Our New Normal

The human world – it’s a mess.

Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID

Right about now, everyone’s definition of “normal” has shifted a few degrees. I’m one of the lucky ones: both my fiance’ and I already work from home, and our children have four feet and don’t require school (in fact, the little black and white one is already too smart for her own good), so those aspects of our lives didn’t change. But we lost our ability to go to the gym, our grocery habits had to change, we’re still planning for our wedding, and we like to have a monthly game night with friends.

Enter a level of chaos.

My fiance’ reads the news, and I can feel his stress level increasing (for the sake of my sanity and everyone around me – not to mention inanimate objects in the immediate vicinity – I avoid the news).

I encountered people on Facebook that I thought better of suddenly deciding they were entitled to “hazard pay” and extra vacation time when other friends and family members are working on the REAL front lines, in ACTUAL hazards, without any extra pay or benefits – just begging for proper PPE, and I wanted to scream and demand they take their piece of shit petition down and replace it with an apology (frankly, I still do).

I stare at the wedding prep calendars and the boxes that are unchecked as tasks are delayed due to businesses being closed down as non-essential. It wasn’t too bad when the first orders came out, but now the orders have been extended into June, which eats into my timeline. I’m an organized person who lives by checklists and deadlines, and my stress level is starting to bubble.

Kickboxing has been one of my biggest stress relievers, but that’s closed now, and my only consolation is the classes via Zoom…without a bag. Shadow-boxing isn’t the same, I don’t burn the same level of calories, my living room feels cramped compared to the studio, and I have interference in the form of my four-legged children. I have two other exercise routines via my Nintendo Switch and my Wii U, but it feels lacking, and I miss my partner drills and the camaraderie of the studio. We could kayak, providing we could find somewhere to park the car, but there’s that question mark.

I find myself looking at the frustration, the uncertainty, and my anxiety and depression hover right above my shoulders, waiting to pounce. There’s a lot of negativity feeding both of them, and the outside world is doing it’s damnedest to provide fodder. It is the easiest thing in the world to succumb to either one right now, and those of us who suffer from either are the most susceptible.

So what do you do?

I don’t know what YOU can do, but I can tell you what I’M doing. Maybe somewhere in there you can find something that will point you in the right direction.

First, much as I want to, I’m not giving in to the worst of my desires (other than removing those people from my Feed so I don’t have to see the crap I don’t want to). We have the power to choose what we see and don’t see, what we accept and don’t accept – much as we like to forget that. Clean out the trash. I felt better for it.

Second, I’m helping the people I can. That means, where we can, we’re ordering things for the wedding from Etsy – finding people who are local (i.e., this country) who can use the income. Artisans are hurting right now, small businesses are hurting right now, and going to them helps. We’re ordering take-out/pick-up from restaurants that are still open to provide income to those workers. We’re being smart and ordering ahead of time and not fussing about any delay in the pick-up process. We’re being patient with every person we interact with when we go to the store because we know they’re stressed.

Third, I’m maintaining my routine. I have my schedule set for myself, and I’m sticking to it. Sure, it’s hard to get motivated to write at times, and I know that I’m going to edit a lot of what I’ve written because my heart’s not in it – at least I’m getting words on the screen. If I don’t dissolve into a lump on the couch, I hold the clouds at bay a little bit longer.

Fourth, we’re looking at the things we CAN do. My fiance’ picked up corn hole boards from our local Feed and Seed store (they’re an essential store) that are blank, so we get to paint them ourselves. I have the paint leftover from my craft projects, and now we get to figure out what to paint on them (actually, I already know – my business logo). We’re going through our To Do Lists for the inside and outside of the house and figuring out what can reasonably be accomplished (Lowe’s is open, after all). The outdoor painting has to wait for the idiotic pollen to die down, but we can still plan.

Finally, I’m just doing whatever makes me feel like ME. Whether it’s wearing something fun (I love this moto jacket I just got), playing around with my hair (face it – we’re going to have some scary hair by the end of this), or just dancing around the office for a song – five minutes of feeling great is five minutes that the anxiety and depression don’t stand a chance.

Everything is a mess and chaos right now, and we’re all going to have to face a new normal for a while. It sucks – no one is going to deny that. But it doesn’t mean we have to spiral down into our dark places. We know what waits for us there. Good can wait for us here, if we’re willing to adjust.

No Introduction Needed

Girl lying down in the center of a maze

There is never a question in our minds as to who our personal heroes are – we can name them without having to think about it. When the world goes haywire, no matter how large that disaster may be, we also know who to list as heroes. Those lists are second nature to us, and it takes nothing for us to tip our hates or extend our hearts to those people.

Why?

Because those people are selfless. They do their jobs without a second thought, without hesitation, without complaint. They embody the definition of the word, “hero.” Most importantly, they never once ask us to call them heroes, because they don’t think of themselves as being worthy of the title. They’re doing what they’ve wanted to do, what they’ve dreamed of doing, and they expect nothing in return. We embrace them for that goodness of spirit, and it makes it easy for us to idolize them, to wish thanks and bestow praise upon them. After all, how can you not embrace such an ideal? They are the living personification of our fictional ideals.

But that love and adoration breeds a second group.

This second group does everything in its power to make sure you KNOW what they’re doing…constantly…every moment of every day. They complain about everything they have to do. They WHINE about their tasks. They make martyrs of themselves and expect the same adulation and praise. They want the same title of “hero,” the same praise and cheering. They actually believe they’re ENTITLED to it, and they throw it in your face with every breath and stand there, expecting you to turn around and shower them with your worship.

They have completely and utterly failed at every definition of a hero.

They are pretenders to a crown they are unworthy to touch.

We all know some of these people, and we’ve all been subjected to their rallying cries for a personal parade they don’t deserve. They put on airs, expecting us to fall at their feet in wonder. They enact dramatic retellings of their exploits, expecting us to hang on their every word. They bitch about every inconvenience, expecting an outpouring of sympathy.

Meanwhile, the genuine heroes are going about their day without a single complaint, without a need to say a single word, without asking a single person to hear of their pain. They smile through pain, they work through tears, and they wake every day to repeat the process over again. They work in conditions that are sub-optimal and struggle through to the best of their abilities – they don’t sit back and whine. They might beg and plead for help, but they don’t stand by and laugh or gossip about how lucky they are that they don’t have to have clients in the lobby anymore.

What’s the difference?

True heroes don’t have to be labeled as such – they are defined by their actions. Just as fake martyrs are defined by theirs.

And the world can tell the difference between the two.

Open Brain – Insert Reason

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

By now, you have probably had the unfortunate experience of witnessing first-hand what happens when human beings go into idiotic panic mode. It is really easy to point fingers at governments or media as the source of the problem – and I won’t deny that they have a share in the blame – but the truth is that the majority of that blame comes right back home to rest with each and every individual who ran out blindly without a single thought in their head. They forgot they were rational creatures, capable of reason, and turned into a mob of insanity that generated an entirely new problem.

Because we really needed a new problem.

When I was getting my Wreck Diver certification, they put us through an exercise that has stuck with me ever since, especially in these kinds of situations. Our masks were lined with aluminum foil so we couldn’t see out of them, and then we had to dive in a pool full of obstacles – this simulated a dive where visibility was lost and you needed to navigate blind (a real possibility in caves or wrecks). We ended up tangled in ropes, caught on pool hooks, and our instructors would turn off the air on our tanks (lots of fun). The purpose of the exercise was to teach us one simple thing: when a situation arose, our first reaction wasn’t to panic (that gets you dead), but to stop and think about what was going on first and THEN figure out how to react.

Every last one of us failed the first time.

It was hard – especially when you realized air was no longer flowing through the regulator – to think first instead of reacting first. Once they hauled us out of the pool and told us that we were killing ourselves, though, things started to make sense. No, air wasn’t flowing, but we still had air in our lungs, and provided we DIDN’T panic, we weren’t going to suffocate instantaneously. The second time around, when we stopped, thought about where the tank was on our backs, and how to reach the valve, we did fine. The same with all of the other obstacles. It didn’t even take long to stop and think before puzzling out the problem and how to correct it (crucial when you’re diving and might have a limited air supply).

Guess what? Lesson works in real life.

For some strange reason, people want to panic first and think…well, they don’t want to think; they decide that thinking is overrated, that Fake News, or an idiot with a big mouth is good enough for them. For some, it does go back to school and the fact that we’re failing to teach children to think for themselves anymore. For others, they slip into hysteria and forget that they ever learned the skill in the first place. Either way, it’s damaging – to everyone. I’m not saying that you have to adopt the pose of The Thinker and write out a 10-page essay on the topic, but take a breath and ask yourself, “Wait a second – what am I reacting to?”

I’d like to say this has always benefited me, but since not everyone in the world thinks, it hasn’t. I can say, with a clear conscience, that I have employed this lesson to myself before I’ve done anything – though I stretch it a bit into the overthinking realm (you do have to learn where to stop). People don’t like to think – it’s uncomfortable (for some, it’s painful – you can see it on their faces), it makes them responsible, and it sets them against the grain of the mob. However, if the mob is hurtling off the cliff, why do you want to go with them?

Thinking is not illegal – yet. And as soon as it DOES become illegal, we need to stand up and question why because there’s a problem. It doesn’t take much time or effort to ask a single question of yourself before you react to anything. Thinking is a quick process, for the most part, and it saves you from looking like a complete and utter moron.

Or you can always blindly follow the mob off the cliff. But it’s a little late to question why when you’re falling onto the rocks.

For Life

People clinking coffee mugs together
Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Hands up everyone who has ever spoken some variation of the following, “We’ll be friends forever.”

Okay, hands down (it’s not like I can see them anyway). Pretty much everyone, at some point in their lives, has used that phrase or something like it. And pretty much everyone has regretted using that phrase at least once in their lives. Everyone has had at least one best friend in their lives, and everyone has had at least one soulmate in their lives. And everyone has lost those same people at least once and conferred the titles to someone new.

Why?

Because we’re stupid, pure and simple. I’d sugar-coat it if I could, but I can’t. The truth is, we go through a lot of friend phases as we age, and we (hopefully) get smarter in the process and start to realize that the majority of the people out there who claim to be friends can’t even spell the word.

When we’re little (or trying to break records on Facebook or Instagram), everyone is our friend, we run around collecting them like Pokemon. You’ve seen these people – they display the counts and brag about them like it’s some kind of trophy. They can’t name all of the people if their life depended on it, and they don’t know the simplest facts about the people (middle name? last name? address? pet? eye color?). These aren’t friends. None of them are going to stand with us when the chips are down, and odds are none of them even made it to high school with us. The people that are still like this are sad and should be pitied, not envied (this is NOT a pattern you want to emulate, believe me).

A few school yard fights down the road, and we get a little smarter and choosier about who we offer friendship bracelets to. The circle is still bigger than it should be, but at least we might know everyone’s name. We still can’t reasonably fit everyone into a slumber party, though (unless you lived in a mansion, and then see the previous category), and we’re definitely missing details on a few of the people. Odds are, there are some cliques inside of this circle that aren’t keeping you in the loop (look at that – circles within circles!). Enter a girl’s most dreaded enemy: gossip. This is where you learned the lessons of backstabbing and betrayal. This is where you discovered that not everyone you liked actually liked you the same amount. This is where you learned who thought you were a nerd, a geek, a loser, a snob. This is where you learned about pecking orders. And this is where you started to really learn who your true friends were.

Enter high school and the pure hell that it is – enough said.

By the time we start stumbling on our adult feet, we’re battered, bruised, and we have a pretty jaded outlook on friendship. We know now that people will lie straight to our faces. We know that people will smile at us and talk about us the second we turn our backs. We know that people whisper as if we’re deaf (and half the time, it isn’t even a whisper – the deaf could hear them). We know that people laugh at us or joke and insist that it’s, “all in good fun” when it’s actually meant to cut us in pieces. We know that everything in Mean Girls was a reflection of reality (save the positive ending). We know that you can’t trust anyone.

Friends are now few and far between. We become skeptical of the word itself, much else anyone attached to it. That circle has shrunk small enough to fit in a standard household bathroom. We become ruthless at excising the liars and backstabbers from our lives – not always before damage has been inflicted. We build up walls, plant thorns, and we post guards.

And, yet, people still make it inside.

My circle is tiny. It is composed of people that I met in college and only get to keep in touch with via social media because we live in different states – yet they continue to be there for me. It is composed of people I met online and never in person who have done more for me than I could ever imagine. It is composed of people that have beliefs and politics I abhor, but we still support each other. It is composed of people that I get to see on a fairly regular basis.

It is composed of people who have never once lied to me, never stabbed me in the back, never given me a moment of doubt, never made me question their loyalty, and never blinked at the fact that I am an individual damaged by people who’ve done all of those things. They are the epitome of the word, “friend,” and I am beyond grateful every day that I have them. There is not a price in the world that I would be willing to pay to give them up.

Taming Godzilla

I think envy motivates a lot of people.

Shia LeBeouf

Who here hasn’t experienced a visit from the green-eyed monster? It’s a common enough visitor in our lives, and it changes size depending on how we’re feeling that day. Maybe we’re going through a rough patch, and so every person we look at feeds the monster a little bit more: her hair looks better, his job sounds better, their yard looks better, his lunch looks better, his car isn’t broken, her elliptical has a higher incline…the list goes on and on until the monster could give Godzilla a run for his/her money (depending on which movie version you’re watching). Or maybe the day hasn’t been so bad, so we’re just that little bit envious that the person ahead of us in line got the faster cashier, so the monster can still fit in our pocket.

You hear it from everyone around you that you’re not supposed to envy anyone else; depending on your belief system of choice, it’s actually a sin. Not every envious thought it detrimental, though. Personally, I am almost never warm – even bundled up in sweats and a blanket with a reasonable setting on the thermostat, I am freezing, and I envy my finace’ (and most normal people) and the fact that he’s perfectly comfortable. I refuse to believe that envy is a crime punishable by condemnation to a fiery pit (needless to say, I don’t subscribe to any of those religious practices). Now, when you decide to take your level of envy and translate it into a felony crime, there might be a problem.

But can envy be productive?

Absolutely, if you look at it from a different angle and make the monster work to your advantage (a helpful tidbit all of those people fail to tell you). It’s super easy to wallow in self-misery about what someone has that you don’t – we all know that; it takes a little more effort to examine what it would take to GET what they have.

Okay, so you hate your job – how do you get a better job? Remember, you aren’t handcuffed into that position (and if you are, you have a completely different problem than envy). Talk to other people in the place or field you want to work in – hell, talk to the person you envy! – and ask for their advice about what is needed to move to that job.

You hate something about your appearance – who doesn’t? Everything is able to be changed, if you really want to, but odds are it’s time for a pep talk with yourself about what’s really bothering you inside (don’t roll your eyes – you know that’s true). And if you’re still determined to make a change, start small and go get a new haircut…mostly because it will grow back if you don’t like it. Or get a new outfit – you can always return it if you hate it. Just don’t jump to something drastic.

Let envy MOTIVATE you instead of make you miserable.

The monster doesn’t have to tower over you and crush you into the ground, making you feel worse than you did in the first place. The monster can actually help lift you up, give you a firmer place to stand and push yourself up from. It isn’t BAD to envy someone, not when it gives you a chance to examine yourself and ask important questions. WHY am I feeling like this? Why am I so upset? Is it really that I think her hair is better, or is it just that my coffee sucks? Do I really think his job is better, or am I just not happy in mine? If you catch yourself BEFORE the monster destroys Tokyo, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be in a position to do something to help yourself out…and, seriously, hasn’t Tokyo been destroyed enough times?