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.  

Tech Unsaavy and Other Limitations, Week Eight in the New Abnormal

I don’t really understand Instagram.  I’ve heard it’s for boomers.  As a Baby Boomer, I am virtually clueless on how to navigate this social media platform.  I can send hearts to a photo, but opening attachments, or anything more than loving a post eludes me.  I keep meaning to find a tutorial I can follow, but my time is spoken for, so learning how to use Instagram stays low on my to-do list.    I post to Instagram weekly.  I’m not sure if it goes through, or if people just see pictures but can’t open the attachments.  

There have been many times in my life when I’ve had common usage issues.  Learning the Dewey Decimal system in the public library meant that I couldn’t always find what I was looking for in my formative years.  It felt like a win when I could go to the files to find whatever reading material I needed.  Wearing a silk scarf still alludes me.  Many people can carry off scarves wearing them seamless accessories.  Not me.  My knots are sloppy, and they never fall gracefully.  What would naturally enhance a Zoom frame comes so unnaturally to me.  

Circling back to Instagram, I’m not so proficient with other social media platforms, but I know the rudimentary skills and muddle along with that.  Recently I noticed the amount of energy that I spend baffled. Acting with uncertainty.   It’s tax season now and I have to pull together all my documents.  I feel unsure if I collected them all.  I’m insecure to send the needed information properly.  The unease of using Instagram or attempting to be my own bookkeeper put me off balance. 

I like to know things.  Not knowing, or living with uncertainty, has me uncertain of myself.  And that can lead me to be defensive.  Sharing a few of the many things I don’t know may allow me the freedom to either learn the ins and outs of Instagram or not.  But I don’t need to act as if I know more than I know.  My uncertainty provides a level of compassion for others.  Uncertainty provides an opportunity to learn to stay upright in a boat on choppy water.  A skill useful on the high seas or on uneven ground.  

I find it’s difficult to trust myself when I’m deep in uncertainty.  I come face to face with my vulnerability when I confront my limitations.  And living in my vulnerability brings compassion for myself and others.  Though it’s an imperfect process, I do know that when I don’t immediately hide my vulnerability by armoring with defensive behaviors.  Knowing that I don’t know opens the door to growth.  

Self-Care Tools: 

  • Ask for help when needed.  Though it may be uncomfortable, asking from a place of vulnerability allows us to receive with graciousness.  
  • What song makes you happy?  Put it on your playlist or in a bookmark so you can go to it quickly and easily.  
  • Think about some of the things that you don’t know in your life.  Rate them to see which ones are worth learning and make a plan to learn them, or accept not knowing them.  

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.  

So Long 2021, Week 35 in the Time of Transition

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2021 was so, so long.  In this last week I have little interest in reviewing this past year.  The fact that I, that we, got through it is good enough for me.  

The good news is that not looking back, at least for now, keeps me in the moment.  My quandary is whether I‘ve chosen mindfulness or denial. If I choose mindfulness, then there’s space for my denial. If I go with a state of denial, then who cares?  I will not decide.  I will opt for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” scenario.  

The effort that goes into a binary dilemma is too great.  We spend so much attention making an argument for our point of view.  The more I defend a specific position I take, the less likely I am to learn something new.  

So long, 2021.  I will not miss you.  I appreciate much from this past year.  Larry and I moved to a nicer home.  We didn’t know we could do it, yet here we are. I continue to enjoy a hybrid private practice, in-person and virtually.  365 sunrises and sunsets made for beautiful light.  Being in touch with friends and family, when possible, brought love and laughter.  Reading new essays, books, and articles enriched me.  Not finishing books, no matter how highly praised by critics, was pure relief.  And daily walks always expanded my vision.  For those and many other gifts I am grateful.  

However, having to reach to our depths to get through a full year of the pandemic unnerved most of us. Our tempers were shorter, our patience wanting. We are at the final stretch.  It’s less than a week until we ring in the new year.   For me it will be less of a new beginning than it will be a step forward.  Another step into the unknown.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take the pressure off New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.  If you have plans have fun and stay safe.  If you don’t have plans, enjoy the simplicity of staying in.  
  • Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, think of what you might like to let go of.  
  • Regift.  If what you received isn’t for you for any reason, find those around you who would appreciate it.  Or donate.  Either way, it’s a win-win.  

We Are Not Okay, Week 33 in the Time of Transition

I’m finding this holiday season to be quite odd.  On the one hand, many of us are able to travel, visit with friends and family, and celebrate the holidays in person rather than on Zoom.  On the other hand, our nervous systems have been taxed beyond what we thought possible as we forge ahead.  

I so appreciate the invitations I’ve received for in-person celebrations.  And, yet, I just don’t feel up to it.  I am less inclined to have small talk.  I like to see people, but not much is new in terms of life changes, and I don’t have the wherewithal to listen even though I’m interested.  So I sit out the parties.  Parties I yearned to attend in my 20s and 30s.  Parties I will forego in my 60s while we still cope with a pandemic.  

When we ask, “how much more can we endure?”, we’re simply given more.  Plodding ahead, a bit slower than before.  Sometimes I can delight in a small moment.  Such as walking with a friend or enjoying a chance meeting in Central Park.  Other times I am enraged by what would seem an insignificant event.  

Today my face burned as I attempted to walk around a family who abruptly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to adjust something in their stroller.  It wasn’t an emergency and they had plenty of room had they cared to walk a couple of steps moving closer to the curb. I have little patience for those who are not considerate of others.  Simple kindnesses go a long way.  I soften when someone is gentle or thoughtful.  Later in the day a neighbor helped me with a package, and I could have cried from gratitude.  Ambivalence and a general malaise have ruled these last months.  It’s kind of like a throwback to my adolescence, or maybe even menopause.  Two stages I would have preferred to leave in the past.  Yet here I am, moody and grateful.  

Self-Care Tools:  

  • Smile to a stranger.  Know that they, too, are going through a lot
  • Allow yourself to slow down.  It’s easier to make room for your feelings, your process, or anything you’re experiencing when you slow down, take a breath, and say, “In this moment this is where I am.”
  • Take a bath.  If you can, find some bath soap paint that washes away.  Create art on your body, in the tub, then wash it away.  It’s fun and it will be a reminder of the impermanence of our situation. 

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.