10 Ways to survive a shutdown.
Today marks the second missed paycheck for the approximately 800,000 Federal employees who aren’t getting paid while the U.S. Government is stuck in a budgetary gridlock.
800,000. That’s a population larger than some of the cities I’ve lived in.
My husband, a Foreign Service Officer, is one of those employees. He’s “excepted,” meaning that he’s required to go to work and do his job to the best of his ability (as per usual) but doesn’t know when he’ll get a paycheck again.
I’ve already written a bit about what it’s been like for us. And, as each day passes (we’re now in DAY THIRTYFREAKINGFIVE), there’s some new close-to-home sign of suck to remind us that it’s not getting any better. Yesterday, it was an email with application forms for hardship loans.
It’s a strange thing to be posted overseas in all of this too — much of the official guidance around the permissibility to get a “side hustle” or apply for unemployment benefits simply isn’t applicable to our situation at post. (Turns out unpaid diplomats can’t just drive for Uber in their host country because it would violate both American and local laws…)
But I’m a big believer in trying to live in the solution rather than the problem, so I’ve compiled a list of the ways I/we are trying to maintain our resiliency reserves. Do me a favor and remind me about these things if this goes on much longer and I forget they’re in the toolbox?
10 Ways to survive a shutdown
I’ve been making mixtapes to sift and sort through my feelings for about a gazillion years now, so it wasn’t hard to be inspired by the collaborative playlist put together by a number of Joe’s Foreign Service colleagues (plus a few spouses/family members) around the world. I created my own Spotify playlist which has become my soundtrack for the shutdown. One part angry swears and one part hype up anthems, it’s exactly what I need to hear right now.
Meredith and Cristina had it right: sometimes you just gotta dance it out. I still haven’t quite convinced Joe to join in on my now-almost-nightly kitchen dancing sessions but I feel like I might be getting closer. New to dancing it out? It’s easy: pick a song that makes your mitochondria wiggle and let movement grow outwards from there. Might I suggest Calvin Harris’s “Giant” as a most excellent place to start?
Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you feel less shitty. Not getting paid for your job and/or watching your loved one(s) not getting paid for doing their job makes you feel shitty. Ergo, exercise and don’t feel (as) shitty.
Chocolate. (Or the carbohydrate of your choosing.)
I normally advocate for fueling your body rather than feeding your emotions but a little extra chocolate isn’t likely to hurt. Just don’t go overboard…new jeans may not be in the budget this month.
Staying present to your feelings is a good thing and finding healthy ways to express them is even better, but sometimes it’s nice to “escape” your present reality for a while. We’ve taken to dreaming out loud about the places we’ll run away to if this continues. The scenario varies depending on the day, but it usually involves a hobby farm in the Midwest. It almost always involves goats. (And then we usually end up watching a baby farm animal video or two. Turns out they’re a great panacea.)
Minor Acts of Protest
If it makes you feel better and it isn’t hurting anybody, find a way to quietly rage against the machine. (Just make sure it’s not something that’ll get you in too much trouble later. Or don’t…desperate times and all.)
Sometimes, when it’s just too much to turn on the news and watch the mess that is our own country’s situation, we rubberneck the impending wreck just across the Channel from us. There’s something comforting about knowing that we’re not the only country on the brink of serious crisis. I’m sure there’s a lightning bolt aiming my way for saying that, but it’s true. And I imagine there’s a few folks in the UK also thinking “thank God we’re not that dysfunctional.”
Time-Outs from Social and Conventional Media
In all seriousness, it can be pretty easy to get sucked into the latest news cycle or headed down the rabbit hole of social media posts about the shutdown. Fear seems to breed more fear — at least it does in my head. Plus, it’s pretty easy to feel totally helpless and perhaps even a bit of survivors’ guilt watching others struggling a lot more than we currently are. I’m keeping my sanity by limiting both the frequency and duration of my media consumption each day. It’s OK to take a break as often as you need one. And whatever you do, never ever read the comments.
End of Day Reflection/Gratitude Lists
Practicing gratitude has a whole slew of benefits. I’ve had an on-off gratitude practice for several years and I keep a gratitude journal in my nightstand. I could lie and tell you that I’m very disciplined in writing down a few things every night, but that’s not how I roll. What I will say is this: sometime in the last few weeks, Joe and I started laughing hysterically after listening to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” and realizing that we could set the good day threshold anywhere we wanted to. When we go to bed, we remind each other that today was indeed a good day because [we] didn’t even have to use [our] AK.*
*Which is a good thing because a) we don’t own an AK b) we couldn’t have it over here in Belgium even if we did.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Composure — the ability to stay calm, poised and effective in stressful situations — is the very first quality on the State Department’s list of 13 dimensions of a successful Foreign Service Officer. Joe may be other-agency and I may be “just” an EFM/trailing spouse, but our ability to keep our chins up through a storm is just as important. And so, like many others, that’s exactly what we do.
Photo: @petefogdon via unsplash