Stray News Bullets

Is this twenty-four-seven pandemic news cycle weighing heavy on your psyche too? There are almost too many stray bullets of information hitting me from every angle. Too much information to process and it often feels overwhelming.


Is anyone else drowning in too much negative news? It was hard enough as it was pre-pandemic just trying to stay positive and keeping my family safe. Now I’m watching a deluge of conflicting information from pundits, leaders, healthcare professionals, and a slew of armchair pandemic experts.


I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time and then suddenly, while reading a news article the other day, and while feeling some chest pain, I went into full blown panic mode. I honestly thought I was having shortness of breath related Covid-19 symptoms. I told myself I would go to sleep that night and if the shortness of breath was present in the morning, I would call my physician. I woke up the next day and felt completely fine.


I was able to see and experience firsthand just how easy it is to let the barrage of news all around me influence my mental and physical well-being.


In addition, it seems like every time I read about the suffering of others, I internalize it. A trait I inherited from my mother. Some might say, that’s part of being empathetic, it’s a good thing. I agree to some degree, but it can also be debilitating if you let other people’s stories and pain become your own. I think we can be empathetic and not internalize the worst of other’s suffering. I think.


What’s the best approach? I have no idea. I’m a news junkie, and I’m an unrepentant book junkie, heck I’m just a read anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on junkie. I never met a book I didn’t like. That doesn’t bode well for my chances of success in managing my anxiety. A lot more meditation, prayer, and Joe Rogan podcast.


Another thing weighing heavy on my mind. The irony in all of this is that we have more information than ever before, but we can’t figure out how to entirely process it, and we have to spend a great deal of our time deciphering what is real and what is fake news. I hate the term fake news, but it was fitting.


What’s confusing is the number of journalists and comments I read in the Wall Street Journal and in the New York Times that state our President and his administration are dispensing inaccurate information. If we can’t trust them, where do we turn? There is also a growing chorus of people that disagree with advice and counsel from Dr. Anthony, Fauci, who is supposedly one of this country’s foremost experts on infectious diseases. If we can’t believe him, who do we believe?


The reality is I can’t decipher what is accurate and what is unbiased news anymore. It used to be that if you got your news from a “credible” source that was good enough because there was at least some semblance of journalistic integrity. In this age of blogs (I understand the irony as I write), everyone has a megaphone, which makes information evaluation more complicated. In addition to this when I read news being reported on social media, especially on apps like Twitter, there is no fact checking because everyone wants to get information out first, and the platform character constraints not only force a lack of context, but even worse the intention is for views and not information accuracy first.

I’m not going to stop reading the news, but I probably should cut back. Either that, or just continue to let the stray news bullets keep coming.

Savage

They’re all idiots! I live in a house full of whiny idiots.  They’re all savages! I literally live in a house full of savage animals. They’re all idiots, and they don’t even know it.   

It was her mental way of dealing with all the stress at home. This constant stream of self talk.

Crap, I’m driving too fast. I can’t get a ticket right now. Come on Jen, get it together. I don’t want to get sick.  I don’t want to get this freaking virus.  Not with my diabetic husband and crazy mother living with me.  Geez, imagine the crap I’ll get if one of them dies because of me.  I’ll never hear the end of it.

She had to be the tough one now.  She always had to be the cooler head, the caretaker.  She was the caretaker of her kids, the caretaker of her elderly mother, and now begrudgingly the caretaker of an incompetent husband.  She had to be the strong one on the outside, despite her feelings of inadequacy and anxiety on the inside.  The stress of all this pandemic caretaking was taking its toll on her.  

Just keep your foot on the gas. Just keep going. 

She was driving 65 miles per hour on a 25 miles per hour road.

 I’m losing control. No, I’m in control.  This is me in control.  Jen, just chill out. I never have time for myself.  All day long I’m just taking care of my husband and my mother.  How did this become my lot in life? Seriously God, how did this happen to me?  I am so tired. I can’t do this anymore.  I’m the freaking sacrificial lamb that has to go to the grocery store, make dinner, risk my life every time I go out, and no one cares about me.  These roads are so dreary.  Why can’t I live in Hawaii right now?

But there is something about the rain on her windshield that she likes, and she can even appreciate it.  Somehow, she feels as if the rain and the weather understand her and are reflecting her mood.  

Times are tough, but I’m tougher. Times are tough, but I’m tougher. I’m tougher.  Jen you’re tough.   Twenty-three years of marriage to the same unappreciative husband, and I’m tougher for it.  I’m like Job.  I’ve endured it all.  Matt doesn’t’ realize how much I do for him.  If it wasn’t for me, he’d be dead by now.  I put him through business school, and I took care of the kids.   

Jennifer Clark was used to being pushed around.  She really is tough in a lot of ways, but she is also a people pleaser, against her own wishes, she usually caves in.  What her family lovingly refer to as softy.  She had always been the leader of the household and has usually displayed a certain warmth, but the stress has been accumulating since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, and her love and patience is starting to fade.  In her marriage she is the martyr who sacrificed her career and she reminded Matt about that on a weekly if not daily basis.  She let her mother and her kids walk all over her.  It wasn’t her fault.  She had a mother and brothers that treated her like a doormat at a young age.  The only one who never manipulated or took advantage of her was her father.  And he was gone.  Killed in a tragic car accident way too early in his life.  Leaving behind a family that struggled to retain a sense of normalcy.

But things were going to change.  She was sick of all the years of emotional abuse from her husband and kids.  She was sick of her mother taking advantage of their generosity and living with them.  She was doing things her own way going forward. 

She saw the gas convenience store up ahead on the right through all the rain coming down.  She knew the place well.  She had been there exactly 2045 times in her lifetime, but she didn’t know that.  It was her daily ritual for years.  She was never one to get out of her routine.  She was the structured and disciplined matriarch of the family.  She was the Sargent, well, in some ways.

She was attractive and for a 45-year-old mother of two kids, she looked about 10 years younger than her age.  She was grateful for the compliments that strangers gave her that made her feel better about herself and helped her realize that she still had it.  It wasn’t that she was needy and seeking compliments, but she liked the reassurance.  Her husband rarely gave her compliments anymore. 

She was going into the store to get a 32-ounce diet coke from the fountain.  That was part of her routine.  It was her daily reward for her daily five-mile runs.  She prided herself in staying fit.  Running everyday was her escape from her husband and the kids during this pandemic.  Having her husband around at home all day was tougher than she thought it would be.  She loved Matt but he was getting to be a burden.  He was 50 pounds overweight, and never felt that he got a fair break in life.  He had type two diabetes, he was considered high risk in this environment.  It was wearing on her and their marriage.  Even the kids couldn’t take the constant complaining between them.  

Jennifer knew that if it kept up their marriage wouldn’t last.   She had been spoiled the first few years, but as the demands of kids and life and her own dreams and goals were placed on hold, she could no longer continue the charade.  Either Matt had to change, or she would leave him.  She wasn’t the problem. It was him.  He was the savage.  He was the one who was always yelling and complaining, and she had had enough. 

Unbelievable, this store is always busy.  Even during a mother freaking pandemic. Seriously people, stay home. 

She parked her beautiful white German engineered car and quickly ran in through the glass front doors of the store. 

Just getting my drink and getting out of here.  Look at this guy.  He looks like a mess.

She had just made eye contact with a tall awkward looking thirty something year old man.  He started laughing and smiling at the same time while looking at her.  She couldn’t understand why he was laughing, but she was used to getting creepy stares, from creepy men, and had even had some horrific encounters with men like him in the past.  She quickly assumed he was laughing because she had on her face mask, sunglasses, and a hoody from her run earlier in the day. Whatever his reason she wanted nothing to do with him.  She had the mask and sunglasses on because of the pandemic.  She had a high-risk husband an elderly mother at home.  In addition, she had two kids and if she got sick herself the whole household would be a mess.  She was a little bit annoyed that he didn’t have a mask on and seemed like the type to not take anything in life seriously.  A terrible thought popped into her head, quit laughing, loser

He wasn’t attractive, not the type that she would ever have interest in or give the time of day to.  And now he was laughing at her? The whole interaction was less than 2 seconds but enough time for her to look, assess, and make her judgement call.  She knew what kind of guy this was.  He’s the kind of guy that lives in his mother’s basement, is unemployed, and looking at women like her as a fantasy.  She threw him back a slightly disgusted don’t look at me face.  He couldn’t see it at all beneath her mask and sunglasses. 

She beelined it towards the fountain machine for her diet coke.  At this point in her life, she had better things to do than to worry about what some creepy guy thought of her.  She was looking for the foam soda fountain cups but had forgotten that in the midst of the pandemic the store now sold cups that were individually wrapped in plastic to avoid employee contamination.  She glanced to her right and left, up and down and couldn’t see the cups.  She looked behind her and there they were stacked on the counter, next to the creepy guy with his back to her. 

She abruptly said, “excuse me”, and even surprised herself when she realized her tone.  She thought for a brief moment, that was harsh.  He moved a foot to the left not even looking back, doing whatever creepy guys do in gas station convenience stores. 

She tore open the plastic wrapping and filled up her foam cup.  She was proud of herself now.  She had just run her daily 5 miles, and this was her treat, her cheat for the day.

Ugh. This machine takes forever, and I just want to get out of this place before I catch something from this guy and all these other people.

She put the plastic lid on and got in line.  She was behind an older woman who was counting change to pay for her gas and was taking her time counting.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The lady finally got done after what felt like an hour due to Jennifer’s increasing anxiousness to just get out of there.  The lady hobbled slowly out of the way and Jennifer put her drink on the counter and mustered a quick, “Hi” to the cashier.

The lady at the register replied, “is that everything?”, with a slow southern drawl, which Jennifer always thought was so out of place for this suburban part of Virginia.

Even though Jennifer had been in that store many times she never made an effort to know the names of those at the register.  She wasn’t into small talk and with the pandemic she definitely didn’t want to talk to the cashier with no mask on.  She kept her head down and looked at the card display screen on the counter.

“Yup, that’s it”

“That’ll be $1.06 honey.”

Jennifer subconsciously reached her right hand into her jacket pocket as she had several thousand times before, but nothing was there.  An instant shot of adrenaline shot though her body.  It was a sense of panic added to her already high anxiety. 

Son of a…

She frantically placed her left hand into her left jacket pocket.  Nothing.  She frantically put both hands on her running tights, forgetting that they don’t have pockets.

“Crap, I can’t find my wallet. I’m so sorry”, while still not looking at the cashier but looking down and retracing her steps in her mind. 

“Let the next person go, I’m going to look for my wallet.”

“Okay dear, no worries, let me know what I can do to help.”

Jennifer stepped slowly back to the fountain machine while still looking at the ground searching for the wallet.  Her thoughts are drowning in possible scenarios. 

Did it fall while I was getting out of the car? I had three hundred dollars in cash in there. My drivers license, my credit cards, crap.  Crap, Jen, keep it together. What the hell Jen.  You’re so stupid.  Think, think, think. Where did I go? What was I doing?  Did someone steal it?  I need to call my bank and my credit card companies. I need to call the DMV and get a new license.  What the hell. Why me?  This is not my day.  This is such bad timing. 

As if there was ever a good time to lose your wallet.

She traces her steps back to the front doors while still looking down to make sure that she isn’t missing a spot in the convenience store. 

As she is about to go through the front door she hears, “I found this all on the floor, there was all this cash on the floor by it too.”

Then the familiar voice of the cashier lady, “Hun, hey lady, … I’ve got your wallet.”

Jennifer turns around and manages to blurt out, “Oh thank you. I was starting to panic.  Oh my gosh, you’re a lifesaver”

“I didn’t find it, he did”, says the cashier as she points in front of her.  Jennifer turns to look at the hero in front of her who found her wallet and had the decency to report it to the cashier.  It was the creepy guy, and he was paying for his stuff with a young girl holding onto his hand.  She was beautiful and Jennifer assumed it was his daughter. 

“Thank you so much.  Thank you for finding my wallet.”

“No problem mam, it was just on the floor with a couple hundred dollar bills next to it, and I thought to myself, I would be all messed up if I lost my wallet.  So, I turned it in.”

His daughter looked at Jennifer with loving eyes while she now held to her father’s leg with two hands. 

Jennifer noticed he was giving her the same creepy grin again and he even chuckled somehow while he was explaining all this to her. 

She gave him a smile, but he couldn’t see it through the mask and sunglasses.  All he could decipher from her was her body language. 

Jennifer got into her car and called her husband to recount the whole story.  Matt could only let out, “Jen, you really need to be careful with your wallet. That’s the second time in the last couple months you’ve lost your wallet. Listen Jen…”  She was so upset from the whole situation that she just wanted to punch Matt’s unsympathetic face through the phone.  She hung up on him midsentence. 

She started the push button keyless ignition in her car.  The engine purred.  She just wanted to get home and relax, what a stressful morning.  

She was speeding again on her way home. This time fifty miles per hour in a thirty zone.  She could see up ahead through the rain that the traffic light had just turned yellow.   She performed her split-second mental gymnastics and realized that she could make it the light. 

Her foot pushes on the gas and as she is getting closer, she can see some bozo trying to cross the crosswalk when he shouldn’t, especially in the rain.   She realizes that she can go through the intersection without hitting him.  He’s closer to the sidewalk.  As she gets close to the intersection she slows down and honks her horn to let him know that was dumb. 

Jennifer turns to look at him and in a split second through her wet rainy driver side window, she makes eye contact.  The eyes looking back appear heartbroken.  It’s the creepy guy walking in the rain with his daughter in hand.  In that instant, he recognizes her, she recognizes him.  The cruelness of her actions hit her.

I’m the savage.

Can fear be a good thing?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.” – Gandhi

“Fear is an illusion.” – Everyone on the internet

I like quotes. I like pithy quotes. The pithier the better. I like the aforementioned quotes. Fear is an illusion. That is the title of every TED talk and every entrepreneur’s book. I still like the quote. These quotes are great reminders of what fear really is. It’s this abstract thing in our heads. Try saying that to someone in the middle of a panic attack. Let me give you some of my actual panic attack responses, “shut up, you’re making it worse”, “you’re not helping me at all”, and my favorite, “I think I’m dying, I am like literally dying”. My wife can attest to them all.

Anxiety

I’m an anxious person by nature. Let me paint a picture. I’m six years old, sitting on a plane that’s at the gate. I’m praying to God that we don’t all go down in a blaze of fire while sweating profusely. The plane hasn’t even taxied out of the gate yet. We haven’t even moved an inch. The plane eventually takes off, and my little six year old heart beat is beating like the Energizer bunny being chased by an eagle. Did I mention my dad was a commercial airline pilot, and my mom worked in the travel industry all her life? So I’m flying all the time. Always on a plane since I was a few months old. You would think at some point, on the umteenth flight, the fear would’ve left. Here I am now in full blown middle-aged adulthood, and Mr. “I meditate and visualize everyday”, and yet still can’t keep his childhood fears in check. I can be sitting in a casual meeting and all of a sudden I get an abnormally high rush of adrenaline. My initial thought is always to get up and run out of the room, not a good look. I’ve gotten to the point where I can mentally talk myself back to some semblance of normalcy. It’s kind of embarrassing. Which brings me to the next point.

Fear of Embarrassment

In several articles I’ve read that the fear of public speaking is one of the worst fears. I’ve never looked into this in detail but I would imagine the underlying fear isn’t just a fear of public speaking. I think the real fear when it involves other people is usually just the fear of looking like a fool and being embarrassed. A fear of saying or doing something in front of others that will embarrass you. I think that this fear of embarrassment also ties into a fear of failing, or a fear of starting a long held dream. We are worried what others will say or think if things don’t work out. We will be so embarrassed. That reminds me of another pithy quote. This is from Eleanor Roosevelt. She once said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think that applies perfectly to embarrassment, or even harmful guilt and shame. No one can make you feel anything. We do it to ourselves. Want to know a cool thing about that quote that has helped me for years? You can use it for almost anything.

Just change for the word “inferior” with any other word like this:

No one can make you feel embarrassed without your consent.

No one can make you ashamed without your consent.

No one can make you sad without your consent.

Fear of embarrassment or the way others perceive us is usually the root of any fear of interacting with others. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to just let go in many cases, not all. It’s just too exhausting to put up a facade and to be everything to everyone, or worry how people view me.

This is a problem I’ve seen described in scriptures. The circumstance is usually someone disobeys God because they fear more what others will think of them (don’t want to be embarrassed), as opposed to God’s consequences. In Latter Day Saint scripture, known as the Doctrine & Covenants, there is a verse that reads, “For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God.” Believe it or not, those few words compiled in that verse have gotten me over a number of fears, and over the worrying of what others will think of me. But as I already explained, sometimes, I still get embarrassed. Learn to do what is important to your own values regardless of what others think. You don’t want to compromise your values to fit in with others. You’ll regret it.

It’s Okay to Feel Fear.

It’s okay to feel fear. It’s built into our DNA. It’s our mechanism for sensing and avoiding danger. According to Wikipedia, citing this article, Fear and anxiety: Evolutionary, cognitive, and clinical perspectives, “Fear is closely related to the emotion anxiety, which occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.” It also states that “The fear response serves survival by engendering appropriate behavioral responses, so it has been preserved throughout evolution.”

Fear has its place. It engenders appropriate behavioral responses. Could you imagine if you had no physical fears? You’d be dead in a day. No emotional fears? You might ruin every relationship. No financial fear, you might go bankrupt quickly.

Look, I get it. In our current culture if you feel fear or let it influence you, you perceived as weak. I get it. It doesn’t look great to say fear is okay. It doesn’t sound like a great inspirational book or an Instagram post. But the reality is fear is a part of our mind and bodies. It’s part of our evolution and natural selection. That fear has allowed our species to outlive and outwit far physically stronger species. That fear even helped your ancestors outlive the more adventurous guy who got sliced up like chicken nuggets by a hungry bear.

From what I can tell, it seems like what we really have a problem with is people limiting their lives because of unwarranted or low probability fears. We might even scoff at someone who has let their fears impede their everyday life. The reality is that we all have fears. Even the bravest among us, and some of us are really good at overcoming our fears.

I would say that most highly successful people I know are regular everyday people who battle the same fears as you and I. They just don’t let those fears consume them, or get in the way of action. Look, I still love the no fear quotes. They sound great. The reality though is that you can’t live life without some fear. It’s okay to acknowledge when you’re afraid and when fear has a hold of you. Then you find a way, little by little, or maybe all at once, to get over that roadblock, that nagging fear.

Fear gets a bad rap. But it’s not all that bad. It has its place. Next time someone tells you that it’s all in your head and you need to get over it, let them know that it’s okay to feel fear. Remember the only reason you’re even here on this earth today is because your ancient ancestor listened to their instincts, trusted their internal feeling of fear, and avoided being a tiger appetizer.