Yesterday, I celebrated six years at my current job. I also received a stellar annual performance review. Normally, these are things I would’ve shared loud and proud with my friends. Instead, I only told a few people and my wife, and I had a quiet celebration at home with a nice bottle of wine.
Why this decision you ask?
Yesterday, there was a shitstorm of tragedy in our country. Hell, there seems to be a shitstorm of tragedy around the world every day. Waking up to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas made me feel hopeless and sad and angry and anxious. Then I got my review and I felt relief and joy, which made me feel guilty because…shitstorm in Vegas. People in Puerto Rico are suffering and in need of basic supplies just to survive and I’m opening a bottle of wine to celebrate my own good news. How do we as humans reconcile these seemingly opposing feelings? How do we keep our empathy for others while maintaining our own sanity? How do you share your own joy during these times without seeming tone deaf?
This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for so many of us. The election left our country reeling. We have someone in the highest office of the country who is essentially a schoolyard bully. He is inarticulate and crass. He cares more about his ego than about actually making the country better. Our country is the most divided I have seen it in my lifetime. Hate and anger and prejudice abounds. Social media and news outlets flood us with stories about all the divisiveness in the country and the world. It’s no wonder that so many of us are dealing with depression and anxiety.
As I was watching news coverage of the massacre in Las Vegas, I noticed something strange. Each reporter seemed to be trying to find creative ways to describe the shooting and the ensuing chaos, often with bad results. Inappropriate and just plain wrong adjectives and adverbs were flying all over the place. I had to turn the tv off. A time of tragedy is not an opportunity to bust out fancy words you looked up but don’t know how to properly use. Our 24-hour news cycle has made mainstream media more and more sensationalistic. This is not an indictment of the media. But it is my response to the craziness in our world. How do we control our environment so that we don’t become so sucked into a blackhole of sorrow that we can’t get out?
As the months have passed this year, I’ve spent more and more time doing everything I can to control my environment. I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety most of my life and have learned how to manage it so I can function. Outside influences leaking into my day can cause me to spiral into a bout of depression that is debilitating. This year is a perfect example of that. And as someone who feels emotions deeply, for myself and others around me, I can tell you that this year has been one of the hardest in my life. In order to save myself, I’ve had to relearn how to compartmentalize events around me. I needed to find a way to still have empathy without losing myself in the sorrow and hopelessness I felt every time I saw a story about white supremacists proudly marching through the streets. Or another story of police brutality. Or a story of a police officer being killed by a criminal. Or a story about a gay or transgender person being beaten to death. The list goes on and on and on. We are a broken and angry species right now and we can’t seem to find our way to being kind again.
Earlier this year, my sister and I were talking about how stressed out we were by life and everything going on around us. We had things we wanted to do for ourselves, but finding the time and energy was a challenge. We both felt the need to have more joy in our lives but were unsure as to how to do it. So, we came up with a plan. We would schedule four hours of joy a week into our lives. Ideally, it would be broken up into one-hour segments, but we were being flexible about it. The point was to MAKE time for the things that brought us happiness because we needed it now more than ever. We shared our calendars and held each other accountable for ensuring we were taking our joy breaks. We started in April and are still going strong.
This is what we all need. We need joy. We need laughter. We need time with friends and family to celebrate the good things going on in our lives. Taking this time doesn’t make us selfish. Enjoying an hour of reading doesn’t mean you don’t care about what others are going through. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you can’t still feel sadness for the tragedies going on around the world. The point is to find balance in our lives because we desperately need it. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is a necessity. I encourage everyone to find joy wherever they can and to share it with others. We all need more happiness in our lives right now.