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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tips:

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

So Long 2022, Year Two in the New Abnormal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tools:

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

Emotions During the Holidays, Week Fifty in the New Abnormal

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

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

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

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

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

Self-care tips:

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

Bargains Abound, Week Forty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I just deleted 129 emails from my inbox.  I’m not that popular, it’s simply that retailers with black Friday weekend deals want my money.  Some of the emails remind me that I looked at something I chose not to buy in case I need to see it again. I do not.  

Given the onslaught of emails one would think there’s no recession.  And, though I do appreciate a good experience, I’m less apt to go for more stuff.  I will not be purchasing one more well-being product that usually ends up in the back of the closet, if I haven’t yet donated it.   I imagine Goodwill volunteers grumble when they see yet another foot spa.  Clean socks and winter jackets are preferred items.  

I was so tired on Black Friday, but I also was afraid I’d miss an arbitrary sale.  I made my post-nap walk a destination walk, only to find that the sales were not hawking anything I really needed, Nor did they offer anything I wanted to give as gifts.  I’m sure I may have missed some bargains that offered a deal on the espresso spoons we lack, or the ice tongs we can’t find.  

We’re so fortunate.  We want for nothing.  Well, maybe we want some things.    The truth is we always want kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit.  That’s not something we can purchase at a retail establishment.  But they are qualities that will have me return to a store or online site, should the proprietors and staff possess said characteristics.  The emails may get deleted from depersonalized sources, but when customer service is accommodating, and when there’s a personal touch, I do become a repeat customer.  Because kindness and respect are invaluable.  They’re worth more than whatever needs purchasing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If something gives you joy, and it’s within your means, do buy it.  But check to see if it’s just filling a void and, if so, see if there is another way to give to yourself that is kinder, more caring.  
  • Support small businesses if they value you as a customer.  And, if you own or work for a retailer, don’t underestimate the significance of caring for and about your customers.
  • Thank you notes matter.  Graciousness is often a forgotten attribute.  Sending a thank you is a beautiful way to keep the giving going.  

Chasing Colors, Week Forty-Three in the New Abnormal

Manhattan is slower to display the vibrant array of Autumn colors associated with this season.  I had planned to leave the city to enjoy the same lush views that friends had posted in their feeds.  That never happened so I opted to wait for our city’s briefer period of transformation.  It has yet to fully show itself.  However, my walk to the North Woods in Central Park gave me a glimpse of what’s to come.  The North Woods themselves are still greenish.  But the walk to and from the north end of the park gifted me with moments of yellows, oranges and reds.  

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy a long walk in the park and I had to purposefully enjoy the walk rather than making the hunt for changing leaves the goal. Sometimes being intentional is an afterthought in my activities.  And it almost was an afterthought when I suddenly realized how fortunate I was to have the afternoon off so that I could walk in Central Park.  With that, my cadence shifted from racing to find new colors to being curious and excited about what I may find. 

That shift was invaluable.  It allowed me to view the beauty of the park and the city rather than coming from a position of deprivation.  I began my walk feeling like I was missing Autumn’s splendor, but I was able to alter my perspective to one of appreciating the abundance of all Central Park offers.  And, truth be told, I will get to see Fall Foliage in the weeks to come.  That’s the joy of delayed gratification. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you find you are in a deprivation mindset, take a moment.  Look again to see if you can specify something you appreciate.  It may be that it’s sunny.  It may be the cool air on your face.  It may be gratitude that you can move parts of your body without pain.  It may be you like being at home.  Whatever it is, it’s not a substitute for feelings of deprivation, but it is a reminder that it’s not an all-or-nothing life.  
  • If you’re near a bathroom, don’t delay when you have to go.  It’s a message to yourself and your body that your physical needs take priority.  I got used to delaying until I couldn’t wait, because it’s what many of us learned in school, and, in my case, and perhaps yours, what I learned at home.  It no longer needs to be that way.  It’s a regular bodily function that supports our comfort.  
  • Send a friend or a family member a hand-written note.  I know it’s passé, but as a boomer, I know the value of receiving mail that’s not junk or a bill.  

Busy or Not, Week Forty-Two in the New Abnormal

As Autumn has created an uptick in activity, I am both excited to get out more and apprehensive as well.  The surprising outcome of the pandemic was that I enjoyed my quiet time.  What was surprising about it was that I lived a busy life and enjoyed juggling a schedule that allowed me to partake in the best New York City offers.  The theater and museums were a mainstay for me.  When everything shut down, I questioned how I would get on.  The answer was very well.  

Now, I am grappling with my desire to do less and my yearning for my old life.  Being busy has its merits.  There was always something to look forward to.  I love the arts and was wowed by so much of it.  And, if there was something I didn’t like, it didn’t really matter because there was something else around the corner.  

However, taking things easy, enjoying peace, finding calm, and not being on the run provides a type of ease I hadn’t known I was missing.  I am challenged to find the balance between good times out and savoring staying in.  

When life circumstances change we learn new things about ourselves.  In this new abnormal I wonder what I will learn about myself.  I am curious to see how I can listen to what’s best for me, whether it’s a performance or a nap.  I had learned how to check in with myself more these last couple of years.  Yet I am flummoxed when it comes to ambivalence.  Do I want to make dinner tonight by taking advantage of the largess from the farmer’s market, or do I want to keep it simple so I have a rare night off?  

For tonight I’m making dinner and foregoing a dance performance.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check in with yourself a few times a day to see what you’re experiencing and how you feel.  Checking in regularly helps during more stressful times when it’s easy to forget that checking in slows things down. 
  • When you’re in a quandary, rather than trying to figure out via the facts, try seeing how you feel physically when responding to the options.  
  • Cook, put together, or order something different for a meal.  We change our thought pattern and possibly introduce something new to enjoy.  

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.  

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.  

Dashed Plans, week Twenty-Five in the New Abnormal

Our best intentions don’t always go according to plan.  I had all weekend to work on a project.  I planned on spending this weekend, as I have in the past, writing and rewriting to meet a deadline.  Lucy, who is my constant companion loves the cooler air and asked to be taken on walks more than usual. Once we were outside she was happy to let the breeze mess up her hair as she sat on the sidewalk.  

I, on the other hand, had a job to do and if she didn’t want to go for a walk, then I needed to get back to work.  She was having none of it.  As a dog, she knows nothing about responsibilities.  She knows what she likes, and she likes to be outside.  

When I finally made it back inside after the third walk/sitting, I was exhausted and knew that a short nap would give me the fuel to keep going later.  My naps usually last 20 minutes or so, this one was more like 45 minutes.  I was startled awake by Larry, who was supposed to work late tonight, giving me more time alone to write.  

That was not to be.  His schedule changed and he is happily enjoying a Bosch episode in our living room.  I will not be alone tonight to get my work done.  My initial reaction after a lovely day, though not a productive one, is to curse under my breath.  I can be rigid.  And when things don’t turn out the way I expect them to, I tend to be cranky.  I blame myself or someone else.  

But there is no one to blame.  Lucy is a dog.  I love her and she was so happy to be outside.  Larry is my husband, I love him, and he’s so happy to have the night off.  Rather than blame myself, I will do my best to be flexible.  

I will figure out how to reach my goals.  I try to make the distinction between a problem and an inconvenience.  This is no problem.  Yes, I was inconvenienced today.  But it was a gorgeous day.  The work is waiting for me to complete.  And I will.  Perhaps I’ll start early tomorrow after getting a bit more done tonight.  Sometimes creative writing can be about creating the time to get it done.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When annoyed, assess whether it’s a real problem or a mere inconvenience.  An inconvenience can take the sting out of the emotional mix
  • Strengthen your ankles and support your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds each.  
  • When plans change or your expectations aren’t met, get creative.  Create a new way to find enjoyment or meet your needs with the circumstances at hand.