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Finding balance through self-insulation
Pacing out information intake, lessons from The White Lotus, and evolving opinions.
I'm not out of touch, I'm in control of what I take in.
Several months ago, I decided to prioritize my mental health when I walked away from watching the news and listening to podcasts. By protecting myself (or “self-insulating,” we could call it), I’m a better parent and a more present person.
Things could be different for you. You may need to be ankle-, waist-, or neck-deep in information to feel safe or more comfortable. My brain doesn’t allow me to not live the chaos. Whether it's what’s going on in my head or what’s happening across the planet, it affects me. Deeply.
A wonderful Jewish friend with family in Israel and I talked about the atrocities committed there. Although I was already crying due to the fallout of a friendship, the bulk of tears were for all the lives lost, strained, and affected by heinous human acts of brutality.
But I can’t live like that all the time. It seems like the world is forever in a chaos-spiral with no clearly marked exit. My brain and heightened Autistic sensorial experience1 cannot process or tolerate that level of chronic stress without severe repercussions.2
So, I listen to a playlist of a thousand-or-so Lo-Fi songs I’ve collected on Apple Music while doing my morning routine. I read the local Axios Today weekday emails when I have the energy to; and dig deeper on the topics that won’t cause me distress. On Saturday mornings, when I have the full day to process, I listen to the PBS (neutral) News Hour Brooks & Capehart Podcast episode that came out that Friday. And on Sunday morning, I sometimes listen to the Seattle Week In Review podcast, also released on Friday.
I’m not out-of-touch, I’m in control of what I take in. This process has helped me stay apprised of what’s going on, without turning myself inside out. It offers me distance to self-regulate, and that’s what I need to survive.
A year ago, I would've judged someone like me. But not anymore.
>Minimal spoilers ahead.<
In the second season of The White Lotus, two couples vacation together at the White Lotus resort in Italy. The husbands were friends in college who hadn't seen each other in years. One is a hedge funder (played by Theo James), and the other is a recently wealthy tech genius (played by Will Sharpe), accompanied by their respective wives. One couple, played by actors Theo James and Meghann Fahy, are flippant and fancy-free characters. It comes out in conversation that they opt not to watch or listen to the news, and that they [don’t] vote. The second couple, played by actors Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe, are political and serious.
Shocked, Aubrey’s character, Harper, can't believe their blatant disregard of what’s going on in the world. It was a fabulous character-shaping scene in the first episode of the second season.
Something I love about actor, writer, and creator Mike White’s writing is that he leaves room for interpretation. We may side with one couple or one character. But we can also learn or gain something from the characters of opposing views.
When observing conflict, I find balance easier to reach than when I’m not directly involved in the conflict.
I admire Mike’s writing style. He offers viewers a full spectrum through his characters. There's a neutral character or two—more of an observer who slides in pithy statements, injecting stability here and there. And characters more aligned with ideological extremes. Mike’s writing plays out in the “gray area” with some characters, and firmly stations others in “black-and-white” thinking.3 Just like in real life.
Watching The White Lotus seasons was my final push into living a more ideologically balanced life. (Although I'm sure anti-anxiety meds helped a lot, too.)
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When we watched the second season, I felt a lot like Audrey Plaza’s character: Shocked that anyone wouldn’t pay attention to the socioeconomic and political turbulence worldwide. I was afraid that if I didn’t know about everything, that I would get blindsided someday, somehow. Which, at the time, felt worse than the constant obsessive strain and struggle of needing all the information streaming into my brain both visually and/or audibly all the time.
I recall the time when Seattle's (extended) pandemic lockdowns were easing, and downtown livened up a bit more. My youngest was still young enough to want to play on the urban playground in Westlake Center. There was a summertime event happening with live music, a clown offering playtime with bubbles, food trucks (although that’s every day now), and a sandcastle-building competition that particular day. My youngest, Little, and I were cutting through the park on a grocery run to Pike Place Market. She wanted to stop and play with bubbles. A woman likely in her late 40s approached and just started chatting. She asked where we were from. I said, “Originally, or..?” We chuckled.
“You live here, then? Downtown?” she asked with such surprise, peering down at Little. She said she loved Downtown so much. She lived in Northgate (the northernmost Seattle neighborhood), and worked here, taking the train in a few times a week. She was friendly, and gave Little equal attention.
She asked how living “down here” is with kids. And, of course, I gushed. It’s been my favorite, most exciting living experience, the kids love it, etc.
As a lovely friend from Florida who visited last year stated recently, “Seattle’s problems are the type of problems I want to have in a place I’m living!” Hard agree.
As I was about to ask her a potential-friend vetting question, a man with a clipboard approached. He asked if we had a moment to hear about the petition regarding the 2021 Housing Levy. The woman immediately said, “I don’t vote,” and turned to talk to me. I froze for a moment. Flabbergasted. I remember my first thought being, You live in Seattle and YOU DON’T VOTE..? How is this possible?!
(I was deeply political at the time.)
I pivoted back to the petitioner and asked if it was (X) levy he was referring to. He perked up and handed me the clipboard. “You made my job too easy,” he said, beaming.
While chatting with him as I filled in the necessary information, Little asked to go play in the playground. Before I could answer, the woman said, “Okay!” and walked away with my child as the petitioner continued on about I-can’t-remember-what because I was appalled that she walked away with my child.
I told him, “I don’t know her, and she just left with my kid,” as I flicked a signature across the page that likely wouldn’t match my voter registration, then jogged over to Little. "We don't walk away with strangers, now, do we?" I said to Little. The woman continued on chatting with her, oblivious or acting so.
We needed to make it to the Market before tourists overwhelmed the place. My heart still throbbing in my throat, I told Little it was time to go. She put her arms out to me for help off the metal-and-rope climbable sculpture the woman helped her onto.
"Do you come here often?" she asked.
“A lot,” I said, flat and emotionless. “I’m sure we’ll see you again since you work around here.”
As I look back on that two-year-old incident, just last year I’d still be thinking, I’m glad I didn’t bother (getting her number). What adult nowadays doesn’t vote?? It’s like not even telling the world you believe your own voice doesn’t matter. I’m amazed a woman, in particular, would be so careless. But, now, I couldn't care less that she doesn’t or didn’t vote. It’s her prerogative to do or not do so with her time and energy as she pleases. At the time, I thought it spoke to her character. But I see that as too black-and-white of thinking—something common among Autistics, but it doesn’t mean we can’t adapt.
However, she did walk away with a strange woman’s kid. And even though she seemed oblivious to the action, it's the reason I don’t regret not exchanging numbers, even as my local-friends situation shifted earlier this year. But, that’s yet another prejudice I carry that maybe the next season of The White Lotus can help me overcome.
Today, I look back on that situation and see a lonely woman seeking interaction with anyone, whether they’re 80 or 8 years old. She didn’t have children—she may not have even realized what she did was wrong. I mean, as someone who gets awkwardly comfortable around new people fast, maybe that’s where she was. I’m a relatively nice person, and she seemed very nice. It was comfortable, until I wasn’t any longer. She may have been none the wiser.
I didn’t ask why she thought it was okay to guide a minor away from their parent. I didn’t ask why she chooses not to vote (or if that’s just what she tells petitioners). I didn’t speak up. I’ll never actually know.
So, maybe I don’t need the third season of The White Lotus to give me the social answers I seek. Life is one heck of a journey, and I’ve come such a long way in the past two years. Who knows what the future holds next.
If I get more answers from watching the show, I'll take them with gratitude.
But what I know is: I'm a happier, freer human because I don't engorge myself on information any longer. That may not be the case forever, but right now, it works for me. And that's what matters.
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Coping with stress as an adult on the Autism Spectrum; Autism, PDD-NOS & Asperger’s fact sheets, Autism-Help
Understanding and Addressing Black & White Thinking (in Autistic Children), They Are The Future