"As far as being freaked out about the world ..."
"I am with you." -My best friend, Erica
Two nights ago, I cried myself to sleep.
Not the kind of crying where you have to stop and drink water and control your tear-induced hiccups. I’m talking about the quiet kind of tears that still allow you to have normal conversations and continue on with your evening routine without interruption. The kind of tears that others around you might not even notice.
The headlines, it seems, were eating me alive. You, too?
And I mean all of the headlines. But primarily, the ones about Ukraine and the ones about climate change. Sometimes I just really can’t take any more in, and yet I can’t peel myself away. My fingers open the New York Times app with impressive muscle memory.
When I try to busy myself with something else, I wind up doom-scrolling, which might as well be the same thing as opening the NYT because it’s all headlines anyway. And in between seeing those things, I feel ambushed by ads selling products that I almost always inevitably think I need. It takes all my willpower to not click on them. And then I’m exhausted and have FOMO for some stupid reason.
This is all deeply unsatisfying, at best. And it becomes even messier when I feel bad about feeling bad—when my privileges make my sorrow even more sorrowful. When I feel a gut-punch because I have a regular paycheck and so why am I even crying in the first place?
When I get like this, even though I know my sadness should strengthen my resolve, sometimes it just flattens it.
Even though that lump in my throat should morph into a firm resolve to do my part to change things, instead, I sometimes lose touch with any meaning at all.
And usually around that time, I text my best friend, Erica. You’d text her too, if she were your best friend.
And, yesterday, here was her response:
As far as being freaked out about the world, I am with you. I feel tremendous sadness for the people & animals suffering in Ukraine, and in Russia. I am really trying not to predict anything that hasn’t happened yet. There is nothing really for us to do except possibly donate money for humanitarian efforts or animal-itarian efforts. Fortunately, we elected a stable leader this time and I’m sure all of the best brains are working around the clock. I’m doubling down on meditation and staying present. But it’s really hard going on as I normally would with all of the uncertainty. I think we all should be grappling with the anxiety around this. Otherwise, it would be some sort of strange denial. So I will try to simply notice when fearful thoughts come into my mind. Acknowledge and honor them, and then move my mind off of them. What else can we really do? I am also reading the news but I am not watching any of the talking heads. Commentary won’t help my anxiety.
You want to text her too, right? Here’s her number: 323-55noI’mkidding!!
Kidding aside, she made me feel so much better. Just look at that Nobel Peace Prize-winning text!
She started by validating my concern and offering true empathy. She’s right there with me! Ding ding; I am not alone.
Then she offered her own experience, explaining in a non-condescending way that she is not borrowing trouble from the future by pretending to know what’s going to happen.
She decided to have faith in the people working on this issue. So, in a sense, she was turning over her will to a higher power (for those of you in the rooms).
She let me in on what she is doing to manage her own stress: meditating, noticing thoughts, honoring them.
And, finally, Erica gave me some insight into how she reads the news without obsessing over the news: “Commentary won’t help my anxiety.”
When I confided to her that I find it difficult to connect to my purpose in light of everything going on, her wisdom continued:
We have to make meaning.
Sometimes that’s easy and comes naturally. Other times it’s our work.
You show up and are of service every day. You use your platform to teach values that save animals. You connect with people every day, including me, who whose lives are enhanced from your presence. You are EVERYTHING to the littles. Literally everything to those sweet innocent beings.
Erica wasn’t blowing smoke up my ass. She was reminding me of my connection to my darling dogs and cat, and reminding me of why I advocate for animals for a living. This was helpful to me in that moment when I had momentarily lost the thread.
I wanted to share this (with Erica’s full permission) because I wanted to memorialize it for myself (this conversation was already 9,000 texts up even though we had this chat literally yesterday) and also because I genuinely think these words can help others, too.
And her impeccable delivery, even over text, was an important lesson for me in effective communication. Because sometimes, when people tell me about their dark thoughts or their woes, I don’t know how to respond. Oftentimes, I am in a similar emotional place as the person who is struggling and I have this asshole internal voice that’s basically like, “How can you do anything to help so-and-so when you’re down yourself?”
But as Erica demonstrated, there can actually be power in that very fact: being empathic, not dismissive. Offering a genuine nod, a reminder that they are not alone.
So next time someone unloads on you, just be present and hear them. Validate what they are feeling and tell them it’s totally normal and makes complete sense. If applicable, share with them how you’ve navigated (or are navigating) similar feelings, especially if you’ve found something that works.
And, likewise, if the world right now is boggling your mind as much as it’s boggling mine …
… if you’re crying every now and then, even if no one is noticing …
… if your heart is aching for the people and animals and planet that are under attack …
… just know that I’m here for you, and there with you. It is absolutely an understandable reaction.
Sometimes, our only job is to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I do believe, we’ll get somewhere.