Friday, July 31, 2020

July 31 Friday Update: Wanting Friends and Losing Friends

Here we go!

I did not make it very far in this morning's sermon from my old church, ha. I thought it might be a tough ride because apparently they're going to do a multi-week series on the importance of church, which made me go, "Oh, crap, it's going to be saying from the pulpit basically everything that gives me anxiety about church attendance."

The sermon opened by referencing the Cheers theme, the "sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name" bit. When I was in NLDC, we had a skit that used this song to talk about church as well. A character has a really bad day, and in the middle of a sobbing breakdown, the song starts playing, and the remainder of the song was a mimed depiction of him deciding to go to church, where everyone greets him by name, welcomes him, makes him feel loved, and his day is better. Super cheesy but I enjoyed the sentiment.

So I figured that's where this sermon was going and I could get on board with that. ("Wouldn't it be great if church was as welcoming as a bar?")

I was so wrong.

The response to that is apparently "People think of church like the Cheers theme song and want to be somewhere where they're known, and that's bad, because the church isn't about relationships, and sometimes people even leave the church because they feel unknown, or churches, like, change their programming to try to make people more comfortable there, and it's because they don't understand what church is supposed to be."

I'm still somewhat curious as to what he thought the actual purpose of church was, but I was about to explode from anxiety, so I tapped out.

So let me walk through what this sermon intro says to me. Because, yeah, I didn't feel like anybody knew me in the church. Some of that was because I felt pressure to act and be and speak a certain way to be taken seriously as a Christian. Some of it is because the church service isn't a great format for introverts to meet with or connect with people. Some of it is because my personal experiences got dismissed if they had the wrong emotional tone or the wrong "message" at the end of it. But it was an exceptionally lonely time for me, and it definitely made it easier to step away.

This sermon responds to that by saying if you feel unknown and unheard and unloved in the church, you should stop thinking it's about you. Church isn't a social club (direct quote). Church isn't for spending time with friends. If you think it's a big deal that nobody knows you, you're obviously just prioritizing the wrong things, and if your priorities were in the right place you'd be fine with being unknown and uncared for in your faith community.

Another reminder that my anxiety and my struggle with church is a sign to many people that my faith is weak, if even there at all.

It's a problem with me.

This week I had the first instance of a truly close friend who I may have to cut ties with because of pandemic and politics. I am not a blocker. I tend to hold out hope for everyone to have good intentions and am happy if I can be connected to them and share my opinions for them and can trust that if they seem to be acting unempathetically, I am missing a piece of what they're thinking and why it doesn't seem unempathetic to them. I probably give people far too much benefit of the doubt, but I've also seen people change their views drastically and come to me as one of the few people they know in their circle who will be okay with their changes.

So when I do block people, it's as a personal safety boundary for me. It's because their behavior is causing harmful depression spirals. It's only happened a handful of times, and never with anyone I was close to.

Until this week. Not getting into the details of it, but they keep messaging me with "COVID isn't a big deal" propaganda and I have lost at least three full days to anxiety and depression after reading/watching what they've sent. I'm obviously never watching any videos they send me anymore, ha, but it's so depressing to see someone I was very close to spreading things that are actively harmful to me. I've asked them to stop. We'll see if they do.

My boundaries are about self-protection, not teaching lessons. I don't block just because I disagree with someone to make a statement about separating myself from them. I block when being connected to them is actively bad for me. And I'd like to think my friends care about that and would understand if I had to block them for awhile.

But I don't know. They might just say I'm overreacting, that I'm letting politics come between people, that I'm causing more division.

But my other option is letting myself be hurt over and over again. Just because they said I should. And that serves nobody -- not me, not them, not anybody else I could be giving my time to were I not drained from these interactions. That's not a workable answer.

Some of these mini-blogs are basically just regular blog-sized blogs now, huh?

Friday, July 24, 2020

July 24th Friday Update: Showtunes, Memory Palaces, and Shame

Microblogging time!

Just watched a YouTube video where a vlogger named the showtunes that reduce them to a weeping puddle of goo, so I figured I should compile my own list.

Turns out I already had a Spotify playlist of "Showtunes That Make Me Cry" which consists of 26 songs, so I'll pull out my top 10, from "make me cry the most" to "make my cry a little less."

Rent- I'll Cover You (Reprise)
Godspell- On the Willows
Avenue Q- Fantasies Come True
Fiddler on the Roof- Chava Ballet Sequence
Matilda- When I Grow Up
The Last Five Years- Nobody Needs to Know
Rent- Will I?
Dear Evan Hansen- Words Fail
The Last Five Years- I Could Never Rescue You
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog- Everything You Ever

Kudos to Rent and TL5Y for being the only ones who needed to be on the list twice.

This last week or two has just, like, sucked for depression stuff. I'm just completely out of spoons to do much of anything but also full of anxiety and panic at how little I'm doing. And it sucks.

I ended up writing this as a comment on a friend's post but wanted to share a slightly amended version of it here, too, it encapsulates some of what I've been thinking about this week:

I admit I've been struggling myself with "God is in control" language, as so many of my evangelical friends and acquaintances have turned that into their reason for not being cautious or look out for each other, and now those words actually bring up more fear. So while I do believe God is in control, I've found myself needing to reframe the concept a bit before I can really let go of my anxiety. So for me, my mantra has been that God is the only one that can pick up where my efforts end. That doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't fight HARD for safety procedures, or feel stressed or angry about where things are, or research overseas grad schools. But it means that when I come to God, sobbing that I've done everything I can and don't know what else to do, he's like, "Yeah, I know, you've done everything you need to, I've got it from here." And I've been working on leaving that with him. So difficult, but working on it!

So my policy over the last couple weeks for watching my old church's sermons is "I watch until something triggers shame, then I turn it off, document what that was, and return next week." Some weeks I can get through 3/4 of the sermon. Other weeks I'm done 5 minutes in. I have not yet made it through an entire sermon.

I think there are two pieces to this. On one hand, I am well-versed in training myself to feel ashamed (or "convicted" as I would have framed it as a teen). Could you even call yourself a Christian teen leader if you didn't repent after every sermon and repent of like a whole BUNCH during every summer retreat? I mean, you probably could, but the vibe I got was that the more often you were convicted, the better a Christian you were, so I got so, so good at narrowing in on the part of the sermon meant to make me feel bad. I never really sought to be encouraged. (I'm suddenly having memories of pastors saying "I want to encourage you today" in a context which clearly really meant "I want to convict you today." ...I wonder if people think they are the same thing?)

So on the flip side of that, while I definitely am good about ferreting out the language I'm supposed to use to shame myself, there is a lot of that language in the evangelical church. Like we can only make God look good by making ourselves look bad, or we can only motivate people to do good out of fear of doing bad. So the church trained me to read these sermons this way, and I eagerly accepted, and we worked together to build a really strong shame response to, like, everything, and called it the Holy Spirit.

So I'm documenting the phrases, the analogies, the verse interpretations that I'm trained to respond shamefully to, in the hopes I can undo some of that conditioning.

Reposting this thing I wrote on my Twitter. I quote-tweeted someone saying, "Normalize 'hey can we reschedule I don’t feel like hanging today' without people getting offended cuz some days I really wake up and don’t feel like doing anything" and then wrote the following:

So this is getting just CRAPPED on in the comments. "Don't make plans if you can't follow through." Which, I mean, you obviously should follow through on commitments as much as you possibly can.  But on the other hand, the logical conclusion of that is believing "people with chronic illnesses shouldn't make plans or try to hang out with people." Because life can be unpredictable for us!

If you would rather we show up to hang out with you but be miserable the whole time, then that's fine, you just maybe shouldn't be a friend to vulnerable people, because what you value most isn't what they can provide.

And there are compromises. If you keep moving your schedule to spend with them and they keep needing to flake, start scheduling your times with them for when they're truly convenient for you is you won't be resentful if they step out.

I've been the one who flaked. I've been the one who pushed through and was glad she did, as well as the one who wished she hadn't. I've also been the one who's been flaked on and just started relabeling people in my life to "don't count on them but I hope they're there" status.

And sometimes it's just a friend incompatibility. There are friends I can't make space for for months, because I don't have emotional spoons to carve out time to be with them and have them not be there. But when I do, I will. And if I never do, I hope someone else will.


So I just finished reading this book about memory competitions and techniques, and it was intriguing, and I need like a party trick because I don't have any, so I am teaching myself to memorize shuffled decks of cards. At this point I can do it, just verrrrrrrryyyy slloooowwwwlllyyyy -- not a good party trick yet, it's like 15 minutes of memorization and then another 5 to recall them.

The basic idea is to use visual and spatial memory to create associations with the cards. So for each card, you're supposed to come up with a specific visual image of a person doing an action with an object. So, for example, my ace of spades is "The Phantom of the Opera playing music on an organ." And then you memorize them in sets of threes -- so you imagine the person from your first card doing the action on your second card with the action for your third card. So then for each of set of three, you place them along a mental pathway with a clear linear progression.

The one I've been practicing with is a walk around my house. So, for example, I imagine my front door, and with the cards in front of me, I see Lady and the Tramp (2 of hearts) stabbing each other (nine of spades) with beer steins (seven of clubs). Which is a truly bizarre mental image, and it sticks. Then I mentally walk through my front door, and directly to the left, in my front closet, there's Christine Daae (six of diamonds) trying to warm herself up (ace of hearts) with mustaches (three of spades). That's my second set.

I was kind of startled how well it worked. On my first try, I memorized about 24 without going back to them or trying to remember them at all, but then when I did my mental walkthrough, there they all were.

Right now the slowest part is remembering which cards goes with which image. I had to redo my images a couple times just because I could NOT remember them, so I ended up grouping them by numbers -- so all my tens are Steven Universe characters, my nines are Star Wars, my fives are New Life friends, my Jacks are people who make me laugh. And then I even tried to think about associations I'd naturally make between suits and those characters. The diamonds characters usually have something to do with money, the hearts are often people whose central storyline is about love, spades tend to be stabby people, clubs tend to be strong. Whenever I could make an association, I did.

It's fascinating and I love it and I am going to be so cool in an exceptionally nerdy way when I can get my time down.

While "2020 sucks" is pretty widely-agreed upon, I'm learning that some people mean "2020 sucks because people are dying and I can only do so much to stop it" and some people mean "2020 sucks because masks are annoying."

We're not in the same boat.

Friday, July 17, 2020

July 17th Friday Update: More School Questions!

Microblogging, whooo! Lots of CW for depression.

I wish I had the spoons for my friends' problems. I just feel like I'm shutting people out a lot these days, because I have to, because I'm going to explode. But I wish I had more. I'm trying to figure out how to recenter things in my head to make space for... something. I just don't have it yet.

A few more questions I've seen for those pushing to open schools in the fall:
  • Most classrooms are barely big enough for desks as is, let alone desks that need to be 6 feet apart. Are class sizes shrinking? (If so, where are the extra teachers coming from?) Are they moving to new larger classrooms that don't exist yet? Are we going to say we're social distancing but we just don't?
  • Do students get masks at school? Do teachers? Do student masks get replaced throughout the day when inevitably they take it off and lose it or another child thinks it's funny to take it off them? Obviously you can't guarantee kids wash their masks at home, so if schools provide them, will they be cleaning them as well? How?
  • Will there be any additional PPE for teachers? And are teachers paying for that out of their own pocket?
  • How are we dealing with poor air ventilation in schools without ACs or classrooms without windows?
  • Are lockers still being used? How and when? Kids will have more supplies to haul around now that they can't share.
  • Who is having the conversation about how to reevaluate testing for this year and next? Nobody thinks we can just continue on as normal and apply last year's standards to this year's kids, right? ...Right?
  • What about very young students who need assistance opening lunch, using supplies, tying shoes? Teachers cannot help them and social distance, so what's the plan?
  • How about kids with special needs who needs hands-on caregiving at school? 
  • How about young students with separation anxiety? How are they to be comforted from six feet away?
  • How are school discipline policies being reevaluated during this time? Student behavior can be heavily influenced by stress and trauma, which every child is currently dealing with, and calming a panicked or furious child is much tougher from six feet away.
  • Will school libraries still be able to be used?
  • What about playground equipment? How are kids going to play at recess if they cannot share equipment or be near each other?
  • Buses. We don't have nearly enough buses or bus drivers for students to be able to social distance in a vehicle. Are more buses being purchased or rented from other locations? Are more drivers being hired? Will bus routes be adjusted so that buses make multiple separate rounds? 
  • What is the procedure for if a student comes to class sick with COVID symptoms?
  • Schools don't have enough sinks and students can't congregate around them. Are classroom times or passing periods being expanded to allow for the abundance of hand washing needed? Are classes relying solely on hand sanitizer?
  • Let's talk school nurses. Some districts share a handful of nurses between all of them. What is the plan for COVID-symptomatic students when the nurse is at a different school? Are the nurses getting additional PPE?
  • One of the reasons for getting back to school is so kids can socialize again. Is socializing six feet apart wearing masks, unable to share any playground equipment or supplies, truly going to meet that need? Enough to run the high risks of opening?
  • With the shortage of teachers and subs but the higher need of monitoring, are there plans for additional hall monitors that ensure students are keeping masks on/social distancing/not touching each other's stuff?
  • Substitutes usually serve multiple schools. Will they be restricted to one to limit exposure in case they test positive?
  • Is anyone in education doing re-training on instruction and classroom management during social distancing? It requires just as much re-doing as Zoom classes, since it eliminates the possibility of group projects or pair work entirely.
  • I saw one plan that indicated that children whose family members are exposed should quarantine. If a child or child's family members test positive or are exposed, will parents of that child's classmates be notified?
More to come. Inevitably.

It's hard these days to distinguish between depression and just "I live in the US in 2020."

I'm intrigued that some of those advocating against mask wearing as an inherent violation of freedom are also those who adhere so strongly to modesty culture. Being told to wear or not wear something specific because it might hurt someone else is hardly new. We've just got life and death stakes this time, and it affects everybody.

Even more about masks and the pandemic and stuff!

There's an article going around now where the CDC is saying we could, in fact, beat the virus with 4-6 weeks of everyone wearing masks and social distancing. There's a part of me that doesn't want to believe it because it's so depressing to think we could be that close to being done with this but that it will instead drag out for months, maybe years, because somehow masks have been politicized so nobody's going to follow those restrictions. It's hard to know that and not feel angry.

Additionally, may I just add, there is no better way to reinforce my brain's depression lives of "You don't matter" and "Nobody likes you" and "Nobody wants you here" than to be vocally anti-mask. Because that does indicate I don't matter and those people don't want me here, not if it's going to inconvenience them. Had a massive depression breakdown yesterday because I just didn't have any more ammo to throw at that. I still don't. It's a very very very good thing my depression has never come along with suicidal ideation. Like... very very very.

Friday, July 10, 2020

July 10th Friday Update

Yes! I am able to blog this way, it looks like! At least for now! Here we go!

Watched my Lutheran church service this morning and right off the bat the minister says, "This day has been set aside to celebrate the founding of our nation, and yet perhaps this year in particular we also must recognize our failures, and acknowledge our call as followers of Christ to do better."

An immediate welcome for where I am in my walk with God and mental health.

The Scripture for this service focused on Matthew 11, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." In discussing the heavy burdens we may be carrying at this moment, the issue of self-loathing came up and was immediately refuted with the reminder that God created us, looked at all he had created, and said it was very good. This was followed by whoever is running the church social media posting in the chat, "That means all of you... you are very good." What a contrast to the struggles I continue to have with the church's constant encouragement of self-deprecation.

And the funny thing is, I don't feel like that being reminded that God calls me good gives me a pass to do whatever I want, which is I think is what people fear will happen. ("If you think you're good on your own, you won't need God!") It's a much better motivator for me to do better. If I can hold in my heart that God sees me and calls me good, it gives me the strength to do what is right and to stay connected to God. If I hold in my heart that I am always unworthy, I shrink away and hide and try to not bother anyone, let alone God, because I don't deserve that attention.

Even if things go well with continued reopening and it doesn't result in millions of deaths, I am dreading the moment where everyone else has moved on and I'm left behind.

Where church services stop live streaming because it's too much hassle and people are there anyway.

Where no one will have Zoom game times with me anymore because they can just go spend time with their real life friends.

Where theater goes back offline and I lose my access to the shows and readings I'm able to watch now.

Where none of my healthy friends are worried anymore but I still know it's not safe for me to leave yet.

Some legitimate questions for those advocating for opening schools in the fall. If I could get answers to these I'd feel a lot better about reopening:
  • Are exceptions being made for kids who are immunecompromised or have family members who are?
  • What happens if (more likely when) a teacher gets COVID? Does their entire class get tested? Does the class quarantine?
  • How about a student?
  • How about a student's parent?
  • How about a student's parent's coworker? 
  • If it's in a middle or high school, students are seeing multiple teachers a day. If one of them contracts it, does the entire school get tested/quarantine?
  • If an elementary school teacher gets it and lives with a teacher at a different school, does that other school also then need to following testing/quarantine procedures? 
  • How are sick days working for teachers who need to quarantine for testing or exposure?
  • Who is doing the cleaning? Are additional janitorial staff being hired or are teachers expected to disinfect their classrooms as well?
  • Who is going to pay for additional hand sanitizer and school supplies now that class sets of supplies can no longer be shared? Teachers have been buying these on their own for years because of lack of funding, let alone buying separate sets for 24 students.
  • If many teachers choose to quit or take early retirement rather than risk their lives to teach in person, what is the plan for replacing them?
  • The already stretched substitute pool is full of retired folks who are at higher risk for COVID complications. With fewer substitutes, are students going to miss out on days of school or combine with other classes against social distancing guidelines? Will teachers be forced to teach sick?
  • Lunch protocols. Just... how? How are you planning on social distancing during socializing time when no one can wear masks? Is the lunch area being expanded and each child eats alone or with siblings only? How many staff members do you plan on assigning to the lunch area to monitor this?
  • How are additional emergency protocols being rewritten to accommodate this? Active shooter protocols, for instance, often involves locking doors, closing windows, and huddling together in corners of the room to be left unseen. Tornado protocols crowd students together in sealed-off hallways. 
  • If emergency protocols stay the same, will there still be emergency drills in the fall, thus putting students at risk without an emergency?
I have more. But this is a start.

Friday, July 3, 2020

July 3rd Friday Update

Last week's microblogging throughout the week was so successful, it even inspired me to write a whole other blog on Monday! Let's do this for another week!

I always think I'm going to be better at microblogging than I am, but then I get going and I have too much to say and before I know if I've got like a whole page and a half of random musings and it's just a regular blog.

Made it through my old church's whole sermon this week! This doesn't need to become a random church sermon review blog, ha, but I am trying to continue to process. In the past I would take in my church's sermons and believe and take to heart every bit of it unless my parents specifically said not to (every so often they'd disagree with an interpretation), so it's good to be able to have the freedom and ability to dissect and process.

I did have strong feelings during a short section that pitted my way of living against God's way of living and said I couldn't do both. While I believe I know what was meant (that if God and I disagree, there's not a compromise option, I'm either choosing one or the other) it is another instance that assumes that I, to my very core, am eternally in opposition to God. Even as a Christian, even as a born-again new creation, my desires will never be good, and if they are, it's because they aren't mine, they're God's. It's a tiny distinction but, again, it matters to me. At its worst, we get these weird situations where I am hesitant to do anything that makes me happy because that's following my own way, which is always, perpetually, without any exceptions, in opposition to God.

If we really truly believe in the transformative power of Christ, why do we continue to speak as if no transformation has occurred? Why do we continue to set ourselves up as the enemy?

In contrast, I also watched the service for the Lutheran church I'd been attending off and on before the pandemic hit. I have found more and more joy in liturgy in the past several years as I've been deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. There's a tendency in non-liturgical evangelical churches to come across as very stressed that we're not listening or connecting to God enough, and so everything can be very... forceful and pushy and loud and engineered. The liturgy is a way of refocusing me without making me feel bad about my lack of focus. It's like in meditation, where you're told "your mind will wander, just become aware of that and bring it back." One kind of church service understands that my mind will wander and will be there when I return. The other panics that I might not be listening and yells and shakes me until I do.

The Supreme Court just voted to strike down abortion restrictions in Louisiana.

I don't want to get into details about any of it... but I have all the feelings about all those times people told me they were voting for Trump even though they hated him because he would overturn abortion rights and then it would all be worth it.

It hasn't come up very often since I stopped being in a classroom every day, but for the last couple years I have refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I do it for reasons of faith -- I cannot in good conscience pledge total allegiance to a country when I believe that my faith and my God transcends human-made borders. Additionally, more and more I feel like I am being asked to choose between my country and my God (while pretending they are one and the same). But if that is ever my choice, if I am being asked to be a good American or a follower of Jesus, I will always choose Jesus.

Weirdly, almost the only friends of mine who have problems with this are Christian.

Reading through Reddit's AITA subreddit, where people ask for judgments on whether or not they are acting like a jerk in particular scenarios, always makes me supremely grateful for the people I have been fortunate to have around me or have chosen to surround myself with. In particular, my parents, who have always been there to support but have always urged me to make my own choices. There are so many stories of parents who are making decisions for their kids on who to marry, how to raise their kids, the careers they need to pursue, and I just can't even fathom my parents being overbearing like that, and I'm so grateful for that.

I have just realized that when talking about my feelings about pandemic stuff (and I have lots of they're), I nearly always frame it in terms of sadness, not fear or anxiety, even though it does cause me fear and anxiety. But sadness is deemed a more acceptable emotion, so I feel like I'll get taken more seriously if I frame it that way. I've been doing that subconsciously for weeks and didn't even realize it.

I figured I should add in here that even though I'm processing and struggling with the stuff I was told by my church community growing up (and still get told when I occasionally venture back in), I don't think any of them intended harm or wanted to hurt me. I think a lot of people share faith as it works for them. They lean on the things that got through to them or motivate them throughout their lives. My identifying something they said isn't an attempt to attack or pull them down or implying their faith experience is a lie or anything like that. But the way they choose to motivate is often deeply demotivational for me, the way they speak of God is often deeply disheartening for me, and too frequently one person's interpretation of God and the Bible and the Christian life is taken to be the sole way of viewing God and the Bible and the Christian life, so any disagreement or dissent or even "uh, maybe phrase that differently" is viewed as a direct attack on God.

That's not what I am doing. This is for my own processing purposes, and perhaps for those who feel a similar disconnect and discouragement.

Independence Day weekend is always a little rough for me. I'm definitely not going to be watching my former church's service this weekend, as they nearly always lean way too hard into the patriotism for me to be comfortable with in a space meant to focus on God.

But it's hitting harder this summer with the pandemic and the protests, where it's become clearer to a lot of people that we are really bad at taking care of our own citizens, and when there's a decent chance I will either be locked away forever or will get sick and possibly die because of our country's strong sense of individualism and staunch refusal to lay individual rights aside, even temporarily, for the sake of others. It's an attitude that, while obviously not only in the US, is very baked into our soul - freedom is our entire rallying cry, freedom is our innate good in and of itself. And it's one that I believe to be antithetical to the Christian faith.

I'm not in favor of, like, surrendering all rights ever to the government. But as people cheer for the freedoms of America this weekend, I'm mostly going to be remembering all the people I know who would rather die than wear a mask. There's a very good chance that some of them will die, and kill other people in the process. Maybe me.

Independence Day is just going to be difficult.