A Week in the Country, Week Seven in the Time of Transition

It’s heading towards dusk this Saturday evening.  We’ve left the city for a short stay in the Catskills.  The air Is fresh, the bird songs ever present.  Our arrival was greeted by running ground hogs.  On my walk of the vast property, I saw a leaping buck, ducks, yellow, blue and black with red birds.  It feels good to have left the endless concrete for greener pastures.  I love New York City and have no desire to reside anywhere that requires driving to get from one spot to another.  Though taking a road trip is a nice change of pace. 

This time of transition has been a bit overstimulating.  I may not be doing the same amount as I had pre-pandemic, but my mind is swimming in new choices.  And I’m not alone in that.  That is why this time away from my everyday environment is so helpful.  I may still be overthinking new possibilities, but I am doing it from afar. In this regard, I am not also looking at every corner seeing something I have yet to do or didn’t even know needed doing. 

I am processing and resting in turns.  Finishing this after a night’s sleep, this morning is foggy.  I had wanted a colorful sunrise, but instead was left with a misty grey.  Soothing rather than exciting.  Tomorrow rain is upon us.  It will literally dampen our plans for hiking.  Instead, I may cook, do some yoga, and write.  Ease rather than activity.  I am not always a go with the flow kind of gal.  I like to have plans, mapping out a way to accomplish them.  But these two days away give me the opportunity to move away from old habits and adapt to my surroundings.  A new lesson in the transition. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Take yourself out of the clipped pace of your every day and see what that space provides
  • Create something out of leftovers.  Give yourself a new take on an old dish. 
  • Write a list of what you want to maintain from the lock-down, and come up with ways in which you can institute them as things continue to open up. 
  • Go to https://janetzinn.com to sign up for my quarterly newsletter.

Foggy, Week 57 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s foggy this morning.  How apropos for these times.  Our minds are foggy. Well, mine is.  By the end of any given day I have limited access to names and words.   If I want to relax in the evening, I’m challenged to remember one of a number of shows I enjoy watching.  

It also seems foggy when we think of moving forward.  We are slowly making our way back to a life previously known.  I’d love to travel, dine out, enjoy theater. Yet, I am more cautious now, valuing health and safety over social luxuries.  Presently, travel consists of walking to Central Park.  Though today I moved through the fog to Randall’s Island where I soon got lost. It was a bit of a challenge not being able to find my bearings since distance visibility was obliterated by low clouds.  

In general, this morning’s walk is very much how I’m getting through these days in the time of Coronavirus.  I can’t see anything in the distance so I’m reliant on what is right in front of me.  What’s right in front of me is quite simple.  I work. I write. I prepare simple meals. I eat.  Larry and I laugh, when I’m not being defensive or critical.  I walk. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I take out my bike.  Every morning I meditate.  Every night I sleep, lucky if I do it well enough.  Of course, there are other things that fill in my days, but my brain is foggy, and I can’t think of much more now. 

As the haze of the pandemic continues to blanket our days, we will take one step at a time to find our way to safer ground.  Are we there yet?  No.  But we’re steps closer.  Given all we’ve been through, we can trust our ability to persist through the mist.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Nostalgia! Throwback to another time.
  • Listen to music you enjoyed at a younger age
  • Play a game that used to be fun for you.
  • Find scents that elicit positive memories, whether it’s from a bakery, a freshly mowed lawn, or from a family member’s fragrance tray.  

Individualism, Week 58 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been confused.  I thought I knew myself. Instead, who I knew was a woman who was highly influenced by the world around me.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn’t representative of the totality of me.  We’ve all been there.  Whether we’re enticed by a product commercial, or whether we want to join in on experiences with those who surround us, we make choices based on an outside influence.  Sometimes this works to our advantage.  I’ve visited beautiful places based on recommendations.  I’ve also spent a good amount of money on things I didn’t need, and ultimately didn’t want.  

There are some things that have been a constant.  I knew what I liked, theater, work, blueberry crumb muffins.  I knew what I didn’t like, loud noises like relentless car horns in stuck traffic, or people who take up the entire sidewalk making it impossible to pass.  Nothing has changed on those fronts.  I have noticed that I like a lot more now, though, than my previous short list.  

I like my garden much more than in the past.  I’m enjoying it more, too.  I’m a squeamish gardener at best.  For some reason getting my hands dirty is not fun for me.  For instance, as much as I love lobster, I am no fan of pulling it apart to secure the tender meat.  But choosing flowers and enjoying a small and rare patch of green in the city is as good as it gets while I find my way back into the larger world.  

I’m also much more appreciative of the small things.  Kindness, whether from a friend who reaches out, or a stranger who keeps a door open, mean so much to me.  I am grateful for Alex’s late night texts filled with bad jokes, and lots of love.  I am grateful that Larry washed the dishes last night after a long day at work.  He did it without me asking, or even before I could complain that I had one more thing to do. 

There are many things that I would not have known about myself had the world not changed drastically.  Surprisingly, birds have been nice to see.  In the past I appreciated the bright red cardinals I’d pass, but I was nonplussed by other avian varieties.  Now, when walking in the park I look up to see all sizes and colors of birds, enjoying the brief siting as I move through the now leafy spaces.  Most importantly to me, I’m not missing the many activities that defined my evenings.  I assumed I’d be bored if I did less.  Not so. I am better rested.  I feel more grateful.  Letting go feels easier.  

An unexpected benefit of this time of Coronavirus is being untethered from much of the external influences.  Other than Netflix, along with other cable programming, choices are limited.  That’s helped me and others make choices that feel personally authentic.  It allows for a freedom we didn’t know possible.  Our worlds grew smaller, and our hearts expanded.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find something in your drawers you forgot you have but brings a smile.
  • Take a private moment to enjoy something that is fun for you, it could be dancing alone, singing in the shower, or drawing. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not.  
  • Get out in the sun and take in the vitamin D.  

Hello Again, Spring, Week 56 in the Time of Coronavirus

This past week proved to be particularly challenging for so many of my clients, as well as friends and colleagues.  Walking through the city brings a needed brightness as the early signs of Spring appear.  The warm air feels fresh.  The cooler air keeps the parks emptier.  Either has its benefits.  

Though we’ve become accustom to our pandemic routines, it seems unbelievable that we’re beyond a year in the time of Coronavirus.  As with all things far-fetched, it takes time and repetition to integrate the reality of these circumstances.  We got through the past year (plus a few weeks) by imagining a time beyond the pandemic.  At present, though, we’re left with an uncertainty that belies our peace of mind.  

I am counting on the same anchors to continue getting through this.  The sun rises every day.  When I’m awake in time, I go to the East River to start my day.  The beauty envelops me, and I let it.  Though I don’t get a good view of sunsets, I do appreciate the changing lights at dusk that I witness when facing west.  And I always appreciate the photographs of others’ sunsets when posted.  

Then there’s meditation.  Some days it’s as if I’m being lifted up.  Other mornings meditating feels like a long time to be with a racing mind.  Similar with a gratitude journal.  Some days my heart is open, and then there are the days when I have to push for appreciation of simple things.  I have so much for which to be grateful, but exhaustion and a hazy mood sometimes get the better of me.  

We’ve learned a lot during this time.  Though I adore the city, it has been nature that grounds me, providing peace and joyful moments.  I have learned the importance of rest.  Prior to March 2020, I took advantage of all the city had to offer.  I lived by the Warren Zevon credo, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”  Now I’m sleeping, napping, being still, resting, or simply, taking it easy to enjoy living, as best I can.  

This year has slowed me down.  There is still so much to get done, but my to do list is less important than listening to friends and family, doing the work I love, and looking up at the sky.  Glad that Spring is in the air.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • * Take a break.  Sometimes stepping away is the best choice.
  • * Find a small smooth stone to rub when you need soothing.
  • * Try flavored salts.  They add another dimension to dishes.
  • * When noticing a behavior or habit you don’t like, rather than judge, ask what might be happening that prompted the behavior, and bring compassion.
  • * Look up at the sky and enjoy the sun, the clouds, the stars and the moon.  

You Never Know, Week 46 in the Time of Coronavirus

Sometimes I find myself quick to judge.  I hear a whiny individual at a Zoom meeting, and I silently groan.  I also know that there have been times, and I chance to say there are still times, in which I am the one who warrants another’s groan.  In my more open-minded moments, I remember that everyone is trying the best they can.  We are all going through this pandemic, and there’s nothing easy about that.   But there are other times when my exhaustion and impatience take over and I am unforgiving of anyone who annoys me from the selfishly maskless to virtual-meeting squeaky wheels. 

Something I’ve noticed recently in my professional and personal life is how instantaneously we are to jump from one emotional state to another.  As quick as I am to criticize and sigh, I am equally swift to be moved by others’ suffering now.  When I open up to the sheer humanity of getting through each day in this time of Coronavirus, it is awe inspiring.  

Not only are we plodding as best we can day in and day out, but so many have faced hardships that would bring tears to our eyes if we only knew.  But we do not know.  It’s easy for me to judge someone based on my own needs and preferences.  In those moments I forget that they are struggling in their own way, as I grapple with life in my way.  

I have heard people imagine how much easier it is for others.  I have listened to their envy.  What I do know is that while others may enjoy specific circumstances, they are not immune to suffering.  No one is completely protected from the world’s ills.  Let’s try to tease out our opinions from our innate compassion.  They do not have to be mutually exclusive.  I will probably continue to remain judgmental in certain ways.  Nonetheless, I hope to remember not to take myself too seriously.  I hope to remember others live with a story that would take my breath away.  We all live with our stories.   

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write positive affirmations on post-it notes and place them on shelves, in drawers and in cabinets.  This way you get positive messages throughout your home.  Examples of positive affirmations are, “You matter,” “Focus on your gifts,” or “You’re awesome.”
  • Create an avatar for your anxiety.  When you have racing thoughts, or anxious thinking, draw or digitally create an avatar.  Like in a comic book, have the avatar say the things you’re thinking.  In this way, it places the anxious thoughts outside of you, making them potentially easier to address.  
  • If you listen to the news, try reading it for a day.  See if it feels differently to read about current events rather than being told. 
  • Set an alarm on your calendar to laugh.  Find something funny on YouTube, read a joke, or enjoy a cartoon.  We all need a daily laughter break.
  • When you judge another, also leave space in your mind to appreciate that the person has his/her/their own struggles.  

What We Don’t Know, Week 45 in the Time of Coronavirus

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure that the judge I watched numerous times on Law and Order was Fran Lebowitz.  It looked like her, but was she a doppelganger, or was she, in fact, the writer?  After watching “Pretend it’s a City,” Martin Scorsese’s excellent (in my opinion) docu-series of Fran Lebowitz, I was happy to learn that, yes, it was her as Judge Janice Goldberg in the original Law & Order. 

The short series on Netflix was a delightful, laughter-filled escape from current events this past week.  I learned a lot, evaluated my own thinking, and admired FL’s ability to speak her personal truths, thoughts I often have, but don’t share aloud.  Somehow the cable show also had me pondering on the wonder of all I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how I arrived at that thought trend, but once there, my mind wandered endlessly to all that is yet to be explored.  I’m not speaking of subjects that vaguely interest me, but not enough to occupy my time, like physics or economics.  I’ll leave that to the experts. Then I’ll simply read their selective theories.  I’m more thinking about what curiosities I can discover in a day, or in a new place, or with those who think differently than myself.  Am I willing to let go enough to be in awe of the newness of an experience, much like a young child?  I’m willing to try.  I’ll see how it goes.  If nothing else, I’ll learn more about my curiosity or lack thereof.  

I can’t say I was in child-like wonderment whilst I tried to learn two new computer programs today.  It was more like initial confusion followed by adult frustration.  My curiosity quickly morphed into baffled exasperation.   Though I wasn’t as open as I would have liked, I was able to marvel at my reaction, and my limited ability to take in perplexing information.  I will try again briefly today, but it appears I need more time and energy to learn these programs.  May I say that the tutorials for both wrongly claim the ease in which one can get them up and running.  What I didn’t fully appreciate before is that I cannot rely on old knowledge to magically create aptitude for new skills.

It helped to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to launch the programs. Though I was hoping not being able to master the first program, I could figure out the second one.  Not having the bandwidth to take in anything new happens more now in the pandemic.  And, if that’s not enough, even old facts leave me with limited mental access.  If I once knew something but can’t recall it at a particular time, I’m more embarrassed than if I never knew it at all.  Or, if I am familiar with a topic, but know no specifics about said topic, I’ve been reluctant to admit that.  I am happy to eschew that behavior by proudly admitting all I don’t know.  I certainly don’t know how this will go, but I’m curious to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll reread Fran Lebowitz’s essays.

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Admit that you don’t know something. It’s better to learn by not knowing than to be uncertain of what you might know.  
  • Make room for making mistakes, it’s bound to happen, and it helps us grow.  
  • Shape recommendations or suggestions to accommodate your life rather than shaping your world to acclimate to specific advice. 
  • Watch Netflix’s “Pretend it’s a City,” or something else true to your sense of humor.  
  • Place a light fragrance on your wrist, sniff it periodically, to get you through tough times. 

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. 

Cautiously Optimistic, Week 43 in the Time of Coronavirus

Is this really a Happy New Year?  Yes, we survived 2020.  And, yet, recalling how happy we were to be in a new decade just a year ago, we are constantly reminded of the unexpected turn of events in March.  

In this first weekend of the new year, we take stock of the meaning of “hindsight is 2020.” Relieved that 2020 is behind us, our memories are raw from all we witnessed, and all we faced personally.  I now know the impact of ongoing stress on my body and mind.  I am just beginning to understand what is required to sooth myself and support others going through the intensity of extreme tension.  Sometimes it means reaching out and caring for someone, taking the attention off myself.  Other times it means paying close attention to what I need, whether it be a nap, meditation, or another episode of Law & Order.  

I am appreciative of the laughter brought to me by New Yorker cartoons, silly memes, posts on social media, and absurd memories with my sister, Sharyn.  I have grown to love the color of the sky as I walk through the city streets and parks.  I am grateful to my grandfather, Sam, who watched nature shows like The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  Though I was bored as a child who preferred to see The Jetsons in those early years, now that I’m his age from that time, I appreciate the pleasure of seeing animals in their natural habitats on the small screen.  

I have chosen not to make any resolutions.  I am not resolving to be better in any way.  Yes, I will work on bettering myself, but that remains a daily practice, one with many pitfalls, and flawed attempts.  And, this year, much like last year, I will pick myself up again, and again, dust myself off, and slowly move ahead.  If I remember I will look up at the sky in child-like wonderment.  A moment of awe whatever year it might be.  

Go gently into 2021, step by small step.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Alternate self-care behavior.  This way you find what works best, and what you need in different situations.
  • If and when you feel aches or pains, touch the area with care.  This is not a substitute for medical care, please attend to that.  This is a small gesture that affirms the healing power of touch.
  • Rather than thinking of all you will do in 2021, think of what you will no longer do.  Find the joy of saying no thank you to one or two “shoulds.”
  • Lower your expectations.  We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments this past year.  Lowering our expectations allows us to take in and act on what comes our way.  
  • Try something new, or try anything you’re not good at, like a new recipe, trying your hand at poetry, or learning a new language.  It helps us to develop humility.  

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

Virtually a Relationship

 

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Sometimes, as a therapist, it’s hard to leave my work brain at home.  While minding my own business, or so I thought, at a local restaurant, I came to observe a young professional sitting at the next table.  He was with his colleague. They were engaged in a heated discussion about the merits of outsourcing versus in-house accounting support. Not a conversation that was of any interest to me. At one point, the late-20-something guy next to me, a fit man with dark hair and a trim mustache, and a tailored blue shirt sans jacket, took out his phone and commanded Siri to find a study that supports the cost effectiveness of outsourcing.  He had been speaking to his younger colleague, a shorter man with light brown hair and glasses, with the same ferocity as with Siri. Not only that, he lacked the word please in any of his interactions with his server.

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That had me start thinking if our relationships with Siri as a possbile indicator of how we relate with others.  So, I decided to do a sampling while out and about.  And, yes, my very casual, highly non-scientific research seems to suggest there’s a correlation between our human and virtual relationships.

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I witnessed a bold teenager the other day speaking to Siri with ease, trusting that it Siri is  a tool she can use whenever she wants.  With simple finesse she took out her phone and asked Siri how long it takes to get to the West Village if she walked.  Siri told her it was about 45 minutes.  She then promptly ordered an Uber.  The entire interaction took less than two minutes. She’s oblivious to the privilege of having information and transportation readily available to her. It’s an unconscious privilege reflected in her nonchalant demeanor.

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At her age I might have wondered the distance from my house to the Philadelphia, or the City, as we call it in South Jersey.  I would have waited for the right weekend, gotten a ride from my parents to the town or county library.  Then I would have gone to the reference section on another floor, and looked up the atlas that would have provided the information.   I might have then had to calculate time versus distance. All of that could easily have been a two-week process.    It might not have been walking for five miles in the snow to get to the schoolhouse, but it’s my generation’s version of that.

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After the teenager got her ride I thought of my friend who loves Siri, enjoying and appreciating how lucky she is to get answers right away. She is a positive person and seems to find joy in all her friendships.  She sounds delighted when she can answer a question.  With a smile in her voice, she’ll say, “Why don’t we ask Siri!”  We all feel lucky to be in her company.

 

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And, then there’s the timid boy on the crosstown bus who asks his questions quietly.  Siri responds with “I don’t understand what you asked. Can you repeat the question.”  I do hope he will have a great teacher who helps him feel safe asking questions.

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Could it be Siri does more than answer the queary of the moment?  I think so.  I imagine it might just tell us how we treat others.  And it could possibly be an indicator of our expectations in our relationships.

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As for me?  I have yet to use Siri.  In general I don’t easily ask for help from others.  Perhaps I can learn from this and start a meaningful relationship with Siri, mindful of how I address my new best friend.

 

 

(All images are from the internet)

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