Community Versus Individualism

For many of us, today marks the beginning of our seventh week of isolation. We’ve begun working from home, lost or been furloughed from our jobs, or continued working with jobs that have been deemed essential. If we have children in the educational system or who are college students, we’ve had to get used to them being home all the time and make sure they’re following their online educational requirements. All the places we consider important have closed down, and our lives have moved online. It all boils down to this. Our lives have been upended. What I want to talk about today is how this has affected our thinking about community versus what we can accomplish as an individual and how this meshes with my own experiences.

Community. For a while, I’ve had two different communities. One is mainly online consisting of homeschool mom friends (from when I was homeschooling), writer friends (who I’ve met in different places), and people who I’ve known since college (and no longer live in the same area with). It’s quite a diverse set of people, and I’ve gotten comfortable with online interaction more comfortable, I thought, than others. I’ve known some of these friends in real life in the past while others I’ve never met and probably will never meet. Some share my religious faith, and others don’t. Some share my writing and nerdy geekiness, and others don’t. It’s diverse like I said.

The other part of my community consists of people I know in real life. In my life, those groups of people tend to be the same. But, I interact with them in different ways because I do know them in real life. We go out for a meal or coffee; we might go for a walk together; we meet up at church or for a writing group, or we might spend time in one another’s homes. We use technology to keep in touch, but we see each other on a regular basis.

But, that has all been upended now because of the pandemic and the quarantine. The two groups have been mushed together online, and I don’t quite know what to do with it all. It’s hard, to be honest, and it feels weird. I’m alone with the thoughts in my head for long stretches during the day, and they invade my heart and soul. Thoughts like ‘This pandemic will never be over, and you’ll never know the pleasure of real-life friendship again.’ Or ‘This country is going to fall into a depression. How will you survive?’ Imagine those thoughts being on a constant replay through your head. Then, imagine the thoughts of not feeling worthy to be around other people or that other people even want you around. Those are hard things to think, and I don’t even feel like I can tell other people because why would they want to know. They’re all busy with their own stuff or struggling with fears of the pandemic itself.

This brings me to the individualistic part of this post. If I don’t feel like there’s anyone I can talk to about my deep feelings of depression and anxiety, then the only choice I have left is to handle them by myself. Handle my faith by myself. Handle my writing by myself. Handle living by myself. And I’ve done okay with that. I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. But, I do pretend…pretend for the people I need to be around that everything is okay. Isn’t that what individualism is about? What my country, the United States, was built on. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with individualism. We are all the ones that have to live our own lives after all. I can talk to God by myself. I can write by myself and usually do.  😉 I can experience the world by myself. And, in some ways, that’s more desirable to me. There’s no risk of getting hurt or doing or saying something someone disapproves of. I don’t have to be real with anyone either. So, right now, I’m confused between the two and unsatisfied with all the options. I want community, but feel like I’ve lost the realness of it. Frankly, there’s a part of me that wants to give up. That feels like I have nothing left to offer.

But, God…and maybe that needs to be my reason right now. To depend on Him to supply my lack. To read the words He has given me during the last few days. The Word Porn meme I found on Facebook yesterday said this. “To everyone with a mental illness who is currently in quarantine, sitting with their thoughts every day, be kind to yourself and hold on. The world needs you.” I cried when I read it because it’s very easy to think the world doesn’t need me. Then, there were the words said to me by an author who is getting ready to launch her book this week. You might have read the review of her book I posted a couple of weeks ago. From Rachel Macy Stafford referring to me, “Your vulnerability is a GIFT to this world!” I read these words again and know that my Lord and Savior gives me what I need when I need it. So very thankful!

When this quarantine is over, I will be a different person. We all will be, and I’m praying for all of us to have the strength and courage to move in the direction God wants for us.

God bless you!

 

 

Perspective

Many of us started the year with routines that have now gone out of the window. Some of us are working from home now or dealing with people who haven’t been there before. It’s been an adjustment all around. It’s been the same with my word of the month posts. But, I come back today with a word I think we all need to be reminded about. The word is perspective, and it’s important because the Internet and social media have made it easy to throw around judgments without getting personally involved in a situation and with the potential of hurting many people.

So, perspective, what does it mean? The definition I’m using for the purposes of this post is this one. Perspective is a “particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” (Dictionary.com) Now, we all have different perspectives, and that’s how it’s supposed to be since we’re all human. Nothing wrong with that. But, I have been reminded over these last six weeks of quarantine how fragile humanity is. I was able to ignore it at first. The little jab here of people standing too close together in public. The little jab there of people bringing their children to the grocery store. People complaining about others walking or running outside. Getting into fights (online) about valuing money more than people’s lives. It got to the point where I would just shake my head and roll my eyes at how vicious people were being with one another.

But, then it got personal. As most of us know, this pandemic has several moving parts–physical, mental, educational, and economic. We’ve also been divided into two camps–the essential worker and the non-essential worker. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud all the people who are doing the things we consider essential in our society. But, I think this labeling has been a good way to get fights started. The parts of this pandemic have also affected people in different ways. For me, it has been my mental illness and how confinement has affected it. The economic realities of being confined have also taken their toll. I have not made a secret of suffering from depression and anxiety and being confined has made my reality more difficult. I also knew that for every person saying it was too soon to release the restrictions and that many more deaths from the virus would probably result, there would also be another person with their hand out for the rent or mortgage payment. All of us have our own priorities, right?

So, anyway, I started sharing some articles and posting about my own experiences with mental illness during this lockdown. Nothing that attacked anyone. Just things from my own perspective. Things I felt were important to say. I received some support, but that was not the point of my posting. A few days later I read a post decrying anyone who had been posting about mental illness. Their perspective was that anyone who was not posting about the pandemic itself was being selfish. I thought back over the previous few weeks and the thoughts I had been battling of not being enough or not being worthy of being here anymore. I thought of how it seemed we were all on top of each other with no privacy to be had. This is not a good thing for me.

There were no names in the post, but I felt like I had been slapped. Then, I got angry and wanted to retaliate. Fortunately, I was talked down from what I wanted to do and blocked the person instead.  I decided to take some time to work out my feelings in my head and in my journal. My feelings of anger and my feelings of not being enough. (Remember, essential workers versus non-essential workers.) Finally, it came to me. The word, perspective. The person who had made the post had a very narrow perspective because of the job they had chosen for their life’s work, and they were unable; maybe even unwilling to widen it. I felt better then. It wasn’t my job to fix someone else’s perspective. It was my job to keep my outlook as wide as possible and to keep my attitude free from judgment. Isn’t that what God has asked us to do?

May we all keep our minds open during this time of isolation!

Live, Love, Now by Rachel Macy Stafford: A Book Review

I first saw the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for this book a few weeks ago. I thought about it for a day or so. Could I do a good job with the review? Would I be able to relate to the book and its message even though I’ve finished raising my kids? I’m a subscriber to her blog because I like the way she relates to people with her words, but reviewing a whole book…I wasn’t sure. I’m happy to report the answer to all my questions was YES! This book is worth reading by everyone even if you’re a young adult who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids or a middle-aged mom or dad who’s done raising their kids. It’s worthy to be read by all of us. So, without further adieu, here is my review of Live, Love, Now.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is entitled “Be a Truth-Teller, Not a Taskmaster”. Mrs. Stafford talks about when her children were younger and how she came to the realization that there were things about herself she needed to change in order to create a new reality for herself and her family. She was vulnerable in a way I could relate to. Vulnerability is not encouraged in any way, shape, or form in our society, but I was able to breathe when I read her words, an ongoing theme throughout the whole book. She also talked about how to reframe negative qualities with positive ones, the first two of which were acceptance and belonging. Finally, at the end of each chapter, of which there are two in each part, there are questions the reader can ask of themselves and the young people in their lives whether they be their own children or others they know in various ways. I believe these questions are the most valuable part of the book because they can help the reader do a self-assessment.

The second part was entitled “Be an Encourager, Not an Enforcer”. When I read both of the chapters in this part, I was taken back to my childhood and to my sons’ childhood. When I had children, I made a conscious effort to step back from how I was raised. I did many of the things she talked about automatically but still struggled with what my brain was telling me to do. Sometimes, I look at how independent my sons are and wonder why we were so successful in raising them when I didn’t feel successful.

But, I read through the last part of the book, and this was what drew everything together for me. Because I grew up thinking, and still think at times, that I am not enough. I worry about how people perceive me, and I don’t think I’ve ever come to a complete acceptance of who I am, warts and all. As I think about being resilient and worthy, a word comes to mind. Believe. Belief in myself. Then, I come to two quotes from the book that cement the work I am trying to do on myself now, as a writer and as a person. The first is from an essay Mrs. Stafford’s daughter wrote which is included on the final pages of this book.

“Open windows. Dare to ask hard questions. Dare to respond in your truth. (Bold text mine.) Dare to step out in courage. Dare to reach farther than you ever thought you could.” (pg. 255, Live, Love, Now, Natalie Stafford)

The second quote is on pg. 215.

“Is there anything more important than using one’s gifts to touch another person’s life?” (pg. 215, Live, Love, Now, Rachel Macy Stafford)

I cried. This has been my goal for this blog. I have nowhere near achieved the success of Mrs. Stafford, but she and her words have touched my life in a way I can barely explain. I am so grateful. My own version of success. It doesn’t have to meet anyone else’s, and I am thankful.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and I hope you receive as much benefit from reading it as I did.

(An electronic copy of this book was provided for me to read and review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)