Living in the Age of Covid-19: Coping

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These are normally my two places to rest, rejuvenate, start my day and end my day – my favorite chair in my reading room or my purple porch swing on the front porch. These are safe places. But life has changed in so many ways and I am feeling the impact. Research has found that people can only stay in a crisis mode for about 6 weeks before the seek a resolution, a way to cope. Sometimes we find adaptive ways to cope and other times it seems like the only options are maladaptive. We try to move back to our old ways of coping, but sometimes our world had changed so drastically that we can’t find our way back to what was.

I continue to try to identify and name how I am reacting to the pandemic, the Trump presidency, increased focus on racial injustices, and the impact of global warming. Mostly I have settled into exhaustion with brief breakthroughs of peace and joy when concentrating on sewing quilt tops and canning the wonderful fresh produce that Michigan summers provide. Frequently I have felt tears at the back of my eyes that leads me to believe that I am mourning our losses.

So many of us are in this boat – each having loss many things that are very dear. My greatest loss seems to be a sense of safety – I feel the threat of the corona virus, the extreme damages Trump has wrought on what our country stands for (even with all of our faults and blemishes), and the looming threat of global warming. And my heart aches for the hundreds of thousands of people who have loss loved ones or have loss their health due to the virus. And I feel rage that the pandemic and its consequences are a thousand times worse than they should be here in the U.S. because of the incompetence, denial of reality, and narcissism of our president. And then it makes me angry that I hate someone as much as I hate that man and all the people who support him. Lord, have mercy on me.

It helped to write the previous paragraph, a little, but I’ve expressed similar thought before. But there are other things I need to write, I want to express, but something gets in the way, blocks the path from soul to brain to fingers. Maybe they are thoughts that are either half baked or seem too inconsequential within the magnitude, the enormity of what we as a country and a world are experiencing. I want to put to words the minor frustrations that I am experiencing from the crisis we are experiencing.

This past week we went camping on Lake Huron, the Great Lake that is the border on the eastern side of the lower peninsula. I had been looking forward to this get-away with a couple who is similarly terrified of the virus. I wanted to run away from everything just for a little while. But it didn’t work because there was always that nagging fear in the back of my brain that maybe it was a mistake even though we encountered just a handful of other people. I found that I longed to be home piecing my quilt top and by Thursday I really wanted to just pack up and go home. As we were driving home today, Friday, I decided I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to turn around and go somewhere for another week. My take-away is that I can’t escape any of it, no matter where I go.

I am also irritated at how cautious I am whenever I leave my “clean” space. Every time I leave the house I am continually calculating how safe my movement is, who I am coming in contact with, and how to avoid being close to people – especially people who don’t have masks on. (And then I have to deal with my rage at people who refuse to wear a mask because it infringes on their personal freedom – damn them all to hell. Oh Lord, have mercy on me again.)

This same cautiousness happens when I bring things into the house. I can’t seem to separate rational caution from irrational. When we returned home I had to unpack a lot of the food from our camper before I could fix some supper. As I took things from the carrying boxes, I felt the impulse to disinfect them – and to wash my hands yet again. And I wonder if I’m being overly cautious, irrationally cautious. Sometimes I am and then sometimes I slip back into old ways and I fear that I let some virus in. Damn, it is exhausting.

Most of all I’m trying to make sense of my reaction to the pandemic (and my reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement that will have to wait until another post). The pandemic hasn’t affected my economics but it has my social relationships. The pandemic hasn’t impacted on my health but it has on my movement within my community. I haven’t lost a job but I have loss my sense of direction. I have loss my safety because I believe I have about a 40% chance of dying if I am infected. I don’t want my husband, family and friends to experience the pain of my death. I don’t want to lose my husband, and I don’t want all the people who love him to experience the pain of his death. I am afraid – but within my fear and grief are times of joy and happiness. I’ll share some of those next post.

Searching

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It took me a while to head to the spot in the Naples Botanical Garden where one of the sculptures I had missed on my last visit is located. I got distracted at the lily pond, and my head had to concentrate on saying don’t turn right towards the Caribbean Garden, don’t turn left towards the Asian Garden, keep moving… I was so intent on getting there that I walked right past the Blue Calla Flare. It was only when I stopped and turned around in the Succulent Garden that I saw it.

_DSC0051 I spent some time trying to capture the artistic beauty and technical artistry of this glass sculpture by Hans Godo Frabel on display this season but I don’t think my heart was in it.

I was much more interested in the plants in the Succulent Garden, even though this area still needs some cleaning for the upcoming tourist season. These plants seem to reflect the prickly aspects of my personality of late, and the fact that my darker side wants to push through.

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As our country is getting close to our midterm elections, when we are voting for representatives for national and state legislatures, governors, state policy issues, etc. but not for president, the Republicans, especially the president and his followers, are nervous that they may lose some important races. To get out their followers, they are increasing their lying about supporting the Affordable Care Act, even as they are working to dismantle it, and they are ramping up the fear mongering lies about the hordes of immigrants heading for our Southern border infiltrated by Muslims and murdering gangs, bankrolled by Jews, carrying Small Pox and leprosy into our country. I am fed up, I have had it, and I don’t know how to respond except to vote – which I’ve already done. Now all I can do is wait in hopeful anticipation and dread until the election results are in.

I don’t remember ever hating anyone more than I hate our current president. And I don’t like what this hatred is doing to me. I want to attack everyone I know who voted for him, and even those who may have voted for him because of their party affiliation. This isn’t fair and goes against everything I believe in, but it is so hard to do what is right and good right now. I want to be kind and caring towards everyone, but I feel the darkness right there at the back of my brain cutting off those brain parts that regulate the flow of love from my heart. And my soul is constipated.

I want to curl myself up in a community of safety and loving. I want to become fetal, cover my head from attacks.

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And I want to feel the joy of reaching out, of giving.

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Remember to breath in deeply and turn off the TV, Pat. As I teacher of interviewing skills for future social workers, I would explain the importance of focus. I would help them think about how to make sure the focus of interactions was on the person needing the help, not on the helper. We would discuss how to gently shift the focus between topics of importance. If I am going to find peace and joy in the coming week I have to give up my focus on the evil that is going on in national politics and focus on my small circle of influence. I need to focus on caring and finishing my quilt top for donating to flood victims and knitting the sweaters for my two great grandchildren. I need to put a smile on my face and face the world with strength.

And I need to make some fun – starting with an outing with my honey to visit some of the local consignment shops. Let me tell you of the great deals that can be found in thrift and consignment shops in Naples, FL.

Can I Forgive?

This post is for women. Male readers can continue to read but you will have a hard time relating to what I will be saying, unless you are a male who is of the wrong color, or nationality, or gender orientation, or religious heritage, or have a body that is somehow defective. But this essay is about me, a female, being wounded by this election. I think there are many women who have been wounded by Trump and I hope that telling my story will help them find their voice. I have compassion for the men who have been wounded, but I can’t tell their story. I only have intimate knowledge of my wound and am troubled because I don’t know how to heal and forgive.

This election created a cesspool of emotional turmoil for me. Many people would describe the election as a nightmare, but I had nightmares – something that hasn’t been a part of my sleep for many, many years. I have also been having memories intrude on my waking thoughts. Memories that I don’t want to rerun, but I can’t find the stop button. I felt assaulted by the words of Donald Trump and this assault triggered memories of assaults I experienced in years past. I have felt traumatized by his words that bragged about how he can assault women just because he has the power of fame. Just typing that last sentence triggered a swell of anxiety reactions in me. He scares me. I am afraid.

Trauma has a way of triggering memories of past traumas in our brain circuitry. Those of us who have lived long enough know that when we experience the trauma of losing someone we love, that trauma triggers memories of all our previous loses. There is a cumulative effect. I bet you have experienced how these types of traumas can pile up.

I experienced several assaults by men, some of them pretty heinous and some of them run of the mill assaults. I know other women who have experienced different assaults. When we come together I think the one thing that we find is that we share a common experience of how the assaults impact us. The trauma doesn’t go away, even if we have years of therapy to better understand that the assault wasn’t our fault, even if we have a phenomenal ability to use denial, even if we work hard to gain more power than the men who over-powered us, even if we move far away to create a new life.

All we need to hear is some man, especially a man who is running for one of the most powerful positions in the world, to say that he can do anything he wants, he can even grab us by the pussy. When this happens all our defenses against the memories fail us – because he failed us. And we feel fear – we know our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and nieces aren’t safe. We don’t feel safe. Safety is a delusion for females when men think like this.

When I say I don’t feel safe, it is hard to say it in a way that fully defines and describes the multiple levels on which my sense of safety has been assaulted. Only personal stories can do that, even though those stories are so hard to tell.

When I was 14, I was raped by a family member. It wasn’t the first time, it happened 10 years earlier by the same person. But this time it had consequences reaching far beyond the shame and helplessness we feel when we are violated in this way. I became pregnant and an abortion was arranged. The whole experience was an assault, so much so that I blocked it from my mind for many years. Slowly I have let myself remember details, like going to the basement door in the back of the small hospital. It was owned and run by a doctor who I later learned did illegal abortions while law enforcement didn’t look, didn’t ask. I was lucky – my mother-in-law’s sister died as a result of an illegal, back-ally abortion.

They were doing something illegal so they were distant. They had a job to do and they didn’t want to know me. No one explained or comforted. I was put on a table and told to spread my legs. I was 14. I wanted to vomit from fear. It was painful and they took me home. Funny, but of all the memories the hardest ones were of going back to school in the Fall. Their problem was solved and I was all alone – having to face friends while clothed in shame and guilt. I was all alone because no one knew and I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tolerate being more alone. I was living in exile in my familiar places, while fearing further exile. It was unbelievably hard.

It was hard, but the alternatives wouldn’t have been any better. My father didn’t make enough money for me to go to a home for unwed mothers in another city to wait for the birth, and give the baby up for adoption. My 14 year old body wasn’t capable of supporting another developing body – a child having a baby. There was no educational support for pregnant girls – they dropped out of school, dropped off the face of the earth. Girls who got pregnant were gossiped about – they were sluts, whores, bad girls. Parents of good boys wouldn’t let their sons date those types of girls. I don’t know if I could have gone back to school as a slut while holding my head high and getting good grades so I could go to college. You see, we were a middle class family, living in a middle class suburb. My parents taught us middle class values and I worked hard not to disappoint them.

I have those memories, along with being groped at the county fair and seeing a man expose himself as I opened our front door. I didn’t say anything because, well, I had heard people say ‘boys men will be boys men.’ This is why I find it so repulsive when men and r women diminish what Trump said on the bus by saying ‘boys will be boys.’ I have memories of men saying on television, during the cold war, that a woman could never be president because women’s monthly cycle makes them ‘unbalanced’ and thus not to be trusted with the nuclear button. This is why I find it so repulsive that Mr. Trump said that Megan Kelly had blood coming from wherever. This assaults all women, and reminds us of how our body has been degraded by men. How this degradation has been an excuse to keep us from accomplishing our dreams, of becoming successful, of becoming President of the United States.

Yes, I am afraid. I am afraid for my daughters Carol, Sharon and Natalia, for granddaughters Emily, Sarah, Lindsay, Maggie and Allison, for great-granddaughter Eevee. I am afraid that the degrading words of our President-elect will give his followers permission to say what he says, to act as he says he has acted. His supporters seem to believe his behavior is okay – I don’t. I am afraid that females will be deprived of basic reproductive services as our Vice-President elect destroys Planned Parenthood. I am afraid that our reproductive freedoms will be taken away through the appointment of Justices. I consider myself pro-life but defined as supporting a life of dignity and opportunity and justice for all people both born and unborn. And sometimes we have to make really difficult choices. Life is messy.

Yes, I am angry. I am angry at Trump supporters who are calling me a crybaby. I am angry at Trump supporters who are telling me to shut up. Yes I have cried but I’m not going to shut up. I will not support the new administration’s policies if they are destructive to who we are as individuals and to our country. Trump will not be my president.

Yes, I am angry and I am not ready to forgive Trump and his campaign team for their degrading and dangerous stances about women, Blacks, LGBT, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, the physically challenged, the press, science, and others I can’t think of right now. I am angry about the people he brings to the table – I was taught that people are defined by the company they keep. I am not ready to forgive him for inciting violence at his rallies because he loves the roar of admiring crowds. I fear for people who this man, his associates, and his followers hate so much. I know forgiveness is difficult but also know how to do it because I have forgiven the men that assaulted me. Forgiveness comes only when we know there is honest repentance and a desire for forgiveness. Honest repentance can only happen when a person is able to take responsibility for their acts, understand how their actions hurt others, experience the guilt of having done wrong, and face their victim wearing the cloak of shame. This hasn’t happened. Trump doesn’t apologize because Trump doesn’t admit to doing wrong.

Once upon a time I felt helpless, but not any more. Even if I am able to forgive with time, I will not forget. I will be vigilant. I will be listening and watching. I will be speaking out and acting. I have made a donation to Planned Parenthood in Pence’s name (click in honor of) and having the notification sent to him at the White House so there will be some transparency. I have notified companies that carry Trump products that I will not purchase from them until they make a public statement that they have dropped Trump products. And as the issues change I will look for ways of supporting other organizations that can do what I can’t do because of age.

The United States will only be as great as its citizens. Let’s make sure all people are protected and supported.

 

USPS, rage, and a little leaf

This morning I had to go to battle with the US Postal System and lost. I won’t bore you with details but to say that it cost us about $250 to have our mail forwarded for 4 months last year – and none of that was for postage. I was ready to explode when I hung up. I have a lot of self control but I got nasty with the supervisor I was speaking with – and apologized. I was so angry that I was afraid to open my mouth to answer her questions.

I don’t like being that angry – it uses up a lot of energy and it isn’t a feel-good emotion. Anger tells us we have been hurt and can motivate us to action. I was hurt but there is nothing more I can do so remaining angry only hurts my mind and body.

To dissipate this anger I decided to take a walk with my camera. I felt so foul I couldn’t even respond to the “good mornings” from other walkers. It wasn’t a good morning. My foul mood kept me from seeing anything of beauty to photograph. I found a few things but didn’t feel much joy as I clicked the shutter.

Then I saw it.

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A small golden leaf hanging from a tree on a gossamer-fine spider web. I could see in my mind what I wanted my image to look like but I soon discovered that photographing this simple leaf was very difficult.

It moved in the slightest breeze.

leaf 049Sometimes it swung so high I lost it against the tree background. It moved so quickly and was so small that the auto focus always hit on background so I couldn’t see the leaf in the viewfinder – I switched to manual focus. It worked better but this little piece of nature tended to moved out of the frame between focus and click. It also moved in and out of the light, and moved away from the best backgrounds.

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I became very focused. I had to focus all my energy away from my anger and into capturing a little yellow leaf floating in space. I took lots of photos and most were really easy to delete – permanently. These three make me happy, especially the middle one. They aren’t as focused as I would like but I learned a whole lot about myself as a photographer and how I use my camera. Next time the images will be even better.