Thank You For Your Kindness, Week Four in The New Abnormal

Morning View from My Bedroom Window

Small kindnesses have huge impacts.  This week I hadn’t felt well, and the comments, texts, calls, messages, and extra care have been particularly meaningful. Larry, my husband, asked me if he could help take care of me, if I would let him.  The truth is I usually don’t let him help me.  I can be stubbornly independent, even at my own expense.  So, I “let” him.  Every query to see if there was anything he could do was welcomed.  He made trips to the pharmacy to find the right over-the-counter remedies.  He cooked or ordered dinner. We chatted casually.  Something we don’t often have a chance to do. 

In the past I’d get defensive as if he were accusing me of not being able to do something myself.  And sometimes his accusations were spot on.  Nonetheless I’d get defensive as if that truth wasn’t already fully clear.  

Friends and family have been kind.  Interdependence can soften us, as it has me this past week, leaving me more grateful and treasuring those I love even more.  Gifts can come in odd shapes.  Being vulnerable has allowed me to take in those gifts.  

I am feeling better day by day.  And I plan to remember this week so I can accept help when offered in the future.  The kindness of others deepens us and makes us stronger in a positively vulnerable way.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Clean out apps.  We always have apps that we thought were a good idea, but that we either never use, or they no longer serve us.  It’s okay to delete those.  
  • Give yourself a news free day.  See if it lightens your stress load.  
  • Ask for help.  Even if you could go it alone, it may save time and forge a connection when done with or by another. 

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.    

Thwarted Plans, Week Two in the New Abnormal

I made plans months ago to get away this past week.  I was heading to a conference that was cancelled last January.  Looking forward to warm weather and outdoor dining, Omicron thwarted our quasi-vacation.  Instead, I am in my apartment lamenting my unrealized trip.  

Most of us have had to reroute our former intentions.  The only traveling I did this week was mostly by foot.  Though I did take one jaunt by ferry to Astoria Park to enjoy the opposite view of the East River.  Not quite the coastline I had pictured, but the one closest to home.  

I’m hearing about Covid fatigue left, right, and center.  Without recovering from the initial stall of all that we knew to be our lives, we are plodding through the ever expanding unknown.  Here and there we enjoy bright spots.  But just as quickly we are easily agitated by small disturbances.  At least that describes my experience. 

I’m still making tentative travel plans, ever hopeful for shifts in the health of our world.  I may have missed the boat, or rather, plane, this time, but I’m not giving up on future travel.  For now, I have books to take me to new places.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Clean out old emails.  If you’re anything like me, unless it’s junk, I keep some emails just in case. This weekend, I’m purging old emails.  I invite you to join me. 
  • Take the time to unsubscribe from unwanted solicitations. If that’s too much, start with one a day.  
  • Have a plan B.  If and when plans shift, you have something else you can enjoy in the meantime.  

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. 

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.  

Happy Halloween, Week 27 in the Time of Transition

The first time I wore a mask I was three years old and was aware of the tiny holes for my nostrils, and the slit for my mouth.  Not easy breathing, but so exciting to this little girl.  I was a cat, Felix the Cat, to be precise.  My one piece, highly-flammable costume had a small tie in the back of the black and white jumpsuit.  I held a small paper bag for my trick or treat goodies next to my sister Sharyn and my dad who came home from work early to escort us up and down our New Jersey suburban block.  

I loved Halloween.  Getting dressed up and pretending to be someone or something else, was good with me. Plus, it was the one time in the year in which I had my own candy.  In those days, the early 60s, candy cigarettes and dots on paper were my favorites, with Hershey kisses a close second.  

I will not be dressing up this Halloween.  Instead, I will watch children donning costumes, purchased and home-made, in strollers and in small groups as they accept the offerings from the businesses on the Avenues.  I will not venture downtown to witness the Halloween parade, a more crowded and less innocent affair than when I came to the city in the 80s.  The only mask I’ll be wearing is some colorful number from my new mask drawer, thanks to the pandemic.  

I’m not big on horror films or scary things in general.  My view is that there is enough to frighten us on a daily basis.  I don’t need to purposely activate that fear.  But I give a pass for Halloween, appreciative of all the city dwellers who decorate their homes for the pleasure of passers-by.    Whether you dress up or not, wishing you a Happy Halloween or a very nice Sunday, or both. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Wake up early when possible to get one thing done that will help start your day.
  • Sleep in when possible, and enjoy a slow morning.
  • Watch or reading something that eases your fears like a light comedy or an inspirational tale.