Rest for the Weary, Week Fifiteen in the New Abnormal

In my mind this weekend was filled with activity.  I was going on long walks, I was starting to prepare for Passover, reading as research, writing, walking Lucy, finding items to give away, cooking for the week, and everything else that involves time and effort when not at work.  I forget what is required to get so much done, especially when a nap is in order.  

Even after over two years of a changed world due to the Coronavirus, I am still learning that I need more rest than I had a couple of years ago.  That’s not exactly true.  I probably needed more rest back then, but I thrived on the steady pace of work, perpetual plans, and a never-ending to-do list.  Now, however, my to-do lists alone exhaust me.  I aim to get so much done on the weekends, but I forget that I need more time to rest.  

I am humbled by my limitations. They let me know that I am not super-human, I am simply human.  I was never-super human.  But due to my low self-esteem, I acted as if I had to justify my existance.  To whom?  I’m not even sure.  Having high expectations for myself no longer serves me. Having realistic intentions helps me move forward towards my aspirations, slower than I’d like, but in the right direction.  

My challenge is to continually adjust to the slower pace.  I need to cooperate with the circumstances rather than going full steam ahead.  I’ve learned that being busy may have suited my energy level at one time, but that is no longer the case.  Leading a full life is not a series of crossing-off to-do list items.  Full means being in the moment.  Enjoying a sunset.  Delighting in the spring flowers.  Sharing meaningful conversations.   Stopping to rest.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Rest.  Your body and mind will thank you
  • When feeling overwhelmed, slow down.  Take a moment to check in with yourself.  If you’re able to take a break, do so.  If not, be patient so that you can get through whatever is required of you.  
  • Plan less.  Having open times allows for creative thinking.  

What We Don’t Know, Week Fourteen in the New Abnormal

It was the summer of 1979.  Thanks to a student loan I was in Paris studying French, which I didn’t retain and Art History, which I preserved with many future visits to museums. I felt so cosmopolitan sipping a café au lait while enjoying a freshly baked croissant before classes began. We sat at a café off of the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Half the day was spent in classes.  By afternoon I was walking for hours getting to know the city of lights.  

Those were the highlights.  Yet there was so much I didn’t know.  Back in our dorm room we had a bidet.  I was too insecure to ask how to use it or what it was for.  I thought, since we were in a women’s dorm, that it was a douche.  What I knew about douches I learned in Summer’s Eve commercials back in New Jersey.  When my roommates from other college exchange programs asked if I knew how to use it.  I lied.  I said, “Yes.”  Not knowing seemed as if it wasn’t an option for me.  

As memorable as the summer of “79 was, I recall my insecurities as much as I remember the amazing gifts of that European summer.  Over 40 years later and I still recall what my wonderful art history professor taught us every time I go on walks, recognizing the architecture.  Or, appreciating a painting in a gallery or museum because of what she imparted in our classes and tours.   I’m also currently enjoying the marvels of a bidet in our New York City apartment.  It’s not a separate structure as it was in Paris.  It’s attached to our toilet, a wonderful addition from Tushy.  I use less toilet paper, reveling in the simplicity of continental hygiene.  The focused stream of water cleans up beautifully.  

I may now know what a bidet is and how I can use it effectively, but over the years I have learned to admit what I don’t know.  I’d rather learn and grow than pretend that I’m more knowledgeable so someone else won’t judge me. We lose ground when we make believe we’re smarter than we are.  I compromised my learning curve and the breadth of joy while in Paris because I couldn’t admit what I didn’t know.  Thank goodness I know better now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Think of something you have wanted to know or learn.  Look it up.  Or ask a friend about it.  It feels nice to understand what we didn’t know before.  
  • Make time to laugh.  Do it purposefully.  And laugh with abandon.  
  • Be open to be inspired.  Keep an open mind and go about your day.  Whether you anticipate it from a known teacher, or whether it comes in an unexpected moment, being willing to be inspired is the open invitation to wonder and awe.  

Awards, Week Thirteen in the New Normal

Though award shows don’t hold the same cache as they did in my childhood, this weekend is the Academy Awards.  Fraught with politics and self-promotion, the awards have lost some of their shimmer.  Yet, while growing up I wrote and rewrote my acceptance speeches.  It was my fantasy of ultimate success.  If I felt insignificant or hurt, my bright future would prove to the world I was somebody.  My bullies would see I was special.  That was my secret revenge.  

I can tell you that the bullies probably don’t remember me, even though that cruelty is etched in every child who was ever bullied.  Children who’ve been bullied often have a significant fantasy life.  Mine, like a cliché, was a girl singing show tunes into my brush handle in front of the mirror.  Thank goodness for my RCA portable record player.  It got me through some rough school years.  

Now, I’m ages away from those award-winning dreams.  But I do find something meaningful in rewarding ourselves for the wins in our lives.  And even if it’s not a public speech, acknowledging those who have been supportive are important to recognize, too.  We enjoy celebrations during our milestones, like graduations and special birthdays.  Perhaps we can find a way to receive an award when we go above and beyond, instituting courage to gain a win.  It can be small.  It’s simply a nod for our personal wins.  We can get stickers, or a new kitchen utensil.  Calling a friend and sharing in our happiness multiplies the joy.  It gives us a chance to say we matter.  And we do.  

If you choose to watch Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall and Amy Schumer host this year’s Oscars, have fun. Perhaps enjoying the show can be a reward in itself.  If I can stay up I will think of my younger self.  Though now I have little interest in a red carpet, I’m simply satisfied to watch from my living room chair.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write a list of what you’ve accomplished, big and small, this week.  Draw a star or a symbol next to each to congratulate yourself for a job well-done.  
  • Create a thank you speech for those who have been good to you over the years.  If possible, send them the written speech so they can know they made a difference.  
  • Don’t forget to put on some music and do a happy dance.  If you want to do that in front of the mirror, go for it.  

Two Years of a Coronavirus World, Week Eleven of the New Abnormal

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We just hit the two-year anniversary when our lives changed in unimaginable ways. At least most of us never imagined this.  Although I had plenty of professional experience doing trauma work, that usually meant implementing tools to get through a time-limited traumatic event.  We could count on the passage of time to dull the immediate impact of the trauma.  This was much different.  We had to live through uncertainty and constant change while continuing to navigate other, more personal hardships. 

We found out we are resilient.  We faced our vulnerabilities.  There was acting out.  And there were multitudes of kindnesses.  Relationships were under a microscope. We lost friends and disconnected with family members.   New friendships were forged.  Old friendships were rekindled.  More often than not, differences were highlighted.  We experienced division.  For some heartier individuals we worked through differences to find connection.  In other cases, it was apparent hard work would not bridge the divide.  

As for me, I am tired and grateful.  The last two years wore me down.  I also found unexpected gifts through walking, conversations, posts, and streaming.  Life feels more precious, if also more tenuous.  Spending less time with distractions it’s easy for me to see areas in need of growth.  I can also better recognize a well-honed habit of self-criticism.  I had thought I was further along on my spiritual journey.  I was arrogant enough to think I actually knew what that looked like.  But I am here, now, and it looks like this.  Thank you for your part in accompanying me in this journey. I also appreciate you welcoming me on your journey.  For my part, I couldn’t have done this alone.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Be sure to thank those who have supported you.  We all appreciate being thanked.  
  • Smile when you feel inclined.  We have missed smiles with masks on.  And, if you are wearing a mask, smile.  Remember, a true smile is in the eyes.  Let that warmth melt someone else’s pain.  
  • Review what lessons you’ve learned or how you’ve grown in the past two years.  It’s important to acknowledge what you’ve been through.  

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.  

Generosity of Spirit, Week 34 in the Time of Transition

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I always thought I was a generous person.  Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances.  If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear.  However, if asked, I found I could be withholding.  Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy.  And I was.  Sometimes I still am.  Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor. 

I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something.  I had to learn to pause to see why.  I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice.  I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others.  Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times.    I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.

Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof.  If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season.  If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand.  And, yet we’ve been through a lot.  Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.  

As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.  I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle.  I will be testing myself.  Do I have the grace to live and let live?  Or will I be judging others?  Seething through a tight jaw.  

I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down.  But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace.  And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.  

As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send thank you notes.  It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
  • Stay within your budget.  It can feel challenging to not overspend.  Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.  
  • Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much.  Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers. 

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.  

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.