified by Mother’s Day. But worrying about the future is something I’ve done for years. There are somethings I need to just let be. There are somethings that I need to spring into action for in ways I never have. It’s a new balance that I’m hoping to embrace. So as we head into Mother’s Day, I’ll remember who my mother raised me to be (strong, witty, tenacious). I’ll embrace who I’ve become and who I continually strive to be (kind, vulnerable, eclectic, fearless). And I’ll remind myself to live in the now, takes risks, and celebrate even when it feels difficult. I may not enjoy everything going on around me. I may have a myriad of feelings at any given moment. I may not have (yet) reached all of my dreams for my life. But there is so much yet to come. And perhaps the way to celebrate Mother’s Day for me in this time is recognizing the big moments in my own life and knowing she’ll be here for every minute of it, in her own way. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of all.

Grey

I’ve been starting lots of blogs and not finishing them. Maybe it’s the current environment that is keeping me from wanting to complete them (or rather being able to complete them). But this thought has stuck with me the last few weeks. If this quarantine, social distancing world has taught me anything thus far it’s this: I can be comfortable living in the grey. That’s not usually the case. I’m a list maker, a planner, an organizer, a detail-oriented thinker. Though I am flexible and think quickly on my feet, I like to anticipate outcomes when I can.

What does it mean to live in the grey? Lots of things. It means not having all of the answers to my own questions or the questions of others. It means not knowing what the near future or distant future hold. It means going with the flow, not giving in to expectations, doing what feels right in the moment. It means intentionality, tentative but firm steps forward, it means listening to yourself and others. It means going deep, being in tune with your heart and soul, and freeing yourself from the constraints society places on you. It means being you, whatever that is at the time. Living in the grey is being comfortable with the unknown, the invisible, the unspoken.

I am grateful for this time to see and appreciate the grey spots in my life. And I’m learning to lean in to what they are teaching me. And I’m becoming more comfortable discovering and learning new things each day as they unfold before my eyes. The grey is to be appreciated. The grey is what I want because it brings strength, and courage, and grit.

Why I Won’t Wear Green

I can remember as a kid growing up the hullabaloo that circulated around St. Patrick’s Day. Folks pinching each other when they saw others were not wearing green. Or drawing shamrocks on their hands with marker to avoid the inevitable pinch. And it took me a while to realize it, but I align with the “I won’t wear green on the 17th” mentality. I’m not anti-holiday or anti-celebration. But I’ve come to learn that deeper meaning is important to me in my decisions and actions. So though I won’t wear green, you can find me proudly sporting orange each March 17th.

St. Patrick, a Catholic Saint (other traditions also claim him), is associated with Ireland though I do not believe that was his original country of origin. It’s disputed where in Roman Britain he was actually born. His association with Ireland brings about his association with the color green. In the Irish flag; the green, the white, and the orange all represent different things. 🇮🇪 Below you can see a picture from Wikipedia.

Thus, as one who is of the Protestant faith, I will wear orange. It may not make sense to everyone. It may mean that people still try and pinch me (they will get pinched back). But it’s something to me that holds deeper meaning than just following what everyone else does.

Green wall, Orange jacket.

Too Much to Lift

I’ve put off writing this blog. There is so much going on right now, and so much of it feels very heavy. But thoughts have been swimming around my head and I think maybe the best way to calm them is to write them down, and here we are. So just go into this knowing there are a lot of moving parts, most of which are pretty deep. But I’m navigating and handling it pretty well.

The world feels like a very scary and unsure place right now. Whether warranted or not, we are living in a sense of fear, scarcity, and unknown. To say my anxiety is heightened feels like an understatement. Thankfully I’ve been able to limit my contact with others in large groups. This provides its own struggle as I am someone who gains energy from being around others. I’ve been lucky to talk to some of my closest friends via phone and text and know that they are safe and taking precautions in terms of their health and wellness.

On top of what feels like the biggest health crisis I’ve witnessed (feels like, I am not claiming accuracy to this statement) this week is one that bears its own weight annually. About a week out, my body sensed it before my mind. Then last night she was in my dreams. And my day was clouded in a bittersweet haze. Thankfully I have friends checking in on me, willing to listen and support me as I need (even when I don’t know what it is I need, they ask and comply when I can finally formulate words). It’s anniversary number three but it’s still a lot to handle.

At coffee with a friend last week we discussed dating and relationships and things we are looking for in life. It was nice exchanging notes and encouraging one another. It put my butt in gear thinking about dating and the weird world of dating apps and the like. I swear it’s the most counterintuitive process. I’m old school maybe. So who wants to set me up on a blind date? With the social distancing that people have been promoting, dating seems unrealistic and even dangerous in a way. Funny how the time when I feel pushed back into that realm, the world almost laughs in my face.

In trying to connect virtually with people I love over the last few days, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with one of my best/longest friends. Along with catching up on life, sharing info about our families, and reminiscing about mom, she shared some exciting news with me. So much joy, but I had to quickly walk to my car before breaking down. When thinking of the joy of others, sometimes it reminds me of all I will not and cannot have Mom physically be a part of-and that at times is paralyzing. She won’t be at my wedding. She won’t hold her grandkids. Those were the two biggies that hit deeply.

So I did what I’ve learned is best: I forced myself to be active. I went to the gym and tried to run it out, to beat my feet against the treadmill track and hope that some of the bottled up, weighty emotion would ooze out of my body. I’m not fully convinced it worked. Even though I told myself it did, a little, that’s not how emotions work. You can’t just command them to go away and have that be successful. But moving my body is something I can do to try and keep my mind and body in check and healthy. And so I will force myself to do it, even when I’d rather wallow and stew on the couch.

There is a lot going on, but through it all I’m reminded of the awesome community around me. People from my cohort who sense something is up and reach out, people who promise to call, people who are direct in asking what I need, people who show up in a myriad of ways unannounced and unasked because they are the best and know I can’t or don’t always ask, people who are present, people who make me laugh, people who don’t get it but let me blab and freak out. To me it’s all about the people: that’s what keeps my anxiety and grief in check. And even when people can’t be physically present, I am ever grateful for the role technology plays in keeping me connected. It may be too much to lift, but carrying the load together makes it more manageable.

Say for Me, Love

There isn’t anything in this world but mad love. Not in this world. No tame love, calm love, mild love, no so-so love. And, of course, no reasonable love. Also there are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But who wants easier?

“March” by Mary Oliver