On Doing Way Too Much and Not Nearly Enough: What October 2020 Feels Like

I drive four mornings each week up the winding roads of Parrett Mountain, past alpaca farms and vineyards and into the Douglas Fir forests as I climb. It’s a slow drive by necessity; there are steep drop-offs and no guard rails or shoulders to offer forgiveness if you stray.

It always feels peaceful to me, that drive: the forced slowing of my typical pace, the tiered ruffles of the fir branches like a designer got carried away layering petticoats, the falcons that circle overhead, and the deer that dive down the canyons. 

It’s fall, though, so right now it’s Squirrel Suicide Season, and it’s impossible to make the drive without grey fuzzballs dashing from the underbrush and streaking toward my tires. 

Multiple squirrels with death wishes. All of them out of their minds. Never a single trip without myriad close calls. It’s a phenomenon, I tell you; it’s a whole bizarre thing.

Except I know what they’re doing, of course. They’re trying to survive. They’re feeling the biological pull and imperative of impending winter. Their minds are bent to their nut-gathering task to the exclusion of everything else. These squirrels, friends — they’re so focused meeting one need, they’re totally blind to the car barreling down on them. Their preparations for survival are going to be what lays them flat. And I feel nothing but sympathy and understanding this year.  

I get it, squirrels. 

To my bones. 

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written in this space, friends, for good reasons and busy ones and also a few that feel too murky and messy to explain very well because my brain is muddy right now and I’m not sure I can squeeze a lot of sense from it. I will say, though, that these times are something else. Something ELSE, folks. These Pandemic / Election / Civil Unrest / Fight for Justice / Back-to-School-but-also-Not-Back / Do Everything Differently / But Try to Retain a Sense of Normalcy / Don’t Get Discouraged / Keep Your Chin Up / OH AND ALSO the Holidays Are Coming SO MAKE THEM MAGICAL times are really something else.

So I’m doing that thing I do when I feel overwhelmed, which is DO EVERYTHING FRENETICALLY… except when I give up and do nothing at all.

Instead of All or Nothing these days, I feel like I’m deeply invested in All AND Nothing. Simultaneously. Every day. I’m giving 110% and also making backward progress. Like, not so much “one step forward and two steps back” as one desperate sprint forward only to discover I’m on a treadmill pointed in the wrong direction. Like I’m stepping on the gas as hard as I can but the wheels are just spinning without finding purchase.

Anyone else? Anyone doing Far Too Much and also Not at All Enough? And also reminding yourself YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY DO EVERYTHING, DUMMY, and, therefore, whatever you’re doing IS enough? Yeah, me, too. These are the thoughts that swirl in my mind, and I’ll be honest, it’s all a little confusing and disorienting up in here.

It’s all a little confusing and disorienting to try to make my kids’ childhood a good one when everything is out of whack and off kilter. We’re homeschooling in a small group. We’re following all of the “lowest risk” protocols to prevent COVID. We allow them to see friends outside with masks on. Is that enough? Is it too much? Are we adequately protecting the older folks in our community? Are we making good choices for the medically vulnerable? How do our actions affect our family and our mental health? How do our actions affect the community writ large? I do not have the answers to these questions. We’re just bumbling along over here.

It’s all a little confusing and disorienting to try to make wise financial choices while the economy plummets and my adult kids have moved home to cobble together gigs outside their fields of study when, truth be told, we have no earthly idea how well we might weather this crisis. I mean, is “Fingers Crossed” a good financial strategy? Because that’s the way we’re playing it. Also, is there any other option right now?

It’s all a little confusing and disorienting to continue to watch people and institutions I once respected and admired disregard the crippling and horrific consequences of the current administration on vulnerable populations. To watch them excuse and minimize the damage on refugees, widows and orphans, the poor and disabled, and the generationally disenfranchised. To watch them belittle the concerns of those who are suffering and to dismiss them so thoroughly. I’m baffled, really. I mean, I watch it happening, and I see the Evangelical Church double down and increase their support of the current president, and I understand that means they’ve abandoned the example and words of Jesus, but I still find myself in this strange stupor. Like the catastrophe of what the Evangelical Church has become — or always was? — isn’t real, despite the overwhelming evidence in front of us. 

So here I am, in the last days before a presidential election, a little confused and disoriented. It’s certainly the most important election of my lifetime. The most consequential. The most heartbreaking as I watch folks choose between being insular and isolationist versus expansive and inclusive. The most meaningful as I wonder how our collective choice of national leader will affect our children — particularly our children of color, like my two daughters and one of my sons — and the opportunities and safeguards available to them. 

And I feel like a squirrel, racing to get my provisions in line before the first frost comes. Frantically running back and forth across the road, cheeks stuffed with the next task, and the next, and the next. My cheeks are bulging with tasks. I feel compelled to finish All the Things. I feel a biological urge to do this work well because I understand in my rapidly beating heart and adrenaline infused limbs that our collective survival depends on it. Get out the vote so ALL the people are truly represented. Pass the school bond so ALL our kids have equitable, safe facilities. Champion anti-racism because ALL our kids are harmed when we ignore systemic racism. 

Every single nugget is important right now — every nut I can squirrel away to make a kinder future possible. AND ALSO, I’m exhausted, and I’m not sure I’m doing very well from a mental health perspective. I feel compelled to keep doing the work. We only have a little while left. But I can also hear the tires squealing as the car barrels toward me, and I haven’t been doing my due diligence to avoid being run over. I haven’t been looking both ways before I cross the road. I’ve just been running back and forth.

I guess, in the end, all I really want to say is this: 

Friends, we are engaged in critical, life-saving work, whether that work is election-related or just keeping our families afloat. And also, it’s OK if you’re struggling in the middle of it. This is a complicated time full of enormous pressure. I get the need to do more. To keep on keeping on. To push through and past our endurance because we’re racing against time and we want to see our people safe. Just… take a minute to assess the traffic, will you? Take a minute to make sure you’re safe. Take a minute to value your own survival as much as you value those you’re trying to provision.

I’m struggling right now, and even though the timing sucks — THE PRESSURE TO GATHER NUTS CONSUMES ME — I’ve decided to wait at the side of the road until I can cross safely. I’m saying no to worthwhile, important endeavors because I’m no longer in a position where I can say yes and protect my mental health. 

In case you’re here, too, I wanted you to know you’re not alone.

With love and waving in the dark,

 

 

 

P.S. I started rewatching the West Wing last week so I could live in an alternative universe for a while where flawed people with good intentions try and fail and try and succeed to do well by the American people. They don’t always do the right thing, but they own it when they get it wrong. I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s bliss to live there for a few hours. Here’s hoping for kinder, more honest times ahead.

P.P.S. I’ve also been reading steampunk romance. Because Victorian London + political intrigue + steamy vampire(ish) love scenes = fabulous escapist fiction. And fabulous escapist fiction is working for my tired brain at the moment. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Equally escapist, steamy, and easy on the brain: 

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik — because who doesn’t love telepathic pirates in space? 

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews — mystery, action adventure, and hot superheroes. I’m just saying.

FYI — each of those are the first books in series. Sharing in case your brain needs a happy break, as well. Friends help friends’ brains chill the eff out.™

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
14 comments
  1. what a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Cheers!

  2. Madame Secretary is also good for a political show that is a utopia.

  3. You are not the first person who has told me about binge-watching The West Wing. Clearly, I’ve been missing out.
    Your post reminds me of the Leo Lionni book, Frederick. Frederick is a mouse who gathers something other than food for the winter. It’s my reminder that it’s okay to not be constantly scurrying.

    https://www.amazon.com/Frederick-Leo-Lionni/dp/0394810406
    “Winter is coming, and all the mice are gathering food . . . except for Frederick. But when the days grow short and the snow begins to fall, it’s Frederick’s stories that warm the hearts and spirits of his fellow field mice.”

  4. Thank you for writing. I’ve missed your words lately. I have things to say, comments to make, but mentally this is all I can manage to type right now. Waving.

  5. Just a simple Thank You through the tears.

  6. Any time anyone brings up The West Wing I’m morally obligated to make sure they’re aware of The West Wing Weekly podcast. The podcast is done now but there’s no reason not to start from the beginning and listen to after you watch each corresponding episode. The hosts are Joshua Malina (Will Bailey) and Hrishikesh Hirway (musician, professional podcaster, superfan, delightful human being) and over the course of the show’s run they talked to most of the stars and many of the people involved in making the show, all of whom were so interesting to hear from, and ended up bringing many of them back in contact with each other. They also talked to people working on the real life issues discussed on the show. It’s seriously one of the best things in my life since it started 5 years ago, and when it finished in January I immediately started over from the beginning. I liked the TV show–we still have all 7 seasons on DVD–but I’m obsessed with the podcast. (I understand evangelism way better now than I did as a teenager on the beach asking people if they know God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.)

  7. 100000000%

    Coincidentally (or not), we just finished binge watching West Wing about a month ago and when it ended I felt like a friend had died. I missed it SO MUCH. I couldn’t watch anything for about a week as there was no replacing it. We ultimately discovered Schitt’s Creek and, since it’s completely different, began to binge it. It’s almost over. EEK.

    THANK YOU for the book recommendations. I can only manage a few pages before bed but need something escapist.

    Sending love

    p.s. VERY SELFISHLY but maybe something to look forward to, since stoopid COVID interfered with the Italian retreat this summer, maybe that means Ethan and I WILL get to come… someday…

  8. I’m so grateful to the young people who are still out there optimistically fighting for good. Me. I’m so disheartened and burned out. I’m a liberal living in Trump country. Everyday I see Trump flags flying from pick-up trucks and houses. A stand on the corner sells flags for the NRA and Trump and blue lives matter. Sometimes it gets hard to remember that non-Trumpers exist.

    We had a “pod field trip” to a park in another town. We pulled into the parking lot and my mom friends were all excited. “Did you see the signs!? Biden – Harris!!” We’d driven into a town as lefty and crunchy as it gets. We were ecstatic to not only see democratic signs but also ones about compassion and kindness. Hope. It brought a shred of hope.

    For when anxious despair settles in, I have this to offer: Bondi Rescue. You find it on youtube. It’s pre-covid reality TV that follows the lifeguards on Bondi beach Australia. Lifeguards are about as selfless a bunch as you can get. They just want to keep everyone safe. There are the new young punks and the old experienced guard and a woman or two. They love what they do. They care deeply about people’s well being. They help lost children and drunk revelers and confused tourists who don’t speak English. They pull people from dangerous waters and bring them back to life’s shores. It’s just so, so refreshing to watch the best of humanity on display. It’s my new crack for when I need to see hope and kindness. And… there are many seasons worth to get you thru the hard times! I recommend it 🙂

  9. I SO get this. I spin wheels, then sit and play a game on my phone. Escape? Yes please. I try to keep the positives at the top of my mind b/c frankly there are so many dark things right now I could drown. I saw a t’shirt the other day that summed up my head: I have too many tabs open, and no clue where the music is coming from.
    Waving from the dark in GA 🙂

    1. Oooo! I want that T-shirt!

  10. Also binging West Wing. Can’t get enough and want real life to be like that so badly. Oh, and the writing! Can we please bring back good writing like that???

  11. My therapist suggested that I think A LOT about self-compassion. Kristen Neff has some youtube videos in case you don’t have time to read and absorb a huge book. I also came across a short video by Adia Gooden about some steps to be kind to yourself. You are not single-handedly responsible for saving the world, even if it feels like it. Be kind to yourself.
    You share a lot of your inner life (and scary dental photos!) – you have never talked about perimenopause. That might be adding to your load. Just saying.. Sending love

  12. Thank you. YES. I keep running into walls and sitting in a stupor … and wondering just how to get out of this rut. Your words remind me to do what I can (even though it seems so paltry) and release the rest. Thank you.

  13. In my own struggles (working from home + partner sent to work from a city 3 hours away so I see him about every other weekend so I’m mostly alone + just had shoulder surgery and can’t use one arm…) I can only feel grateful that my kids are grown, employed (although my daughter’s hours are being cut to the bone and they just bought a house) but I don’t have to deal with home schooling! Sending hugs and a warm cup of tea… Best wishes to you and yours.

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