Slogging Through My Worst Nightmare

I generally lucid dream. Even things that should be horrible nightmares usually aren’t much more than stressful for me, because I know that I’m dreaming and have some control. It doesn’t make being chased by zombies particularly fun, but it does take the edge off. There’s only one nightmare that I regularly have where I don’t know that I’m dreaming. I inevitably wake up from it tense and ready to run or fight, usually with a headache from clenching my jaw that lasts all day. I’ve been having it since I was a teenager.

The dream is pretty simple: A natural disaster of some sort has occurred, or is about to, and I can’t get my family to safety. We’re not blocked by a lava flow or anything. They just won’t listen. It’s worse than herding cats. I get my younger siblings into the car so we can drive away, and discover that my dad has wandered back into the house to look for a book or something. I physically drag him back out and my siblings have gone off on their own random side quests. I scream that there’s danger coming and they just don’t seem to understand, or they don’t believe me. Now that I’m an adult, my partners get added to the mix, always with the same results.

I usually have to spend some time in these dreams searching for and packing up supplies, only to discover that my loved ones have all scattered like confused chickens and I have to round them up again. It never works. We never get to a safe place. No one ever listens or acknowledges the danger that I can clearly see coming our way.

I am very literally living through my worst nightmare right now. This pandemic is a worldwide natural disaster, and people I love are not taking it seriously. My aunt flew home from a visit with my cousin and walked right into the house with my elderly grandmother after I repeatedly told her she needed to get a hotel room and quarantine for two weeks after going through several airports. My dad wouldn’t buy a chest freezer when I told him that he should be prepared to stock up on groceries for the family because he didn’t think there would be a stay at home order in their area. The order came about a week later. My grandmother is losing her memory and keeps going out on little errands. She won’t wear her mask. My dad won’t take her keys away. My siblings are adults now and are being much more realistic than their dream counterparts, but two of them work in essential businesses, so they’re still at risk.

Everywhere I look, folks seem to be finding their own level of “careful” and most of it falls far far short of the level that is recommended by experts. People I trusted seem to be bizarrely comfortable risking the lives of their friends and loved ones in order to not be bored or lonely. People whose intelligence I respected are of the opinion that this deadly and highly contagious virus probably won’t get them because… Well, just because.

I haven’t seen one of my two partners in months, and I don’t know when it will be safe to see him again. I haven’t seen my family since Christmas, and I don’t know when I’ll see any of them again. Every time someone in my local community group on Facebook proudly proclaims that they won’t wear a mask to the grocery store because they’re not a sheep, I see those hypothetical dates being pushed further away.

Pretty much the only way to keep all this off my mind is to focus as much as possible on other things. It’s best when I’m working hard in the garden, but I recently had a weird episode that drove me inside on a beautiful day. It was truly ridiculous.

I got scared of the wind. The weather was pleasant but windy, and I had the overwhelming sense that the wind itself was dangerous. The world felt dreamlike and unreal and I couldn’t keep my thoughts together. I couldn’t get anything done, and I wound up crying on my front steps because I didn’t want to go inside, but I couldn’t handle being out there. Clearly, spending months in my worst nightmare with no end in sight, even under pretty much the best possible conditions, is not doing wonders for my mental health.

There’s no particular point to this post, really. Except, perhaps, to beg you to wear your mask in the grocery store so that my only remaining grandparent is a little bit less likely to die before I get to see her again.

This is Steven. He thinks freckles are food. Don’t be like Steven. Practice social distancing.

The Weirdest Spring Continues

Hey, so, I dropped off the map again. Things are weird and I’m feeling super weird about it, but that’s true for pretty much everyone at the moment. Here’s a garden update, because that’s pretty much all I can manage right now:

I’ve continued to work hard on the garden, and my efforts have been rewarded, even though it’s still pretty cold and damp in Seattle. I can collect kale and herbs for scrambles some mornings, and I harvested my first ever broccoli the other day! I’ve always liked gardening, but I never used to put the time and energy into it that’s required to regularly produce edible results. I’m pretty proud of how well everything is growing, especially the herbs in my little handmade bed. (With the exception of one oregano plant that clearly just has a bad attitude.)

The corn even seems quite happy with its little bean and zucchini friends. Corn, beans, and squash are all plants that get along well and compliment each other, so people on the American continent have been growing them together for a long-ass time. It’s most often called Three Sisters planting, these days.

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Marigolds help keep plant-eating bugs out of the veggie garden, and they’re just cute. I’m not generally a huge orange and red fan, but I think these “strawberry blonde” marigolds are really striking.
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Sometimes you just have to garden in the rain while wearing a witch hat.

Please continue to stay safe, everyone, and for the love of fuck, cover your mouth and nose if you’re going to be in an enclosed public space or you’re planning to run on a jogging path or go anywhere else where you might breathe on others. No, it won’t hurt you.* Yes, it is the responsible choice as members of a society made up of other humans who also enjoy breathing and want to keep doing it. I am beyond disgusted by the childishness and selfishness that too many grown-ass Americans are displaying right now.

*Unless you have a medical or trauma-related issue with wearing a mask, in which case I’m sure you’re taking whatever other precautions you can to help protect the people around you.

The Resilience Garden

People are planting victory gardens again. Another name for them that’s gaining traction is “resilience garden.” I’ve spent the last few days pretty much from breakfast to bedtime in mine. I’m tired and sore, but it’s worth it. 

This virus isn’t planning to just go away any time soon, unfortunately. Normal daily life won’t be able to fully resume until we have a vaccine that’s widely available. In the meantime, it’s important to prepare for the long term consequences of this much disruption to the way society normally functions. It’s also just generally valuable for more people to learn how to produce and share food with the people around them, because food access, especially access to fresh foods, is pretty key to health and quality of life.

The supply system in the US that normally gets food to grocery stores and restaurants wasn’t prepared for the massive shift in demand caused by covid19, which is why grocery stores are struggling to keep so many things in stock. No, your neighbors aren’t hoarding flour or broccoli. Everyone in your city is suddenly cooking and baking at home, even the many many people who never used to cook at all. They’re eating every meal at home, and so are their kids, instead of having meals at work, at school, and on-the-go. All the food that was destined for restaurants, which are now mostly either closed or serving a reduced number of patrons via takeout, cannot be easily redirected to grocery stores to fill this gap.

The system we have in place for food distribution is inflexible and clunky, and while the food is still being produced, it just isn’t all getting to stores at the rate it’s wanted and needed. They will probably catch up, but we don’t know exactly what further disruptions are coming as the virus spreads. So, if you can, this would probably be a great time to learn how to grow some tomatoes, lettuce, or strawberries. Even fresh herbs grown on the windowsill can make a big difference if you’re otherwise working with frozen or canned items. It’s also a good time to be considering how to connect with and support the people around you, if you haven’t already, because the normally wide world has to shrink for a while to the size of your immediate community.

My rather inexpert herb bed construction. Mistakes were made.

But it came together.
Two types of sage, oregano, thyme, and lemongrass planted in the new herb bed
The whole front garden with strawberries, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, carrots, blueberries, and herbs

It hasn’t all been tomatoes and parsley, though. I also completely gutted and replanted a front bed that had been taken over by grasses and volunteer bulbs. Walking around, it always makes me happy to see other people’s beautiful front gardens, so I wanted to contribute to that as well. People seem to be putting extra mindfulness into their daily walks, and it’s really nice to be out there and see them smile as they go by.

More Quarantine Sketches

A wild rabbit has eaten some of my broccoli plants, which is very rude, but everything I’ve learned over the years tells me that rudeness is standard for rabbits. In spite of this setback, I’m still focusing a lot on the garden, and I’ve managed to keep up more exercise this week, which is probably helping with my overall mood. I’ve also started reading another Alma Katsu book, since I really enjoyed The Hunger. Besides, who doesn’t need a little additional horror in their life right now? The Deep seems pretty good so far.

Anyway, stay at home, take care of each other from a distance, and please enjoy these weird sketches.

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This is the look I get from my bunny whenever I walk into the room after hearing a random crash. He definitely didn’t do anything.

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Earthworm, moth, springtail, common garden snail, and woodlouse (isopod) sketches. These are all critters I’ve found around my yard over the past few months.

Coping Sketches

I’m not doing super awesome with this whole pandemic thing, honestly. I think we should cancel it.

I’m super scatterbrained and just keep forgetting what day it is and what I need to be working on, to the point that my blog post didn’t get written on Thursday or Friday, and then I kinda felt like it didn’t matter in comparison to everything else, but it does matter to me, so I’m writing it now.

I think I’m going to try to do a sketch a day for a while, because that was pretty fun in October, and it seems like a good way to get my mind off the wildly stressful stuff that’s going on right now. Today, I drew a Chinese mantis that I met quite a few years ago. She had wandered into my garden and was quite charming and friendly. This introduced species is very common in the US, and is even sold in garden stores for pest control.

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A pen and ink sketch of a Chinese mantis.

Losing Track of Time

This is all very weird and scary, and it is definitely messing with my head. I spent the whole week thinking it was Thursday, right up until Friday when I thought that it was already Saturday. I’m focusing on the garden a lot as the weather in Seattle finally warms up. Making some food and adding extra color to the world seems like a very good thing right now.

Please be safe and, wherever possible, take care of the people, animals, and plants around you.

Pineberry blossoms. They’re a white strawberry that tastes slightly of pineapple.
Morning glory seedlings and baby strawberries, because there will be flowers and eventually fresh fruits. Spring is here.
Cherry blossoms from our ornamental cherry tree. It doesn’t make much in the way of cherries, but it does look beautiful.
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Some new narcissus flowers that we added to the garden a week or two back. They’re almost in full bloom now.

Good Enough

I’m really struggling to write this post. I can’t think of anything to say, and I’m getting frustrated and distracted, and it’s probably at least in part because I set my expectations too high this week. I wanted to come up with something more to write about than just a quick update or picture, but there’s also a lot of other stuff going on in my life right now, and that inspiring idea just didn’t show up.

It’s so easy to feel like I should just throw my hands up and not post anything if I have nothing cool to share, but that’s not a healthy approach to meeting goals. I said I’d post every Friday, and I do. Ground-breaking content is not specified, although it’d definitely be neat if I could scrounge some up more often.

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Pussy willow branch in front of a wooded area and blue sky with fluffy clouds

Keeping the Balance

The schedule I’ve been using for a few months is still working well for me, overall. It’s gone through some adjustments, and I’ve had some pretty rough days where things just fell apart, but it’s good to be in a place where those unproductive days don’t snowball into whole weeks of frustration and self-recrimination.

The dogs and the bunny have even gotten on board. They each get a quick training session every morning before I sit down to work. Their increased biddability does not hurt my focus, even though it probably is just an act they’re keeping up while they plot my doom. I’ve also been managing to regularly fit in yard work like raking, weeding, and planting beautiful flower bulbs for the squirrels to dig up and throw around like tiny beach balls. I’ve read/listened my way through more than a few books already this year, and I’ve even been doing a little bit of freelance writing.

There’s still always that impulse to think everything is going well, so I might as well add, like, ten or fifteen new things to my list this week. I remind myself that I can only manage a little bit more at a time, but then it all seems equally important, so I tell myself that a lot more will just have to be fine. (Spoiler: it wasn’t. It never is.) 

I’ve never managed to run at my full capacity without immediately going over the red line and into rapid burnout levels of stress. Part of the problem is that it’s genuinely challenging for me to tell the difference between the two sides of that line, having had so little experience with balancing near it for any length of time. Consistent effort of any kind is tiring in a different way from a sprint or a last minute scramble before a looming deadline, and gauging its effects probably takes practice.

So, I’m practicing.

A yellow flower drooping out over a mossy curb

Let’s Go Round the Sun Again, One Step at a Time

Like most milestones that humans care about, the new year is pretty arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to wipe our mental slates clean and look forward with a little extra hope.

A lot of people are probably already finding their new year’s resolutions to be a heavy burden, because we’re usually encouraged to set our sights way too high when crafting goals. If you picked something that’s making you miserable and burning you out, I hope you’ll consider stepping it down to a more reasonable level now rather than just dropping it when you run out of energy entirely. That’s not failure, it’s just good planning.

Restrictive diets don’t tend to work for the vast majority of people, but adding an extra vegetable source to one meal a day is pretty doable for many, and that can help build a long term habit that supports individual health. So can adding five or ten minutes of stretching or meditation at a convenient time of the day rather than committing to spend an hour at the gym five times a week when you haven’t gone in months or years. It doesn’t mean you can’t increase your goals as you go along, but keeping the increments ridiculously tiny means that it’s almost impossible to let yourself down. Small wins make a huge difference in confidence and self-image, while repeated failures are disheartening and typically lead to completely abandoning all effort.

This stuff is even more important to consider if you live with mental illness or are neurodivergent. There’s a huge amount of pressure to use that yearly boost of energy to DO ALL THE THINGS and be… better. And it works, but only for a few days, and then our actual limits come down even harder on us because we burn out all of our reserves. And then all that hope turns into just another thing that we feel bad about failing to live up to, and none of us needs more of that. Not a one. We need a bunch of little successes a hell of a lot more than we need a handful of new regrets.

So, please, give yourself the gift of some really small but consistent wins this year.

Some humble, slightly random suggestions for new moderated goals:

  • Go to bed just ten minutes earlier than you have been
  • Set your alarm for ten minutes earlier (but only if you went to bed earlier. Sleep is so important.)
  • Switch just your afternoon tea or coffee to decaf
  • Add a veggie you don’t hate to one meal a day
  • Stretch for a couple of minutes every morning
  • Walk around your block once a day at a convenient time
  • Write 50 words on a project every day, or even less if that’s too much
  • Spend fifteen minutes doodling if you’ve been missing your art
  • Spend ten minutes gardening and then go inside if it’s cold or raining
  • Clean or organize one part of your space for ten minutes and then let yourself stop for the day
  • Read a page or two of a book you’re interested in every day
  • Catch yourself when you start thinking negative things about yourself and practice redirecting to something more neutral whenever you can. Neutral is a much more achievable starter goal than positivity, and it’s still an improvement.

Adding something small to your day tends to be easier than eliminating something, and in the long run it can have the same effect by slowly edging out whatever it is that you think you should reduce. If you’re interested, the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise is a pretty helpful guide for setting consistently achievable goals and he also explains why they work so well.

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