Health, Illness, & Impermanence

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

Achaan Chaa

If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.

Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.

I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.

Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.

I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.

When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.

How Meditation Can Help Manage Illness | Everyday Health

Sitting with Uncertainty

In the digital age accessing information is faster and easier than ever. No matter what question you may find yourself asking, you’ll likely be able to google it and receive an answer, or at least more information, in a matter of seconds. While this is extremely satisfying and a great benefit to society in many ways, like anything, it also has it’s down side. Uncertainty has always made us comfortable, and for good reason. Uncertainty leaves us vulnerable, to the elements, to predators, etc. Knowing is always safer than not knowing.

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits we receive from technology, it also has created even more discomfort around uncertainty. It has become nearly intolerable, for even a short length of time. We have developed a sense of entitlement to information. It is overwhelmingly frustrating when we can’t find that instant gratification.

My first real encounter with the idea that people hate not knowing was when I became a vegan. Despite the fact that I certainly didn’t know anything about veganism before becoming a vegan and doing hours upon hours of research, random people in my life still liked to assume they knew more about it than me. I began to notice that people get aggressive when you challenge their knowledge on any topic, even one they have little to no interest in. It’s also rare, regardless of what you’re asking, that someone will answer honestly with: I don’t know. We all want to believe we know everything or at least present that all-knowing façade to others.

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted humanity’s fear of uncertainty. Almost as soon as people started discussing the virus, everyone wanted to pretend that they new the latest and most accurate information. You still see thousands of people proclaiming to know more about this new virus than the doctors and scientists that are studying it. You can see the reluctance people have to even acknowledge that experts know more than they do. In addition to that we are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, when will this end? Even though we all know that no one knows the answer to that question.

I’m sure on a smaller scale, you are able to recognize your own discomfort with not knowing in your day to day life. This is one of the reasons why we are so upset when things don’t go as planned. Today in particular I am getting the chance to practice sitting with uncertainty. When I woke up this morning, it was just another day. I was looking forward to having appointments scheduled at work, seeing our new intern, and marking off another day before my boyfriend comes home for the holiday weekend.

As I was leaving, I noticed a group text from my boss, but didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was something I could look at later when I got a chance. When I got to the office, my friend told me that text was telling us our new therapist tested positive for Covid despite being vaccinated, and that now we had to get tested and work from home until further notice. This caused a lot of mixed feelings for me. Part of me was happy. I’ve been hoping I would get to work from home again. However, another part of me was terribly angry.

I knew it was no one’s fault, but I couldn’t help myself from arbitrarily assigning blame, to my coworkers, the government, the school systems, even (and perhaps especially) myself for not being more cautious. Normally I would be elated at the idea of isolating myself for a few weeks, but not this week. Tomorrow I had planned to finally start a podcast with my two best friends. Now that would have to be postponed, unless I am able to somehow get a negative test result by the morning.

To my horror, I also realized that this may completely derail my plans to see my boyfriend. We certainly won’t be able to go out to all the vegan restaurants we had planned to go to. Nor will we be able to go out to the state parks and hike like we had planned. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to see Nate at all. We are both vaccinated, but if I test positive or can’t get my results in time, will he want to risk seeing me regardless? Should I even let him? I would hate to jeopardize the training he is doing for his job. I have no idea what it would mean for him if he tested positive while staying in a dorm at a college campus. Would he have to resign from the rest of the training?

I woke up this morning feeling confident, collected, certain of what my day would hold. Now that certainty has turned into a churning mental storm of questions and concern. I’m doing my best to stay positive. Life is full of uncertainty and I am lucky that the curve ball thrown at me today wasn’t something worse. I could have had a car accident on my way to the office. Someone I love could have been hurt or killed suddenly. I could have not woken up at all. Instead I was given a gentle, although inconvenient, reminder that things don’t always go as planned.

Rather than slip into irritation and despair, I am going to use this experience to practice patience. I’m going to let it be a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, of how fortunate I’ve been to not even have to be tested until now, to be privileged enough to have been vaccinated, to live alone so I don’t have to worry about exposing my loved ones, to have an employer that will allow me to work from home, and perhaps most importantly, for this young, healthy, strong body. Today is also a lesson, teaching me that anything can be a blessing if you choose to see it that way.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 | Children's Hospital Los Angeles

What Is Government

Up until I was around 20 years old, maybe even older, I didn’t really know very much about politics. I honestly wish I could go back to those simpler times. It feels like I had a lot less to worry about back then. It’s always easier not to know. My entire family are democrates, so that is about as far as my political awareness went. I was taught vaguely that poor/low-income people were democrates, rich people were republicans. A very simplified explanation of the two parties in America, but I still believe it holds up. At least that’s what you would expect.

As I got older I came to find that there are tons of poor people voting passionately against their own interests. A good portion of the republican base in fact. I was astounded even more when I became a social worker and got to listen to clients who could hardly survive on the small amount of government assistance they received simultaneously complain about “lazy, good-for-nothing” people taking advantage of the system and voting to cut social security benefits. They seemed totally disconnected from the fact that they were the people their beloved Fox News hosts were referring to when they condemn these societal moochers.

I guess they thought it couldn’t have been in reference to them, because they were good people. They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t worthless, scheming, monsters taking advantage of other people. Yet they were still quick to jump on the bandwagon of hate, directing it at some imaginary, caricatures of people that were making it harder for people like them who really do need that help to be taken seriously. It always broke my heart to meet clients that continuously tried to justify their need and convince me that they weren’t just “some drug addict” or something.

What has been reminding me of all of this lately, is the controversy over the unemployment income many Americans have been relying on since this pandemic began over a year ago. Everyone is able to see the absurdity of going out to find work, when you would receive more money by staying on unemployment instead. It is the perception of this absurdity that varies. Conservatives cry: You can’t give everyone so much money or else they’ll never go back to work! While liberals and progressives insist: If these people were paid a living wage to begin with, this wouldn’t be a problem. We must raise the minimum wage so that these people have an incentive to return to work.

Obviously I agree with the latter. The government didn’t just arbitrarily decide on an amount to pay, they based it roughly on how much these people would need to survive. If working full-time isn’t allowing you to earn that measly amount, clearly THAT is the problem. Not that the government is giving you enough to live on. This seems so simple to me, but I know that nearly half of the country would disagree. These types of disheartening conflicts are the reason that after passionately throwing myself into politics for a few years, I’ve begun trying to ignore it all together again. It is just to painful. It seems so hopeless. I’m tired of fighting.

One of the main things I don’t understand though, is what other people think the government’s purpose is. I’m starting to think my idea of it has been misguided and idealistic. It seems like throughout school I was taught that the government, at least in America, was established “for the people, by the people.” I was under the impression that it’s only purpose was to organize our collective resources as a nation so that we could best serve the entire population. In my mind, government was just a way to work together as a society so that we could accomplish things we wouldn’t be able to as individual citizens. Not only that, I thought it’s purpose was to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable among us, to help people. Not only for moral reasons, but to the ultimate benefit of the whole. Having a system to take care of the less fortunate gives those people the opportunity to some day give back to society again. At the very least it would deter them from criminal activity, because they wouldn’t need to engage in that to survive.

I hear all the time that “it’s not the government’s job to support you.” But isn’t it though? Isn’t that why we have a government in the first place? To take care of our citizens? I’m often tempted to ask these people what they think the government’s job is, if not to protect us and support us. I’m trying to stay curious and not let the unsettling mindsets of so many people get to me too much. It’s just not worth the grief it causes me. And I’ve accepted that fighting about it won’t make a difference. All I can do is watch is stunned silence, or turn away.

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The Beginning of the End

It has been a truly bizarre year. I’m sure we could all agree to that. It seems like everyone is anxious for things to “get back to normal.” To be honest, I don’t have much hope that that will ever happen. When this pandemic first started, I didn’t really think much of it. I was just pleased to have an excuse to stay home. Now I’ve begun to think this is just the first phase in a long downward spiral for our species and our planet. This has been a long time coming.

I used to get flustered and frantic about my opinions on the state of the world. I felt I desperately needed to spread a message, to inspire change, to educate people so that we could all start to work towards a healthier, sustainable society. After years of exasperation and futile efforts, I have finally lost hope. Humanity will not change, therefore we will not survive much longer. Humanity has no interest in changing, we have no time left for the change that is needed, and to be honest, at this point, I don’t think we are capable of changing. It is a shame, but I have resigned myself to our fate. I have accepted the demise that is to come. Not 200 years in the future, not to the generation after me, but to me, to my generation, to everyone I know.

Cowspiracy was the tipping point for me. After watching that documentary and absorbing all of the scientific facts about our crumbling environment and the projections of how much time we have left before utter catastrophe if we continue at this rate (which we will), I realized that I will not be living out the extent of my natural lifespan. I have no idea how I will eventually die, but I feel pretty confident in ruling out old age. Perhaps it will be starvation, civil unrest, natural disasters, having no clean water, or even from a pandemic. It could be this very one, or the inevitably worse ones to come. To be honest, I’m surprised this is all due to a Corona virus and not one of the many strains of anti-biotic resistant bacteria we are breeding in our animal agriculture industry every day.

If I had even a shred of hope left that we would somehow overcome the self-imposed threats facing us, the public response to this pandemic has obliterated it. My fellow humans are incapable of even making the most miniscule, temporary changes to their daily lives, let alone the massive, permanent changes we need to make to survive as a species. Even though the pandemic rages on and is even getting worse in some areas, people have seemingly decided to just go back to normal. As if it’s been a year, so fuck it, it must be over.

If humans are incapable of simply wearing a mask when they are in the grocery store for 30 minutes, there is no way they’ll be capable of eliminating meat and dairy from their diets entirely. Perhaps if we had already implemented a strategy to move society that way and we also had a couple hundred years to get there, but we aren’t doing anything and we don’t have anywhere close to that amount of time. Scientists predict we only have a few decades and the US government is still subsidizing the industries that are killing us.

Not only has the majority of the population not accepted one of if not THE root cause of our impending demise (animal agriculture), but we can’t even all agree that we are even facing a real problem! Climate change is still up for fucking debate in America. And I don’t even expect those of you reading this to understand or agree with me on any of this. I’m mostly just having a good ol’ scream into the void. It’s the only thing I can really do at this point, sadly.

I won’t waste my time listing all of the statistics, facts, and figures about how animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, desertification, and species extinction. How it wastes massive amounts of food, water, and land. How everyone shouts “save the rainforest!” while ignoring the fact that the reason it’s being cut down is to make room for livestock. All of this information is readily available for anyone willing to look into it. Cowspiracy’s website has most of it laid out with citations. Although, in my experience, facts have never been enough to make anyone change. What I will point out, is that this pandemic is also just a symptom of the ways eating animals will eventually be our undoing.

Whenever a pandemic emerges, it is almost always related to some animal. And not just any animal. An animal that humans have been using as food. We end up keeping this “food” in filthy cramped spaces, crowded in with other animals and covered in piss and shit. Then we eat those same animals. It’s no wonder we are constantly facing disease. Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease. Starting to see a pattern yet? If we didn’t eat animals, none of these things would be a problem. To be honest, it’s almost karmic justice for these innocent beings. I wouldn’t even mind if humans were wiping themselves out due to our own greed and stupidity. But unfortunately we are taking down the whole planet with us and that breaks my heart.

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A Covid Christmas Miracle

This morning I woke up to the most wonderful gift I will receive this Christmas, the news that my coworker got her Covid test results back. She was negative. I am so relieved. I couldn’t be more grateful to know that I will be able to have Christmas with my family again this year. I was expecting to spend the holiday alone for the first time. I’m glad I held out hope and still wrapped all my gifts and prepared just in case. Sometimes we all need a reminder not to take these small moments together for granted. I know I am going to have an extra special Christmas this year now. Each second I spend with my family will be saturated with gratitude. I am so ready so soak it all in.

My grandmother was the main reason I was going to stay away if I had been exposed. I would never put her at risk. Yet, at the same time, I was also extra upset about having to stay away this year because of her. She is about to be 90 years old. Although she is shockingly healthy, I don’t know how many more holidays we will have together. I really didn’t want to miss a single one, even if it was to protect her. I am so glad that now I don’t have to. However, it still breaks me heart that I won’t be able to hug her and hold her tight when I see her this Friday.

My grandma understands that we are keeping our distance more than usual because we don’t want her to get sick, but I think it still hurts her. I’m sure it is hard for all elderly people these days. Loved ones want to keep away so they can live longer, but then we also run the risk of missing their final days, months, years on this earth anyway. I don’t know what I would do if my grandmother died even a natural death in these dark times. I might not be able to bear the knowledge that I wasn’t able to hug her, kiss her, hold her hand in her last days. God forbid she be hospitalized. Forced to spend her final moments making the decision of which single family member she would like to have by her bedside.

I don’t like to think about my grandmother passing away. But that grim reality gets closer every year, and eventually I will have to face it. This year has made that harsh realization clearer than ever. But sometimes fear, impermanence, uncertainty, make moments spent in happiness together all the more poignant. I am not going to take this Friday for granted. In the place of hugs, I am going to pour my heart out in warm words. I am going to write my love into each card I give. I am going to vibrate with an energy so strong, so grateful, so loving that it will touch everyone around me even if I can’t touch them myself.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas. I know I will.

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Doing the Best with What You Have

Well it finally happened. I may have been exposed to Covid yesterday. I’ll probably have to go get tested. I may even have to miss Christmas with my family. I’m trying my best not to spiral into indignation and depression. I can feel my body tensing with the desperate desire to somehow undo what has already been done. Waking up with a mild headache this morning certainly isn’t helping. But this is an excellent opportunity for me to practice surrender. To practice breathing into the moment, into the reality that lies before me, a reality that I cannot change or avoid.

It is much more painful to recoil from unpleasant news when it’s presented to you, than to accept it. When a tree falls in the river, the river does not harden and smash against it. The river keeps flowing. It must graciously alter it’s course, flowing around the obstruction in its path. Today I will practice being like the river. I will keep flowing. The important thing is making sure my family is safe. It is a blessing that I live alone, so that if I have been exposed I can prevent infecting anyone else.

I have plenty of food and water. I have my sweet fur children here with me. I have endless ways to entertain myself. I even have a lovely bottle of Grey Goose now that I was gifted yesterday. I have so many things that I can be grateful for, even if I have to miss family Christmas this year. Even if I get really sick. I will surrender to what is. I will keep flowing around the fallen tree in my path.

If I must remain on my own this year, I will plan a wonderful self-love Christmas for myself and my babies instead. Thanks to technology I can even have a Zoom Christmas with my family for a little part of the day. Everything is going to be okay. I am strong. I am resilient. I will do whatever needs to be done. I will stay grateful. I will keep flowing.

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Finding Balance

Photo by Tiia Pakk on Pexels.com

I’ve always struggled with an all or nothing mentality. No matter what I do I’m either pedal to the metal or not even in the car. It is hard for me to find any grey areas or middle ground. I tend to fluctuate between pushing myself way too hard and crashing and burning for awhile. It’s a very tiring and chaotic way to go through life. Not to mention it leads me to always set myself up for failure.

There are a lot of things I want to work on this holiday season and in the coming year. And thanks to Covid-19 coming back stronger than ever in the US, I have at least two more weeks of remote work coming my way. Although I wasted the summer months I had at home, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to make a plan for myself that I can stick to and be productive with my newfound free time. (I honestly don’t have much to do at work, so working from home is basically paid leave.)

Here is a brief summary of the things I’d like to accomplish so you have an idea:

  • Plan holiday food
  • Finish Christmas shopping
  • Make detailed New Year’s resolution goals/plan
  • Decorate for the holidays
  • Organize/minimize my things
  • Deep clean my house
  • Hygge-fy my home
  • Set up TVs
  • Put up wallpaper in the kitchen

It feels like every time I am feeling overwhelmed by my mental to-do list, writing it out makes it seem far less daunting. I think I will definitely be able to accomplish a good deal, if not all, of those things in the next few months. My only problem is actually allowing myself to space it out in a reasonable way.

The main reason I haven’t already gotten around to doing a lot of these things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now is that I overwhelm myself. Normally I would look at “deep clean my house” and be paralyzed. I’d imagine every little task that larger one entails and feel forced to tackle every single one in an afternoon. I imagine that if I can’t get it all done at once, it will feel unfinished. My OCD is not pleased.

Rationally I know that even doing a tiny piece of it is better than avoiding it entirely. But I am easily immobilized by my own demands. That is why I am going to try to set aside time to break these larger goals down into MUCH smaller tasks. Then I can space these tasks out over as many days as I need to until the whole goal is achieved. For instance, organizing my things doesn’t have to be one task encompassing every nook and cranny of my two story house at once. I can first break the house up into rooms. Then sections of those rooms. Maybe on Monday I will organize my bedroom closet, the dresser on Tuesday, my desk and surfaces on Wednesday, etc.

Those seem like much more reasonable goals that I will be able to feel happy about completing each day. In this way I hope to be able to find a little more balance in my life. I don’t have to choose between reorganize my wardrobe, the kitchen cabinets, and every closet in the house on one single hellish day or avoiding the idea all together.

When I think about the smaller tasks I’ll be able to do rather easily adding up to the final goal being completed, I am even excited! I get that nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid and would happily clean and reorganize my room. I may have done that in the span of one Saturday, but I need to remind myself that it was only one room back then. I can’t expect myself to do that with an entire house in the same length of time.

It is going to feel so good to finally be gentle with myself. Not to mention actually make progress towards these things I’ve wanted for so long! This post was mostly just for myself. Spilling out all the thoughts that have been running circles inside my head and reaffirming my resolve. However, I hope that you can use this as a reminder to also be gentle with yourself. Are there any goals you would like help breaking down into smaller bits? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to reign yourself in so you don’t end up burning out? I’d love to hear you thoughts and/or advice on finding balance.

Strange Times

This year feels like it hasn’t even happened. One day bled into the next until we found ourselves in September. Yet thinking back, New Years Eve seems so far away. And it’s as if my mind has discarded any memories of what happened in between then and now. I’ve just spent this year waiting. Waiting to feel like myself again. But I don’t really remember what that even feels like anymore.

When this pandemic first started, I was just happy to have a few months at home. But it seems like I’ve spiraled into a dangerous place since then. I kept telling myself that once things went back to normal, I would too. Now I wonder if things will ever be normal again.

It seems like a lot of people are struggling with their mental health right now. It’s easy to blame it on the pandemic and for some people I’m sure that is the main factor. For me however, I’m not sure. Am I just using that as an excuse? Nothing has really changed that much for me besides wearing a mask when I go out and not seeing my grandmother as frequently.

I’ve gone back to work and go about my business as usual for the most part. In rural Ohio, it seems like the majority of people don’t believe in this virus. That is a bizarre thing to witness in itself. Knowing so many people around you are completely immune to logic and simple facts. It is frightening when I really think about it.

Maybe more than anything directly changing in my life, this pandemic has changed the way I think and see the world. While once I was so passionate about veganism and politics, now I’ve resigned myself to looking away. I can’t bear to face the reality of where the world is right now. It is simply too painful and terrifying. It’s so much easier to numb myself to it.

I used to feel that even though it may be painful, it was my duty to change things. Now I hold no delusions about being able to change a damn thing. Therefore I can find no reason to keep watching everything unfold. It makes me feel helpless, angry, sad, desperate. I’ve chosen to turn that off and feel nothing instead.

I had a foggy memory of a dream from last night as I wrote that last part. There were two girls. One was explaining to the other how to just turn a switch on the heart so you don’t feel anything anymore. The girl seemed glad at the idea, but with an empty smile, the other girl warned her that it does get harder to turn it back on every time. Aren’t dreams fascinating? We can learn a lot about ourselves from our dreams. And reaffirm the things we already knew deep down.

I’m sorry this post has mostly been rambling. But part of me feels like that is an accurate reflection of what this year has felt like. Wandering aimlessly within our own heads, disconnected from everything. If things don’t change once 2021 arrives, I am making a promise to myself here and now that I will finally start therapy. Feel free to hold me accountable for that promise. Here’s hoping things begin to look up for us all.