“I live a hope despite my knowing better.” What else can we do?

by Janelle Hanchett

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who says something helpful in times like this. I say to myself “Janelle! You have created this channel to the world, now do something with it. Say something profound or insightful or at least funny.”

I want to be the person who rises up, scans the world, and speaks to the soul. Instead, I’m more the person who starts eating a lot of gruyere and watching YouTube videos of groundhogs eating carrots.

Like Dan Rather. Fucking Dan Rather always knows what to say. You read Dan and you think, now this guy, this guy knows how to stay chill in the apocalypse. 

All I did was start a free blog in 2011 while I was supposed to be working, and then I wrote what I wanted to read about motherhood but couldn’t find (to paraphrase Toni Morrison), and I never expected anybody other than my mom to read it. And she always has.

So, I’ve never been prepared to be the voice of anything, though clearly I have no trouble using mine. I’ve written things I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole now. I’ve regretted my flippancy. I suppose I’ve “grown,” but I’ve never known what to say when the world feels so raw, so burning, so without a place to land. When kindergarteners are shot at circle time. When a young black American holds a cardboard sign that reads “I can’t breathe” for the fourth or hundredth year in a row. When California burns.

When we’re all thrown into the cosmos, untethered, clinging to hope in the future; and in the meantime, to people singing to each other on balconies while their elders die in overcrowded hospitals.

You see, I hate the fucking platitudes. I just can’t do it. I can’t tell you to be strong or take care of yourself or go outside each day (I literally did that the other day on Instagram), because the fact of the matter is I’m not doing anything that’s elevated or enlightened or demonstrating some greater self.

Any talk from me about how to endure this with grace or deep knowing is just sort of funny. I suggested that people really TRY to go outside because we went to a park and I felt like a fucking warrior for putting that together (with Mac).

But it did help. And I made myself go because so many people had insisted that it helps, so I try to write if I have anything to offer.

But in general, I’m more the one looking at “helpful suggestions” and thinking “oh fuck off and let me play Two Dots” than I am the one picking myself up and Doing Better.

Although I always, eventually, pick myself up and do something, which is better I guess than doing nothing.

You’re welcome. I’m available for life coaching if anybody is interested.

Lately my mantra has been “Just don’t make anything worse.” Because sometimes I start fights with strangers in Wisconsin or lash out at people or use my tongue to slash people because I feel like shit and I’m tired and my head hurts and they crossed my path at the wrong time.

Luckily, I’ve learned how to own that shit and apologize, but I get sick of the apologizing, too.

The truth is I’ve spent most of my time staring at walls or my phone, playing games on it (the phone, not the walls) and listening to audiobooks. I’ve been preferring old, sweeping novels like Middlemarch and The Brothers Karamazov, and nonfiction that really fucks me up, like Noam Chomsky’s collected speeches or Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The novels are entertainment. The nonfiction a desire to understand. Both are escape.

In my house, I’ve told myself that the ONLY thing I absolutely must do each day is keep my dishes washed. Everything else is extra. And when I wake up, I say to myself “I’m going to do the dishes,” and then I can’t seem to get off the couch or dressed or out of bed, but I tell myself “just do the dishes.” And I do. And then, once I’m up, I seem to do other shit.

I turn the television off for a few hours a day. I turn the music up loud. I send the kids outside no matter what to ride their bikes. When I run out of underwear, I do laundry. I invite the kids to cook with me. But the dishes are my only real goal now.

Ava was supposed to come next week for her Spring Break. I’ve been looking forward to it since Christmas. It is a strange, strange feeling to be separated from my daughter in a legal way. As in, the EU won’t let me. It is a strange feeling to wonder if she’d be safer here.

She’s a senior. Her prom, senior trip, and graduation ceremony may be cancelled. She is angry, heartbroken, unsure, and without her Mom, her Dad, her brothers and sister.

The other day she and I got in a big fight, and when it was done and she was chatting about her day, and the kids were yelling “goodnight, Ava!” over my shoulder, I just dropped my head and cried in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. She couldn’t see or hear me. She didn’t notice it in my voice. Mac watched me from across the kitchen table.

Here I am, away from my baby and my parents. Here I am. Why.

I wasn’t doing so hot before any of this happened. I was barely functioning after having done that slow march into apathy and gray isolation—five hours a day in bed, ten hours a day on a screen. I’m ashamed, sort of, but it is what it is.

After our neighbor and a friend independently told Mac they thought I was depressed (and I thought I was hiding it so well!), and I started wondering if maybe I should start drinking again because I’m in a new country and fuck it and the relief might be worth the destruction it would bring, I started making some changes that were helping a lot.

I got into a physical therapist for my pain. I signed up for a little Dutch class. I got a therapeutic lightbox (thanks, renegade mothering Facebook page). And I found a therapist.

She asked me what I wanted out of our work together. I said I wanted to be nudged into new perspectives just enough to survive this. I don’t want the pain gone. I don’t want to be “fixed.” This isn’t a fucking self-empowerment seminar at a Los Angeles Marriott (why am I like this).

I know these things pass. I know we get through them.

I just want slivers of light in my brain to keep me going, to keep me from blowing up my life.

I want to not make this worse. I want to maybe help somebody. I want to not miss time with my family. I want to not scream at them. I want to face the shit inside myself instead of run from it. I want to write to my friends on that blog I created.

 

“Janelle,” she told me. “Look what you’ve gotten through. There’s strength and resilience in you. You just can’t find it right now.”

And she said that when we’re all numb and down in the black and terrified, we lose access to our own inner strength. We just can’t find it. We look into ourselves and seem to find nothing but confusion, fear, that insidious flat-lined gray.

So we look outside ourselves: To screens, to booze, to fights with loved ones or strangers in Wisconsin. We look to control things. We look to understand things. We look to politics and the tribes they create. We look to Russian literature or the news. We look, really, to anything.

And none of it works.

She reminded me we already have what we need. She reminded me we always have. She reminded me that it’s not that I don’t have strength, it’s that I’m looking for it in the wrong places.

It’s good news, I think, to know that the grit and love are within us, and we just forget sometimes. We forget about the resiliency we’ve demonstrated the entirety of our lives or even the nine years we’ve been together here on this silly website, living through those babies dying in kindergarten and the crumbling of our nation and all the times we thought for sure this time there is no way out.

Yet we’ve always gotten out, or through, haven’t we? Until it passes.

“I live a hope despite my knowing better,” said James Baldwin.

I’ll meet you there.

 

Arlo living his hope by setting up a busking gig down the road.

***

Need a distraction?

I’m teaching two online writing workshops in April and

offering a $50 quarantine discount. 

30 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | March 27, 2020
  • Jenny

    Thank you for posting and sharing. I always appreciate your honesty.

    • Peggy

      I needed this, thanks!

  • Shaun

    Just reaching for help demonstrates strength.

  • Renee

    I’ve been waiting for you to say something. Just waiting…..I think we are all feeling lost, secluded, afraid, helpless, lost, bored, tired, pissed off and just damn frustrated! It’s hard not to be depressed from watching the news and seeing the mishandling of this crisis by our government and seeing how many are dying because of Trump’s incompetency. I want to scream at his ugly face every time I see him talk! You’re lucky you’re there and don’t have to see him constantly making a complete ass out of himself and out country. I have never hated anyone until he got into office. We all feel like we can’t go on, but we will. We have to for our kids and grandkids; for our parents and brothers and sisters because for some stupid reason, they rely on us. So, Janelle, you and the rest of us will make it through this wretched time in our lives! We hope!

  • Anne

    Thanks for this. I made a crazy amount of progress with my mental health over the last 6 months, multiple quantum leaps, complete with a 5-year plan, and now I’m stuck at home feeling helpless and going down those negative thought spirals and I catch myself doubting whether I really achieved anything. Once a week I talk to my therapist and he reminds me that yes, I did. I know we’re going through a historic event and sometimes I have to remember that the sentence ends there. Not “I know we’re going through a historic event, but …”

  • Myra Jung

    Janelle, you’ve helped me more then you’d know. Please continue to write because you always bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

  • Cat

    You’ve done it again. I ALWAYS cry reading your articles. I also do not drink, and my desire to drink lately is strong and terrifying; like I won’t be able to fight it. Your words very much helped me.

  • Katie Vecchio

    Really great and really needed right about now. I just barely got my 4 youngest kids and myself out of Europe last week (where we have been living for several years) and back to Canada. My 2 oldest kids are in the States and unable to get here. It’s hard. They are barely adults and their hesitancy at coming here, to me, played out just long enough that now they can’t get here, now that they changed their minds and want to be here. And there is nothing I can do. I feel helpless and sad and like a piece of me was broken off and I forgot it somewhere. These are strange, tough times. I feel you, and you are not alone with your situation. Stay strong!

  • Becky

    Much love to you. This shit is so messy, messier than ever. But there is so much love too.

  • Renee

    The CDC directions are clear: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FUCKING FACE so how am I going to wipe my eyes? 🙂 I can sure relate to the confusion and pain and depression and fear that you express here. For what it’s worth, I admire your courage, grace and humor and your willingness to share bright spots from the changes you have made to your life, even when you don’t feel them. We will get through this. So thank you.

  • Kristin Garrison

    I just love you. That is all.

  • Megan Canterbury

    Amazing how you are able to speak with so much honesty. So amazing to feel that, helps to not feel alone with the feelings!

  • christy Stillwell

    You are awesome. I love this, I love your honesty. I have a blog, too–please visit through my website! And I write. And I truly love your prose voice, the way you see things, and how terrifically funny you are about the hardest stuff. Please survive.
    c

  • Jen

    Thank you for your honesty, authenticity and transparency … it’s so appreciated by others like me who try to do their part to show what real life is like … not the instagram versions everyone seems so keen on sharing these days. As a childhood sexual abuse survivor with CPTSD for the last 21 years, this has been a difficult time for me and I’m recognizing that the healing work I’ve been doing has paid off some (even if it NEVER feels like it) because I’m able to recognize when I need to focus on self-care and the coping techniques I’ve learned – that are healthy – to deal with stress and anxiety … and that’s a step in the right direction, I think. We live in the very rural UP of MI in the US and have been hunkering down in our riverfront cabin these past few weeks … I already live the life of a hermit, thanks to social anxiety due to CPTSD, so I didn’t really have to adjust my physical routine … dealing with the emotional fallout of the stress of what’s going on in the world, coupled with having my children out of school and with my 24/7, along with my husband has just about driven me over the edge. There is no way to get away, to have quiet time, to just fucking THINK without EVERYONE around … and I’m exhausted. I completely lost it at my husband last night when he wanted to have sex and didn’t respect my saying “no, I’m really stressed and I can’t right now” … which of course, dissolved into a fight about how I never meet his needs for intimacy, which I took to mean I was defective in some way and was offended that he couldn’t recognize or appreciate the progress I’ve made healing over the 13 years we’ve been together … So, rather than let it dissolve further, I told him I was too triggered to continue the conversation and got up and left the bedroom … then I distracted myself by making art for hours (my go-to coping skill when confined to the house). I find myself hard to find sympathy for my husband right now and I’m not sure what that means. I’m honoring my boundaries – even when it’s hard and even when it causes fights – and that’s staying true to myself, something it took me more than 20 years to figure out.

    I’m going to keep doing that while the world keeps doing its thing and just maybe it will all work out somehow … please keep sharing your wisdom and bravery and honesty with all of us… makes me (and I’m sure so many others) feel less alone out there. Hugs to you – may you and your family stay safe and healthy!

  • Claire

    Hang in there. I was so depressed my first year in Zurich (what have i done?!) Cannot imagine if something like this Covid shit had happened. Sending lots of love your way. Keep doing those dishes. Don’t drink! xxxx

  • Natalie

    When we are on the other side of this, the first thing I am doing is getting a tattoo that reads “Just don’t make anything worse”.
    I can’t thank you enough for that mantra (and tattoo).

  • Michele

    Hey Janelle,

    Not everyone wants platitudes. In your own real way you lift others up by being a normal human being and speaking what we all think but are too afraid to say out loud. Its refreshing and uplifting.

    Sorry for your pain. Big life changes right there. Nothing has to be perfect all the time but things will get better inch by inch. You are doing amazing and inspiring things.

    M

  • Amanda Livera

    Take care Janelle. Breathe! You’ve got this!

  • Lorna

    “I live a hope despite my knowing better,” said James Baldwin.

    I’ll meet you there.”

    Thanks, this resonates for me. For most of my adult life I have said information helps to make informed decisions. But, what information? What day? It’s time to live because we have hope. Not because the “facts” give us hope. Just hope. Thanks, I needed this nudge.

  • Katy

    I jump on your writing every time a see a new post, but I have never commented. Thank you so much for your words. Thank you.

  • juliep

    Thank you for writing this. Your words make an impact on people.
    My oldest son is 20 and “stuck” in NY. Not an ocean away like your daughter. Everything is so fucked up right now. I have felt powerless and helpless & just wish I had all my kids home and tucked in bed safe and sound. I’m so sorry she can’t be with you right now. I send love to both of you.

  • Karla

    Thank you for writing. I have missed you because I missed seeing myself in the reflection of your words. I do not know how to fucking express myself or write or even talk, I spend so much time avoiding but when I read you there is a sense of relief and suddenly I know that I am not crazy or alone. Life sucks in so many ways and I need to hold on to something and I need to know I am not alone. Thanks again and please write back soon.

  • Katy

    Oh my. Well , one, I’d give Arlo ALL my money. And two- it is there, you have people, tangible and digital, who will crawl down in the pit with you. Or at least stand at the rim and toss down candy and snark until you summon all the things and climb on out.

  • Elf

    Every time I’m flailing around you write something and it helps. Thank you so much. You’ve made such a difference to my life.

  • Michele

    I was on a virtual happy hour zoom call with women, relatively privileged women, sharing our stories, but when it got to the detailed silver lining, the narrative of this is good for us, I couldn’t take it one minute longer and instantly clicked out. I’m holding it together, proving my continued worth to my billionaire bosses, who worry that their workers aren’t taking this seriously enough, who are mad that they are paying hourly workers not to come in – this isn’t a charity, they scream. With all the money in the world. One adult kid with me, the other two near each other in LA. Sheltered in place early on, but for how long. When do I tell them to drive across states to shelter with me? What happens when the money stops? What happens when “we go back”? It is fucked and for a long long time. Brutal honestly helps. I love you, your family and that intrepid Arlo. Keep doing the dishes.

  • Amanda

    Needed this. Thank you. 💜

  • Ceciel

    Last week or so (last month? Yesterday?) someone said something that I keep holding on to. And you said it at the end of this post. “See you on the other side” When I’m down and spiraling I say that to myself. Also, watching this beautiful short video about grief during this time. I’ll dm it to you.
    I’m sorry for Ava. It sucks.

  • Lelah Fisher

    You are such a beautiful, honest human being and you give so many of us hope. Thank you for taking care of yourself. And you’re teaching writing workshops in the middle of all of this! Just flat out amazing. Thank you.

  • Amy

    Janelle,
    You rock! Even when you don’t feel like moving off the couch or crawling out of bed. You are an inspiration and a beacon for the “normal” Moms and women of the world! I feel so badly for the women trying to be Pinterest Moms – it’s freaking impossible. When my kids were younger, I used to try to be that Mom. All it did was make me feel like I was sucking at life. I guess I can trace the bon voyage of my give a shit factor back to my first prescription of Klonopin. What a Godsend to paralyze the give a shit gene! I went from panicking about all the what-ifs, picking every little dog hair off my newborn baby’s outfit, sanitizing EVERY THING, and obsessively cleaning to “JUST DO THE DISHES”. I haven’t taken Klonopin in years (nor am I promoting it, as I HATE depending on a drug to help me feel sane), but I learned a lot from those years. In 50 years from now, in 5 years from now, in 5 DAYS from now will it matter that all I got done were the dishes? My children are teenagers now. They are fed, clothed, loved beyond measure, and happy. Every day we feel like we are screwing up as parents, as humans in general. We need to be gentle with ourselves in a world that moves a million miles an hour sometimes. I do believe nature is the cure and getting outside helps our mental state tremendously! That said, I also struggle to get myself out the door. But once I do, I feel SO much better. The birds don’t realize the world is upside down right now. <3

  • Ilja

    Dear Janelle,

    I’m so glad you got the Philips Lux lamp or equivalent. Sending you lots of Caribbean sun rays from Dutch St Maarten.

    Ilja

    PS: Na regen komt zonneschijn. Truth! Even though it might take longer than you would like.