Trying to Hold My Shit Together, but…

All that stuff we’re supposed to do to maintain our mental health can sometimes feel like pressure, one more thing we have to do. It’s crazy how in our world with the ubiquity of advice and opinion that things like “thankfulness” are “prescribed.” The idea of counting one’s blessings isn’t new, but being bombarded by “mindfulness” advice? The insistence on gratitude and so on can make a vulnerable person feel guilty for NOT feeling grateful all the time, for feeling angry, anxious, frightened, tired, resentful, — the whole rainbow of so-called human emotions.

I’ve been wondering how I dealt with everything so much better last year when things were, in many ways much worse. I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t think (we) animals are designed for a persistent crisis — in fact a crisis CAN’T be “persistent.” A persistent crisis is not a crisis; it’s life as we know it — like “living” with the plague (as Shakespeare and pals did so long ago) or The Bomb. That’s all it is. I feel more anxious than I have felt in years, more fearful of doing anything, even going hiking with a friend in a couple of hours. I woke up nauseated and sick to my stomach. Stress? Waking up 2 hours before the alarm just to be sure I’d be ready, but I packed my little day pack and filled my hydration bladder yesterday.

And painting and writing. I look around and see 900,000,000 other people painting, most of them do better work than I do. Why should I paint at all? And writing? What futility! I remember an acquaintance asking me, “Why would you write a book? What for?” It’s difficult to remember right now that painting and writing have always been MOST important to me and maintaining a happy engagement with life — but this “persistent crisis” saps our sensibility. 2020 was a challenge of hope; 2021 is something else, but I don’t know what. And what’s with this arbitrary demarcation of spaces of time other than a traditional acknowledgement of the passing seasons? That’s ALL it is, yet we enter a new year filled with expectations and hope even IF we don’t build up a bunch of resolutions.

So I’m painting anyway, nothing grand, just Christmas tree ornaments, but it’s tranquilizing and possibly good practice and and I sold a couple in my Etsy shop. That’s a little something.

This whole thing is nuts but here we are. Sorry for whining, but, you know, if this speaks to you at least you know you’re not alone. ❤

Someone asked for a link to my Etsy site. Here it is:

48 thoughts on “Trying to Hold My Shit Together, but…

  1. 100%, Martha! My coworkers and I were talking about this yesterday. This is something else. I can already tell this winter is going to be rough and I am not sure what I am going to do to get through it. Teachers are already at the end of their rope and it is only the beginning of October. Every little thing is stressing me out, I have no bandwidth for anything off course. Zero motivation. You have the right idea, though. Talking about it and trying to take pleasure in the little things like painting!

    • Oh Shannon, I was trying to imagine yesterday what it would be like if I were in the classroom now with all the ambient stress and the endemic enmity and the strong, absolutist feelings of post-adolescent students. That was a blessing I had no problem counting. You said it exactly — “no bandwidth.” I don’t have any, either. I guess humans have been through worse or the same and we’ll make it, but damn, this is exhausting. Hugs and hikes anyway ❤

  2. Martha–how do I get to your Etsy page? I looked under all the tabs but couldn’t find it.
    Thanks for this post. “…more fearful of doing anything…” I don’t know if it’s fear or just a general sense of uncomfortableness, but I have it, too. After I retired last year, we had decided we would take care of some things around the house and just settle in a bit. Two years later…here we still are. I’ll be damned if Covid is gonna kill me–that’s what my cancer is probably gonna do! But to go out or not? Make eye contact with masked and unmasked alike? Everyone has gotten a bit weird, and the world has changed so much. Holding your shit together…let me know how that works out. I so want to try it.

    • I guess I should put up a link to the Etsy shop :-p

      I’m not sure if I’m doing well holding my shit together or not. I can say I really really value my friends right now (I wrote fright…). I was feeling the power of peer pressure in NOT wearing a mask because where I live most people are fascists in THAT direction. My brain really can’t wrap itself around that whether it wants to protect me from the intolerant horde or protect me from a wandering microbe. It really doesn’t know what to do.

      Anyway, if you see an ornament you like, don’t buy it on Etsy. Just tell me and I’ll send it to you. ❤

  3. I get where you’re coming from; I often struggle with those same feelings. We should be thankful, etc., and interested in others, but sometimes a person has this slough of emotions to flounder through. When despair wants to wash over me, other people can look out for themselves!

    I read a brief bio of Leonard Cohen the other day and his quote resonated with me. While he lived with depression and a feeling of brokenness, according to the writer (Mikal Gilmore) “he never submitted to the darkness.”
    “Depression has often been the general background of my daily life,” Cohen told me. “My feeling is that whatever I did was in spite of that, not because of it. It wasn’t the depression that was the engine of my work. . . . That was just the sea I swam in.”!

    This gives me hope. The waves may swirl and slosh but a greater purpose will guide my boat.

    • I love that so much! I agree 100%. I’ve dealt with clinical depression a couple of times in my life. And, every time, it was “in spite of” that pulled me through. I also love, “When despair wants to wash over me, other people can look out for themselves.” That’s it; we have to keep ourselves standing and it’s a pretty ruthless thing in a way.

  4. I’m going to lunch with a dear friend – someone I’ve known since 1980. She has been a prisoner of fear for the last couple years. We are going in public wearing masks and avoiding crowds – but we are going out. She is giddy with excitement and trepidation. (she hasn’t seen a movie in a theater for over 5 years because she heard that there were bedbugs and lice)…

  5. I find that I have MORE anxiety AFTER a crisis. During it, I’m just doing what needs to be done. Getting through. Afterward, when I think about it, I can freak out a little bit.

    • I look at our current situation and at the idiots and think, “You LIKED that? You could be fucking vaccinated right now and not have to think about it any more but you don’t WANT to because you don’t give a rat’s ass about other people? And I have to live in a world with you?” Part of my stress is anger combined with disbelief. But I think you’ve hit on something. The “lockdown” was clear and the crisis was legitimate. It WAS easier. Yeah. Maybe I’m just feeling a kind of post-near-apocalyptic hangover.

      • I don’t understand why folks who HAVE BEEN VACCINATED FOR THINGS THEIR WHOLE LIVES are suddenly doubting the science/benefits. It doesn’t make sense.

        • It makes no sense at all to politicize a disease and make a preventative measure designed to save lives a question of “rights” (huh???) So messed up.

  6. At the core of my angst about writing and music (okay, Not writing and Not playing music) is impatience with myself. It’s really easy for me to beat myself up. It’s TOO easy. So…as William Stafford suggested…I lower my expectations and just do my best to keep on. Eventually, doggerel evolves to something readable and the music becomes, um, “catchy.” Sometimes, yeah, I’m grumpy, but those closest to me will call me on it and, eventually, I get to that comedy noir place and laugh at myself. I’m grateful for that? Hell, yeah! No apologies.

    • There’s no reason to be impatient with yourself. We’re not always 100%. I get impatient when emotions get between me and simple work that isn’t even great work, just work. I feel resentful of whatever is in the “milieu” that is stealing my attention. Those closest to me are dogs 😉

  7. Get it, I’m trying to hold my shit together this week, given this time last week I had a partner who presumably at the time,understood my shit ! However he didn’t or couldn’t handle my crazy . Now my shit is more more apparent to me , this October than last ! Clinically depression modes are shit !

  8. I read your post this morning and felt better. You/we are not alone, but it sure feels that way most of the time. Put on a freaking happy face and carry on. Whatever. Last year BEFORE the vaccine, we had a purpose…to hold on until the vaccine. And then…well, fear and craziness took over and delta happened. So hard to hold onto hope and get motivated. We are in a state of chronic crisis and our bodies can only take so many hits of that fight or flight hormone surge. On alert 24/7. The cloud of covid. My shit is all over the place – not nearly together at all.
    I also remember in 1987 when I told my 94 year old grandmother I was pregnant with our second child and her response was: “Why bring someone else into this terrible world, with all these awful things happening?” I think of that now and wonder what it was that scared her so much. And why I didn’t get it. Maybe a lifetime of shit had taken its toll.
    But I digress… Thank you for this post.

    • Our grandmas (mine was about the same age as yours) lived through two world wars, the depression, Korea, polio, a technological revolution at LEAST as wild as ours has been and then all the normal personal pain — in my grandma’s case, my dad dying at 45 and she was only in her early 70s. I think of them and I feel like a pussy, but I’m not, we’re not.

      I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, Milagro Beanfield War, but there’s an old man named Amarante who talks to a ghost. In one of their conversations one of them says to the other (about a young guy who’s doing something harmless but dangerous) “If people knew what they were doing (in the big picture), no one would do anything.” Or something like that. That’s like you being happy to have a baby. I couldn’t do it — I tried and was just relieved it didn’t happen for me. Not because the world was so terrible but because I didn’t think I’d be a good mom.

      I’m glad my post made you feel less alone. Somehow writing helped me feel less alone and then I spent the day doing art stuff that culminated in a sudden very beautiful painting that I didn’t expect. From it I learned I probably need to let go. That’s what this day — week? — has taught me. Maybe it’s time to let go. Maybe I’ve been holding on too long and too tight. Maybe we all have? ❤

      • Our grandmas did live through a horror show all their own (including the 1918 flu epidemic, just thought of that). She lost her husband in 1961 too. I’ve heard of that movie, but didn’t see it. I’m thinking it was also a book (?). Now I’m interested.
        A day culminating in beautiful art is a day well spent. It is so very exhausting – this holding on so tight. Letting go? But how….❤️

        • I don’t know. I just let go for a while. The Refuge is good for that, too. Every day is something else, but…. Milagro Beanfield War is a book, but the movie is better in its way because you get to see the world, the landscape. It’s set in Northern New Mexico and it’s close enough to the book. The acting is just so lovely. It has Ruben Blade and Melanie Griffith and Christopher Walken early in his career. It’s just visually beautiful and more or less where I live. ❤

  9. Visited your shop, it’s just so impressive. The holiday cards n other paintings are just out of the world. You are an incredible artist. And a prolific writer too. I missed yesterday’s poetry vs prose argument but to me, both have different zone and have different approaches. I would’ve love to read through.

    • I tried to stay our of the discussion about poetry on my post yesterday even though I was happy to have inspired it. I agree with you about poetry and prose, though I do think having a sensitivity to poetry can help a prose writer. Thank you so much for your kind words. ❤

  10. I think my personal crisis has saved me from having to deal with the world crises! I’ve had enough to think about within my own shell that there hasn’t been much room for worry about other things, except as they all relate to each other. All is going well here, although I’m getting anxious to be out and see what has changed in the world!

    • I think you are probably right. I think the same is true of my neighbors who also fought cancer during the past year — my neighbor’s husband. I think that left them a little outside the whole bizarreness but THEIR bizarreness was enough for anyone to deal with. I’m glad everything is going well there. ❤

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