Why I Turned Off My Birthday On My Facebook Profile

For the past few years, I’ve gotten really intense anxiety on my birthday. And while it’s true that I’m hurtling toward (and am probably already at) middle age, that isn’t the reason for my anxiety. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the anxiety was coming from—get this—people wishing me happy birthday on social media. I am perfectly aware that this is the weirdest fucking thing ever to get anxious about, so don’t @ me in the comments section to tell me so. I already know.

But you know how Facebook has that birthday reminder feature where, on your birthday, it prompts everyone on your friends list, many of them whom you almost never exchange words with (or at least not since your or their last birthday), to tell you happy birthday, and you end up with at least a hundred notifications? So many notifications! All day long! HAVE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT!!

That was causing me anxiety. And not just a little. I’m ashamed to admit it had gotten to the point last year that I was honestly kind of letting it ruin my birthday. (Yes. I know I was letting it. I am aware I can choose not to look at social media. But my job is in social media so it is actually kind of impossible not to.)

Now, before I go on, I need to make two things super clear: First, I do not begrudge anyone wishing me or anyone else a happy birthday. I think it’s wonderful! Despite my anxiety, I realize it’s a thoughtful, kind gesture to take a few moments to wish someone a happy day. Second, I am a total fucking hypocrite because I also wish acquaintances I barely know a happy birthday, and I do so with complete sincerity. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t spoken to a person in years, if I see it’s their birthday, I am excited to take a moment to wish them a happy birthday, and I truly mean it!

Nevertheless, for the past few years, the energy being directed at me on my birthday, even though it was positive and wonderful and thoughtful, was just too much. I was having horrible thoughts, like “Why is this person wishing me happy birthday even though we never speak?” followed by “Kristen, you are a big dumb hypocrite who also wishes acquaintances happy birthday, seriously, what is wrong with you?” and the grand finale: “You’re an entitled douchebag with ridiculous first-world problems who doesn’t deserve happy birthday wishes anyway.”

Honestly. Who doesn’t enjoy when people literally wish them happiness?

Turns out, it’s actually not that uncommon to have social media birthday anxiety. I know because I asked on my Facebook page if anyone else experiences similar anxiety, and the comment section exploded with a chorus of “Holy crap, me too!”

Tons of people said they experience social media birthday anxiety, often followed by similar guilt for said anxiety. Many turned off their birthday on social media years ago. Monica, from Maryland, said, “Yes! I absolutely hate it. I hate all and any attention.” It didn’t occur to me until the moment I read that comment, but I think that’s definitely part of my issue. I’ve come a long way from the attention-hungry 20-year-old who threw back a couple of tequila shots and entered a bikini contest during spring break. Please, do me a favor and don’t notice me.

Kristina, from Florida, said all the messages actually made her feel lonely. “It’s a full day of no one actually intimately interacting with you.” This makes so much sense too! When I picture a perfect birthday, I imagine a low-key, chill day spent with the loved ones closest to me, eating good food and too much cake.

Quite a few people expressed distress about thanking everyone for all the wishes. They felt obligated to respond to each and every post, but then also worried they would forget someone and come off looking like a jerk.

This year, in an effort to reduce my weird birthday anxiety, I switched my birthday to private in Facebook. I didn’t do it in previous years because, again, who doesn’t enjoy wishes of happiness? I didn’t want to be a party pooper and I was holding out hope that my anxious ass would chill the hell out over it. Instead, I kept the anxiety and also added guilt and self-loathing for being an ungrateful, panicky turd who apparently can’t handle people trying to be nice to me, and so each consecutive year spiraled into an ever-deepening whirling vortex of panic.

This year, with notifications turned off, was perfect. A few family members and friends with crazy-good memories messaged me privately and posted on my page, which did prompt a few others to respond likewise with happy wishes in the comments, but everything felt much more organic and not overwhelming at all.

I am the first to admit that all of this is sort of a made-up problem. Social media isn’t even real life! Why are we stressing about online birthdays? It’s super weird! And yet, it can’t be that weird because it’s definitely a thing, I’m definitely not the only one, and as much as we’d love to pretend social media is an imaginary place that doesn’t impact our real lives, we all know that’s not the case at all.

I enjoyed my recent quiet birthday with my kids and partner. I was genuinely touched by the people who remembered my birthday even without a Facebook reminder and sent well-wishes my way. It was exactly the right amount of attention for someone with an inflated aversion to attention, so I don’t see myself turning my birthday back on anytime soon.

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Let’s Normalize Doing Whatever The Hell We Want With Our Pubic Hair

My kids are teenagersand after listening to them fight over razors and finding those razors in the bathroom filled with pubic hair, I asked them all what the hell was going on. 

They informed me that everyone shaves their pubic hair (don’t forget the taint) because pubic hair is gross.

“So, this is something you talk about with your friends?” I asked.

Apparently, yes. And according to them, having pubic hair is as dirty as eating your boogers.

I remember in my high school days, if a person with a penis had a foreskin, everyone knew about it even though there were no such things as dick pics and they didn’t spend their free time flashing everyone. 

I’m not saying it was right — it was horrible actually — I’m just reminding us all of the way it was.

It sounds like that’s how it is now if you have pubic hair, which absolutely makes my blood boil. When a thirteen-year-old feels like they have to shave or wax their private parts bald because everyone else is doing it, it’s cause for concern.

I believe if you want hair there, you should have hair there without thinking you are a wild boar who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves. And if you like the way you look better when you are all sleek and trim, well that’s how you should style yourself.

It wasn’t until I divorced and got back into the dating world that I realized no one had pubic hair any longer. I heard it from the men I dated, and I heard it from my single girlfriends.

However, I kept my bush because it didn’t bother me, and I wanted to spend my time doing other things. If the men I was having sex with didn’t like it, I didn’t care — my body, my choice. I also hadn’t seen my naked vagina since I was about eleven and I didn’t really want to see how she’d aged.

Then something happened about a year ago: My landing strip started turning gray, and it really bothered me. After asking my mother about it, she said if I followed in her footsteps, it would all start falling out soon anyway. WTF.

So, I decided to fire my pubic hair before it quit me. I took my pink razor to it one morning in the shower while my deep conditioner was taming my frizzy locks.

I didn’t do this to fit in. I didn’t do it because my friends told me my orgasms would be more intense. (Well, not fully anyway, but that might have crossed my mind while lathering up my bearded clam.)

I did it because frankly, I didn’t want bald patches between my legs. There are enough things about my body I’m not in love with, so why add another to the list? Again, my body, my choice.

Anyway, my point is we need to normalize doing what we want with our pubic hair. Women shouldn’t be made to feel like they aren’t beautiful or clean because they don’t want to shave their lips and assholes.

As Sandhya Ganesh notes in Medium, body hair — just like every other thing about women’s looks — goes through style phases that have changed throughout the years. These days, “With the advent of easily available porn, where women expose body hair-free bodies, men were misguided into thinking this is the sign of beauty and sex appeal. Playboy magazines are also popular, displaying nude, hairless women promoting negative body image.”

Is this where our teens are getting the idea that shaving your pubic hair is a must? From porn? God, I hope not, but let’s be real — it probably is, and we need to fix it.

In listening to my kids talk, it seems to be highly associated with how you feel about, and how you take care of, yourself.

I’ve told them a few times that pubic hair should be just like everything else in your life: you don’t follow a crowd when it comes to this kind of hygiene. You do what you want with your private area, and it’s your business, and that needs to come before other people’s opinions of you. Even a sexual partner.

The idea that women have to get rid of all their hair and always walk around bare is old news. It’s 2020 and we should do what we want with our bodies and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to, period. If your partner has an objection, maybe it’s time to remind them that there are other people out there who don’t mind a garden with a little more greenery.

The fact that our teenagers feel like they have to shave in order to be cool, or clean, or whatever, is just another sign we need to normalize pubic hair in the same way we need to normalize wearing whatever you want, or being proud of your size even if it falls outside the “conventionally attractive” norm.

We need to remind them, and ourselves, that just because “everyone else is doing it” is not a good enough reason.

We have to be happy with how we are treating our bodies. After all, we’re the ones who have to live in them. And whether we prefer a plush carpet, or a hardwood floor, is up to us.

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3 Little Tips That Lead To Big Amounts Of Joy

Arguments, disagreements and hostility are all around us these days. Masks vs. no-masks. Biden vs. Trump. Social distancing vs. well, not so much. Everywhere we turn we find opposing opinions. One thing we can all agree on, however, is this: Parenting, even under normal circumstances, is hard enough. Parenting during a pandemic is preposterous.

Even though we’re doing the best we can, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, tired of our new “normal,” and just plain sad. During this chaotic time, when there’s so much that we can’t control, what if I told you that we have more control than we think we do to create more joy in our lives right now, quickly and easily? Well, we do … and here’s how:

First, acknowledge that sometimes good enough really is good enough.

If you’re the sort of mom who strives for perfection in everything you do, recognize that this is no time to aim for that level of excellence. It’s just not realistic, and you’re going to burn out if you try. Face it, friends, we’re in survival mode right now — just doing the best that we can. If you accept nothing short of 100% with everything you do right now, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

For me, is everything getting done the way I would like during this difficult time? Heck no. Are we eating cereal for dinner at least once a week? Yep. Are my kids spending a lot more time on their devices than they used to? They sure are. Did I forget to pick up my kid from school one afternoon last week because I mixed up her hybrid schedule and forgot she was there? Unfortunately, yes. Are the dirty breakfast dishes still sitting in the sink? You betcha. And you know what? It’s all okay. It’s not the end of the world. During these unusual times I have to focus my energy and resources on the things that matter, which is getting my family and me through this challenging time as mentally and physically healthy as possible. Everything else is secondary; have a little grace with yourself and keep everything in perspective.

Second, reduce the “Dread Factor.”

We all have a ton of stuff on our daily to-do lists that we are not excited about doing, yet they have to get done. Ask yourself if there is a way to make those dreadful tasks less dreadful, and perhaps even create a little bit of joy while you do them. A friend of mine demonstrated this strategy perfectly recently – she had to move her kid’s stuff out of a storage unit and into her new apartment. She was dreading it, so to make it a little less miserable she rented a cherry-red Mustang convertible to do it. Yes, it took her longer (she had to go back and forth between the unit and apartment more times since the car could only hold a fraction of what a U-Haul truck could hold) and was slightly more expensive, but it turned this dreadful task into an enjoyable experience. She actually had a great day, driving with the wind in her hair and the tunes cranked up high.

Consider the possibility that there may be tiny tweaks you can make to create more joy in otherwise miserable tasks. For example, hate grocery shopping? Plan to listen to the latest episode of your favorite podcast in your earbuds while doing it. It’ll give you something fun to look forward to while doing something that you have to get done.

Finally, start each day off right.

Typically, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when your alarm goes off each morning? If you’re like me, it may be an obscenity or two because you can’t believe it’s morning already and you’re still so dang tired, but it may also be that laundry list of tasks you have to get done that day (and, of course, laundry is likely at the top of it!) Our brains automatically go there first thing in the morning, which is a very depressing way to start the day! Instead, force yourself to think of at least one thing you’re looking forward to that day – no matter how small it is. Perhaps you’re going to watch the final episode of Ozark that you’ve been saving. Or maybe you’re going to enjoy another chapter of that book that’s been unopened on your nightstand for three weeks. Or maybe you’re ordering pizza for dinner from that delicious pizza place on the corner.

Whatever it is, before your feet hit the floor, focus on that little bit of joy that will be coming your way. Can’t think of anything? All the more reason to come up with something, right then and there! It’ll put you in a positive mindset and get your day started on the right foot!

As we continue through these difficult times, there’s a lot we can’t control, but the one thing we can control is intentionally creating more joy for ourselves each day. We deserve that. Now go get some.

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Passive-Aggressive Texting Is A Thing: Tips On Avoiding (Or Accomplishing) It

You may be a passive-aggressive texter. You probably don’t know it— or maybe you do, and you’re deploying it selectively. Passive-aggressive texting is real, because as NPR says in an article about the subject, language is always changing. Moreover, the way you use texting may be very different from the way your teen or tween uses it, and little tics could signal nastiness when none is meant.

When we text, we lack normal emotional cues we use to read a person’s tone, such as vocal range or facial expressions. That makes texting especially ripe for misunderstanding. Our language “has evolved,” NPR says, and the meaning of words and phrases is steadily shifting, especially among younger people.

Want to avoid passive-aggressive texting? Here are some tips. Want to engage in passive-aggressive texting? You might want to add these tips to your arsenal.

Avoid Periods At The End of A Message

As NPR says, periods can freak people out. Because we can just hit “send” at the end of a message, including a period at the end of a statement can  “indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.” When you combine it with something like “OK” or “Sounds good,” this passive-aggressive texting move can indicate a dismissiveness, or even the opposite of what you actually mean.

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author, tells NPR.

Major Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: Replying “K”

Look, it’s only one other letter. When you answer “K,” you’re indicating that you are, in fact, not okay with something, says YourTango. It signals “sure, I’ll do it/pretend to be okay with it, but I’m really not, and I’m telling you that.” Major passive-aggressive texting move, especially when you combine it with a period. It also signals you don’t have time for the person: you’re not even using an extra letter. 

Thread-Jacking

This happens most often in group texts. Someone will comment on something, particularly something good that happened, and you jump in with a story or anecdote of your own without acknowledging it (“Well, this happened to me when…”) or “Good for you” or even worse, “Good for you, the same thing happened to me…” All this turns your genuine desire for communication into something about them. Total passive-aggressive texting move.

Omitting Emojis… Or Using Them Improperly

According to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, love ’em or hate ’em, emojis are here to stay. With a smiley face, your passive aggressive period can become more passive aggressive. But with a heart and no period, you’re saying what you mean.

But emojis, Sara Kerr, a business professor at St. Catherine University, explains to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, can also soften what you mean: they function as the facial expressions you can’t read. The word “Goodnight,” for example, followed by a period, has a passive-aggressive texting-like sound. But “Goodnight” sans period and followed by a heart (or more) softens the statement into what you may actually mean (“I’m leaving the conversation but it’s because you or I are going to sleep, not because I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”).

But when used with any other signs of passive-aggressive texting, an emoji can make everything worse. The ubiquitous smilie face isn’t enough. If you really want to soften things, try hearts or the LOL symbol.

Indicating The Text Is Read… And Not Responding: One of the Most Passive-Aggressive Texting Sins

This is one of the ultimate moves, YourTango says, that indicates passive-aggressive texting. You’re saying, “I don’t care about you enough to respond,” and “I see you, and don’t see you worthy of a response.” If you read it, you respond to it. Period. (pun intended).

Texting Long Paragraphs… Or Texting Over and Over and Over

Texting is by nature meant for short, pithy responses, says The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If you’re sending a long response, agrees Bolde, you’re signaling that you planned something, and that while you may be saying something, you’re really ticked off about whatever’s happening… or you’re extra pissed off.

The same goes for texting a few-word answers over and over without waiting for a response in between. I’ve been known to pull this with my husband when I’m actually mad at him and don’t want to say so. It signals that there are multiple issues you need to express, and you’re not giving the other person time to respond. Totally passive-aggressive texting.

Texting “Ha”

You’re saying the opposite of what you mean when you text a two-letter response to something meant to be funny, says YourTango. By saying “ha,” (especially when you combine it with the period), you’re dismissing someone and indicating that whatever has happened is not actually funny at all.

Serious Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: “Can We Call Instead?”

Cardinal sin, says 11points. You’re indicating that whatever’s going on is not enough to deal with in a text message, and you need to communicate some kind of nasty message by talking. It’s the texting equivalent of “We need to talk,” and uncool. Like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, texting is for short answers. When you say you need to take it to the phone, you’re indicating, through passive-aggressive texting, that everything is not okay.

Multiple Question Marks

11points also notes that the more question marks you use after a statement, the more passive-aggressive texting you’re engaging in. One is okay. Two can indicate urgency. More than two and you’re into “oh my God, I’m so fucking exasperated” territory without actually saying it. Major passive-aggressive move. If you’re trying to be sincere, use one exclamation point… and soften it with an emoji.

Not Answering At All: The Ultimate Passive-Aggressive Texting

I don’t have time for you. I don’t care. I don’t want to read your message. This, especially when combined with a “text read” function, indicates you either: read the text and DGAF to answer, or when the person knows you have a text read function and don’t use it, says, “I don’t care enough about you to even read your message. Avoid at all costs. At least drop a message like, “Totally slammed, will get back to you [emoji].” Remember: if you’re trying to avoid passive-aggressive texting in this situation, avoid the period, soften with an emoji, and use slang like “totally” or “majorly.”

Then make sure you actually get back to the person. Otherwise you’ll piss them off and they may resort to the multiple-text without a response move.

There’s a few rules. Use them as you will: to indicate passive-aggressive texting, or to avoid it. But however you slice it, these things indicate you’re unhappy. Use them wisely.

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Working From Home Is Great, Until It’s Not

The pandemic was supposed to be done by now. We were supposed to support one another, wear masks, keep distance, and move from spring to summer and fall with cases dropping each season. Instead we are living in a divided country that has contributed to what feels like a dystopian version of The Neverending Story. Back to school, government support, hoaxes? Ah, young one, those are another story.

We are still in the thick of COVID-19 adjustments, because cases and deaths are still on the rise. States have opened up, and many service employees have returned to physical spaces, but many folks are still working from home and will do so indefinitely. For some folks, working from home has always been a full-time situation or at least an option they could take advantage of if necessary. Since the pandemic forced non-essential workers into their homes, working remotely has become the only choice for many employees. Working from home does have benefits, but it’s not great for everyone — and for some, the long term effects are damaging.

According to a study done by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, about 34% of U.S. jobs can be done from home. But just because they can, doesn’t mean folks want to work from home. To be clear: no one wants any of whatever this new normal is, but some have struggled more than others with the switch from office space to working at the kitchen table. A survey by the Society of Human Resource Management showed 70% of employers are struggling with shifting to remote work. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, half of companies believe they are seeing a drop in productivity with this shift from office to home work environments.

At first it was kind of nice to skip the morning rush and commute. Business casual became very casual; pants became optional. There were Zoom meetings and emails but no bosses or co-workers looking over our shoulders. Then the novelty wore off and anxiety and loneliness settled in, and working from home became a source of volatility. One of the hardest aspects of this pandemic is all of the dominoes that may or may not fall because of it. It creates a constant sense of unpredictability.

Will my kid wander into the room while I am trying to focus? Will my internet become “unstable” when I’m on a call? Will a coworker or client be dealing with the same interruptions? When will this end? Will there even be office space to go back to when the pandemic is over?

A friend told me that her company decided to get rid of all physical locations and have employees work from home because it’s cheaper. She hopes this budget cut saves her job, but that too is uncertain. We never know what the future holds, but at the moment we can’t even make short-term plans much less long-term goals. All of this uncertainty creates anxiety, and when we’re anxious we don’t focus well and our productivity declines. I’m used to working from home because I did it before COVID-19, but since the kids have invaded my home work space I’ve become slower about checking items off of my to-do list.

My kids’ constant presence over the last six months has definitely impacted my ability to work efficiently from home. I spend more time convincing myself to get started and am easily distracted. The pandemic turned what was once a perk into a problem. Part of the joy of working remotely means I can travel and still get my work done. This allows me to visit my long distance partner or attend a conference and still and not miss any writing assignments. When I was home in the “before times” and struggled to focus, I could pick up and work at a coffee shop or library if I needed a change of scenery to boost my productivity. I can’t do that now.

Being around people helps many of us too. Some of us are extroverts and relish the drop-ins by co-workers and office friends. Our energy and moods are suffering without the external stimulation of other humans. Even introverts can get lonely during these stretches of work-at-home solitude. And most of us need those face-to-face interactions to brainstorm ideas, vent, or hold us accountable. Zoom meetings add to the mental drain and are not a comparable replacement to real contact.

The good news is that humans are resilient and (fingers crossed) all of this is temporary. The pandemic won’t last forever (right??), the economy will improve, and our work-life balance and locations will find equilibrium again. Until then, there are some things we can do to make our remote work better.

Ingrid Fetell Lee reminds us that we need to take care of our bodies first. Move, stretch, and find new spots to work if possible to ease aches and pains from sitting all day. Even if it’s from the couch to the counter, it’s important to give our bodies a break. I have benefited from taking an hour in the middle of each day to work out. It gives me something to look forward to, eliminates stiffness, and gives me energy to pull focus from the depths of my very tired, totally-over-this-shit soul.

Fetell Lee suggests adding plants to your workspace, making an effort to get sunshine, and if you can, putting your workstation away at the end of each workday. Throw a blanket over the mess or pile everything into a basket and tuck it away. We now live where we work. It’s important to set some boundaries so that we can recharge to do it all again the next day.

Another tip (one I am personally struggling with) is that we need to embrace some of this uncertainty. I do my best to control what I can, but the reality is that so much is out of my hands. I know I would benefit from letting go of the idea that I can problem-solve my way out of this situation.

If you are feeling frustrated and sick and tired of working from home, you aren’t alone. I am grateful I can still work from the safety of my home, but being forced to do so has created negative side effects that make me feel sluggish and disconnected. It’s okay to hold these two truths at the same time. It’s okay for you to give yourself a break too.

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Call It ‘Socially Awkward’ Or ‘Pandemic-Weird,’ But We’re All Suffering From It

Maybe you’ve overshared on Zoom lately. Maybe you’re embroiled in a he-said, she-said with a family member. Maybe you’re overly angry, or irritable, or anxious. Maybe it’s easier not to talk to people. Maybe it’s easier not to deal with social situations. Maybe Netflix looks a whole lot better than a Zoom party with your friends. Basically, we’ve all gone pandemic-weird, according to The New York Times: we’re suffering from the social unease and awkwardness that comes with long periods of isolation.

I’m no stranger to going pandemic-weird.

I’m overly anxious. I worry about everything: breathless, heart-hammering, stomach-clenching worry. My husband and I have a joke: every little symptom of any type of allergy (and it’s ragweed season) convinces us we have COVID-19. “You don’t have COVID,” we assure each other over and over. Stomach ache? COVID. Sore throat from snoring? COVID. Runny nose with no other symptoms whatsoever? COVID.

I’m also super-awkward with friends—more than usual. I can’t tell when it’s my turn to talk during a Zoom call. A friend’s chance comment may leave me puzzling for day: what did she mean? Does she still like me? Sometimes it’s easier to stay off Facebook and Twitter and Messenger and every other social media format, ignoring everyone, including my own family. When forced to interact, I get anxious and jumpy.

Pandemic-Weird Is Pandemic-Normal

The New York Times says that research on people who’ve spent extended times alone, like hermits, astronauts, or prisoners, shows that without constant exercise, our social skills wither. NASA says of the planned mission to Mars, “The more confined and isolated humans are, the more likely they are to develop behavioral or cognitive conditions, and psychiatric disorders.” Basically, we’re hardwired to go pandemic-weird, losing social skills and the ability to read subtle social cues, as well developing things like diagnosable anxiety.

We’ve long known that solitary confinement is unethical, with the former head of the corrections department in Colorado calling it “immoral” and “torture” to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. People in solitary confinement, who have no stimulation—some may watch TV or listen to the radio, but they’re denied visitors—can go outside for about 1.5 hours a day in a bare concrete area. While this is obviously far more harsh than what we’re suffering during the pandemic, research on these inmates has shown that “This environment can be psychologically destructive for anyone who enters and endures it for significant periods of time, particularly those with preexisting psychiatric disorders.” People risk “profound and chronic alienation” and “asociality”—i.e., they never want to be around people.

So if we’re becoming a little bit anxious, starting to feel like human contact isn’t worth it, or having trouble reading people—it’s no surprise. We’re going pandemic-weird. And that’s 100% normal for humans.

But I’m Fine…

You’re probably not. You’re probably pandemic-weird. You just don’t realize it.

Stephanie Cacioppo, the director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago, tells The New York Times that being lonely or isolated is as much of a biological signal as being hungry. Our brain interpret it as “a mortal threat,” and when we don’t interact with people, it leads to “negative cognitive, emotional and physiological effects.” Even if you’re holed up with the fam, you’re missing out on vital interactions with other people: casual talk with coworkers and interactions with strangers at Starbucks.

The New York Times mentions, “Many of us have not met anyone new for months.”

My brain said “but the internet.” I realized the internet didn’t count and cried. I’m totally pandemic-weird.

So How Do We Deal With Being Pandemic-Weird?

Space and grace, people. Space and grace.

We need to realize that this is happening, first of all: every one of us is going through a significant experience, and no one is going to come out the same on the other end: values-wise or personality-wise, says The New York Times. So be ready for people to change— don’t expect that when this ends, everything’s going to return to situation normal. Those are the people, says British physician Beth Healey, who spent a year on a remote part of Antarctica, who do the worst when they try to reintegrate.

On the other hand, the people who recover best from being pandemic-weird are those who spend their time in isolation reaching out to others. The prisoners in solitary confinement who fared best afterwards were those who realized the isolation “a serious threat to their sense of self and security” and reached out to other people.

In other words, if you want to stave off that pandemic-weirdness, you’d better take that Zoom call.

We’re worried about kids. But we should also be worried about ourselves. “Social interplay,” The New York Times says, is one of the most complicated things we’re wired to do. So don’t expect much from other people in the next… while. Realize we’ve all gone pandemic-weird: we’ve been through a serious length of social confinement that’s changed us in a fundamental way, and we’re still finding our feet in social situations. Be tolerant of others and realize that no, they probably don’t hate you. But extend yourself the same grace as well.

You’ve gone pandemic-weird. It’s okay. We all have.

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My Kids’ Social Lives Are Important, But So Is Mine — And It’s Suffering

My face lit up with excitement the morning I received a text from the father of my daughters’ friend Kylie. He reached out one morning, early, asking if the girls could FaceTime. I could almost feel the desperation in his text message. He and I exchanged the typical parental text: “What time works best?” “What did you decide to do about this school year — are you sending her to in-person class?” ”Maybe they should talk every day, they enjoyed it.” And with those brief texts, I realized that this conversation was the first I’d had with another adult, socially, other than my wife in two weeks.

I speak daily with my colleagues, of course, but not with my friends. When my daughters figured out how to use the filters on my iPhone while FaceTiming with Kylie before I even knew such filters existed, I knew I needed to get intentional about carving out a social time of my own (and perhaps even learn how to use the filters too).

At the start of the pandemic, I checked in with my friends daily, but as it has raged on, I’ve been less inclined to reach out. Maybe it’s because of exhaustion, or maybe because I am usually the one who reaches out to my friends, the one who checks in. “Just saying hi” or “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” began most of my text messages. And I am tired.

I value my friendships greatly, but to add another “thing” to my to-do list these days seems impossible. I need to pick and choose where I exert my energy because that well is dry. To add anything else to my overflowing plate, I need to take something else off. And with school starting in just a few days, I plan on doing some rearranging of my priorities. I won’t have a choice. When my kids giggled and discussed between them how funny their conversation with their friend was, a familiar “friend” of my own resurfaced — loneliness. My kids presently have a better social life than I do. And I plan on changing that.

Right now, all of my energy goes to making sure my kids can stay social, to remember their friends and to connect with them, to feel connected to other people outside of their family. This is equally important to me as my own social life — making sure my kids feel socially connected, too.

In Lydia Denworth’s essay in The Atlantic, “What Happens When Kids Don’t See Their Peers for Months,” she says, “Relationships with peers are how kids learn about cooperation, trust, and loyalty, as well as how to not just receive support from their parents, but also give it to others. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the measures that parents, schools, and governments have put in place to limit its spread, millions of children across the United States are missing out on friendship.”

I don’t want my kids to miss out on building friendships, so FaceTime and afternoon play sessions with kids on our block, for now, give them what they need — at least temporarily. And by default, I see my neighbors (the parents of the kids my kids are playing with) a lot more these days. And we are bonding, yes, but it’s different. They aren’t my chosen people and I am not theirs but we are making it work right now, for the sake of our kids.

What I need is different. I yearn for the physical connections, the welcome hugs, and the shoulder to shoulder experience of making dinner together with my best friend. I looked to Google for answers, of course, and searched phrases like “Why it’s important to stay social,” and “new ways to go about socializing during a pandemic” — with no luck or guidance as to how I could change my present social life or improve it in some way. I wanted to be near my friends, have a cocktail over dinner or brunch on a Saturday morning. I found advice geared towards aging adults (which I am, yes, but not yet considered geriatric) or about how to safely gather while staying six feet apart. Nothing practical. Maybe next time I’ll Google “virtual brunch date” and see what pops up.

I have not figured out how to be as intentional about supporting my own social life, which I need — and FaceTime, let’s be honest, isn’t going to cut it no matter how amazing the filters are. My giggles aren’t as cute as my five-year-old twin daughters. Psychology Today notes, “Human beings are social animals, and the tenor of someone’s social life is one of the most important influences on their mental and physical health.” So, moms, if you’ve figured out a way to socialize with your friends, in a way that works for you, that isn’t on FaceTime, please, drop me a line. I mean, we are all in this together, right?

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Spotted Officiating A Private Wedding

‘And don’t worry, we tested negative!’ the bride assured on Twitter

If you’ve asked yourself recently “but how is Ruth Bader Ginsburg doing these days?”, turns out, the Supreme Court Justice seems to be doing just fine: She was recently spotted officiating a wedding just weeks after she was hospitalized.

“2020 has been rough, but yesterday was Supreme,” Barb Solish, director of marketing and communications for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wrote in a tweet this week. She and her now-husband, Danny Kazin, who works for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, held an outdoor ceremony at a private residence last Sunday — and their officiant was none other the RBG herself donning her judicial robe with a decorative black-and-white embroidered collar.

According to court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg, Ginsburg is a close friend of one of the families. “And don’t worry, we tested negative!” Solish added in another tweet.

Ginsburg, who has survived multiple major health complications over the years, including pancreatic cancer in 2019, announced in July she started chemotherapy on May 19 after lesions were discovered on her liver. This marked her fifth battle with cancer in 20 years.

According to a statement, a periodic scan and biopsy in February revealed lesions on her liver; and according to her most recent scan on July 7, the treatment is working, as it “indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease.”

“Immunotherapy first essayed proved unsuccessful. The chemotherapy course, however, is yielding positive results,” RBG said, adding that she’s “tolerating chemotherapy well” and is “encouraged” by the results.

“I will continue bi-weekly chemotherapy to keep my cancer at bay, and am able to maintain an active daily routine,” she continued. “Throughout, I have kept up with opinion writing and all other Court work. I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that.”

In May, the 87-year-old was also treated for a benign gallbladder condition; and last summer, she battled pancreatic cancer, completing three weeks of radiation treatment.

But will any of this stop her? Of course not. It’s the RBG we’re talking about here.

“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months,” Ginsburg said in an interview with NPR. “That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive.”

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Why I Love My Old-Ass Kitchen Appliances

Despite its many imperfections, the moment I walked into the cozy old house, I knew it would be mine. Built in 1989, it had all sorts of issues despite having been loved by the single previous owner for 30 years. At less than half the price of the home I was moving out of after my divorce, it was, inarguably, a pretty major downgrade.

The crumbling backyard fence, the roof, the air conditioner—each would need replacing in the next five years. But the kitchen, I was sure, would be my biggest expense in terms of getting the house “to my standards.” The cabinets had that tell-tale ’80s cream-colored veneer with the strip of wood on the bottom acting as a pull. The appliances were original too. Remember the wood-look veneer that was a popular decorative touch to all ’80s appliances? These appliances had those. The stovetop had the swirly metal burners, and the refrigerator was just like the one from my childhood—a Hot Point with a leathery-looking beige coating, metal and wood-veneer handles, and an ice maker that crapped out long ago. The dishwasher was a General Electric, same as the oven, with the same wood paneling embellishments as the refrigerator.

So, updating the kitchen would be an expense. I figured I’d have to live with the cabinets for a while because I wouldn’t be able to afford to replace them right away, but the appliances, at least, would have to go immediately.

Well, it’s been almost a year and a half since I moved in, and the old appliances are still here. Not because I haven’t gotten around to it or because I blew my budget, but I just… I don’t want to. There isn’t actually anything wrong with the appliances, so I just can’t bring myself to trash them. Sometimes water pools in the bottom of the fridge, but even that is a sporadic enough event that it doesn’t warrant purchasing an entire new refrigerator and sending this perfectly functional one to the dump.

And what if I were to purchase a new refrigerator? I’d have to purchase all the other appliances too, because it would look weird having a modern refrigerator and the rest of the appliances circa 1988. I considered buying a whole new set—I did have money set aside for this purpose—but when I imagine putting stainless steel or even something more plain but still modern in this vintage kitchen, it just feels wrong.

The truth is, I’ve developed an attachment to this ugly, outdated kitchen. I know it’s just a room filled with inanimate material objects, but it feels like it’s trying to teach me something. Maybe that’s the guilt from my divorce talking—maybe I need to anthropomorphize household appliances in order to assuage the feelings I have about coming out at age 39 and turning my family’s life upside down.

Prior to my divorce, I was in a constant state of self-remodeling. Get rid of the unseemly, the outdated, and replace it with what magazines and home decor shows and professional decorators say is trending right now. Install a beautiful, tidy life that everyone approves of. I decorated my previous home, a new construction, with a modern, minimalist hotel vibe. White bed linens, white curtains, white towels. No tchotchke. A light, airy, open space, easy on the color. Cool granite countertops against dark, Shaker style cabinets. No photos or kitschy magnets on the front of the refrigerator.

I persuaded my ex to buy that big, modern house, subconsciously hoping that all those clean, modern lines would calm the absolute disaster that was happening on my insides. If you can’t be gay, at least you can have a house that looks perfect. We installed a stunning pool, a fence, gutters, a surround sound system.

That house was and is perfect. So fucking perfect. When I return to it, I feel such a tornado of emotions that I can hardly identify any of them. Guilt, regret, shame, longing. Gratitude, relief, and a different brand of shame—shame that it took me so long to admit to myself and everyone else what was really going on. Shame that I tried to use material possessions to feel better. Shame that I dragged my family with me on that fruitless journey.

There isn’t actually anything wrong with my kitchen, other than the fact that it doesn’t present in a way that most of mainstream society says it should. Not only is there nothing wrong with it, but in many ways it is superior to the “perfect” kitchen in the “perfect” house for which I so meticulously selected every detail. The water pressure is better. The oven heats even hotter than it says it does. The rack in the new dishwasher in the new house began to rust after only a year; here in my vintage kitchen the original rack is still in perfect condition. It’s true that they just don’t make things like they used to.

Here in my vintage house, the timer on the kitchen stovetop, when it buzzes, turns me into a 12-year-old home for the summer with my sister by ourselves cooking mac-and-cheese for lunch. The great room’s popcorn ceiling may be cracked in places, but it’s vaulted and somehow makes the space feel open and cozy at the same time. The two sets of sliding glass doors overlook a sunroom that faces north and allows the room to fill with soft light from sunup to sundown. The house smells like Thanksgiving no matter what time of year it is. I “downgraded” into a place where I can stop obsessing about fixing things that are secretly broken inside of me by fixing everything outside of me.

I know it’s just a house. I know it’s just a kitchen, just appliances, just ceilings and walls and windows. But this worn-out old house, and all the old things in it, have become a reminder for me about the immeasurable value of honesty, about how sometimes being honest with yourself isn’t pretty, sometimes isn’t at all what you thought you wanted, and definitely doesn’t look shiny and new. Honesty doesn’t always look like a decorator magazine, but it’s solid, reliable, and does the job it promises.

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Plastic Surgery Has Been In High Demand During COVID-19

I have largely avoided mirrors for the better part of the last three years. After my husband died, my self-esteem took a vicious hit—something about no longer being able to see myself the way he saw me, and not recognizing the grief-ravaged face that stared back at me. I’ve slowly been working on rebuilding that self-esteem, but it’s a process. For example, I would (reluctantly) get into the picture with my kids and not pick apart the image too much, but I absolutely would not take a selfie or use FaceTime.

And then the pandemic hit. The world shut down and everything, from my children’s school to the Pilates studio where I teach, went virtual. Suddenly, I found myself on FaceTime and Zoom all the time. I was staring at my face more often than I ever wanted to. I could see the lines and dark circles that hadn’t been there before at the most unflattering angles I could think of.

It was hard not to criticize what I saw. And by hard, I mean nearly impossible. And then I found the Zoom “touch up my appearance” feature. It softened a few lines and blurred a few imperfections, and suddenly, thanks to a digital touch-up, what I was seeing wasn’t so bad.

As it turns out, this time, my widowhood was not to blame for the hypercritical way I looked at my fine lines and dark circles. This time, in feeling a little less than when I saw my face staring back at me on Zoom, I wasn’t alone. Plastic surgeons across the country, and in many parts of the world are seeing a rise in the number of patients seeking cosmetic procedures. Botox, fillers, and other cosmetic surgeries are on the rise during the pandemic, and more people are considering procedures.

According to a survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons on attitudes towards plastic surgery in the wake of COVID-19, 49% of respondents who had never before had any plastic surgery say they are open to having cosmetic or reconstructive procedures completed in the future.

If the fact that plastic surgeons are booking appointments out a month in advance and more people are considering cosmetic procedures than ever before is surprising to you, you aren’t alone. Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in Houston, told InStyle magazine that his team had been discussing the potential of downsizing, expecting a significant lull as the pandemic’s financial and mental toll took hold. Instead, he’s rushing to expand his staff.

The rise could be explained simply. Many patients see the stay-at-home orders and the requirement to wear a mask in public as a way to stealthily heal from any procedures. Events are canceled, and folks are staying home. When they do go out, any procedure related bruising or swelling can be covered by a mask. But that wouldn’t really explain why surgeons around the world are seeing a surge of first time patients.

One theory offered up by Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, to explain the rise in interest in cosmetic procedures is that on Zoom, “[y]ou see yourself the way others do, but you are also adopting an alienating perspective on yourself. When we do this, we start imagining all the judgments people could make on us, and our insecurities can manifest in what we say to ourselves.”

Other people’s judgments shouldn’t matter. The judgments we imagine other people are making should matter even less. We all know that to be true. And yet, it’s sometimes hard not to let the whispers slide in. Sometimes those whispers slide in so insidiously, weaved in to messages we subconsciously receive about how terrible aging is, that we don’t realize they’re there until they’ve taken hold.

Dr. Heather Furnas, a plastic surgeon at Plastic Surgery Associates in Santa Rosa, California, and an adjunct clinical professor of plastic surgery at Stanford University, offered up another theory. She says, “Some of [the patients] will say they see themselves on Zoom and they just want to feel better. In this crazy time, I think people are looking for something to make them feel better about themselves.”

This is a theory that makes sense to me. In my early widowhood, it was easier to focus on my dark circles than the fact that I was suddenly facing a lifetime alone. I could buy a few dozen creams for dark circles, but there was no product anywhere that would make my loneliness fade. Maybe for many folks it’s easier to focus on fine lines than the terrifying state of the world outside that little Zoom box.

There’s an inherent element of privilege in this conversation, of course. Cosmetic procedures can be expensive. Millions of people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are struggling to afford food and rent. These procedures also take time, including time to heal. And not everyone has the ability to do all their work from home, on Zoom, where they could stare at themselves in a little box and pick apart the face on the little box in the corner.

We’re all navigating a life we never pictured we’d be navigating. Most of us—maybe all of us—are feeling completely beaten down by this pandemic, and we’re looking for a way to feel less beaten down. For some it might be training for a marathon or binge watching every episode of Friends. For some, that might mean turning to cosmetic procedures.

The truth I learned during the earliest days of my widowhood and again now, is that whatever you turn to, whatever choice you make to feel a little less beaten down during an impossible time, is your choice. But make your choice for you, for your confidence and your happiness, and not for those insidious whispers. Those whispers don’t know the strength and beauty in your every breath like you do.

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