Spooked

Everywhere I look, there seems to be a desperate lack of calm.

When did everybody become so tense/uptight/frazzled/frantic? Why the rapidly-mutating lack of tranquility? How did our collective stress level reach such dizzying heights?

We recite mantras like magic words:

Keep calm and carry on.

Too blessed to be stressed.

Just breathe.

But the knee-jerk reaction to anything unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary or beyond our comfort zone seems to be…

Panic!

(At the disco. Or anyplace else we happen to be.)

Even when all seems well, undetected stress simmering beneath the surface threatens to bubble over. Mild irritation turns to minor frustration… which becomes moderate agitation… which morphs into major aggravation…

Which inevitably spirals into a monstrous meltdown.

(Sometimes in a matter of minutes.)

Just watch the nightly news, and you’ll get a sneaking suspicion that our country is coming untethered; our communities are coming unhinged; families are coming unraveled… and people are coming unglued.

A smattering of this week’s headlines includes criminal sexual assaults, opiod overdoses, active shooters, adolescent suicides and road rage incidents. Scary, huh?

Mental health crises are commonplace. Depression is sharply on the rise. Anxiety is pandemic. And researchers are assigning some of the blame on the poison…

In the palm of our hands.

(And our children’s.)

One internet safety specialist wrote a book specifically addressing the pitfalls of smart-phones-for-all. It’s title? The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket.

Spooked yet?

A former assistant to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc…”

Hmmm…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying smartphones are altogether terrible/awful/evil. (I’m also not saying that handheld devices cause chemical imbalances. Of course not.)

I’m simply saying this:

Fingertip tech is – like so many other things – a blessing and a curse.

It’s a useful device and a terrible distraction. It connects us… and isolates us.

It gives us directions… and causes us to lose our bearings, somehow.

It gives us a sense of control… and makes us digital addicts.

Every-waking-hour data druggies.

(And sometimes when we’re trying to sleep too.)

Ding.

Buzz.

Zzzzz…

The truth is, most of us rarely unplug or power off. (Heck, we bristle at having to switch to “airplane mode” for a couple hours.)

*gut check*

We spend our days “drinking from a firehose” of digital data. Our brains are besieged by constantly-streaming information, ideas, images.

So.

Much.

Input.

The deluge of information in modern times by the media and other information sources has led to daily “bombing” of the average human brain with such a large volume of information which could overload even a powerful computer, according to information scientists. (Source: Tech 21 Century)

A study done by researchers at UCSD found that Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words every day.  The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day, and on average, we watch five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media combined including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet. (Source: Telegraph UK)

I find these numbers astonishing. And a little unsettling.

But the really crazy thing?

This study was done 10 years ago. I’m guessing we far exceed those numbers in 2019.

And I can’t imagine it’s good for our brains. (My head hurts just thinking about this.)

So much media. So many messages. Some informative, some inflammatory. Some uplifting, some devastating. Some delightful, some dreaded.

Alerts come 24/7/365.

Some are smiley-face-heart-eyes-confetti-and-cake happy texts. Birthday messages and pizza promo codes and cute puppy videos.

(But then you throw in the can-of-worms commonly known as social media. The running commentary on FB/Twitter/Insta definitely doesn’t offer much insight. It mostly just incites. If you’re looking for a heaping dose of harsh criticism, complaints or judgment, you’ve come to the right place. Public humiliation… available to all… in the comfort of your own car/cubicle/condo. We’ve all been forewarned about the bad boys, mean girls, cyberbullies and predators. But what we’ve done – unwittingly, of course – is invited them into our daily conversation. Oh joy.)

Then there’s the garden-variety hassles. Notifications about bad grades, late fees, product recalls, cancelled meetings.

Most of us file these notifications right where they belong: the trash bin.

*delete*

*delete*

*delete*

But others strike fear in our hearts:

Biopsy results… Emergency alerts… Subpoenas.

Our constant connectivity is creating a sense of urgency (and yes, anxiety) that we struggle to shake.

Ding.

Buzz.

Gasp!

And in an effort to minimize our panic… some of us just completely disengage. We scroll, sigh, shrug. We watch from the sidelines and remain uninvested and uninvolved.

Are those the only options?

Perpetually panicked or utterly apathetic?

Sunday (and M/T/W/Th/F/Sa) Scaries… or Zombie Apocalypse?

(Cue the eerie sound effects… and the wicked laugh: Mwahahaha!)

Maybe this is a nightmare.

STAY WOKE, PEOPLE.

Put the freaking phone down.

Listen. Engage. Respond. Relate. Face-to-face… in real time.

Get your groove back.

(And your LIFE too.)

In the words of the uncannily clever Anne Lamott:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… even you.

Power off and power nap. There’s a handy little setting on your phone:

Do not disturb.

(Perhaps you haven’t discovered it yet. Well, today’s your lucky – lifechanging! – day.)

Activate that sucker.

Or  better yet…

Unplug altogether.

Quiet the clamor and soak up some stillness.

There’s a powerful scripture that begins with two little words.

Be still.

It’s not a friendly suggestion or self-help step. It’s an explicit instruction from your Maker.

Be still…

(There’s more. It’s a two-part directive… feel free to keep reading: Psalm 46.)

Be still…

Linger there awhile. It’ll do your body, mind and spirit good.

Be still.

Do you hear that? It’s the rare, sweet sound of silence.

Do you sense it? Peace.

Soak it up, friends.

All will be well.

Wendy

P.S. Thanks for reading. Now… unplug, for heaven’s sake.

 

Punctuation & Continuation

Fall has arrived!

Along with peewee/high school/college/NFL football, Christmas countdowns and pumpkin spice everything.

And right on the heels of the autumnal equinox, we observe the “high holiday” of English teachers and content editors everywhere.

Today is National Punctuation Day.

Described as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis,” this national punctuation celebration falls on the same day each year. (And it just so happens to coincide with the time period when teachers have been back in school long enough to feel utterly exasperated by the lack and/or grievous misuse of punctuation. So there’s that.)

Based on the text messages I receive daily from my teen and young adult children, I’m quite certain none of them observe this holiday. I, however, will celebrate National Punctuation Day with wild abandon and extra exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because punctuation is important; that’s why. (Naysayers, be forewarned that you will be serving a life sentence inside some maximum security parentheses.)

If – like me –  you occasionally find yourself scrolling your social media feed while waiting at the dentist’s office or the DMV, you’ve probably seen memes that convey the necessity of properly placed punctuation. Like this one, which reads:

“I like cooking my family and my dog.”  Use commas. Don’t be a psycho.

(Good advice, I think.)

During my four years in journalism school at Northwestern, I spent countless hours poring over Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, studying the minutiae of tricky punctuation usage so as not to flunk Professor Hainey’s editing course and thereby derail my entire education and career. One stray comma or misplaced colon (insert pun here), and you were toast. Professor Hainey was a big fan of the dreaded-and-dastardly pop quiz. So you had to be prepared to remedy poor grammar and unruly punctuation at any moment. (Proper application of that divisive “dash” still perplexes – and pains – me.)

But long after gaining relative mastery over my commas and quotation marks, I discovered that I still had a lot to learn about one particular punctuation mark: the semicolon.

It was a tattoo that originally caught my eye. A wrist tattoo. Of a punctuation mark. That’s it. No anchor/arrow/angel/Angelina Jolie-inspired dragon (which was apparently regrettable since she later removed it.)  No paw prints or pink ribbon or rosebud or barbed wire. Just one simple, solitary semicolon. When I saw it, I knew it must mean something significant. So I did what I always do when I need wisdom and insight. I googled it.

That’s when I stumbled upon Project Semicolon.

And learned the meaning of the profoundly simple semicolon tattoo.

Unlike other impulsive, random and/or mystifying body ink trends, this tattoo has real significance. (And no, it’s not just the mark of a really committed grammar nerd.)

This mark represents mental health struggles and the importance of support (medical care/counseling/social-emotional support/therapies/self-care) for suicide prevention.

Project Semicolon was born from a social media movement in 2013:

“A movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

But why a semicolon?

A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.

Project Semicolon was founded by a young woman named Amy Bleuel who lost her father to suicide. Her memorial tribute to her dad soon became a social media movement, and she was struck by the way a simple puntuation mark resonated with people across the country and around the world. The semicolon became a means to acknowledge the struggles of depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide, and more importantly, it brought a measure of healing and hope to suicide survivors. The semicolon became a powerful reminder:

Your story isn’t over yet…

It became a “note to self” to just keep on…

To just; not; end;

To not believe depression’s convincing and consuming lies. That you are not loved. That there is no hope.

Because that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is always hope.

And you are forever loved.

That’s the truth.

(Capital T. Exclamation point.)

So as I mentioned earlier, I will celebrate today. This lovely autumn day also known as National Punctutation Day. I will celebrate it and savor every single minute of it. The rising and shining and showering, the eating and drinking and dog-walking, the thinking and talking (hopefully in that order), the smiles and sandwiches and sweater weather. The friends and family coming and going. The leaf-raking and laundry (and the incredibly helpful, handsome man who folds it. He’s all mine.) The laughter and love… the life-living. And I will do it all today in memory of Eric Brown, Madison Holleran, Austin Hills, Will Trautwein and so many precious others who would still be with us, if only their young lives had been punctuated with a semicolon rather than a period.

Keep living your story,

Wendy

P.S. Sadly, Amy Bleuel lost her battle with depression and died by suicide in March 2017. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis (or at risk for any type of self-harm), please call 911 emergency services, contact a mental health professional immediately, go to the nearest hospital emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center near you.

 

 

 

Lifeline

Somebody somewhere needs to read this. Because the darkness is slowly suffocating her. Because his hope is bleeding out. Because she can’t find her way back to herself. Because he can only see one way out.

Lethal impulses keep bubbling to the surface. Thoughts turn traitor. Death beckons.

It promises relief… release… rest.

Death is a liar.

There’s no darkness that can’t be extinguished. No demon that cannot be exorcised. No trap inescapable. No sin unforgivable.

That’s the Truth.

Hope is just a breath away.

A call. A text. A prayer. A promise.

Last week, two high-profile Americans succumbed to suicide. And we’re stunned afresh that these brilliant, accomplished, vibrant individuals could have suffered from what turned out to be terminal anguish. As if wild success and debilitating illness (of any type) are mutually exclusive.

The undeniable crux of the matter is this:

We were made for relationship. We are meant to be connected. Yet so often when we need people the most, we retreat. We choose solitary confinement over commiseration. Isolation over consolation. Because we believe our burdens must be borne alone.

In this age of constant connectivity, we are becoming increasingly and excruciatingly lonely. Oh, the irony.

But… and this is where it gets tricky… it’s not the sufferer who ought to be charged with the duty of “reaching out.” We don’t ask people recovering from open heart surgery to jump out of the hospital bed and throw on some street clothes and meet a friend for coffee, conversation, comfort. The friend just shows up. Because friends do that.

They’re there for each other.

On good days and bad days. Cold/cloudy/sunny/snowy days. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Holidays and ordinary ones. Pre-race… and post-op… and after-party cleanup.

Those of us who aren’t fighting for our lives – we’re the ones who need to text/call/email/stop by.  The onus is just that: on us.

Life-and-death battles rage behind soundproof, windowless walls. And somehow, sometimes, our friends’ firestorms go undetected. We can’t see their pain. We don’t hear the sound of relentless/mounting/deadly despair. And even if we could, most of us don’t have the antidote. But here’s what I’m told:

Togetherness can be a lifesaver.

Check in.

Show up.

Be near.

Care.

That’s what love does. It dispels darkness. It points to the Light.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)

Whatever the pressure or pain, trauma or terror, Jesus promises relief… release… rest.

Restoration.

He’s the answer. He’s the antidote. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

And He’s near.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near.” (Acts 17:24-27, The Message)

Even when no one else is… God’s there for you. The Life-Guard is always on duty. He’s just a whisper away.  And oh, how He loves you.

I pray you’ll hold onto hope… and He’ll hold onto you… for safekeeping.

Please, please stay.

Wendy

P.S. There’s a lovely little children’s book by Nancy Tillman titled You’re Here for a Reason. It closes like this: “A piece of the world that is precious and dear would surely be missing if you weren’t here. If not for your smile and your laugh and your heart, this place we call home would be minus a part. Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two! I just can’t imagine a world without you.”

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

 

 

In Celebration of Punctuation and Continuation

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It’s a banner day! The very last Saturday in September… and National Punctuation Day. Described as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis,” this national punctuation celebration falls on the same day each year. (And it just so happens to coincide with the time period when teachers have been back in school long enough to feel utterly exasperated by the lack and/or grievous misuse of punctuation. So there’s that.)

Based on the text messages I receive daily from my teen and young adult children, I’m quite certain none of them observe this holiday. I, however, will celebrate National Punctuation Day with wild abandon and extra exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because punctuation is important; that’s why. (Naysayers, be forewarned that you will be serving a life sentence inside some maximum security parentheses.)

If, like me, you occasionally find yourself scrolling your social media feed while waiting at the dentist’s office or the DMV, you’ve probably seen memes that convey the necessity of properly placed punctuation. Like this one, which reads:

“I like cooking my family and my dog.”  Use commas. Don’t be a psycho.

(Good advice, I think.)

During my four years in journalism school at Northwestern, I spent countless hours poring over Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, studying the minutiae of tricky punctuation usage so as not to flunk Professor Hainey’s editing course and thereby derail my entire education and career. One stray comma or misplaced colon (insert pun here), and you were toast. Professor Hainey was a big fan of the dreaded-and-dastardly pop quiz. So you had to be prepared to remedy poor grammar and unruly punctuation at any moment. (Proper application of that divisive “dash” still perplexes – and pains – me.)

But long after gaining relative mastery over my commas and quotation marks, I discovered that I still had a lot to learn about one particular punctuation mark: the semicolon.

It was a tattoo that originally caught my eye. A wrist tattoo. Of a punctuation mark. That’s it. No anchor/arrow/angel/Angelina Jolie-inspired dragon (which was apparently regrettable since she later removed it.)  No paw prints or pink ribbon or rosebud or barbed wire. Just one simple, solitary semicolon. When I saw it, I knew it must mean something significant. So I did what I always do when I need wisdom and insight. I googled it. And this is what I found:

(Content below from Upworthy.com)

 

Have you seen anyone with a tattoo like this?

If not, you may not be looking close enough. They’re popping up…

…everywhere.

Photos by The Semicolon Tattoo Project.

That’s right: the semicolon. It’s a tattoo that has gained popularity in recent years, but unlike other random or mystifying trends, this one has a serious meaning behind it. (And no, it’s not just the mark of a really committed grammar nerd.)

My co-worker Parker’s photo of her own semicolon tattoo.

This mark represents mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention.

Project Semicolon was born from a social media movement in 2013.

They describe themselves as a “movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

But why a semicolon?

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

*******************************************************************

Project Semicolon was founded by a young woman named Amy Bleuel who had lost her father to suicide. Her memorial tribute to her dad soon became a social media movement, and she was struck by the way a simple puntuation mark resonated with people across the country and around the world. The semicolon became a means to acknowledge the struggles of depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide, and, more importantly, it brought a measure of healing and hope to suicide survivors. The semicolon became a powerful reminder:

Your story isn’t over yet…

It became a “note to self” to just keep on… To just; not; end;

So as I mentioned earlier, I will celebrate today. The last Saturday in September and National Punctutation Day. I will celebrate it and savor every single minute of it. The rising and shining and showering, the eating and drinking and dog-walking, the thinking and talking (hopefully in that order), the smiles and sandwiches and college football. The friends and family coming and going. The leaf-raking and laundry (and the incredibly helpful, handsome man who folds it. He’s all mine.) The laughter and love… the life-living. And I will do it all today in memory of Eric Brown, Madison Holleran, Austin Hills, Will Trautwein and so many precious others who would still be with us, if only their young lives had been punctuated with a semicolon rather than a period.

Keep living your story,

Wendy

P.S. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis and needs help (or if you are at risk for any type of self-harm), please call 911 emergency services, contact a mental health professional immediately, go to the nearest hospital emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center near you.