I had a panic attack on Saturday. One minute I was driving through the city, admiring the cute little shops and the gorgeous weather, and the next a set of invisible hands had grabbed my neck and I was hyperventilating while I pulled my car into a McDonald’s parking lot. I spent the next ? minutes — who knows how long, when every minute is endless? — with my eyes closed, tears streaming down my cheeks, while I tried to catch a full breath.
…and when the panic attack ended, I felt only shame.
I felt shame that I ‘can’t handle’ modern politics. THIS IS JUST THE WAY IT IS. GET USED TO IT.
Shame that I’m ‘not strong enough’ to exist today. QUIT WHINING, ALREADY, YOU ASSHOLE.
Shame that I’m afraid of the being-rolled-back rights of trans kids, people of color, women, immigrants, and Muslims. OTHER PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE, YOU KNOW.
Shame that I am having an appropriate, if extreme, emotional reaction to all that which I cannot control. GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER ALREADY.
I tell you this not because I think I’m special for having a panic attack, but because I’ve been taking really, really good care of myself and by my calculations, this shouldn’t have happened. I’ve been sleeping regularly (but not depressed-me-14-hours-a-night-regularly), hydrating daily, and following the no sugar, no dairy nutritional guidelines that help regulate my moods and hormones.
I’ve been unplugging for at least one full 24-hour period each week and strictly limiting social media time. I’ve been reading fiction and enjoying a few HBO shows instead of watching endless reality TV and reading only magazines and rant-y online articles.
In other words, I’ve been practicing what I preach.
The safeguards that usually make my life a decent and pleasant experience are failing.
Nothing less than impeccable self care will do.
I have to work out regularly. (Yoga on YouTube counts.)
I have to spend time outdoors even when it’s cold and/or dark and/or I don’t want to. …and unless the ocean is nearby, I really don’t want to.
You have to do some version of the same work.
You have to find ways to get your body fed, hydrated, strong, and rested while keeping your brain focused on completing the work only you can do.
You also have to walk the razor’s edge between consuming the news and falling into despair.
That’s tricky, since there are screens at every gas pump touting the latest atrocities and screens at the local diner with scrolling headlines along the bottom and a Facebook feed littered with news articles and outrage each time you open it. (Most people aren’t committed to being the human.)
There’s more vitriol than ever in the air, and it’s affecting me.
It’s affecting you, too.
There’s no way to have made it through the last 24 months in the United States without having been touched by politics, by demonstrations, by uncomfortable conversations, by racist/sexist/xenophobic comments that started with “I’m not racist/sexist/xenophobic, but…,” by watching people you thought you knew say inexplicably wretched things or take wretched actions against other people who share a nation with them.
Unprecedented change requires unprecedented self love.
We all know you can’t give me from an empty cup, but I don’t think we realize how empty our collective cups are at this moment.
We are (rightly) scared and outraged when another headline says Jews/Muslims/people of color/women/LGBTQ/immigrants/kids have been targeted today. We are horrified when events beyond our control play out in ways we wouldn’t have chosen for our worst enemies, let alone our fellow citizens.
Fear and anger burn energy like nothing else.
They’re a quick battery drain that leave you feeling hollowed out and absolutely bereft of joy. The behaviors you might have gotten away with in the past — skipping meals, skipping sleep, living on lattes, giving up on workouts, jamming your calendar with clients and saying you’ll catch up ‘someday’ — won’t do anymore.
Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because you’re still a human. You still have a body with very physical limitations, but new demands are being placed on that body each day.
We are all human, and we are all struggling right now.
We’ve got to take a stand for what we believe in, and also the homes from which our beliefs arise: our own bodies.
That sucks. It sucks to stay home and sleep when you’re tired instead of going on some sort of adventure with your friends. It sucks to eat only truly nutritional foods and say “no” to sugar and to alcohol and to any foods that make your belly hurt. It’s freaking hard to delete your social media apps and spend time offline.
It’s easy to take shitty care of yourself and to worship at the Altar of Busy, but that isn’t what the world needs right now.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” — David Orr
Let’s go and be the peacemakers and the healers, the restorers and the lovers. But first, let’s rest.
Let’s take truly admirable care of ourselves first, and let’s go heal the world second. It’s the only way to lasting change for any of us.
P.S. Taking impeccable care of yourself is an everyday act of rebellion. Here are 50 more.