Mercury In Retrograde

Or something like that. Don’t worry, I’m not going all wuwu on you, not entirely anyway. I’m not ruling out that I just intrinsically have some kind of bad tech juju and I also don’t believe it’s useful to live with such a limiting belief, either. I think I remember my mom saying she went through watch batteries unusually fast, though she was probably just buying cheap ones, and she was generally really bad at adopting tech, because she wasn’t an early adopter by any stretch of the imagination, and there were certainly learning disabilities and probably unhealthy self talk that stifled learning. Right before she passed, someone at AT&T talked her into some $600 smart phone that I’m pretty sure she only used as a phone. I was just going to broach a lesson in using text messages just before she passed, tried sending her a couple of photos of my cats and found the messages unread when we started managing her affairs, she didn’t even know they were there. My sister claims her energy causes tech to basically explode and her aversion to change or anything new has left her in a very digitally isolated place that I’m sure she’d tell you is just fine by her. She claims to have had a street light blow out late one night passing beneath it, and once reached out for a glass on a bar, just barely touching the rim with her fingertip and it shattered. I once put a candy bar phone in her hand and started to give guidance on how to speed dial my number so she could call me anytime, unlimited minutes. It was an old phone of mine still on a family plan I had after I upgraded. She wouldn’t even try, just pushed it back into my hands and said she couldn’t do it. I definitely wasn’t one of those suburban kids in the 80s whose family was affluent enough to have a PC with a dial up connection that was used for games and I don’t even know what else because I never had one, or really even had a friend with one. With limited exception in my public school experience, I never really used personal computers until I hit community college in the 90s, just in time to realize that my eyesight was worse than I realized and they were uncomfortable and difficult to use, and I was a Graphic Arts major who worked at a Kinko’s, insert face with tears of joy here. As computing became more ubiquitous, my blindness skills began improving, and adaptive technology was really starting to take off for blind and low vision folks, I began to acquire tech skills, and for most of my adult life, I’ve never considered myself a tech genius, though I’d say my tech skills have been generally at or above average. And somewhere, something started to break, and it’s difficult for me to not believe that I’m somehow tech jinxed, and over the years, tech weirdness and issues I couldn’t resolve without adequate distress tolerance skills and appropriate and healthy attitudes about my competency beat me down slowly over time and destroyed my confidence in myself and my ability to use technology effectively. Like there’s always a failure when demoing tech in public spaces, my tech always seemed to fail in the most crucial moments. Lost like a year’s worth of photos on my phone because the backup failed, even though I approached it six ways from Sunday and there was no indicator that it was successful or even not, I held my breath, reset my phone, and lost everything, and I became real cynical about iCloud after that. The expensive braille notetaker that never paired properly with my phone, even though I knew I was following all the right steps, even had three very tech savvy friends try it, and I think they probably just followed the same steps I did, it just never worked. Seemed like I was always the one in the office reaching out to the IT department with some bizarre, inexplicable glitch that even they scratched their heads over and had to go research, leaving me limited in my ability to get my already burdensome workload done. Bought some cool accessible labeling tags before the pandemic, under the impression that my phone had the necessary compatibility, only to learn that my particular model did, indeed, have the necessary NFC chip, except that was the last model before Apple actually opened this tech to third parties. Okay, I thought, my phone’s a little outdated, perhaps this is a good opportunity to upgrade, so I did, and it would appear that the NFC chip in my brand new phone was defective out of the box. I didn’t invest in Apple Care and mid-pandemic, Genius Bars were closed, and they are a bit of a commute from where I live anyway. So, disappointed, I just moved on, tucking those tags into a kitchen drawer where I’d like to use them and will perhaps come back around to them eventually. I even gave up having a personal laptop after returning from my Peace Corps service. Mine was aging when I got there and suffered a terrible death, by then, I was just so over the maintenance of system software updates, accessibility software, security software, browsers, functional applications, it seemed I spent more time maintaining and troubleshooting glitches and issues than I did actually doing any work or getting anything done. I received a desktop at work, which mostly worked well, except as a low vision person who didn’t get good blindness skills until middle age, mobile note taking options that I could use effectively is still a tech struggle I wrestle with. Over the years, just felt more and more like a dark tech cloud just gathered over my head and followed me everywhere I went, giving me increasing levels of anxiety, panic attacks, and an overall feeling of imposter syndrome in work settings. I lobbied my boss for a work laptop just before the world shut down as a resolution for my need to work not just in other parts of the building, but remotely as I worked to build programs at one of our satellite offices and often had off-site programs elsewhere. Of course, when the world shut down, I was also more or less ready to work from home, too, which for mental health reasons, I’d carefully curated a boundary around, then Monday, March 16, 2020, my office was suddenly at my kitchen table. I limped along under the already overwhelming expectations of my job, to move programs into a virtual space, really only getting comfortable with the basics of the new Zoom universe we were all living in, both personally and professionally. I didn’t like it, I didn’t adapt well, it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that each new tech fail seemed to have n exponentially greater negative impact on my psyche. By now, in my personal life, I wore my lack of laptop like a badge of honor, reveling in my tech minimalism. I left my job at the end of 2020 and surrendered that laptop along with it. I literally do pretty much everything on my iPhone, sometimes paired with a bluetooth keyboard. If I can’t do it on my phone, I probably don’t need to do it, is the mantra I’ve embraced. I lean on my SO now and then to help facilitate a thing here or there that I can’t get done on my phone and after several years of living like this, I’m still mostly satisfied. Though I’m starting to entertain thoughts that an additional device actually would be helpful, and frustratingly, that PC with JAWS combo really makes the most sense, and I cringe at the maintenance that commitment means. Though I look at my little phone and keyboard and my intense fears and anxiety around putting myself on camera and trying to manage tech smoothly under the scrutiny of a public forum, and I think of the spaceship like command center of a communications platform that my best friend has constructed during the pandemic, and I start to get those panic feelings all over again.

So in 2021, I started therapy, no, not just for the tech anxiety, but all the underlying garbage that has made it worse, believe me, I’m working through 99 issues and tech is just one. The irony has not been lost on me that starting therapy in a time of telehealth has put me right smack dab in the center of one of the many things that triggers me, I mean by this time, the frustration of having to recall, fail to recall, get locked out of accounts, and needing to reset user names and passwords just has me in full meltdown, ugly cry, I’ve got no more spoons mode. Fortunately, my SO is amazing at just holding me while I fall apart, telling me how awesome I am, and gently coaxing me through whatever barrier has just destroyed me. But nobody wants to live like that, so yeah, therapy. And being put right back into tech distress by fails in the very tech meant to connect me with support by connecting me with services. And the pressure to turn on the camera is real and until recently, I’ve clung stubbornly to my line of, I can’t see you, why do you need to see me? It makes me feel like a bug under glass and sends the anxiety needle off the charts.

But something has shifted

First, I adopted a positive mindset, whether I liked it or not, to embrace these moments as an opportunity to practice the tech skills, practice sitting with the discomfort, and slowly, I’ve begun to care a little less about my background and whether or not I’m centered appropriately in the frame, or if I look “too blind”. These are things I’ll start to care about more as I move forward, the important thing is that I just start showing up, literally and figuratively. I recently signed up for a virtual yoga class taught by a blind instructor, there’s absolutely no reason for me to have my camera on, and I’m doing it anyway, to practice the mindset of knowing that the camera is on and being mindful of it. Like being in a convention with 3,000 other blind people gave me the confidence to start using my cane publicly, even though I had no idea how to actually use it, I blended in and it was a safe space to develop my own comfort with this new skill before displaying it publicly in some way. It’s a work in progress, though I feel my comfort levels and confidence around tech, and really life in general, and I think that’s the more important point, rising.

And yesterday was a frustrating tech day, and I breathed through all of it, reminding myself that I’ve got thumbs and a large frontal lobe and I’ll figure it out. “I probably need to update my iOS,” I shrugged when my phone relentlessly misinterpreted my gestures and went all wonky. Drafted a thoughtful social media post for It Starts With Quiche about having an amazing SO, a fun breakfast, and a major clutter clearing win, complete with image descriptions, only to have it all vaporize behind some weird Instagram pop up requesting camera and microphone permissions after I hit the “share” button, utterly maddening. I pushed through with determination when a discount code that should have been valid wasn’t applied to my Instacart order. I spent too much time trying to fix it myself with no success, and instead of giving up or crying or both, I submitted the damn order anyway, prepared to give Instacart an earful when the opportunity arose. One of the items I ordered was not what it was advertised as, and my delivery arrived early, which might usually be cool, though I had intentionally set the delivery window to fall outside of a time I needed to be undisturbed, and that early delivery created more tech issues on my end. Instacart has received an earful and I’ve got a few account credits to show for it, and crying wouldn’t have resolved the issues, even if it felt good or inevitable.

And then things really shifted

I’ve had this assignment for the last week for therapy to try something new, something I’ve never done before, from a list of 187 items. I worked through the assignment, concluded that I hated it. I’m not saying it wasn’t valuable or that I didn’t learn anything, it was triggering in so many ways, and not the obvious discomfort of trying something new. The list was actually presented as a table in an inaccessible PDF document that I’m accessing via a document reader app, and, as I hope you can imagine, a table full of text does not strip neatly into what is effectively a text only document. So I had to start with the annoying task of cleaning up the text so that it was intelligible and in a format that was useful to me, since I can’t just print the PDF and fill in the chart with a pen. This task proved to be even more tedious and time and energy consuming than I’d anticipated, and I made it worse by methodically making notes about each item, so by the time I had cleaned up the text and considered all 187 items, I had 4 days to do the assignment, not a week like my sighted peers. I was frustrated and cynical that I do or have done most of the things on the list and was feeling annoyed by the inauthenticity of the task. I noticed myself judging certain items, quickly imposing limiting beliefs, like, “I’d consider that, but it’s not likely to happen in the next four days.” In most cases, I was probably right, but who knows? Or in other cases, noting a hard pass on things that don’t align with my values or items I judged to be inappropriate on this list. I also noticed that I was doing what I often do, overthinking, analysis paralysis, and I believe some intention of the assignment is to encourage action and not get bogged down in my head. All of these were useful observations I can take lessons from. But if part of the assignment is to also encourage new experiences and the growth that can come from that, I don’t feel like this is a problem for me, I enjoy trying new things, and that’s part of my anxiety here, there are plenty of things I’d like to be doing that I want to try, or do more of, things I know I’d enjoy, and I just can’t make time for them. Artificially adding more things to this list just drove my anxiety higher. Anyway, I did a new thing, it wasn’t honestly very satisfying, but now I’ve done it and I know and I’ve done the assignment.

Here’s where the shift really comes in, though

Got a call mid-day from bestie and confidence coach Bay Area Blind Mom, who’s running a virtual summit for badass women. “Will you go live with me for today’s debrief? I’m so bored doing it by myself,” she asks. Feeling a little badass myself, knowing where my strengths and weaknesses currently lie, I say, “Yeah, totally, if you can run the tech end, I can show up and be fabulous.” I’m insecure about turning on my videocamera, I’m anxious about public performance involving technology. Everything about this should have me running screaming, and it didn’t, I wanted to run right into it and I felt as calm as the eye of a storm. I joined her in her Zoom room and bantered while she worked on the new process of broadcasting a Facebook Live from Zoom. She was having a hell of a time making it work, the scheduled live time arribed and passed, and she kept at it, cool as a cucumber. She is pretty tech savvy and is a confidence coach, after all. I didn’t even get empathy panic, I felt relaxed as we both joked about the tech issues we’d already had that day and I trusted the process. At 20 minutes beyond scheduled live time, she opted for an alternative strategy, also uncertain in it’s viability. On a small scale, we were building the rocket ship while it was in flight, something that typically terrifies me, and I just felt in flow. She went live, I stood by for an invitation. I’ve never gone live on Facebook before, this is something totally unknown to me from a creator perspective. I figured out how to invite myself and finally joined her Facebook Live, totally unaware that I was sideways, the orientation I appropriately needed to hold my phone in Zoom for smooth display purposes. Just as the convo started getting good, I was dropped by incoming calls from my early Instacart delivery, Do Not Disturb turned off to allow for the notification we anticipated I’d receive to accept her invitation to join, which turned out to be unnecessary. A recent version of myself would be in a complete mortified, terrified panic by this point, and I just wasn’t, I was mostly laughing at the absurdity of it all. A moment of low grade panic when the delivery came early, I needed to both rapidly resolve the delivery issue and get back on the live and I froze a little. Took a breath, and miraculously, my SO came downstairs just in that moment, and I calmly asked him to go to the gate for the delivery, then dialed back into the Live, not missing much of a beat as my SO noisily brought the delivery in. Cool as a cucumber, and laughing at the whole thing.

Who is this person?

This is a person who is more deeply understanding the relationship between feelings, thoughts, and actions, and a person who is learning the power of the simple understanding that our brains believe everything we tell them. I read in one of my many positive psychology books that the brain is like a puppy, it needs human connection and something to chew on. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you also know that your brain is like a monkey, chattery, rambunctious, and prone to distraction. Yesterday might have been the first moment that I’ve been consciously aware that mindfulness is not a tool you break out and wield actively in challenging moments, like grabbing a hammer when you need to pound a nail, it’s a skill you practice and develop a little bit every day when you don’t need it, so that when things get challenging, it is second nature and the muscle memory is already there, like giving your puppy a chew toy every day so he doesn’t suddenly take it out on your favorite shoes. Like clearing a little clutter every day to keep a tidy, organized home and not trying to overhaul the whole house right before company arrives. It builds a relationship with the monkey so you can actually wrangle him in when all hell breaks loose. I could continue telling my brain that I’m tech jinxed, or bad at math, or terrified of turning on my camera in virtual meetings, or that I don’t feel well or that I’m an inadequate failure at everything, and it will continue to be true. Or, I can flip the script and tell my brain exactly who I am and where and how I fit in the world, and that will be true, too. Maybe I do have some kind of metaphysical glitch that causes tech to malfunction in my presence. Or maybe it’s just the narrative my family has told me and I’ve continued to tell myself. I know that the person on that Facebook Live yesterday dismissed that narrative entirely, looked it in the face, and said, “So what? Who cares? I’m doing this thing and it’s fun and learningful.”

And the really great part? Our mutual consensus after that comedy of tech errors is that we should definitely do a podcast together, so stay tuned for more hilarity.

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