Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Year I Realized I Was Numb

So I started my year in review. I used my favorite tip about going through and reliving the year through social media updates. I reread my January post about what I hoped for the year. I ruminated a little bit on all the jokey 2016-needs-to-be-over memes and the slew of celebrity deaths. I think I have a word for the year that just passed: Numb. 2016 was the year I could no longer maintain my level of numb. 

2016 was big. I started writing for Book Riot and bought a new house. Both of these events honestly brought out the worst in my personality, and that was something huge for me-- to recognize that trying times show off my ugly, and to actively wonder about how to change that. Trying times have made me a little monstrous my whole life, but I worked up a cocoon of numb. When the bad moments passed, I would paste my smile back on and move forward. This year, the numb started getting worn down in places. I couldn't shove my own crappiness away easily. Things that hurt me hurt me harder, or longer. 

Writing for Book Riot was easily the most growth-inducing thing that happened to me this year. When I got word that they were considering me for a contributor position, I was over the moon. Then I became part of the back channel conversation, and I promptly experienced high anxiety for about three months. Part of it was realizing that writing for the site was about much more than benignly enjoying reading. Part of it was realizing that I am not as smart, worldly, or well-read as I allowed myself to think I was. Part of it was that this place did not allow for numb. Writing there this year, and observing the conversations of other contributors and our editors, I have learned a stupid amount, and very little of it is about writing. I've practiced listening to learn, and keeping my mind open enough (and my numb dialed down enough) to recognize when I know nothing about something. I've encountered clashing opinions, seen ways to validly justify them, and juuusssst started edging into forming my own, as opposed to accepting the opinion of someone I know to be more versed in the issue. This might seem like beginner stuff, but I have been numb for a very long time. The most important thing I learned from Book Riot this year is that everything is political. The most important thing I saw confirmed is that books can be lifelines. 

Buying a house was harder, and I was more numb. Ben took care of SO MANY of the details, because I was really struggling with leaving our little house at all. It was too small for us. There wasn't space to breathe or grow. We couldn't fit toys for our kids or BEDS THAT WERE COMFORTABLE but I kept saying "We're fine, this is fine, it doesn't hurt because I'm numb!" There were so many sweet memories in that little house. Leaving it was nearly impossible, and then we hit snags in the logistics, which is SO COMMON in house-buying but I could barely handle it. Being on medication helped, but I'm going to be honest- at times, it made me feel a little numb. We had support every step of the way, people helping us pack, people listening to my vent, dear friends letting us live RENT FREE until situations were ironed out. We put things in storage and took things out of storage and finally we signed the papers and passed our first home to the sweetest little family in the universe. Then we signed the papers and came here. And now this is home. I know that I can't be numb about this new place because there is so much work to do and I want to be a part of it. I want to be connected to the paint colors and the way we set up the outdoor living spaces and I want the fireplace to be in working order and if I don't fight for that- if I just mention it to Ben and go back to being numb about where I live- it won't happen. Which is fine! If I want to be numb about things. But if I want to read in front of the fire. I have to call a chimney sweep. I have to reject being numb.

Being numb has been a coping strategy that I have used my entire life. When kids picked on me in elementary school, when my dad died and I had to go back to conversations where his name might pop up, when my high school boyfriend used to scream at me in the halls between classes, when I knew that I hurt my friends but was too embarrassed to apologize (this is a recurring pattern that I have experienced everywhere I've ever lived, childhood thru college and on), when I look back on the shitty way I treated my sisters when I was younger, when I recall every single time I've ever gotten blackout drunk and depended on someone else to take care of me, when I think of some of the terrible fights I've had with my husband. Whenever something bad happens, I go numb. Whenever I am faced with my own mistakes, I go numb. Pretend not to care, or even more pointedly, pretend the problem does not exist. This year, I realized how much I go numb. I started seeing some of the patterns I use to duck my head and keep my feelings shoved DOWN. Uncomfortably, I started realizing that none of it goes away. It's all still there. Shoved really far down. READY TO BLOW.

In 2016, I wrote the same story over and over. I watched the same three TV shows hundreds of times. I escaped into HOURS of mindless scrolling on the internet in an effort to stay very, very numb. And for the first time in 31 years, I started realizing what I was doing. 2016 started to wake me up. I've started paying attention to the bigger world and I've started really evaluating how I feel about everything from diet culture to story structure to local politics. Silly? I don't know. I think apologizing for or gently mocking my emotions has been one of my ways of staying numb. So fuck it.

Some numb-busters I've already encountered? An amazing writing class where I converse with women I admire about our stories in a serious, non-apologetic manner. Choosing something I care about and really researching it- I've been reading about and sorting my feelings around diet culture most of this year, and it makes me think, really hard. It kills my numb. More of these issues are going to pop up, because I'm going to stop avoiding them. 2016 was a mind-screw because so many things changed, but the biggest change was my own outlook. I hope when I come back here in 2017, I can say that I kept this trend going.

(Boom Boom Pow image by Allison Black via Pinterest

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Putting The Year To Bed: Tips For A Year-End Review

This is my absolute favorite time of the year. Christmas is winding down and we get to start planning for the year ahead. I'm not talking about resolutions. I'm talking about a genuine examination of what we want/need/expect from 2017, and I honestly don't think you can achieve that without looking back at what just happened in the past. You need a year-end review.

A few years ago, before kids and medication, I used to live SO HARD in the lifestyle/Mommy blogging world (read: obsessively reading and comparing myself to these filtered, cropped families), and I built up some huge ideas about who I wanted to be. Every year, I would write out a fresh, huge list of resolutions that would transform me.  One year, I had 12 goals, one for each month. I was going to learn to sew using vintage patterns, grow all my own veggies, lose a ton of weight, redecorate my home, and basically become a new person by the end of year. I could link to this blog post but it's actually so sad that it hurts to think about. Okay here but I warned you.

I didn't think about who I was or what was actually happening in my life. I just wanted to look like those other fancy 20-somethings. In actuality, I was so unhappy that I was chain smoking on my back porch and hiding from most in person social interaction, but I thought if I ran fast enough and screamed loud enough on the internet, I could forget that shit and start a shiny new year. GUESS WHAT DIDN'T WORK LOL. I still get depressed and still sometimes dream about transforming into an interesting, vintage-wearing coastal millennial with a Polaroid deal on my blog, but those are fleeting thoughts. Looking back at the life I'm living helps ground me. Then the real work of planning the next year can begin.

Here are a few of my tips for reviewing the year you just lived:

1. Make your own highlights reel. Write down each of the 12 months on a piece of blank paper, and write the big events that happened for each. It's up to you how big to go. Add weddings, funerals, job changes, large trips, momentous news. This is data, people. Was a part of the year loaded with downer news? Did you travel a lot during a certain time period? The 12-month-paper method helps you see some of the things you accomplished and some of the things you survived. 

2. Read about yourself. People will use all their available air vilifying social media overshares, but screw 'em, because you are about to get a review of your year on the daily level. Go back through your most used social media accounts. If you are a person who posts often or even semi-often, it can be super valuable in getting a feel for how things actually were in February. Warning: this can take a surprisingly long time. There might be a lot of comb through, but this isn't homework- do whatever feels good. (Some sites will run the numbers for you- the music service Spotify has a playlist of your most-listened to songs, and Goodreads will show you your year in books.) 

3. End with a little freehand. Write, draw, list, whatever, but after going over the last year, give yourself time to really think about how you feel about it. It's hard to separate the way you feel in the post-holiday burnt-out haze from the way your entire year actually went. Give yourself permission to name the year. You're about to leave it behind, anyway, so no need to be polite, 

And links:

How To Conduct Your Own Annual Review  (different article with similar title!)

I hope you take the time to do a review of the year, because I'm selfish and I want to read what you came up with! When I complete mine, I'll share it, and I would love you to do the same- send me a link or post something in the comments! Let's put this year properly to bed. Next up- 2017! 

(image credit: Taryn Knight)

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Friday, December 16, 2016

What's Working in a Broken Time

There's a dumpster fire t-shirt that keeps popping up in my Facebook ads, and if I was more sure of the sizing, I'd buy it instantly. The dumpster is green with big white numbers: 2016. Indeed.

Honestly, this year is important. So important. We're living through some pretty terrifying history. We're being called to action in a way that I don't think has happened in recent memory. Although, I could be very wrong about that, because if I've learned anything in 2016, it's that I'm very ignorant. What I don't know could fill libraries of mythical proportion. I'm trying to catch up on 30 years of lost wisdom as quickly as I possibly can.

Good things happened this year, too. I'm going to spend some time before 2017 really looking over the year and putting things into perspective for myself. This article from Gala Darling has me thinking, but there are guidelines everywhere. Going back through 12 months of social media accounts can be incredibly eye opening. You might forget how you were feeling in March, but Facebook doesn't. Facebook never forgets. 

I have wanted to share some things that are working for me right now. None of them are life changing, but in a time where I am constantly vacillating between upset and numb, recognizing little positives is healthy. And fun. And maybe something can be helpful to you, which would mean that even though I AM currently Sadness from Inside Out, I am contributing to an upswing in someone's life, and that would be just lovely.

1. Syncing Google Calendars with my husband
Oh my GOD I am the lamest but...this has been huge. One thing I'm truly grateful for is that Ben and I both have hobbies that fulfill us and take up a lot of our time. Ben shot a movie this fall that required a bunch of production meetings and two very full weekends of round-the-clock commitment. I take a writing class every other weekend and meet up with friends as often as I can manage. We have two kids who like to go to birthday parties and pick apples and see Santa Claus and do all the Northeast US activities that finish off a year, not to mention doctors' appointments and parent teacher conferences and all that jazz. Basically, with four schedules to coordinate, we were constantly texting each other (because we are rarely home at the same time) "What's happening on the 14th?" or "What time do I need to take off next Thursday?" It was super annoying to get those questions, sometimes because "I ALREADY TOLD YOU" and sometimes because "I HAVE NO IDEA!" and the paper calendar was at home. On the wall. With the fish. The rest of us were out in the world.

So at some point in the fall my sister was watching the boys and we went on a romantic date and we sat down and synced our calendars. Oh Google, you siren. We have a Master Calendar and any time one of us enters an event, it automatically pops up on the other's calendar. We also both use Gmail, so if we get a confirmation of anything via email, the calendar asks us if we would like to add it. I bought plane tickets near Thanksgiving, and when I went to enter the info, my flight times AND FLIGHT NUMBERS were already in the calendar, waiting patiently for approval. So while synced calendars does nothing about my dread of what is going to happen to women's health rights in this new regime, it makes me on-the-level life so much easier, and oddly, I feel much more connected to Ben. We're synced. 

I'm not a numbers girl. I am a dreamer. Cold hard facts are shitty and wake up me to reality and I don't like knowing the truth. I like living in my head. This is why I need- and am starting to love- data. It started with Fitbit a few years ago. The facts about when I actually was getting in most of my steps surprised me (Working in an elementary school= tons of steps. Chasing toddlers= surprisingly, not as many steps!) and I became obsessed. When I upgraded to the Charge, I started getting my sleep data and guess what? I sleep a lot more than I thought I did. Who knew?  For a few years I've been very careful to track my reading in Goodreads. Sometimes I find that I read a lot more than I thought I had. Sometimes I find that my "diverse reading streak" includes only one author of color, and I have more work to do than I thought.  I got a new app that helps me track my period (It's Clue and it's cool). I guess I'm just sick of guessing. I like keeping track of things. At Thanksgiving, I lost my Fitbit charger, and I've gone without for about a month. I hate it. I like having metrics with which to track my days. I want to be free-spirited and intuitive, but I suck at knowing myself without external structure. Give me data.

3. Lists
I've only made about three lists in 2016. It's a practice I've strayed from, and it pisses me off. It's like drinking water, eating vegetables, getting lots of sleep. It's SO freaking good for you, and the contrarian in me loves to reject that which I know it healthy and pure. When I make a list, and I on fire.I have realistic plans for my time, I know what I expect of myself, and I know how to order my days to be productive. Why do I fight this so hard? Why does three extra minutes of scrolling through Twitter seem so much more lucrative? Lists work and I push them away so often, It's stupid.

I really love this list pad from Etsy. It sits on top of a teetering pile of planners that I've used for an average of 3 days each. But this pad is dateless, so you can pick it up and return to the land of planned at any time. And it has the things I actually need to do. It's a single page that gently promises me that I can have the kind of day I imagine, and that I don't need to do it again tomorrow unless I absolutely want to. Thanks, notepad. You get me.

Right now, living well isn't very sexy. It's being organized and managing family schedules and keeping track of things. But it's working- these are the little things that are working. I have BIG plans for 2017. I know I need to make some very big changes. List pads and Fitbits won't be enough to carry me on this trajectory much longer. But for now, it's checking boxes and making lists and gearing up for even greater things.  

(image via pinterest) 

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