It’s Okay To Be Not Okay.

I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job lately of building a 3-dimensional/authentic view of myself here on this blog. I tend to get several “don’t be so hard on yourself” or “you’re too stressed” or “stop doing so much” responses and I never really know how to respond to them because all I feel is, “I think I’ve done a poor job presenting myself if these are the responses.”

And it’s tricky. I write here in the mornings and I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I toss and turn a lot, I cough a lot, my back hurts, and I’m just anxious. So when I get up for the day I don’t always feel great and I often have stress dreams so when I noticed the trend I thought, Zoot, maybe you’re just writing about the WORST moment of your day and so now you’re giving off this view of a sad, anxious person who is too hard on herself?

So I thought about that for awhile. But even that didn’t seem right. If it had I would have responded to comments and emails, “Oh – I’m fine! I just start the day kinda gray!” And that didn’t feel truthful either.

An then I ran with a much wiser friend on Saturday and she talked about how she’s just accepted that sometimes it’s okay to be sad. And maybe “unhappy” or “sad” is a more accurate depiction of her general state of mind. And we talked about that awhile and I really found myself thinking about that idea. And then I thought about how one friend in particular told me once that maybe I should consider the fact that I found comfort in my anxiety.

So I thought about all of these things together during the last mile of my trail run this morning. The sun was shining and I was running on a trail I normally hate but it seemed oddly beautiful today. And I considered how maybe I’m not doing a good job painting the picture of my life. And maybe not with my real world friends or family either. The other day my husband said, “I miss Happy Kim.” and I understood what he meant, but I also wasn’t sure “Happy Kim” was necessarily who I wanted to be right now.

During our run I remembered that The Oatmeal had done a comic about this one time and I thought I’d find time to hunt it down and re-read it. It’s called How To Be Perfectly Unhappy and rereading it with our conversation fresh on my mind really helped me understand my current state of living and my current mindset.

I am not happy. And that feels weird to say because I know that suddenly society says: OH NO! FIX IT! BE HAPPY! I experience joy and bliss and love and laughter and fun…Sometimes for hours at a time. But the underlying feeling is stress and anxiety and sadness. But it’s not at the level where I’m worried about myself, I’ve been in dark times where I can’t get out and it’s not like that. I have great runs, or empowering tattoos, or games with family, or margaritas with friends and I laugh and I smile and I love my friends and my family and my life. But the underlying sense of it all is concern and anxiety and I’m starting to just be okay with that. Like my friend said, “Sometimes we’re not meant to just be happy all the time. It’s okay to just be sad sometimes.”

I know the difference between “a case of the sads” and “can’t escape the darkness” and really, right now? It’s very much the first one. I’m just sad a lot as life is not going how I want it to go right now. We’re stuck in a weird limbo where we’ve moved out of our house but it hasn’t sold yet. Politics are a concern as are relationships I’m worried can’t survive the political climate. I’m concerned about my kids as they’re all facing their own challenges in life and many of which I can’t help. I’ve put on 20lbs that I’m trying to lose as I ramp up to my April stage race. I’m not sleeping well and exhaustion strips me of any normal level of enthusiasm.

But I’m not sure I would change anything.

Theres is stress with concern over my kid’s challenges, but that stress drives me to try new things or to be more mindful in parenting. I’m anxious about the political future of our country but that pushes me to stay active and make phone calls and send emails and write newsletters. I’ve always spoken about how my anxiety has very concrete “positives” that I don’t like to forget and when it’s all manageable, I’m okay with suffering the restlessness in my life as a tradeoff for the feeling of purpose or engagement of fulfillment. My anxieties help me give my life meaning and that…is not “unhappy” really, it’s just not “happy” either.

There are just a lot of things worrying me, but they give my life purpose right now. It’s not irrational worries (like when I have to make a left turn somewhere, that shit is BANANAS) which have plagued me in the past. They’re worries and concerns that keep me busy and give me purpose. I’m hard on myself because I want to be better, but I don’t think I’m irrationally hard on myself. I still watch a shit-ton of television and don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty about it. I spent stupid amounts of money on microbrew beer BECAUSE I HAVE STANDARDS, PEOPLE. I don’t feel guilty that the money is not going to something a little better.

Yes, I’m hard on myself in many ways, but only in ways that I want to drive myself to be better. I’m stressed and probably doing “too much” but it’s because there are a lot of things that are important to me and help me feel like my life has meaning and purpose. I’m anxious about things out of my control (like my children and their development) but it pushes me to think outside the box and try to find things that I can control. But it also forces me to recognize I don’t have control and to try to be mindful.

And right now all of that is overwhelming and making the “general feeling of happiness” something that eludes me. But I’m still enjoying moments of laughter and joy. We started a D&D campaign with the kids this weekend and I had two days of great running. I got a tattoo and put a bigger one on the calendar for May. I bounded joyfully through puddles and closed my eyes in the sunshine while I walked my dog. The joy and beauty and laughter is still abundant in my life and I’m learning to be okay with the anxiety underneath it all. It’s not necessarily something I have to fix, I’m finally learning. I just accept it as an ebb in the river of my life. There can be purpose and fulfillment in sadness and I just want you all to know that I’m okay with that.

The Hardest Entry I’ve Ever Had To Write

I get embarrassed SUPER-easily. And that embarrassment haunts me for DECADES. I was trying to impress a guy in high school once with my smoking and lit the cigarette wrong looking like a dumbass and IT STILL BOTHERS ME. I honest-to-god DO NOT even remember the guy’s name, but I remember the moment and the shame and I wanted to die 1000 deaths.

So, please know, if I am openly drawing attention to something embarrassing I’ve done then I am REALLY STRUGGLING WITH IT.

But today I’m motivated by a few things.

1) Maybe other people can be brave and be open about similar hard lessons and
2) Maybe my embarrassment can save someone else from making the same mistake

I was very politely and kindly corrected about my post yesterday that using “illegal” immigrant instead of “undocumented” was problematic to the people to which I was referring.

The funny thing is that I considered the phrase “undocumented worker” which I had heard before but since I was not writing about these people in my community in their “worker” capacity, I wrote it off. And it’s not that the term “illegal immigrant” is wrong – but when I really sat down and thought about it – it is a harsh phrasing in reference to another human. “Undocumented” is much kinder if I really sit back and think about it. And in a post trying to write about kindness to humans? DUDE. I SHOULD HAVE USED THE KINDER PHRASING. DUH.

But damn, y’all. I’ll be honest. I cried. I’m so grateful that I was corrected BUT IT IS STILL VERY DIFFICULT. I was so embarrassed and worried I might have upset or offended someone that I spontaneously started sobbing in shame.

I will say this – the fact that I only had a flicker of defensiveness means I’ve really grown as a human. 10+ years ago when someone politely called me out for casually using the word “retarded” I got A LOT DEFENSIVE. It was not pretty. Eventually I sat with that and corrected my behavior but I WAS SUPER DEFENSIVE AT FIRST. And last night? When I read that very kind comment? I only had one teeny tiny flicker of defensiveness. The rest was shame and embarrassment and concern that I might have upset someone.

So, I’m learning. Still. Forgive me for any missteps along the way.

Bringing Humanity Back

I don’t argue with the idea that maybe we need better ways to monitor/protect our southern border to prevent undocumented immigrants from coming over. I get that, I really do. Especially living in Alabama. That’s not a debate I jump in on unless it involves building a wall, because I will NOT stand for that ridiculous expense. No way.

BUT.

I do feel like I need to bring the humanity back to the people living here illegally. I cringe at discussions of people in my community like they’re vicious animals or hopeless criminals. Some of the discussions I’m seeing indicate people have stopped thinking deeper than the surface “CRIMINAL!” label of their undocumented neighbors.

I keep seeing phrases like, “Just come over here the right way like millions of others do.” Or, “There are legal ways to become citizens, do that.” And I just feel like it demonstrates a lack of understanding out our undocumented immigrants from South of our border end up here.

First of all, many are uneducated and poor and living in crime-riddled communities or in war-torn countries. The “right channels” that people from other countries use to get here, usually involve college admissions or job applications. Or maybe travel visas. There is no way our poorest neighbors to the South can find any foothold that “right channel” way. But many are desperate, many have family already here, many know FOR A FACT that if they can get here and get to a community of Mexicans or Latinos (depending on their country of origin) they will be exponentially safer. And many have chosen that path instead of the “legal” path of just staying in put where they’ll die crime or in poverty. Across our border they see hope. They see safety. They see a future.

So of course they come over illegally.

You would too.

So that’s how many have gotten here…a decade ago in some cases. Many have had children here who are citizens. Or, many came over with small babies in tow, babies who are now in high school and know no other culture but ours. Many fear being deported (or worse, stuck indefinitely in some sort of ICE detention center) so they stay hidden. They don’t seek medical assistance if they’re sick and they don’t report crimes.

These are the undocument immigrants that people are thinking of when creating Sanctuary Cities. They are basically saying, “We know you’re here and you’re undocumented but – for the sake of our community as a whole – we want you to seek medical assistance and report crime. So, we won’t come after you simply for being undocumented.” And despite accusations people like #45, There’s no evidence that sanctuary cities see an increase in crime. Sanctuary cities are simply a way of saying, “We have more important things to do right now that waste resources on hunting down people who have committed no other crime than just coming here illegally to try to find a better/safer life.”

Looking at undocumented immigrants like they are criminals is being pragmatic, sure. I mean, they are, right?

But let’s look at them as HUMANS. Imagine what you would do in their shoes? If you knew someone already here who could help you get set up with a job, wouldn’t you rather come here than stay in the crime-riddled, poverty-filled, dead-end situation you’re in before? I just feel like we’ve lost our empathy when discussing undocumented immigrants in this country like they’re animals.

This is not about keeping people out, like I said, that’s a different debate. But people who have been law-abiding while they’ve been here, why are we using resources to get them out? I guess if you really wanted them to leave, the more humane thing would be to punish the people who hire them so that they don’t settle into our country as easily. But, just sending out raids to hunt them down and send them to ICE detention facilities – some who will stay there for SIX YEARS before being deported – seems contrary to the good of the community or of humanity in general.

I just think we forget to look at actual stories. Just like with “Welfare Queens” we tend to take the worst example and paint with a broad brush and assume everyone is like that worst example. And they’re not. I’m not saying there aren’t criminals and there is valid debate on what to do with undocumented immigrants – even in sanctuary cities – who commit minor crimes like driving without a license. In some states, profit was being made by jailing these people in cases of racial profiling. Others became burdens on an already burdened immigration court.

I don’t think this topic has any easy solutions, but I do think it’s important not to forget that something like 60% of undocumented immigrants have been here over a decade. They’ve escaped crime and war and poverty for 10 years and then we’re making it a priority to kick them out even if they’ve done nothing illegal after entering our country? Or at least nothing illegal not connected with being here illegally? They’re not voting no matter what #45 tells you. They’re just trying to keep their families safe and enjoy a better quality of life than they were previously destined for.

Which is really what we’re all trying to do, right?

I just don’t like humanity being ignore in any conversation. I don’t like personal stories being overlooked. Most of the people here illegally were just screwed by being born into poverty in a war or crime-riddled community. And they saw a way out. I can’t imagine a way we wouldn’t all have done the same. So I have a hard time with the judgement of these people as criminals who need to be banished when I see them more as people quietly looking for safety. I just don’t like the conversations like these people had other options to do it the “legal way” – because our “legal way” of being here legally caters to the educated and to people with money. Most of the people here illegally come here so their kids could be educated, and if their kids being a classroom with my kids teaches my children about empathy and diversity? We’re all better for it.

A Smorgasbord Of Topics

The one bad thing about not writing on Tuesday mornings (to work on my newsletter) is that I typically have a whole 48 hours worth of blog topic ideas to contend with Wednesday morning. I keep starting writing, stopping, and starting over. Since the “One Topic” thing isn’t working, we’re going to do this one several parts today. WHEEEEE!

Part 1: Toxic Stubbornness

We’ve made progress with Wesley and his anger and the types and levels of his outburst have gotten very manageable. There’s no more destruction in physical or emotional categories, there’s just some short quick outbursts we need to contend with. And he still gets irrationally pissed off, but it doesn’t present itself in such catastrophic ways anymore. BUT – we have entered the world of Toxic Stubbornness. Where he is just REFUSING to abide by things that ARE NOT A BIG DEAL AT ALL – like brushing his teeth. I mean: REFUSING. Like he has to stick to his guns or die trying. AND IT IS KILLING ME. I think I miss the days of him screaming that he hates me, this simple REFUSAL to do something when asked has sent me to my bedroom in tears of frustration multiple times the last few weeks. This is new to us, anyone out there have a kid who just sticks to his/her guns for no other reason other than to be RIGHT or to be IN CHARGE or to just MAKE THEIR MOTHERS CRAZY?

Part 2: Fighting Discrimination Outside Of Protect Classes

We’ve got a law in our State being proposed that would allow faith-based Adoption/Foster agencies to deny LGBTQ families. It’s being defended as “free speech” similar to the “I won’t make a cake for that gay couple” situation. I have a hard time arguing this successfully because we still don’t have legislation or federal amendments protecting the LGBTQ community as a “protected class” so it can be rationalized as simply a refusal to do business with someone like you would an asshole who walked into your store. But, as we all know, the government doesn’t just wake up one day and create a protected class before laws like this ever get enacted. Jim Crow laws allowed discrimination to happen legally until the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Fair Housing all in the 60s. So, just because something is “legal” doesn’t mean it’s “moral” and until we have federal level protections, the best we can do is fight this type of legalized discrimination. If Hillary had been elected, LGBTQ groups would have started pushing for legislation to created a protected class for the LGBTQ community. Since we can’t be optimistic about that for awhile, we are on the defense and simply trying to protect people in the LGBTQ community from being legally discriminated against.

There’s no other point other than to put this in perspective and in context for past battles of discrimination against groups of people. I’m frustrated with this because the “First Amendment” argument has power until the LGBTQ community becomes a protected class and – especially in the South – that’s a hard power to go up against.

Part 3: Things I Can’t Ignore

I’m learning I have limits to what I can and can not work with when it comes to discussing things with people on the other side of the political aisle. And those limits relate to – what I think – is underlying feelings that people are not recognizing about their fellow humans. For example, when people start defending bathroom bills to protect the children, I really believe deep down inside they’re scared of people in the Trans community, or people who don’t fall into a specific end of the gender binary. Because there is nothing to back up predatory behavior occurring in a manner that this bathroom legislation would defend against. And if someone would just say to me, “I find transgender people to be creepy and scary and there’s something wrong with them,” then I could direct them to documentaries or YouTube channels (Skylar is my favorite) or something to help them instead of arguing about bathroom bills. But no one does that, no one looks deep down at what makes them REALLY uncomfortable.

It’s similar with racism. I can usually hit home with those as my transition from “Unaware Racist” to “Aware Racist Trying to Learn” has been well-documented. But still, there are many issues in which I feel like the underlying problem is someone’s refusal to acknowledge their own privilege (“But my life has been hard!” “Dude. Me too. But not as hard as if I did not have white skin.”) or the existence of systemic racism. When I know those are the underlying conflicts I want to do things like recommend reading of The New Jim Crow or watching of 13th.

But then we hit the point: What if they refuse to watch Skylar’s YouTube videos and see him as a human instead of as a “freaK”, what if they refuse to watch the documentary on our prison system? Or worse – what if they watch it all and STILL refuse to budge on issues?

I think it’s just I have an easier time when my disagreements are economic or religious. I disagree with a lot of people on abortion because I don’t believe in a soul so I don’t have this method of assigning value to a life that can’t live outside of the Mother. That I can accept. I don’t believe trickle-down economics works. I’m pro-tax. People who DO believe it works and who are anti-tax, I can accept because there’s not a lot of human factor. You can find economic reports to support your view and I can find some to support mine.

But human issues – human issues are the ones I really struggle with. I feel like you can’t ignore systemic racism if you open yourself up to some of these books and documentaries. I feel like you can’t judge a gay person or a non-gender conforming person if you just get to know them. I feel like you can’t want to send away illegal immigrants who have been law-abiding members of our community for 20 years, if you would just take a minute to realize that they’re just trying to take care of their family. I feel like you can’t turn away refugees if you remove politics from the issue.

I’m just struggling to realize I have limits. On human issues I want to push…I really want to convert the non-believer. I guess it’s like religion? I feel like, “If you just meet the right person, or hear the right story, your heart will change.” ACCEPT JESUS INTO YOUR HEART!

Anyway. No point, really, just something I’ve been thinking about.

Part 4: I Need A Reset

I can’t get on track with food and exercise lately. I think I need to start some sort of tracking program or something. That stuff has never really worked for long for me, but it usually helps get me focused for a few weeks. Like maybe I need to photograph my food. Or log my calories or something just to force me to think about what I’m eating (and why) because I have gained 20+ lbs in the last year, 10+ just since November, and I feel TERRIBLE. Like, SO SO TERRIBLE. I hate running because this body is heavier, I hate putting on clothes because nothing fits, I hate looking in the mirror because I can see the change. And it would be one thing if it was just from age or something but I know it’s because I’m stress eating and drinking more than I used to. I know I’m making bad choices. I JUST CAN’T STOP. And a lot of it is because my anxiety and depression have been rising up again since the election and my default treatment is: FOOD AND BEER.

So I need a reset. I need a new therapist. (We’ve had insurance changes AND I think I need to find one who can give prescriptions as we’re out of manageable territory.) I need to stop drinking beer every night to help me sleep. I need to stop eating potato wedges and candy. RESET. How do I reboot my health? I need to force a restart.

Conclusion

My head’s a mess.
Politics are exhausting.
Parenting is killing me.

A Reluctant Monday

Eight years ago this past weekend I was heading on a blog-related trip to Chicago and I wrote a super-benign entry about mousse and the liquid ban at airport security. I read that entry 100 times in the following weeks because the girl who wrote that seemed so surreal and magical. She didn’t know her Dad was dying, I guess neither did he, maybe. But she would get a phone call as the plane was boarding from her Dad’s doctor that would start a whirlwind of chaos until his eventual death 6 weeks later.

So this is always a weird time of year for me. I tend to spend these 6 weeks in a weird permanent state of grief as the calendar just serves as a constant reminder of what these weeks meant in 2009. The days in ICU, the angry days still at the hospital, the somber trip home, and the eventual first out-of hospital dialysis that would be the final straw to help him decide he didn’t want to continue dialysis or pursue treatment, then hospice and then the tidying of affairs and the waiting to die.

I was able to try to ignore all of that this weekend in the chaos of our trip with Eliah but today I can feel it settling in.

I don’t want the memories.

And that trip with Eliah – it was amazing – but it didn’t end how we wanted. While the show was superb (I saw it THREE TIMES) and the basketball game was won in the final seconds (I screamed like a crazy person), they didn’t actually come out the College Night victor. I saw so many of his friends just sobbing while he stayed strong and gave out hugs and told everyone to be proud. Watching him this weekend was a gift of stepping into his world and seeing his friend who love him and watching him lead in a way I could never do…it was an amazing experience making me even more reluctant to embrace today. I don’t know when the next time we’ll spend a long weekend with him will be as he graduates in a few months. I didn’t want the weekend to end with him or with my brother and sister-in-law. Seeing them always fills my heart and starting this Monday means I have to officially end our wonderful weekend together.

I don’t wanna.

And then there’s the fact that I haven’t really kept up with the news since Thursday. I posted some actions on Facebook for a bill we have in the Alabama legislature this week that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ families in the foster care system, but other than that? Completely out of touch. And I’ll be honest…I kinda liked it. I know that’s a sign of my privilege. My white skin protects me from people questioning my citizenship when I travel or assuming my intentions if I’m dressed a certain way, my middle-class status protects me from removal of free health care funding, my husband’s job-provided healthcare protects me from losing ACA, my lack of religion protects me from questions about my Faith and terrorist ties…I’m safe. My heterosexual relationship and my age keeps me out of concern of who is allowed to foster or adopt in my state. My privilege allows me to turn off the world for a weekend, and I am aware of that and I promise I’ll tune back in today.

But I’m reluctant.

If you struggle with mental health issues like I do, the dark days are happen. I felt this weight on me as I made my coffee this morning. I chose my Practice Reckless Optimism mug because I have weird spiritual relationships with my coffee mugs and I only drink out of a few because they all have the power to lift my spirit.

[Previous paragraph edited from version my blog sent in email. Casual references of a past mental health issue seemed to be misinterpreted.]

But even as I picked it up I felt burdened by dread for the day. The day that ends my sheltered weekend and forces me back into the real world where I have to stay alert about politics and legislation, where I have to relive the terrible days of 2009, where I have to start to accept my son is about to leave college and move on to his future, where I have to deal with the chaos of our home sale (still delayed) and work chaos after taking two days off and catching up on volunteer obligations and…and…AND.

Most Mondays bring me joy as I love the feeling of the start of a new week, a clean slate. But today? I just want to curl up in my bed and listen to some podcasts that make me laugh all day.

Is that too much to ask?

Let’s be kind to each other. Maybe your kindness to people you encounter today will create ripples of love that reach me on this reluctant Monday.