Here it’s spring, and everything is waking up. Flowers are blooming, and trees are filling in with lush green foliage. Here in NZ, the seasons are opposite to the US. At home in the northern states, it’s fall, and the trees are bare, there’s a chill in the air, and the great pumpkin is about to visit (Charlie Brown reference). In Florida, where I have lived most of my life, fall equates to being able to turn off the AC and open our windows. I break out my favorite boots on crisp evenings and get excited about swimming in the cold waters of the Gulf. We’ve had a few arctic swims here, and though it is bone-chillingly painful when you first dive in, it’s also addictive because it initiates a natural high.
The health benefits of diving into what feels like a giant popsicle are enough to hook me. Being a voluptuous woman with a panic disorder, I love that 5 minutes of ice swimming promotes weight loss and alleviates anxiety. Our Uber healthy 22 yr old daughter told me this, and I believe her. She’s a fit researching meditating guru that I would follow to the ends of the earth. While here with my girls, I have been inspired to move more and think about my health and how it affects our future. We admire the lifestyles of centenarians and have been focusing on getting in our life-extending 10,000 steps a day with meditative walks and metabolism-boosting relaxed runs. I feel good, more alive than ever.
I am in a season of inspired movement motivated by my family. Dealing with some bouts of depression, I find that my goals come and go like the seasons. My best intentions are to be consistent and keep the positivity of my routine moving, and when I can’t or just don’t, I forgive myself. I give in as the trees surrender to fall and let go of their leaves swaying in the breeze in a rejuvenating sleep until the chill passes. When my spring arrives, I burst onto the scene with color and energy. I come alive with renewed vigor. I think every person’s body clock runs slightly different. And “routine” varies for each one of us. The seasons are opposite between NZ and my home in the US, or it’s frigid in the north of America and never-ending summer in South Florida. I have learned over time to give my body what it needs in each season of my life, and right now, in my mind, it’s spring.
You know those people in your life that you could only see every few years, and every time you are together again, it’s as if you haven’t missed a beat? I hope everyone has a few friends or family members like that. They are precious and something you never should let go of. Those kinds of people make us feel connected, needed, wanted, and loved. Those people you would stand up for even when you know they’re wrong.
Then other people in our lives are there as a matter of convenience to themselves, the fair-weather friends, the people who seem to tolerate you more than they embrace you. We all know those people too. I don’t know about you, but those kinds of people confuse and drain me. Who knows? In all fairness, it may be mutual. Those people are the ones you wish would speak up and say, “Hey, we just don’t click, your really not my kind of person, not due to any fault of your own, but I just don’t feel we connect.” Wouldnt it be nice if people who seem like they can’t be bothered spending time with you just spoke God’s honest truth and spared you one more lost moment of your life?
As a Gen X person, I find the way we communicate with each other these days mysterious, impersonal, and cold. I see this when Email and text tones are misinterpreted, and Messenger and Instagram messages are left on “seen” and never answered. And phone messages are almost pointless as no one seems to listen to them. In my life, up until 1992, we used telephones. If the phone rang, you answered it. There was phone etiquette, and people appropriately communicated with each other. As a child, I would get excited when the phone rang, and my siblings and I would race to see who could answer it first at the risk of tripping and breaking each other’s limbs tangled in the 6-foot long phone chord ending up in a twister like pile on the floor.
People talked, they cared about what was happening in each other’s lives, and they made an effort. I used to make a point of calling all of my friends at least one time a month. With the invention of answering machines, I was able to leave a message even if no one was home or they couldn’t make it to the phone. I would check-in and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you.” And in return, I would get a kind call back within 24 hours. I knew the people who returned my calls cared. Sure, people didn’t always answer the phone or call back. The invention of answering machines also allowed people to “screen” their calls, and this is when we found we were able to pick and choose who we wanted to talk to and who we didn’t. If people screened my calls and never called back, then it was pretty clear they were not interested in allowing me to be a part of their lives, and without them uttering a word, I would move on.
I’m taking stock of the people I had thought played essential roles in my life, the lives of my children and us in theirs. Technology, as I see it, is making it easy for people to ghost their friends and family. It has taken the emotion away from communication and made it easy for us to make statements that hurt others because we don’t have to look each other in the eyes or listen to the repercussions of our expressions. This offends me, but it doesn’t offend everyone. My husband says people don’t reply because they’re busy or they may have missed the message. Fair enough, but when I see someone who has ignored my attempt to connect with them who has left me on “seen” for days or weeks, and then I see them taking the time to like and comment on several of the same posts I have on social media or post 20 photos of today’s lunch, their dog and kids, I call bullshit. I saw your TikTok, I see your “Bad Habits,” and though you’re having a good time zoning out thinking your virtual reality is “Good 4 U,” I’m wondering if we’re still friends? Do I know you, I mean really?
When I don’t get a response via text, email, FaceTime call, or phone, I feel canceled. I’m not playing this new communication game. It “gives me the yuck!” We all need to connect with people sincerely. It’s good for our hearts, our mental health, and our souls. If I contact you, it’s because I genuinely care about YOU. If I get no response, I, like most people, will get the picture, feel my heart break a little, and move on; I see you.
Life is too short for silence and blank emotion. Heartfelt faithful and loving relationships are hard to come by, I know but, I’m willing to risk losing my 500 + digital relationships with people I haven’t talked to in over 30 years for a few genuine soul mates who love me for who I am and respect my efforts of nurturing our relationship and time. No left on seen, no ghosting, no canceling, just honest, loving, joy-filled connections with people who cherish me as much as I do them. Is that too much to ask?
One hundred thirty-six million Americans were fully vaccinated as of May 31st; according to “Our World in Data,” that’s 41.4% of us; so we are slowly opening back up. I watch as people begin to shop, dine and socialize again and in my head, hear, “Please notice that the seatbelt sign is off, and you are now free to roam around the cabin” (that’s airplane talk, seems I’ve taken one too many flights in my lifetime). I’m getting out there tentatively and still wear a facemask even though my husband and I have chosen to vaccinate fully, and our 15 yr old at this point is 1/2 vaxed. I’m anxious and gun shy. I do Shipt shopping for a couple of hours a day, a few days a week, to offset the cost of my smoothie bowl addiction. When I’m out there in the stores walking around shopping, I feel traces of the paranoia that had set in at the swell of the Covid 19 pandemic run through every fiber of my being. I’m sure a lot of people are still feeling uneasy. Pre vaccination, I was anxious and downright angry about antimaskers rubbing past me while I shopped, and sometimes I would comment to those who wore their masks only over their mouths, saying, “ Hey, you know that mask only works if you cover your mouth and nose.” I admit I was sometimes downright shitty and would glare at people who came too close without protecting the people around them like I was, and I would think, “what an asshole, what a selfish human being!” I would get upset because I was in the store working. Though I was sweating bullets due to 53-year-old menopausal hot flashes behind my mask, I still found it monumentally critical to protect others, myself, and prevent the spread of this crappy disease that some had the nerve to call a hoax. What became most apparent to me due to the pandemic and how people reacted to our new normal was that the narcissistic, entitled “give me liberty or give me death” monster is real. It took over the most unsuspecting of friends and family, tread on you like a pack of wild kids running over ants on a crowded playground, and got stronger the more you objected to it! It’s been hard not to judge through the Covid days.
Frankly, the last year and a bit have been exhausting. I got to a point where I didn’t have energy left to follow the news, CDC guidelines, my friends opinions and beliefs on social media, the trumped-up election commentary for or against it, look for a new job, worry about being separated 9000 miles from my two daughters, wonder when I would be able to hug them again, think about when we would be able to start paying ALL of our bills again, poor health I was experiencing and the body numbing feeling that my world was closing in on me; so I hit my wall. Mental health was a struggle well before all of this. I have battled an acute panic disorder, anxiety, and depression since I was 13. It came on as my hormones changed while going through puberty. The tween years is an expected time of onset for this kind of hereditary disorder. Covid was exceptionally challenging for me and has changed my thought pattern somewhat. Because everything had gotten so heavy and so hard in the world outside my home, I had taken to isolating and staying inside when I could. The CDC had suggested we stay home when possible, and I had no problem with it. Our 15 yr old was also home and doing school online; plus, we have our two dogs, who, by the way, were highly thankful for Covid isolation because they got to snuggle us every day.
I got too comfortable in my bubble, and Isolation for me over a long period is not good (it’s not really good for anyone). In my mid 20’s I suffered from Agoraphobia which, according to Wikipedia (for those of you who don’t know), “is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centers, or simply being outside their home. (in my case large crowd of people). Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases, people may become completely unable to leave their homes.”
When I experienced Agoraphobia, I was one of the lead singers of a top 40 band that performed 5-6 nights a week in Naples. People would say, “wow, you must be having a blast!” But in reality, 50% of the time, it was terrifying. I would spend my mornings and afternoons in the safety of my home or rollerblading and running alone, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was sleeping; in fact, I became addicted to sleeping during the day (it’s an escape, it’s a thing). If our phone rang, I refused to pick it up. The thought of talking to anyone made me panic and feel nauseous. It was extremely hard for me to grocery shop at that time; it seemed like everyone in town knew me even if I didn’t know them, and they would stop and talk to me every few aisles. After a while, I started leaving my cart in the middle of the store and hiding in my car where I would go numb with panic, become disoriented, and have to call my then fiancé to save me in the parking lot because I couldn’t move my limbs to drive my car. I viewed the world in single slow frames because my visual tracking was off due to overstimulation in my brain. On one occasion, my husband Paul and I went car shopping at a huge open-air car market in NZ. It was shoulder to shoulder with people. Somehow I lost hold of Paul’s hand, and when we got separated, I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to hold it together, but as my anxiety began to surge, I started shaking uncontrollably and crying so hard I could barely see through the tears. My limbs began to lose feeling just as Paul found me, and when he grabbed my hand again, I furiously yelled at him, “why did you leave me like that? I was scared, and you just left me!” My poor husband, if he had no mental health issues before we married, I’m sure he does now; please pray for him.
The act of panicking and running into triggers became a vicious cycle. The more I isolated or felt abandoned, the more those triggers flicked on, causing my issues to accumulate like onion layers building up into a more complex series of disorders. Peeling back those layers to find some semblance of normal Jeri inside has taken years, long sessions with several kinds of therapists and doctors, and begrudgingly but very necessary, medication. It’s been hard, and even though I have long periods where everything is running smoothly, the fact remains that there are still a few fried circuits inside me that, if tapped the wrong way, set the cycle in motion again. So fast forward to today, I am finding it hard to move outside of my head and my house, to fight the urge to continue to isolate even though the reason to do so is diminishing. I don’t talk as much daily as I did pre isolation, and when I do, I verbally puke out any and every thought that hits my lips because I don’t know when I’m going to have the chance to do it again, and I can’t help myself.
We planted some Clusia hedges in front of our house during our home improvement stage of Covid isolation, and I have been excited about how lush and green our new landscaping looks as it grows. But I found myself looking at them this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway to go Shipt shop (which I make myself do, so I have to leave the house for something), and for a second, I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait till those grow so tall no one can see our house. Then I will be able to step out on my patio and sit there in comfort, and no one will see me hiding behind the hedges.” It’s not an irrational thought; everyone wants privacy, but I am mindful of these thoughts of wanting to hide and putting them in check while taking baby steps to break out of my bubble and roam freely around the cabin in an attempt to get back to a life that feels free and somewhat normal.