Backward and forward

Flourish Vol. 49

I thought things would feel easier by now.

I thought this a year ago, even in the depths of the pandemic, even as it became clear that we were in this for the long haul, and yet spring of 2021 seemed like a lifetime away. Surely things would be better by then. I thought this in the depths of winter, certainly, as cases spiked after the holidays, but the promise of mass vaccination by spring became more than just a pipe dream. I thought this a few weeks ago, frantically refreshing the website of every pharmacy and grocery store within a 50-mile radius to find a vaccine appointment, feeing intense FOMO at all of my friends and coworkers posting triumphant selfies holding their little white cards. On the other side of that needle’s jab, I thought, maybe life would get easy again. Easier, anyway.

You can probably tell where this is going.

I’d only been vaccinated for a couple of flu-like days before reports started coming out of states shutting down Johnson & Johnson vaccination sites due to adverse reactions. And then Tuesday, a national pause due to extremely rare blood clots found in six people who received the vaccine, all women. While the immediate response seemed to uniformly criticize the government for overreacting, as someone who semi-regularly experiences near-debilitating anxiety related to her health (I’d already been to urgent care last week for a separate, ultimately harmless, concern), seeing that those effected were all women around my age immediately set off a few sirens in my head that have been maniacally chirping ever since.

If you tell me I have a one-in-six-million chance of winning the lottery, I told my therapist in an emergency session last week, I’d immediately count myself out. But tell me I have a one-in-six-million chance at developing a fatal blood clot — well, I’ll have already started getting my affairs in order.

Of course, the rational part of my brain reasoned, the clots are extremely rare. Doctor-ordered bloodwork confirmed my blood platelet count was normal, thus making the possibility of developing this type of blood clot rarer still. And yet it became difficult to focus on anything other than whether a cramp in my leg was normal or cause for alarm. If that bruise on my hip had been there yesterday. If I was short of breath, or just out of shape after a sedentary year that has left my body feeling like crumpled chip bag.

Just my luck, I kept thinking, to finally get to stop worrying about dying of COVID, only to have to worry about dying of a blood clot. Of course, this is hyperbolic. I am far more likely, as so many health experts have pointed out, to die from a blood clot linked to COVID-19, or oral contraceptives (which I thankfully learned many years ago were not a fit for my body’s chemistry.)

I thought back to last summer, when I landed in Denver for a weekend to scout out the city, and despite wearing a mask the entire time I was on the plane and in any public settings, despite a negative COVID test before my flight, I worked myself into a panic, utterly convinced that I had somehow caught the virus. This type of thinking is circular, viciously so, and my panic made my breaths shorter, and my shorter breaths only made me panic more. Darkly, I thought perhaps I deserved it, becoming sick, some type of penance for traveling during a pandemic, despite taking all possible precautions. Similarly, I’ve blamed myself for choosing the vaccine I chose, for not knowing “better”, for not being able to predict the future, or prepare for all possible outcomes.

My anxiety, my tendency toward circular, black-and-white thinking, my insistence at being my toughest critic and own worst enemy, is something I’ve spent years trying not to let get the best of me. I could sit on a merry-go-round of my own decisions all day, replaying choices until I am dizzy and confused and certainly no better off than I was when I started. I try to practice compassion and forgiveness for myself as much as I do for others, for who I was when I made the choices I made. “You did the best you could with the information you had,” is something I tell myself often. You didn’t know what you didn’t know.

Running in tandem to the vaccine plotline is the one in which I finally decided to trade in my tuna-can of a car for something sturdier, something that will help fulfill the life I want and keep me safe and durable out on the road. After weeks of researching and test driving, I made what I believed to be the most responsible choice, an option that checked all the boxes — it was the nicest, newest car I’d ever owned while still being in my budget — and I got a great deal for my trade-in and killer deal on my loan. But like clockwork, as soon as I drove it off the lot, rather than allowing myself more than a minute of happiness or satisfaction or simply rest, I immediately became fixated on the steep dip in gas mileage I was getting in comparison to my previous car (which again, was literally a tuna can, so, duh.)

I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that my ability to worry about buying a new car, or even getting vaccinated, is most certainly a first-world problem. And coming off of a week that saw a spate of police killings and mass shootings that have come to define this country, I realize that I am among the most privileged of the privileged to even have the time and safety and comfort to think this deeply about my life and every decision that comprises it, to assume that I will be able to see my future play out. It’s a privilege (which can often feel like a curse) to be able to fret about your life’s purpose, to spend so much time in your own head and — often — in your own way.

I’m currently reading The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck (I know), after years of resisting due to the title’s stupid asterisk and yes, sometimes performative use of profanities. But I came across a couple of Mark Manson’s YouTube videos and was honestly entranced by his frankness about life and finding “purpose”, as someone whose life currently feels like a neon sign flashing ????? over and over again. In the book, Manson talks about how we don’t ever get rid of our problems, we just get new problems. I got rid of my risk of COVID, only to get a new set of problems (real or imagined) with the vaccine. I got rid of my shitty old car, only to get a different set of problems with a new one.

“The person you marry is the person you fight with. The house you buy is the house you repair. The dream job you take is the job you stress over. Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice — whatever makes us feel god will also inevitably make us feel bad. What we gain is also what we lose. What creates our positive experiences will define our negative experiences. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.”

-Mark Manson, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck

So it is. And so it goes.

Finding myself knee-deep in overthinking, second-guessing and regret, this recent video about decision-making has also particularly resonated. Especially his concept of “the choice of minimal regret.” Again, you do the best you have with the information you have at time. And you ask yourself, when you look back at your life, 20 or 30 or 50 years from now, will you regret having done this? Having not done it?

Another YouTuber I’ve really been enjoying is Mariah Alice, whose videos I found while researching van life. A fellow anxious over-thinker, I immediately identified with her personality and vulnerability, and was also immediately insanely jealous of her life. Despite living many people’s dream (though she is very cognizant of her privilege, and conscious about portraying the negatives of van life, as well) she’s very vocal about her struggles to figure out what to “do” with her life. In a recent video, she talks about how going back to school in person feels wrong, but so does paying for online school. Keeping her van feels wrong, and selling it does too.

God, if this isn’t my own inner monologue right now! For every pro there is a con. For every step forward, there is the possibility of sinking into quicksand. The possibility of jumping, as Mariah says she did in buying her van, without knowing whether anything will be there to catch you. Because I am a walking inspirational poster these days, it reminded me of a quote I’ve been loving lately: “Leap and the net will appear.” (This was credited to Buddha, which did not sound correct to me, so thank you in fact to naturalist John Burroughs for that nugget of wisdom.)

I’m a few years older than Mariah, and even as I feel my own mortality closing ever inward, I want to tell her that she’s still so young. That I wish I was living the life she’s living at her age, that I still hope to someday. That she’s already on the right path and ahead of most people simply by doing what brings her happiness, especially if it exists beyond her comfort zone.

I know too that I am still so young, that my fear of running out of time is my own self-limitation. Part of what I love most about Mariah’s channel is all of the older viewers who chime in in the comments to reminder her that even at their age, they are still learning and growing and taking risks, and that there is time yet to figure it all out. The future will work itself out.

And now? Now is the time for taking chances, for making the mistakes that need to be made. For the days that must happen to you.

A post shared by @merleeshay

Reads and recommendations:

(I’ve been to the coast more in the past month than the entire time I’ve been back home, and it’s absolutely saving my mental health.)

“If I do happen to be the next woman to die from an adverse reaction to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine — and given that, of the 6.8 million people who received the shot, only six women so far have reported this reaction and only one has died, that’s statistically unlikely — there’s a not-insignificant number of people who will tell themselves that I deserved to do so because I was enough of a sheep to believe that the virus is real. Those people will likely just as readily feel certain that their distrust of scientists, medical experts and data will keep them from meeting that same end.” — I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Monday and took a selfie. Things got weird after that.

“With a return to some sort of normalcy in sight, the acutely painful parts of the past year might be catching up to some people, and their brain might be hitting the brakes as a result … few people have had the time to stand still and take in the enormity of the pandemic’s tragedy—not just the dead, but the loss of the year people had planned for themselves, and everything that meant.” — America Has Pandemic Senioritis

I was recently gifted a pair of drumsticks (and immediately feel one hundred times cooler,) and figured it was finally time to get around to watching The Sound Of Metal, which I had heard raves about but did not enjoy as much as I anticipated. I found it fairly informational and thoughtful but also kind of an extreme bummer (I won’t spoil it, I think it’s still worth a watch.) I had hoped there’d be more drumming and honestly was most intrigued by Ruben’s RV but listen, films are always a bit of a struggle for me. Catch me in here finally getting around to Game of Thrones, so take my cinema criticism with a grain of salt.

Briston Maroney’s music has been especially grounding for me in the past year of turmoil (Small Talk, specifically the intro, never fails to snap me out of a funk,) so his new album Sunflower was perfectly timed. It’s homey and warm and raw and best exemplified by easily my favorite track, Deep Sea Diver:

It’s a job seven days a week/to make things harder than they have to be.

Things don’t feel easy quite yet — but we’re getting there.