My Brain in Pictures

There’s a lot going on in here…

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I have a lot going on right now, but don’t we all? With anxiety, though, “having a lot going on” is as much an internal thing as it is external. For every outside “thing” happening in my life—changes at work, an upcoming conference, adapting my schedule to go to the gym—there are at least two or three things happening in my head.

Overwhelmed and Overrun

There are a couple of nightmares I tend to have when I’m really stress out. In one, my home is infested with bugs: wriggly ones, skittering ones, flying ones, big and small. They’re everywhere and I can’t get away. The other is usually me facing some sort of enormous natural disaster: fire, hurricane, tornado, flood.

Giant Wave Tiny Boat.jpg
original here

I am cognizant of feeling a sense of dread sometimes, of that squeeze in my chest that tells me panic is trying to take over. I suppose my subconscious depicts panic as bugs and tsunamis.

Weight of the World

With the state of the world right now, my… hero complex? Sounds too grandiose. My “I have to fix everything” complex comes into play. I want to do more, be more of an activist, but I just can’t handle it right now. So then I feel personally guilty for not single-handedly fixing things for my fellow humans. The weight of that (unnecessary and frankly absurd) guilt presses down on me, as the anxious part of my brain screams at me to “DO SOMETHING!”

godzillafoot
from Godzilla, 1998

I tell myself that just taking care of myself, doing my best in my work, and being as kind and compassionate to those around me as I can is enough right now. And sometimes I even believe it.

Frozen in Fear

There have been times when my depression and anxiety have paralyzed me. I can recall a time many years ago, when I sat on my sofa the entire day and stared at the TV. I’m not even sure it was on. I had a million important things to do and could not figure out where to start. The fear of failure left me unable to make a decision, any decision.

deer-in-headlights
original here

I’m better about that now, but I still tend to procrastinate out of fear of making the wrong choice. That seems to be a common issue, so at least I’m not alone there.

Hanging by a Thread

Recently, when I was going through a particularly bad patch, I remember telling someone that I felt like an action movie, paused as the bomb has 1 second left on the clock. That sense of dread I mentioned earlier comes into play here. Sometimes, when things are really bad, I feel like a tightrope walker or a mountain climber: one wrong move, and I’m done for.

cliffhanger
from Wikipedia, “Free Climbing

Aside from the fact that I’m not fond of heights (well, not so much the height, as the concept of plummeting from it), this image reminds me that sometimes just staying on the path of one’s life is a struggle. You can’t always just stroll along. Sometimes you have to cling to it with white-knuckled determination, just to keep from losing your way.

I feel like things may be looking up. But this past year has been a series of ups and downs, and I’m not sure whether I’m reaching the top of the cliff or just the crest of another wave.

Out of Control

This rant is my “scream into the void,” I guess.

Cuts to the budget for public land (i.e. OUR land). Taking away health care for millions. Cuts to educational funding for children with disabilities. Drastic, possibly institution-eliminating cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Appointing people violently opposed to science, education, social support for the public, and civil rights. Sycophants who disrespect veterans, the disabled, women, and minorities, who insult our allies and vilify our own government operations, while fawning over a foreign leader who has strenuously worked to deny his own citizens their basic rights.

This is what basing your political choices and actions on panic, fear, and hate has wrought. This is what happens when you trust unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo over facts and evidence, when you value ignorance over knowledge, when you believe click-bait articles on Facebook over documented history and science. This is what happens when you let a single issue define your entire worldview. You don’t want the “deaths of unborn children” on your conscience? How about the pain, suffering, and deaths of thousands, millions of your fellow “here-now-existing-on-earth” citizens? That’s fine, huh?

I cannot believe our country is being led by people who so obviously have no place leading. I cannot understand how nominally intelligent people can look at a bombastic, materialistic, narcissistic, childish, emotionally unstable blowhard and think “Yes. This man is the best choice. This man has my interests at heart.” I cannot believe so many people so enthusiastically voted against their own interests. And I cannot understand how these same people were furious about emails being possibly sent from a secure server, but are fine with the possibility that Russia hacked our electoral system.

There are reports of people who hated “Obamacare,” but loved their insurance obtained via the Affordable Care Act (not realizing they are the same thing). These people voted to get rid of Obamacare, and they will lose their health insurance. People will die, some of whom don’t even realize they voted for their own deaths.

If I sound panicked, I am. This makes me sick. Literally. Migraine, dizziness, nausea. My anxiety is through the roof. The closer this weekend gets, the more frightened I am. My anxiety issues are centered over feeling impotent, weak, unable to control the world around me. This is absolutely my nightmare come to life. I cannot fix this. I cannot change anything. I cannot even really express how I feel about all of this to others in my life. They say “God is in control”, or “we just have to hope things work out for the best,” and they think that settles it.

Everything is out of control. The world is out of control. Some people think it’s the end times. Some people voted for this megalomaniac because they want the end times. Some people are celebrating the ignorance and obliviousness of the population who voted him into office. Some people are smugly thinking of the 3 million votes for Clinton that don’t matter in the face of the electoral college (and possible manipulation of voting results by foreign interests). Some people are laughing in the faces of those of us who are afraid, telling us that “now is the time for unity.” Those people are forgetting–or ignoring–the 8 years of of Congressional obstructionism, of rumors of Presidential illegitimacy, of accusations of treasonous ties, of simply hating having a black man in power.

This is not the world I want to live in. This is a world in which people are suffering and dying because others believe lobbyist-generated propaganda over the truth. This is a world in which those who claim to follow the one who said “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” and “blessed are the poor” have voted for the elimination of health care and other social support for millions. How un-Christian. How cruel. How disgustingly immoral.

This rant is my “scream into the void,” I guess. Those who read it will likely agree with my fear, at least in part. Those who should read it probably won’t, or will dismiss it as the hysterical diatribe of a “hapless old harridan,” a “nasty woman” who should keep her “trap” shut.

We are in the age of the “Ugly American” stereotype, turned up to 11-billion. We are on the precipice of a regression the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Dark Ages. Extremism in politics and religion has taken over, and those of us who live by reason, compassion, and tolerance must fight to keep going.

But it’s a long, dark, road. And I’m scared.

Woke up too early again…

Woke up too early again. My emotional mind taking over, telling me nothing will ever be good again. Sadly, these days, my logical mind seems to agree.

Grief over loss of love has weighed me down for months. I struggled under a heavy load of pain and despair, trying to step forward even as greedy, groping hands pulled me down into the earth. Sometimes I sink into the pit. But I cling to the edge, to the walls, holding on and refusing to drop further.

Slowly, slowly, I have been shrugging off the weight, climbing out of the hole. But now I feel heavier. Gravity has increased, pulling me back down into darkness.

I know I cannot control anything but my own actions and reactions. I say this to myself often. I cannot change what has happened. I can only respond to it as best I can. But anxiety is a seductive, narcissistic companion, curling around me, snaking its arms through mine, pulling my head toward it and whispering into my ear: telling me I am in control of it all, and thus I am responsible. Other people’s decisions were and are because of me, because of my failings. I am at fault.

Fear for the future–for my own and for my world–twists my insides to knots. The lump in my throat, the burning in my gut, the pain behind my eyes tell me I am not safe. And the seductive companion tells me I can change things, I can make it right. If only I knew the perfect word, the perfect deed. The act that will return things to right and bring my happiness back to me. The one weird trick that will save the world.

As my emotional mind becomes overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility, and my logical mind tries to reason its way out of pain, my primitive lizard mind simply panics. It screams at my brain, my gut, my blood, my heart: Prepare to run! Prepare to hide! Prepare to fight!

Or, perhaps, prepare to curl up and accept the end.

Sometimes I cannot decide which would be best.

 

The Path

Once upon a time there was a huge, dark forest. Tall, twisted trees reached for the sun, their outstretched limbs sending the ground below into a cold, everlasting gloom. Primordial vines snaked around these trees and grasped at the air, searching for warmth, and light, and purchase. No breeze stirred the leaves, and the air was still and silent.

In this forest there was a path. Sometimes it went straight forward, and sometimes it would wind around the huge gray tree trunks, slinking under knotted roots and hiding in the litter of old leaves and twigs and dirt. Sometimes the path would disappear into a congestion of vines that twisted and grasped and struggled for light. But the path was always there.

And on this path there was a girl.

The girl walked forward, all alone, one step in front of the other. The girl was afraid of the forest. It was murky and gray and silent and cold, and the path was often hard to see. Sometimes in the shadows she thought she could see glowing eyes of unknown creatures. Sometimes in the quiet she could hear soft cries, and they sounded hungry and cruel. She did not feel safe. She wanted to hide away in the hollow of a tree. She wanted to turn back and find a way out. But she couldn’t. She had to walk the path. And she had to do it alone. No one else could walk it.

She continued on, one step in front of the other until she came to a vast chasm. She stood near the edge and peered down into the abyss, but could not see the bottom. She looked to the left and to the right, but she could only see the huge gray trees reaching up into the equally gray sky and fading into the distant gray mist. Nearby, the trees leaned over the chasm as thick grasping vines trailed off the edge and down into the abyss.

A glance behind her revealed only the darkness through which she had walked. She looked across and could see the other side, but it was so very far away. Was there no way forward? She looked down at the path and realized that it did continue across the chasm. But where before it was wide and relatively safe to walk, now it was no more than a narrow plank, stretching into the distance across the chasm.

The girl did not understand. Was it safe? It was so thin, and so narrow. Would it support her? Could she balance? She was no acrobat. There was barely room for her to stand with her feet together. Why was this her path? It didn’t make sense. She grew more afraid. Was the path a trick? Was it designed so that she would fail, so that she would fall? Tears distorted her vision, and she found she could not move. She had to walk the path, but if she did she would surely fail. The only path she could walk, the path that only she could walk, seemed destined to kill her.

As she stood at the edge, staring at the plank, she heard the cries of the menacing unknown creatures that lurked in the shadows. The cries grew closer. She could not stay here. She could not go back. There was no way around. She looked up into the cloud-darkened sky, which grew blacker with the coming night. There was nothing else to do, but go forward.

One step. She paused as the plank seemed to give slightly under her weight. She took a second step. Stood on the plank. It held. She told herself not to look straight down. She couldn’t look ahead without fearing she would fall. She turned her face slightly down toward the plank, so that she could see just a few steps ahead. Then she took a third step.

Her steps were small. She wanted to run across, to get this over with as soon as possible. But her fear kept her nearly frozen. She could only move her feet, slowly, ever so slowly. One step in front of the other.

After a while the girl stopped and looked up. Her heart seemed to slip from its housing. Had she made no progress at all? Carefully, she twisted her upper body so that she could glance behind her. The edge of the chasm was mere yards away. She had moved forward, but there was so far to go. And in the shadowy mist that surrounded her, the other side looked even more distant than before she stepped on the plank.

Returning her gaze to the plank, she took another step. Then another. One step in front of the other. She willed herself not to look ahead, not to see how distant the other side was, not to see how hopeless it was. Her foot slipped a little to the side and she wobbled. The plank vibrated slightly. She froze, her breath caught.

Don’t fall. Don’t look down. Don’t look ahead. Don’t look behind. Just keep walking.

The girl took a breath, and another. She began walking again.

She fought the urge to look up, but it was too late. Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. A few feet ahead, the mist had thickened into a blue-gray fog, into which the plank disappeared. She was surrounded by the fog, her breath joining it in shuddering clouds as she gasped. How far had she come? How far did she have to go? She trembled, and the plank trembled in response. She clinched her fists and tried to stop her body from shaking, but the shaking only increased until she knew that she would fall. In a panic she dropped into a crouch and gripped the sides of the plank with her hands. Splinters dug into her palms, but she did not move. She could not move. To move was to fall.

But to stay was to fail.

After a few moments her trembling had subsided. Have to move forward, she thought. She leaned forward until she was on her knees, her hands still clutching the plank. Slowly, experimentally, she slid one hand forward, then the opposite knee. Then the other hand, and the other knee.

Have to move forward. One hand, one knee.

Can’t fall. The other hand, the other knee.

Her hands, torn by the splinters, began to bleed, and she had to grip tighter to keep them from slipping. Sweat and tears dropped from her nose and beaded on the plank. One hand, one knee. The other hand, the other knee.

The fog was nearly black, and so cold. The girl shivered and the plank shivered in response. Then she heard it.

A creak of wood. The plank finally giving way? Or something else?

Is the plank breaking? Is something behind me? Is something waiting for me? I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die. Her mind bounced from one fear to the next, whirling around in despair, until she found herself crumpled against the plank, her eyes squeezed shut, her face pressed into the wood. She struggled to breathe, her chest fighting the exchange of air. I cannot go forward. I cannot walk this path. I cannot make it. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

She thought perhaps she should let go. Her bloody hands were barely holding on. She opened her eyes and found herself staring into the blackness below. It was waiting for her. It was right there. It would be easy to fall. It is impossible to go forward. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

 As the girl lay there, suspended above oblivion by no more than a few inches of wood, she heard herself whisper into the darkness. “Please. Help me.”

Silence, and cold, and darkness surrounded her. Hope seemed lost in the fog.

Silence, and cold, and darkness.

And a hand clasped her shoulder.

She jerked upward, the plank swaying slightly, and another hand gripped her other shoulder.

She looked up. To her left, barely visible in the gloom, was a woman. To her right, a boy. Each held on to her as she carefully pulled herself upward. They did not let go until she was standing, until the plank had stopped vibrating from her movements. Then the woman reached down and held the girl’s left hand. The boy clutched her right hand tightly.

“Are you angels?” She whispered.

“No,” said the woman with a smile.

The girl was confused. “How are you standing in mid-air?” she asked.

The boy said, “We’re not in mid-air.”

The girl looked down. Though the fog was thick, she could just barely see that the woman and the boy were each standing on what looked like wood. She peered into the murk and saw that each was on a plank that seemed to stretch into the distance alongside hers.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“I’m walking the path,” the boy replied.

“So am I,” the woman said.

The girl said, “But I thought I was the only one who could walk this path.”

The woman smiled at her again. “Yes. You are the only one who can walk your path. But I am walking my path. And he is walking his.” She turned away and nodded toward the fog. “And they are each walking theirs.”

And now the girl could see, ever so faintly, other people in the distance. She looked from side to side and saw them on her left and her right. The woman held the hand of a man to her left. The boy held the hand of another boy to his right. And each held the hand of another. One beside the other, continuing into the fog.

“But I didn’t see you on the path; I didn’t see your planks here. I thought I was alone.”

The boy shrugged. “So did I. Probably so did everyone. But I guess sometimes we need help. And so we can find each other, and help each other.”

The man beyond the woman spoke up. “We may walk our paths alone, but where we need it most, they meet.”

The girl said, “But aren’t you afraid? What if we fall?”

The man said, “I was afraid. The chasm is so deep. I knew I would fall. But now, I see that this plank is part of a wider path.”

The girl looked at the planks and saw that they were only separated by an inch or two. If everyone walked together, no one could fail. Even if someone were to fall, the others’ planks would be there to stop them, and the others’ hands would be there to save them.

The woman said, “Are you ready to go forward?”

The girl nodded. “I think so.”

“Good,” replied the woman. She took a step. The man beside her took a step. The boy took a step. And the girl took a step.

And another.

One step in front of the other.

Together they moved forward, across the chasm, into the mist.

Soon twisted shapes emerged from the fog, and the girl saw that they were trees. The edge of the chasm appeared. Sighing in relief, she stepped from her plank onto solid earth. The path stretched before her into the trees.

The woman and the boy and all the others stepped from their planks and paused at the edge. As the girl watched, the people in the distance began to fade away. She looked up at the woman in alarm.

“I think this is where we part,” said the woman, and she too began to fade. The girl shook her head.

“Please don’t go,” she said, clinging to the woman’s hand, “I don’t want to be alone.”

The boy, now barely visible in the gloom, his hand cold in hers, said “We have to walk our paths alone.”

The woman nodded. “But if we need each other again, we’ll find each other. Our paths are separate from yours, but we each go forward.”

“Keep walking, and we’ll be walking with you,” the boy’s voice faded away as he vanished.

The woman smiled and whispered, “Keep walking. I’m walking too.” And she, too, disappeared.

The girl stood there in the dark forest, shivering from the cold. Tears dampened her cheeks. She looked back at the chasm and saw that the fog had thinned, revealing the vast gulf across which she had walked. The planks were no longer there.

I made this far, she thought. I can keep going.

She studied the path before her. It led forward, winding slightly around the trees, under roots and leaf litter and dirt, through clusters of twisting vines and into the distance. It was her path. No one could walk it but her. Walk it she must. And walk it she would.

She took a step. And another.

One step in front of the other.

I fear not for myself

I fear not for myself:

  • I am straight, white, and cisgender, privileged with a high level of education and a stable job with full healthcare benefits.
  • I can love whom I choose; live my life freely according to my religious views; and walk in public without being targeted as an “Other”.
  • I can afford doctor’s visits, medical tests, surgical procedures, prescription medications, and birth control.
  • I have been fortunate enough to avoid being sexually harassed or assaulted.
  • I have not been demeaned in the workplace or in public because of my gender.
  • I can use a public bathroom without fighting for the right to do so.

I fear for those who are not like me:

  • Those who are condemned for who they love.
  • Those who are viewed as “Other” due to their skin color, religion, language, or gender.
  • Those who are victimized, injured, or killed because they are different.
  • Those who work so hard at low-paying jobs but cannot afford to feed their families or treat their health problems, who need the social safety net to survive and who are labelled as “lazy,” “leeches,” or “Welfare queens” for it.
  • Those who need to see a doctor, have a medical test or surgical procedure, or use a medication and cannot afford any of it
  • Those who are called “sluts” for using birth control.
  • Those who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped, who are not believed and do not seek help out of fear of reprisal.
  • Those whose histories of abuse, job loss, or addiction have driven them to a desperate life on the streets, whose pleas for help are answered with arrests, beatings, or death.

I fear for children:

  • Children who are deprived of food, shelter, or clothing because their parents cannot afford to support them, no matter how many hours they work.
  • Children who are deprived of the love and attention of their parents because those parents have to work two or more jobs just to survive.
  • Children who have been told their parents are bad people because they are not straight, white, or cisgender.
  • Children whose existence is one of abuse and suffering because the same society that fights (often violently) for the rights of the unborn blocks efforts to support them once they are born.
  • Children who will never escape the trap of poverty because funding that could be used to improve their schools is instead used to build weapons for a bloated military or to try to take away rights from others.
  • Children who need medical care or dental care to set them up for a healthy life, but cannot get it because their parents can’t afford it.
  • Children who have been bullied because they are different from their peers.

I fear for our world:

  • A world in which scientific consensus is too frequently ignored in favor of emotionally-charged talking points.
  • A world whose well-being is strongly influenced by the choices our country makes, whose populations may feel threatened by this most recent choice.
  • A world in which our country has to exist alongside everyone else, and yet our future leadership promotes a nationalist, “us versus them” stance.
  • A world with dwindling animal populations, increasing pollution, and worsening climate change that have already impacted the physical and economic wellbeing of people in this country and across the globe, while our future leadership believes that these things either do not exist or do not matter.
  • A world with people who look to us for hope for a better future, inspired by the “American Dream” and the call to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” who have now been told that this dream is only for those who conform to specific racial, religious, economic, and gender statuses, and the tired and poor may never breathe free here.

And I fear for those like me:

  • Those who conform to the “appropriate” race, religion, and gender identity, but want to stand in solidarity with their fellow humans who do not.
  • Those who struggle to stand up for their beliefs within a community in which their beliefs are the minority.
  • Those who want to make the world a better place for every person, not just people who look, worship, and love the same way they do.

A final thought: A society is only as strong as its most vulnerable member. If we do not help those more vulnerable than us, we weaken society for all. Jesus said that “whatever you [do] for one of the least of these, you [do] for me.”

We must continue to fight for the “least” of us:

  • That their rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (many of these rights so recently gained) are not lost.
  • That they really have equal opportunity for success and happiness: social support, education, and healthcare.
  • That they are not forced to live in misery due to laws passed by the least vulnerable and most privileged members of society.

I fear. I hope. I fight.