What Amy Coney Barrett Would Mean for the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett claims to be a Constitutional Originalist, which she explained as meaning she believes the Constitution should be legally interpreted in the way that the writers of the Constitution originally intended. 

For the sake of time, let’s acknowledge but not explore the fact that language and its usage changes over time, and Barrett is not a linguist or historian who focuses on late 18th century legal or political documents or language evolution. Let’s also not get into the fact that the writers of the Constitution designed it for the country they were building, not the country they could never imagine which exists now, over 250 years later. And, of course, we don’t have time to get into how many of these contributors owned slaves, even their own Black children. 

Let’s also not dwell on the well-documented hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers pushing Barrett’s nomination hearing through mere weeks before the election, despite refusing one for Merrick Garland over 200 days before the 2016 election. Or the dangers of holding these hearings when multiple committee members have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and there is little ventilation and no COVID tests on the premises.

Now then.

Barrett’s Originalist stance means that anyone who isn’t a white male who owns land should not be allowed to vote. Indeed, most of the Bill of Rights don’t apply to anyone outside of this group. It also means that Barrett believes that she herself, as a woman, should not have the right to vote. One would assume that, believing she shouldn’t have that right, she does not exercise it. Also, in 1789 women could not be judges. Therefore Barrett is living in violation of her Originalist beliefs by serving as a federal judge now. She certainly would be in violation of these by becoming a Supreme Court justice. And yet she has not refused the nomination.

It’s baffling that Barrett wants to uphold the strictest possible interpretation of the Constitution despite all the ways doing so would destroy her career.

Although, her behavior during the nomination hearing over the past three days does suggest to me that she must not want the position particularly badly. She certainly doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously. 

Let’s remember, Barrett has been nominated by the president, but it is up the Congress to decide if she is fit to serve in that position. It is the job of the Congressional Judiciary Committee to learn how she would perform in that role and if she is qualified to take it. It’s a job interview.

So why is Barrett repeatedly refusing to answer the committee members’ questions? And why does she say it would “not be appropriate” to speculate on the hypothetical legal situations they propose? Every first year law student must speculate in exactly this manner to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in applying the law to real-life situations. By refusing to speculate, Barrett is refusing to demonstrate proficiency. Law students cannot practice law or be invited to return for a second year of law school without doing so. She must be aware of this universal requirement of law students, as she herself has been a law professor at Notre Dame, which didn’t accept female students until 1972.

Barrett has been nominated to help interpret laws in the highest court in the country. She’s supposed to be doing so now as a federal judge, a position she was appointed to a scant 3 years ago, and not without complaints of misconduct from her colleagues. These hypotheticals are entirely reasonable and it’s wild that she’s just…refusing to answer. Repeatedly. If I refused to answer questions during a job interview, I wouldn’t expect to get that job. So I wonder why Barrett has bothered to show up at all. 

Someone said to me recently that they don’t actually care if Justice Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, so long as he votes on the Supreme Court in the conservative manner they want, primarily about abortion. Kavanaugh’s doing so, in their mind, will justify their voting for Trump in 2016 because of abortion, though they were deeply upset to vote that way at the time.

I have neither the time nor the energy to get into why breaking a law by assaulting another person should disqualify someone for the upholding of and interpretation of this country’s laws. Nor do I have space in this blog to discuss why doubling down on a damaging decision just to make yourself feel better is a terrible stance.

But let’s say that’s your stance too—if not about Kavanaugh then about Barrett. So long as she votes in the way you desire, against abortion for example, you don’t care if she refuses to answer questions during the hearing or claims beliefs that she clearly doesn’t live by.

What would a repeal of Roe V. Wade actually do?

As Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, wealthy women will always have a choice regarding abortion. They can pay for the plane tickets required to get them to a state of country where abortion is legal. Poor women, marginalized women will not have that choice. And that isn’t fair.

But let’s say you don’t care that it isn’t fair. You feel completely confident that you would never, under any circumstances seek an abortion for yourself or your spouse. However, you cannot guarantee that no one you love will not suffer a miscarriage. 

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s the reality. 

Imagine yourself, or your spouse or daughter or best friend, has just suffered a miscarriage. Perhaps this has really happened to you or a loved one before.

You have just endured a miscarriage. Perhaps you have had to go to the hospital for treatment because of it. But if both you and your family don’t perform grief enough, you could be accused of actually having had an abortion. And as that would be illegal with Roe V. Wade repealed, you could be arrested for it. Even if you aren’t convicted, you would be stripped from your family at a physically and emotionally devastating time and locked behind bars. Your family would be forced to scrape together enough cash for you to post bail. You would probably lose your job if your family couldn’t post bail within a day or two. And whether you are forced to stay in jail or not, it isn’t as though you will receive great physical or any mental health care during that time, the medical effects of which could last years.

If you think, “Oh that wouldn’t happen. No one would do that,” it’s happened already. 

It’s the ongoing reality for women in El Salvador

Brian Kemp’s 2019 “heartbeat bill” here in Georgia could put a woman in jail for up to 30 years for having a miscarriage.

And you know about Marshae Jones, don’t you? She was shot in the stomach, lost her unborn baby, and was charged with manslaughter. Her bond was $50,000. Most of us don’t have $50,000 laying around.

Marshae Jones didn’t shoot herself in the stomach, but she was charged as if she did. And if manslaughter is the charge with Roe v. Wade in place, what if it’s repealed?

What if a woman who doesn’t know she’s pregnant has a glass of wine, then suffers a miscarriage? Even if someone could find a doctor who’d testify that that glass of wine resulted in the miscarriage, should that accident result in prosecution? What if a woman doesn’t go to the doctor as soon as she learns she might be pregnant, and later has a miscarriage? She could be charged with reckless endangerment or manslaughter for not seeking prenatal care as soon as someone on a bench or behind a badge thinks she should. 

No one of childbearing years would be safe in a repeal of Roe V. Wade. But that’s what’s at stake with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. She may refuse to speculate on hypotheticals, but it is entirely reasonable, even necessary for you and I to do so.

There is another possibility for why Barrett may be refusing to answer questions or go one record regarding how she would rule in certain instances. She doesn’t think she has to. She may have been assured that so long as she doesn’t go on record against Roe V. Wade or the Affordable Care Act (which yes, people still want repealed even during a pandemic), she will still be confirmed. If this is the case, these hearings are shams, a going through of the motions before the GOP pushes through whoever the president has nominated. If that’s the case, the game is rigged. That’s court packing. That’s a challenge to the prestige and power of the Supreme Court and ultimately a threat to our democracy because of the ways in which SCOTUS is designed to check and balance the power of the other two branches of government.

Maybe the game is rigged. Maybe she’ll be confirmed no matter what. But we can’t let her nomination move forward in silence. Hers or ours.

My Wedding Anniversary and the Election

I’m looking at two big anniversaries. The first is my 2nd wedding anniversary, which is today. I’m considering how much our lives have changed in these two years, how the world has changed, and how much better Tyler and I know each other and love each other now than we did on our wedding day. 

Tonight, we plan to order takeout. Something nice like steak. And I’ll join my friend Claire’s Zoom book launch (for Lightbringer) for an hour, and then I’ll sit with Tyler and watch Atlanta play the Dodgers to try to reach the World Series. It isn’t the trip to Europe we’d hoped for, or a trip to the coast to see my family. It isn’t anything we could have anticipated two years ago on the beautiful day we hosted a big party and got married. And, thankfully, nothing happening today can take away that beautiful day.

The second is the election. I consider it an anniversary because four years ago, I was deeply anxious, waiting and wondering. And those of you who know me or have done a deep dive into my blog know that the results of the election sparked two months of the most intense and prolonged depression I’ve ever experienced. And at the end of that, when I started having some good days again after the new year, I reconnected with Tyler, and we started dating, and it was soon clear to each of us that we were going to get married. We dated for a little over a year before becoming engaged. We were engaged from March-October of 2018. And it’s been such a blessing and also so weird that I’ve experienced such immense personal joy alongside such immense pain in our country, such frustration and anxiety, both as a result of the president’s incompetence and in the GOP’s decision to roll over to all his whims, as well as to double down on behavior that would have been unthinkable prior to this administration.

I’ve learned so much in these years, particularly through conversations with friends and by listening to people share their stories and perspectives, especially on Twitter. 

NaNo is approaching, but for the first time since 2015, I’m not interested in participating. I’d like to keep up my streak, sure, and I have several in-progress drafts of books on my hard drive, and I’d like to finish one of them. But I feel no urgency to do so. 

Maybe it’s the pandemic. I lay awake a few nights ago, telling God how helpless I feel that so many are dying or dead or forever compromised in their health but I’m expected to attend baby dedications and weddings and go traveling. “You can wear a mask if you want,” they say. But I saw what the pastor posted about masks—lies so egregious that Facebook took the post down. I know most people won’t be wearing them because of the culture among those people. I know how unsafe that makes me, even if I’m wearing a mask.

Maybe it’s looking down the barrel of this election, surrounded by reckless disregard for others’ health interspersed with temper tantrums. I see the definition of court packing: refusing to approve 100 judicial nominations by Obama months ahead of the 2016 election but trying to shove through SCOTUS and federal judicial nominations mere days before this election. And I see the unconstitutional threats being shrugged off. 

Maybe these 4 years are just getting to me. 

I can’t make you recognize the insidious creep of fascism. I can’t make you see the pure evil of this administration. I can’t make you realize that people having to wait 11 hours to vote is voter suppression, and unheard of elsewhere in the world. I can’t make you believe that the planet is dying, that this year of wildfires and hurricanes may be the most stable of the next 100 years.

I can’t make you care about other people as much as you care about yourself, though that is God’s command. I can’t even convince you to act in your own best interest by voting for Biden, who takes suffering seriously, and who apologizes, and who is capable of doing this job, and who isn’t motivated by greed alone.

Writing is so hard right now. And feels useless. And takes brain power I have to put into my work and my advocacy. I don’t want to write 50,000 words this year, not when the world is on fire and there’s only more fire to come. I’d rather crochet some more cute animals and make some decorations for Christmas (I delved deeply into pumpkins during September and I regret nothing). 

Work has calmed down some for now, as have freelance work. The weird friend situation from a few months ago is more up in the air than I had wanted. I deeply appreciate everyone’s support and gentle advice and encouragement when I shared about it. I feel far less confused, and I need strong boundaries to keep it that way. Boundaries that also take energy to maintain. She’s trying to guilt me into expend extraordinary energy into convincing her that she’s wrong. She thinks she’s owed that because we’re friends. Or we were.

Do I want to keep writing books? Do I want to keep writing for this blog? I don’t know. This blog meant so much to me over the years, but I’m not afraid of it ending either. All things end eventually. It’s tempting to burrow and let my creativity renew itself, then let it push out in a new direction, no matter what this election will bring, and no matter what evils will be forced upon us in its aftermath. 

Crocheting something other than a scarf is already a stretch for me, and I’m enjoying it. I need to enjoy something. I need to fight despair so I can fight fascism and injustice and racism and the evils of selfishness. 

After a Few Weeks Off

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been taking a break from the blog. I didn’t announce this. I didn’t really even plan on it. I decided to take a week off of all social media, which was incredibly good for my brain, only getting on to share that week’s blog post. Then I decided to give myself a week off from the blog while still keeping my doomscrolling in check. And another week passed without my noticing. 

I kept writing down blog ideas on post-it notes, but I felt no urgency to write about them. I was very busy at work, writing freelance after work, and when I was done with all of that I didn’t want to write. With the boiling pot of the news, I didn’t think anyone would notice if I took a few weeks off. I read voraciously for a few weeks, and for the last couple of weeks I have crocheted voraciously. 

I’ve also been reconsidering, as I do periodically, the social media platforms I’m on and why I’m there. I’ve asked myself both what do I get out of that platform and what I’m contributing to it. I haven’t made any major decisions related to them, but I have decided to prioritize my mental health in two specific ways. 

1. Get Outside / Exercise
The weather is finally shy of abysmally hot and the past two weeks, I’ve spent significant time outside more days than not. And I feel good. And I want to be in the habit of those walks with Tyler, and my walks on days when he runs, when the weather grows colder and I don’t want to go out. I also want to be back in the habit of using my rowing machine.

2. Strict Social Media Boundaries 
I was pretty good of not getting on social media or checking for news until after breakfast, but the evenings were when I’d find myself doomscrolling, unable to look away as the constant cycle and the terrible on terrible events and news and theories went on and on. With Tyler’s encouragement, I started putting my phone away at least an hour before bed and kept my hands busy to spend less time on it during the weekends.

The ongoing pandemic, the coming election, and the coming of winter all herald warnings for my mental health. I wrote about it earlier this year, and it’s not as though 2020 has let up since then. 

I hope your brain is as healthy as it can be, and that you have found a few ways to take better care of yourself this year.

An Unsafe Place

I resisted joining Instagram for a long time. I was firmly entrenched on Twitter, barely active on Facebook (you may have noticed), and eventually I found myself wanting an escape, somewhere I go to scroll and take in beauty and cute photos, things that inspire me. It’s a luxury and a privilege to expect such a place, and I haven’t been able to maintain it in the way I’d hoped.

My first posts were what I considered to be artistic: a section of my favorite dress, a plate on display in the house where I was babysitting, the light falling across the floor. In time I shared pictures of my roommate’s dog. Eventually I seemed to only be sharing photos and short videos of my cat. And they made me happy. Twitter felt chaotic and every time I logged on I was confronted with important but deeply painful videos and news. So I spent my “wind down” time on IG. I followed artists and crocheters and bakeries. I shared others’ art occasionally. I started having more conversations with people in their DM’s about what they’d posted. Again, the subjects were usually cat photos, and this place remained safe and uncomplicated for me. 

Someone followed me on IG who I had had a conflict with. His wife and I worked it out by phone, but she’d let slip that at some point her husband had felt some kind of attraction toward me, which is why he’d reacted the way he had, and why these new rules for communication they were implementing only applied to me. Despite several attempts, I was never comfortable around him again, and my husband and I decided to withdraw from him, and necessarily from his wife too. I didn’t respond when he would message me on Facebook or comment on my Instagram posts, which for a while was weekly. One day, he commented on a picture of my cat on Instagram, asking whose side of the bed the cat was laying on. From anyone else, that question would have been weird, and I probably wouldn’t have answered it, but from him it made me very uncomfortable. 

I shared a screen shot of it with Tyler, and he also found it very weird, which confirmed that I wasn’t just extra sensitive because this person was the one asking. But it was this person, and I was no longer comfortable simply ignoring him. I was no longer comfortable knowing he could see what I posted—anything that I posted. This was my platform, and I had the right to use it as I wished and to try to keep myself safe on it. So I used security features to limit what he could see of my IG posts and made him unable to contact me through that app. I set a reminder for myself, and two weeks later I unfriended him on Facebook and blocked him on Instagram altogether. I didn’t want it to look like I was responding to that comment, but I was. I didn’t want him to notice when I cut all contact with him. I dreaded getting a new message or text from him or his wife. But I didn’t. In time, I felt comfortable there again.

Eventually, I became freer about the number of cat videos, and also the depth in which I engaged on IG. There were also lots of cats to discuss. An old friend who I hadn’t spoken to in years commented on a photo of a book cover, thanking me for the recommendation. An acquaintance from years ago started liking my posts regularly and checked in with me when the pandemic reached the US. It’s one of the ways I checked in with friends, too, especially those who live alone in other cities. Recently, I started sharing social justice resources and  quotes in my stories. 

On Blackout Tuesday, a friend responded to a Black author’s post, which I’d shared on my IG stories. She wasn’t the only one who contacted me about that post, but this conversation became the only conversation. Over the course of the next several days, it grew dicey, strained, accusatory. I felt dumped upon and judged. I felt taken advantage of. I felt confused and bewildered by her accusations and insistence that she has another opinion without actually telling me what that opinion is. I listened to her share those opinions in a bewildering and draining 3-hour-long phone call. Scrolling through Instagram afterward, I was now aware that this person was watching me, watching what I posted, and my safe place no longer felt safe.

I continued to post about social justice in the way I had before, interspersed with quite a few cat pictures and videos. I was reading more than usual, news was more pervasive and insidious, so there was an uptick in the heavy content I was sharing. But before I posted anything, I analyzed why I was doing it. Was I trying to share my feelings, to put knowledge and my emotions about it out in the world, or was I hoping one person in particular would see it? I felt her presence on all my social media, since she follows me everywhere, but I told myself I was overreacting. She wasn’t paying special attention. It was silly and paranoid and maybe self-centered of me to think so. I was careful to carry on with clear motives, not to direct anything at her. I figured everything would be weird for a while, but eventually it’d relax some. And maybe once it was safe to meet up, we could have an actual conversation about this. 

Late one night, I posted photos of several pages from Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, including two about the racist “Southern strategy” that helped elect Nixon. I highlighted sections of the page. In the same color I’d used to highlight about Nixon, I wrote “Bastards.” I questioned for a moment whether I should include the s. I didn’t want to call everyone who voted for him a bastard. The campaign had used decades of prejudice and racism to fool many voters. This strategy is employed now as well, and I know I was fooled by it while growing up and in my early twenties. Seeing it explained on that page filled me with anger and embarrassment. I’d believed an old lie, engineered to fool me, and it had worked. Lots of people were responsible for that, and for the election of Nixon and Reagan and the racist policies they enacted. The s on bastards felt appropriate. To a lesser degree, I was calling myself that too. 

The friend I’d been in conflict with commented on that post to my stories the next day, clearly angry. Essentially, she said, “Watch who you’re calling a bastard. Racists are bastards and that’s not me.” 

I wasn’t speaking to her in that post. She wasn’t alive to have been in the group specifically mentioned, even if she did identify herself in a way that connected with those groups. 

The last I had spoken to her, I had accused her of lying to me for two years about why one of her friendships had ended. I felt sure that these beliefs of hers were the reason, not the theological point she’d claimed. And though it still makes more sense to me than what she says happened, I apologized when she denied it. She pushed, laid on the guilt. I apologized again. She wanted to know why I was reacting this way, poured on the loving phrases, and invited me to open up to her about my vulnerabilities. I accused her emotionally manipulating me. She refused to acknowledge my accusation. I told her I wouldn’t be sharing my feelings with her because it did not feel safe to do so. And here she was in my Instagram DM’s two days later, furious at how I was sharing my feelings on my own platform.

I didn’t intend to hurt her, and so many Black people were hurt by Nixon’s policies that I didn’t think her anger at me was justified. After all, I had not directed this at her. She was making connections I didn’t intend and trying to brow beat me about it. 

I was ticked. I wanted to shout in all caps at her. I wanted to call her and curse her out on voicemail. But I needed to slow down, to not simply react. Social justice, which she doesn’t believe in, is a long fight. I didn’t want to react out of my first emotions. I didn’t want to cut myself off from her because we had been good friends for many years. I’m white and talking to a white friend who initiated a conversation with me about racism. I felt it was my responsibility to continue, or at least not to cut myself off. I didn’t want to say something harsh and sever all ties. If I needed to take that step, it should be a sober-minded one.

When she read my angry posts before, she knew they couldn’t be directed at her because she’d hidden her true beliefs from me. She wondered aloud during our phone call if my anger shared on social media would have been tempered had I known about her beliefs. Now she knew the answer to her question was, “No,” and it was difficult for her. She took my posts personally, and she lashed out at me.

After some counsel from my best friend, who knew about the situation, I responded, clarifying who I was calling a bastard, but not apologizing. I assured her that none of my posts are directed at her, but I wouldn’t restrict myself for her comfort either. She demanded to know if I thought she’d been duped by this racist policy if she had ever voted for a Republican. I considered myself a Republican until 2015 or so. I’m slow to change my label; My growth to the person I am now was slow, and the result of many years of listening and learning and questioning myself. So I pointed out that I have voted Republican in the past, and I told her that we should all ask ourselves if we’ve been duped by such a policy. Then I flipped my phone over and didn’t touch it again for an hour. 

When I did, I looked only at my text messages. Nothing from my husband, one thing from a friend, but it didn’t require a reply. I flipped my phone back over and when back to work. And when I wanted a break, to mindless scroll for a few minutes, I clicked on the IG app without thinking, saw the DM notification, and exited the app again. I flipped my phone back over on my desk. After another hour, I finally let myself read her response.

She implied my using of “bastards” was un-Christlike, and maybe it is. Would she have objected if I’d said “brood of vipers” instead of a more modern word with the same understanding? She seemed to feel morally superior for not ever calling anyone else names on social media, and she reprimanded me for doing so. I told her I’d consider her words, but that she had no right to chide me, considering no one on her social media actually knows what she thinks. I have been open and honest about my beliefs on my platform. And anyone can mute or unfollow me at any time.

I asked for an apology. She refused to acknowledge my request.

In the weeks of this conflict, I’d gotten into a dark place, obsessing over our discussions, her haphazardly applied logic, her application of extremes only to views she opposed, her terror of words like “Marxism” and distain for words like “intersectionality” without a nuanced understanding of them. And I obsessed over her dishonesty, her deliberately keeping this from me and from everyone for at least 4 years (by her admission).

I recalled times in our friendship, and in that past week, when I’d said “I feel this way because of what you said,” then had her say “If I made you feel that way I’m sorry.” The “if” felt insidious. I questioned her motivations over those years. I questioned why she had told me, again and again, of the ways she’d “wept” and “cried and cried and cried” related to one of our discussions. I questioned if my feelings were valid and reasonable. I questioned what I had let happen to my time and my brain. I questioned her motivations and the truthfulness of every story she’d ever told me and every time she effused honeyed sentiments about how much she loves and cares for me as her friend.

Hear again: I wondered if I was being reasonable. I wondered if my feelings were valid.

These are symptoms of gaslighting.

I reached out to a close friend, who was alarmed by my questioning of reality. Another assured me that no conversations I had with this friend would change her mind (especially since she’d been reading my social media posts for years), and it was okay to draw new boundaries on our relationship or to reinstate old ones. A third friend read my screenshots of the conversation and called her abusive, then encouraged me to cut all ties. My husband encouraged me not to dismiss my feelings, those of unease as well as those of friendship.

Slowly, I considered how many times in the 8 years of our friendships that this person had emotionally manipulated me, then denied it. How she’d clung to me for support, and how I’d instinctively shied away from sharing my vulnerabilities with her. How the amount of attention or sympathy I gave her was so often not enough to satisfy her. I recalled her dramatic appeals to our friendship and her monologues of love for me, and how they’d all obviously been shared to ensure my compliance. I recounted all the times I ended up apologizing for something she had initiated, and how graciously she accepted those apologies and power from me. I googled “emotional manipulation” and counted the number of signs she had displayed in the last two weeks, and how many more had been true over the course of our friendship.

In bed that night, not sleeping, I considered all the time I’d spent on this topic I don’t believe in. How long I’d spent reading her messages, researching and forming arguments, talking things over with Tyler, and crafting replies. Whatever else was happening with her, I didn’t want to devote that much time to it anymore. I hadn’t wanted to devote that much time to it to start with. I hadn’t felt I had a choice. Not if we were friends. Not when she was putting direct questions to me. Not when she was declaring this a necessary function of our friendship. Not when she was obviously intent on changing my mind despite her insistence that she only wants me to understand her position.

I didn’t feel I had a choice. But I know I do.

I wanted my brain back. I wanted me attention span back. I wanted to get back to writing elected officials and learning about racism and donating to charities. I wanted free time again. I wanted to be able to talk about anything else with my husband. I wanted the constant buzzing in my head to subside and the numbness in my chest and sleeplessness to go away. These are symptoms of depression, and I’ve experienced them before.

For my mental health, I knew I needed to stop obsessing. Which meant I needed distance. So I told her I needed to stop engaging with her about this. I admitted I had been in a dark place and this was best for me. She sent one more message, full of distain. Maybe she read mine that way. But I found it strange that she had no friendly concerns for my mental health now, no effusions of care and love.

I didn’t trust my interpretations, so a few paragraphs in, I handed the phone to Tyler. He read the whole email, and encouraged me to respond in as few words as possible. Once I’d also read the whole email, we talked about the lack of nuanced discussion, her frustrated tone, her lack of expressed concern for my well-being, and her attempt to prove she wasn’t racist because of the actions of her grandfather. I know she’d never say that his salvation could save her by familial association, and I wondered why she didn’t apply that to racism either. I particularly noted her use of the word “loving” to describe her grandfather’s snarky reaction to a racist person. Tyler and I decided on the two most personal and egregious claims, and I responded to those two in the lightest tone I could manage and the fewest words. Then I lay my phone, screen down, on the table. And I didn’t pick it up until morning.

The next few days, I remained jumpy and uncomfortable. I dreaded DM notifications on all my social media. My heart started racing at texts. And none came from her. I questioned again if I was being reasonable.

A few days later, I texted her a photo of my new kitten, trying to indicate that I wasn’t giving up on our friendship for good. I was also testing if she’d respect the boundary I’d put in place. She responded as she might have two months ago, talking about how cute the kitten is. Then I learned she was at a party. During a pandemic.

I didn’t ask any questions about masks or social distancing. It didn’t feel worth it. She’s a libertarian, prides herself on being “counter-cultural,” and bucks at what she thinks is people or the state trying to control people. I only learned about these beliefs few months ago, when Georgia began to reopen. She had insisted to me at that time that people would make good choices for public health once they weren’t being controlled by the government. And she was at a party.

I wondered again if I wanted to stay friends with her. 

I ordered the book Emotional Blackmail. 

I celebrated Juneteeth with donations and books by Black authors.

I sent another mask to my grandmother.

Now I’m the one hiding things from her. Like this post. And the depth of my distrust.

We are barely speaking, and all my social media feels unsafe to share my honest thoughts. I’m fighting to keep behaving as I want to on my platforms.

I’m fighting to keep this blog safe and mine.

I’m trying to do right by her, and feeling confused as to what that means.

I’m wondering if the only way I won’t feel her shadow is to block her everywhere.

I’m wondering if I’m being reasonable.

I’m still deciding.

I’m still deciding.

A Good Few Weeks

I had to return to working in the office full-time on Friday, the day after Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expired. 

For Tyler and I, those weeks where we both worked from home were dear and kind. Talking with my grandmother on the phone one night, she warned me that this kind of experience, especially being stuck in the house together for such an extended period, would be a trial on our marriage. But for us, it hasn’t been. Or for me it hasn’t been. I’ve had bad days. So has did he. But mostly we’ve had closeness, and cat gifs, and cat cuddles, and conversation. Sharing. 

We got used to watching Good Eats and Friends together during lunch, laughing and not wanting to turn it off and go back to our desks. We were spoiled by our ability to get up, brush our teeth, and walk to “work” in a few seconds. We’ve cuddled in the mornings more. We’ve fallen asleep together on the couch in the evenings more. We encourage each others’ hobbies with a presence and attention we usually don’t offer. He’d open the blinds in the morning in every room of the house and I’d shut them at the end of the day. Around 11:30, one of us would ask the other what we want for lunch, and we’d fix it together and work on the dishes afterward.

A good, good few weeks. 

And all of this against the background of anxiety, stress, and the horrors of a society and healthcare system increasingly strained, friends increasingly isolated, friends and friends of friends learning they’d tested positive. People are losing their jobs, their hope. People are losing their family members and not even being able to hug their loved ones for comfort.

Tyler and I are well aware that we’re in an ideal situation. We’ve recently moved into our first home, one in good shape, and we have a cat but no children yet. We could still have a work-life balance because life didn’t need to cross over into work and our work didn’t meaningfully disrupt our lives. I don’t know how people are coping without pets. I can’t imagine being without ours, for comfort and cuddles and warmth and liveliness and cuteness and the sparks of laughter throughout the day.

I had sunlight and sweatpants and didn’t wear a bra or shoes for a week or more at a time. I miss all of that dearly now. Now, I’m in a windowless box. My own office, decorated with a few paintings and some Funko Pop figures. Arranged for ease of flow. But there is no window. The florescent lights overhead are grating and flicker when I turn them on, so I’m making do with lamps instead. 

My first day back in the office, I left with a massive headache I couldn’t shake until Saturday evening. I was utterly miserable, and felt like my work life had stolen something from my home life. I had bad headaches a few times while quarantined, but could take naps during the day and work later so that I didn’t have to take sick time and slow production during one of our busiest times of the year. This is no longer an option.

For all the brightness and warmth I had while working from home—when my job was very busy but my satisfaction was so high—I feel the void now. And, because Bibb County is expecting a surge, and because so many of my coworkers are at high risk or live with someone who is, I wear a mask when I leave my office. And when I’m in my office, I close the door so I can take the mask off while maintaining control of this space, its air, who enters. 

Now Tyler and I are isolated from each other as well as other people during the day, so we’re trying to connect in the same ways we we are with those outside our home, with gifs and texts and emails. And I’m still only available to my coworkers by email or phone, just as I was when working from home.

When I get home after work, I wash my hands thoroughly, clean my phone with Lysol wipes, and set aside my mask to dry out for three days or, if it’s cloth, throw it in the wash to start on hot water, then wash my hands again. 

Forty more minutes of my day spent driving, Fifteen minutes more preparing my appearance. Fifteen minutes more preparing my food and drink for the day. Countless minutes considering where and how to move so that I don’t infect a coworker, don’t infect myself. Every day is so full of anxieties I didn’t have to worry about when I worked from home. I often focus on those inconveniences, small but needless, or the litany of injustices evident in this entire pandemic so I can pretend I’m not terrified I’ll kill my husband by a thoughtless touch of my hand to my nose during the day or an insufficiently cleaned surface upon returning home. 

I’m the one leaving the safety of our isolation every single workday. If one of us gets sick, it’s almost certainly going to be through me. I try to avoid saying “because of me,” since I know I wouldn’t be in this building if there was any alternative that let me keep my job.

I’ve mostly managed to stop planning our hospital go-bags, trying to decide what the last straw would be before taking Tyler to the ER, how I’d need to sell the house after losing him, what it would be like to have to endure the rest of the pandemic alone without him or a single hug. These thoughts spark an anxiety spiral. I mostly manage to avoid it.

I mostly manage. I’m mostly managing. 

Which is all any of us are doing.

We’re managing as well as we can. 

Craving Simplicity

One of my big takeaways from Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig, which I talked about a little in January, is that our minds crave simplicity. Perhaps this isn’t universal, but in the chaotic and constant bombardment of ads, information, and opinions available to us, I find this to be true for me. Clean lines, fewer items, and a tidy environment are ways simplicity benefits me. And simplicity is also one of my goals in taking care of my mental health. 

When on the way out the door one morning, I pulled open the pantry doors to grab my lunch box. But something was amiss. The reusable grocery bags, all stuffed down inside each other, weren’t sitting neatly in their place, but knocked aside and lumpy. Upon closer inspection, I found that two gallon-size jugs of water were half pushed into same space as the grocery bags, and they had each leaked onto the floor. 

Simplicity allows me focus my attention elsewhere until there’s a problem. Then it’s a lot easier to see when there’s a problem. 

I had some minor but annoying health troubles this month, and I let myself sort of get back to basics in the way I’m physically caring for myself. I had to keep up with meds and call pharmacies and make more and more appointments. So when those things weren’t going on, I relished just being able to focus on 3 simple basics: food, water, and sleep. I decided that if I’m taking care of myself in these three areas, problems will be easier to deal with. 

Of course, within these 3 basics are a host of related possibilities and issues, many of them tied together with my mental health. Matt Haig makes the point in his book that our bodies are not machines housing our minds, but intimately connected to how we experience and process and respond to the world. 

And, when I feel rundown and unmotivated, when work is a struggle and so is getting out of bed, I turn to these three points with some questions.

  • Am I eating vegetables? (I had some last night! Before that…a few days.) 
  • Am I drinking enough water? (No.) 
  • Am I sacrificing sleep for something I can control? (Yes.) 
  • How can I eat better? (Cook regularly with Tyler.)
  • How can I drink more water? (Set reminders.)
  • How can I sleep better? (Replace reading on my phone before bed with reading a physical book.) 

I once had brunch with a friend and her two roommates, all three of whom were in medical school. When one of them announced she had a headache, they cheerfully diagnosed the possible reasons for it (dehydration, hunger, lack of sleep, lack of caffeine) and recommended by consensus the treatment that would address the most possibilities and therefore most likely lead to relief (coffee; we would be eating soon anyway). 

I found this conversation fascinating, in part because I was hearing them do out loud about a headache what they would soon be doing as doctors: diagnosing and prescribing treatment. Also, they loved it. All three of them were enthusiastic about getting to the bottom of things, solving the mystery and righting the ship. And my friend with the headache, who might have done all this diagnosis work by herself, was open to the questions and feedback and suggestions of her friends. Finally, I was enthralled because the causes of a complaint I so often have myself were so basic: food, water, sleep. (And, for them, a 4th possibility based on the substance they were all addicted to: caffeine.) 

My headaches are often do to dehydration or lack of sleep. Just knowing that helps tremendously. If I’m taking care of myself in those ways, when I get a migraine as a result of a change in barometric pressure or allergies, I don’t waste time trying to rule out the three simplest causes with treatments that won’t work.

Which isn’t to say I do this perfectly. I don’t always do it well. But it is a helpful strategy and another way simplicity can help me. 

Therapy in an Election Year

I’m personally of the opinion that every single person could benefit from therapy at just about any point in their life. The trouble is, we wait until we’re basically having an emotional heart attack before we decide our pain or difficulty is bad enough to try therapy, before we decide that understanding why we respond to stressful situations the way we do is a worthwhile pursuit, before we’re willing to be vulnerable with a trained professional in order to become a healthier person for the people we love and ourselves. 

In 2014, I lost 8 people in my life in one year. And I mean they died. They didn’t all leave me by a combination of moving and dying and ghosting. They died. I hadn’t seen some of them in years, but all of their deaths affected me, and because so many came in such a relatively short period of time, I didn’t really deal with them. This was on top of moving to a new city and starting a new job the year before. I pushed them all down, compacting my grief for each person until it was all one huge boulder. I didn’t feel like I could engage safely with any one person’s death without feeling the full, devastating effects of all of their deaths. I kept this up for about six additional months, until my aunt died suddenly. I learned of it an hour before I had to leave for the airport for a week-long work trip. This was the same week as the sentencing for the two men who murdered my childhood nemesis. It was, in short, one of the worst weeks of my life. 

I had to push down my grief to function. I remember crying late at night, pacing in the hotel  bathroom while my coworker, who I shared a room with, slept.  Also in that tiny bathroom, after a 13 hour day on my feet being nice and helpful to customers and connecting with potential authors and not crying, I couldn’t sleep. So I wrote draft after draft of letters to the sentencing judge, sharing beloved memories of my nemesis, until I dropped into bed, exhausted in every way. I felt like I would never be able to accept my aunt’s death if I didn’t get to see her casket, so I called and adjusted to have my flight home moved up a day so I could go to the burial. I missed her actual funeral, but on Saturday I managed to be there with my family for her burial. 

When I finally got back to town and my usual routine, I wasn’t okay. I lived inches from tears. I felt exhausted all the time. My grief was immutable and huge and impossible. And I felt like I was bleeding from a thousand pricks in my heart every day. In this highly alarming state, I looked up the number for the only counseling service I knew of, the one where a friend had gone to therapy after ending a bad relationship and where a couple I knew had gone to premarital counseling. Simply telling the receptionist that I needed grief counseling, and no, I didn’t have anyone specific in mind, and yes that day would work, knocked apart my composure. I cried throughout this short exchange, heartily embarrassed, and continued crying for another five minutes until I managed to pull myself back together enough to get out of my car and go back to work.

I scoured the counseling center’s website for instructions. I used Google maps’ street view to figure out exactly where I’d be going. A couple days before my appointment, I physically drove to the center and circled the parking lot so I’d see where I’d be, where I’d park, where the door was. And then I got off work early, citing a doctor’s appointment, and went inside.

I’d been to counseling before. As a child, I had one particularly hard and miserable year. My parents were worried there might be more to my pain than the bullying, and were concerned they weren’t doing enough to help me cope, so I had 4 sessions with a licensed child psychologist in a room at my pediatrician’s office. I remember one session where he let me just tell him all the things I was interested in and excited about, including Hua Mei, the panda recently born at the San Diego Zoo. A person who just listened the whole time and engaged with what I liked and didn’t judge or tease me was wonderful, and absolutely not what I was getting at school. 

I think, in these 4 sessions, my parents were getting a second opinion by a professional about how I was doing during a miserable year. And, perhaps because of that early introduction and how he’d reassured my mother that yes, I was well adjusted, and yes, she and my dad were supporting me in the ways I needed, as an adult I didn’t feel much of the stigma seeking out therapy that many others feel. Still, my grief was hemorrhaging before I admitted to myself that I needed counseling, and then made time for it. 

I’ve since described therapy as calling in the fire department. Maybe you just smell smoke, and you want to be sure things don’t get out of hand. More often, your house is on fire and you know it and you’ve been running the garden hose for hours already, thinking you can muscle through it by yourself without the neighbors noticing. But even if you could, why would you? Cost of therapy and access are real concerns, disproportionately limiting low-income people of color from health care services. But when the cost of a few sessions is not limiting, this is what fire fighters and therapists are trained to do. Why not go?

There’s no dishonor is needing some professional guidance to search out and put out any fires. Because really—and here’s where my metaphor breaks down—you’re doing all the work anyway. No therapist can change your life just by talking at you, or by listening. You do that. And if you’re doing all the work yourself anyway, why not get a professional to help point out the hot spots and help you adjust your grip on the hoses so your arms don’t grow too weak?

I friend recently tweeted that he’s gone ahead and scheduled his counseling sessions for the rest of 2020, including extra sessions around the election. He isn’t the only person who anticipates needing them, and I’m not waiting around to see if my social media boundaries will help preserve my mental health. I’m planning for regular mental health check-ups and check-ins right now.

2020 is a great year for us to do so together. 

If you’d like some more information on starting therapy, I liked this article from NPR, and it’s assorted links to resources.

Mental Health in an Election Year

I’ve been thinking about what I want to get out of 2020 and what steps I need to take now to protect my mental health this year. The previous election sparked massive anxiety for me, followed by 3 months of depression. I don’t want to go there again, and I know that means I need to take care of myself in advance of, and particularly during the election cycle. I also don’t want to make plans and set goals and then be knocked back by depression or anxiety, leaving this year on a personal sour note, whatever the result of the election might be. 

One of the ways I’ve chosen to focus on my health, mental and physical, this year is to read more about how my body works. I started with Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig, which focuses on how social media and the internet at large can contribute to mental health problems. I listened to the book on my commutes to and from work, which gave me short snatches of information followed by a lot of time in between to think about what I’d heard. In the week or so since I finished the book, I’ve considered how I need to implement changes to avoid the problems Haig relates. 

First, I locked my Twitter account (made it private). No, my latest witty tweet probably won’t go viral. But I’m also harder for trolls and bots to find, which is a daily pay off. I’ve also made a list of the close friends who I want to keep up with on that platform. If I’m having a bad day, or a lot is happening in the world that could be bad for my mental health, I can go to just that list. It’s quieter. It’s softer. Kinder. I need to stay informed and lean into the acts of activism I can do for positive change in the world, but I don’t have to stay plugged into the Matrix all the time. In fact, it’s very bad for me to do so. And not just me. Notes on a Nervous Planet helped me understand the widespread affects on that constant background buzz, that blitz of noise and opinions and trauma and demands and just…input. Biologically, we aren’t built to deal with that amount of input on a daily basis. Not just daily but, if marketers and influencers and tech innovators had their way, constantly. 

I’ve started staying off social media (and thus, most of the internet) on the weekends. Instead, I focus on where I am, who I’m with, and push back the constant stream for a couple of days. I need to get better about this, because I still find myself mindlessly scrolling through feeds when I don’t have other things going on. As Matt Haig pointed out in his book, the things that often feel good in the short term are usually bad for us in the long term. And scrolling through my social media feels is one of those. So I’m working on training myself not to go to my social media feeds for entertainment in those mindless moments. When I open Twitter or Insta or Facebook, I should do so intentionally. On purpose. Consciously. And when I’m bored, or trying to fill a moment or distract myself, I should crochet or bullet journal or read or play a game (like Stardew Valley) instead. It’s also important to me that I don’t lose my ability to just sit, to just be.  

To help ensure that I don’t succumb to the siren’s song of social media, I’ve limited my alerts and got rid of all social media push notifications. I may miss a few Facebook birthdays or a DM for a day or two, but overall it’s better for me to have a break and not be hounded by all the apps that can make me nervous, anxious, dissatisfied, and depressed. 

This year, I want to watch fewer Hallmark movies and write more of my own stories. I want to craft more. I expect I won’t read as much as I did last year, but I do plan to read more intentionally (about health) and more diversely (at least 50% of the authors I read). And I plan to create an amazing farm in Stardew Valley (named for my grandparents, who had a little hobby farm when I was growing up). 

I’m under a writing deadline at the moment and courting another (still seeking rejections!). It’s possible I may be writing on the blog less often this year. If I make any intentional choices to that effect, I’ll share them here. 

My time, like everyone’s, is precious and finite. I want to be more intentional about how I’m spending it. Which isn’t to say that I need to be more productive. Idleness is vital to the mind and to creativity. But I do want to be intentional. And in the swirl and chaos and noise of the election cycle, that’s so valuable to my mental health.

Welcome 2020

I’ve been seeing a lot of people—friends and strangers—recapping their decade. Initially, I dismissed the idea as too broad. So much has changed for me this year, it initially felt impossible to even consider those of the past decade. But over the past week or so, I have been able to pin down a few of those changes, and I want to record and share them.

In 2010, I was a junior and senior at Georgia Southern, and I’d already met my now husband though we didn’t date for the first 6 years or so. I was studying writing and history. Now I work in publishing as an editorial associate and I’ve drafted 3 novels, all of which are under revision.

As a student, I looked forward to breaks when I could read a couple of books for fun, mostly YA fantasy. I’d recently discovered audiobooks and borrowed YA romances from my hometown library. This year, I read 130 books, mostly adult romance, including 31 audiobooks. 

My best friend in 2010 is still my friend now, though the rest of my friend group has changed quite a bit. I moved more times than I can count, but have lived the last 7 years in Macon, Georgia. I listen to different music. I no longer watch Glee or Doctor Who, but The Good Place and The Curse of Oak Island. Another Star Wars trilogy has come and gone. (So has Carrie Fisher.) I jokingly complain that work gets in the way of my life just as I used to complain that school did so.

My grandfather died the first day of classes of my senior year of college, a Monday in mid-August, 2010. Since then, I’ve lost my grandmother, two great-aunts, one great-uncle, my baby cousin, and a number of other, more distant relatives and friends. I still wish I could call my Papa, especially on autumn days when the red leaves are falling past my window. We just passed the first anniversary of my baby cousin’s death. Lying in his coffin, his long neck and long limbs and grey suit reminded me so much of my last image of my grandfather, in his coffin and suit. And above my baby cousin, the spray was full of the same flowers that’d been in my bouquet a month earlier.

The world is a lot different than I thought it was 10 years ago. Aside from the trends and technologies we’ve all experienced, I now realize that, as a college student, I didn’t understand some core-deep realities of the world and this country related to racism, cruelty, and money. My adulthood has begun to teach me about those upsetting and unsettling realities, and how widely they hurt people. 

Growing up, my mom would avoid reading and watching things that made her sad. She said life is sad enough without seeking out that sadness in entertainment too. She wanted to escape. I didn’t understand that feeling 10 years ago, but I intimately do today. 

My faith has changed greatly, both in my daily practice and in my specific beliefs. I no longer consider myself a Southern Baptist, and am unsure that Baptist best fits my theology at all. My knowledge of the Bible and theology has increased greatly, and my mind and compassion has expanded with these concepts as well. How I embody my faith, how I present it to the world, has also changed. 

Although I long suspected that my level of stress and dread ahead of social situations and changed plans was unusual, during this past decade I realized those struggles are symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Knowing this has helped me manage my anxiety, but it still makes an unexpected dinner with friends and especially large get-togethers with my husband’s family deeply difficult, even painful. I give myself grace to not be my best self right away. I do my best to show up, even if I’m uncomfortable the whole time and exhausted when it’s over. And, honestly, having Tyler with me when we travel or go to socially demanding situations helps my anxiety tremendously. 

I’ve had depression. 

I am, generally, angrier than I was 10 years ago, but I also think I’m a better person. I’m rarely angry for myself, but for the abundance of pain around me. And, with social media (which I was sparsely using as the decade dawned), so much more pain feels near.

The last ten years have been, largely, very happy ones for me. I experienced and gave a tremendous amount of love. I visited Egypt and Key West and Germany and Wales, lived for a while in Manchester, England, became an Atlanta United and Braves fan. I learned to crochet. I became a hot chocolate snob. I went to counseling through three different periods, and I wish I’d gone more often than that. 

Despite allowing myself to look back and be proud of myself for what’s transpired over the past decade, I don’t want to look forward another ten years and speculate. Doing so makes my feel anxious, but I also don’t want to anticipate an entire decade’s worth of experiences. I can’t. So much will be surprising and unexpected, though perhaps not in the broad strokes that the 2010’s brought to me. Instead, I’m looking just at the year ahead of me.

I want to write.
I want to manage my anxiety better.
I want to exercise regularly.
I want to more intentionally support my husband and family.
I want to look forward to my work.

Unlike in past years, I don’t have a single word to help encapsulate those desires. Perhaps I’ll still find one. In any case, welcome 2020

A Good Book on a Bad Day

I had both a very good weekend and a very tough one. Saturday was wonderful. Sunday was hard

Saturday I met a friend at B&N and spent hours shopping and chatting with her. That night, she and another friend came over and we all had pizza and hung out with Tara (the cat) during a thunderstorm and watched some baseball. Sunday, I slept poorly and felt drained. When I got up, I did so out of obligation to Tara, who doesn’t know when it’s the weekend and who I knew would be hungry. Very quickly, my beloved cat got overexcited and scratched me. I went inside for a few minutes to clean the scratch and eat something and reset my attitude, then went back out with her for over an hour. I didn’t want to. I felt so weighed down already, but it wasn’t her fault and I needed to play with her very intentionally. About an hour later, while she tried to keep me from going back inside, she hurt me again. This time I was done. I felt the house of cards in my brain collapse and I chose to collapse with it.

I changed clothes and got back in bed, where Tyler was just waking up. I started crying, and he stayed with me and talked with me, but I was done with the entire day. I stayed in bed or in our big armchair the rest of the day. I didn’t go anywhere I’d intended. I didn’t do anything I’d intended. Living inside my own head felt awful. So I wrapped up in blankets and read, and let my brain and body recover. My phone was upsetting me, so I left it in the bedroom and didn’t look at it from noon until 8:30. Any emergencies could come through Tyler. I let Tyler feed me whatever he came up with and I let him handle all the necessary chores and entertaining Tara. I didn’t avoid her, and I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me—she’s learning. I fed her both of her remaining meals and spent some time with her in the evening when I was feeling better. It was just a bad mental health day. Made even worse because the day before had been so good.

Looking back at my calendar, I see the warning signs. I haven’t had a weekend “off” like this one since June, and I spent it packing for a work trip and packing our apartment. I haven’t truly had a day at home to just stay in and rest since May. A good friend said some hurtful things that took some of the joy out of getting Tara. One of my very good friends is moving away, and Friday was her last day at work. Tyler had to go on a work trip at the beginning of the week, requiring me to single parent the kitten. I’m also living in a new house, with unpacked boxes in every room. My office and desk are still a dumping ground for misc items that don’t have a home yet. 

But let me tell you about the book I read Sunday. Evvie Drake Starts Over is about two people putting their lives back together after all their plans and hopes disintegrated. It’s so soothing, with a steady but lingering pace, and a slow burn romance set behind the main action. It was absolutely the perfect book for me to read on a cloudy mental health day, and it’s the perfect book for a cloudy day spent inside. I’ve already passed it on to a friend.

Yesterday was much better. I had lunch with some friends and someone in my life got really great news. The overcast days make me dream of fall and pies and Tyler’s and my first anniversary. I really needed a day of utter rest, and now that my brain is better, I’m glad I had it.