Duck and Cover: Its Legacy and the Aftermath

If a child never knows what safety feels like, what kind of adult will that child become?

In my first post about duck and cover drills, I compared and contrasted them to the active shooter drills that students endure today. In the next one, I discussed many of the insane policies that came about due to the sheer panic of the adults who were in charge. Now, let’s get into the ways these drills changed people, and how they reacted to that change.

As the children who were made to cower under their desks got older, they began to realize that the adults had lied to them. Desks can’t save you. Many people now believe that this was a cold war tactic to manipulate the next generation to fear USSR and communism in general. (In fairness, duck and cover might save you from a low-yield bomb that detonated at least 10 miles away, but the subsequent survival would not be pretty.)

This caused many of these kids to reject the system and that, in part, gave rise to the Hippie Movement. Many of them weren’t dropping out of society as much as they were dropping out of the fear of a mass kill off. They figured, if we’re going to die anyway, let’s not think about it. Let’s live for today.

It’s understandable that these kids thought anyone over 30 couldn’t be trusted. But even as a child, I thought that philosophy was terribly short-sighted, because they, too, would turn 30 someday. Then what?

Here are a few posters created to push back against the cold war mindset.

The cold war also inspired a great deal of creativity. The women I spoke to wanted me to recommend several books, songs and movies. I can’t vouch for these recommendations, having not read/seen them all myself, but for those of you who are really interested in this era, I’ll list them here:

Movies:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Matinee

The Fog of War, a documentary in which Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, with tears in his eyes, discusses how close we came to nuclear war.

On the Beach came out in 1959, prior to movie ratings. A lot of the duck and cover kids saw it at a young age, while the cold war was still going on, and it scared the bejeezus out of them. I saw it for the first time about a year ago, and, far removed from its history, and without any duck and cover trauma from my past, it “only” made me want to cry. I do remember reading the book at a young age, though. It was good, but scary. That’s probably why it took me so long to watch the movie.

Catch 22: the movie, the book

More Books:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This is not about the era so much as it is about the end of the world vibe.

The Children’s Story by James Clavell

Songs:

The Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire

Wooden Ships by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young or Wooden Ships by Jefferson Airplane. Which do you like better?

Hammer to Fall by Queen. That first link shows the lyrics, but if you already know them, I suggest this video, which shows Freddie Mercury in all his incredible glory. (God, I miss him.)

But honestly, so much good music was inspired by the cold war that I could go on forever. Instead, I suggest you check out this article entitled, Cold War Music: A Top Ten List for a deep, eclectic dive.

Clearly, all this fear mongering seems to have backfired for our government. Many of these duck and cover kids became lifelong pacifists and activists against war and nukes. Even more of them grew up to distrust authority and they still have the mindset that you should do what you need to do now, as tomorrow not guaranteed. For some, that sometimes resulted in poor decisions, but others matured into an attitude of gratitude and a feeling that nothing should be taken for granted.

Many of the duck and cover generation, especially the ones that had been plagued with night terrors or nightmares as children, are still stewing in toxic existential dread as adults. That should not come as a surprise. They were taught that the world will end in their lifetime, and that something bad would suddenly happen at some unspecified time. No one should have to live with that type of free floating anxiety.

One woman said, “When kids can’t trust their own instincts, it creates a feeling of powerlessness and an unstable relationship with those in power.”

I was not old enough to be tortured by the cold war antics of the adults all around me, and yet I can relate to that statement entirely. If you have a rational thought at age 7, and everyone ignores it or continues to behave irrationally even though they’re supposed to be in charge, you tend to question authority quite a bit.

Despite everything that one woman from the duck and cover generation went through, she still feels more sorry for the children of today who are enduring the active shooter drills. She said the red threat seemed too far away to worry about, whereas today’s kids see mass shootings on the news that are taking place in their own back yards all the time. That danger is too close for children to ignore. They can’t even pretend to feel safe under those circumstances.

For the duck and cover kids, the treats were mostly from the outside. Today most the threats are close enough to touch. That’s a sobering thought.

This is not the time for the adults, whose primary purpose should be to make children feel safe, confident, and loved, to instead model instability, irrationality, fear, and hatred, all while actively destroying the very planet on which we depend for survival. As a society, we subject our children to terrorism. If a child never knows what safety feels like, what kind of adult will that child become?

Drills should not be about transferring adult anxieties to children. They should be reassuring. They should be honest. They should answer questions, but they also should make it very clear that these drills exist so the ADULTS can be sure they keep everyone safe in the case of an emergency.

If schools insist on doing drills, for the children’s well-being they should combine them with tornado, earthquake, or fire drills. They are anxiety-producing, yes, but at least kids will think the enemy is the weather or faulty wiring, not some insane human being who is actively wanting to kill them. Perhaps turn it into a quarterly safety day designed to teach kids how to be part of a school community working together to remain safe and strong, rather than an exercise in helplessness.

The teachers, on the other hand, should have more in depth training, because they should all be on the same page as to what the plan will be. But that training should be done without students present. Anything more intense than that does more harm than good. After receiving such training, these teachers could then talk to the students, calmly, and say, “In the event of xyz, here’s what you will see the teachers do, and here’s what we may ask you to do. Just so you know.”

And, for the love of God, can we please not manufacture anxiety in children and parents where none need exist? Children should not be pawns in a political game. They should not be taught to fear Critical Race Theory, for example, especially since no public school in this country ever taught it in the first place. They should not be taught that wearing face masks and getting vaccines, as recommended by all public health professionals, is anything more than just that: a way to keep the public healthy and demonstrate your consideration toward those around you. And most of all, we should not be prioritizing our desire for automatic weapons over the very lives and mental health of our children.

It’s a much better tactic to give kids a feeling that their leaders are being rational and will know what to do in a crisis. Let them be children while they still can. Why on earth would anyone want to do otherwise?

If there’s any value in distrusting the Russians, we should be less worried about bombs and more worried about the fact that we aren’t teaching children to think critically, and we ourselves are buying into Russian disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories.

Khrushchev wanted to bury us. He didn’t. But disinformation will do so if we don’t all take a deep breath and employ a bit of critical thinking. Destruction doesn’t require bombs or bullets these days. It just requires the masses to be ignorant, gullible, lazy, and accepting of social media that is not fact checked or moderated in any significant way.

But we’re too jaded to fall for Cold War fear mongering. Aren’t we? Apparently not. We elected Trump, who taught his base to fear immigrants, education, healthcare, and democracy.

And we need to give up this insane love affair with automatic weapons. Kids today are a lot less worried about being fried to a nuclear crisp than they are of having bullets tumbling at them at a rate of 40 rounds per minute, leaving an unidentifiable corpse. That feeling, right there, is what we are doing to this generation. I can’t even imagine being a student these days.

One thing’s for certain. We are letting these kids down with all our thoughts and prayers. Rest assured that there will be long-range societal consequences, and they will be impossible for us to predict. If we insist on fearing anything, we should fear that. Shame on us all

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences.

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Active Shooter Drills: The New Duck and Cover

When these drills are conducted, the kindergarteners are just terrified.

Here’s everything you need to know about our warped American gun culture: When looking up statistics for the number of mass shootings in this country, I was actually relieved to discover that, according to this report in Statista, since 1982, these atrocities have only occurred in 38 states (plus Washington DC). We’re still horrified by these events, but we’re also becoming habituated to them.

Of course, Statista goes on to clarify that they’re only counting those shootings that were reported. They also note that, “since 2013, the source defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities, in line with the definition by the FBI. Before 2013, a mass shooting was defined as any single attack in a public place with four or more fatalities.” So the numbers are probably a bit low. Great.

They also point out that, of the 137 incidents considered, 13 of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred since 2015. The vast majority of the shooters in these incidents were white males, and since 2000, police have intercepted 351 active shooter incidents in the U.S. Until we call these events what they are, domestic terrorism, they’ll never be taken seriously by this government. But this government is hesitant to call white males terrorists. Or rapists. Or anything else, for that matter.

When I was in public school in the late 70’s, early 80’s, one time, one time, someone brought a knife into a classroom. It was a huge scandal. The kid didn’t even use it, and he wasn’t even in any of my classes, but it took me months to feel safe again after that. It just didn’t occur to anyone at the time to bring weapons onto school grounds. Well, except for that kid. He’s probably the CEO of some major corporation now.

Little did I know that those were the salad days of public education. I fell in the sweet spot between duck and cover and active shooter drills. I was never made to crawl under my desk in anticipation of nuclear annihilation or bloody death. Not once.

Nowadays, kids are subjected to those active shooter drills along with their totally whitewashed and historically inaccurate lessons. I often wonder how that is fundamentally changing this generation’s perspective. It’s sad to contemplate. My research on the topic broadened my worldview to the extent that it is resulting in three posts, of which this is the first.

According to this article, as of 2017, 95 percent of all public schools conduct active shooter drills. They can be as mild as just going through the motions of turning off lights and locking doors to the extreme of playing gunshot sounds over the loudspeakers while actors dressed as gunmen roam the halls. I don’t know about you, but that extreme end would seriously freak me out, and I’m 57. I can’t imagine how a 7-year-old would handle it. A kindergarten teacher told me recently that when these drills are conducted, she tries to keep the students calm, but they’re just terrified.

The article goes on to describe a study that was conducted by Georgia Tech regarding active shooter drills. Just by comparing the social media texts of community members from 90 days before a drill to 90 days after, they concluded that there is a 42 percent spike in anxiety and a 39 percent increase in depression for months afterward, and not just in the students. The teachers and parents were similarly impacted.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that drills, as we Americans conduct them, don’t actually prepare you for any catastrophic event. They don’t empower you. Our drills teach fear and panic. When the stuff hits the fan, if you’ve been living in a state of constant, low-grade fear as politicians make us do, all bets are off. You get primal. And quite often you make poor decisions. Now, throw hundreds of small children into that mix, and you have chaos. I’ll be offering suggestions as to how to improve these drills in my third post.

But these drills, in their current format and cultural context, are nothing other than safety theater. They allow bureaucrats to give the impression that they’re doing something, when, if they really wanted to do something, they’d be advocating against weaponry, beefing up security, and insisting upon more mental health professionals on staff. Instead, we want to look like we’re doing something, so we do something. Not the right thing. Not the reasonable thing. Not the thing that makes an actual difference. But, hey, we are doing something.

While wondering about the psychological effects of active shooter drills, I began to think about the duck and cover drills that, thank God, had just stopped being commonplace a year or two before I went to school. I really feel sorry for those who had to experience them. I probably would have been that child who said, “Why do you think our desk will protect us from a bomb? How stupid is that?” And then I would have done what I was told, because I may have had a big mouth, but I was still a good kid.

I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that is mostly comprised of women from the duck and cover era, so I decided, out of curiosity, to ask them what their experience was like. I did this a about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to write this blog post. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of insight I would gain from these women. (I had good intentions of getting this done. I lugged about 150 printed out pages of their comments back and forth to work for months. My backpack is so heavy that it triggers my car to insist on a passenger side seat belt, such is the weight of my unfinished projects.)

My post to that group said the following: “I am just young enough to have missed those cold war bomb drills that children used to have to do. You know. Duck and cover, because your desk will save you. (Sheesh.) I was wondering how many of you remember doing that. What did you think as a child? Do you think it changed the way you view the world? Was there common knowledge that these drills were an insane waste of time back then, or was there a general buy-in of this concept?

Those questions must have hit a nerve, because I got 400 replies. I wasn’t expecting that. No two people are the same, so naturally there were a variety of ways that these kids processed the duck and cover experience.

I’d say that about 55 percent were either bored silly by these drills, thinking of it as a nice break from math class, and/or too clued in to think that duck and cover would do any good at all. At the other end of the spectrum, about 30 percent were seriously freaked out by the process. (I’m quite sure I would have been in this group, even if I had been clued in.) The rest seemed to have been confused by it all, and since the adults around them weren’t telling them anything rational or understandable or true, they didn’t know what to think. That’s a really unpleasant state for a child to be in.

The 50’s and 60’s were a high stakes time to be a kid in America. Most of that generation had no expectations of living to adulthood. During the cold war, the brinkmanship displayed made them feel like the inmates were running the asylum. And when they heard about Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table, the kind of thing that really gets a child’s attention, that provided them with all the confirmation they needed that the adults in charge were crazy. (The shoe incident made such an impression on me, a decade after the fact, that to this day I could swear I’d seen footage of it, but no such footage exists. Isn’t that strange?)

That generation’s anxiety reached its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of children concluded that the Russians hated them personally and wanted to kill them, but they didn’t understand why. They came by their reactions honestly. Here is some of the propaganda of the era that they were treated to every single day:

These kids also bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedys. And, lest we forget, many of these children were growing up in the south and dealing with the KKK, segregation, and an utter lack of human rights as well, so they felt more anxiety from terrorists within the country than they did from communists a half a world away.

What follows are several points that the amazing women in my Facebook group proffered for your consideration. I’ll paraphrase the comments and avoid specifics so that I don’t have to track people down to get permission to quote them. (Sorry, ladies.)

Duck and Cover Drills came in a variety of forms. As the name implies, many students had to crawl under their desks with their hands protecting their necks and/or the backs of their heads. Others were ushered into hallways to hunker down in rows, facing the walls or the banks of lockers. Some went down into the creepy, dirty basements of their schools. One woman reported that her class had to walk single file, with the teacher at the head, and she’d drop them off at their houses, one by one by one. (I’m assuming this was a small town.) Not only was that hard on the teacher, but it must have been creepy for the last group of children on the route, thinking about radiation raining down upon them with every step they took. Location, location, location, as the saying goes.

There seemed to be a wide range of communication or lack thereof, about these drills. Some kids were told entirely too much, in my opinion. Small children should not be shown videos of mushroom clouds and disintegrating buildings and melting bodies. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t memorize all the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning or be instructed on the best ways to build and stock bomb shelters. All that should be the realm of adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of children were not told anything at all, and were left to draw their own, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying conclusions, including the following:

  • “Fallout” meant things falling from the ceiling, and therefore climbing under their desks made perfect sense.
  • The Russians would come and take them from their parents and/or they’d never see their families again.
  • Bombs must not be much of a threat if the solution was to hide under a desk.
  • Every plane that flew over had the potential to kill them.
  • I don’t want to die crouching in a hallway.
  • While we do these drills in school, are the adults doing the same thing in the bomb shelters?
  • My parents will be blindsided unless they keep the radio on.
  • These floors are really dirty.
  • The boys are trying to look up my skirt.
  • At least we don’t have to freeze outside like we do for fire drills.
  • How will I find my family?
  • Walking home was scary, because if a plane flew over you didn’t have your desk to save you.
  • Some were scared for their parents because they didn’t have a teacher to keep them safe like the kids did.
  • The Communists or some vague enemy would break in any minute, and that would be the end.
  • They only practiced these drills at school, so school seemed dangerous.
  • One girl, whose school had them pressing their noses against a wall, thought that the paint must be strong if it could save her from the bomb.

Some children comforted themselves with the belief that nothing bad was going to ever happen to them because they lived in America and that was the safest, smartest, strongest place in the world. Others thought that since Russia beat us into space, they must be more militarily advanced. Those were likely the same children who went home and tried to build bomb shelters out of cardboard boxes in their back yards or basements. One brilliant girl even surrounded hers with lead pencils, because she had heard that lead would protect her.

In hindsight, many women were grateful for the honesty some adults were willing to provide. Some kids were told how painful their deaths might be, and actually found comfort in the idea that they were at ground zero and would die instantly. Photographs from Hiroshima made it clear that immediate death would be preferable. One woman remembers being grateful for just being sent home to be with her family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least that was honest.

And I found this quite interesting. It seems that nearly everyone was told that their location was a prime target. They lived near military bases. They lived near factories or power plants or big cities like Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. They lived near a transportation hub. In the heartland, the communists would target their farms to starve the country. And everyone in Florida, to this very day, knows that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

Everyone seemed to believe that they would be the first to go. No one stopped to think that Russia couldn’t bomb everywhere at once. If they could, there would be nothing left of this planet.

No matter what they thought, these kids did these drills because that’s what they were told to do. Unfortunately, they were told to do some very insane things. I’ll discuss that in my next post, The Insanity of Duck and Cover.

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences. You guys are awesome!

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Our Uncanny Future

Things are changing so quickly.

Ever since the first of the pandemic lockdowns, I’ve been experiencing this free-floating sense of unease that I can’t shake. Some moments are worse than others. Most of the time I’m completely functional. But there’s this underlying feeling of being totally creeped out that seems to have become part of my status quo.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with having to look at my fellow human beings as disease vectors. That’s a shift in reality that I hadn’t anticipated. And I don’t think that will ever go away completely, pandemic or no pandemic. I was so innocent, once.

But I’m really beginning to think it’s much more than that. Things are changing so quickly. It feels as though the future is barreling toward us at such an insane rate of speed that we can’t get a proper focus on it. For the first time in my life I can’t even speculate as to what life will be like even 15 years from now. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it will be exceedingly strange.

I mean, self-driving cars? Who is responsible if an accident occurs? Can the cars prioritize risk based on passengers? If two driverless cars are speeding toward each other, and one contains a family with three small children and the other contains a 78 year old man, should the cars be able to decide which group gets to live? (Read more about this ethical dilemma here.)

And scientists have created bunnies that glow in black light. It doesn’t seem to harm them, and somehow this breakthrough is supposed to make it easier to create affordable medicines. But maybe me might want to consider not fiddling with the natural order of things too much, for fear of unintended consequences. (They created these bunnies by injecting jellyfish DNA into a rabbit embryo.)

Now it’s possible to create chicken meat in a lab, without chickens involved, except for the single cell. There’s something unsettling about that. It puts me in mind of a book by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, in which she talks about a chicken-like thing that’s kind of a blob that grows spores with bulbous ends (that in retrospect look a lot like a coronavirus). These spores get chopped off and are chicken meat. They’re called ChickieNobs. Shudder.

And there are weird environmental things happening that no one can explain, such as starfish wasting disease, in which the starfish’s legs basically crawl away from their body, and then the central disk dissolves into this white, gelatinous muck. What a way to go.

Then there’s human behavior, which is becoming increasingly unexplainable. There are still people out there, wandering amongst us, who think the Capitol Building Insurrection was no big deal at all, and/or something to be proud of. There are people denying climate change, and others, heaven help us all, who think the Republicans have their best interests at heart. It boggles the mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe, strongly, that we need to make scientific advances. I also believe that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But how far is too far, and how fast is too fast?

The fact is, we have no idea what the world will be like in even the very near future. Things are changing. It’s impossible to keep up. It’s utterly unpredictable. Even the positive improvements are hopeless to divine at this point.

And that gives me the creeps.

ChickieNobs

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Lovegry

The most contradictory emotion on earth.

There is a certain kind of anger that can only be brought out of you by a loved one. It’s that blinding rage born of pure terror when they are doing something risky or idiotic. “What do you MEAN, you’ve joined a cult and are giving out free hugs in the midst of a pandemic?!”

I have a name for that worried fury, that impotent rage, that helpless frustration that makes your ears ring and everything around you turn white. I call it being “lovegry”. If you didn’t love that person so much, you wouldn’t be bothered with these strong feelings. You’d simply shake your head at this relative stranger and say, “what a fool.”

I’ve only been lovegry a handful of times in my life. Mainly because I don’t have children of my own. And, mostly, the people I love are relatively reasonable.

But, oh, when that feeling washes over me, it’s a very confusing and contradictory moment. Because I want to kill that person with my bare hands. Because they’re doing something dangerous. Because I want to save them. I suspect it’s like hugging a child who has run away, but also shouting, “Don’t you EVER do that to me again!”

If you’re ever feeling lovegry, congratulations. You’re human. Just try not to kill anyone until the mood passes.

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Toxic Positivity

“This dude is about 45 seconds away from forming a cult.”

Recently I overheard a friend listening to some sort of motivational speaker on Zoom. It gave me the creeps. The man actually said that Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was his personal hero. Ugh.

This speaker was a living, breathing business pep talk. Hearing his over-the-top enthusiasm and encouragement and his assurance that if you think positively, you’ll definitely get what you’re after, made me think, “This dude is about 45 seconds away from forming a cult.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think Covey’s 7 habits have their place, but he is no hero. I think enthusiasm and motivation are wonderful, as long as they don’t turn into a form of criticism or a way to not listen to what others have to say. I’ve even been known to say “An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along” on this blog, and my first book is about gratitude. But these things should be part of the overall balance.

If you’re an unrelenting Pollyanna who sees sunshine and lollipops wherever you go, then you are, frankly, delusional. There are negative aspects of life. These negative things have a need to be acknowledged, too. They, too, shouldn’t be the only things you focus on, but there’s nothing wrong with having mixed emotions, or feeling sad or angry sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. I was really happy to see this article in Bloomberg entitled, “Trying to Stay Optimistic Is Doing More Harm Than Good.” It makes several interesting points.

If you know someone who is living on the financial razor’s edge due to this pandemic and is telling you his or her story, for example, then perhaps you shouldn’t respond with a sentence that starts with, “Well, at least…” That sentence shows you are not hearing that person, and you’re not willing to hear them. You’re not letting them vent their anxiety. You’re not acknowledging something that is hugely impacting their lives. (And frankly, you’re being rude.)

If you are a toxically optimistic boss, you pretty much make it impossible for your team to speak up and point out issues that need fixing. If you insist that all your zoom meetings start off with some positive bit of news in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping side order of political and financial unrest, you are not acknowledging entirely legitimate sides of your staff. You’re making them cut themselves in half to feel like they’re team players.

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes people are discouraged and depressed. That’s okay as long as it isn’t the only thing they ever are. Well rounded, mature individuals know that the emotional pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Personally, I take comfort in that. If I don’t like how I’m feeling at the moment, I know from repeated experience that it will eventually change. This, too, shall pass.

Further, if you make people feel as though there’s something wrong with them if they’re not positive 100 percent of the time, then they will seek relief in all the wrong places. They may fall into depression or abuse substances. They may become victims of Ponzi schemes in an effort to gain instant success. They may fall victim to Prosperity Theology, thinking that if their attempts to think positively won’t help, then maybe if they just donate more to religion, the money will come back to them tenfold. That’s magical thinking at its worst. At a minimum, they’ll think they’re not good enough.

People who insist you always have to have a gung-ho, can-do spirit are setting you up for failure. You really are allowed to have a whole host of emotions. Most of those emotions will be relatively fleeting. If not, it’s time to seek help.

According to the article mentioned above, people feel more sad, not less, when they’re expected to hide those emotions. Yes, do your best to look at things in a positive light. Be grateful for the good in your life. Count those blessings as often as you like. But know that it’s okay to get frustrated or annoyed or stressed out or upset sometimes. It wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t have those feelings every once in a while.

Give your cloudy side a great big hug, knowing it has a place within you, too. The full spectrum of your emotions should be allowed to come out and play as needed. If not, they’ll manifest themselves one way or another. They don’t go away. They insist on being heard.

Namaste.

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Sanitizing My Sanity

I need to stop letting certain things get to me.

I need to stop letting certain things get to me. To wit:

  • Situations over which I have absolutely no control.

  • Stupid people who are in love with their own stupidity.

  • Stress surrounding arbitrary deadlines that I’ve imposed upon myself.

  • The endless pursuit of nonexistent seals of approval.

  • The fear of missing out.

  • Bitterness regarding the unchangeable past.

  • Anxiety regarding the unknowable future.

  • My inability to feel as though I fit in.

  • My weight, which will most likely never change.

  • My appearance. Same.

  • My frustration over constantly being misunderstood.

  • My inability to get others to care about the things that I care about.

  • The secrets that I know are being kept from me.

  • My failure to convince people of the potential that I know that they have.

I need to wash all these things away. I need to sanitize my sanity.

washing_away_by_kotmorda-d2zg800

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What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

What an intriguing question.

I listen to NPR every chance I get, even if I only have a spare minute or two. You never know what fascinating topics will be discussed. So it was the other day, when I tuned in to hear a man say that he makes a point of asking people, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

What an intriguing question. I instantly regretted that I wouldn’t be able to continue listening, because I was just about home. Sadly, I don’t know which program it was or who was speaking. (Possibly Speaker’s Forum. I’m not sure.) I only heard him say that several people had replied that they probably wouldn’t be trapped in their miserable jobs if they weren’t so afraid. That made me sad.

The question stuck with me. I’ve been ruminating over it for several days now. It’s made me realize how often people are ruled by fear.

People remain in toxic relationships out of fear. Fear that leaving might result in abuse, or fear of being alone.

Others don’t take risks or challenge themselves in any way, for fear of failure. Because of that, they never realize their full potential.

Women often remain silent for fear of not being taken seriously.

Men often do not show their emotions for fear of being considered weak.

We don’t reach out to others for fear of being rejected.

Many people fear strangers because they’ve been taught to hate, or have never taken the time to get to know someone who is different from themselves.

Most of us fear being pushed out of our comfort zones, and so we are hesitant to test our own boundaries.

Many of us don’t experience life because we’re too busy being afraid of death.

It’s very easy to be ruled by fear, but it means you’ll have to settle for being enslaved by it. And the funny thing is, on those occasions when we manage to push past our fears, we often wind up wondering what we were so afraid of in the first place.

The scariest thing I’ve ever done was to move 3100 miles away from home, to a place I’d never been, where I knew no one. But it also turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

So, dear reader, what would you do if you were not afraid?

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The Other Shoe

I can’t have nice things.

My whole life, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling intensifies when things are going well. Because I can’t have the nice things. I’ve never had the nice things. At least, not for long.

Sooner or later, everything seems to turn to sh**. If I’m braced for it, I can usually handle it, and come out the other side. I’m nothing if not a survivor. But if that darned shoe takes me by surprise, then that would be bad. Really, really bad.

I remind myself of Nelly, a wonderful dog, who flinches every time you reach out to pet her sweet head. She knows all about what having it bad used to be like. She learned early that flinching can soften the blow. How do I explain to her that I love her, and I’ll always love her, and I’ll never hurt her? She deserves to be petted and cuddled and adored. I want her to be able to own it.

I deserve the good stuff, too. I know it. And here lately I have been experiencing it. And I enjoy it. Mostly. But I can’t seem to get out from under that mental shoe of mine. It’s always there, stinking up the place.

I think there are a lot of people out there, walking around with a shoe in their heads. Please be patient with us. We may not show it well, but your goodness really is appreciated. Probably even more than it would be if we were one of those lucky shoeless people.

one shoe

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Sweet Relief

I felt as though 500 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.

Unless you have no pulse at all, you are carrying stress within you, even as you read this. We all do. It’s part of modern life. It comes from a feeling of being overwhelmed, and thinking that you can’t cope with a situation.

According to Wikipedia, that font of all human knowledge, stress can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, and mental illnesses such as depression. So needless to say, stress is bad for you.

What I find particularly scary is how easily I fool myself into thinking I’ve gotten used to a certain level of anxiety. It’s as if I am coping simply because I’ve come to expect that I will have to wade through some crap, and that’s just the cost of doing business.

That doesn’t mean the stress, with all its toxic side effects, has disappeared. It just means that I’ve resigned myself to it. That’s problematic, because it also means that I’m no longer trying to do anything to relieve that stress. I’ve concluded that there’s no solution, so I just bathe in it, regardless of the pollution this brings into my world. After a while, I seem to forget it’s happening.

But every once in a while, some fortuitous thing occurs that removes a stressor from my life. That happened just this month. And the change within me has been profound. I started off by feeling slightly sick from the sheer release. Then I felt as though 500 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. Freedom! Sweet relief.

And then there was the inevitable shock that I had been carrying that weight for so long without even realizing it. (Actually, I knew of about 50 pounds of it, but not the full 500.) It makes me wonder what other burdens I’m carrying. No wonder I’m so tired much of the time.

I think I need to work on being more aware of what my body is trying to tell me. I need to address issues whenever possible, even though I hate confrontation. I need to stop walking around with my head in the clouds and take better care of me.

In the meantime, I’m going to go do a happy dance to celebrate my newfound freedom. Woot!

Happy Dance

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Healthy Self-Soothing

Here are some suggestions that I’m going to try to take instead of consuming sugar and/or grease.

The other day, I was lonely, angry, exhausted, hurt, and generally disgusted with life. So I did what I often do: I went straight for the cupcakes. (I have found that pizza and ice cream are viable substitutes as well.)

For a split second, I felt much better. But then I felt much worse. It’s a self-defeating habit. It’s not healthy. It makes me feel bad about myself. And the problem is still there.

But self-soothing is vital. When you are under stress, it’s good to come up with coping skills. But it’s also important not to be self-destructive. Turning to drugs or alcohol or out of control spending or red velvet cake is not the way to go if you really want to feel better in the long run.

When you’re experiencing stress, try to be kind to yourself rather than doing something that will ultimately feel more like torture. Here are some suggestions that I’m going to try to take instead of consuming sugar and/or grease:

  • Take a bath.

  • Take a walk.

  • Talk to a friend. Ask for a pep talk.

  • Elevate your feet.

  • Relax in a hammock.

  • Read a good book.

  • Hug your dog.

  • Netflix and chill.

  • Listen to music.

  • Meditate.

  • Get a massage.

  • Sit outside.

  • Journal it out.

  • Work in your garden.

  • Create some art.

  • Just breathe.

  • Do something nice for someone else.

  • Feed the birds.

  • Do your favorite hobby.

  • Ride your bike.

  • Wrap yourself in something soft and warm.

  • Light a candle.

  • Dance.

  • Walk barefoot in your yard.

  • Do yoga.

  • Go swimming. Float.

  • Hug someone.

I think the trick is to identify when you need to be soothed, and then take charge of what that soothing looks like. Yeah, coffee ice cream may seem like the easy way out of your mood, but in the end, it’s not the best celebration of you. Choose a healthier path to calm your nerves so that you can be present and capable of finding a solution to your stress.

I think this is great advice. Now I need to take it. Wish me luck!

(Barring all of the above, maybe I should force the cupcakes upon the source of my stress instead of eating them myself. That would be satisfying. Maybe I’m on to something, here!)

soothing

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