How Are You Doing?
"How are you doing?"
This is the question I ask everyone I meet these days, friend or stranger. I was at Peet's this morning, waiting for my Earl Gray tea latte (with almond milk, no sweetener and coconut whip, if you're interested...it's amazing!). Lots of people were there. I turned to the man standing next to me and asked, "How are you doing?"
I'm not just being polite. I really do care. Ordinarily, I wouldn't just engage like that with a stranger. But today is different. Today the county I live and work in is aflame. There are currently five (or more) different fires raging out of control, our air is thick with smoke and thousands of homes have been lost in the blazes since early Monday morning. (More details on this here.)
My family is fortunate. Our place is several miles from the edge of the fires. But we are part of it nonetheless.
It feels as if Mother Nature has picked us up, turned us upsidedown and shaken. We are discombobulated. Shell-shocked. Devastated.
And it's not like we were starting with a full tank already. If you add up the past year of political anguish and turmoil, refugee crises, the hurricanes, earthquakes, and mass shootings, I don't think most of us had a lot of energy to spare for this newest tragedy. And yet, it's not like we have a choice.
When life hits you with a crisis, you just keep moving forward.
One foot, one breath at a time. Didn't I just write about this?
The way I'm feeling at this moment is reminiscent of the years I went through surgery after surgery with my son, Ben. At age eight he was diagnosed rather suddenly with a serious neurological condition. He underwent brain surgery immediately. And then suffered complications. One week in the hospital turned into two months. One surgery, into four. We walked around the hospital like zombies, my husband and I. We were like so many of the parents there, a community of zombies. Barely enough sleep. No appetite. A ball of anguish and angst, sadness and loss.
While I was in that place people would say, "You're so brave!" or "Life only gives you what you can handle!" I don't know. I didn't feel brave. And I didn't know if I could handle it. I just was doing what I had to do. It didn't feel like there was a choice. (By the way, I'm not a fan of the latter platitude...because in the moments when you truly do fall apart, why should you also be made to feel like you are failing some test that Life or God or whomever/whatever has decided you can handle?)
In fact, there were plenty of moments where I wanted to run away. I could envision Timbuktu. I wanted to crawl out of the skin I inhabited.
Three years later, Ben had to begin surgeries for a related situation, severe scoliosis. Over the course of the next four years he had ten more surgeries. It was unimaginably hard. It felt unfair. It felt like torture. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
Here are a few things that saved me:
1) Realizing that I needed to stay present in the moment. Stop mourning the past and stop worrying about the future. Be. Here. Now. This was my new mantra and it made all the difference in the world for my breathing, my outlook and my muscle tension.
2) Creativity. I began art journaling during those years and I was OBSESSED. Once I felt how cathartic the creative process was for my spirit, the more I needed to do it.
3) Connection. Loving family and friends who listened and held space for me. This was so important.
So, here's what I suggest: Find three ways to take care of yourself. They might be chocolate, walks on the beach, and your girlfriends. They might be volunteering at a shelter, a cappuccino at the cafe down the street, and snuggling with your pup. They might be weightlifting, art journaling, and your cousins. Whatever they are, find them, engage in them, make time for them, and take care of yourself!
And, if art journaling falls into that category for you, then please please please, get out your art journal and release your emotions onto the page. Imagine me sitting next to you, looking you deep in the eyes, placing my hand gently on your arm and asking you, "How are you doing?"
Because I really do want to know. And I really care.