"Self-care. Please self-care."
Some thoughts on preserving yourself / ourselves in a complicated time
by Kristin Russo

hello there, lovely readers.

for the past six years, most of my advice has been rooted in my lived experience. when you came to me with broken hearts, i told you how my own broken hearts had felt, and how i made it through to the other side. when you were having trouble with parents who didn’t accept you for who you are, i shared my own experience as someone who came out to a very catholic mother. when you found yourself in love with your best friend, i told you how i, too, fell hard for mine (and survived).

now, though, in this post-election world, we are facing some pretty big feelings together, in real time. i haven’t walked through this particular mix of sadness, confusion, and grief before – in big part because of my own cis, white privilege. perhaps you are more familiar with these feelings of confusion and grief than I am or, perhaps, you have found yourself just as embarrassingly railroaded by them as i have.

one thing i believe to be true for all of us, though, is that – now more than ever before – we must take care of ourselves.

some of us have been angry for days, others of us have fallen into a pool of sadness; some of us have been quiet and scared, others have taken to the streets with loud voices and painted signs. this fight has been and will continue to be one that requires our stamina, our strength in the face of hardship, and our resolve to hold each other up. this is a short list of ways in which i think we can do just that:

• give as much value to turning off your phone as you give to turning it on. yes, it is important to know what is going on in the world around us. i, too, know the deep pull to constantly check my social feeds, to share my thoughts, feelings, and findings with others, and to gather, collect, & critique that information. that is important, necessary work. however, those dives into the land of digital information can (and do) often snowball down into a dark, weighted place – especially in times like these. we must take breaks. don’t bring your phone into your bedroom at night. if you need it as an alarm? put it in airplane mode. set boundaries: don’t look at your phone or digital media of any kind during mealtimes, and give yourself at least an hour before bed and after waking up before re-engaging.

• talk to your friends. laugh with your friends. when the world feels heavy, sometimes we feel we are not allowed to let light in. please, please, let the light in. make a concerted effort to plan time together with those you love. facetime with your long distance friends, meet your amazing cousin for a drink, gather at your best friend’s house to have a coloring party, or schedule a weekly movie & grilled cheese night (!!). you are allowed to have fun. you are allowed to laugh. if fighting this fight is the exhale, consider these moments of laughter and levity to be the inhale. they must exist together.

• go outside. this planet is a beautiful, magical place. leaves change color and fall from their branches, streams bubble over rocks as they have for centuries, clouds make ever-shifting shapes in the sky. make time for yourself, at least once each day, to appreciate this beauty. put your work, your phone, and all else aside and commit to taking a walk outside every day (even if you have to bundle up in the cold weather!). those shifts in perspective & moments of reflection can underpin some of our most important ideas.

• look for new ways to engage with community. i recently received an email from a friend who told me that, in the wake of the election, she had decided to reach out to all of her old high school teachers. in her letter to them, she offered to be a pen pal or resource for any high school student who might be feeling stuck in her conservative home-state of south dakota. now is an incredible time to engage with our communities in ways we haven’t before: volunteer at local organizations who serve LGBTQ or other marginalized communities, help arrange a book-drive, look into arranging a digital meet-up, write letters to the people who have inspired you to keep fighting. engage.

• read old books, new books, used books, all books. we have a little ongoing list over here on facebookof books that are exceptionally important to the work ahead of us. you should read them. add your own recommendations to the list. read them along with your friends! heck, go ahead and start a book club! bring cheetos to share!! you can even read more than one book at a time. my wife does this, so i know it is true… she stacks them up in a big pile and then depending on how she is feeling and what she needs from a book, she chooses accordingly. you can have a horror-book and a queer-book and a comic-book and even a cooking-book all at the ready for whenever you are in need. books are like the fucking super-food of self-care.

• if you are able, be active. physical activity gives our bodies a way to use all of that whaaaaaattheeeefuuuuuck energy in ways that, at the same time, make us stronger. do ten jumping jacks when you wake up. learn how to do a sun salutation. go swimming. start running. rearrange your bedroom. organize your garage. dance to tegan and sara on full blast. do all of these things or some of them or even just one of them!

• create. there is a very silly myth that some people believe, which is that in order to create you must be good at creating. not. true. write a poem, sing a song, draw a picture, braid your hair, finger paint, make a collage. you do not have to make art for anyone but yourself, but spend some time each week on creating something… anything. remember that it isn’t the end-product that matters, it is the process itself that allows us to find new spaces of healing.

• ask for help when you need help. it is okay to struggle. reach out to those you love when your heart is breaking, when you get stuck on the couch in a whirlwind of sadness, when you sit at your desk surrounded by papers and due dates and rage, rage, rage. talk it out, yell it out, lean on those close to you, and keep a list of hotlines handy should you find yourself in need of more professional care. the trevor project is available at 866-488-7386 and the trans lifeline is available at 877-565-8860.

• breathe. like, literally… breathe. breathing regulates our entire nervous system. there are many different breathing exercises that you can learn, and you can even make it a fun new project to try a new exercise each week. my go-to is square breathing, where i breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and repeat. close your eyes, find a quiet place, and do this for ten minutes each day – if you can, do it right when you wake up. in moments of extreme anxiety, use these breathing techniques to help you find your center.

my dears, i am going to hold tight to this list fiercely over the coming weeks, and i ask you to do the same. it is easy to feel like we cannot take a moment away from the fight because it is so vital, so critical to our own survival and to the survival of so many… but we cannot sustain it if we do not sustain ourselves.

remember that when you take time out to do these things, you are still fighting.

clear eyes, full hearts,
kristin

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"How can I be cool and casual and chill at college parties and hooking up, when I'm the least cool, casual, or chill person ever?"

- Question submitted by anonymous

Kristin Says:

Let me tell you what: I am not cool or casual or chill. I won’t ever be any of those things because I have some social anxiety and also I have a lot of feelings and also mostly when I dance I just fling my arms about the room and bob my head.

Let me tell you what else: Probably at least a few of you think I am cool and casual and chill… even though I am like HAHAHAHAHA NOPE. I have scientific data on this because the other night I went to dinner with an Everyone Is Gay reader who is starting her freshman year of college and during our dinner she said she thought I was cool... And, in response, I laughed just like I did up there, in all caps, but in person because she was sitting across the table from me.

Point being: No matter how “uncool” or “not casual” or “really the opposite of chill” you are… the right people will still thing you are the fucking coolest, best, raddest person there is. You see, that is how we find each other! We see a person flinging their arms about the room and we are like OH THANK GOD ANOTHER ARM FLINGER IS HERE, and then we talk about Harry Potter or we talk about manicures or we talk about denim or we talk about Tegan & Sara or we talk about the earth orbiting through space or we talk about the X-Files or we talk about The Bachelorette. We find people who think we are cool as we are, because, well, we are cool and also “cool” is relative.

What you need, Anon, is to do all the parties you want and skip the ones you don’t, and work at being YOU. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s fucking real as shit. I am still struggling to do this, myself. Sometimes I write things here or I take a selfie for Instagram and I am frozen with all those voices saying, “You are so so so not cool, don’t you know how uncool you are?!”

Work with me to say, “Cool is relative, and I am me.”

I promise to post my pictures and write my advice as ME if you promise to kiss those babes and go to those parties as YOU.

Cool?

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“How do I communicate in the bedroom without having a panic attack? I can’t make the words come out of my mouth and then I end up in a weird mental spiral that ultimately ends sexy time. Please help?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Bethany Rutter Says:

I would get the communication done before it gets to the bedroom, or specifically the bed, but definitely before it gets to a state of undress in the bed. It can feel too much, too personal, too critical to have those conversations once sex is already happening, so chatting about what you want and what you don’t want and what’s hot and what actually makes you feel kinda uncomfortable is best done in a chilled environment before you get down to it. ‘You know what would be really hot?’ or ‘hey, I feel kind of weird about…’ are fine and legitimate ways to start sentences.

Knowing what you want to say and feeling like you have something concrete to work with is often half the battle with communication. It could be a good idea to create a list, for yourself, consisting of three things: stuff you know you like, stuff you know you don’t want to do, and stuff you’re not sure about, but under the right circumstances you could be into exploring. You could literally write this stuff down in a draft email or a note on your phone, so it becomes clearer in your mind, so that when it comes to your next sexual encounter, you can articulate your turn-ons, turn-offs and curiosities. It might seem prescriptive and un-spontaneous, but having it clear in your mind what you know you’re into and what you’re not into can make it more likely that you’ll be able to speak confidently and get what you want sexually. Full disclosure: I learnt this approach off someone I had a fling with, and it’s been super useful to me ever since. People often really like talking about what they’re into sexually, and don’t often get asked by their sexual partners. Assuming a one-size-fits-all sex life exists is the road to boredom, ruin and unhappiness.

Also, a weird mental spiral is not necessarily a bad reason to end sexy time. If you’re feeling uncomfortable and like a sexual encounter is causing you to freak out a little bit, you’re totally within your rights to cut it off at any point.
Not to get too granular, but meta-communication (that’s to say, communication about communication) is a really valuable part of relationships of all kinds. Talking to your partner or partners about how you want to communicate, how you don’t want to communicate, the ideal scenario for talking about stuff, your worst communication nightmare, can be super helpful. I like resolving issues right then so if I’m in conflict with someone who finds it useful to have time to think before stating their position, then I need to know that about them so I don’t think they’re being evasive and don’t value me. Asserting how you want to talk, and hearing how your partner wants to talk, will mean your talking goes better every time.

***

Bethany is a journalist and blogger living in London. She spends more time doing nonmonogamy and being queer than she does writing about it, but hopefully she can lend a hand in written form. She loves cute clothes for fat girls, reading obsessively, lipstick, Broad City and giving pep talks. Follow her on Twitter at @archedeyebrowbr

Support our work on Patreon (and get fun stuff, too)!

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"How do you navigate a relationship when you have issues with mental illness? And how do you find a partner who is willing to handle it? I have an anxiety disorder and some depression, and it makes just being in any relationship hard, let alone a healthy, serious, long-term romantic relationship."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Well, hello.

Let me start by saying that I struggled with pretty intense anxiety for several years in my late twenties and, although I haven’t had a bad panic attack in years, I now wrestle with depression. (I learned recently from my therapist that anxiety and depression are closely related, and that a lot of people who once struggled with an anxiety disorder later deal with depression. So, way to go me for being right on track.)

The next part of me telling you about me is to say that I was in a longterm relationship of five years when I was struggling with anxiety, and I’ve now been with my wife for seven years, several of which have overlapped with my depression. Both my ex and my wife understood mental illness from differing places: My ex had also dealt with anxiety and knew it first hand; Jenny has never dealt with anxiety, but has wrestled with depression and is incredibly good at listening and working to understand what I need when I’m feeling low.

I tell you all of this, Anonymous, because I want you to know two things right off the bat:

1. Many (many, many, many) people deal with mental illness, in varying ways and shapes and forms and intensities. Not as many people TALK about those struggles, which is something that I hope changes over time, but we are here and you are far from alone.

2. It is completely possible to have a beautiful, healthy, awesome relationship with another person or other people while also dealing with mental illness. The biggest requirement is communication, and partnering with people who are able to listen and take mental illness seriously. In my opinion, those are characteristics you’d want to look for in someone regardless of if you had anxiety or depression or not!

As someone who has been on this journey for a long time, I can tell you that the more I know myself, the better I become at communicating what I need. That is the place that I’d suggest you put the bulk of your focus; reflect on your interactions, moments that make you feel uneasy, places and things that make you feel safe or help you feel calm. Recently, my therapist suggested that I make a space for myself somewhere in our house that was just mine – a place where I could go to read quietly, listen to music, or just sit and breathe for a bit. It’s helped me so much already, and it’s given me another option to turn to when I am struggling. I lean on Jenny, of course, in many moments, but I’ve also begun to build supports for myself outside of our relationship. That, too, is important. Your partner(s) can and should listen to you when you talk about your feelings and experiences, but they can’t be expected to carry all of that weight. Neither should you!

Write down a list of people close to you who you can talk to, and a list of activities you can do (coloring, writing, running, singing?) or places that you can go to (under your desk, the gym, church, your attic??) to help mediate the anxiety and depression. If you aren’t already in therapy, I’d highly recommend it. Many cities have accessible mental health options (check your local LGBT center for resources!). Explore what works, take notice of what doesn’t. Our lives are spent learning, and this is included – I learn more about my mental health EVERY day.

In my experience, if you are working toward a better understanding of yourself and the tools you need (including medication, there is no shame in medication – it is incredibly wonderful for so many humans!!), your partner(s) will be able to be there with you. They will be patient when you struggle because that is what a partner does. Yes, there may be times when you lean too hard or not enough, and times when they say or do the wrong thing, but that’s true of all relationships – and if you continue to communicate, you’ll learn the best ways to coexist and support each other.

Much love to you! ️ <3

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