Swimming on Vacation, The Fourth Week of the Second Year of the New Abnormal

I swam for an hour, my head submerged in the warm pool with tiny, wavy prisms, iridescent in the sun-drenched water.  The luxury of having a pool to myself is priceless.  Being able to move seamlessly underwater, thanks to my swimmers’ mask, allows me to stay beneath the surface, enjoying what I’d describe as a meditation in motion.  

 We’re on vacation.  That in and of itself is a gift of relaxation.  I had become rather snippy the first weeks of January, which is always a sign that I need a reset.  I’m still noticing some sharp edges that have yet to be smoothed completely, but the warm air, the sun and the tranquil atmosphere are working their magic.  

There’s a simple ease to being in the Caribbean.  Being able to swim with my mask adds a layer of delight as this vacation kneads the knots of stress from my body, mind and soul.  Sometimes in life there’s a simple fix that changes an experience from okay to wonderful.  That is true of my swimmers’ mask, a device that looks like an outer space unicorn.  It takes up the entire face, so unlike a snorkel, I can breathe just under the surface of water from either my mouth or nose.  There’s a stop at the tip of the hose at the center that prevents water from entering.  And the hose at the center means that swimmers like me can stroke our arms without hitting the tube.  All in all, I am so grateful for this wonderful addition to my swim.  

Life hacks can really help us when they make life easier or more enjoyable.  Years ago, Larry taught me that having the right tool for the right job matters.  He showed me how a well sharpened knife makes a huge difference in the joy of cooking.  Or the correct screwdriver can shorten a belabored task.  Now I have my swim mask, less a tool that a piece of equipment that provides a panoramic view of the pool or the ocean.  A few more swims and the last of the sharp edges will disappear.  At least for now.

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check to see if there’s an easier way to do your chores or activities.  A silicon spatula is helpful to scramble eggs while being gentle on your pan.  A group or family calendar is useful for scheduling.  And a small packet of wipes in your bag or car are good at any age.  
  • If you feel overwhelmed, rather than power on, take a short break.  Walk around the block, meditate, take a power nap, or stretch.  Breaks help us to refocus.  
  • When on the phone, smile while speaking.  It brightens our tone and communicates a softer nature.  

What’s For Dinner? Second Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I was preparing dinner as I do many nights.  Last night was pesto glazed salmon and garlic-marinaded skirt steak with sauteed spinach, garlic bread, and a spicy salad.  Thanks to Marion Zinn, my mother-in-law, I have the best marinade for the steak.  She was a wonderful hostess and served many delicious dishes.  Conversely, my mother would get anxious when hosting guests.  Nonetheless she deserves a shout out as an excellent baker. All three of my siblings and I have fond memories of annual birthday cakes baked from scratch, stored on a glass cake plate with an aluminum cake dome.  I used to cook and bake regularly, but as life’s responsibilities expanded, my domestic duties dwindled.   

Sometimes, though, I want to have a home cooked meal.  I shopped at the farmer’s market gathering some ingredients for dinner, and foraged the refrigerator for the rest.  Even as I began the prep work, I remained hopeful for a nice dinner.  Inevitably, by early evening, I was forgetting one thing or another, and my hope slipped to a tepid aspiration for a good enough meal.  Perhaps it’s this feeling along with my full schedule that diminishes my fondness for cooking these days.   

I realized, which might mean I’m late to the game, that planning, and subsequently serving, dinner is a process that mimics the complications of caring for oneself and perhaps others.  First there’s the consideration of taste.  What do I like?  What does Larry like?  Are there foods that appeal to us as the same time?  If not, what variations do I make?  Will I challenge myself with a new recipe or will I rely on the tried and true?  Not only does flavor matter, but so does nutrition.  I’m not a stickler that every meal meets the daily requirements of a balanced meal plan. However, I do like to have a variety of tastes, textures and basic health guidelines met.  

Now and again meals are more fly by night, others are indulgences, and more often meals are simple and easy to put together after jam-packed days.  I always enjoy good food.  I’m flexible in that I truly enjoy an array of possibilities from vegan to Omakase, and so much in-between.  I prefer local and organic, but I also shop at Trader Joe’s appreciative of their vast and changing selections.  One thing is for sure, I prefer choices, as I do in so many parts of my life.  

In getting dinner together, last night and previously, I’ve noticed the range of feelings I experience.  I start out hopeful, I have moments of frustration, periods I feel relaxed and trusting, and times I get annoyed, wishing I was being served rather than doing the serving.  And I challenge myself to get through the feelings of anxiousness closer to putting the meal on the table.  All in all, it replicates the processes I go through in other areas of my life, which include the original idea, the thought process and the execution.  So much stuffed into a quotidian endeavor.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Recipe for Marion’s marinade: ¼ cup olive oil, just less than ¼ cup cider vinegar, 3 Tablespoons or more of soy sauce, ¼ cup honey, lots and lots of chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon grated ginger (can use fresh, jarred or dry ginger if that’s what you have) Enjoy!
  • Take an everyday activity and break it down, checking in to see the array of feelings you have throughout the process.  Can you insert kindness and care when it feels uncomfortable?  Are you able to go with it when it feels pleasant?  If so, acknowledge yourself.  If not, see if you can make room for whatever comes us.  
  • Chapstick. It’s a great way to get through the winter.  Choose from a host of aromas, flavors, textures and ingredients. Find the one that’s good for you.  

So Long 2022, Year Two in the New Abnormal

Here we are as we move away from 2022 to 2023.  It’s the weekend.  It’s also a milestone in the annual calendar.  

One thing I know for sure is that as much as we hope and try, mistakes will be made this coming year.  We might prefer to forget the hardships of the last three years, but we’re still recovering.  We may want to reach new goals, or old goals yet to be achieved.  Hopefully we’ll get there, but the challenges and lessons along the way may not be easy.  As we work on being better and doing better, they’ll be disappointments and setbacks.  

Let’s create space for the unexpected.  No path forward in the real world is a straight line.  There will be rolling hills, detours, and sometimes we’ll hit a ditch.  We may have to spend more time on life lessons, even when we think we already know the answer.  

Let’s be curious about what’s ahead.  Let’s be courageous as we ease into the journey that will be 2023.  I plan to finish a book that’s halfway done but with no contract yet.  I’ve been challenged and am learning new ways to work full time, care for myself, and reach this goal.  My expectations of myself have been unrealistic causing me to doubt myself.  But I will forge on.  

It turns out that I have mistaken being busy for being productive.  As I face the new year, I will continue to tease out this issue so that I may finish this book without sacrificing my well-being.  It will take courage to work through this. The courage of grit.  And the courage of forging my own path.  My book is on courage in therapy and in life.  So, it’s only fitting that I will harness whatever courage I need to complete my goals.   

The courage of vulnerability was required to share this about myself.  A good way to open new doors to start off 2023, even if it leaves me feeling a bit scared.  I’m hopeful we’ll all find our innate courage to be kind, caring and compassionate with ourselves and one another.  It’s easy to fly off the handle, as we’ve repeatedly witnessed this last year.  Let’s do the necessary work to soothe ourselves so we can face the road ahead.  It’s an imperfect journey, but if we learn from our mistakes, and learn from one another, we will grow exponentially.  

Wishing all of us a healing year of personal and global well-being in 2023.   

Self-Care Tools:

  • Be curious.  We learn so much more when we don’t get stuck on assumptions.  With curiosity we open up our hearts and find compassion rather than getting jammed-up because we have to be right.  
  • Find your courage of vulnerability by sharing something about yourself that may be risky but also will feel freeing.  It can be something as simple as saying “I’m scared,” or as uncertain as admitting you don’t know something.  
  • Take one small actionable step towards something you want.  You could start a savings account even with $5 for a future vacation, or for another aspiration.  You could clean out a drawer as a way of beginning to create order.  Whatever it is make sure it’s doable.  It may be challenging, or you think “what difference will this make?” Nonetheless, small steps lead to big goals.  

Emotions During the Holidays, Week Fifty in the New Abnormal

I was in an emotional tailspin earlier this week.  I could tell I wasn’t in the right headspace as I kept thinking of past mistakes I’ve made, times I’ve previously hurt friends, and ways in which I had poor judgement. I was not coming out a champ.  More like a chump.  The negative barrage is not unfamiliar, but it happens less often than in former years.  By Tuesday, I knew that I needed to clear my head so there’d be space for self-care and kindness.  Luckily, I had my weekly therapy session.  

I became a therapist 25 years ago because of the help I received in therapy.  I learned a lot about myself, sometimes painfully conscious of how my choices perpetuated circumstances I had wanted to change.  Yet, year after year life got better.  So much so that I came to value mental well-being. While the descriptions of being overly sensitive in my family and social life were seen by others as detrimental traits, they are the very qualities that ensure I’m in the right field.  

My self-criticism earlier this week was important because it not only told me to continue to do the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to be less judgmental to myself and others, but it was also a reminder of the depth of condemnation I internalized. 

As we carry on through this holiday season, we will find it imperfect.  There will be lovely moments, as there was when I walked past the Rockefeller Christmas tree late at night.  But there will be times when we’re stressed, when we feel as if we’re not enough, or when we might be disappointed with failed plans, substandard gifts, or family members acting out.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves in those moments, perhaps we can all give ourselves the gift of benevolence.  Let’s give ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt.  We got through a pandemic, we’re still dealing with its aftermath, and there’s a big push from retailers and social media for these holidays to be fabulous.  

Let’s settle for being real rather than make believe.  There may be flaws in the realness, but there will also be true joy for accepting what is. 

Self-care tips:

  • Get a post-it pad and write “I am Enough” on as many pages as you want to post.  Put it inside your medicine cabinet, on the fridge, in your sock drawer, in your wallet.  Write it on your calendar.  Remind yourself throughout the day that yes, indeed, you are enough.  
  • Rather than trying to let things go, see if you’re able to think about letting it be.  It doesn’t mean you’re not working on it, or you’re helplessly accepting something that is bothersome, it’s just that by letting things be, we don’t have to take an immediate action.  We are not required to DO anything, which is a way of giving yourself a break.  
  • Do something for someone else that is anonymous.  It’s a gift to yourself to be happy to give freely without any need or expectation for something in return.  

Arrgg, Change; Week Forty-Seven in the New Abnormal

A couple of days ago I installed an iPhone update.  I find this new format annoying.  I get it, things change.  But sometimes the changes come all at once and too fast.  I just wasn’t ready for a new change, small as it is.  

I often hear from spiritual leaders, meditation teachers and self-care gurus that change is inevitable.  Just this week I was listening to Dan Harris and Anushka Fernandopulle speak of the impermanence in life on the Ten Percent Happier App.  I meditated in it.  And I was as calm as I could be following each mediation.  The idea of impermanence is appealing.  It helps us accept whatever comes our way.  At least that’s my philosophical take.  But when I encounter change in real life, as much as I apply the concept of perpetual change, the reality feels very different.  

One would think that my spontaneous side would embrace change.  And when it’s a small change, I’m okay.  But when it’s a small change like an iPhone update in a time of big changes, it feels less okay.  I’ve been agitated.  I overshare.  Truthfully, it’s more over-complaining than sharing.  And my self-care is more on the impulsive side rather than a thoughtful consideration of what’s needed given these changes.  

As we shift into holiday mode, which can upend our regular routines, I will do my best to be patient with myself.  Yes, change is inevitable, and living with change is unescapable. Feeling my irascible emotions while going through change is my challenge.  I’ll do my best to bring patience and kindness in those moments.  And, when I don’t, I will have many more opportunities to learn how to cope with kindness since change will predictably show up again and again.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • As the holidays approach, make a list of what you enjoy most and what you can change that will bring some ease to the holidays.  Feed the joy of the season, while letting go of the parts that rob you of that joy.  
  • Remember to thank those who have been generous of heart.  Sometimes small acts make a huge difference.  Saying thank you perpetuates kindness.  
  • When feeling frustrated or upset in the face of a change, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself what you need.  If you’re able to give that to yourself, great.  If not, then see if there is anything else that will bring ease at that particular 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.  

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.  

Compassion vs Disregard, Week Twenty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Thurgood Marshall said, “The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”  Yet what I’ve experienced in the last months and perhaps years is an eroding of compassion and care for others. So many are getting annoyed with others, some acting out in ways that are harsh and harmful.  This preponderance of disregard for other’s human frailties is hurtful to all of us. 

I am not immune to a general sense of annoyance for people that aren’t mindful of others.  After having a negative emotional reaction I spend time and effort to bring caring kindness to myself and work on having compassion for those who bother me the most.  It’s an imperfect process.  Nonetheless I find it helpful.  

The pandemic, plus many social and financial inequities have left us feeling burdened.  And when we look for support, it can be hard to come by since many of us are among others who also feel burdened.  

I don’t know that there is a perfect solution, though I wish there was.  What I do know is that the more vulnerable to others’ ire I feel, the less I have access to inner resources that help me get through tough times. Therefore, having patience with myself, doing my best to be thoughtful to others, and staying connected with and expressing compassion help me get through my days, especially when I encounter insensitivity from others.  

Perhaps this is the time we can move from a disheartening crisis of callousness to bring forth a much-needed time of compassion.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try the RAIN (Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identity) mindfulness practice.  You can find it on Tara Brach’s site, or at Mindful.org
  • Practice loving-kindness meditation.  You can find it at SharonSalzberg.com, YouTube or at Mindful.org
  • When you have the thought, “What’s wrong with me?” or What’s wrong with you?”  Rather than answering that question which has negative implications, ask, “What is happening now?”  or, “What am I experiencing?” These questions open up an inquiry, and are gentler when things are difficult.  

Welcome Spring, Week Twelve in the New Abnormal

Hello spring, you couldn’t come soon enough.  We’ve all needed to lighten our loads. And what better way to start than by taking off our parkas?   Like the shining moon hidden under the clouds, you’ve come from behind the cold for renewed hope.  

The warmer weather feels like a gift.  Being able to meet friends outdoors has been invaluable.  Being comfortable because it’s no longer freezing, simply warms my heart.  Walking this past week felt like a welcomed activity as if I haven’t been walking all along.  Nonetheless, there’s an ease with Spring in the air.  The city comes alive.  The quiet streets are now a recent memory.  

It can be a fickle season.  Rain is abundant, storms are coming, and the warmth can be fleeting.  But for today, I am grateful for the simple pleasure of Spring.  

Self-Care Tools

  • Clean Your Windows.  Spring cleaning is a great start to the season.  
  • Take a walk and see the new blooms
  • Grow herbs and/or flowers on your windowsill, in your garden, or even in a pot on a table.  It helps to connect with nature, wherever you are.