That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood published in the Nodaway News Leader, 1/13/22.
The year is done. I spread the past three hundred sixty-five days before me on the living room carpet… I fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. Draw the match. Cremate the unnecessary… I pour myself a glass of warm water to cleanse myself for January. Here I go. Stronger and wiser into the new. – Rupi Kaur
We’re now a couple of weeks into the new year and I’ve taken a different approach to 2022 than in previous years. While I’ve been contemplating the last 365 days like Kaur – keeping the good and learning from and letting go of the bad – and looking ahead to the next, I’m doing it with a new outlook.
The late Desmond Tutu said: “We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth…”
The pandemic has been a difficult time for many reasons, but it’s also been a period of concentrated personal learning and growth for me. I’ve realized how little I know about a lot of things. My life choices, education and experiences have led me down a certain path that is quite different than a lot of other people’s paths. And I have developed a profound longing to see things from their perspectives.
Tutu also said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
For us to be human together, we have to know and understand one another. The best way I’ve found to do that is through listening to and learning from others who are different than I am – by reading about their histories, experiences and stories. Despite what some people say, this hasn’t made me hate my country or made me want to leave. Instead, it’s given me an understanding of why people make the choices they make and has helped me to better love my neighbors.
Here are a few books I’ve read recently that I recommend to help us better understand one another: I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal; Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho; The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande; Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers by Adrienne Keene; White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad; Locking Up Our Own by James Forman Jr.
What will I be reading in 2022? These have been suggested on recommended reading lists that I’ve added to my own: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez; We Are Not Free by Traci Chee; Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho; Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain; The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins; Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp; Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia; The Removed by Brandon Hobson; I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys; I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez; Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram; Better, Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam.
If you’re looking for children’s books, I’ve recently purchased these for my nieces and nephews: Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James and Joseph Bruchac; Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi; Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya; Any Day with You by Mae Respicio; The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad; Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho; We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom.
What are you reading this year? I’d love to hear.
Maybe we can learn from one another. And, in turn, be human together.
That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood published in the Nodaway News Leader, 12/9/21.
In the summer of 2020, I began watching the “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video series by former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, where he talked about race with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Matthew McConaughey and others. He developed it into a book which I recommend.
Instead of race, however, today I’d like to talk about another uncomfortable subject – mental health.
I was recently sitting in a small family setting and one person asked about another’s recent mental illness hospitalization. The mood immediately shifted but the person was open with their experience. As the conversation progressed, I noticed one family member was visibly uncomfortable, shifting in their seat, looking out the window and trying to change the subject. I didn’t feel like the conversation had fully developed, though, so I brought it back up and more questions were asked and discussed.
I realized we were truly having an uncomfortable conversation. It felt like some people understood things a bit better and others felt heard and seen.
We’re no strangers to mental health struggles in our extended family with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addiction and suicide.
The pandemic was especially difficult on my own mental health as I spent much of my time alone and isolated. For 15 months, I only went into public twice (to vote) and my husband worked long hours. Last winter was very dark for me with a depression I had not before experienced.
Then after being fully vaccinated, as I began to slowly reintegrate into society, a new mental struggle developed – anxiety – especially around large groups of people.
Sometimes our struggles can feel like an unending, unrelenting daily battle, like we’re drowning and can’t keep our head above water.
I get that. I’ve been there.
When we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to remember we’ve been here before and come out on the other side. Which is why conversations like these are important so we can remember and also realize we’re not alone.
Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Asking for help with your mental health is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
I’m a strong, smart, independent and capable woman, and I have struggled with my mental health. I know plenty of other people who have as well.
A conversation like this one needs to be the rule, not the exception. Conversations with family members. Conversations with friends. Conversations in private and conversations in public.
Uncomfortable conversations help us have clarity and compassion.
Sometimes those struggling might not know how to ask for help so it’s important for the rest of us to be aware and reach out.
Here are some signs a loved one might need help: struggling to work, parent or keep up at home; unable to handle stress with normal coping strategies; using drugs or alcohol to cope; risk-taking behaviors; unable to focus; sleep issues; lack of interest in activities that once brought enjoyment; panic attacks; fear of being around others; mistrust of people; sense of guilt and unworthiness; restlessness or agitation; anger or violent outbursts.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text MHA to 741741.
I was not prepared for the emotional toll that accompanied being unemployed during a pandemic.
At least not in the ways I expected …
What I had not factored in was rejection. Nor in the magnitude with which it came.
Let me back up and share how I got here. Like way back.
I spent the first eight years of my married life as a stay-at-home mom, working nights for several years to help make ends meet. When my youngest started kindergarten, I joined the staff of a small community newspaper where I stayed for over 13 years. I had some underlying health issues during that entire time that progressively got worse and I worked the last five years from home.
In 2015, my husband and I decided to turn a family property into a vacation rental business. It’s located in a very rural area in northwest Missouri and we weren’t sure how successful it would be due to its location. We worked hard to build it while both having full-time jobs and raising two very active children who were still in high school. One of the things that helped was the growing popularity of the Missouri Star Quilt Co. in nearby Hamilton (Quilt Town, USA). By the summer of 2019, we had expanded into three vacation rentals and we were very optimistic about our success.
With my health continuing to decline, and the business doing well, I made the difficult decision to leave my job in October 2019.
You know what they say about hindsight… Well, 2020 was lurking around the corner and I had no idea what was about to happen. Looking back, I don’t know if leaving my job was the best choice, but I definitely needed a break. Not just a vacation but some real time away. Among my many duties at the newspaper, I was also the social media manager. I had built the brand’s online presence from the ground up and it had become all consuming for me. The first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing before falling asleep, constantly checking my phone while attending my kids’ activities and also while on vacation. I wanted it that way. I wanted our customers and followers to trust us and look to us for anything at any time. But after a decade of doing it that way on my own, I was exhausted. And that exhaustion contributed, in part, to my declining health.
So I was looking forward to a change of pace, something that didn’t require as much of my round-the-clock time and energy, and something that still pushed me but didn’t overwhelm me. I found that with our business. November 2019 was our strongest month ever, and December, January, and February continued to be great despite the winter weather.
And then COVID hit. We started getting cancellations in March and they continued all spring and into the summer. Missouri Star Quilt closed its numerous store fronts in Hamilton early on and then decided to keep them closed until spring 2021.
I was prepared for the financial stress, as much as anyone can be, I suppose. I mean, I knew not having that income would be difficult. But I felt we could roll with the punches and make it through. We’ve pretty much done that our entire married lives.
What I was not prepared for was rejection. And not just once or twice, but being rejected over and over and over again.
Let me explain.
As our upcoming bookings were being canceled in March, I had hope that things would turn around quickly. As March turned into April, and with the loss of more bookings, I began searching for jobs.
I was not the only one.
Millions of Americans were out of work due to the pandemic. The April unemployment rate increased over 10 percent to 14.7 percent, the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in history (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We were getting by financially with my husband’s job, but I was concerned that if the pandemic continued throughout the summer – our best and busiest season – we might be in trouble. Congress had passed and the president had signed the CARES Act, which included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, so after not getting any bites at job offers, I decided to file for unemployment.
I knew nothing about unemployment. I’d never even really thought about it. I quickly learned, though, that like many things in Missouri, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was woefully unprepared for the pandemic. It was a very confusing and frustrating time for thousands of Missourians with outdated equipment and few answers for those in need. Two months after I filed, I received my first unemployment funds (for those unaware, unemployment benefits are a certain percentage of what you used to make and last a certain number of weeks depending on where you live). During that waiting period, I had continued to apply to jobs all across the country. Anything I could find. I didn’t want to be receiving unemployment. I wanted to work. I wanted to help provide for my family. I wanted to feel I was of value to something or someone.
As the weeks wore on and rejection letter after rejection letter arrived in my inbox (or worse, I didn’t even get a response), I started getting really frustrated. Getting rejected again and again, week after week, started to take its toll on me emotionally and I slowed my process. I applied to just three jobs a week, the requirement for Missouri’s unemployment. Even still, three rejections each week for months is still a lot of rejection.
In early July, I decided to work on a book idea I’d had shortly after leaving my job. For the first couple of weeks, I was excited. I thought it was a great idea and felt it could help a lot of people.
But as the rejections kept rolling in, my enthusiasm for the book waned. My thoughts began to turn pretty negative.
“Nobody wants you.”
“You have no employable skills.”
“You have no talent.”
“You are not a productive member of society.”
“You are no good.”
“No one will want to read this book.”
And so before the end of July, I stopped writing altogether.
My husband would encourage me every once in a while to write something, anything. The thought of opening my laptop made me want to vomit. I tried reading articles about how to deal with the rejection (including ones like “Eight Ways to Cope and Rebound from Constant Rejection,” which, by the way, did not help whatsoever). Nothing seemed to motivate or inspire me. I felt worthless.
Months passed. Week after week, rejection email after rejection email, while also feeling the weight of the world and not being able to do anything about it (racial injustice, overwhelming COVID deaths, governmental chaos, etc), I finally gave up emotionally. I was not suicidal, but in late-November I decided there wasn’t much point in living. I didn’t feel like I was contributing to anything, in any meaningful way, and I was just tired of feeling so much. I hoped I would fall asleep and never wake up.
It wasn’t just the rejection that led to the depression. It was the isolation of the pandemic. I’ve only been in public twice since March (to vote in the primary and general elections). It was also realizing some people I trusted as friends weren’t really friends, which included name calling and a lot of tears. I think this past year has shown many of us that we didn’t really know some people like we thought we did. It was also the pandemic itself. I was more than ready to start building up our business again.
And, it was also another change to our income. In October, my husband’s company closed the depot where he worked and all employees were laid off. He worked a seasonal temp job for a while and some part-time jobs here and there after it ended to help provide for us. We did without a lot and scraped by to somehow pay our bills. And, thankfully, a few days ago, 14 weeks after being laid off, he received a job offer for full-time employment.
I know my story isn’t unique or even as tragic as the many I’ve read over the last 10 months. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t been evicted. I haven’t lost a loved one to the coronavirus. I haven’t had to help my children with virtual school while also working a full-time job. I haven’t had to work in a hospital or a long-term care facility, or in a school while also teaching online, or in a grocery store, or a meat-packing plant, or a morgue.
I haven’t had to deal with a lot of things others are going through. And I realize my privilege has helped with that.
But I also don’t want to just dismiss what I have gone through.
It took me longer to resurface this time from the depression. It’s not something I face regularly, but with a chronic physical health condition, I know it’s important to make sure I’m taking care of my mental health as well (knowing that you’re likely never going to get better is a constant mental battle). There’s no one specific thing I can point to that helped this time. Probably a lot of little things including baking, which I know sounds pandemic cliché, but it has really helped. It’s incredibly difficult for me to do with my chronic pain (I have to do a little and then recover for a while in bed before doing more), but it seems to be great therapy.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a slow, growing desire to start writing again, and this is the first thing I’ve written. I know it’s rough and a bit all over the place. But I think that’s okay since I’m just doing something again.
I read a phrase right before Christmas that’s been in the back of my mind since – “a whisper of peace and a sigh of hope” (Richelle E. Goodrich).
I guess that’s how I’m facing 2021. It’s not much, but a whisper and a sigh is better than nothing and more than I had a few months ago.
No matter what 2020 was like for you, I hope you can find that, too. And maybe one day, we can look back and realize it led to something more than just whispers and sighs. Perhaps greater peace and greater hope.
From the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus itself to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to the country’s rising unemployment/wealth disparity to the lack of concern for global climate change – and everything in between and beyond – 2020 has revealed the role that Disgust plays in my life.
My family was recently discussing Pixar’s “Inside Out” and who exemplified each character emotion the best.
When the discussion got around to me, my husband and 19-year-old daughter, in unison, said Disgust.
What?! Disgust?! My response was apparently even in character.
The first time I watched the movie, I loved Joy. Who doesn’t want to be her? It’s joy, after all! Happiness, delight, well-being, success, good fortune.
I worked for a community newspaper for over 13 years and wrote an occasional column which I titled “That they might have joy.”
I so wanted to be Joy. I always have. That’s the goal in this life, right? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
But Disgust? No way! I think I’ve been ashamed of my disgust, or parts of it, for much of my life. Or what I thought it meant. But in the weeks since our family discussion, I have begun to embrace my inner Disgust.
In the beginning of the movie, Joy introduces us to the Disgust character: “She basically keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially.”
That sounds like a pretty good thing.
When her parents try to get her to eat broccoli, Disgust heroically sweeps in and knocks the green veggies away.
“I just saved our lives,” she says. “You’re welcome.”
I love that. I am impatient, sassy and sarcastic. But I’m also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.
I care. A lot. And because I care so much, in a world that seems to be increasingly troubled, I’m disgusted a lot.
Koss continues: “Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviors has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviors opposite to their values are displayed.”
Research by University of Kent psychologists in 2016 has shown that expressing disgust can be motivated by moral concerns.
“Participants themselves were more likely to choose to express disgust when their goal was to show that their condemnation of an act was morally motivated… The findings suggest that disgust is not just an expression of an inner feeling, like nausea or contamination, but a signal that advertises a moral position.” (Disgust is way of communicating moral rather than self-interested motivation – sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161219133831.htm)
What are some of these issues that I have been “disgusted” about in 2020? There are plenty. Racism, the criminal justice system, the death penalty, LGBTQ+ rights, global climate change, poverty and disproportion of wealth, homelessness, refugees and immigrants, growing unemployment, government leaders, healthcare disparities, mental illness, gender inequality.
It’s not enough to just be disgusted, though. We need to figure out ways to use it to create change. The COVID-19 pandemic has people questioning how we get back to normal. Some have suggested, however, that instead of going back to normal we should move forward to something better. I agree. With so many issues to be disgusted about, let’s work for a better way.
In Inside Out, Disgust incites Anger to help accomplish her purpose – she fuels his anger with her words until he bursts into flames and breaks open the window to save Joy and Sadness.
Instead of avoiding or denying or being ashamed of our disgust, let’s embrace and channel it through “honest, well-meaning, caring and protective ways” in an effort to help our communities move forward to something better and ultimately to help save lives.
Then we can all sit back, sassy and sarcastically, and say, “You’re welcome.”