Emotional Switches

Emotional Switches

I let myself be sad today. Which is a breakthrough of sorts. Over the years, I have flipped some emotional switches to try and stem feelings of fear and anxiety and anger. 

I know. Danger, Will Robinson.

Well, it backfired horribly, as any outsider might likely have guessed. Instead of short-circuiting the feelings I didn’t want to have, I amplified them. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but a professional could probably explain.

Anyway, not only was I still feeling scared and anxious and mad, but that was *all* I was feeling. All the time. Then I was down on myself for failing to be sufficiently happy about happy things, and that made the bad things badder too.

I knew something was wrong—even if I couldn’t put my cursor on it—when my dad and then my dog died. The grief, which I was accustomed to leaning into with past loss, didn’t seem as hard to process. It was there but not as intense as I would have reasonably expected.

It was more surreal than it was painful. 

(Kind of like when the doctor told me I had brain cancer and instead of feeling horrified, I felt vindicated. I laughed and made a joke about my dismissive doctors from my wheelchair. Justified, but, you know, not quite what 30-year-old me would have expected from her older, wiser self getting such news.)

Back to the grief though. There’s a tendency in medicine for the main diagnosis to be The Thing Which Influences All Other Things. Once upon a time that thing was fibromyalgia. Now it’s brain cancer. And because brain tumors can cause mood changes, I thought for a while that all the pent up anxiety and mounting anger was normal for someone who’d done some chemo and had some brain cells irradiated. 

And maybe it was. For a while. But long-term it stopped up my grief passage* among other things.

I know this because my mom mentioned she sold something of my dad’s this week, and I felt physically hurt in that place between my sternum and my spine. Of course my lizard brain wondered why she’d hurt me like that.

There was a giant ball of sadness in there, and I wanted it out. Posthaste.

But I have been working on myself, and I paused and thought, “Hey, this is a good time to explore the sadness instead of punching it down.”

When I held that loaf of pain** and turned it over in my hands, I realized that it was not fresh. The hunk of sadness was stale and crusty and hard. I realized I was sad because I missed my dad, not because my mom had sold a thing.

And, the point is this: in this moment I’m okay with not being okay.

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*I don’t know. What would you call it then?

**This is a brilliant metaphor if you speak French.

Emily’s Introductory Rules for New Activists

Emily’s Introductory Rules for New Activists

This post is for my friend Angela.

The more I write about activism, the more you’ll understand how loosely I use the word “rules.” But here’s something to get us all started.

1. Embrace the Discomfort

Being an activist is not easy. It requires doing things outside your comfort zone, taking a stand against powerful oppressors and oppressive systems, getting the side eye from people you love and respect, and confronting ignorance, both willful and accidental.

When these things happen and you start to lose confidence in what you’re doing, when you start thinking maybe you’re being too pushy or too bold and you’re doing yourself and your cause a disservice—please realize these feelings are signs you’re doing it right. You’re pushing for change but still able to evaluate if what you’re doing is helpful or harmful. That’s the sweet spot.

2. Reject Absolute Binary Positions

People who insist that saying Black Lives Matter means you can’t respect white lives and love indigenous people are just wrong.

When I tell my mother “I love you” my husband doesn’t pitch a fit and divorce me because suddenly I no longer love him.

I think as activists we are already sensitive to absurdities like these. But false binaries come from within social movements and organizations too. In college, for example, a fellow activist theorized that our group should discount religious organizations because they harbor oppressors and encourage “othering.”

Your allies are everywhere, and finding them in unlikely places is exhilarating. However, when we accept oversimplified narratives about very complex issues, we decrease our chances of finding them.

3. Prep for Exhaustion

Before you really dig in, I want you to prepare for the inevitable exhaustion. Being an activist can be physically exhausting or mentally exhausting or emotionally exhausting or any combination of these.

Identify the things that make you feel good and help you recharge and be ready to run to them when you need them.

My first-tier aid is music. I have a couple of playlists—one called “Empowering” that includes Shakira’s “Try Everything” and P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect.” Then I have another playlist called “Relax and Soothe” that includes songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Carrie Newcomer’s “Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go).”

Humor is another great healer. I thank God for the John Olivers and Amy Poehlers and Dave Chappelles and Bill Hickses of the world whose work keeps us woke but laughing.

Okay, there’s a lot more to cover. Stay tuned!

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