Emmanuel and the Anxious Turkey

Emmanuel and the Anxious Turkey November 17, 2021


I hardly know where to begin.

I wish I had a different Mary Pezzulo to show you. I’ve wished that more times than I can count. I don’t like being Mary Pezzulo. I would like to be somebody else. I have a gorgeous Mary Sue fanfic Tolkein elf I like to make up stories about, and sometimes I pretend I’m a child who got lost in Narnia without Aslan noticing, and I sometimes pretend to be a member of the X-men. Sometimes I pretend I’m a philanthropist who inherited billions of dollars and gave most of it away to mitigate climate change, but kept enough for a nice manor house on a big farm in the pretty part of West Virginia– that’s the one where Tom Hiddleston is a distant cousin and visits me for tea now and then. Those people are interesting and courageous. I am a mess. But I am all I have.

I don’t know what to write about except what’s on my mind lately. I write about what I think is important and what makes me angry, about a trip I took hiking that I thought was beautiful or how l much I like the library.  

I wish I could be more organized and disciplined and write in a less scattershot way, but this is what I end up doing.

I’m one of those former gifted kids who was supposed to be really smart, but I’ve actually just got a smart mouth– and even then, I get tongue tied in person. Once in awhile, if I’m having a particularly hard time, I’ll be nearly mute. I’m only brave on the keyboard, in the comment box, saying silly things on social media if I can’t think of anything to the tune of 800 to 1000 words to say. Just about the only thing I’m good at is writing. That was what I ended up doing with myself when Michael and I were very poor living with nothing help from friends and a few family members, with me sick in bed or on the sofa most of the time when my chronic illness was out of control and not properly diagnosed. I started busking, writing on my blog about anything that was important to me without any particular theme, and rattling the donation jar for tips every so often. I’m amazed it worked. I still don’t know why it did. But I am extremely grateful. And now I’m in my late thirties, and it’s my whole career.

So I guess I’m just going to write about how I feel today. I feel anxious, and I feel like a failure. I keep calling myself a turkey, which is especially silly this time of year.

The cruel irony of living with my weird hodgepodge of chronic illnesses is that they cause anxiety: both fibromyalgia and PCOS wallop their victims with anxiety, depression, or both. But treatments for them can also cause anxiety. I often get insomnia from my illness, for example, but when I wake up groggy from sleep aids I’m often left with increased anxiety all day.  I still have no explanation for why, a few years ago, experimenting with a full-spectrum therapy lamp caused me to have severe bouts of anxiety, but apparently the side effect of “agitation” that many people experience was manifested in me as anxiety. Right now, the medication I take for PCOS to help me have normal monthly cycles is causing anxiety. And the doctor hasn’t worked out a way to make that bearable yet. It’s just ten days of medication a month, but it’s been a ten day nightmare. And that’s on top of the things that have been happening in day to day life that would make anyone anxious. My neighbor is still harassing us with impunity, though thankfully she’s too tired to be dangerous. She just shouts or mutters at us under the window at night or in the early morning, and if I don’t keep the electric fan on she wakes me up.

The anxiety has been plaguing me with imposter syndrome, telling me I can’t write. I’ve had some pretty persistent trolls the past few months, who were eerily good at reflecting my own anxiety. This leads to writer’s block which has cut down on how much blogging I do. I’ve got a folder full of fun drafts that are a third or half completed, but I can’t seem to finish them. Meanwhile some side projects I was writing for when I wasn’t here dried up completely, which is nobody’s fault. The COVID pandemic and all the lockdowns have made it hard for everyone including writers. We went from doing better than we ever have to getting a little precarious over the summer to doing very badly indeed this last month. We’ll probably bounce back and be doing better soon, but it feels completely hopeless.

Last month was so bad, our tips actually dipped under the income level for EBT benefits again, and I was told by someone who knows the system that all they need is proof of income for one month to show your income dipped, so I tried to sign up for the EBT card again, feeling like an utter failure. It was so much fun to get off of the EBT card nearly two years ago, I never wanted it back. But I told myself I’d get right off it again as soon as we were doing better. While I was waiting to hear about the EBT card, I took a trip to the food pantry: something I’d actually not done before, because they expect you to show up in a car and Michael and I never had one before. You can’t drag that paper bag and crate they give you on the bus, and when we were at our poorest we were much too far away from the pantry to try to walk. The food was mostly not safe for Rosie’s and my gluten sensitivity, but Michael enjoyed it. I’m especially grateful to whoever donated the healthy green tea.

Next came the rigmarole with the EBT benefits hotline, who have a bad habit of only calling me when I’m driving or can’t find my phone. When I finally got to a human for a phone interview, she began asking for bales of documentation that no one else in my eight years of being on the program had wanted, and announcing rules that contradicted everything that the nine or ten other workers in that department I’ve spoken to in the ten years or so we used EBT had always told me. I admire people who do that kind of work but I’m always amazed at how everyone has a different notion of what they’re supposed to be doing. I admire people who persevere and actually end up getting help when the system is designed to filter out nearly everyone. I’m shocked at the people who casually assume that being on assistance is easy, when just getting enough paperwork to appease the EBT hotline is a full-time job.

I couldn’t do what this particular person wanted me to do and I didn’t feel like asking to speak to another representative. So I withdrew my application over the phone then and there. The worker went from asking me to do the impossible to wheedling that it was her job to make this work for me if only I’d do the impossible, and I begged her again to withdraw my application and pretend this never happened. Finally she did. She cheerfully told me I’d get a letter in the mail informing me that my application was withdrawn as if I wouldn’t remember this misbegotten conversation until the end of my days.

When I got off the phone where I’d been trapped for an hour, Rosie asked if I could play in the dollhouse with her, and I collapsed on the sofa and said “no” because I’m a bad parent on top of everything else.

The panic and increased anxiety that all of this triggered was terrible. So was the insomnia. I woke up groggier than ever, and am sitting here typing this trying to wake up, when I should be down at the pantry in line to get the Thanksgiving basket. It’s first come first serve and they warned me there’s a limited number of turkeys. I am calling myself a turkey. I’m a big unattractive waddling fowl who’s funny to look at and destined for a terrible end. I feel like an absolute failure in every way.

That’s what’s on my mind today.

It’s also on my mind once again that we worship a God Who suffers with us.

Emmanuel, God with Us, is the One Who came down from Heaven to suffer with you and me, in our own lives, and to draw the suffering up into His own life and make it into a Divine thing. So many people try to make that Catholic teaching into something nasty and masochistic, painting suffering itself as a good thing. It’s not and it can’t be. Suffering is all bad and God is not an abusive father. He is a God who created the world to be a good place and created you and me to be happy in it, and then things went wrong. For reasons I can’t begin to understand let alone explain, couldn’t stop this world from turning such a mess. The myth we tell to explain this unexplainable phenomenon involves naked people and a piece of fruit. When God realized that everything had gone wrong and His beloved children were going to do a lot of suffering, He descended to be one with us, so that as long as we had to suffer all the things that we suffer, we would find ourselves participating in the Life of God anyway. And someday He will make this whole messy terrible life worth our while.

I sometimes wish God was a different kind of god. The flashier god of the Charismatic Renewal and the Prosperity Gospel, perhaps: an immortal vending machine who will spit out money and prizes if only you ply him with the gifts of obedience and just the right prayers. But that god isn’t real, and Emmanuel the God Who suffers with us is.

There’s your sermon for today and going into the Advent season soon: suffering isn’t optional, but God is with you, and this is all going to be worthwhile. I don’t know how that’s possible but it will be.

Hopefully I’ll have something less dismal to say later.




Image via Pixabay 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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