Breathe In, Breathe Out

Breathing gif: Inhale, pause, exhale, pause

For the last 4 weeks, I have been holding my breath.

It’s not uncommon during this time of year when I am always looking for grief to come find me.

But this year, with my (fully-masked) son contracting COVID-19 from his Taekwondo practice just before the new year, the virus making its way unceremoniously through our family in more or less the most lengthy process possible (with nearly 7 days between each case manifesting), and a four-week rolling isolation period, it’s been hard to breathe. Literally and figuratively.

Today, my partner, who was the last person in our family to contract the virus, tested negative, ending our 4-week isolation and returning us to the world, still fully-masked, still cautious, but with a bit of relief for the next couple of months and with the reassurance that my son will turn 16 in that time, making him eligible for the adult dose of his booster (the 12-15 dose was approved the day AFTER he began showing symptoms).

In this time, I’ve been aware how important community care is. My community has not only asked how to help, they have just shown up, dropping off care packages, groceries, sending gift cards, checking in with notes and messages. And I’ve learned to ask and depend on others as well. When we were all isolated in the first two weeks, I ordered delivery, I asked for friends who offered to add our items to their grocery lists, I asked for grace when I just couldn’t do all the things, I soaked in the love of those sending good wishes. I rested because I couldn’t do anything else.

This is not normal for me.

While I believe in the deep and redemptive power of community care, I couldn’t choose it until I had to or until others chose it for me.

It is hard to unlearn the narrative of individual struggle, productivity, and exhaustion.

And while it was powerful and transformative, I also know there is still so much unlearning for me to do.

I haven’t been able to breathe, to reflect, to write, for four weeks. I continued to create to a degree and have been getting what needs to get done completed, but I am spent instead of energized. I felt constantly in a state of alarm because I have been in a state of disequilibrium. I am just beginning to come out of that today, with my partner’s negative test, with my children’s negative tests and being back to their lives.

I couldn’t see it when I was in it.

I couldn’t feel myself holding my breath.

Even when I was resting, I was not at rest.

But today, I am breathing deeply. My schedule does not feel so daunting although it is full. I am taking time this morning to write, to reflect, to be. I am taking a moment to feel all that I have been carrying for four weeks, and in cycles for 27 years, and even before that, at times, my whole life.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I am constantly working towards a life that is more than survival. Today, I remember my body, my spirit, my heart.





When Grief Doesn’t Look Pretty

I don’t feel like looking for an image.

Honestly, I don’t feel like writing about grief. I said as much today.

But grief doesn’t always listen.

I like to wrap grief in pretty packages of productivity.

Today, right at this moment, grief feels heavy.

It feels like the weight of all the things I’ve been trying to pile on myself to do to avoid thinking about grief, like a pile of things that are always there to do, that have collapsed on me.

It feels like the labored breathing of my lungs from walking around the block and not knowing if that labor comes from anxiety or COVID residual effects or grief.

It feels like the weight of the tears that are constantly held at bay. And even when I give myself the grace and permission to cry, they don’t come because they’ve been held back for so long.

This extra weight carried from task to task.

I wonder why I wake up tired and I stay tired and I go to bed tired, but I don’t really wonder.

My body feels the weight, accumulated over nearly 27 years, exacerbated by absorbing further loss that comes through deeply loving.

I keep loving so grief will be inevitable.

I know there is grace if I ask, but I am tired of asking, tired of talking, tired of telling.

Tired from grieving.


Woman's hand holding a mug that reads "I Can't Even"

Well, we are 12 days into 2022 and clearly this is a year of letting go of what should be and accepting what is.

I am tired.

I’m partly tired because I have COVID which I got from the member of my family who has religiously worn a KN95 mask outside of our house since the beginning of the pandemic who got it from TaeKwonDo and showed symptoms the day before he was eligible for a booster.

I am also tired because I can’t taste anything and food has always been a source of joy and now it’s become something to consume without feeling, for survival.

I’m tired because just as we’re nearing the end of family isolation, my 6 year old has a sore throat and is losing her voice.

I’m tired because I wanted to do a perfect model of an assignment for my teacher candidates and I just can’t. I can only do a good enough model and even that is hurting my brain.

I’m tired because it’s hard for me to let go of perfectionism and workaholism, even after a semester of sabbatical…or maybe particularly after a period of rest.

My grip is tight on what I want to happen, even when I know intellectually that I need to both show myself grace and get some rest.

I have a whole community around me, reminding me of what I need to do even if I don’t feel like I can.

But it’s still hard.

I know I’ve got to let some of the things go.

I need to heal.

I have to accept that there are so many things out of my control at this time and gripping on to things that make me feel like I have control over anything, while it’s worked for a very long time, is not always the right answer.

I need to breathe.

I need to rest.

But it’s still hard.

So very hard.

When Individual Accountability Fails

A black room with a small frame of light and an individual standing in the door

I am someone who was raised to take personal responsibility and accountability seriously.

While I am often imperfect (because I am human), I try my best to live my life in a way that aligns with an ethos of personal and professional responsibility and accountability. I have been lovingly and not-so-lovingly called in and called out, and when this happens, I try to take moments to reflect on the things I need to be accountable for, the humanity of those involved, impact over intent, and the greater good.

I do this because I believe that personal responsibility and accountability are community responsibility and accountability and because I believe that in order for community to thrive, we have to be willing to make space for our imperfections and our wrong doings, as much as we celebrate our victories and accomplishments. In this, I try to seek balance (and often fail, because I am human).

Sometimes, as I am realizing this week, there are limitations to individual responsibility and accountability within broken structures, systems and societies. Even as I do as much as I can as a woman, Asian American, middle-class, mother, teacher, scholar, I cannot control a world and others around me who do not share the same regard for community and humanity. I have limited power (although I do have some and collectively, we have more) to change systems, structures, society, and those who control them if they are not willing to listen and consider policies and practices that honor people’s safety and humanity. Individual accountability has limits according to those who are driven by different sets of ideologies or by profit or by self-benefit.

I don’t have a lot to say about that except that this realization makes me sad, not particularly for myself, but for those around me who are vulnerable. I am learning to be with that sadness, as a first step, so that I can move towards advocacy with a fuller heart that does not reproduce a focus on productivity that previously consumed me.

I am reminding myself that public unlearning, reflection, without solutions, is part of this journey. Perhaps as an individual, I may not be able to be more than an example, but in collectivity, action can change the world, but, as always, the answer is found there, in community, in coalition, in humanity.

Breathing today. Being today. Feeling today.