It’s ok to be calm

“Your healing is the world’s healing. Allow it.” —Randi Buckley

I know a lot of us are feeling constantly disrupted because of this election and the aftermath, and who are still feeling panicked and unsafe. After awhile that feeling becomes almost an addiction, and it feels like we’re betraying other people and the world if we can find calm and comfort.

If you’re someone who’s been traumatized in the past, you already know this cycle of anxiety and alarm, and how terrifying it is when you stop feeling anxiety and alarm, and how that feels like something even worse is going to happen if the anxiety isn’t there.

But.

You deserve to feel peaceful within the situation you’re in. Peace is power. It allows you to live the life you are capable of living, to be the advocate for the kids in your life that you can be, and to take joy in being alive.

Realistically, you are going to have to live the next four and eight and twenty years the best you can. Working and loving, with the most you can bring to both of those. Trump and his acolytes and the white supremacists and the oil companies don’t get to steal your life from you any more than any of the structures of our racist misogynist society get to. You have been living through our system already. You can live through these new changes and resist them at the same time and be at peace and heal from trauma every day.

And you have to. That’s not up for debate. As Randi says, “Allow it.”

First, triage. For when your chest gets too tight and your stomach clenches and you wake up with a start or you can’t fall asleep:

Assess your situation. Are you safe? Is your body ok? How is your breathing? If you have children, are they safe? If you are safe and as whole as is normal for you right now, start thinking about your breathing. Be intentional about breathing in and breathing out, paying attention to how that feels. Draw your focus to your toes and then slowly up your entire body, assuring yourself that you’re still here and you’re still the way you normally are. You are still here, still resisting.

If you are not safe, do whatever it takes to become safe, whether that’s leaving your location or asking someone else for help.

Breathe and think about the parts of you body that are ok. Think about the items on the to-do list I posted yesterday. Once you have worked your way through that list, you can put it aside and know that it’s taking care of itself, and you can focus on your real life and handling whatever comes up in your view as it comes.

To regulate yourself and get yourself out of the loop of fear, I’m giving you three assignments to do today and every day:

  1. Move your body rhythmically for 30 minutes. If you can walk outside, walk outside. Jog or run or swim or bike or row or step dance or jump rope if you like that better. Or put on music you like and dance for 30 minutes. It is better if you work up a sweat doing this, but I’ll take anything you give to it. If you can’t do 30 minutes today, start with however many you can do, even if that’s 1 minute, and work up to 30. You’ve got all the time in the world. Spend it on your body.
  2. Do something with your hands that involves rhythm and repetition (if you can move your hands). Knit or crochet or embroider or latch hook or carve wood or soap, or do cat’s cradle or origami, or knead bread dough or make meatballs or stuff dumplings or chop carrots, or do connect the dots or coloring books, or do rhythmic hand games with a kid you know, or Spirograph, or (air) drum along to some loud music, or something that keeps your hands moving in predictable ways. The goal is 20 minutes every day, but I’ll take 10.
  3. Spend some deliberate time snuggling with at least one other mammal today. (If you’re a bird or lizard snuggler, ok, and I don’t actually get it, but if it works for you, go for it.) If you live with other humans, make sure that you give each one of them a long, tight hug that gives them energy when you first see them in the morning, and when you last see them at night. If there’s someone at work that it’s not creepy to hug, hug them, or seek out a friend every day to hug. Spend time petting your pets. Make an effort to have some skin-to-skin or skin-to-fur time, even if it’s just your cheek against their cheek.

Make an effort to do these three things today and tomorrow and the next day. Making the effort for each one counts. Progress, not perfection. Eventually, once you’re more healed from a lifetime of trauma, these activities will keep you regulated on a daily basis. Start now.

All my love,

Magda

Sign, seal, deliver

This is part 1 of easing your mind enough to be able to live through each day without fear and anxiety. If you didn’t read my post about the long game from last week, go read it now and then come back. Assuming that we are all committed to resist Trumpism and teach critical thinking, it’s time to get things in place for the struggle ahead. Here’s a list of actions to plan and take:

1. Figure out how much direct action you can take and then sign up for one of the action emails that tells you a short, manageable list of things to do to resist. A weekly one is Wall Of Us, and you can sign up here: https://www.wall-of-us.org/subscribe/  A daily one is Raise Your Hand If You’re Gonna Fight and you can sign up here: http://tinyletter.com/resist Sign up for ONE of them. (You can manage one. More than one will increase your anxiety.) And then when it comes, do what it tells you to do, every week/day. Even if you’re afraid of the phone. I’m afraid of the phone, too, and I have a flat Midwestern accent and a slight lisp and I am making these calls and if I can do it, you can do it.

2. Decide how you’re going to handle it if you witness a hate attack. These white supremacists are coming out from under the refrigerator to attack people of color, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and anyone they perceive as being less than they are. I am asking you to consider stepping in physically to help someone and stop these neo-Nazis. I am practicing and running scenarios to be able to step in physically if I’m alone or am with my children. I told my teenager (who is the size of a big man) yesterday that he needed to know that if something happened in my presence I was going to step in and I needed him to keep himself and his brother safe and call for help. I’m using the same procedure we’ve been rehearsing since they were little and we lived in NYC, but without the complication of being underground on the subway: I tell them I’m stepping in and call for help from other adults in the vicinity, hand them my phone unless they have their phones out, I step in, they call for help. If you rehearse it and talk about it enough, when it happens you’ll just do it without hesitation.

3. If you’re afraid of what will happen to you and your family personally (financially, socially, educationally, etc.) under the Trump regime, shore up as many gaps as you can so you have fewer things to worry about specifically. You may have been thinking “How bad is it going to get?” and the only answer I have for that is “Trust Jesus, but lock your car.” You won’t regret protecting yourself, if only because that frees up more energy to fight for others.

4. Reach out to the people around you to find out what they’re afraid of happening, and help them protect themselves. Do you have neighbors or friends who are going to be especially vulnerable to these criminal vultures and their policies? Help them with paperwork and planning, and help them with resources and support so they’re embedded even more in resilient communities. Immigrants, religious minorities, single parents who are just scraping by financially, kids who seem to get in trouble in school a lot and their parents, neighbors who might be in danger of losing their houses or not being able to keep the heat on. They are probably not going to ask you for help, so get quiet and start watching carefully to see what you can do to help them become more stable.

5. Think about the things that you’re afraid of being taken away, and how those structures are already too limiting and harmful to a lot of people. A lot of these structures are already systematically racist and misogynist–defending them just because they’re all we’ve got is a whole lot of energy to stay in the same place. Since Trumpists are trying to harm us, it makes exactly zero sense to merely defend. We need to attack and push for more equitable structures and more justice than we currently have. Getting along, seeing the other side, waiting and seeing–none of that is going to save us. There is no amount we can compromise that will make them stop pushing. So don’t compromise. Push back HARD into their territory and take what we need. Part of this is contacting your local politicians and demanding that they make your city a sanctuary city. Send your clergy people this story and ask them to become part of this movement. Put your money where your values are and divest of structures that reinforce an unjust system. Don’t support white-only institutions. Support institutions and groups that are fighting back. Meet up online and in real life to take collective action to demand more than we have now. Listen to the people who need the most change and do what they say.

6. Unplug. Knowing exactly what Crybaby Don and his criminal band of appointees say exactly when they say it isn’t going to change anything, and it harms you emotionally and physically. Set limits on the amount of time you spend reading and watching the latest ridiculous crap. Spend that time instead reading or writing fiction or poetry, cooking, doing things with your hands, exercising, making art or music, laughing with other people. They don’t get to make you jump every time they do or say something. You are still you and you deserve to feel good, in spite of it.

All my love,

Magda

(For anyone with depression, my friend Shannon and I write the Advent Calendar For Depressed People and it might help you know you’re not alone.)

The long game

Loveys, I’ve been struggling with writing a post to tell you how to stop being scared and what to do to quell the panic. I have a list of things but they aren’t hanging together yet in any way that feels helpful to anyone.

But then I was driving my 9th grader to school this morning and an Elton John song came on the radio and I launched into one of my cultural literacy lectures, about Elton John and Bernie Taupin and how they were such a strange combo because all of Elton John’s songs sound so natural, like they were written by one person and the lyrics and music just came to him together, but instead the lyrics were written by Taupin and the music by John and how do those songs hang together so well when the parts were created by different people? And how in the world does Taupin write lyrics from John’s point of view so brilliantly? I told my son about “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” about Elton John being engaged to a woman and being suicidal about that, and a friend talking him out of doing the socially acceptable thing by marrying her so that he could be true to himself instead. And how by writing those beautiful, nuanced lyrics for Elton John to sing, Bernie Taupin has saved more lives than he could ever know.

And then I started crying, in the car on the highway, because it hit me that my child has been trying to communicate since the beginning (when he was 3 days old my mom said, “He’s trying to talk to us” and she was right), and words and language are important to him, and he’s developing into a nuanced and powerful writer. So then I got fierce in that way that embarrasses the crap out of him even when we’re alone, and told him that he HAD to keep writing. That the words he put together were important, whether they were jokes or song lyrics or short stories or impassioned treatises about the moral danger of homework. And that his critical brain needed to keep working. And KEEP WRITING. Because he had no idea whose life he was going to save, literally or metaphorically, with something he wrote.

Then he changed the subject and I stopped crying and we got to school and he told me he loved me and got out of the car.

This is what I have for you today: This is going to be a long, slow ugly fight. Bad things are going to happen. Many bad things that we literally can’t do anything about, and a lot of bad things that we’ll almost prevent but not quite. And we are going to keep losing things we never thought could be lost. But. As long as we keep teaching the children in our lives to think critically and create things that connect with other people, we (humans) win.

If there are kids in your life in any capacity, spend time with them. Take them seriously and nurture their skills. Apprentice them into critical thinking. Invite them to look behind the curtain. Talk about race and sex and gender and how those things affect how people are treated and how they intersect with our systems and institutions. Encourage them to do a critical examination of media they consume and look for the mechanisms and motivations of the messages that are sent (and the ones they receive). Raise your children to be critical thinkers who can’t be fooled and enticed by demagogues and public narcissists. That’s the long game here–creating more humans who use their brains for justice and joy.

Now that this is off my chest, I think I can write these lists of how to regain your balance. Stay tuned.

Love,

Magda

Thanksgiving thoughts

This hit me hard this morning:

“White Mountain” by Vievee Francis

There’s a wind here so strong it shakes this stone house.
A howl from pain and cold, a particular anguish–
not a foot in a trap, but a foot in a trap and the snow
getting deeper. I look out under the leafless beech,
which I’d take for dead if I didn’t believe in spring’s coming.
I walk around the property thinking I might happen upon
the source of the sound. How could that cry be wind alone?
Something has snapped in two. Something has been lost
that won’t return in this life. I want to find the source.
I’m stumbling in a thin coat that flaps at my sides. It seems
as if I might ride the beast that haunts me if I could just let go.
Let it take me up easily as this gale is lifting me now.

From her stunning book Forest Primeval.

This day is incredibly difficult for so many of us, and this year there’s an added layer of heartbreak and reckoning. Your priorities are: being kind to yourself, protecting the children in your life, and getting through the day with as much energy and balance as you can manage. You don’t have to be good.

I hope that everyone will remember the water protectors today, and everything they’re doing for all of us. Please send them something, if you can, either from their wish list or a direct donation to one of the groups on this list.

We can all do this together.

All my love,

Magda

Kids and Thanksgiving and possible confrontations

(I have comments turned off specifically so I don’t have to deal with the fake Russian accounts or people trying to get me to tell them they’re not racist because they have non-white friends. If you’re an actual reader and you want to talk to me you can totally use the ways in the About section.)

Yesterday I talked about deciding how to approach Thanksgiving when you’re going to have to be there with people who voted for Trump. If you have kids, your decision is going to involve your kids, so it’s important to talk about how to talk about your decision to them.

Here’s my agenda: To encourage you to build in to your kids the gut instinct to protect their own boundaries so that when they get hurt they can heal and not stay in a bad position with people who are harming them, and give them the perspective to understand that others hurting them isn’t their fault. You can’t protect them from ever being hurt, but you can give them the bone-deep knowledge that they’re worth listening to and that their health and safety matters, and that they need to defend and help others, too. It would be nice if they got good at seeing through harmful institutions at a young age so they could get a running start on dismantling them.

To that end, I think you have to first think about what your decision about Thanksgiving is actually going to mean to your kids. Especially if they’re really little, they might not even notice or care. If that’s the case, then just do whatever makes the most sense, and keep being good to your children.

If your kids are old enough to understand this in a nuanced way (from maybe 11 or 12 on up for neurotypical kids), then tell them the truth and what you need from them in the situation. “We’re not going to Uncle Jimmy’s for Thanksgiving because I know he’s going to gloat about Trump winning and it’s going to make me feel horrible. That means you’re not going to get to see your cousins. I’m sorry about that, and I’m going to see if we can schedule a time for you to see each other without the adults having to be involved.” “I want to spend Thanksgiving with your grandmother and have it be a pleasant day for her, so if anyone mentions that guy or voting for him or anything, switch the conversation immediately to the football game on Saturday and who they think is going to win.” “Can we bring your ukelele along on Thursday and have you play before dinner so no one gets a chance to start anything about Trump?” “If your aunt and I get into it, we need to be prepared to leave, so don’t spread out too much while we’re there.”

Whatever you decide, when you tell your older kids what to expect and that they can play a part in it, you’re giving them a model of self-protection in spite of risk and accurately assessing risk.

(Also, I wouldn’t let your kids be the deciders here, but if they have been following this story a lot and have already expressed anger or dismay at family members having fallen for Trump, you might want to let them be part of the process of working through how to manage Thanksgiving.)

If your kids are old enough to know and understand what’s going on at Thanksgiving but not old enough to be straight with the way you are with teenagers, you have to figure out how to tell them the truth in a way that doesn’t put them at risk for being manipulated by the people you’re trying to navigate. You don’t want them to end up in a situation in which they are being lectured by someone else about what they should feel, or in which the other person is badmouthing you or your feelings to them, or in which they have to listen to all kinds of contortions of logic. And you don’t want them walking in and announcing, “Mom says I should stay away from Cousin Barb because she voted for Donald Trump” even if it’s true, because you don’t want to put them in that position.

So it makes sense to tell an edited version of the truth, in which you set expectations for the day, including expectations of a shorter visit or no visit. If you’re going, you can’t really tell them to stay away from anyone, because a) it’ll ruin the day for them, and b) they won’t be able to not mention it. So if you’re going, go. And then stay close to them to make sure no conversations are starting that you don’t want them to be part of or worry about.

If you have any allies at the place you’ll be, talk to them ahead of time about not wanting your kids to have to be subject to confrontations or manipulation, and ask if they’ll help you keep an eye on the kids so nothing happens.

Keep in mind the goal to protect your kids from worrying, but keep them in the loop on differences of opinion and standing up for what’s right.

If you’re spending Thanksgiving with other non-Trump voters, be sure to explain that and what it means to you to your kids before you go. And let them help with whatever your project is, such as letter-writing at dessert and/or other service projects.

You can make it through this week!

All my love,

Magda

 

Thanksgiving and what you want to do about it

I’m seeing a lot of guides to talking at Thanksgiving to your relatives who voted for Trump, and I love that people are putting these together, but I want to back up a bit to help you figure out if you even want to be in that position.

To be clear: My agenda is helping you decide how best to preserve your emotional and physical health. No one will defend your healthy boundaries but you. No one will defend your kids’ healthy boundaries and teach them to defend their own healthy boundaries but you.

I’m going to plug my Christmas workbook again right now because it’s a very clear, very step-by-step guide to isolating which expectations belong to you and which ones belong to other people, and how to figure out when it’s more worth not doing things that other people want you to do, and when it’s more worth going along with other people’s ideas (and how to maintain your emotional health when you do go along with someone else’s plan). It’s focused around Christmas because Christmas is ubiquitous in the US, but a friend used it to plan Ramadan, so there’s that.

If you are facing having to see people at Thanksgiving who voted to harm you and your family and friends (and possibly themselves!), please know that this isn’t a situation of “disagreeing” about politics. That idea assumes that both “sides” are valid and there’s the possibility to either agree and find common ground, or to just decide not to talk about things and ignore this difference of opinion.

In contrast, this situation is you having been harmed by someone who voted for a candidate who wants to harm you and is actively appointing evil into the government to harm anyone who doesn’t comply with their racist vision. Your relative may not have realized at the time that they were voting to harm you. But that doesn’t actually matter here. I’ve said it before: If someone is carrying scissors and trips and stabs you with them, you have still been stabbed and need to be healed. Their not intending harm doesn’t mean that you haven’t been harmed. And that makes this an inherently unequal situation because their intention doesn’t matter, only the effect on you matters.

The upshot of that is that you are not under any obligation to “consider their side” or “come together” or “try to understand” what they were thinking. If they want to repair the harm they’ve caused you, they need to do work to do that. It’s up to you to decide what that work should be. I described what it would take for someone to repair the harm to me in this post, if that helps you get ideas.

So I’m suggesting that you approach Thanksgiving in a very functional way and ask yourself two questions:
1. What do I want out of this day?
2. What do I want from each of the Trump voters I will see on this day?

What do you want out of the day? Maybe you want to not be triggered by people who won’t be kind to you. Maybe you want to see your grandmother. Maybe you want your kids to see their cousins. Maybe you really secretly just want to sleep and order in pizza. You are actually allowed to do anything you want to do, as long as you are willing to trade for whatever the repercussion is of doing that.

Let’s say you really want to spend Thanksgiving at home with your cats, instead of going to a relative’s house and having to navigate your brother. What will be the repercussion of staying home? What’s the repercussion if you tell them why you’re staying home? What if you develop explosive diarrhea that morning and just can’t come? Are you willing to deal with the range of repercussions? If yes, then stay home. If no, then go but work on some strategies for how to minimize the damage to yourself from going.

Calculating the damage you sustain by going requires considering the second question about what you want from each of the Trump voters you’ll see. Maybe with someone you really want to have a discussion about it but don’t care if you agree. That’s easy, if the other person is willing to discuss it. Maybe you want an apology from someone. That only works if the other person is willing to apologize. Think carefully about whether that will really happen and what you’ll do and how you’ll feel if it doesn’t. Maybe you really just want to not have to speak to someone but just sit there together and make it through the afternoon to be able to spend time with someone else. In that case, you might lay out that expectation for the person. (“I’m not interested in talking about the election and would just like to have a nice meal with Aunt Hana. Are you willing to not bring up anything about the election?”)

Think about what you want from each person and whether you think you might be able to get that from them. If you don’t, is it worth it to go?

Basically, here are your possibilities:

  • Don’t go, and tell them exactly why you’re not going.
  • Don’t go, and fake a reason for not going that doesn’t confront the issue (work, projectile diarrhea, migraine, etc.).
  • Go but only get there in time to eat and then leave at the end of the meal, and don’t answer any questions from anyone about anything. (Basically, you’re checking the “Thanksgiving” box but not really participating.)
  • Go but don’t talk about it with anyone and leave the room if anyone brings it up.
  • Go and stick like glue to anyone you know didn’t vote against you and don’t talk to anyone else.
  • Go and bring all sorts of stuff to distract people so no one can talk about any of it.
  • Go and engage people thoughtfully in conversation about it without agreeing to “wait and see” or “all get along.” If this is what you choose to do, the NYT did a nice little set of questions you can ask people here. And Showing Up for Racial Justice has a huge wonderful resource for you here including thoughtful factual responses to a lot of justifications. (They even have a text helpline!)
  • Go and say, “I’d prefer not to talk about it” as many times as you need to.
  • Go and say, “I’d prefer you not mention that in front of me/my kids/the dog.”
  • Go and any time anyone brings it up, change the topic IMMEDIATELY and abruptly.
  • Go and be ready for a fight and to stand your ground. (Be prepared to leave if you need to–and to lose people–if this is the course you take.)

Note that I’m not mentioning any option that makes you have to listen to anyone’s justifications and agree that they were right to support Crybaby Don just to keep the peace. Part of the next four years is going to be affirming and protecting yourself, and not rolling over just because people expect you to. You are worth being cared for and about. They can’t hurt you and then make you apologize for it. You can listen to their justifications and then change the subject, but don’t bless them because you think you should. That’s not honoring yourself and anyone else who is being hurt by this, especially people of color, people with disabilities, LBGTQ people, and Muslims.

Now, for anyone who isn’t going to be in the belly of the beast at Thanksgiving because you’ll be only with people who are also targets and non-Trump voters, you’re still going to have extra energy and worry. Why not put that to good use together by writing hard copy letters to your elected officials together? And what if you decided as a family to do a community-strengthening service project together in December? There are all kinds of things you could do, from collecting food or diapers for food banks to helping out with a community program that helps children of single parents make presents for their parents for Christmas and Hanukkah to volunteering at an animal shelter. Use this time and your energy and high emotion to work together to help each other and other people.

Tomorrow I’ll talk a little about how to frame this all for your kids, once you make a decision about how you want to do Thanksgiving.

All my love,

Magda

 

 

Caring for you, specifically

I’m going to break down some reactions you may be having depending on different aspects of your personality, and help you put that together with others you live with so you can all get what you need. First, though, I’m going to say this:

Don’t go to Thanksgiving if you can’t see the people you’re supposed to be with.

You are an adult and it is your job to protect yourself and your kids, if any. You aren’t required to participate in your own harm and then have to smile through it.

(Having said that, if you do decide to go, I’ll talk about some strategies tomorrow for dealing with it. Also, if this idea of not going just because you always have is new to you, check out the book I wrote about creating a Christmas season you can live with (whether you celebrate or not). I had no idea when I wrote it how serious it would eventually be.)

There are a couple of dimensions I’m going to talk about to help you figure out how to heal and stay healthy: tension releaser vs increaser, introvert vs extrovert (which I’m not sure I really believe anymore), intensive vs expansive, and love languages. Figure out which of all of these you are, and you know how to heal. Figure out which of these your loved ones (partners, kids, friends, siblings) are, and you know both how to help them heal themselves AND why their efforts to help you can grate and why your efforts to help them can grate on them.

Tension Releaser vs. Tension Increaser: This is my own theory, based on having heard from hundreds of parents with hundreds of babies and toddlers, and observing my own kids. The idea is that some people release energy by crying, and some increase energy by crying. You see this in babies: a tension releaser will cry for 3 or 10 minutes to shut down at the end of the day and tap off tension to relax, and will then fall asleep. Often they can’t fall asleep unless they’re allowed to cry–it’s like creating white noise for them. As they get older, they need to tantrum in some way to work through their feelings so the feelings can go away. You can’t interrupt them to stop a tantrum, but you can accelerate one and when it’s over, they’re happy again. As adults, they need to connect with and externalize emotion about something to be able to get past it by blowing up physically (yelling, hand gestures, punching pillows, crying, etc), but then once they get the emotion out, it’s over. If you need to “have a good cry” before you can get past something, you’re a tension releaser.

In contrast, people who increase tension get overloaded by expressing the emotion, so that just makes them more upset. Babies who are tension increasers will cry and cry for hours until they vomit or fall asleep from exhaustion, and crying makes them really unhappy and they need to be comforted. The way to stop them from crying is to comfort them as soon as you can so they never work up into a full cry. As adults, they can talk about their feelings verbally, but letting the emotion get too big and take over their bodies feels horrible and they just get more upset. (I’m a tension increaser and if I start crying, I will cry for two hours uncontrollably, and after the first five minutes I’ll be crying because I’m crying and can’t stop. It’s horrible.) If “having a good cry” sounds like misery to you, you’re a tension increaser. Often, the way to get lasting negative emotions out is to work out really hard or do something that presses you to the border of physical pain, and the emotions get released that way.

Since the election, tension increasers are probably keeping their feelings internal and instead talking about logistics and facts instead of letting the feelings take over, so they don’t drown in the feelings. (This is why your tension increaser partner isn’t raging.) Tension releasers are crying and raging to get those emotions out, so they can reset to feel ok. (This is why your tension releaser partner is crying and screaming and punching things.)

Now, this intersects with the introvert vs extrovert concept in some interesting ways. I don’t really think people are either/or, but I think most of us have some sense of what we do when we’re in pain. If you turn out to other people to help you process your pain, you’re extrovertish. If you curl up to be alone to heal your own pain, you’re introvertish.

So think about how these things interact: If you’re introvertish and also a tension releaser, you just want to go someplace alone off in the woods to scream and cry and punch things. If you’re introvertish and a tension increaser, you just want hugs and maybe to talk about making some plans, with one person, and maybe writing things out will be helpful to work out your feelings over a few weeks. If you’re extrovertish and a tension releaser, you want to be with a bunch of people all ranting and crying together. If you’re extrovertish and a tension increaser, you start a trauma blog. (Not actually kidding.) You talk to other people in depth about the details and logistics and work through it together, but without letting the feelings take you over physically.

The next division is intensive vs expansive. This theory, created by Leela Sinha, is that intensives feel things more intensely and burn higher about most things in their lives, while expansives feel things less intensely and are focused on maintaining a regular rhythm. (Sinha theorizes that Trump and Sanders are intensives while Clinton is expansive, so people developed passion about Trump and Sanders but not as much about Clinton.) She has a chart on the front page of her website http://yourenottoomuch.com/ that helps you figure out which one you are. (Her book is illuminating, too, especially for people who have to work with the opposite type.)

The intensive vs expansive idea explains why some people are absolutely on fire about this election but others are focused hard on keeping things normal and moving on. It doesn’t mean the expansives don’t care as much, it’s just that they don’t experience their concerns as intensely. This is why your intensive partner is burning (almost literally–I think some of us have been running slight fevers since the night of the election) and can’t seem to settle back to pre-election normal. This is why your expansive partner is seemingly shaking it off and going back to work with what looks to you as if nothing is happening.

I bet a lot of you already know about the Love Languages concept. Developed by Gary Chapman, it’s the theory that everyone feels and gives love in one or two of five different ways. And if you can learn someone else’s love language, you know how to give them love in the way that feels meaningful to them, and if you figure out your own love language you can fill your own cup more easily (and tell others how to show love in a way you connect with). The five languages are: acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. People allegedly have a primary and a secondary, and there’s an idea that cis men have physical touch as one of theirs (although I wonder if that’s simply a result of how we socialize boys in our culture). There’s a quiz on the Love Language site to figure out which one(s) are yours, and you can use it to figure out your partner, kids, boss, etc. (Although I’m betting a lot of you can tell which one is yours just by reading the list.)

This explains why sometimes when you try to give love to someone they seem not to care, or even to get angry, because it’s not what they experience as love. And vice versa. Maybe you really need a hug, but someone tells you how great you are. Maybe you just want to hear that you did a wonderful job, but the other person gives you a present instead. Maybe the other person just needs a little present, and you plan an afternoon together. These mismatches cause problems all the time, and they’re easily remedied if you learn your own language and the one of the people you interact with most often.

SO. Let’s put this all together and figure out what you need to be doing for yourself, and how to create the right container for your loved ones to do for themselves.

1. Does it help you to get the bad feelings out physically by raging or crying before you can move on? Or do you need to prevent the emotions from taking you over physically and instead need to be calm to increase your calm?

2. Do you feel better processing with others or by yourself?

3. Do you get into things intensely or do you like to keep things on a steady, even keel?

4. What’s your love language?

Now that you know these, you know how to proceed. If you’re an extrovertish tension increaser intensive with the love languages acts of service and gifts like me, you’re going to do something for other people right away that involves connecting with other people, and crying won’t make you feel better so you don’t even bother, and you let yourself go deep into action plans or theory or whatever grabs your attention. Set timers to remember to eat and sleep. When someone makes you a cup of coffee or gives you something that reminded them of you, it makes you feel nourished. Anyone who wants to show love to you should do something for you or give you a present (even if it’s free) and make contact with you when you need to be around someone.

If you’re an introvertish tension releaser expansive with the love languages physical touch and acts of service, you’re going to go off alone to your cave (I hope you have a cave) and cry or rage and then get back to work as soon as possible to make yourself feel better, and as soon as you’re back from the raging and crying you need hugs and/or sex and then for things to just be normal daily work. Anyone who wants to show love to you should leave you alone and trust that you’re healing yourself, and then when you’re ready to be back with them they should do things for you and give you physical touch.

If you’re living with more than just you, I’d get serious about figuring this out, today, and actually write it down for yourself and everyone you live with, to give yourself a cheat sheet for the weeks and months (and, God help us, years) ahead. I’d divide it up into columns for tension releaser/increaser, introvertish/extrovertish, intensive/expansive, love languages, and then a “what to do” column and a “what not to do” column. Mine looks like this, for me and my kids:

Chart of three names down the left column, with columns across the top for categories of behavior preferences

Then start taking this seriously. Tell your people specifically what they can do to make you feel love. Do the things that make your people feel love. Protect each other’s uniqueness. Give your people space to be alone or to cry or talk or whatever they need. Ask them to give you the space you need to be able to do what you need.

Now, here’s an assignment for everyone for trauma recovery: Go outside into nature and walk for twenty minutes, if you can and it’s safe for you to do so. While you are walking, focus on making your breath even and pay attention to your exhales. Breathe in and then observe yourself breathing out. Find any pace that feels good. Just keep paying attention to that exhale. When you come back, get a glass of water and drink it slowly.

All my love,

Magda

Caring for kids in this middle-term period

It’s time to dig in with self care. I think most of us are out of the shock phase and are realizing that this is the next four years and we have to prioritize our emotional and physical health to be able to get through this and keep resisting. And that we have to ask for help from others and give others help, too. So I’m going to talk about figuring out what best to do for yourself tomorrow, but first we need to talk about the children.

It is absolutely crucial that we keep caring for the kids in our lives. (You can define “kids” how you want to.) They are so vulnerable to stress and trauma right now (and kids 14 and older were either in utero or little when 9/11 happened, so they’re getting another major national trauma dropped on them, and that’s a big deal for their young systems). We need to do everything we can to protect them from stress and fear and trauma, because the more hurt that happens to them now the more their systems will be set on high for the rest of their lives, and they’ll have emotional connection problems, attention and focus problems, and health issues.

To frame how to respond to your kids: They need to know that the world is an inherently safe place for them and that you will keep them safe. And that bad things happen, but they can be the helpers and other helpers will show up, too. They have a right and obligation to defend their own boundaries and health. Life goes on AND we keep working to make things better for others.

A list of what to do:
1. If they’re already in an unsafe or unstable situation, accelerate your plan to get them out of it. Unhealthy family dynamics, school that’s written them off, lack of physical safety–all these are rough on kids and you need to figure out how to protect them and get them out. If you can’t get them out, stay as close as possible and keep validating them.
2. If everything’s normally ok in their lives, keep everything as even and boring and normal as possible. Even if you’re not sleeping and feel like you’re in crisis mode, keep it together for your kids and keep interacting with them with humor and warmth.
3. Don’t let them see you worrying, and don’t rant about what could (is probably going to) happen in the next four years, or about what horrible people are coming into power.
4. Do let them see you pushing back on elected officials by calling their offices, going to protests, organizing. Talk to them about running for office (I’ve heard a few people saying you’d love to run for something but don’t want to take time from your kids–your kids need to see you working for the world, so float it to them and see what they say and I bet they’ll be in favor). Talk to them a lot about helping other people who are vulnerable and making connections with people who aren’t like you. Bring them along when you organize bridge-building groups in your house of worship or community groups. Talk about institutionalized racism and for-profit prisons and the school-to-prison pipeline and how they can refuse to be part of punitive systems that hurt other people. Talk specifically about race to help them build correct models in their heads instead of filling in gaps with what they pick up from the culture.
5. Ease up about their grades and behavior at school. They are worth so much more than those things.
6. Model and practice being helpers, so they see themselves as people who act, not people who are going to be hurt. You may already do some form of talking about and rehearsing what to do if there’s a fire in your living space and maybe about what to do if you encounter a car accident or some other kind of accident. Keep going with that but add in what to do if you see someone being attacked or harassed. We know that if you rehearse what you want to happen, you’ll be able to do it when it’s time to.
7. Model and talk about talking kindly about other kids AND standing up for kids who are being spoken to unkindly. So many of the parents I know are hurting because their children are scared for their friends at school, not themselves, so learning to defend friends effectively and consistently is important to empower them.
8. Hugs and hugs and hugs. Go run around outside until they’re sweaty and out of breath, if they can do that. Then more hugs.

Here’s a bonus assignment that is actually a little bit of self-care: Write a thank-you (note, email, Tweet, text) to someone who’s helped you in all of this. I just wrote one to my middle schooler’s teacher who said some really validating and calming stuff to her classes the day after the election.

Ok, tomorrow we’re going to talk about how different people need to process and care for themselves differently and how to figure out how to help yourself AND also how to help the other people you live with by figuring out what they need AND how to not butt heads and make things even worse with conflicting needs and expectations.

We can all do this.

All my love,

Magda

It’s ok to feel sad

Two friends asked me for this post. One because she’s seeing friends posting, mired in guilt over not having done enough to prevent the results of the election. And the other because she’s seeing friends posting about being so sad about the election and other people telling them that they can’t afford to be sad and they have to act. So let me start with the first one.

Guilt is utterly useless unless it spurs you to change something. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a situation and are acting the wrong way and you feel guilt about that and it makes you start acting a better way, then that guilt is useful. But otherwise, guilt after the situation is over never does anything except weaken you and get you stuck in a self-centered echo chamber of wallowing.

So forgive yourself. You might have to be really purposeful about this. Sometimes we take blame for things because it makes us feel like we have control over things we’re afraid of not controlling, or because guilt gives us an adrenaline hit, or because we’re already feeling so bad that we might as well stoke the fire of feeling horrible. If you’re a tension increaser you’re in danger of doing this because once you’re physically upset you need to keep going so you need more fuel to be upset about. So deescalate with yourself and then forgive yourself.

Then, think as unemotionally as possible about what actually happened and what else you could have done. Is there something you can learn about what to do in a similar situation in the future? File that away. Now, is there anything you can do to make amends right now? In this situation, not exactly, but you can start making calls and supporting people the way then ask to be supported.

Side note: Here’s something I keep seeing people getting massively twisted up about–helping other people. It is not help if the other person doesn’t want it. When you get a great idea to help someone, ASK THEM if that’s the best way for you to help them. If they tell you it’s not, don’t get upset, just ask them what you can do instead, and then do that. If you ask them and it is what they need, then you get double pleasure from asking them and then doing it.

But back to shaking off guilt: Once you start working to resist Trumpism, you are going to build up proof (for yourself) that you’re working, and it’ll be easier to move away from guilt and keep moving. Like a shark.

Just because guilt is usually worthless doesn’t mean that sadness is. We all process things differently. I have to start acting right away because if I don’t I’ll spiral, but then I also process through work, so working helps me get the feelings out. Not everyone (maybe even most people) aren’t like that and need some time to be sad first. And different people need different amounts of time to be sad, based on personality and (and this is back to the original intent of this blog) on how traumatized you were already coming into the campaign cycle and then how traumatized you were coming into the actual election and results and now all the hate crimes and lost relationships.

Basically, hurt people are going to be more hurt and feel sad for a long time. And the fix for that isn’t to “toughen up.” If you could, you wouldn’t have been hurt. The answer is to put yourself in situations in which you feel more safe and secure so you can heal, and then once you’re ready, you can start acting. So let yourself cry if you need to. By the time you’re ready to come back, a lot of us who came off the mat right away will need breaks. There is work for everyone.

If anyone’s worried about mental health right now, my co-writer at the Advent Calendar for Depressed People put up a post-election, pre-Advent post about not letting her mental health go down with the ship that was exactly what I needed.

All my love,

Magda

A big list of what to do

Clarification: When I say “Trumpism” I don’t just mean the empty spewing hairball himself. I mean the entire machine of white supremacy, misogyny and hate that includes his transition team and their ideas, the alt-right, and the wave of hate crimes and intolerance that’s happening now.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — Lilla Watson

Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things you can do to fight Trumpism. The first three are things to focus on right now, today and for the rest of the week. Everything else is a next step. You don’t have to do everything, so pick the things you can do and do them, every day, without ceasing.

1. Show up for your friends. You have friends in less advantaged groups than you are, and they need to know that you are with them. In real life, physically, and on social media. Showing up and staying close, and stepping in when they ask you to. Ask them what they need from you. Then do that, even if it doesn’t sound like fun.

2. Change the way you speak. Fighting Trumpism is the only moral choice, and you cannot be defensive about it. Stop saying “but” and “just” and apologizing for wanting basic human rights and civils rights for all humans. Ask Trumpists why they’re whining about having manipulated the electoral system into putting the loser into office. Point out their lack of patriotism in criticizing dissent. Invite them time and time again to make the moral choice to fight with us against Trumpism. Go ahead and “get along” with them if getting along means that you give them a civics and history lesson, but don’t sell out the side of compassion and truth just for the sake of peace with people who essentially don’t care about your experience or anyone else’s. Being angry is the appropriate reaction, and being called “angry” isn’t in any way an actual insult. “Obviously I’m angry. Anger is the correct response to dealing with ignorant white supremacism.” If you’re not angry you’re not paying attention.

2a. Do not ever normalize this. Never. Call out white supremacism and Trumpism and Trump himself every single time. It’s horrible every single time, and normalizing it is how we got in this situation in the first place.

3. Push back HARD on the appointment of white supremacist Steve Bannon as Senior Advisor to future PGOTUS. Here’s how:
a. Call (not email) your Senators (2 for your state) and Representative (1 for your congressional district) and ask them firmly to condemn white supremacist Steve Bannon and state that he is unacceptable. (Program your Senators’ and Rep’s numbers into your phone. Find them here: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ and http://www.house.gov/representatives/)
b. Call Paul Ryan at 202-225-3031 and Mitch McConnell at 202-224-2541 and tell them Bannon is unacceptable.
c. Sign and share the petition from Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/stephen-bannon-has-no-business-white-house
d. Talk to your clergy member and ask them to speak out publicly and privately against Steve Bannon. Back them up when they do. Do the same with every community group you’re in and anyone who has any kind of power or platform in your community.
e. Email/tweet/call the media any time they try to normalize Bannon and refer to him as anything but a misogynist white supremacist. Every single time. He isn’t a “businessman.” Don’t let them paint him as reasonable.
f. Call every one of these Trump transition team members who currently hold office and tell them Bannon isn’t acceptable:
PA Representative Tom Marino 202-225-3731
PA Representative Lou Barletta 717-525-7002
TN Representative Marsha Blackburn 202-225-2811
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi 850-414-3300  (On-top-of-it reader Stacy told me that when you call the FL AG’s office they tell you they’re non-partisan [HA HA HA] and give you the number of the FL Republican party to call instead.)
NY Representative Chris Collins 202-225-5265
Rep. Devin Nunes 202-225-2523
Reince Priebus 202-863-8500, Option number 1

Now, other things you can do (not even remotely an exhaustive list)

  • Call Jason Chaffetz at 202-225-7751 and ask him to open an official investigation into Donald Trump’s financial arrangements to ensure that there is no actual or possible conflict of interest. Ask your own Rep to support Rep Elijah Cummings in asking for this investigation.
  • Start screwing around with data-mining whenever possible. Give bad data points. Visit sites you’re not interested in. Post about topics and click ads that don’t fit your demographic. Do anything that’s going to make it more difficult for the government and corporations to figure out who’s a target. (Is this going to do much? Not yet. But if we all do it all the time then eventually their tracking data becomes worthless.)
  • Consider running for office yourself or backing a friend who is running for office. Start doing the legwork to see what you need to file when, how much money you’re going to need, and how many people to help.
  • If you belong to a Christian church, go in to talk to your pastor/priest about partnering with a mosque/Islamic center AND a synagogue/temple/shul in your area. Form a group to be the points of contact, and have your pastor/priest make the first contact. Ask them what they need from you. It may be as simple as some dinners shared between your congregations, or holding a vigil for peace and unity. It may be more involved like having families from your church buddy up with families from the mosque and synagogue so that you know people individually and make those connections and friendships. Get people in your church ready to go register if this disgusting thing about registering Muslims actually happens.
  • Support immigrants. Call your Mayor and ask them to make your city a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. (Did you know that undocumented immigrants actually increase revenue in the US? Even if they use social services, they’re still a net gain for our cities and country as a whole. So becoming a sanctuary city isn’t going to harm your city’s finances, while it will increase safety for everyone.)
  • Go read the Black Lives Matter platform and think about it. You probably already know that it’s a peaceful and highly effective movement that is working toward police reform and supporting the water protectors in the #NoDAPL camps. Think about how you can support the supporters. Donate, wear BLM gear to show support, put BLM signs in your yard.
  • Send your child’s teachers and administrators notes of support and thanks for keeping their schools safe places for all students. This is tough, emotional work.
  • If teachers and administrators aren’t doing that, go physically into their offices and ask them to keep your child and all the children in the school safe from physical, emotional and verbal abuse.
  • Make plans to go to the Million Woman March on Washington on January 21, 2017. If you cannot go, consider hosting a house party the night before or during the day on the 21st as a fundraiser, and send the money raised to Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the ACLU.
  • Subscribe to news outlets that are doing real journalism. Trumpism is going to try to destroy investigative journalism (because they don’t want to be investigated), so we need to support a free press that asks hard questions. For sites that don’t run on subscriptions (such as TheRoot.com) click through all their ads and support their advertisers.
  • Buy art and literature and music from your friends, especially from people of color and other marginalized people. Pay full price.
  • Diversify your media stream. Ask a friend who has a perspective you like what they listen to/read/watch. Go through the follow lists of people you admire and follow the voices they follow. (If you asked me, I’d say to start with Van Jones, Rachel Held Evans, Kiese Laymon, and the Kinfolk Kollective on Facebook and Saladin Ahmed, Amanda Alexander, and Angela Vasquez-Giroux on Twitter.
  • Patronize businesses and stores that don’t run credit checks and that allow people to pay in cash. Especially if your credit rating is fantastic, support systems that don’t use credit ratings.
  • There is always another way, and start thinking about how to find the other way in your own life and for other people. You can’t always win the game other people set up. So shinny out the bathroom window. Remember when Prince realized he was stuck under contract to a label that was hurting him, so he just changed his name? Like that.
  • Keep making art, whatever your art is. Protect your art.
  • Donate money to the Fund for Legal Name/Gender Changes for transgender people who can’t afford all the expensive paperwork they need to be protected: https://www.gofundme.com/fund-for-legal-namegender-changes
  • Go to protests and marches in your area. Bring your children with you.
  • Make sure your children see you fighting for them and for other people.
  • Realize that your very existence is a political act. What are you saying? Adjust your message if necessary.
  • Take a self-defense class and practice what you learn.
  • Practice with your children what to do if you end up in a situation in which you need to step in to prevent someone from being hurt. (Depending on the ages of your children, they can be responsible for standing to the side safely while you act or running to safety, running or calling for help on your phone or their phones, or filming the incident on a phone.)
  • Think about what you post on social media. Post hate crimes and reports to be seen by Trumpists and people who deny that anything bad is happening and are telling you to “give him a chance,” but don’t post if that retraumatizes you or the people reading your feed. Consider who your audience really is, so you know whether your task is to strengthen other people fighting Trumpism or to keep shining a light on the truth for deniers.
  • Make sure you know all your neighbors and everyone who lives in their apartments/houses by name.
  • If you want to help someone, ask them if what you plan to do is actually going to help them, and what they’d like you to do.
  • Start digging into your local police department and find out what their policy is on community policing and stop and frisk policies. How much revenue are officers responsible for generating? How do arrests and imprisonment correlate to neighborhood crime rates and how much do they correlate to race? If you can’t find these statistics, call the Chief of Police and ask them to send them to you. Put pressure on your Mayor to have the police release these policies and statistics.
  • What happens to girls who get pregnant in your local high school? Do they have any support for finishing school? Call your district and find out what the official policies are and what they do to support pregnant and parenting students.
  • If you are in an abusive relationship (even if it’s “not that bad”) start making plans to get out. Yes, this is a political act, especially if you have children.
  • Read Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography Unbought and Unbossed.
  • If it’s safe for you to do so, change your profile picture or wear a button to show that you’re in the resistance.
  • Call your state Senator and Representative and ask them to take your state out of the Electoral College system. The way to get out from under the dysfunctional system of electoral ballots determining the election instead of the popular vote is for each state to stop participating. (There are tons of benefits to going off the electoral college system, including less campaign advertising in swing states and more attention from candidates to the issues and concerns of voters in non swing states. Read this for more information.) To find your state Senator, search the internet for “[your state] state senate” and then click through to that site and look for their search function. To find your state Representative, search the internet for “[your state] state house of representatives” and click through to search for yours. You have one of each.
  • Make sure your kids know that if they have any friends who are having a hard time at home because they’re LGBTQ or gender nonconforming that you are a safe person (and then be a safe person).
  • Be welcoming and kind to kids whenever you see them. Their adults are probably stressed out and struggling, so anything you can do to help them feel comfortable in the world right now is necessary.
  • Keep doing your work. You still have to pay your bills and eat and sleep. This is going to be a long fight. Pace yourself.

If you made it to the end of this list, go have a glass of water and take a little walk outside if you can. Then make your calls to stop Bannon. There are jobs for everyone.

All my love,

Magda