When anxiety grips you, does it grab you by the neck so that every breath just barely manages to escape around the lump of perceived danger that has lodged itself in your throat? Do you wonder how you can continue to breathe when there is scarcely enough room to process your thoughts and none at all left for dealing with feelings?
Does it squeeze at your chest like a giant internal vice, slowly constricting the space around your heart, until it feels like each beat is bumping painfully against the restriction of your fear? All that precious blood calling out for oxygen but instead welling up inside the cage of your self-doubt. Your chest muscles no longer capable of expanding and contracting when faced with the weight of your trepidation.
If you can’t relate to the above I’m happy for you, because anxiety is no fun at all. Normally, I am able to keep my anxiety under control, I am aware of it as a background noise, but it doesn’t have a huge effect on my day to day life. I work to use my awareness of my breathing and my body to stay present and out of anxiety’s grasp and am generally successful.
This past month has been different, with changes in scheduling, home and work, I have let stress get the upper hand and now I am struggling to breathe enough. I have been reminding myself to do visualizations, I’ve been practicing yoga and using positive self-talk and still it has been a challenge to keep the tightness out of my chest and the breath feeling like it has a home inside my body. I know I need to slow down and make time for being present, but instead I let myself get stuck in waiting for answers, wishing things were different and wondering what might happen next. The perfect recipe for anxiety.
Then, yesterday morning, I had a moment of perspective that helped me cope with my anxiety more than anything else I’ve been trying. I read an article. Not an article about combating anxiety or better ways of breathing. I read an article about discrimination and it was a huge reminder to look at what I have, instead of what I don’t. The article, in the Toronto Star, was about the growing racialized income divide in Toronto. The article left me sad and shaken. It wasn’t that I was surprised that there is racism in Canada’s largest city. Racism is pretty easy to see just about everywhere, when you are aware of it. Since taking a year to work half-time on my writing and half time in a school library, I have become more aware than ever before about the under representation of diverse voices in the world of literature. When I look around at each and every class in my school the faces staring back at me are from dozens of different countries. When I read books to those lovely little people, I want them to hear their own voices and see characters that they can connect with. I have been learning how important it is to look for authors, illustrators and characters that represent all my students instead of just buying the most popular books. But I have come to the conclusion that the publishing industry is racist (and has been for a very long time). There are some publishers doing an excellent job of specifically seeking and supporting diverse voices, but that is needed because of the severe lack of representation that we have in our libraries and bookstores right now. I have learned this year that if I am not paying attention to the diversity in my book collection, then I am also part of the problem. It is easy to go along with what’s popular, but worth the extra time to develop awareness.
I may have been aware that there was blatant racism in Canada, but I was shocked to hear that the racialized income divide was growing. GROWING! It is 2019 and people are getting more racist? That does explain how Rob Ford is the Premier of Ontario, Brian Pallister the Premier of Manitoba and the very scary Jason Kenney the Premier of Alberta, (not even going to mention our crazy, narcissistic, hate mongering leader to the south), but why? What is it that is causing people to become stupider and more fearful of differences with every passing year?
I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t know how to fix this problem, but I do know that just like my anxiety, awareness is a huge step in the process. We live in a world where racism is a reality that people struggle against every day. The voices of the haters (with the support of our questionable leaders) have gotten louder in the past few years and the rest of us need to raise our voices and our level of awareness to match. I know that books are not necessarily the answer to every question and that literature isn’t going to solve the issue of racism and create a just society, but I also know that sharing stories is a powerful thing. As readers we connect to the characters in our stories and we use our relationship with those characters to develop empathy and understand the humanness under the differences. Look at the last five books you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, newscasters you’ve listened to. Are you experiencing a range of perspectives? If you aren’t, don’t panic, it’s easy to remedy and share your new awareness with your friends and loved ones. If you aren’t sure where to look, try Twitter, @ProjectLitComm for some excellent MG and YA book recommendations. If you email me with the type of book you’re looking for (picture book, middle grade, young adult, I even read grown up books sometimes) I’d be happy to pepper you with suggestions. If you are looking for movies, try this NY Times article.
Reading this article, beyond causing feelings of sadness, and anger, it also reminded me to be grateful. I am a gay, genderfluid mother of four in an interracial marriage and in my day to day life I don’t feel like I experience discrimination. In some countries I would be put to death for writing those words, in other countries I would be jailed and still in many others, I would be unlikely to find a job or a decent place to live. Here, in Winnipeg, Canada, I have a house (we take possession of the new one in less than a month!) and a job (even if I don’t know exactly what it will be for next year) and a community of people who keep me believing that we can turn things around.
I still have anxiety, and there is still racism (and a pack of other forms of discrimination), I guess I didn’t solve the world’s problems with this blog. But I have opened my eyes a little wider and I guess that is the only place I know of to start. Now when I start to feel that tightness in my chest and a shortness of breath, instead of descending to panic, I try to rise to awareness. I am aware of all of my blessings. Truthfully, there are so many. From the flowers on my goji berry plant, to the amazing people who make up the fabric of my life. Together if we can be the awareness of the humanness under our differences, of all we have to gain from listening to other perspectives, of the wonder and beauty of the human kaleidoscope, then we all have the chance to bask in the glow of each other’s glory. We have the chance to be the movement towards a positive change.