Balancing Act, Week Three in the New Abnormal

I keep deluding myself into thinking I know the best formula for getting through these difficult times.  I meditate twice daily.  I make sure I don’t make plans more than once a week, except in special circumstances.  I go for daily walks.  I work.  I try to make easy dinner a few times a week.  I like doing all these things.  While I’m doing them, I feel perfectly fine.  But in other moments I am short-tempered.  I am impatient.  I long for more assistance.  I understand how fortunate I am to have supportive people in my life.  But we all need extra scaffolding, and since most of us are depleted, we have less inner resources from which to give.

When I get heated, lash out, or feel deflated, I know I am far from being balanced.  I was never athletic, and I could barely do a cartwheel in gym class, but throughout school I felt comfortable on the balance beam.  Not skilled, but able to stay upright.  Now at a more advanced age, I feel at ease with balance stances on my yoga mat.  But feeling steadied after a full day of work and a few minutes facing my to-do lists is not an available option these days.  I am off-balance.  

For months on end during the pandemic I was keen on regaining whatever balance I had before.  That wasn’t working so I tried to find a new balance.  Perhaps for some that’s a possibility, but I can only speak for myself, and I was nowhere near anything I could call balanced, beam or no beam.  Now I’m not quite embracing the collective destabilizing forces, but I am doing what I can to live in it.  

Yes, walking helps.  True, carving out alone time makes a difference.  Saying no when I don’t have the wherewithal.  And saying yes when opening myself up to something out of my routine gives me renewed joy. All simple, but not always easy.  I am grateful for laughter and art as balms in this uncertain storm.  It allows me to come back to myself.  A place in which I can be kind to myself and others, understanding most of us are a bit wobbly as we try to regain our footing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Have a private Karaoke. Turn up a song and sing along loudly, releasing your inner artistic spirit. 
  • Get a small plant while practicing loving discipline.  Choose a commitment level by picking out a plant you can easily care for.  
  • Read a short story.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment without a long-term reading commitment.    

A New Abnormal, Week One in the New Abnormal

Welcome to 2022.  There are a lot of surprises in store.  I’ll be surprised along-side you.  I’m calling it the “New Abnormal” due to the fact that it’s been abnormal for awhile.  A new normal doesn’t resonate with me since there have been too many tectonic shifts these last couple of years.  Although this new abnormal is, well, new, I am no stranger to abnormal.  

When I was 9 years old I secretly played with Barbies.  Under our ping pong table in the basement, I created a world that entertained me for hours.  I quickly came to understand that my third-grade classmates were not still playing with their Barbie dolls.  At least no one admitted to it.  They had moved on to more sophisticated toys like the Zig Zag sewing machine or the totally cool walkie-talkies. But I relished my alone time away from my three siblings to do as I pleased, inventing new roles that my small dolls could inhabit.  Even later when I was to learn that Barbie was no friend to feminists, I silently appreciated those precious years when they provided me with a gateway to my creative mind.  

As much as I loved those solo hours under the table, on Sundays my Grandpop, Sam, would play ping pong with me, my Barbies far from underneath the table in the appropriate cases tucked into the basement closet.  My Grandpop was quite athletic.  When he played ping pong, he played to win.  I only learned the game by trying to keep up.  He usually won.  But he never gloated.  He was a humble man, who taught me the importance of doing a good job for oneself. 

At school I was relentlessly teased for my frizzy hair, my hand-me-down wardrobe, or my socially awkward demeanor.  To certain kids at Stafford School, I was abnormal.  It felt like an unwanted burden as a tween.  As an adult, especially in this time of Coronavirus, I have come to understand that having had a tough beginning was the introduction I needed to get through difficult times.  

As we enter 2022, we all have a sense of what it takes when the unexpected comes.  We’ve had plenty of practice these last 22 months.  Abnormal times require abnormal qualities.  I may have been unpopular playing with my Barbies, but being able to entertain myself for long periods of time in my own company has served me well.  Plus enjoying the company and sportsmanship of my Grandpop has given me an ease with quiet focus.  Let’s rejoice in what’s distinct from others.  Celebrating our inner abnormalities may just get us through this new year.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Laugh a little.  Watch a Betty White clip on YouTube or elsewhere.  
  • Clean out something simple as a signal for a fresh beginning.  It can be a drawer, a pencil holder, a room, your refrigerator or freezer, your oven or a closet.  Throw out what doesn’t serve you anymore.  If you can recycle it or repurpose it, great.  
  • In what ways have you known yourself to veer from the crowd? If it’s something that gives you pleasure and it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, allow yourself the grace to appreciate and enjoy your “inner abnormal.”

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. 

Thanks Giving & Thanks Getting, Week 30 in the Time of Transition

We’re about to ascend upon Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.  I’m grateful for a quiet dinner with Larry and a restful weekend.  I’ve been looking forward to this coming weekend since rest is usually ad hoc, and I am often trying to locate windows of opportunity to relax.  

There’s a lot written on the power of gratitude.  It’s the cornerstone of positive psychology and Western mindfulness practices.  My life has changed significantly by incorporating a daily gratitude practice.  When I was younger I felt like a victim.  I looked at hard circumstances as a reflection of my inability to manifest a better life.  It was a form of self-criticism that could be relentless.  Though I enjoyed fun times, my focus was on what I hoped to have or what I didn’t have.  Mostly it was a deprivation mindset.  And, if something good came my way but it didn’t meet my expectations, I would be crest fallen.  Needless to say this was so frustrating for those close to me. 

Now, I’ve probably moved too far in the other direction.  I acknowledge the good in my life.  However, sometimes I omit how hard it’s been.  That can feel inauthentic.  

I admit, these have been a hard couple of years.  And, within the difficulties have been beautiful walks throughout the city.  The pandemic taught me the importance of rest.  We moved.  I now have a daily view of the sun rising.  Larry and I are communicating better, thus enjoying each other more.  Our trans son, Alex, who began the medical transition a year ago, though it was many years in the making, is finding his way in the world. His transition is ongoing.  I have amazing friends.  And, I started this blog at the start of the pandemic.  I am grateful.  

It’s more of a stretch to be grateful for health concerns, expanding mental health needs in the city and in the world. I’m not grateful for growing inflation, though I do appreciate my ability to edit shopping lists by asking myself, “Do I really need this?”  What a mixed bag we’re in.  Nonetheless, if we focus on the small victories.  If we have the courage to find the good among those who are angry and dissatisfied, we can move forward rather than being held back.  Rather than imposing forced gratitude on those around us, let’s share our thanks for what they contribute to us.  Give thanks while letting other get thanks.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Simply say thank you the next time you’re complimented.  Stay with the gratitude the person or people shared while enjoying the exchange.  
  • Find small moments that bring deep satisfaction.  It can be a private moment, or it can be shared.  Either way, take it in.  Breathe.  
  • Write a Thank You note to yourself.  What has made you proud?  Can you be grateful for trying?  See if you can appreciate the positive you bring to your life.  

Don’t Get Caught With Tattered Underwear, Week 29 in the Time of Transition

I was doing my laundry last week.  While hanging my underwear on the hand dryer, I noticed the rips that must have happened over time, the time spent quietly during the pandemic.   Everything was so comfortable, so I never stopped to examine them.  And comfort has been key.  Though comfort still matters, I’ll take my underwear without rips. 

 

While I was choosing my new briefs, which I was thrilled to find on sale, I was thinking of the last time tattered undies played a role in my life.  It was 25 years ago.  I was walking to work, crossing the street when a cab turned the corner without looking.  He hit me and lifted me onto his bumper until he stopped suddenly, and I slid down onto the cold street.  

An ambulance came and checked on me.  I didn’t know I was in shock, but I wouldn’t let them take me to the hospital.  I insisted I’d go to my doctor’s office.  I went, but only after I returned home to call work.  This was before everyone had cell phones.  After I made that call, I searched through my undergarment drawer to find at least one pair that was worthy of a doctor’s visit.  I was not putting on an examining gown with torn granny panties.  Since that time, I’ve made it a point to have accident-ready underwear.  I see it as a preventative measure. 

 

The truth is I learned a lot more than to avoid torn clothing.  The accident, and the months following really taught me to take care of myself in a more conscious way.  The first steps were to heal from the accident.  Thanks to good physical therapists, medical massage therapists, an acupuncturist, medical specialists, and my psychotherapist, I got through the pain to other side.  I was lucky.  Not only did I have good insurance, I had good care.  

There was so much more to learn.  Being prepared for the unexpected was not part of my toolbox.   Through the years I’ve learned patience.  I learned how to pivot when needed.  Being flexible, even if I inwardly resist change, has been invaluable.  It took the pandemic to teach me to slow down.  Slowing down helps when the world turns upside down. It even helps as the world, step by step, turns back around, with an unfamiliar view.  

For now, getting new underwear is a fresh start in this changing world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow Down.  It seems like there’s always something to get done because there usually is.  But slowing down gives us a perspective that we don’t get when we’re speeding ahead.  
  • Ask yourself what act of kindness will help you prepare for the unexpected.  Change is a given.  Having patience and kindness for ourselves when we face the unknown brings a bit of peace when we may be inclined to stress.  
  • If you’re able, indulge in a new pair of underwear.  And, throw out one that is no longer comfortable for you.  

Funny Thing About Gratitude, Week 26 in the Time of Transition

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I find it incredibly annoying when I’m upset about a person, place, or thing, I’m on a rant, and the individual listening responds by telling me I should be grateful.  It feels like a dismissal of my complaint, valid or not, and a recommendation that I pivot to a “soft music inserted here” blissful moment when I see how lovely life is and how wrong I was to find the awful in this grand world we inhabit.  

I see the benefits of complaining.  I find it helps me to release my frustration, as well as other unpleasant emotions, so that I can find that blissful place on my own.  I am all for being inspired, but I am not a fan of skipping the messy parts so that I make it easier for someone else.  

Conversely, in moments of awe and wonder I enjoy the wave of gratitude that envelops me.  And, in times when I experience hardship and my family, friends, acquaintances and/or strangers offer their support, I am forever grateful.  Kindness is taken in and helps me to grow.  My heart softens.  

When I listen to award shows, I feel badly for the winners who only want to share their special moment by acknowledging the countless others who allowed them to reach that stage, but the orchestra music plays to interrupt them.  Though I won’t name names here, only because I am apt to miss some, I am forever grateful to my relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, therapists, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others who have shared their thoughtfulness.  It has inspired me.  Their acts of kindnesses have been invaluable whether they remember them or not.  

So, if for a short time I complain, it is only so that I can unload on my own terms, allowing me to get back to a place in which I am genuinely grateful for all the times I’ve been the recipient of your and others’ generosity of heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find a person to whom you can share your complaints.  In the absence of a neutral listener, write down your complaints so they are not swimming in circles in your brain.  
  • Remember times in which you were the recipient of arbitrary kindness.  Check in with how it feels to recollect that time.  
  • Write a thank you note.  We have lost that art, and they are so appreciated.  

Hello Sunrise, Week 25 in the Time of Transition

When I was a young child and my bedtime was 7:30, the advent of a darker evening meant that I was awake longer while the night sky became opaque.  It felt as if I was staying up later, even though I understood in theory I was going to bed at the same time.  Since the pandemic my bedtime has gotten earlier.  I go out less, plus I got older these past 19 months.  I have yet to go to bed at 7:30, but it feels easy to get into bed when it’s been dark for a few hours.  

The advantage to this is that the sun rises later giving me a chance to wake up with time for coffee and a very short walk to the East River promenade to get a picture of the morning’s dawn.  I love how frequently the light changes from moment to moment and from day to day.  While our world has changed in so many ways, I appreciate the regularity of the sun.  Even on cloudy or rainy days, the sun may not make an appearance, but trusting it resides behind the clouds gives me great comfort.  

There is a simple joy in recognizing the beauty in nature.  While a city girl at heart, getting away, or finding the green patches among the concrete, is a balm for the soul.  The cool weather sunrises, and when possible, the sunsets provide a colorful array of grace.  Those moments have been invaluable in bringing ease during these tenuous times. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.  If you don’t have a view of them, there are amazing pictures online.  Thank you to those who post such gorgeous photographs. 
  • Ground yourself by standing on grass, rocks, or other solid earthbound foundations.  Feel your feet connecting to the earth.  Stand tall so that you feel as if the crown of your head is extended from an invisible cord skyward.  
  • If your schedule permits, allow the early dark evenings to ease you into a sense of restfulness.  

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.  

Singing in the Park, Week 21 in the Time of Transition

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As a young child I delighted in our Magnavox HiFi.  I would sit on the scratchy green wool sofa in our den while listening to Rosemary Clooney.  Her album, Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children with its pink background was a clear favorite.  I loved the track, Betsy, My Paper Doll, because I was the lucky recipient of the Betsy McCall paper dolls hidden in the pages of my mother’s McCall’s Magazine.  The other song that spoke to me was The Little Shoemaker because my father was in the shoe business.  At six, it felt like Rosemary Clooney was singing to me personally.  I hadn’t realized Rosemary Clooney was an icon until years later when I watched her sing with Bing Crosby in White Christmas on the Sunday Million Dollar Movie. 

Recently I was reminded of that album while walking in Central and Carl Shurz Parks in this time of transition.  On the grass are one- and two year-olds in a safely distanced semi-circle with their caregivers listening to Broadway level singers shaking egg instruments and leading the children in song.  They are singing their hearts out to their young audiences who may or may not be singing along.  Each performer grateful for any gig as theater crawls back from being dark.  

How fortunate I was to have enjoyed the musical styling of a great songstress.  And, how lucky these toddlers are to meet up with some of the best singers from around the country. It’s not clear if it’s simply a part of their activity schedule or if the family values the influence of music in our lives.  Either way, I appreciate walking past them remembering the simple touch of my mother’s hand when placing the needle gently on the spinning album even when I asked to hear it again and again. 

In addition to Rosemary Clooney, I heard Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and many more who allude my memory, crooning through our oak HiFi.  On Sundays we listened to opera on the classical radio station.  That’s when my grandparents visited. We all sat quietly on the same itchy green sofa or love seat.  If we couldn’t be quiet, we had to go play in the basement.  I favored Puccini and Mozart.  The songs felt pretty to me.  But not having an album cover to attempt to read was a limitation that had me go to the basement after an aria or two.  

I’m not listening to enough music these days.  It’s time to open-up iTunes and delight in Rosemary Clooney and friends.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play music you used to enjoy.  Take in the memories and notice how the songs and music impact you now
  • Take a walk and see what associations you conjure.  What recollections come to mind?
  • Create new memories by sharing music with someone you respect.  If possible, listen together.  If you can’t, you can enjoy the association with the music.