Issue 107

Welcome back

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I’m a health care reporter, and a general maximal enthusiast. Each issue, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

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It's been a while since I've sat down to write something that wasn't for work — and I’ve missed it dearly. Lately, I've been itching for it but I felt bad because I haven't known what to say.

I paused Scrap Facts while I got to know the lay of the land at POLITICO. Arguably, I've learned lots that didn't make it into stories I've written — how to use the CMS, how to pitch things, how to write b-matter ahead of time, when to grant background sourcing — but none of those things are particularly interesting to the outside world.

Now, the vast majority of what I learn reporting actually does go into stories. What hasn't been published yet works its way into our newsletters (you can find me most often in Prescription Pulse or Pulse), or into future stories as I keep reporting them.

Instead, the scrap facts I’ve picked up have come outside of work just from living in 2021. I hope, dear reader, that you’ll find it useful, too.

I found the past few months were challenging, but not in the ways I expected. Aside from *gestures* everything, summer was fun — especially back in June, when it felt like we had finally turned a corner (at least locally) in the pandemic. After a long, lonely winter, we could have semi-spontaneous social time rather than cautiously planning gatherings weeks in advance. The running group I co-lead brought back in-person workouts outside — first masked, now without one.

But in stark contrast to this joyous exterior, I felt an intense internal conflict bubble up.

For me, a return of social activity after a year and a half of time in the home, felt like going to Costco: The opportunities were endless and bountiful, and the sheer volume of them made me feel like I had to scoop them all up. I was so deprived of saying “yes” to people, I binged on affirmatives to make up for lost time.

Unsurprisingly, this backfired — but not just through social fatigue. What I really struggled with was wanting more when I couldn’t have it.

For better or for worse, I’ve got a lot of love to give. All I've ever wanted is to be dazzled by others. I am, most of the time — humans are amazing! There’s nothing more satisfying to me than the joy of converting acquaintances into a deeper friendship. Doing so requires a certain set of resources: openness, a sense of security in yourself, and time.

For the first time in my life in my late 20s and after a year and a half of isolated reflection, I felt like I finally had a handle on the first two. But I ran out of the third.

The dilemma I found myself in was the explosion of love I wanted to give but couldn't. My core group of friends stayed strong over the pandemic — but all the second- and third-tier friends dropped off. Over the summer, I found myself rekindling these relationships, and wanting nothing more than to bring them deeper after 18 months without them. But, because I cannot generate more time out of thin air (yet), I would try to do so by cramming each hour to the brim.

All too often I found myself with a pit of guilt in my stomach because in prioritizing those I missed over the past year and a half, I forgot to leave time for the people that actually mean the most to me.

I became unrooted — a risky condition for plants and algae, and also people, it turns out. At one point I found myself crying on a Saturday night after I felt like I let down my partner and my parents by not making time for them. They were frustrated with me — who wouldn’t be when someone shows up late? — but not upset to the level I was. To me, the situation felt emblematic of the frustration I felt over just not having enough time to foster the friendships I knew could be spectacular if I put the work in.

I made a choice that day in August to go back to the basics. I gave myself a concrete list of priorities: myself, my family, my job and my role as a co-leader in my running group, in that order.

This doesn't mean I say no to everything that falls into my lap. Spending time with friends can be a form of prioritizing myself over household chores that don't need to be done immediately. But it does mean that when time is limited, I consider those priorities first. Even if it feels like I’m saying “no” to something that could be enriching, I know I’m actually saying “yes” to things that I know already are.

I'm keeping this in mind as fall sets in. I tend to see autumn more a transition away from my favorite time of year (summer) into the cold months. The orange leaves and morning chill sometimes give me sense of dread because they signify change.

It can get overwhelming to think about all that change ahead. I’m afraid that it could unroot me even more, especially as special events and festivities disrupt my usual routines.

But, as I learned this summer, being rooted is more of an attitude toward commitments rather than a routine or familiar practice. It’s about identifying what’s important to you, and keeping those activities or people as your kelp’s holdfast as the world pulls you in different directions.

My wish for you, dear reader, is that you’re able to figure out what lenses you need to stay rooted this fall and winter. May you see it not as a reason to say “no,” but rather an enthusiastic “yes” to the people and things that are core to your joy.

What else have I been up to?

A selection of my work for POLITICO:

Confusion over Covid-19 boosters lingers as states roll out shots

Vape makers struggle to stay in business after FDA bans flavored e-cigs

FDA nears day of reckoning on e-cigarettes

New Alzheimer's drug could be 'devastating' for Medicare

A sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial, courtesy of November Project DC:

And a time my dear partner and I got all dressed up to go to an aquarium (because we’re engaged.)

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

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Top image by E. Y. Smith; headshot by Matt Anzur.