Anxiety is the New Black

About a year ago, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that I have been suffering from anxiety since I was a child. What sparked this moment of personal insight? The fact that my son also suffers from anxiety and I began to think back on what life was like for me at his age. I’m sure that if you asked my friends and family, many of them would tell you that my childhood was good and they have many fond memories of me growing up. My memories aren’t always in line with theirs, and that’s okay as long as I’m allowed to remember things the way they happened for me through my perception of things.

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I was born in Central Pennsylvania in 1972. My mom is a white woman who grew up in a small rural community that wasn’t really thrilled about her dating choices and in many ways shunned her after she decided to marry my biological father. While living with my father’s family, a group of migrant workers living near Chambersburg, PA, my mother grew up fast. According to her, my father fancied himself a ladies man, which actually translates as pimp in the real world, and when she found out she was pregnant with me, two things occurred to her: 1) At least three other women were pregnant to my father at that time, and 2) Her unborn child deserved a better life. She told me that she sat in the dark waiting for him to come home and thought about killing him. Knowing she had to be around to take care of me changed her mind. So, she left him that night and filed for divorce soon after.

When I was born, we lived with my grandparents in the same small town where my mom grew up. To say that the town I grew up in lacked diversity is quite the understatement. Aside from my mom’s boyfriend, Gene, and his family, I don’t recall seeing other people of color, with the exception of people on TV, until I was about four or five and we moved to a larger town, Carlisle, PA.

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Carlisle was and is segregated. People who have lived here their whole lives aren’t always conscious of that fact, but when you meet people who move here, it’s one of the first things they notice about the place. Have things changed since I was a child? Yes. But to be fair, one of the changes I would be happy to point to is the fact that when I was a child, people felt completely at ease driving by in their cars and shouting “nigger lover” at my mother while she walked with me downtown.  No one has called me a nigger to my face since I was in an undergraduate in college, but I know some people were thinking  it while they spoke to me. It’s like Spidey senses, but for racists.

So, while I was growing up I experienced a multi-layered effect of racism and bigotry from strangers, teachers, friends, and family. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon for mixed race kids. I haven’t interviewed people or sent out surveys, but I know I am not the only person in the world who had this experience.

What idiot called it a human skull instead of an anxiety cabin.

— Doth (@DothTheDoth) December 2, 2018

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events in my life, I recently spent a year (August 2017 – June 2018) employed but underpaid, and lacking health insurance. During that time, when my anxiety levels were astonishingly high, I couldn’t afford medication to help with my chronic depression and anxiety. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist. Hell, I could barely afford to pay my bills.

But, Michelle, why didn’t you apply for assistance?

I did. And, I was denied assistance even though I was making $15 an hour working for a temp agency after I left another job where the owners of the business couldn’t pay me. They still owe me money, but much like the child support I keep hoping for, I doubt if I’ll ever see it.

A few weeks ago, I tried to apply for assistance again, because even though I am working full-time and have health insurance, I’m only making $0.82 more than what I was making at the temp agency. I was also working part-time as an online writing tutor for $11 an hour. Because I had made an extra $60 during the month of February from my part-time job, my income was considered too high to receive any assistance.

Yep, America is definitely great again.

I was told by a very sympathetic caseworker that if I quit my part-time job, and got a psych evaluation for my autistic child, we might qualify for assistance. So, as long as I make less money and can prove that my child is mentally ill, I’m allowed to receive help.

No wonder my anxiety levels keep rising.

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The good news is that since I have health insurance again, I can take my medication. But, even though I have access to services like therapy, the co-pays are too high for me to afford even with insurance.

Where does that leave me? At the moment, I don’t have any good answers. I keep looking for higher-paying jobs, but I no longer have a reliable car. Transportation is an issue. Fortunately, I am able to share my mother’s car and have some mobility. But using her car to drive back and forth to work every week day isn’t an option. Especially since I would most likely have to drive to Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, York, or elsewhere that would require anywhere from 30-60 minutes or more of travel time to and from work. So, I’m kind of stuck.

I try to appreciate what I do have while not focusing on what I don’t. Each day gets a little better, but I’m exhausted. Frustrated. Melancholy. Angry. I’m feeling a lot of feelings all the time.

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But, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll share my good news with you later this week and you can help me celebrate brighter days ahead.

10 Things I’ve Learned While Walking Life’s Path Alone

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Next month, (in 19 days to be exact), I will turn 45. In my mid-40’s, my identity is as malleable as it is fixed, and transformation is not only a process, but also a goal. My identity is also complex and for the first time in my adult life I am beginning to truly appreciate that complexity, because that complexity is what makes me uniquely me. 2017 is still in its infancy, but a lot has happened since the beginning of the year. Not only in the world, but in my personal life as well. As I ease into this new year – still walking this path by myself – I’ve taken some time for self-reflection rather than burdening myself with resolutions I may not be able to keep. I mean, seriously, why create additional heartache for yourself when there are plenty of opportunities for it to find you out in the world?

Pain is a symptom of transformation, and pain is a fact of life if you’re actively living it. Like it or not, pain teaches us how to become better people if we are willing to learn its lessons. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve lived through my fair share of pain. And, because I am a sensitive person, a loving person, and willing to accept others into my life, sometimes things get messy. I’ve had lots of different kinds of relationships and this variety of relationships has taught me a lot about humanity and more importantly, myself.

I am a divorced, middle-aged, three-time college-educated, feminist, left-wing oriented with a heavy dose of secular humanism, single woman of color writer raising a young boy alone. These identifiers are only a small cross section of the other aspects of my life that make me who I am. People are always telling me how strong, interesting, and amazing I am, but despite all of my wonderful and complex attributes, I am still single. I continue to walk my life path alone. Am I happy about that? No. But, I’m beginning to understand that this is my life and if I don’t accept it, embrace the reality that I will most likely be walking this path alone for quite some time, I will never be happy with myself. So, in the nearly 45 years of my life, I have learned some things that I’d like to share with you, if like me, you find yourself walking your path alone.

Be kind to yourself. Self-care is important because it allows us to be healthy enough to deal with whatever is coming our way. Taking steps to maintain your best level of health enables us to not only do the daily things that are expected of us and take care of the people we love in our lives, but it also helps us build a reserve of strength in order to manage our lives better in times of crisis and loss.

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Be kind to others. Everyone experiences pain. Their pain might not be the same as your pain, but they are still learning how to navigate the unexpected disappointments and hurts that life throws our way. It isn’t necessarily your responsibility to help people get through their pain, but a kind word, a smile, or a thoughtful gesture may be all they need to get through the rest of the day, or in some cases, through the next moment. You can’t solve everyone’s problems or rescue them from whatever it is that is hurting them or blocking their progress, but you can treat them the way you wish to be treated. Kindness is free (unless you allow people to abuse it). And here’s the really confusing part that has taken me my whole life to appreciate – and I’m still working through learning this lesson – even the people who hurt you deserve kindness on some level. That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow, and it may require a lot of bourbon to choke it down. It will definitely take time for some of us, depending on the level of hurt we’ve experienced, to even be willing to pick up that pill before putting it in our mouth.

Do not settle for less than you deserve. When you go through a break up, lose a job, or experience any kind of significant loss, your closest friends will usually tell you that you deserve better. Guess what? They’re right. Your friends, if they are true friends, should know you pretty well and have an appreciation for all that you have to offer. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. They are the people who, even on your worst days, will always be there to tell you that things are going to be okay. They will hold your hand, give you a hug, pour liquor down your throat, find voodoo spells for you, and talk smack about the person or situation that hurt you. You should probably reciprocate whenever possible. Knowing what you want in life is important, but knowing your own value will help you gain a better understanding of why settling for less isn’t good enough. At least, it shouldn’t be.

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Crying is not a sign of weakness. Crying is a natural reaction to the physical and emotional pain in our lives. Healthy humans cry when they experience loss or what feels like unmanageable stress. Crying allows us to heal and is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. Regardless of what The Cure says, boys do and should cry, because crying as a reaction to pain is never gender specific.

Friends are more important than lovers. As I mentioned, I have a widely-diverse and rich network of friends who have either known me for a long time (more than 30 years) or who are still getting to know me, and vice versa. Having a lover or lovers can be wonderful, and if you’re lucky enough to find one (or more) who wants to stay in your life long term, even better. When our physical needs along with our emotional are being met, that can be a really sweet time. For most of us, those sweet times don’t last forever. When someone we have been emotionally and physically intimate with decides to end that relationship, it can sometimes feel like the world is ending. Or maybe, in some cases, we might wish that the world would end in order to avoid the pain we’re feeling. When we become not only emotionally and mentally, but also physically attached to certain people it might feel like part of us is dying when they choose a path that no longer connects to ours. If we’re really lucky and choose lovers who are emotionally stable and genuinely caring people, we may be able to maintain a different kind of relationship with them given enough time to heal and process our hurt emotions. In my experience, friendships have always lasted longer than love affairs or long-term romantic relationships. I mean, duh, I’m still single, right? But, many of my friendships have stood the test of time, some lasting through childhood into adulthood. I am a healthier person because of those relationships. And knowing my friends as well as I think I do, many of them would tell you that being a close friend of mine is a good thing. They love me, flaws and all. And, I feel the same way about them. Lovers come and go, but my close friends are usually around long enough to be considered family.

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People who are meant to be in your life will stay. I’m not just talking about lovers and significant others here. Lots of people will come and go in your life. Family, friends, lovers, acquaintances, and a whole host of other major and minor personal interactions that make up the map of relationships in your life. I am fortunate enough to be blessed with many friends. I am proud to say that I have been able to maintain and nurture some of my friendships, regardless of distance and life situations, for more than 30 years. My marriage didn’t last 30 years. It barely lasted 4. My husband was not my friend. I never should have married him. Fear and unmet desires forced me into that situation, and it took me a long time to dig my way out. Sometimes though, no matter how much we care about a person, the best thing they can do for us is to walk away.

Maintaining friendships with past lovers or boyfriends is rare for me. It happens sometimes, but typically it has taken me years to regain the trust that was lost when those relationships ended. The few people who fit into that category who are still choosing to be in my life, even at a distance through social media, are probably going to stick around for the long haul. Relationships, like everything else in our lives, go through periods of transformation. Having faith in the fact that someone you care about deeply, even though they have hurt you in some way, can still be welcomed into your life not only says something about your willingness to forgive, but also that they are worth the effort. Sometimes that transformation will take time and effort on behalf of both parties to make it work. But, if you both care enough, value, and respect each other, it should work out. Patience and understanding are key ingredients, as well as the ability to give people the space they need to shift from one role to another in your life.

You are a whole person without a life partner or significant other. I’m not going to lie; this is something I still struggle with on an almost daily basis. As a single parent who receives zero support from my ex-husband to raise our child, all responsibility to raise my child rests on my shoulders. For those of you who are in the same situation and do not have the benefit of co-parenting/shared custody, you know how hard this can be some days. It can get seriously fucking lonely. Raising a child with two adults in the house is difficult enough, especially if the responsibility isn’t shared equally. Many women and men find themselves in a situation where they may be the only responsible adult in the house. Sometimes, it is better to take on the responsibility of child-rearing alone than be stuck in a relationship with someone who prevents your growth, or worse, your child’s. Yes, it is hard. Miserable even. But, with the right amount of support (sometimes support is simply kind words from friends and strangers) you can do it. Having a partner doesn’t make you a better person. Surviving and thriving without one makes you stronger, albeit a little crazier in the process.

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Time does not heal all wounds. There’s an old saying about time healing all wounds. Bullshit. The wounds that cause emotional and psychological damage usually stay with us forever. The pain will lessen with time, but the wounds never quite heal. Recent research into psychological trauma has shown that in some cases, the trauma experienced by our relatives is passed to us genetically. Studies of Holocaust survivors and their offspring, as well as the ancestors of slaves in America have shown that extreme trauma can be passed down through DNA. Some physiological and psychological scars go as deep as the molecular level, and these painful experiences get coded into our DNA. So, if it feels like it’s taking you a long time to get over something painful in your life, take the time you need, because sometimes pain lasts through multiple lifetimes.

Believe in your ability to heal. Even though we now know that we not only carry the wounds we incur within our own lives, but also carry the pain of our ancestors in our blood, we still have the power to heal. Given time and the right tools, we can still go through painful experiences and come out on the other side with a new sense of who we are and what we can do. Friends, family, therapists, hippie herbalists, voodoo priestesses, and bartenders can help you through the rough times, but ultimately you must be the one to heal yourself. And, if you’re willing to face the pain head on and do the work to heal yourself, you will be stronger for it.

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Be willing to admit that the path you are walking may not be the right one. Change, while scary and often painful, can be good for us. Change allows us to grow and evolve into the people we are meant to be. I truly believe that. In fact, in my opinion, when our lives remain on the same path for too long without change, we become stagnant. Change is not always a negative thing. Change opens new doorways to opportunity and experience. Don’t be afraid to take risks and go on a few adventures. And, be willing to leave behind the things that are preventing your growth.

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Self-Reflection: 2016’s Shit Show

Remember how last week I was all like “I’m gonna blog every day in December and bullshit, bullshit, bullshit…”? Well, it is December 9 and I haven’t written a new post since last week. To be honest, I feel a bit hung-over. Not only do I feel like a zombie as I slog through my day job, maintain my household as a single parent, recover from NaNoWriMo, and gear up for the holidays, but 2016 has been a confusing and soul-sucking year so far. Over the past few years, I have had some monumentally shitty things happen to me, but in the grand scale, I feel like I’m on par with most people. Shitty things happen to people all the time. I don’t think I’m any worse off than others, and I certainly don’t view myself as a special snowflake that deserves extra attention or sympathy. At the end of 2014 and 2015, I invited both years to fuck off to make way for the coming year. I feel like I owe 2014 and 2015 a heart-felt apology, because despite all the improvements I experienced in my personal life – better health habits, better self-care, more creative projects completed, and better friendships cultivated – 2016 was a colossal shit show. Or, the year that was a dumpster fire.

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At the beginning of 2016, I was doing really well. I felt better about myself and the world in general. I was feeling stronger. More confident. I decided to take better care of myself and took action to lay the groundwork to do so. I was beginning to appreciate my own company after months of grieving, perhaps ironically, the loss of a toxic relationship. And then, 2016 said, “I think you’re feeling too good about yourself. What can I do to fuck that up royally, and maintain a consistent flow of complete fuckery to keep things interesting?”

What makes 2016 a shit show? Here’s my Calendar of 2016’s Dick Moves that kept me emotionally unbalanced from beginning to end.

January – November 2016

January 10: David Bowie Dies

January 14: Severus Snape Dies

April 21: Prince Dies

June 24: Britain Votes to Leave EU

July 7: Huffington Post Reports 194 Black People Killed by Police

August 28: Willy Wonka Dies

November 7: Leonard Cohen Dies

November 8: Donald Trump Wins the 2016 US Election

November 18: Sharon Jones Dies

And here we are, almost two weeks from Christmas Eve. The holidays are quickly approaching and it’s time for some self-reflection before 2017 shows up. I’m not going to get into New Year’s resolutions just yet, but I do want to take a closer look at some of the things that did go right this year that don’t require additional grieving. Happiness is totally still a thing and within your reach.

Self-love became a priority.

After several years of feeling like I had almost no control over where my life was headed, and feeling like a prisoner in my own mind and body, I made a decision to take my life back. I had been making strides in the right direction since 2012 and 2013, but then I got sidetracked by things that weren’t good for me. Namely, a 15-month toxic relationship that made my self-esteem drop to an all-time low. After 3 months of therapy, I found the courage to walk away from that relationship in June of 2015. It took several months of slowly weaning myself away from that emotionally destructive situation, but after 21 months of therapy and a lot of personal growth, I feel like a new person. Not quite my old self, but perhaps a better version of her.

Through therapy and LOTS of self-reflection, I made some decisions to change my life for the better. One of the first things I did was disable my OKCupid and FetLife accounts. There was too much noise coming from both of those accounts, and because of the nature of the relationship I was in, I was attracting a lot of people I didn’t really want to meet. And, even if I wanted to meet them, I wasn’t in any emotionally safe state to put myself out there and open myself up to new wounds. Second, I started spending a lot of time by myself. On purpose. And then I listened to my inner voice until it started saying nice things about me. Third, I rejoined Weight Watchers for like, I don’t know, the millionth time in my life. The difference this time was that I was only doing it for me. I didn’t have a special occasion or person that I was working toward. I wanted to lost weight and become healthier to impress myself. Crazy idea, right? So, in April I joined Weight Watchers, made a commitment to attend meetings, or at least weigh-in every week, which I have, and I’ve lost 30 lbs. In the process of making better choices and evaluating my habits, I started getting up at 5:00 AM and going for walks at least 3 times a week. A few weeks back, I decided to ramp up my walking and began using the Couch to 5K program to increase my activity and try running. I’m not pushing myself or condemning myself when I can’t keep up with the program. I simply tell myself, “Hey, maybe you can’t run as far as you’d like right now, but you’re making progress and you’re out here in the dark and the cold making an effort to improve your life.” Positive self-talk actually works. Who knew?

So, aside from feeling better and losing 30 lbs., I also made a decision that I would start trusting people again. When people I didn’t know very well showed an interest in getting to know me better, rather than building a wall around myself, I opened myself up and let them in. Was it scary? Fuck yeah! Is it still scary? A lot of the time, yes. But allowing those people into my life has taught me some things or reminded me of some things I forgot about myself. Good things. And now, I have a few more really cool friends who care about what happens to me and look forward to spending time with me. Without imposing any weird or destructive expectations. They’re genuinely good people. Genuinely good people I love.

I cleaned my bedroom and clothes closet.

This may not seem like a big deal, but my bedroom had become a constant source of stress for me, because it was a dumping ground for everything that I didn’t feel like getting rid of or putting away. Between donating clothing and throwing away items that were no longer of use to me, I purged 13 garbage bags worth of burden out of my life. And, since I was steadily losing weight, I got rid of a lot of my plus-sized clothing. Last year at this time I was wearing a women’s 2XL winter coat. This year I’m wearing a women’s large. It’s not a plus-sized coat. It buttons without being tight. I’m calling that a win. I found boxes of smaller-sized clothing that I hadn’t worn since the last time I lost a lot of weight. I’m glad I kept them, because I have great taste in clothing. Jeans, sweaters, dresses, shirts, and of course, coats.

Writing became a priority (again).

This year I have written more than 250 haiku poems. Three of which were selected from publication in a new feminist literary magazine. Hopefully, I’ll have more concrete details soon. I wrote nearly 42,000 words during NaNoWriMo last month and have gotten close to completing my second full-length novel. And, I’m working on a short story for an anthology set in a RPG world. So, I’ve been keeping busy with creative projects. But, as always, I feel like I should be doing more.

My child made me a prouder parent.

My son has a full plate this year with Kung Fu, basketball, STEM club at school, and he’s learning to play the viola. His grades are great, he’s reading above his grade level, and he’s becoming an interesting individual with quirky personality traits that I love and hate simultaneously. We don’t always get along, but it’s just the two of us. As a single parent, I understand that sometimes I have to carry the burden of misplaced animosity and negative feelings that might not actually have anything to do with me. It’s just one of the many services I provide as a responsible adult.

I’m sure there are other things I could talk about, like how much fun I’ve been having lately visiting with friends and trying new things, but maybe I’ll save that for another post…that may or may not get written this month.

Okay, so maybe 2016 hasn’t been a complete shit show, but hey, it ain’t over yet.

While you’re thinking about your own year in review and planning your New Year’s resolutions while getting ready for the holidays, you can make this lovely dumpster fire ornament for your Christmas tree or Hanukah bush.

Holly Fucking Jolly, December Has Arrived

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On this first day of December 2016, I’m feeling a bit dazed. How the Hell is it December 1 already? I mean, Christmas is 24 days away…if you celebrate that holiday. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, here are some other dates that might interest you:

Yule/Winter Solstice: December 21
Hanukkah: December 25 (ends January 1)
Kwanzaa: December 26 (ends January 1)

Whatever Winter celebrations you partake in, there is usually some level of preparation needed in order for these tradition-filled holidays to happen. I don’t know what your role or level of involvement is in the planning and execution of the upcoming holiday season, but I have a lot of work ahead of me. I’m a single mom, I work full-time, I’m a freelance writer working toward becoming a published fiction writer, and I have sole custody of my child. I am the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and most importantly, I am Santa Claus. And possibly Krampus.

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While I prepare for the holidays – I celebrate a few this month – I intend to keep writing. That means making time to write, which is no small task this time of year. Between the manic house cleaning, cookie baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping gifts, writing Christmas cards, and visiting friends and family, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of time to sit alone and write. Typically, I would put everything I just mentioned ahead of my writing, but not this year. This year I am going to make writing a priority, and I will be updating my blog on a daily basis…at least that’s my goal. Each day I will talk about my writing process, holiday preparations, and most likely the extra stress that comes with being a single parent during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

So, I encourage you to share your own holiday delights and traumas in the comments section of my blog and we can support each other to make it through yet another holiday season in order to welcome the new year. Holly fucking jolly!

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