We are in the midst of adaptation. Depending on our location and level of risk to coronavirus, change has disrupted our lives in various degrees and durations of intensity. Urban areas are impacted much more heavily, terrifyingly so, by the virus’ ability to accelerate rapidly. But Montanans have been under official Montana shelter-in-place mandates beginning March 20th, and the number of known cases in our county indicates a much slower growth trajectory than in other areas of the state. Missoulians are luckier than most.

But I want to talk about adaptation. My two daughters, ages seventeen and nineteen, are home from school and their schoolwork is mostly done from their bedrooms behind closed doors. I trust that they are responsible humans and can navigate classwork without my assistance. They wake up at noon. It is my belief that their natural rhythms are stretching out the kinks after years of leaving the house for school at 7:30 a.m. They take solitary hikes or bike rides in the afternoon. They stay up ungodly hours, but I don’t mind. For the first time in their young lives, they have the opportunity to be accountable for their work while managing their own time.

Similar adaptations are happening within our communities and livelihoods. If you’re like me, we are connecting with friends and family, and possibly strangers, through Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live, and other video platforms. We are cooking at home, doing projects, finding self-gratifying activities. We are exposing our vulnerabilities to fear and grief and love through different creative means, finding a release through imperfection and not getting hooked into the belief that we’re not good enough for, well, whatever it is we usually deem ourselves not good enough for. Without realizing it, we are relaxing into our fullness of Self.

There is meaning behind this. Beyond the tragedies and fear of coronavirus, I’m seeing the breakdown of patriarchal structure. Words typically aligned with the toxic masculine, words like power, stoic, loveless, have fallen underfoot of our collective vulnerability. Fear is always present with vulnerability, but doesn’t the presence of fear also indicate an opposition to the toxic manifestations and structures which we have unwillingly prolonged through fatalistic obedience?

Nature clearly wants to shake up the system. It is a pertinent time for questions. The personal: How does my body respond throughout the day? Who determines if I’m good enough? In which areas can I embrace imperfection/loosening of judgments? And societal: Why must school/work exist on a strict clock? What might the world look like if toxic priorities of power/money were replaced by compassion/equality? How can environmental damage be minimized? Where can humanity benefit from more balance?

We are experiencing a tectonic shift of our familiar world. As with every traumatic experience, there is fear and grief and inevitable uncertainty. Change is terrifying. Change brings loss. But the breaking of structure and familiarity comes with an enormous opportunity for amelioration of everything that needs repair. It is my hope that we will have grown collectively in spirit as a compassionate whole, one that we won’t oppose through reflexive obedience to the norm, but with a brave and daring objective to heal the overlooked and neglected wounds.

I’m writing a few days early because we are living in an unprecedented threat. The invisible force of coronavirus as a global pandemic has saturated our lives with a shocking amount of fear towards everything we touch, inhale, ingest, consume, and interact with. Our minds are overwhelmed with news, statistics, dread, paranoia, sorrow, grief, vulnerability, and nearly everywhere we turn there is another voice with another fact that puts more weight on the load. We have been forced to retreat, to adapt to alternatives to keep the threat as distant as possible.

To me, it seems as if we are trying to figure out how to live within a mindset of elimination, how to conquer the beast that we can’t see, can’t feel, but know its presence is real. It is a beast that thrives through connection. Now is as evident as ever to see how connected we are. Despite oceans and skies, we convene on one planet with one uniform need: each other.

The irony isn’t lost on me. In order to eliminate the beast, we must deny ourselves of the very connections that save us from falling prey to despair. Loneliness and depression go hand in hand. In troubled times, our minds seek the simplest path. Some prefer fight and some prefer flight, and neither are wrong in their preference, although they are both a product of fear and as we know, fear begets behavior and language that repels and shames rather than validates and confirms.

How do we turn our language to empathy? How do we forge through a crisis when we are fearful of everything that surrounds us? How do we trust our world again?

Having gone through my own crisis of identity and sense of reality, I know that life can take everything from us including our faith in our perception of truth. These are scary times and faith is rattled. What is our truth? Are we afraid of death or are we afraid of not fully living? There is a difference. The first is oppressive whereas the fear of not living life to its fullest has options. We can alter our patterns, discern the way we spend our time, refrain from language that suffocates and repels. We can create space within ourselves for growth.

I can think of no better time than right now to implement seeds for personal amelioration through introspection. We have been gifted one beautiful and glorious life. Fear eats away at our minds, paralyzes us, forces us to panic. Right now, my fears are dwelling on the fact that I have to take my daughter in for lab work today and I’m afraid of exposing her to the world. She has an autoimmune disease and is doing great, but what if? The truth is, I’m not afraid of her falling ill, I’m afraid of being the bad parent who exposed her to danger despite the fact that lab work is part of her health regimen. My fear is a question of my goodness: am I good or am I bad? Quite selfish, really.

What are we really afraid of? There is no wrong answer. Naming the beast minimizes the threat. Within the safety of our walls, if we don’t make the space now, then when?

My daughters walking on a beach on the Oregon coast

Today I wear the mark of the cross on my forehead as a reminder of where I have come from and what I will become, dust.

At the Ash Wednesday mass, I found myself looking around during a prayer spoken in Latin because I didn’t know the words. I have been Catholic for nearly twenty years. It struck me how easy it would have been at an earlier point in my life to chide myself for not reciting the prayer, as if not knowing the words made me less important, less worthy, less good. Back when I was naive about life, I was a harsh critic. It was my tendency to feel that I didn’t belong.

What does belonging even mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app says it is a word constructed from Middle and Old English, formed of two words be (as an intensifier) + long (at hand with). For objects, it means to be the property of somebody. For humans, it is to possess a role within a group, community, or world. Notice how a shift of possession happens when we approach humanity as a living object, something that may vary or shape shift over time but will inevitably remain beyond ownership.

We don’t have to be perfect to belong. There is no box to squeeze into, no rules or practices that must be adhered to for a person to fit in beyond the identity of self. In the real world, there is no referee blowing the whistle on the misfit. I mean, aren’t we all misfits anyway? I, for one, attest to not knowing the words, the rules, the parameters that limit me to one collection. I am fluid and free, and prefer to float between groups and places who consider me as one of them. I am who I am, simply dust.

Today there is a blue sky against a white mountain when I look out the window to the east. Some days there is no mountain at all, only a haze of low clouds that buries the view in a wet gray funk. Other days, the mountain might have no snow at all, or a dusting that reveals the prevalence of deer trails on the mountain like veins under skin.

Sometimes we see life better in inclement weather. I can see who or what passes my house when snow prints are left on the sidewalk: human, dog, deer, raccoon. These are the adventurers, the scavengers, the prowlers, the lonely. Sometimes I wonder if snow prints even exist in pairs.

Paragliders are often seen overhead, launching off the mountain and coming to a landing just blocks from my house. Today, a lone paraglider hovered beneath a blue parachute, floating mid-sky as if it were summer, as if there was no reason to rush its flight, as if the cold didn’t exist.

I watched it tilt and descend, approaching the earth of snow and trees and men. Sometimes I wonder if the sky is its own footprint, telling us during our loneliest days that we have company.

One of my favorite benefits of writing is the tribe of strong and smart women who surround me. Some I know in person, but I have also met many amazing women online through the shared experience of trauma and the familiar pain of the breakdown endured before breaking through. We are a growing number of voices whose decision to share our truest and most agonizing stories bind us with empathy, compassion, and courage. By spilling the secrets we dared not tell in one life, we shifted the mindset from being controlled to having control. The mind is at the mercy of its most dominant influence. By stepping outside of the patriarchal boundaries of fear-induced assimilation, we have fully emerged into the authentic and wholesome beauty of our true identities.

It is an honor to connect through stories. They enrich our understanding of humanity and unlock the trap of loneliness and isolation. Stories unite us in shared vulnerability, putting trust at the forefront of every relationship. This bold and necessary action is an act of love, an act of faith, and an act of honor. A mind at peace is a mind who has access to this realm. It is a place to go when the world tears you down.

But women have not always been a consistent and reliable source of safety for me. I have felt betrayed, discarded, and invisible by the bullying actions of female relatives. The pain of feeling that I didn’t belong in the family morally endowed to love me and take care of me split me apart. Who am I was a question that plagued me for years. As a girl, I felt trapped in a role I despised, and fear of the reality of the situation was greater than my young mind could handle. As with most victims of trauma, my mind told me I was to blame. It took me forty-two years before I confronted this thought process and discovered the truth I had been hiding from. Logic is the first and most important asset to be stolen by psychological violence. When I saw the reality of my childhood from the perspective of a mother, I felt as if my mind had been violated and raped. The absolute core of my lifetime of trust was a mirage. Feeling this excruciating pain was a nightmare in real life, the death of an entire family to grieve, before healing could begin.

I admit that my situation was extreme. My memoir (I hope you will read it when it is eventually finished!) will reveal that the pattern of bullying by my mother and sisters crosses the threshold to abuse, but the daily pecking broke me down. This is the objective of bullies, to break down the power of self-possession and succumb the target to their idea of her identity. It is a robbing of self-actualization, and the emotional process of individuation that happens in adolescence is postponed until the victim confronts her truth. Ironically, at forty-two years old, I got to experience the angst and anxiety of teenagers. It was not fun! Give those teens a pep talk of their worth and love them no matter what. They are vulnerable and raw and afraid. They are a gift.

It appears that I can go on and on with this subject, but let me get to the point. Please allow yourself time to read this important blog post by my new friend, Diane Gottlieb. She is a writer and author who interviewed women, including me, about their experiences of female bullying, an insidious violence that has no form, no time frame, and little credibility to the impact of its destruction. Females typically bully in packs, and the predatory nature of ostracizing is learned through patriarchal forces that permeate our society. In my mind, bullying deserves a movement. The pain of it is everywhere, and rivals the emotional destruction brought to greater attention through the #MeToo movement. It is important to remember that everyone has the power to cause enormous pain, and that pain lives in the mind far longer than it lives in the body. Women are not always the stereotypical nurturers they are eluded to be, but are inevitably our mothers, our sisters, and the influence of our own minds and sense of identity.

I’d like to thank Diane for bringing this subject to light. Sign up for her blog. Share your story in the comments below. Read her article here: Effects of Childhood Bullying