Life is Beautiful, Living is Hard; Week Thirty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I woke up this morning to a stunning sunrise.  I slept well and was in a better mood than I had been the last couple of days.  Sunrises bring hope.  They help me to begin the day with gratitude.  The day is lovely.  It’s warm enough to avoid outwear, but cool enough to enjoy the breezes on my walk.  The outdoor cafes are filled with happy brunch diners.  The city is moving along nicely.

Even so, as I appreciate the days, I am also struck by the enormity of personal pain and struggle we have had to endure.  Some are dealing with illnesses, others chronic conditions, still others are doing what they can to manage mental illness for themselves and loved ones.  If that weren’t enough, there are financial concerns, and there are individual hardships.  Too many people are bullying others because they can’t soothe their own pain.  Others are simply unable to sit with uncomfortable feelings, so they act out, scaring others. 

I notice that I’m more sensitive these days.  Loud noises, and there are many, especially the raucous cars and motorcycles in the city which startle me again and again.  I feel like my radar is on high alert since there are more vehicles including dirt bikes, scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and racing bikes, as well as cars whose drivers don’t abide by traffic lights.   

I feel so fortunate for good friends, family, and amazing work colleagues and clients.  I still love New York City, despite the cacophony that pollutes my ears.  Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of the everyday difficulties we endure, whether we live in or outside a city.  It’s been tough.  We can take refuge in those glorious moments when we gaze upon a sunrise or sunset.  We can enjoy a good laugh.  And we can be moved by the courage we witness.  It doesn’t take away the hardships, but it does give us a little something so we can continue forward in our beautiful and hard world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stop.  Sometimes we forge ahead and forget that a break will help us in the long run.
  • When you feel that you’re at your breaking point, step away.  Even if you can simply take a few breaths, create a small space between you and your inner pain.  
  • Keep it simple.  It’s easy to blame ourselves when things go wrong.  Instead simply identify that it’s a hard moment, and if you hear a critical thought, simply say, that’s a thought, I will not add it on to this difficult time.  

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.  

Scaffolding, Week Thirty-Four in the New Abnormal

Pre-Covid, I took a wonderful writing workshop with Emily Raboteau at the Key West Writer’s Workshop.  Not only was it a beautiful setting, but the guest speakers and the workshop itself were invaluable.  One thing Professor Raboteau taught us was the necessity of proper scaffolding to support the writing.  It took time, but I built my scaffolding.  It’s been more precarious than proper, but I worked with the materials at hand and I’m finding my way.

In terms of all types of scaffolding, New York City brick buildings must be inspected every five years.  If they need to have new bricks to replace the old, scaffolding goes up and the work begins.  Such is the case for our apartment building.  It’s a messy job that clogs air conditioners and gets dust between closed windows.  Nonetheless, safety comes first.  I’m hopeful the scaffolding is safe for the workers and protective for pedestrians.  Though It adds a dark, ominous feeling coming from and arriving home.  

Even so, as the many workers toil in the August heat laboring their way around the building, it has brought to mind the importance of creating scaffolding, not only for writing and edifices, but for our lives.  Supportive friends and family are great members of our scaffolding.  But the care we can provide ourselves is essential. Sometimes I do a better job than when I’m avoiding my feelings, or caught in anger, resentment, or victimhood.  Walking, meditating, reading, delicious, nourishing meals, are some of the nuts and bolts of my scaffolding.  Writing has become part of the foundation.  Laughing is a daily essential, though I forgot my sense of humor last night.  

I’m glad I noticed that so I can fix it today.  Just as the buildings in the city need inspection and improvements, my precarious scaffolding requires daily upkeep. Perhaps after a good cry, I’ll dance today bringing in music, while laughing aloud.  My scaffolding makes room for emotional variations.  Feeling those emotions is a crucial element of my scaffolding.   Let the progress continue…

Self-Care Tools:

  • List what elements of scaffolding you already have in your life.  Then add small supports that will augment your list.  
  • Remember to laugh whenever you can.  And, if you lose your sense of humor, do whatever helps to bring it back.  It will lighten your perspective
  • Thank workers for what they do.  Our lives are supported by all those who successfully do their jobs.  

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 Winter of Our Discontent, Week Seven in the New Abnormal

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 The weather these past few days lightened our moods.  With colder temperatures and snow today we may slip back to a shared discontentment.  A week ago the general agitation was palpable.  Wide-ranging reactivity was pronounced.  Small misunderstandings caused friction.  And this was among strangers.  Relationships have been strained.  Most are not able to keep up with inflation. Families are under-resourced, overly tired, and living with ongoing exasperation.  Those who live on their own have bouts of loneliness, especially because the difficulty in getting together with others while Omicron was at its height kept socializing at bay.

Distress seems to be the mood of the moment.  It’s been tiresome to put plans on hold again and again.  Reactivity is at an all-time high.  Patience is worn thin.  Frustration and annoyance are way too common.  So many are at their wit’s end trying to figure out a way ahead.  

For a good number there is a relief that the mask mandates have loosened.  For others it adds a new layer of fear. There’s the fantasy that we’ll get back to normal.  But we are not going back in many ways.  Whatever is ahead of us remains to be seen. And that can be scary.  

Though it may take a good amount of time to recover physically and emotionally from all we lost these last couple of years, we can find pockets of hope and joy in the present.  Yesterday I was helped by a thoughtful salesperson at a hardware store.  In a time when customer tolerance is more prevalent than customer service, his assistance brightened my day.  Smiles from strangers have taken on a new worth.  And the unexpected generosity of friends has been priceless.  I will be taking in any and all acts of kindness Now more than ever those moments provide the light that moves us forward.  

Self-Care Tips: 

  • Rub your hands together until you create heat, then gently place them on your eyes.  This can provide a soothing moment. 
  • Sing yourself a lullaby at night to lovingly put yourself to sleep.  
  • Try a new toothpaste.  It will help awaken you in the morning since it’s an unfamiliar flavor.  

20th Anniversary, Week 20 in the Time of Transition

I’m teary this weekend.  It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11.  As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks.  I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar.  I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view.  There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.  

I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed.  Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response.  I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives.  Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.  

I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared.  There was a common grace for others.  Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy.  Their love of our shared country unacknowledged.  On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness.  On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.  

So much sadness, so much anxiety.  Both defined the days and months that followed.

  

Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems.  Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that.  The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems.  Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.    

It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions.  With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others.  I cried today.  I could have gone on the defensive.  Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance.  So many moments leading to big changes. 

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on.  Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself.  Perhaps a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Stretch.  It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.  
  • Read a child’s book or poem aloud.  Read it in a voice other than your own.  Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.  

Pandemic Envy, Week 47 in the Time of Coronavirus

Pandemic Envy, Week 47 in the Time of Coronavirus

We have become accustomed to the average pandemic envy like seeing those who prepare feasts as a way to get through this time of Coronavirus.  Many of us have felt jealousy for acquaintances in larger homes.  The more exhausted have longed for the energy cited in posts of new hobbies or accomplishments.  Some parents envy those with no children, or those with safe help for their families.  A number of people who feel alone have been envious of those who post happy couple or family portraits.  Individuals who feel trapped with their families begrudge others who they imagine live blissfully alone.  Now add to that the newer vaccine envy.  

Without distractions I’m able to feel my emotions strongly.  Sometimes this can be therapeutic.  I can soothe myself if I’m agitated, or enjoy the moment when calm is present.  However, there are other times when I look for diversions.  It’s not easy to feel everything all the time, and even more so in this time of the Coronavirus.  When I do look away at distracting social media posts, I find myself envious of how some others are getting through the pandemic.  

How do they find time to workout so much? Their meals look amazing.  Why aren’t they sharing how hard this is?  How is it they are thriving in ways I can only imagine?  These are some of thoughts I’ve had.  I understand that what I see and read on social media and in print is merely one sliver of what another is experiencing.  I wish I could appreciate all that I have and simply be happy for them.  Alas, I am still working on that.  

More recently, there have been many instances when individuals have shared that they got their vaccines, only to be met with others who are desperate to receive theirs.  The rollout has been anything but equitable.  Many are working at essential jobs and are not able to log in repeatedly to obtain a prized time slot.  Others found their dates were cancelled.  The ongoing uncertainty fuels vaccine envy.  If you feel vaccine envy, you’re not alone.  Hopefully all of us who want the vaccine can get them soon so we can move on from fear to well-being.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Snuggle.  If you have a pet and they are amenable, snuggle with them.  If not, snuggle with a willing partner, or find a stuffed animal to snuggle.  You’re never too old.  Or, if you prefer, a cozy blanket, comforter or pillow can stand in as a snuggle item.  
  • When feeling envious, slow down and name some things for which you are grateful.  
  • If you feel vaccine envy, if you have the time, investigate what sites are opening up spots, then share it with others.  In NYC there is: vaccinepod.nyc.gov and www.somosvaccinations.com.  
  • Dress in layers for the cold weather.  If you’re able, wear glove liners and thermal or silk underwear.  
  • Use hand and body cream.  It’s great for the cold weather and rubbing yourself with the cream is a soothing act. 

Boy, Oh, Boy, Week 44 in the Time of Coronavirus

Yesterday I hit the wall.  Before I lost all steam, I had lofty plans.  I had research to do.  There is always cleaning and organizing.  I was behind on my writing.  Yet, by the time I was three fourths of the way through a walk in Central Park, I felt as if I was dragging my leaden legs on the southern arc of the Reservoir.  When I finally reached home, I couldn’t get my sweats on fast enough.  Then Lucy had to go out.  I love her, and also dearly wished there was someone else who would have taken her out.  I was able to speak with a friend from the other coast, and that gave me a pleasurable energy shot.  Though life in California is as fraught as it is in New York and throughout the world. 

This past week brought to the forefront the negative results of anger and hate.  Those are human experiences, but when those feelings are unchecked, then further fueled, they become destructive.  I hope we can learn from this, rather than take sides with defensive righteousness.  I certainly see how my own unexamined anger hurts Larry, Alex and probably others.  Once I see that I’ve hurt them, I have to consider what changes I can make so that we share joy rather than pain.  It’s an ongoing process of patience and kindness mixed with tools to calm my agitated soul.  

Was it possible that I had no energy to calm myself after Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol?  That played a part in my exhaustion, nonetheless, having witnessed it from afar, it’s not the only reason.  From what I’ve heard I am not alone in running out of steam in this time of Coronavirus.  We are all frayed.  We have been faced with challenges that have pushed us beyond our known limits, while still having to conduct our lives on a daily basis.  

I imagine yesterday’s pause was essential.  It meant I missed attending my first Zoom party.  It was only this morning that I even remembered that it was last night.  I think of my friends and family daily.  I so appreciate what they are doing to brighten others’ lives.  Though it’s an internal reflection since I rarely reach out these days, I am grateful that they are in the world and in my thoughts.  

Here we go into another week.  What will it bring?  We’ll see.   For me, I plan to get more rest.  I’m hopeful that will make room for added patience and kindness. 

Self-Care

  • Light a candle.  Whether it’s a small birthday candle or a luxurious scented candle, light a candle to brighten these dark winter nights.  
  • Compliment someone.  It’s easy to think nice thoughts, but it’s invaluable for someone to hear that you noticed.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes we see things we would have otherwise missed. 
  • Go for a walk, short or long, it can be an essential calming tool
  • Pause.  Check your breath and survey your body.  Coming back to ourselves, even 30 seconds at a time, is another way of acquiring calm. 

Boredom, Week 21 in the Time of Coronavirus

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It felt so nice to find expanded trails on Randall’s Island yesterday.  The monotony of life during the Coronavirus can be stifling.  Though I walk daily, finding fresh paths and unseen sights has been challenging.  And, to find them in places that are free from others is nearly impossible in the city.  But I persevere as if it’s a made-up game to challenge the norm.

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I’m coming up with a lot of private games.  Can I meditate and let my thoughts pass by or will I go on a tangent and then find myself caught between my imagination and the present moment?  Will I be able to find an isolated spot in the city and take a deep breath without my mask on because no one is around?  Will I be able to employ grace in giving another the benefit of the doubt, or will I be judgmental?  I am always the winner of these games.  I am either humbled, understanding that I am still growing.  Or, I was able to accomplish it in that moment, understanding that I will be playing that game again with no guarantee of same outcome next time around.

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I hear so often how bored we are.  When we don’t have our go-to activities it can feel boring to face the void.  There are a lot of theories about boredom.  Some experts think that acting out of boredom is a way to incite problems that give us something to focus on.  Others think underneath boredom is anger.  Still other experts postulate that boredom connotes a lack of purpose.  All are understandable while our world confronts Covid-19.

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We miss getting together with friends and family.  Many miss public gatherings.  Others miss going out.  Naturally there’s a lot we miss.   The pandemic has been a time of losses.  Too many have lost their lives, others their health, a great many their livelihoods.  And most everyone misses a sense of safety.

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The upside of boredom is the opportunity it provides for innovation.  We are in a position to discover ourselves anew.  We may find out things about ourselves we never recognized.  For instance, I always thought of myself as an active individual.  I liked being busy.  Though I, along with so many psychotherapists are busier than ever, I am resting more, making down time a priority.  Or, we may find hidden corners of the city’s parks that allow us to move freely.  Or, we find out that our value is not about what we have or what we do, but by how we live our lives.  And, we can only discover these personal truths by living through the boredom.

 

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Self-care Tips

  • Find a quarantine concert. There are so many from Eryka Badu to Nora Jones and Norm Lewis.  com has a list.  And, this link was in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/arts/music/best-quarantine-concerts-livestream.html.  There are so many more.  Check out pages from your favorite artists or genres.
  • The wonderful charity MIND has a 24-hour free helpline: 800-123-3393, this is a mental health hotline for those who are experiencing depression & anxiety.
  • Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than expecting them to behave a certain way, see if you can open yourself up for another possibility.
  • I just heard this adage: If it’s hysterical it’s historical. When you’re feeling something deeply it can be a personal kindness to think of it as a way of working through something from your past that still plays a role in your emotional well-being.
  • Give yourself permission to change your mind.  Giving our word matters.  Yet there are times when we are not up to doing what we committed to doing.  You can then change your mind.  More often than not the other person will feel relieved with the cancelled plans, to

What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.