Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I'm Unfollowing Everyone I Disagree with on Facebook

Recently, an old friend of mine posted an article on Facebook entitled: "The Real Reasons Why Women Shouldn't Serve in Combat Positions." And I thought for sure it was satire. Or a throwback to an article from the 1920s. But it wasn't. It was a real person writing their modern-day opinions about how women will just never measure up to men. Let's just say, it wasn't a thoughtful piece. All of the blanket statements left me sweltering under the weight of it all.

And it changed the way I view that person.

In the past few years on Facebook, I've witnessed:

-a youth pastor from my childhood posting dehumanizing (a.k.a. sexist) caricatures of Hillary Clinton's face imposed on the body of a roasted chicken with the caption, "Two fat thighs, two small breasts, and a bucket of left wings!"

-my old elementary school teacher arguing about "the gays" and where they belong these days

-a childhood friend demanding that Obama "fess-up" to being a Muslim

-a family friend writing about how "Black Lives Matter" is a terrorist group

and an endless list of other opinions posted online for all to read.

And while it's probably no surprise that I find a lot of these positions to be sexist, dehumanizing, racist, and flat-out lies, I'm not oblivious that some people find my positions to be equally bizarre.  It all depends on where you're standing. None of us are entirely right or entirely wrong.
I wonder if we're just entirely too connected.

Because ten years ago, I didn't know the political affiliations of my volleyball coach.
And my pastor. And the woman who cuts my hair.
And I didn't need to. Because it didn't matter.
What mattered was knowing each other and sharing stories and learning from each other.

At it's best, knowing where we stand politically just enhances our understanding of each other. Having friends and family with various points-of-view is important and necessary and it makes it harder to make generalizations about "Republicans" and "Democrats" when you actually know some of each. But, I would argue, knowing everyone's opinions is only truly valuable, when you can sit down and have a conversation and respectfully listen to each other.

Except that now, we have this thing called the Facebook And we've tried to move some of these conversation to this new platform. So it's a place where people you know regularly say things that you kind of wish you'd never known. Not because you are intolerant to each other's views, but because, when limited to a sound bite, it's harder to have a good or healthy conversation.

Because there's no ground rules.
Because each "conversation" may take hours
(instead of what might've taken ten minutes in person).
And you spend hours of your life waiting for that person to comment.
And even when you're doing the dishes, you're thinking about what witty comment you'll make next.
And maybe that person doesn't respond at all. Ever.
So you're left with that person's angry, racist cousin from Connecticut who dropped in on the conversation.
But you don't even know them.
You never even wanted to talk to them.
And that's about as good as it gets sometimes.
Especially around areas for which we care. Deeply.

Election season, anyone?

I'm pretty sure that we are all going to vote the way we are going to vote. And no amount of FB posts about how Donald Trump scares me or how I'm worried that we are letting fear win or how it baffles me that a sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bully could be our next president keeps me up at night, would change anyone's vote.

So do I plaster FB with my opinion?
Or do I have conversations with people in real life?
I think we know that one would be more effective, but we also know one requires more courage.

Ten years ago, what I knew about the people in my life, was what they demonstrated to me in-person. I think that's okay. Because in the words of most of our grandparents, 
"There are three things you're not 
supposed to discuss in polite company: 
religion, politics, and money."

Does "polite company" extend to our online world?
Can it? I'm not sure.
Because we're all just trying to figure this out.
I don't think we're benefiting by watching each other grow-up on the Internet.

As Sherry Turkle, a tech writers, says, "Just because we've grown up with the Internet, doesn't mean the Internet is grown-up." We are just adolescents in this big digital world. We are all learning day-by-day how to be together online. And if Internet trolls and Donald Trump's Twitter feed tell me anything, it's that we are all just trying to figure this out as we go. Some better than others.

So because we don't have ground rules for the Internet, I'm making some for myself. 

Over the past six months, I've been quietly Unfollowing a lot of people that I disagree with on Facebook. Not Unfriending. Not refusing to read all opinions that differ from mine. Just unfollowing the most hateful. The most unhelpful. Unfollowing the folks who can't let a picture of President Obama playing with his dog pass by their News Feed without saying something about "that African Muslim we've got in the White House."

I just can't.
I just won't.
My heart can't carry all of this.
I'm not sure it was ever meant to.

I imagine some might say, "But if you hide everyone on FB that you disagree with, how will you encounter new ideas that stretch and grow your mind to consider opinions you don't like?"

And to that I would say, "The same way we did ten years ago before Facebook. In real life."

And in real life, we are pretty civil. And kind. And we don't blurt out, "#ALLlivesmatter!" in line at the grocery store. Or walking our dogs at the park. Because that's weird. And unnecessary.

And so, I'm not deleting my Facebook.
I'm not disappearing from all social media.
But I am setting some ground rules for myself and my sanity.
Because I want to engage with the world from a place of hope and abundance, not fear and scarcity.
And I see that all around in me in real life.
And less often online.
And so...

I'm checking FB once a week.
The only FB notifications I get in my email inbox are for Personal Messages.
I'm getting my News on Twitter.
And I'm not following anyone I know who may be posting on Twitter.
But I'm following a wide variety of thinkers on-line.
I'm listening to Black Lives Matter.
I'm listening to Blue Lives Matter.
I'm lending my ear to Hillary Clinton.
And even The Donald.

Because I value a wide variety of opinions.
And I'd rather give my full attention and respect to people I love in-person.
Not just bicker with them online.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Finding Peace in the Upside Down

A month ago, we moved to Denver so that I could start graduate school for social work. Tangibly, it was a pretty easy move, we drove an hour away and unloaded our truck and trailer. But emotionally, it was twice as difficult as packing two bags and moving to Korea.

Which is weird. But true.

Because this move cost more.
This move held more.
This move meant more.
This move played a pivotal role in my future career.

But beyond all that, within hours of carrying in the last box and closing the door, I was having flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. I felt anxious. Scared. Absolutely sure that this was the wrong decision. And all my sweet husband could do is hold me while I cried and gasped for breath.

The next few days, I sat on the couch in a daze. I couldn't unpack a single box. I couldn't fathom having the strength to start grad school the next week. I couldn't understand what was happening or why I was so scared. Something about living in a city. Something about the absence of locks on the windows. Something about the rickety bolt on the door. Something about strangers walking past my window. My stomach was in knots and I couldn't eat. We took one, panicked car ride to Walgreens to buy a pregnancy test because we thought I might be pregnant. Not now. Thank goodness. I stood in the aisle of a hardware store in a teary stupor as Jeremy bought extra locks for our apartment. To be clear, I was a mess.

But laying in early-morning sleeplessness one day, feeling my tummy rise and fall, trying with all of my strength to be calm, I realized:
This feeling. 
This anxiety. 
This is how I woke up 
That I lived in Cambodia.


I haven't felt that feeling in nine years.
But I recognized it immediately.

When I was nineteen years-old, I moved to Cambodia for a year to volunteer as an English teacher. Taking that flight began the hardest, most traumatic year of my life. The country itself is a heavy place with a heavy past and I brought a lot of my own pain. The combination was almost unbearable. And honestly, laying in bed a month ago re-feeling for the first time that dull ache that makes you want to squirm and scream and run away under the weight of it all even though there's no immediate threat in front of you? That ache broke my heart. Because, in that moment, I would have given anything to be rid of that unbearable anxiety. And nine years ago, I lived with that constant ache every day.

In the last month, having been reminded how awful and hopeless that feeling was, I cannot tell you how I made it through my year in Cambodia. I have a renewed compassion for that girl who felt like she didn't have options. Like she couldn't just come home. But I'm not nineteen anymore.
It's not 2007.
It's 2016.
This time I get to make different choices.

I reached out to friends and family.
I called a counselor-friend for referrals.
I made an appointment with an EMDR (re: trauma) counselor.
I didn't pretend everything was okay.
I didn't try to do a whole lot.
I just sat and slept. Sat and slept.
I made Jeremy promise that if I wasn't better in one month, I was allowed to quit grad school.
I made Jeremy promise that if I didn't feel safe in our apartment in one month, we could break our lease and find somewhere else to live.
(He's a real trooper, that guy)

What I'm learning is that past trauma buries itself in our brains so that we can cope and move on with life. And I have moved on. I don't have a long history of anxiety and panic attacks. But this recent move and the feelings of exposure triggered my brain to believe that what happened in Cambodia was happening RIGHT NOW. That's what PTSD is. It feels like reliving a horrible nightmare and no matter how many times people say, "But that's not happening now. You're safe" you are living n a state of fight/flight/freeze.

To me, it feels like being Will in the TV show Stranger Things.

He's fighting for his life from a scary monster in the Upside Down, but on some level he knows he's in a familiar place where he can walk in his own house, but it's not his house. He can hear the voice of his mother, but she's just out of reach. You're here, but you're not here. And you feel like a crazy person trying to describe it to anybody else.

The mind is a fascinating--if not, at times, terrifying--place.

I keep seeing the face of that boy in Cambodia.
Around the corner.
In my dreams.
I can hear him laughing.
I can remember exactly how it felt it be taunted alone in the dark.
And to some degree, I will never forget that.
But EMDR therapy is helping me to sleep through the night.
To eat food.
To unpack our apartment.
To re-direct my thinking.
To name--out loud--real things that I see/fee/smell/taste/hear.
To keep living.

Since then, I have started my graduate school classes, an internship, and a new job. I have met 50+ new people and forgotten nearly all of their names. This content and these conversations are fascinating to me. I'm excited to be joining a field of work that acknowledges pain, validates people's experiences, and leads them to health and healing.

A month ago, I was looking for a way out.
Today, I'm feeling hopeful that this is exactly where I am meant to be.