A Farewell to Blogs

A lot of things have happened since we talked last. The United States has elected its next President, who will take office in January. And stating that fact is the limit of the attention I can bear to give him. Because every time I see his face, or hear his voice, or think about him at all, my heart and mind and soul and body and spirit and guts do something like this:

3942827

I continue to find much joy in my marriage to John, and any time I get to spend with his family. [We’re enjoying an extended visit to Portland at the moment, and have gotten to see them an unprecedented three times in one  year.] My own family and friends–terms I often find interchangeable–continue to be the joy of my life on this twirling blue spaceball that we call home.

I’ve been enjoying my work as a copywriter and blogger for professionals. I work with some amazing people who have great, strong voices; and I love helping them come through, loud and clear.

I get to write up a minimum of 35 blogs a month these days, as well as proofreading, copy-editing; and donating writing services to some awesome grassroots efforts here at home. If I were to blog about my life over the last several months, it would amount to: Guess what: I wrote a blog today.

So things have been awfully quiet here; too quiet, in fact.

Which brings me to my news: this will be my last blog post on In Case of Fire, Use Stairs (as far as I know now, anyway).

future

I am leaving an open door. A couple, actually. The blog won’t be deleted. The Facebook page for the blog won’t be deleted. I don’t want to close myself off to the possibility that this blog, like so many things in life, may re-emerge–like a verbose phoenix–from the ashes of silence to imbue the Internet with newfound revelations.

But as you can see–from my multiple absences stretching for months at a time–I can’t give this the regular attention it deserves. I want creative writing to continue to be a joy, not a burden.

The fact is, writing for me now–creatively, or otherwise–doesn’t take the same shape as writing for me 8 years ago (when this blog began). I still love to write. But  I take solace in doing so more privately nowadays [especially for the creative, introspective expression that is so characteristic of good blogging]. I don’t feel as compelled to share my thoughts and opinions with whoever cares to hear them. Occasionally that does happen on social media. But even there, not often.

And I don’t want to feel an undue pressure, guilt, etc. about that. I want to feel free to dig into writing and see where it takes me. If it takes me back to blogging: wonderful. If it leads me to write a book: excellent. If it turns out that journaling and work are the best ways for me to write, but that I uncover some new creative outlet along the way: sounds great.

il_570xn-383705039_j3ch

What I’m getting at it is: this isn’t bad news. I’ll miss blogging, of course. But this is the first time in more than 8 years that I’ve given myself this kind of permission: that I’ve simplified my life in a way that allows me to explore other possibilities creatively (and make room for new ones). I feel nothing but gratitude and joy and humility and the good kind of fear when I think about just how sparkly and special that is.

So I want you to know, I’ll be fine. I’ll be happy. I’ll find joy. I’ll learn new stuff.

And  I want to say thank you. To everyone who has ever commented, read, shared, or disagreed with my blog. You have taught me so much about myself and others, and have opened my mind to new perspectives. [And I would be remiss if I didn’t especially thank our pen-pal in the US Army, who connected with us through this blog. We can’t wait to hug you in person someday.]

If you want to keep up with me, don’t be afraid to keep an eye on my website (linked above), email me, or follow me on social media. I’m by no means disappearing, just simplifying. Just taking the first, big, scary step into a new adventure: figuring out more about just what kind of a writer I am now.

And I don’t know if any of you ever really came to this blog for advice (at your own risk, I might add). But if you did, here’s my parting wish for you: do what you need to do to find your true self. Start small, pray, and love real big, and you’ll be just fine.

Thank you for a marvelous eight years. You’ve finally convinced me I’m a writer.

Now, to do that– and perhaps, more! Off I go!

God bless you and yours, unto ages of ages.

Love, Beth

lets_go_exploring

Advertisements

Part of the Story: Lego, Neil Gaiman, and the Importance of Inclusion

wheelchair guy

The new wheelchair-using Lego MiniFigure (Photo by Daniel Karmann/AFP/Getty Images)

My friend Alex just sent me a truly wonderful write-up from the Guardian about the newest member of the Lego MiniFigure family, who happens to use a wheelchair. He will be a part of their Fun in the Park set, which you will be able to buy for me as a half-birthday gift this June.

Even though you can build your own Lego-Person-in-a-Wheelchair, people are rightfully stoked over this new arrival. Even Lego was taken aback by the enthusiasm. Why all the hubbub? Because making something widely available that represents a person with a disability as a typical member of the community is the type of classy move that should become normalized. Like opening the door for someone else, or wearing a monocle.

For many people with disabilities, it is still remarkable to see examples of our experience in popular culture that are not somehow tinged with pity, otherness, or negativity. Think of the movies, television, commercials, books, art, modeling, and photography you’ve seen recently.

When did you last see

Someone using a wheelchair, walker, cane, or crutches?

A deaf or hard-of-hearing person?

A blind or visually-impaired person?

An autistic person?

Someone with an intellectual disability?

Someone with an “invisible” disability?

A person with mental illness?

And what was their story like? How well and fully did you get to know them: their flaws, their quirks, their sense of humor?

It doesn’t work to have a person with a disability in every story, playing every role, etc. And I don’t consider myself someone easily offended or looking to pick a fight in that arena. But disability is a big part of our human story. So, I’d appreciate an acknowledgement of that fact that more than a handful of times a decade.

And the way a story is told is important, too. 2108198

To be honest, I’m still surprised every time I see someone with a disability represented in media, art or pop culture in anything other than a stereotypical manner. If the disabled character isn’t a token, a poster child, a weakling, a burden, an utter inspiration, or a saint, it’s safe to say I’m sufficiently shocked.

Playing a part in the pop cultural/social/artistic narrative- and the complexity/significance of that role- has far-reaching importance. When I see someone I identify with, I am reminded of my own role in the world. It is a welcome affirmation of my own significance my community, and in the lives of those around me. But when my experience is wholly absent from the most popular media, the most widely read stories, it is difficult to believe that society expects me to play an important part.

Of course, I know there examples and exceptions beyond our Lego friend. One of the more notable ones is Odd & the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman. I won’t give anything away except the part that made me cry snotty tears (thanks, Neil). When Odd is offered a chance to have his “bum” leg exchanged for a “better” one, he refuses. It’s a pain sometimes, but overall, Odd likes himself and his life the way they are, weakness and all.

Odd shows us that the adventure of life should be inclusive; and that life is more about goodness than perfection. And Lego Guy reminds us that people with disabilities are pretty chill for the most part, and spend a lot of our time doing non-inspiring things.

But perhaps the most important thing Odd and the Lego Guy are teaching me is this: one sure way to fill the gaps of cultural invisibility is with creativity, with art, and with the truth of my own story.

I’m Not Dead! and Other Small Victories in Managing Mental Illness

here comes the sun

Hey, guys and dolls. I’ve been gone a while. I’m sorry. It’s been rough in patches, but I’m ready to talk about it. I think it’ll help me to do so, and maybe it’ll help somebody else.

Many of you know that writing regular blogs is not my strong suit. I cringe every time my news feed refreshes and I see that people with far busier schedules and far more demanding routines than mine are cultivating a thriving blog and stirring the social media pot with a deft hand. @#$%, I think. I can’t even remember to eat lunch every day.

Don’t worry, I’m not anti-lunch. It’s just part of how my depression and anxiety manifest themselves. Other parts of it include exhaustion or being quick to fatigue, sleeplessness, hypersensitivity and propensity to sadness, fear, or dread, and over-personalizing/taking on responsibility for problems that are beyond my reach and control. Because the depression and anxiety are clinical, it is an ongoing physical and emotional reality. But it ebbs and flows, and in an environment where anyone would be anxious, afraid or depressed, it gets turned up to eleven.

The long and short of it is that I don’t blog when I’m in a depressive low, or when I have been having a lot of panic attacks, and both of those things have been happening on what feels like a continuous loop for the past several months. Here’s part of the reason why.

When the hours at my previous  job started to decline near the beginning of this year, I began searching for something else. But being faced with  ongoing rejection and uncertainty, coupled with the stubborn reality that the hours I did have were not enough to fulfill or sustain me, the job-hunting-while-working was really taking a toll on my physical and mental well-being.

For reasons that are unclear to me, my mental health issues manifest themselves strongest after dark. So, night after night I would feel like the walls were closing in on me. I would get short of breath. I would be nauseated and curl up into the fetal position, weeping and hyperventilating and asking the Virgin Mary to comfort me. I would rage at myself, filled with hateful thoughts about how weak I was, how I was a fraud: I was not the strong, confident, happy self-advocate that so many of my friends and family were proud of. Everything seemed impossible as I lay there in the dark. I would think of job descriptions my friends and coworkers sent me, and I would feel my stomach drop and then say to myself, “I can’t do that job. I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned. The stress would be too much,” and on and on.

So, when I was finally offered something new, at a time when we were really struggling financially- I accepted, thinking I could adapt and thrive in the new environment. What I got instead was a constant spike in anxiety and panic attacks that was so debilitating I couldn’t eat or sleep, and would have to take frequent breaks from my work to avoid coming apart emotionally. So I had gone from having a job, to being under-employed, to resigning to accept a job, to quitting a job, in a relatively short time. Ever since then, it has been a constant- and I do mean constant- battle to remind myself that there is something better out there. I have been rebuilding my confidence, and taking care to measure progress in whatever metric I can.

You’re probably wondering when I’m gonna get to the progress part, because, let’s face it, I am kind of bumming you out and stuff. Don’t worry. Here it comes.

If you have never done so, please read Hyperbole and a Half (at hyperboleandahalf.com). Always hilarious, she does an amazing series of webcomics on what her depression is like and how she copes with it.

First, I had to take responsibility for where I was and who I was. I had to acknowledge that- while I can’t cure my mental illness, and while not every negative thing in the universe is my doing or my responsibility, there are things about my life that I can change, and things about my mental illness that I exacerbate when I don’t take action. There are things that I do and say- and that I neglect to do and say- when I am wallowing in my depression and anxiety, that I can easily change by acknowledging that these out of control emotions aren’t who I am, and that they don’t define me. Yes, they help explain things about me. No, they are not the sum total of all things about me.

Another major step in the right direction was the decision to go back to counseling. I have always been a big believer in getting help when you need it. I just seem to forget I need it every now and then. I was doing “okay” for quite a while there. But when it got to the point where my life was being halted and my relationships affected, I had to do something. I am still early on in my relationship with this therapist, but she has an expectation of change and growth, so I am holding myself to that standard, and have been thankful for the results so far.

I had to get spiritual direction. Therapy is great. But when religion, faith and spirituality are a part of your worldview, a qualified spiritual guide such as a priest, rabbi, etc. can give teachings and coping strategies that can bring a whole new level of peace and clarity, and my conversation with my priest was no exception.

He helped me to understand that  I had to make priorities and set boundaries regarding what I exposed myself to mentally/emotionally, and what parts of my thoughts and emotions I exposed. This meant stepping back when I really wanted to bare all on an issue or event on this site or via social media. I plan to go into greater detail on this in a future post, but the crux was that the things we feel strongly about are often things that make us feel vulnerable to share, and doing so on a public forum rarely if ever guarantees a kind response.

So all that work means I’ve been away for a while. And the fact that the work is constant, and the foe unpredictable,  means I have no idea how things will be a month or two or three or six from now, but I’m still here. And so are you. You’re worth fighting for, and I’m in your corner.

Til next time. Which will hopefully be soon.

Edit: The steps discussed are intended to provide ideas and strategies only. They are not meant to replace or usurp any treatment that has been recommended by your doctor, psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. Please keep all helping professionals in the loop of any changes to your routine.

Also, it is possible that they may be helpful guidelines for people who are experiencing short-term sadness, stress or melancholy, and I hope that’s true. Sharing my experiences is not meant to serve as any kind of diagnosis or comprehensive list of symptoms. Mental illness, stress, depression and anxiety are different for everyone, though there is some common ground. If your systems or struggles are consistent, chronic, and long term [beyond a difficult or stressful circumstance], please seek the opinion of a qualified professional to figure out what’s best for you.

**

P.S. For those reading this post who face mental illness, I encourage you to read/bookmark a Self-Care Checklist such as the one linked here [if you want a more language-neutral one, there are plenty out there, but this one is simple and straightforward]. It might also help to show it to a friend who can hold you accountable and make sure you’re okay.

Fear & Shaming in Nashvegas

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hello. I’m Beth.  And I am afraid.

I am afraid I am not really a writer because a real writer wouldn’t be afraid to write, or wouldn’t wonder whether or not she was a writer.
I am afraid that other people don’t think I am a writer, either, because anyone can blog.
I am afraid I am not a writer because writers are artists, and sharing your opinions, struggles, or personal stories is not art.
I am afraid of my own opinions about social and cultural issues: that they are too too lax or too controversial for my religious friends, too intolerant for my friends who are not religious or who are not a part of my religion, incorrect, inaccurate, biased, or in some other way wrong.
I am afraid when my opinions are popular, because that makes me a conformist, a sheep, godless, or one of those weirdo Christians (depending on the day, and the issue or topic being explored).
I am afraid when they are unpopular because they might be off-base, informed by some unknown bias, or outright wrong.
I am afraid to have conversations or to post writing about these opinions on social media because I am afraid of being judged, criticized, or proven wrong in a way that makes me feel small.
I am afraid to send my posts to Huffington Post anymore, because one piece that took me months to write drew pages of criticism and trolling.
I am afraid to post to my own blog anymore, because who calls themselves a blogger that never blogs, or: who the heck wants to read a blog about someone who just talks about how afraid she is of literally everything?
I am not a good enough writer because I am not a strong-stable-or-together enough woman, an independent-enough advocate, or a smart-enough blogger.

***
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.- Nelson Mandela 

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”- 1 John 4:12

I realized recently- after a series of debilitating panic attacks and depressive episodes- that so much of what I did (or don’t do) was driven by fear and its close cousin, shame. This realization wasn’t due to some philosophical epiphany or accrual of great wisdom, but because whenever John or another loved one asked me what was wrong, my answer would invariably start with either “I’m scared [or worried] that. . .” or with a litany of things I disliked or even hated about myself.

Then I started connecting the dots. I hadn’t produced anything creative in months upon months, in spite of yearning to write to you all to share my stories about my totally rad new marriage, my struggles with the unpredictability of nonprofit sector employment, or my resolution to read more books (which I am actually keeping, because I barely read any books last year: score!).  I had stopped stirring the pot in conversations and on social media, and was posting way less satire or evocative writing from others I admire. People were asking me questions like “How are you doing. . . really?” and making their best concerned faces.

“Fine,” I would say. But I was really just a time bomb composed almost entirely of frustration, tears and calling myself names that I would never call someone else.

In my rush to keep my negative emotions and struggles with shame, fear, and self-loathing a secret (so I wouldn’t burden anyone, or be perceived as a weak, weepy, weirdo, etc.), I kept the joys and triumphs a secret, too. I numbed and closed off all my emotions (because you can’t pick and choose what you numb), and kept connection and intimacy at bay across the board.

I finally got to the point where I was afraid of how ashamed I was, and ashamed of how afraid I was. “That’s enough. This has got to stop.” I actually said those words aloud, and that was when the clouds began lifting.

In addition to leaning in to the rigor of the Lenten services and prayers, I began reading and discussing (amongst a few loved ones) Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown.

[Note: although my theology shares a lot of common ground with the principles in the book, it is research-based and practical in nature: I would highly recommend it for your personal enrichment, Lenten or otherwise.]

I admit, I was embarrassed to buy a book from the self-improvement section, but to say my self didn’t need any improvement would mean I should also be buying books about lying.

Anyway, Dr. Brown gets into the nitty-gritty of shame and vulnerability and how they cripple creativity, relationships, and self-worth. She unpacks over a decade of research, and suddenly I found myself saying “I am scared of everything, and that is a problematic situation in several ways. It’s science!” That was when I really started to grasp that fear and shame were not only holding me back from being creative, but were suffocating and hiding entire parts of myself and my struggle through the joys and the difficulties of life. I was fed up with who I had become, and the fact that I neither knew nor recognized her.

So I decided to take baby steps by posting a detailed account of this battle for you and God and everyone else to read about and weigh in on via the Internet.

This doesn’t mean I can say I will blog every week or every month, or that those fears I listed up at the top have stopped, or will stop anytime soon. I haven’t figured it out, I haven’t vanquished any foes. I have just realized that all of these things, even if they are huge and scary, can be pushed through, can be voiced, and their power over me can be diminished.

I don’t want to deprive anyone of my creativity or my individuality, or of my regular ole weird self, because I would rather look back and say, hey, my writing was worth it to me. Or, hey, at least I pushed through it. Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not scared of the monsters under the bed, it means you call them out and fight back. This is a vulnerable process and we have to do it in some way every day. But I’m starting to see just how “worth it” the fight is.

What we give to the world out of our uniqueness is our art, whether it is a painting, a blog, an academic paper, a good meal, or an honest connection to another person. Whatever you do to be your true self is worth it, even though doing it is scary. You are not alone. Success is not having no battles to fight, it’s fighting and and strengthening and pushing through that makes us better in the long run.

There’s no way I could end this post saying “That’s it, I’m done with fear.” But I am done with being ruled by fear (and shame). I’m done with making excuses, with disconnection. I want to be myself, and for people I encounter through my writing or in my life to actually know who that is.

i am a terrible blogger.

I have a confession to make, you guys. Well, two.

The first is that I cannot stop listening to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album [the Heist], and I don’t care who knows it. Seriously. I listen to it once a day right now. Not only is Sir Macklemore  excellent at the hip-hoppery, he is smart. And I love a smarty.

The only better pop album to come out recently is Justin Timberlake’s opus of smooth, the 20/20 Experience [obviously, i mean, who are we kidding?]. Do yourself a favor and get both of those albums right now and listen to them. Yes, they’re commercially popular, but so is food, and everybody’s gotta eat. 

Image

My other confession is. . . I am a terrible blogger. I started off the year like the over-achieving boyfriend in an 80s teen romantic comedy. I had grand plans: wooing you all with flowers, rides in my convertible, and promises of weekly posts. But I’ve only managed to let you down over and over again with [maybe] monthly offerings [if you’re lucky].  

I love writing, and I think there is something beautiful about the ease with which I can share my writing in this format. I also want you all to know what’s going on, and I want to share the love through my writing whenever I can.

I like giving pause, making people think, and reminding them they are loved. I know that when I’m not writing, it is harder for me to help others in those ways. That’s really why I’m a blogger in the first place. But without blogging, I can’t accomplish any of that- at least not in a way I can see easily.

So, I’m sorry I’m a terrible blogger. 

ImageI’m sorry. But I’m not.

With working, teaching ESL twice a week, and taking an ESL certification class 3 weekends in a row, I have been slammed this month. I have spent the better part of the last 4 weeks exhausted, cranky, and probably one step above hallucinating a hot dog riding a unicorn across a rainbow bridge on the Delirium Scale.

On top of the physical and emotional demands of that schedule, I was forced to miss Church for most of July due to the fact that the Sunday classes were all-day, so I did not have my normal solace of receiving Communion and praying with my friends on Sundays.

It has not been easy. And I haven’t been writing a word.

But I have been learning. I’ve been learning how to be a human: how to be tired, how to lean on others for support, how to ask for help and prayers, how to make mistakes and learn from them; how to bite off more than I can chew, and what to do when that happens. I’ve been so focused on being a living, breathing, surviving, regular, normal human being. I just haven’t had time to be a proper blogger.

It’s been fantastic. Not because I didn’t write, or because it was fun and carefree. It’s been fantastic because- through God’s mercy and the love of my Someone and the people in my life- I’ve made it. 

Now that I know I can be an employee, a friend, a girlfriend, a student, a teacher, and a human all at the same time, maybe I can get back to being a blogger, too.

Maybe.

the update boogie: getting down to where i’ve been

Image

Blogging every week was going great for a while. Until I stopped about 6 weeks ago and remembered I have a job, up to 2 hours of commuting a day, a Church, a relationship, an apartment to maintain, and a social life. Yikes, Universe. What’s going on here? Who am I, and where did that little kid with no responsibilities and a Barbie Corvette Powerwheels go? [Yes, I really had one of those, and yes, I always drove it at the highest possible speed. Also: it was hot pink. Mindfreak.]

I have decided that I am going to blog when I can, not only because I enjoy keeping you all in the loop, but because I have new motivation to do so. I have been invited to be a regular contributor at OurAbility, an internet community for people with disabilities and their loved ones. I befriended their founder at a conference I attended recently. When he found out I am a blogger, he quickly suggested I contribute. I will be writing about whatever I want, but with a unique focus that will foster dialogue about disabilities and within the disability community.

I am thrilled about this opportunity as a writer and as a human being: to find common ground with someone, and then to be able to edify one another, that is a great responsibility with a great reward.

There is another thing keeping my attention, and I am growing more and more excited about it by the day. In May, I am taking a certification course to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. I had never considered a career change, much less to a career in teaching a subject I had no idea about, prior to a few months ago. But my personal and professional lives have aligned themselves in such a way that I realize: I need to do something new, and, in this case, it needs to be big. Not only will having the certification open me up to employment opportunities in a variety of places both here and [ahem] abroad, it will give me the chance to look the people I am helping in the eye, to learn from them and get to know them. . . which is something I have missed acutely since my joyous summers at camp.

Image

And the rest of the time, when I haven’t been working, growing up, praying, apartment cleaning, or planning a major life change, I’ve been Skyping. Being with someone an ocean away is not always a stroll down the thoroughfare, so to speak [do people actually say that?!] But I continue to be amazed at the grace, mercy, patience, and peace that follow us throughout our days. It is teaching me something I have always needed to learn: how to live in the present, enjoying the moments as they come, and how to dwell every little moment of blessing you can find. As he shows me every day, if you look for them, they are innumerable.

And more to come.

the best ten minutes of your day is in this blog.

I felt kind of horrendous for bits of last week. Studies show that feeling horrible isn’t good. 100% of the time, feeling horrible is unpleasant. I know how it feels when work gets you down, or when you feel lonesome, or when you remember with a few minutes to spare that your big paper is due tomorrow and not the day after tomorrow. It’s the worst. And sometimes you just have to admit that to God and the Internet and everybody.

But sometimes, life throws you a bone. Sometimes, there is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise Gloom-and-doom Sadfest.

Like today, someone called me back at work. Not to tell me about another problem, but to thank me for helping them. To let me know that everything was going to work out, and that they appreciated me walking them through it.

Excuse me, I thought, are you sure you have the right number?

But in that kind of situation, you don’t ask questions.

So.  just in case you’re having a rough week, or day, or whatever, I bring you two videos that I can solemnly-courtroom-style swear will comprise the Best Ten Minutes of Your Day. Go ahead. Bookmark it. You’ll be back.

First, this delightful animated short, Paperman, which is nominated for an Academy Award:

Let me guess, did it get the nomination for THE MOST ADORABLE THING I HAVE EVER SEEN?!

Go ahead. Watch it again. No one will judge you.

As if that isn’t wonderful enough, Soulpancake has put this kid on the map. He’s Kid President. And he has a Pep Talk. For you.

Best part? Not cool, Robert Frost!

What I love most about this video is the underlying assumption that everyone is awesome, and therefore, can be awesome and do things that are awesome. That includes you, you know.

Since it’s obvious that Kid President and I have a lot in common, it shouldn’t surprise you that I want to participate in making this an Awesome Year for Other People [and not just by dancing]. So I’m going to write up an email to the President himself, asking him to give an interview for this very blog. I’ll let you know what he says.

I hope it’s yes.

And I hope that if you were having a bad week, it just got better.

If not, let me know what else I can do.