Things I Said I’d Do (And Haven’t)

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lack of follow-through in myself. By ‘lately,’ I mean basically ever since my dad passed away. I wish that didn’t sound cliche or excuse-like, but there it is.

I’ve talked before about how grief has changed me. How the trauma of suddenly being thrust into some of the hardest parts of adulthood has changed me. But, I don’t know if I’ve really talked much about the shame I’ve felt about that. I used to have a solid sense of who I was. I was a doer. A responsible, reliable, follow-through type of person. Maybe, deep down, I wasn’t actually that person. But either way, I know that I’m much less that person now.

Post-trauma, I’m more anxious, and that has practical and real effects on my abilities. My memory is worse. My attention is worse. My ability to deal with stress is, generally, worse. My ability to relate to people on a shallow level is substantially worse. And my ability to stick with things has definitely been on a decline.

Right after my dad passed away, I had more responsibility than anyone my age. I suddenly had to call lawyers, accountants, hospitals, crematoriums, tax experts, federal retirement agencies, etc. I handled it all, somehow. Sometimes, I think I spent all my responsibility and mental capacity on that period of my life. I wonder if maybe my current state is a primitive rebellion against all that required responsibility. Somewhere in my brain, I’ve shut down those qualities for a while.

Of course, I’m not a total disaster. I get to work on time. I am still a generally reliable employee. I pay my bills on time. But my capacity for stress is simply diminished. I cannot trust myself the same way I once could. I doubt everything I do.

This is hard to deal with, especially when I’m surrounded by seemingly ‘normal’ people who have the capacity to do all the things I used to do. I start to feel like a failure because I didn’t do this or that project that I got excited about. When it comes to my ‘career,’ it’s especially crushing.

My heart is constantly telling me things that I would love to pursue. Then, my head gets involved. It tells me how I’d hate that. I’d be overwhelmed immediately. I’d crumble under the pressure. So, I explore the options, then I get dissuaded by fear and shame. I know it is holding me back.

But what do I do?

I do the things that are vital and hope I’ll have time to do the tings I really want to do. I spend all my energy on survival. On basic normalcy. So far, nothing much is left over to contribute to my own fulfillment and creative projects. I’m not sure where to get more mental energy from. They tell you exercising gives you more physical energy. But mental illness is tricky.

As I write, I’m in the process. I know I’m not alone in these feelings. If you are struggling, I’ll tell you what I try to tell myself. Survival alone is impressive. Being content is amazing. Life is a constant cycle of ups and downs. Sometimes we will be stuck in dark moments, but that doesn’t mean it is forever.

We can wait out the storms. We can patiently stare the hard stuff, the shame, the depression, in the face and tell it, “I see you. I know you’ll feel better in a little while, and I’m ready to wait.”


Resurrection in the Living

Growing up, I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated or understood the meaning behind the Easter holiday. I loved chocolate and bunnies, and I liked that the season was one of beginnings and joy. But this year, the idea of re-birth and transformation hits home in a new way because, unlike when I was a kid, I have contemplated the first step in resurrection: death.

The sermon at my church today asked us to consider what part of us is stagnant and needs resurrecting. As I sat listening to the rolling r’s of my Scottish minister’s words, I realized that grief is its own process of death and resurrection. I have been slowly coming back to life since my dad died two years ago, and this new person, with new perspectives and a permanently altered existence, takes some getting used to.

When my dad passed away, some pieces of me froze, some parts disappeared, and some broke into unrecognizable shapes. The depression of grief is like an emotional and mental death (though it also has many physical aspects as well). I lost touch with who I was. There was serious stagnation and hopelessness in my heart, and key pieces of myself seemed unreachable.

The hardest part of any change is the loss. When that loss is a fundamental and formative person, such as a parent, it permeates every aspect of your identity. But following death and loss, we have the potential to grow into something entirely new. Sometimes, people like to simplify this and say it ‘makes you stronger,’ but the reality is more complex.

Starting over is a long process, and it’s scary, lonely, and difficult. Maybe we end up stronger in some ways, but also more sensitive or more guarded in others. Maybe we aren’t better or worse, just different. A few more jagged edges, a new scar or two, and our insides completely rearranged.

It took me at least nine months after my dad passed away to start to feel emotions on the positive end of the spectrum again. It took another six before my shifting pieces seemed to begin to settle into their new homes. And now, two years and two months after my dad passed, I can finally start to peek inside my sensitive newness with a gentle and open-minded wonder.

Like opening a box after its been rolled down a flight of stairs, I don’t know what to expect.

My point, I suppose, is that the original resurrection story takes only a few days. Renewal and transformation seem to be presented immediately to the world. Humans do have a fascination with the big reveal. Makeover shows take advantage of this, as do diet and exercise programs. We like being able to have a date to declare a ‘new’ personhood. But my experience is not like that at all.

When you’ve died in some way, approaching life again can feel like inching your way out of a dark cave. You need time to adjust to the light, the air, the rain, the grass. And even when you finally reach the open world, you will be unsteady on your new feet.

Like a baby, we have to learn to do everything again as a new person. I think it goes a little faster the second time around, but that doesn’t mean it happens in a week. Or a month. Or a year. We slowly discover where each piece has fallen, which parts of us are nowhere to be found, and where there may be new nooks and corners to explore.

Maybe resurrection is more about the left behind than the deceased. Whether or not you believe Jesus was physically resurrected, it is apparent that his followers were forever altered by his death. Their personal journey of loss and renewal is its own resurrection story, and it’s one I think we can all relate to. Grief is one of the most unique and vital of human experiences, bringing us to our lowest despair, our fullest love, and perhaps, our truest resurrection.

What Young Grievers Want You To Know

The best tactic of any villain is to isolate you from those you care about–just ask any fictional protagonist’s best friend.

Grief is the ultimate villain. It knows exactly how to make you most vulnerable, inflicting a lethal combination of loneliness, irritability, and self-doubt. It touches everyone eventually, and we know it’s a part of the deal we make when we love someone, but somehow, we still underestimate it.

We don’t understand it. Society doesn’t really accept it. So, the grieving are often left in the clutches of the villain’s most powerful tool: shame.

I’m tired of allowing grief to be the unknown enemy. I am reaching out to you, fellow grievers, because I want to know what your life looks like after loss. I am most interested in hearing from the younger crowd, like myself, because I think we have a particular challenge that is rarely discussed outside of counseling offices and support groups.

Being young, we’re supposed to be in our prime, full of the energy and passion for life that gets us through the grueling early years of our career and helps us grow, explore, and fall in love. Our friends and peers are mostly doing that. Are we? Grief changed so much for me, and I don’t think I’m the only one who wishes they had a bit of that pre-loss optimism back. I’m probably not the only one who feels like the world expects from me a totally different story than the one I have to share.

I would like to feature guest bloggers on these themes. If you’ve lost someone close to you, and you have something you’d like to share, please reach out to me. What do you want people to know about your grief? Where did you find support, and where did you wish you had more? How has life changed for you? What do you know now that you didn’t before?

I’ll start with my own post on the topic, but I hope to have more perspectives to share. Everyone has a unique experience and process, and I want to hear about yours.

If you’re interested in sharing, please write to:

Everyday Sexism

Today while getting my tetanus booster shot (PS, you need this every 10 years, so a lot of ya’ll are probably due soon) and flu shot (ok, I’m late, I know), the nurse who assisted me commented that she “couldn’t even get boys” to take two shots in one day.

There are so many problems with that statement, even though I know she didn’t mean any harm. Though meant to be a praise to me, her words insinuate that women are less likely to be proactive and practical with their healthcare (generally, statistically false) due to a greater degree of fear or inability to handle pain than what might plague men.

This is problematic because it’s the kind of subtle sexist mindset that a lot of us still have permeating our words and actions. Similar to how the words we use to describe women we admire (beautiful and kind are much more common than assertive and powerful) differ from those we use to describe men (smart, strong, charismatic, powerful and maybe handsome), there is an expectation of us based on our projected gender that probably has little to do with who we actually are.

Is a man ‘supposed’ to be unafraid of shots? Is he ‘supposed’ to be stronger, more willing to take pain, more in control of his own health?

Apparently, according to this nurse, my courage in the face of two one-second shots was impressive, and even more so because I am a woman. I know for a fact that men and women can both be terrified of shots. They can also be pretty chill about them. It’s not a sex thing, it’s not a gender thing, and it’s not even a personality thing.

Ultimately, this nurse was just trying to make conversation and take away any nerves I might have. We all say kind of stupid things sometimes. Even so, it reminded me of how pervasive sexism is in our culture still and how even the smallest acts can perpetuate it. I don’t want my nephews or my future son to grow up in a world where they’re shamed for hating shots, spiders, thunderstorms, heights, whatever. And I don’t want my girls to be told that their courageous acts are measured on a scale of 1 to Manhood.

So look for these little things. Stop yourself from saying them. Correct yourself. Don’t laugh at the jokes. They aren’t really funny anyway.

A Different Way to Prep for an Interview

Since entering college, I would estimate I’ve found myself in about 25 interviews.

Many of these interviews resulted in a second interview or a job. A lot of the time, I think it’s mostly because I was qualified and a pretty charismatic, amenable person. But at least once or twice, I attribute my success to the method of interview preparation that I’m about to share with you. It may not work for everyone, and it may seem like more work than it’s worth at first. But, when the alternatives are attempting to answer generic interview questions you don’t even know you’ll be asked or going in without any plan at all… I think this is worth a shot.

Step One: Make a list of times you rocked at your job.
The best examples of these are going to be projects you managed or had a good deal of responsibility for, but there should also be a lot of examples where you were just a great team player. Try to remember specifics about these moments and how you know your work stood out. But don’t write all this out. Just run through it in your head and make quick notes. I also recommend putting a star next to any examples that are directly related to the type of work you would be doing in this new position.

Step Two: Make a list of attributes and skills you know the hiring organization is looking for.
These attributes will probably come from the job description and the company/organization’s mission. But even if they aren’t listed, you can probably assume all employers are interested in someone who can demonstrate integrity, responsibility, and communication skills. Organization, multi-tasking, punctuality, and professionalism are also common themes. If this list is very long, as job descriptions can sometimes be a catch-all, underline the traits that you think are most vital to this position. It also can be useful to note anything that you think you are uniquely skilled in, since that will definitely help you stand out from your competition.

Step Three: Connect the tops.
Now comes the fun part. Figure out how to tell each of your top examples in such a way that it highlights one of those most important skills. You might have to alter which stories you use in order to accommodate all the attributes the company is asking for, but that variety will be stronger than a bunch of stories that all show you’re great at diffusing conflict. If you can’t find a story for one of the attributes, think of one!

Step Four: Find the weakness in your greatness.
The best part about this step is that you don’t even have to think up new examples! Rather than trying to come up with a weakness from scratch for that blasted question, look back at that glowing accomplishments list. Somewhere in those projects, you faced a challenge. Whatever made that situation challenging for you can be a weakness. And the best part? You can cite the weakness and prove immediately that you worked through it.

Step Five: Know what you’re walking into.
Steps 1-4 will give you a really solid foundation to answer a lot of situational questions interviewers might throw at you. Most of my interviews for hourly positions haven’t required much more. However, going to interview for a salaried position with a larger organization, you will definitely need to do a bit more preparation in the form of research. Know what the organization does, who they work with, their biggest projects, possibly their budget, who their board members are, what social media presence they have, etc. Stalk your co-workers and superviser on LinkedIn. Learn as much as you can, and then explain what the organization is and what your job will be to as many friends and family as you can. They’ll probably ask questions you didn’t think of, and maybe some of their questions will be good to ask at the end of your interview.

Step Six: Make a list of questions. A long list.
Here’s the thing about questions for your interviewers: good interviewers will already have answered most of your questions by the time the interview is over. Plus, if you want the interview to feel more natural (and if the structure allows), I find it really works well to ask one or two questions throughout the interview when they are relevant. So, you want to make sure you have enough questions (or, perhaps, interesting enough questions) that you can cross off four or five and still have some good ones left.

Step Seven: Relax!
Once you’ve gone through these steps, you really ought to take a breather. Don’t over practice. Don’t script yourself. Don’t worry! Mostly, preparing for an interview is like reviewing for a test. You know all the information already; it’s all a part of your life and your work history. Your job pre-interview is just to organize that information and have it at the front of your brain for easy access. So do a little review, but don’t go overboard. Be yourself, be confident, and you’ll do just fine.

Gun Problem or People Problem

Mass shootings are an absolutely atrocious and largely unique part of our country’s culture. With the San Bernardino and Planned Parenthood attacks so fresh in our minds, we are all, once again, drawn to bickering about what the “problem” really is.

I have seen anti-gun-regulation arguments that cite examples of other violence (sans guns), saying essentially that bad people will still kill others, whether they have guns or not. One that seemed particularly off-topic to me referred to Cain killing Able with a rock.

I’m not here to argue specifically against the idea that people will do bad things. I think pretty much everyone agrees that there are plenty of people who commit terrible acts with or without access to guns.

But I do take issue with this particular argument because it is fatalistic. Almost none of the people I see making the ‘it’s a people problem’ argument are out there advocating for or otherwise supporting those ‘bad’ people.

Americans are woefully misinformed about issues of mental health. I would even take it a step further and propose that Americans are also generally lacking in emotional intelligence and empathy. We, as a culture, create and enforce systems of oppression, stigma, and self-loathing that essentially create these attackers.

So, sure, it may be a ‘people’ problem. But the people I’m talking about aren’t just the perpetrators of violence. They are the ones all around us, the people you and I become when we live in a place of competition and fear.

I think what makes me most upset about the gun control opposition is that they offer no counter solution. No gun law could possibly keep guns entirely out of public access. But I do believe that we should be treating guns like the dangerous weapons that they are. Regulating their sale and requiring a knowledge and/or skills test seems vital to me to acknowledge the power and responsibility that comes with being a gun owner. The absolute best comparison I have heard relates guns to cars. We’ve all accepted that we must pass a driving test and register our cars with the DMV; I don’t understand how doing the same with your gun is infringing on your rights in any greater way.

We need to recognize that the problem is multi-faceted. It IS a gun problem because automatic weapons kill much faster than most other weapons. It is also a culture problem, and we can’t ignore that piece of the puzzle.

To me, if you’re still arguing semantics about what the problem is, you’re a part of it. The focus ought to be on solutions that tackle both sides of this coin head on. I really believe we all play a role in this cultural epidemic, which means we all have a lot we can, and should, be doing already.



When Privilege is Grateful

In light of the spotlight on humanitarian crises and injustices across the world this Thanksgiving, I’m finding it really hard to be grateful.

On the one hand, I feel like I should appreciate that most of these atrocities are not directly impacting me or my loved ones. I should be grateful not to be searching for safety like a Syrian refugee family. I should be happy that I know where my loved ones are, ecstatic that they all have homes, food, and relatively healthy bodies. I should be glad that my family and many of my friends are not targets of violence and hate that has been perpetuated by terror attacks and brutal police misconduct.

But, I’m not really grateful for those things.

I refuse to look at my privilege as something to be grateful for. I know and appreciate the advantage that I have been given, just because of my skin color and the family I am a part of. But, I appreciate it the same way I appreciate the ocean–a powerful, sometimes scary presence in my life that I can only interact with when I come from a place of seeking to understand.

To be grateful for things that so few people have in this world just feels off to me somehow. I want so much more for the beings that inhabit this earth, and so much of what makes my life ‘good’ and ‘safe’ comes at the expense of others who are less fortunate–humans, animals, and planet alike.

So how do I answer the quintessential Thanksgiving Day question? What can I say I’m thankful for without feeling the words eroding away beneath me before they’re even spoken?

I’m amazingly grateful for connection. I’m grateful for the beings in my life that have opened me up, taken me in, shared with me, created with me, touched me and others’ lives in beautifully spiritual and human ways. I’m thankful for the beauty of the mountains, the strength of the wind, the patience of trees, the quiet of midnight, the questions in the sky. I’m grateful for music, for dance, for prayer, for communities that share those gifts with one another. I am grateful for hope.

There are so many things in my life that are good, and a lot of them are the direct result of luck. But what I am grateful for has little to nothing to do with who I am or the advantages I have.

I am grateful, above all else, for the wonderful, awesome, exhilarating parts of existence and for the fact that, with or without me, these wonders are shared and loved among people everywhere. On the days when we hear so many negative news stories reminding us of all the things in this world that are grim, I can only hold on to the potential of the utterly simple beauty surrounding us and hope that with all this light out there, we’ll one day figure out how to lift everyone above the clouds.