Category Archives: Change

Honor Your Pain – Then Set it Free

I am writing today with a heavy heart. My beautiful California is burning.

This article is not about politics or environmentalism, these are covered elsewhere. I want to talk about pain and grief, about loss, not just of these precious forests, but identity and heritage, and the need to mourn.

I am a native Northern Californian with a long history in San Francisco so I have been up and down the North Coast all my life. There is nowhere I feel more alive than in the mountains and trees. My pulse skips a beat when I touch the bark of a living thing that can be 2,000 years old. These are our antiquities, our pyramids, our castles, and they are here in my backyard. They are part of me, as surely as the Pacific and the cable cars. I am proud of our woods and forests.

Redwood Eureka

Choking on smoke in my home, knowing that some of my friends are evacuating and waiting to hear if they are ok is heartbreaking. Big Basin is burned, no idea yet about the ancient trees there. So much more; too much to list here.

Everyone has a touchstone, something they feel deeply about. It could be your place of birth, something built by your distant ancestors or a particular animal you associate with your home. It is anything that fills you with some pride, peace, memories, something that embraces your heart.

If that thing is taken from you, if it is destroyed in some way, it can hurt very deeply. It can cut to the core of who you are, and it can indeed cause you to grieve. That is human, it is a human reaction.

And it is legitimate.

Redwoods sea
Take a moment and breathe. Just breathe.

As of this writing, 174,290 people have died in the U.S. from Covid-19, according to John Hopkins. They leave behind family, friends, children, people who love them, rely on them, children who are now orphans, scared, and alone. I can’t even conceive of this pain and the bills that go with it.

Chris and I are healthy, our families are healthy, we are holding on just fine. We are not directly affected by the fires other than the smoke. The likelihood that it will his San Francisco is near 0. (I’m not going to tempt 2020.) But that doesn’t mean the pain of watching the state I love, the parks where I’ve spent so much time, the trees I hold as part of my identity isn’t real or less than.

All of our pain and losses can easily be measured against a greater pain, most of the time. My grief is less than a corona virus death. Worry about rent is less than being homeless. Being homeless is less than living in a war zone, terrified every moment, every time there’s the whistle of a bomb, with no idea where it will land. Compared to that, our day to day problems are small.

“People have it worse than you.”

Please stop saying that. It’s hurtful, scolding, self-righteous drivel that helps no one and can do damage. We are all doing the best we can, and we all face hard times. We need to hear soft things if possible, just “I care, I’m here for you, that’s awful.” Later, time can be spent trying to figure things out, fix them or come to peace that there is nothing you can do about it, and try to let it go, try to find comfort whatever that means to you.

Buddha

As of this writing, there are 174,290 people dead, leaving families to mourn in a way that I can’t begin to understand. So in that respect, “some people have it worse” is objectively true, and I think it’s good to acknowledge that to ourselves, in our own time.

One’s own pain is not less than. Your pain, fear, and stress are real to you and meaningful to you, as mine is to me. It’s not a contest. I’m mourning this loss, even with the knowledge that everything will heal.

We hear this a lot, those of us with a mental illness. “It’s not so bad, others have it worse, just snap out of it.”

I’ve written about this before but with everything going on I believe it’s worth repeating.

Your mental illness is real. It is physical.* It is not something we can “snap out” of or simply change our attitude and be happy. It’s simply not, and telling people they are faking or otherwise demeaning them or diminishing their pain is dangerous. No, it’s not covid. It’s not a child in a cage ripped from their parents. But it is real and it can be debilitating.

This is a hard time for everyone. Fear, worry, the desire to go back to “real life” are all there. I understand and I feel it too, of course. Recently, every now and then, when the wind was just right, I could hear the Golden Gate Bridge scream from some four miles away. Not a sweet, gentle sort of whistle, no. It was a high pitched, piercing sound like a tin piccolo, non-stop, as long as the wind blew that way. (For the record, they had installed some barriers for the bike path, and had no idea they were putting in an amelodic one-pitched harmonica for a giant grade-school band.) It was a perfect metaphor for 2020; even the bridge was having an existential crisis.

I don’t know when the fires will be contained. I don’t know how much we are going to lose. I don’t know when the Shelter-in-Place will finally end, when I can go to dinner and a movie, or travel to another country. But it will end eventually. We will go back to some kind of normal. We really will.

On October 25th Chris and I will celebrate 20 years. I planned to share the milestone with friends and laughter. That isn’t going to happen, but we are healthy and we will share it at home together with our friends electronically. Not ideal, but still a celebration. Life will go on, and trees will regrow, but for now, I mourn, I ache. For now, part of my heart has been bruised.

I personally at 52-years-old have never seen a year like 2020. Not in my wildest pessimistic dreams did I imagine this train wreck. Being powerless is hard but also an exercise in letting go. Honor your pain, it’s real and it matters, but don’t let it own you or destroy you.

Do as the beautiful bridge did…scream, but stand tall, and blare your fog horns when you need to. Ok, that last part doesn’t apply but you know. Fight.

Redwood bridge

If you are alone at home, please reach out to your friends and family. I’ve included a couple of resources as well if you need them.

* There is always debate about the nature and cause of mental illness. I subscribe to the belief that it is physical and genetic, based on my own experiences, observations, and discussions with doctors.

 

National Helpline
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
1-800-273-8255

Home

Emotional Care During the Pandemic

I want to check in on you and see how you’re doing.

Here in California, like so much of the country and world, we’re under a State of Emergency, and San Francisco just announced Shelter in Place for three weeks starting at midnight. Schools, bars, restaurants, all events are closed or canceled. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled, Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town, huge events people love and look forward to. Places like the Castro and Balboa theaters, much loved, providing entertainment for decades, are closed. There are businesses that will not survive.

It’s scary, and people are on edge. I was on the bus last week, and my throat was dry from the dust billowing up during packing and sorting. I coughed once, and the 15 or so people on the bus all turned to look at me. So I very quickly took some gum, immediately swallowed wrong, and coughed three times, which got to my nose and I had to pull out a tissue. The stares turned fearful; I was hoping I wouldn’t get kicked off the bus. These people aren’t mean or ignorant, they’re scared. I am too.

So what are you doing to take care of yourself? I assume you’re washing your hands, not touching your face, avoiding crowds, all of those physical things. These are all important, vital actually. But what are you doing to take care of your mental health? If you are scared, or stressed with children under your feet who can’t go to school, or worried about elderly parents, other family, whatever is going on for you, however it is affecting you, it can be overwhelming, especially for those of us with a mental illness. We have to take an inventory of it, sit with it, own it, and accept that it is not irrational to feel like we do, it is perfectly reasonable. It is a scary time, it’s ok to be scared.

So how are you?

My therapist’s office closed, all therapy must be done via teleconference. I had my first meeting today. It was odd, a little awkward at first, but I settled in quickly, and it went well. I have that luxury, I’m grateful for it, but not everyone does. So how can we take care of ourselves?

First, don’t minimize it. I said it already, but it’s important. You are not being irrational, you are human. It is scary.

However, try to not dwell on this and spin yourself into a bad place. I like to stay informed, but hitting refresh on your browser and reading updates all day is not healthy. Be aware, sure, but do a search for kitten videos or elephant babies playing with ducks, whatever you like.

Remind yourself, this will pass. Depending on how old you are, you’ve been through SARS, H1N1, AIDS, maybe even smallpox or polio. It will be ok.

If you have coping mechanisms you use, by all means, do that. If you don’t, now is a fine time to find them. For me, I love art, writing, playing little match-3 phone games, marathoning spooky shows, and trading verbal jabs with Chris, who is also here of course. Crazy Legs is thrilled to have his humans home. But time to sit quietly and breathe, close your eyes and just “be” is time well spent for anyone, but for us, it can be incredibly important. It can be the difference between coping during a difficult time and falling into a major depression.

Which brings me to my last point. If you are by yourself in your home, please find a way to reach out to a friend, on the phone, through social media, whatever works for you, but please don’t let yourself fall into a pit, which is so easy if you are isolated. Eat, sleep, keep clean, and do something fun to take your mind off things.

I’ve included a resource here for you in case you are feeling overwhelmed and need help. You’re important, and we need you here.

 

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Yesterday Chris and I visited a few gravesites we’ve meant to see, some are my family, my grandparents at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, my great-aunt at the Columbarium.

 

Goodbye San Francsico 1
Her spot was among the unmarked but in this general area.

We tried to find my great-grandfather in the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery but couldn’t get a map, so he will need to wait until next time. I think he’ll stay put.

Then we hit two San Francisco characters I can’t believe I’ve never visited before. On the very famous side, we have Norton I – Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. We dearly love him.

Goodbye San Francsico 2

Next was the mass grave of people were moved from San Francisco graves to Colma when we were expanding.

Goodbye San Francsico 3

This is an odd chapter of our history. Turns out they didn’t necessarily bother to move everyone.

Do you want angry ghosts? Because this is how you get angry ghosts!

Within that memorial grave lies the mortal remains of one William Snyder, aged 13. Now, this next bit will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but remember, he died in 1854, so no one who knew him or his family is still with us. William Snyder died by…see below picture.

Goodbye San Francsico 5

Horrific. Tragic. Both of these and more. I hope my death is that utterly hilarious. I mean, this is objectively funny.

Moving along…

I have a list of things in and around the City we are going to visit, local hangouts, restaurants, memories, places we’ve meant to see but never have. We’re getting this done before we leave my beloved City and move up to Portland, Oregon.

We are leaving because we have an amazing opportunity we can’t pass up. We will be able to own a home, something that will never ever happen here. I love Portland, I’ve been going there my whole life, the PNW (Pacific North West) is my home and I love it, so I’m not “settling.” My sister and brother-in-law live there, a pack of cousins and in-laws. It’s a very good, well-timed move that we’ve considered carefully for months. It is the right thing to do at this time in our lives. So I’m excited to get there, move into our own home, finally get a dog we’ll call Smedley.

But I am finding myself swinging rapidly back and forth. On one side, I am excited, starting a new chapter, owning my first home, leaving apartment life behind. We will have a backyard, a patch of dirt for some carrots or something, and a room specifically for my Hello Kitty collection. That was my husband’s idea, but I think it’s mostly so it will be out of the bedroom. Regardless, it will be ours, Portland is beautiful, art is everywhere, and we had some of the best Ethiopian food there.

On the other side, the thought of leaving the City where my family lived since the 19th Century, where many of them are buried, where I have so many memories all of my life, a place that is my heart and my identity, where a clown-related comic-tragedy took the life of young Mr. Snyder. Except for a handful of graves, there will be no more family in California at all, which gives me chills.

It would be so much easier if I hated my City, but I don’t. I’m not blind to its problems, but “lost its soul?”  Good gravy people, breathe. The San Francisco my great-grandparents loved in the 1800s is not the one my grandparents knew in the early 20th Century, which is not the one that my dad knew in the 30s and 40s and is not the one I knew in the 80s and 90s. OK, rant over, back to the actual topic.

This is the right decision. Chris and I have been processing it for months. We are not being forced out; we are not leaving due to economics alone, we have chosen to do this and we have solid reasons. Otherwise, quite frankly, I’d be pissed as hell. But that’s not the case. We are heading off on a new adventure, one with a backyard, a private laundry, without a pack of hideous people living above us, without hours-long screaming fights and banging that shakes our cupboards and drunken hostility when we ask them to keep it down since like the very first time we ever did oh my god how do people live like that and think it’s ok to treat people like that and use my illness as a weapon and….<deep inhale>

Anywhoo, that’s done. We’re off to a new, but not unfamiliar place. I have family in Portland living not too far from us. Memories to be made, new favorite places, and a dog called Smedley. No idea what he’ll be yet, other than the one we fall in love with at the shelter. His name has been Smedley for many years; a story for another time.

It will be a few months before we go, most likely. I’ve learned words like “good faith deposit,” “escrow,” “closing costs,” “eye-bleeding fear.” For now we’re purging, packing non-essentials, and sightseeing, all of which I have on checklists because that’s what I do.

Goodbye San Francsico 4
It helps my peace of mind.

We’ll be trading this deco masterpiece, seen here through the living room window, for the green one there in the cover photo, St. John’s Bridge. And we’ll love it. And I already love Powell’s because it is a bibliophiles dream-scape.

Goodbye San Francsico 6

I’ll be writing as we go through this process, leaving the state, starting a new chapter. I do welcome any and all advice, words of comfort, or places we should definitely see in Portland, especially the spooky ones. We like the spooky.