The Frustration Budget, Week 20 in the Time of Coronavirus


The light breeze in the high heat and humidity of this New York summer is a simple pleasure these days.  When I amble along on the sweltering sidewalks I can feel the gentle air waves stroke my head and shoulders lifting me up from the heaviness of the muggy day.  It’s a simple joy to feel the wind when it comes.  It eases the countless frustrations that have set upon us during this time of the Coronavirus. 
 
Given how easily I can be set off these days, I have come up with a made-up system.  I have begun to enact a frustration budget.  Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc with our nervous systems.  So, I am going to assess what is a livable measure of frustration, and anything above that quotient will not be spent.  I am not my best when I’m overstressed.  And, then I circle back on annoyance with my mood and behavior, thus adding to my agitation level.  
 
At this point I think I need to set up my budget with a low level of frustration.  I am subtracting rather than adding to my to-do list.  I am laughing at myself for my lack of memory, including my lack of access to common words, and forgetting seemingly simple tasks.   I open my pajama drawer when I mean to retrieve socks from a parallel drawer.  I am at work, and I am unable to make a point since the word “overcome” will not make itself known to my brain in that moment.  Pre-pandemic, I would get annoyed with myself, and maybe even defensive.  Now, deep in the storm of Covid-19, I am amused by my foibles.  At least that’s how it is this hour.  
 
The frustration budget will be a work in progress.  I just thought of it this week, as I felt exhausted by the end of my day, and quickly followed it up by being less than pleasant when I came home.  It was then I thought, “why not limit what I take in that doesn’t bring me joy?”  And, why not?  I don’t need to finish those articles now when I don’t have the bandwidth.  I can look at the New Yorker cartoons, and save anything else that really interests me.  I can leave the room if the TV is on a program that I neither like nor care about.  I can shorten my walk if I get exasperated by those who are not following the CDC recommendations.  I can lengthen my meditation so that I purposely have more calm moments in my day.  
 
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred since our world changed.  Much of it is difficult.  But some of it, like noticing that I can’t continue on building a wall of aggravations on top of displeasures brings a sliver of mindfulness. It’s a kindness that I can give myself.  I imagine the daily distractions and activities in the past allowed me to ignore certain annoyances, but now they are front and center.  It is time to tear down the wall one frustration at a time until I am thriving within my frustration budget.  
  

Self-Care Tips:
·      Notice what frustrates you and see if you can let go of anything on your list
·      Start a Bullet Journal.  It’s a creative way to track what’s important to you.  
·      Keep a Mood Tracker so you can care for yourself no matter what you’re feeling
·      Write personal affirmations and put them on post-its, then place them where you’ll see them like on the bathroom mirror, in your sock drawer, or on the calendar.  
·      See if you can laugh at yourself when you find you’re being hard on yourself.  It really shifts your mindset.  If you can’t laugh at yourself.  Maybe you can smile at the fact that it’s not easy to go from frustration to humor.  

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Anger Management

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Shortly after a lovely run in the park, and a chat in the colorful garden on this beautiful Sunday, I was crossing the street when a red mini SUV made a fast right, cutting me off. I slowed my walk so as not to be hit. I yelled into her open window, my right arm up,

“HEY!”

She gave me the finger and yelled, “Fuck You.”

I was pissed. Then I saw that she went onto my block. I silently wished her no parking space. A private revenge for scaring me, then blaming me for getting upset. As I arrived at my apartment building, I saw her car parked at a hydrant. Angry, I walked over to the vehicle. She was unloading stuff, presumably from Cosco. I walked up to her took off my sunglasses and said, “I want you to see who you almost ran over.”

“You’re nuts. I had plenty of room. Go away.”

“I don’t think so.”

It felt good to just stand there. Here was a woman who had scared me, and I felt calm, yet energized.

“You’re hassling me. Go away or I’ll call the police.”

“Please do, I’m happy to let them know that you almost ran me over.”

“Just leave. You’re hassling me.”

“No, I’m not. I’m on public property, not touching you, not threatening you, just standing.”

She took her phone out, and started taking pictures of me. Perhaps my picture might be somewhere on social media. Probably with a tag line of crazy woman hassling strangers. Let me know if you see it. I took out my phone and took a picture, too. I wasn’t sure what was motivating me, but I felt righteous. And, I was still angry. She had endangered both of our lives, and yet took no responsibility. I then crossed the street and went home. All the while she’s taking my picture.

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For me this was something of an accomplishment. I spoke up for myself, I did not act out, well, maybe a little, and then I moved on. Although I was angry, I was not compelled to match her anger and denial.

For a long period of time I denied my own anger. I remember in my twenties I was in the extraordinary Kate McGregor Stewart’s acting class. We were asked to offer something to a partner. I don’t remember his name but he wished for me a shelf of plates that I could crash letting go of my anger. I cried. I was enraged, but swallowed my feelings, hating that he thought I was angry. Being a new-ager, I thought anger was negative, and I only wanted to feel positivity. It’s taken me thirty years to accept anger as one of many emotions. Ire does not negate being optimistic, it’s just another aspect of our make-up.

So, today felt good. I could be angry, and I didn’t need to deny it. Nor did I need to dramatize it. It was a moment in time. I get to write about it, and next week I’ll write about something else, unless, of course, I’m angry again.

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