Twenty-First Anniversary, Week Thirty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Today is what twenty-one years post 9/11 looks like.  All New Yorkers who were in the city that day, as well as those close to lower Manhattan, or around the country, and the world remember where they were the day the towers fell.  

For those who survived, their stories were heartbreaking and profound.  It was one of the first times I know of that corporations, small companies and organizations prioritized mental health and called in specialists from around the world to work with their employees, associates, and volunteers so they could get through the trauma of that day.  

So many wanted to contribute as we felt helpless in face of the enormity of the tragic events.  We couldn’t get enough crayons so the children who lived downtown could draw as a part of their trauma therapy.  We didn’t have enough tissues for the adults who lost loved ones or witnessed the unimaginable.  

I was privileged to work with downtown families, first responders, the bereaved, and co-workers who had to get through that clear September day in 2001.  Everyone wanted to and needed to share their personal stories. Personally, I had gone full circle having worked as a proofreader at Morgan Stanley, having gone to graduate school while there, then returning counseling former co-workers and supervisors as a trauma consultant.  From there I consulted at number of businesses landing at Salomon Brothers for a couple of years.  

What I took away from that time is the courage and resilience of the human spirit.  That experience has been reinforced these last couple of years.  We encompass an enduring strength fostered by courage in the face of great hardships. An unfathomable tragedy took place twenty-one years ago, and as we remember, we can honor the bravery within each of us when we confront personal, national, and international trauma.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Acknowledge your personal courage for the small struggles and large hardships you’ve faced. 
  • Who are your heroes?  What qualities do they possess?  In what ways do you embody those qualities?  
  • What aspects of courage do you want to develop?  Identify one to three small steps you can take to expand that courageous characteristic.  For example, I will say “no thank you” when asked to do something that is not right for me, even when I risk hurting someone’s feelings.  

Happy Friendship Day, Week Thirty-One in the New Abnormal

I’m writing this on International Friendship Day.  It has me thinking of past friends, some gone by mutual consent, some, as the wonderful Claudia Shear put it, are ‘location specific’, and some died too young.  The rest still bring me laughs, tears, and meaningful moments either with posts, texts, emails, or on a rare visit.  

I have hurt friends in the past.  I wasn’t always trustworthy.  I wasn’t always able to set limits until it was too late.  Or I just didn’t understand when to speak and when to keep quiet. I have run into previous friends who I must have upset because, though I have been happy to see them, they don’t share that sentiment.  I may not know the specifics of their interpretation of events, but I recall not really understanding how to relate to others. 

However, the friends who stuck by me, the ones who forgave me, or who didn’t feel upset by my actions taught me so much about friendship.  They taught me about the imperfect, human connectedness that is key when relating to others.    They taught me to appreciate the differences and treasure what we share in common.  I’ve learned about new musical artists.  Books have been exchanged, topics seriously discussed.  There’s been a lot of theater and film, and meals shared.  

Friendship is a gift. Sometimes I squandered that gift.  Not on purpose, but by not knowing my value, thus not appreciating that my actions impacted others.  Nevertheless, I now value those gifts from the past and in the present. I’ve internalized each and every one with whom I’ve shared an alliance. I have learned from great generosity of spirit.  I’ve enjoyed shared belly laughs, and poignant moments.  Most importantly, my friends have taught me, and continue to teach me the importance of seeing beyond our imperfections.  I have learned to celebrate happy times with friends. And my friends have comforted me when things have been tough.  I am so grateful as I continue to learn and grow thanks to dear friends.   

 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Reach out to an old friend.  If you can get together, great.  If not, send a note.  
  • Send a cartoon or meme with a friend.  Nothing like a shared laugh.   
  • For times when you need more energy, take a few breaths through your nose, then quicken those breaths.  Repeat three times, First take regular breaths through your nostrils, then quicken the breaths for about 3 to 5 inhales & exhales.  Stop if you get lightheaded.  Best to do this sitting.  

Moods Ebb & Flow, Week Twenty-Eight of the New Abnormal

The cycling of moods continues.  Today I’m happy.  It’s beautiful outside.  I get to walk on fairly empty sidewalks, and I’m ticking things off my to-do list.  Earlier this week I was crestfallen.  Too many tragedies and so much shared pain in the world.  I find it fascinating how the ups and downs shift from day to day.  Well, really, from moment to moment.  

The good news about these shifts is that I know when things are particularly low, they will rise again.  And when things are going well, I can appreciate them, understanding the fleeting nature of my feelings.  Impermanence used to feel like a threat.  I was always aware of the inevitable loss of something good. Luckily, given the fullness of time, I see things differently now.   I understand that there will be other occasions of highs and lows, and that I can plan to give myself extra care when things are tough, and I can delight in the glory days when they show up.  

I’m grateful that it’s been a good day since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But even a good day for me, may not be good for someone else.  If I’m feeling strong, I can listen and learn from someone in a different space.  But, often when I’m not at work and it’s been difficult for me, I don’t have the wherewithal to take in the troubles of others.  That is when I have to set limits.  It’s not easy since I don’t want to hurt someone else. And, yet, I know I will be hurting myself should I extend myself past my limits.  In that case, having the courage to say “No” to someone else is a huge Yes to me.  A simple but challenging kindness I can give myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  •  When you notice that your inner resources are scarce, see if you can lessen any interactions with those who require more of your energy than you can spare.  In this way you can build up your strength for whatever is to come.  
  • Listen to music that meets your mood.  Move to that music, whether it’s a simple sway, or a more vigorous dance.  
  • Surround yourself with those who are genuinely happy for you when things go well.  Their generosity of heart can be empowering.  

Falling Down But Not Falling Apart, Week Twenty-Four in the New Abnormal

I’m moving a bit slower presently.  While on vacation I sprained my ankle.  I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying every moment of our amazing time away.  Now that I’m back home, I’m doing bi-weekly physical therapy while curtailing long walks.   I only made it to Central Park once this week. In full walking mode, I usually make it at least five times weekly.  Thank goodness for Carl Shurz Park, it’s close, by the East River. A smaller park, but volunteers and park workers have created a beautiful outdoor space.  Sometimes it gets crowded, but Lucy, our dog, and I walk around them.  

Walking slower has its advantages.  Though I don’t go as far, I can observe building facades and other block by block details. When not nursing my ankle, I’d quickly pass by on my way to one destination or another.  Another plus is Lucy and I going at the same pace.  There were many times that I would have to employ patience as Lucy sniffed and stopped to acquaint herself with a certain spot.  Now her gait serves me well.  

Another advantage is recognizing how getting older has improved my ability to accept bumps in the road.  Yes, I fell on a muddy hill in the Andes on a trail to a stunning waterfall.  When younger that fall would have potentially ruined my trip, and it would have had me cranky upon my return.  I would have been impatient to get back full mobility so I could do what I’ve always done.  Now, I can let the healing process unfold as I enjoy short, slow walks, and slow bike rides. 

Going slower even as others pass me by is not new to me.  In social situations, I learned skills later.  I believe that may have contributed to falling apart when things got tough.  My self- esteem was fragile, so hardships felt personal.  These days, if things aren’t going right, though that’s subjective, then I turn left, enjoying a less traveled path.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Notice details around you that you may have missed when rushing about.  
  • Take inventory of what you’ve learned about yourself in the past two years.  How have you changed?  In what ways are you proud of yourself having faced hardships?
  • If plans change, are you able to find the silver lining?  If not, process your disappointment, and be curious if anything lovely shows up given the changed circumstances.  

Rest for the Weary, Week Fifiteen in the New Abnormal

In my mind this weekend was filled with activity.  I was going on long walks, I was starting to prepare for Passover, reading as research, writing, walking Lucy, finding items to give away, cooking for the week, and everything else that involves time and effort when not at work.  I forget what is required to get so much done, especially when a nap is in order.  

Even after over two years of a changed world due to the Coronavirus, I am still learning that I need more rest than I had a couple of years ago.  That’s not exactly true.  I probably needed more rest back then, but I thrived on the steady pace of work, perpetual plans, and a never-ending to-do list.  Now, however, my to-do lists alone exhaust me.  I aim to get so much done on the weekends, but I forget that I need more time to rest.  

I am humbled by my limitations. They let me know that I am not super-human, I am simply human.  I was never-super human.  But due to my low self-esteem, I acted as if I had to justify my existance.  To whom?  I’m not even sure.  Having high expectations for myself no longer serves me. Having realistic intentions helps me move forward towards my aspirations, slower than I’d like, but in the right direction.  

My challenge is to continually adjust to the slower pace.  I need to cooperate with the circumstances rather than going full steam ahead.  I’ve learned that being busy may have suited my energy level at one time, but that is no longer the case.  Leading a full life is not a series of crossing-off to-do list items.  Full means being in the moment.  Enjoying a sunset.  Delighting in the spring flowers.  Sharing meaningful conversations.   Stopping to rest.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Rest.  Your body and mind will thank you
  • When feeling overwhelmed, slow down.  Take a moment to check in with yourself.  If you’re able to take a break, do so.  If not, be patient so that you can get through whatever is required of you.  
  • Plan less.  Having open times allows for creative thinking.  

Awards, Week Thirteen in the New Normal

Though award shows don’t hold the same cache as they did in my childhood, this weekend is the Academy Awards.  Fraught with politics and self-promotion, the awards have lost some of their shimmer.  Yet, while growing up I wrote and rewrote my acceptance speeches.  It was my fantasy of ultimate success.  If I felt insignificant or hurt, my bright future would prove to the world I was somebody.  My bullies would see I was special.  That was my secret revenge.  

I can tell you that the bullies probably don’t remember me, even though that cruelty is etched in every child who was ever bullied.  Children who’ve been bullied often have a significant fantasy life.  Mine, like a cliché, was a girl singing show tunes into my brush handle in front of the mirror.  Thank goodness for my RCA portable record player.  It got me through some rough school years.  

Now, I’m ages away from those award-winning dreams.  But I do find something meaningful in rewarding ourselves for the wins in our lives.  And even if it’s not a public speech, acknowledging those who have been supportive are important to recognize, too.  We enjoy celebrations during our milestones, like graduations and special birthdays.  Perhaps we can find a way to receive an award when we go above and beyond, instituting courage to gain a win.  It can be small.  It’s simply a nod for our personal wins.  We can get stickers, or a new kitchen utensil.  Calling a friend and sharing in our happiness multiplies the joy.  It gives us a chance to say we matter.  And we do.  

If you choose to watch Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall and Amy Schumer host this year’s Oscars, have fun. Perhaps enjoying the show can be a reward in itself.  If I can stay up I will think of my younger self.  Though now I have little interest in a red carpet, I’m simply satisfied to watch from my living room chair.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write a list of what you’ve accomplished, big and small, this week.  Draw a star or a symbol next to each to congratulate yourself for a job well-done.  
  • Create a thank you speech for those who have been good to you over the years.  If possible, send them the written speech so they can know they made a difference.  
  • Don’t forget to put on some music and do a happy dance.  If you want to do that in front of the mirror, go for it.  

The Wrong Way I Meditate, Week Six in the New Abnormal

I felt so fortunate that I had a meditation practice prior to the pandemic.  I chose to double up my meditations to give myself devoted time each morning before I started my day.  And, when needed again at night, or anytime I had to find my way back to myself. 

There are so many meditation apps.  I like Andy from Headspace and the Chopra App.  Sometimes I do a Tara Brach meditation, or I’ll listen to Sharon Salzberg. When needed I’ll do my own thing.  I map my breath, I do a body scan, or Iisten to my ongoing thoughts noticing if there are any changes in my mood or physical sensations from one floating thought to another.  I’ve heard others who really like to meditate to Loch Kelly and the Calm app.   Though there are a lot of options out there, once I found two that met my needs, I’ve stuck with them.  

It’s taken years to bring the sensation of meditation into other parts of my waking life.  At the beginning of my meditation practice (that sounds so self-aggrandizing to me) I attempted sitting up straight, adjusting my posture again and again to make sure my spine was aligned.  It was extremely uncomfortable.  If I was in yoga class meditating at the beginning of a session, my leg muscles would cramp.  I focused more on the discomfort than on my breathing.  

For the past twelve years, since I turned 50, I started to meditate laying down.  To some meditation devotees, that’s blasphemous.  For me it was a game changer.  Often when following a guided meditation the directive is usually to sit straight.  No thank you.  At 50 I started making changes that worked for me.  One of the first was to lay flat while meditating.  I can meditate longer.  I can relax in a way that feels illusive while sitting, especially if I’m crossed legged.  

Now I meditate the way that works best for me.  It’s true for other areas of my life.  I enjoy food that I find pleasurable, rather than forcing myself to drink wheatgrass as I had in the late 80s.  I enjoy a walk daily, usually alone, as a moving meditation.  Or I listen to audiobooks, making it easier to get though books these days.  For the first half of my life I tried to follow the rules of life.  I believed if I could just get it right I’d be happy.  In this second half I am making the ever changing rules that support me.  I don’t know if I’m happier, but I am certainly more satisfied.  

Enduring these past two years has tested our every nerve.  We can all be gentle with ourselves by designing our routines to match our needs.  I will continue to meditate on my back, even if others see that as wrong.  Perhaps having grace for ourselves is more important in the long run than “good” form.    

Self-care Tips:

  • Try meditating in a comfortable position.  If you’re new to it, start with 30 seconds to 3 minutes.  If you like it, try it again.  If it’s not for you, either try another modality or let it go.  
  • When you’re feeling over stressed, imagine you’re softening your edges.  What does that look like? How does it feel?  It may assist in easing the emotional strain.  
  • Who makes you laugh?  Watch a video, stream a special, or call that funny friend.  A laughing brake is a terrific relief.  

Popularity Contest, Week 22 in the Time of Transition

Over fifteen years ago I organized a networking event for psychotherapists and others in related fields.  I hosted it in my office garden and prepared a beautiful buffet of crudité and homemade dips and finger food.  I received a lot of maybes, and about fifteen said they would attend.  Of course, I over-estimated and prepared too much food.  In the end I had five guests, two just stopped by.  

It was an intimate event. The four of us were able to appreciate and understand what each of us offered clients, and it ended on a positive note. However, I was mortified that more people didn’t come.  I was embarrassed for myself, and felt I let my colleagues down.  It was challenging to stay focused with the other women who came. Instead I spent too much energy  focusing on who wasn’t there.  

It harkened back to parties in elementary school and junior high to which I was never invited.  Or times when the red rope was not unhooked for me at Studio 54 and the Palladium.  The rejection felt personal.  I was not one of the chosen ones.  

Since those times I realize I do better in small groups or one on one.  I get too distracted at large parties.  Yet, as I currently work on a book, mostly on odd weekends, I have been told by so many that I need a platform.  That means that I must amass followers and readers.  I always feel awkward when asking for others to read my work.  Larry, my husband, may be the exception. 

I like writing, but I don’t like marketing for myself.  It feels too much like my 10-year-old-self asking to be liked.  No, thank you.  I will continue to create this book on getting through difficult times with self-care tips, slowly and painstakingly.  I don’t know that I’ll get an agent or get it published. Nonetheless, I will proceed, trusting that I don’t need to be someone I’m not just to be popular.  It is not in my best interest to consider numbers rather than you, dear reader.   

Self-care Tips:

  • Affirm that you are enough.  Write “I Am Enough” on post-its and place one on a corner of your bathroom mirror, and other places you  view daily (inside a drawer, on your refrigerator door, etc.)
  • Learn a new song.  It can be easier to remember things put to music.  So learning a new song is a great way to exercise your brain.  
  • Remind yourself that bigger is not necessarily better.  When plans change and you have a smaller event (as in these past 18 months) find the sweetness in the intimacy of the experience.  

A Pandemic Birthday, Week Eighteen in the Time of Transition

A few years ago I was at a networking event when I spotted an old acquaintance.  I was happy to see her, filled with memories of the two of us with mutual friends enjoying parties, volunteering, and talks in the mid-80’s.  When I approached her and reminded her who I was, in a cold tone she responded, “Yes, I know who you are.”  I felt hurt and dismissed.  I thought about those early years in New York City when I couch-surfed and lived hand to mouth.  It was a hard time, and I was not always my best self.  I had thought warmly of this person recalling her dedication to friends and of her strong work ethic.  Her taciturn words indicated she thought less of me.  

At first I blamed myself, thinking I must have been pretty bad for her to have that reaction.  Then I thought, yeah, I may have done some crazy things, but I have worked hard to grow and change.  I thought how sad for my younger self that I put such a rude person on a pedestal.  And then I was proud of myself for my ability to appreciate the positive qualities in others.  It doesn’t mean I want to befriend everyone.  But it does mean that I can respect others and the gifts within them.  

This past week I was fortunate enough to celebrate another birthday, though new aches and pains may suggest otherwise.  The outpouring of messages and love means the world to me.  I feel abundant, filled with gratitude for friends and family who took the time to send thoughtful messages.  Taking in the goodness of all of you enriches my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.  All I know is that I am better due to you giving your best.  What good fortune to be in such good company.  I apologize to my younger self for giving authority to those who were unkind.  When we’re unseen we cannot be known.  I see you and I appreciate you with all my heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Change it up.  Donate to a new non-profit, one aligned with your values but previously not on your radar.  
  • Provide a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  We all need a lift.  
  • Forgive your younger self for making errors in judgement while he/she/they were learning how to appreciate those who appreciate us.  

My Super Power

 

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When I was in the fifth grade I had a recurrent dream that I could fly.  I was elated that I could soar past the bullies and the teasers.  I loved that they had to look up to me in my dream.  I soared in the air down Haral Place past the mailbox on my way to Stafford School.  I held onto that dream.  It gave me a sense of being special when I felt anything but special.

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But the teasing got worse in junior high.  Patty Craven howled at me as if I were a dog.  She bribed a classmate to ask me out so they could laugh at me.  She was cruel, but I took it.  I found small ways to be unkind to others, somehow justified in my low social ranking.  I wasn’t proud of my behavior.  I got myself, and an accomplice, in trouble by confessing to a teacher.  I couldn’t live with my guilt.

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It was then that I longed to be invisible so I could hear what the popular girls said about me, but they wouldn’t know I was there.  I could disappear so that I wouldn’t be inclined to emulate the bullies.  I just wanted to blend in, so that my frizzy hair and my bad complexion wouldn’t make a statement.  Or I didn’t want to be seen at all.  But, that was not to be. Once in a while I would still dream of flying, but during the day I was an obvious target.

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Being invisible seemed like the coolest super power.  Casper was a friendly ghost and he was invisible.  It was a nice power.  Samantha and her relatives could become invisible on Bewitched.  And, Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie could vanish after some mishap.  Boy, would I have loved that in school and at home before my mother punished me.

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Nonetheless, like all the mortals I’ve known, I could not make myself invisible, until now.  Forty-six year later, at the precipice of my 60thbirthday my wish has come true.  I walk down the street and must quickly side step the person coming towards me. I look at the businessman leering at the woman in front of me while unaware of my presence.  Tada, meet invisible me.

 

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On the sidewalk I’ve had gadget-frenzied individuals run into me, shocked when they hit a person who was unseen moments prior.  I can hear inappropriate conversations in ride shares because the other passengers aren’t aware that this particular unobserved person can hear their banter.  I am reading my emails on the bus when two loud friends sit next to me and continue in their outside voices, as if I am not there.

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These are the minor inconveniences.  More than anything, being invisible has its advantages.  I am no longer concerned on the days I go around with unkempt hair. My shoes are comfortable because I’m okay with someone seeing me with my walk-friendly athletic wear, understanding that most people won’t be looking at all.  There’s a delightful freedom in that.  Not only can I face the world with abandon, I observe the quirks of others in private.  So I embrace my invisibility.  Though it serves a different purpose from the wish of my 13-year-old self, I am relishing the magic of post-mid-life invisibility in the present.