When your reality’s already been a scary place and bad things are happening in the world, it can feel overwhelming. It’s hard to hear news about suffering and tragedy when you might be worried about your job, what you have to feed your kids tonight, if the landlord will raise rent again or how much the next prescription will cost. World news can feel like a double whammy for those of us trying to heal from trauma we’ve either survived or are still looking for a way out. Make pen pals with someone in Israel for a real eye opener. Getting through a regular day can feel like an Olympic feat for those of us dressing fresh or fading wounds. Hi God? Who ordered the double crap burger? Also I said fries not brutalize.
There was a lot of fighting in my house growing up. Many of our low income apartments were as dangerous inside as they were out. As a result I tend to avoid conflict, sometimes to a fault. I don’t like violence. Too many front row seats at drug raids taught me that hitting, crying, punishment and threats don’t fix anything. Now instead of seeing my neighbors beat each other with mailboxes I’m seeing many of us attempting to slam the other side with memes and scolding posts. Even God, Jesus, Buddha, Buddy Christ get turned into ammunition when we’re feeling powerless. Remember Pulp Fiction? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger… Ease up Jules. I long for a humane society just as much as the screaming vegans but’ve noticed chasing people with flaming kale flags only makes them run away. Other times, like after a day of non-stop, intrusive thoughts, 9 panic attacks, 2 flashbacks, a critical incident, 4 more child abuse reports and 3 irritating meetings where that one person will just not stop pushing thier own single-minded, fear-fueled, rigid agenda I can’t even care about anything other than putting my head back on my body. What can we do instead of panic, argue, punish, fight or hide?
Here are ten things to try instead of running away or running them over:
1. Kill your Television Really. Cancel your cable. Unplug the idiot box or movie theatre screen. Carry it outside. Put on a helmet and safety goggles (Because I love you and don’t want you to get hurt.) and smash it. Watching t.v literally programs our thinking. I could tell you all the boring research on how media images ruin our lives but it’s very sad and I want you to feel better. I had a Harvard professor once so just trust me.
2. Make Art not War Take all the fragments of your smashed idiot box and turn it into an avant garde sculpture or mosaic. You could even buy paints, brushes and glue with the money you saved from cancelling your cable. Art heals. How do I know? I make art and was an art therapist. Coloring outside the lines makes us smarter by opening new problem-solving pathways in our brain, healing old hurts and allowing us to get better at life. Every toddler is a creative genius.
3. Breathe Seems obvious but when we’re angry, scared and stressed we forget. Try this: take your index finger, hold one side of your nose closed and take a deep breath in. Breathe out of your mouth. Then take your index finger and hold the other side of your nose closed and take a deep breath in. Breathe out of your mouth. Keep alternating and breathing until the urge to drive off a cliff subsides. Now take your index finger and put it in one of your nostrils. Now take a selfie. And post.
4. Laugh See how funny you are? You should probably wash your hands though. Back in the terrifying days of my frightening childhood I learned, along with my siblings, that almost any problem could be solved by putting on a costume, adopting a character and acting out some funner, parallel reality in the woods, a sand pit or our favorite, the cow pastures. It’s hard to feel bummed when you’re twirling on a hillside in a ball gown made out of a Twister mat.
5. Eat For those of us recovering from eating disorders this is either a yes or a no. I’m not suggesting we eat or starve our feelings. The goal is simply to maintain stable blood sugar. When bad things happen I don’t want to feel anything. Staying hungry helps until it doesn’t. A simple way to be ok is to have a snack. Maybe cook something fun with a friend. Maybe take yourself out for a happy meal. Maybe share a loaf of bread with a goose. I actually saw a homeless friend doing just that this weekend. I say friend because anyone who shares food is a friend in this world.
6. Walk a Mile This isn’t about cardio but it is good for your heart. There’s a great Sublime song, What it’s Like, about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. The best way to stop being mad or afraid of someone is to try and see life from thier perspective. We might stand there all pissed off at first saying ‘yea but what about me!’ And I get that but if we all stood there saying me, me, me we’ll never get we, we, we all the way home. That’s a metaphor for peace…or maybe pigs. Same difference. Try this: Make a timeline of all the bad things ever done to you by someone else. Cry. Get mad. Feel sad. Go to therapy. Then make a timeline for each person who hurt you identifying all the bad things that happened to them. Now try crying, feeling mad or sad for them. I’m not saying I want to make friendship bracelets with the guy who molested me for a decade I’m just saying I get that it was never about me and knowing that has really helped.
7. Jazzercise If you don’t know about this cardio-dance craze which swept the nation in the 80’s please stop reading and watch this video. Then dance around in purple spandex to your favorite iTunes until you sweat. It’s very good for you.
8. Go Play Outside Put your phone away. Turn off the radio. Do not buy that dirty, tabloid magazine. Take a hike! I’m serious. Bonus points if you either bring or meet an animal along the way. Unless the animal’s a bear, a cougar or worse, a politician. People think or get us to think we have to be connected to the big issues all the time, doing something to save the world or fix the problems. Prove that we care by liking their post or putting on one of those pink hats and protesting. Guess what? God. In Chris Rock’s (a huge self-confessed terrible, awful, very funny sinner) new special he says this great thing about letting go because of faith. If we really believe in God what’s there to worry about? Don’t come home till the street lights are on. Maybe by then some of the problems will be solved.
9. Kiss My husband has a beard. The struggle is real. Keep it simple and no, you’re not stupid if simple sounds hard. It is. That’s why Barnes and Noble sells so many books on how to be happy. The truth is we don’t need a Ph.d or passport to be happy. Pet your cat. Hug someone you love. Snuggle up with your favorite blanket. Phone a friend. Hold hands. The little unplanned moments of human connection and comfort are the secret to true happiness. This is where I think poor people who’ve been through hell are kind of lucky. We don’t have big money to spend, fancy people to impress or huge expectation-strings of greatness attached to the end of every handshake or inheritance. Unfiltered reality, outside the palace is harsh but pure. Morning coffee, in a real bed with my husband and our dog is nothing short of a daily miracle.
10. Dream Imagine how nice we’d all be if we got enough sleep? I don’t like pills but PTSD can wreak havoc on inner peace so usually before bed I meditate. The Honest Guys on YouTube can talk me down most nights. I like thier Australian accents. In deep REM sleep our bodies and minds engage in healing and restoration we can’t accomplish any other way than for us to let go. It’s as peaceful, helpful and hopeful as it sounds.
There’s nothing new under the sun- Ecclesiastes
I wrote this after seeing a request for kindness from my brother to the world this morning.
I love you brother. Be ok. Love, sister