Today is my 33rd birthday, and birthdays always seem to be good times for reflection on where I am and how I got there. It’s been one year since I hit my peak stress level during my drawn-out nervous breakdown. I’ve been working hard to stay zen and channel Bill Murray since then, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been wonderful.
The biggest part of reducing my stress levels has been my job at Gap. I’ve been kept busy, but not to the degree that I’m burning out. I’ve been given the freedom to pursue my goal of not managing, but still being a technical leader among my department. I’ve even been able to give presentations to other teams and divisions within the company to help us all work together more smoothly.
I feel fulfilled in my work. My co-workers respect me and come to me with questions and challenges regularly and I love solving the puzzles they have for me. I feel like Dr. House for websites when we can work out particularly difficult coding challenges. Minus the insane drug habits and insults, of course.
I’ve never worked with a team of people who are so reliable and helpful to each other as my team here. We always have each others’ backs. People ask for help when they need it, and a volunteer always swoops in and saves the day fairly quickly.
On top of that, I genuinely like them as human beings. It’s no wonder we have so many people here that have worked in the same team for 5, 7, 10, and even one person for 15 years! I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given here, and I hope it stays this good as long as possible.
I went back and re-read my post from last year and it’s interesting how much different I am when I’m not burned out. With my reduced stress levels, I’ve been able to let go of a lot of baggage and be a better friend to others that are going through similar issues that I was.
I’ve been spending more time out of the house. I’ve been hanging out with friends more, and making new ones. I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin by going to my community pool and sunbathing my out-of-shape self beside all the beautiful 20-somethings.
I still don’t think I like most people. Just watching current events over the past year — following Brexit, the presidential election, the seemingly constant shootings… — hasn’t changed my feelings about the human race much for the better. At least until I started listening to Mr. Rogers and paying more attention to “the helpers”.
When I went to the protests in Oakland in support of #BlackLivesMatter (after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), I saw so many more people looking to peacefully organize for a better future. I saw police and citizens cooperating and being civil. I saw people of all races coming out to show their support. And when the news about the Dallas police officers being shot came to us, I heard no one revel in it. Instead, the prayers and support adapted to include them.
Social media is rough sometimes, of course. A few of my friends who are frustrated with the way things are going in the country were considering voting for spite or for some strange idea of cleansing anarchy as far as I could tell. When I’ve spoken to them directly, they’ve generally been receptive to reason.
Many people need an outlet for showing their disapproval for Washington DC politics. But in my experience speaking with the people in my own circles about it, they aren’t really looking to hit the self-destruct button. They just don’t have a place to vent. Listening to them about their concerns and clearing up misconceptions in a non-judgmental way often makes them see things in — while not a positive light — a less hopeless light.
Hope is in short supply in society. So many of us are led by the nose to dwell on fear, hate, and every offensive action the tiny minority of monsters dwelling among us are doing. It floods our media, and profiteers of the discord joyously watch as their products tear us apart.
Stop following websites, news organizations, and people who constantly want you to be angry, upset, afraid, and outraged. I don’t want anyone to isolate themselves in a tiny echo chamber where they lose touch with the real world, but some filtering is necessary to keep sane.
Think about what makes you angry when you read about it.
- Is it the opposite political party’s propaganda?
- Is it clickbait and other skeevy marketing practices?
- Is it political correctness ruining everything?
- Is it people on your own side that misrepresent you or your interpretation of the ideals of that community?
- Is it people who spread misinformation for personal gain?
- Is it people who have trouble seeing perspectives different from their own?
- Is it apathy?
- Is it feeling like others ignore your point of view, whether purposefully or not?
Go through whatever websites and social media outlets you use, and start pruning. Get rid of that site that tilts every news story toward a point that politically agrees with them, even if its aligned with your views. Unfollow that friend from high school that is always posting radical political content (even if that person is me!). Unsubscribe from the email newsletters that DailyMail or MoveOn keep sending you because you signed one petition 3 months ago.
When you’re tempted to click on something clickbaity because “you won’t believe what happened next!” stop yourself. Apply the proper reaction of resentment to the people manipulating you into looking at ads on their site. Remove them from your life.
Then, find people in your friends or family that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send them a letter, a text message, or call them. Ask them how they’re doing. Sometimes we don’t even think about it when we’re busy and stressed out, but it’s nice to hear from the people you love. Especially when they call offering to listen, and being interested in what’s going on in your life.
You can help those stressed, depressed, and burnt out (like I was) people in your life immeasurably, just by volunteering to be an outlet for them. Being on both sides of these conversations has benefited me greatly.
Talk to people who disagree with you. It’s very easy for us to paint others into stereotypes and assume that they’re the most radical extremist version of those generalizations. Find common ground. It’s usually not difficult to find things you agree on once you try. When you find common ground and diversity within the ranks of communities opposite your own, you find much more hope for the future.
The cynical constructs we build in our own minds, often with help from the media we consume, of “those other people” are almost always wrong. It’s part of the human condition to label and simplify complex concepts, and human beings are as complex as it gets.
We live in an age when information is more freely available than ever before. And this doesn’t just mean scientific journals, hundreds of news sites, twitter, and Wikipedia. Information about our friends, families, and communities is also more freely available than ever — for better or worse. This is a blessing.
Experience and Knowledge Will Set You Free
There has rarely, if ever, been an occasion in my life where learning something has made my life worse.
- Spiders creeped me out as a child, until I learned about how harmless most of them are and how they benefit their ecosystems.
- I felt shameful and missed out on opportunities because I resisted who I really was, until I learned to stop judging others so much.
- I wrongfully judged my future wife when we first met as a naive hippie girl who would just be a fun short-term relationship, until I learned more about her.
- I had a simple answer to every hard question, until I learned more about why those questions were so hard in the first place.
- I had more rewarding and stable relationships when I learned that love isn’t enough on its own.
The people in my life that seem to struggle the most are the ones that resist learning new things, trying new experiences, and shifting their own perspective. They carry baggage that they hide within themselves, and it makes them think less of themselves. Over the long-term, it causes regret. When regrets pile on top of each other, it creates misery.
Examine what you hate, fear, regret, and are ashamed of critically. Most of the time you’ll find that in the end you did little to no harm, and you can forgive yourself. For the few things that did cause harm, you can always find ways reconcile. Even if someone is no longer with us, you can honor their memory. No one is beyond redemption, and no one can keep redemption away from you but yourself.
Apologize to people you’ve harmed, no matter how long ago it was. Reconcile with friends that wronged you, even if you don’t expect to speak to them again afterward. Forgive yourself for making mistakes, and do your best not to repeat them. Drop that baggage.
Because I’ve recently come out of such a rough patch in my own privileged life, I have hope. I don’t have to work nearly as hard to dig into myself for optimism. I can see it, and it comes into me if I pay attention.
When I was down, it was hard to see the good in the world and in myself. The word “privilege” is so loaded in society these last several years, but there’s a reason for that. For those of us going through hard times, it’s difficult to look past that to see the hard times that others are going through. It’s even harder to recognize it if some people are having an even harder time than we are, because we feel like it minimizes our own troubles. It makes us defensive.
Fight that. Remember that when someone else cries out for help, it doesn’t mean that your cries are competing with theirs. If looking for the helpers has taught me anything, it’s that those helpers are more often than not also in need of help. It doesn’t stop them from being a positive influence. My current work environment is a great example to me of how no matter how bad things get, asking for help when you need it is never a bad idea. You might be surprised who offers you a hand when they find out you need one. Even those of us who feel broken down can help others.
When you’re able to be that helping hand for someone else, you realize how un-broken you truly are. When someone can help you without a second thought simply because you asked for it, you realize how silly it is to be too proud to ask.
Thanks for reading this.
I’m sorry that this post became so preachy. While I was reading what I was going through last year, I realized that I’m probably at least 25% of my readership (haha). These lessons are just as much aimed at myself for when I read this again a year from now as they are for anyone else that finds themselves on my site.