The Most Mentally Challenging Year of My Life

It has been a year. A year since I wept watching my television in complete shock and worrying about our nation's future. This past year has been one of the most mentally challenging years of my life. Every time I blink there is a new headline, a new tragedy, a new worry for my child's future. To feel a deep need to stay informed but also to feel a desire to burrow in a hole of ignorance is a pull felt from the moment I wake up to the moment I finally drift off to sleep. The past 365 days have been full of stress, despair, worry, and anxiety. But they have also been days of action, days of perseverance, and days of learning. With darkness always come light and with that light comes knowledge. Here are a few things I have learned this past year to cope with the stark reality of affairs:

Use the word "Or"
I'll never forget a conversation I have had this past year with a friend concerning my anxiety. I shared that I am very often in fear of being in public places because my anxiety tells me that there might be a mass shooting where I am. Rarely do I enter a facility without seeking out the nearest exits and finding good hiding locations in the event of a tragedy. In response, my friend said these words, which at first seemed insignificant but over time it has completely changed how I think of things. "Yes, there might be a mass shooting where you are OR there might not be." That simple word "or" changed it all for me. Our world might be heading toward complete and irreparable despair OR it might not be. I may get a flat tire on the way home preventing me from picking my son up on time OR I will get there safely. Someday I may forget to turn my straightener off and my house burns down OR it will never happen. In what I call The OR Initiative, I found a sense of calming and peace. I realized that I have spent so much time focusing on the hypothetical negative that I never realized there was another side to my anxiety. Giving my brain that option of OR allows me to find peace and remember that there is more than one outcome to every negative and horrifying scene that enters my mind.

Practice self care
Self care is a hot topic these days on mommy websites. We're always told that while we're in the trenches of motherhood it is important to take of ourselves too. I have realized over the past year that self care is important in other areas of our lives as well. Being a mother is hard. Fighting the patriarchy is hard. Standing up for what you believe in such a tumultuous political environment IS HARD. In this circumstance, I'm not talking about self care in the sense of pedicures and blowouts, I'm taking about practicing mindfulness. I'm talking about giving yourself grace. I'm talking about allowing yourself to feel all your feelings. This past year has been mentally exhausting for me and just as I recharge my phone at the end of the day, I also need to allow myself time to truly recharge. By practicing self care in this regard, we refresh our minds so we don't get burnt out from all the news, all the fighting, and all the despair. It helps us see clearly and think logically so when it all gets overwhelming and we're jumping from mourning one tragedy to another, we can still act and fight for what's right.

Stay informed even when it's hard
I have received advice many times this past year that I should step away from politics for a while because they upset me so much. And while ignorance and the bliss that goes along with it is appealing, the moment we stop being informed is the moment we become compliant and accept reality. I refuse to stand by and watch injustice occur. I refuse to accept the reality in which we live. I will always strive for a better world and in order to do that, being informed is essential. This being said, "news overload" is a real thing and while it is imperative to stay informed, it is also a good idea to merge the avenues in which you receive your news. Besides subscribing to the online version of New York Times, every night I receive an email from The Daily WTF and it provides me with top headlines and stories from a variety credible of sources. This allows me to stay up to date with a variety of media without feeling the need to subscribe to every one. It has definitely eased up on my pop-up notifications! While staying informed can be draining, it is essential and what's more, it's essential to make sure that you are not overwhelming yourself with useless information. Consolidating news from a variety of sources to one location has been a huge game changer for me in my ability stay balanced while still staying up to date with current events.

Be open minded
It is so easy in our social climate to alienate the people around us that don't agree with our way of thinking. And while it is good for our psyche to be around like-minded people, if we totally close ourselves off to the opposition, we lose our ability to think critically. Falling into an "I'm right, you're wrong" mentality without ever hearing what the other side has to say makes us no better than the narrow-minded few. While many of us, myself included, are very rooted in our beliefs, if we don't ever allow ourselves to be opened up to the opposing viewpoints, how can we ever confirm our own?

Always be an example of kindness 
After that fateful day in November 2016, I didn't know how to react. I was shocked. I was angry. I was stunned. I looked at my students the next day and had no idea what to say. What I could say? So that day, we sat down and talked about kindness. We talked about what we can do in our lives to make sure that everyone feels loved and appreciated. We talked about all that was good in the world instead of focusing on the fear in my students' eyes. If I can be anything for this next generation, I can be kind. I can be an example of what adults should act like and what a decent human being is. I can be understanding and considerate. I can listen, care for, and protect. I may not be able to change who people look up to, but I can be a role model of what a kind person looks and acts like. At least I can do that.

Children truly are our future
My son will be three next month. He truly has no idea what type of world he lives in outside of the one my husband and I provide for him. He knows nothing about Russia, North Korea, or the EPA. He knows kindness, compassion, and happiness. He knows to how to apologize and he knows what love is. He is being raised to be accepting, progressive, and brave. It may sound cliche, but my husband and I are truly hoping to raise him to be the change. We want him to stand up for what's right, to fight for the people who can't fight for themselves, and to help those in need. We are raising him to be a beacon of light in this dark world. While this world sometimes seems hopeless, I look at my son and I see promise. Even if my generation can't fully change the world, he will continue the fight and maybe, just maybe, things will be better for him.

This past year has made me resilient. It has strengthened my beliefs and have made me a more passionate person. Just as water ebbs and flows, this too shall pass. But for now, while we wait for the tides to change, we must stand strong, be the example, and persist.

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