Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Investing Energy in Trying Times: What's Working for Me

Comedian Maria Bamford, looking stern. Text says:
"If you stay alive for no other reason at all, please
do it for spite."

I’ve started to write this post a couple times and then stopped, deleting. Because it’s hard to talk about and think about. Because I might say the wrong thing. But then Abby (who I recently met IRL, which was awesome. Did you know her husband and Caleb have been good friends since high school? Life is random.) told me that I’m one of the reasons she feels as though she can talk mental health as a library professional, so here we go.

Disclaimer: this post promises to be at the very least, self-indulgent and/or deeply personal. It is absolutely a million percent about me and has no implications for anyone else. That said, if something I talk about here sounds helpful to you, you’re welcome to try it.

Disclaimer 2: yes, I am extremely privileged, and I acknowledge that.

So this year has seemed particularly difficult for a lot of people, and while I was not in the “surprise” camp, there was some managing of expectations and implications for my work that changed due to world events. But that part’s been doable for me. If anything, I feel engaged and empowered and regularly challenge my teammates and supervisor to think critically about our service and workplace, sharing things I find online and from talking with community members. I discuss them at meetings, working toward game plans. I hope the Accessibility Series has helped others in a similar way.
But what did happen really make me realize the extent to which where I focus my attention and energy impacts my general bandwidth, my mental health, and my life in general.

And that was Caleb getting injured, unable to work for over 2 months; followed by another 5 months of underemployment.

First thing’s first: we were super lucky in that we’ve structured our finances in such a way that all our bills were still paid, and we have a small savings account we could draw from (See Disclaimer 2).
But there was definitely something I needed to consider, because I rely on it to work well, to be my best self elsewhere: The mental health of my household. To demonstrate the extent to which this is true: when I went through EMDR treatment in 2015, I was asked to pick a place that was a “conflict-free image”, and it was my couch. Usually it’s someplace like a beach or a forest. So, like. Yeah.

The mental health of the household, for me, was not just making sure Caleb was mentally healthy—he’s a grownup and we each own that for ourselves. But it was about being way more deliberate than normal about the relationships in the house; that everyone felt valued, and empowered, and safe.  When I’ve talked about this with friends I called this “us and the cats versus the world”, but it was really different than that. It wasn’t as simple as taking a bath when I felt like it as “self-care”. This was long-haul sh**. We had no idea how long Caleb would be out of work, or if he could ever return to packaging, which has been a job he’s taken so much pride in. What would that even look like? There were so many unknowns, and a lot needed to change in order to accommodate whatever our new normal would be.

 Where there was extra energy to be used, it was used on ensuring the mental health of the household. And extra energy needed to be found and stored wherever we could spare. People outside the spoonie community don’t talk much about energy as a resource, but when big changes and traumatic events happen, we all need consider energy in a way that is about conservation and expenditure. So we don’t completely burn out and take it out on those we love and can’t imagine why we’re like this or how we got there, because it was so good for a while.

So here are a few things that I did deliberately in order to ensure the mental health of the house:

Got my meds straight: I took a long overdue trip to the doctor for a diagnosis and medication I had long suspected I needed, and all these months later I’m still finding work-arounds I’ve created to deal with the symptoms. I mention this not because I want to talk about this specific thing with anyone, but because when we talk about self-care, the right medication is such an important part. It’s so important, in fact, that this was the very first thing I did after putting it off for over a year (hello, internalized ableism!)

Planned our days: Caleb’s been working since he was 14, and is one of the most dutiful people I’ve ever met in my entire life, so it was important to talk together about how his day would look while I was at work and he felt productive enough (fun fact: productivity is an ableist value! Regardless, changing one’s sense of self while going through this huge traumatic change was not really something we felt like striving for). The place was cleaner than it has been in a while, that’s for sure! One thing Caleb has shared that helped was that once he watched so many videos on Youtube that it started suggesting and/or autoplaying conspiracy videos, he found something else to spend his days. He started making it through Red Dead Redemption, then went back and collected every achievement. When we would otherwise share about our days, he talked about what he accomplished in the video game. It sounds silly but it really helped!

Resisted the assumption to hunker down: At the beginning of all this I admit I assumed that I would feel the need to spend more time at home. That whatever Myers-Briggs BS exists it usually goes that Caleb enjoys social situations a little more than me, and that this would get more acute in this situation. Weirdly enough, the opposite ended up happening for me: I wanted to go out after work, to talk to people, to hang out places. This was good, because it meant that Caleb was regularly leaving the house, too. I even ended up reaching out to people on my own and having a couple coffee dates with library friends from neighboring systems. Wondering what was going on, I read up on oxytocin and discovered that stress actually can inspire you to reach out to people and find comfort in your networks. 

We went to go visit my sister and brother-in-law and our new nephew ("We might die in a nuclear war, might as well go kiss a baby" was the motto of that trip). 

Bryce with a big smile holding a squirmy infant

We saw Monday Night Raw live from a box suite, which happened to be the episode where Kane crawled out through the floor at the very end (And everyone marked out forever and ever, the end).

Bryce and Caleb standing in front of a railing at t he Moda Center.
Behind them is the WWE wrestling ring.

Disconnected where I could: I started this year thinking that it was my duty to take public online stances on a wide range of social issues, as a relatively respected member of the YS library community. Eventually, I started feeling like at best I was adding to the noise, and at worst I was actively doing harm where I wasn’t directly involved. What did this retweet even mean, for me? How much energy was I putting into FB conversations that went in a circle, because everyone anticipates an opposing view’s opinion and it’s so easy to copy and paste talking points? Add to that a growing feeling of being consumed as "an online presence", and I knew something had to change. Last year, I started feeling stronger about speaking out in real life, where it seems less futile for me. 

I took 17 people through my Disability in the Library course, which took 3 months worth of Saturdays and a TON of emotional energy to create and run. I was worried that I’d be left to defend my humanity and that of the entire disability community based on feedback I’d received by sharing similar issues online. I instead watched every participant become a fiery advocate for the disability community. The second I turned in my pass list for that course, I uninstalled Twitter and locked my account. While I had long ago uninstalled Facebook and only access it through Chrome, Twitter was a huge deal for me: I’d had an open account since 2009, and I’ve made many lifelong library friends and received professional opportunities due to my Twitter involvement. This way, I don’t get notifications synced to my phone, and I will no longer inadvertently cause harm by showing up I people’s feeds who don’t choose to follow my account. Doubling down on Disclaimer 1: this is what makes the most sense to me, for my life. I’ve been able to invest additional energy into the mental health of my household.

Last Monday, Caleb started a new full-time job as a packaging technician at Ecliptic Brewing, one of the only breweries in the metro area with its own packaging equipment and regularly regarded as one of the best breweries in the country. Fingers crossed, but while it’s working out I can already feel my headspace begin to expand, and I’m really excited to see what this year brings with my newly cultivated strategies on energy and mental health.

How do you ensure your individual and collective mental health long term?

Will you be at Midwinter? I’m pumped for the Symposium on the Future of Libraries! Also, I’d love to get together. Let me know!

1 comment:

  1. I love reading what you write (especially after I've met you). Your words capture your voice so beautifully!