20th Anniversary, Week 20 in the Time of Transition

I’m teary this weekend.  It’s hard to watch the news because my mind pivots to the many clients who spoke of their losses the days, months, and years post-9/11.  As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, those of us who remember can clearly recall the exact circumstances when we witnessed or heard of the attacks.  I am one of the fortunate who worked downtown, but I had taken the day off to attend a seminar.  I never worked in the World Trade Center, but our social service center had a direct view.  There were so many other stories like that of those who for unforetold circumstances were not in the towers when they fell.  

I was out of social work school for three years when the planes crashed.  Having had training in trauma, but not much experience, I was asked to work with employees in companies who were downtown. It was a quick, intensive training on mental health first response.  I had the privilege of listening to individual stories in a new chapter in tragically disrupted lives.  Each person I heard had so much courage. They came from all walks of life surviving while countless loved ones, coworkers, colleagues, and others did not make it.  

I recall the kindness and caring that New Yorkers shared.  There was a common grace for others.  Sadly, I also remember the fear from Muslim friends and those from the Middle East who were harshly judged, misunderstood, or seen as the enemy.  Their love of our shared country unacknowledged.  On the one hand there were so many acts of kindness.  On the other hand, there was so much blame going around.  

So much sadness, so much anxiety.  Both defined the days and months that followed.

  

Post-trauma can alter our nervous systems.  Twenty years later we’re all familiar with that.  The last eighteen months have played havoc on our nervous systems.  Sometimes we are upset or act out which then affects others who are in a vulnerable state, and on it goes.    

It’s a challenge to give someone else the benefit of the doubt when there is so little room to accept our own confused emotions.  With practice we have a bit more patience, a bit more benevolence to get through these days without rushing to judgement of ourselves and others.  I cried today.  I could have gone on the defensive.  Well, I did for a bit, then I cried some more, understanding that vulnerability was the strength I needed to harness rather than residing in a distrustful stance.  So many moments leading to big changes. 

  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When you react with anger, impatience or in an accusatory manner, take a moment to ask yourself what might be going on.  Then, if you’re able, see if there’s something you can do to care for yourself.  Perhaps a few minutes to regroup. 
  • Stretch.  It’s easy. And it can help to move to the next moment with ease.  
  • Read a child’s book or poem aloud.  Read it in a voice other than your own.  Being silly and indulging in play is a mood changer.  

A Pandemic Birthday, Week Eighteen in the Time of Transition

A few years ago I was at a networking event when I spotted an old acquaintance.  I was happy to see her, filled with memories of the two of us with mutual friends enjoying parties, volunteering, and talks in the mid-80’s.  When I approached her and reminded her who I was, in a cold tone she responded, “Yes, I know who you are.”  I felt hurt and dismissed.  I thought about those early years in New York City when I couch-surfed and lived hand to mouth.  It was a hard time, and I was not always my best self.  I had thought warmly of this person recalling her dedication to friends and of her strong work ethic.  Her taciturn words indicated she thought less of me.  

At first I blamed myself, thinking I must have been pretty bad for her to have that reaction.  Then I thought, yeah, I may have done some crazy things, but I have worked hard to grow and change.  I thought how sad for my younger self that I put such a rude person on a pedestal.  And then I was proud of myself for my ability to appreciate the positive qualities in others.  It doesn’t mean I want to befriend everyone.  But it does mean that I can respect others and the gifts within them.  

This past week I was fortunate enough to celebrate another birthday, though new aches and pains may suggest otherwise.  The outpouring of messages and love means the world to me.  I feel abundant, filled with gratitude for friends and family who took the time to send thoughtful messages.  Taking in the goodness of all of you enriches my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.  All I know is that I am better due to you giving your best.  What good fortune to be in such good company.  I apologize to my younger self for giving authority to those who were unkind.  When we’re unseen we cannot be known.  I see you and I appreciate you with all my heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Change it up.  Donate to a new non-profit, one aligned with your values but previously not on your radar.  
  • Provide a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  We all need a lift.  
  • Forgive your younger self for making errors in judgement while he/she/they were learning how to appreciate those who appreciate us.  

Cloudy, Week Fifiteen in the Time of Transition

I shifted my routine earlier this week to catch the sunrise.  Typically I relish the space between sleep and daytime.  The sweet spot of the morning.  Following those moments I shift into meditation, then move on from there with coffee and the rest of the day.  As soon as I awoke I brushed my teeth and ran to the East River to get a glimpse of the sunrise.  

It was a cloudy day, and the sun was hidden.  No bright colors, just hues of grey.  At first I was disappointed.  It’s not often I get out to take a peek of the sun coming into view.  But then it occurred to me that this was a perfect metaphor for this time in transition.  We all want to see the sun but instead we’re stuck with gray skies.  The anticipated bright horizon more of an idea than a clear vision.  

We expected, as we’ve done in the past, for things to move along until we could live again as we had pre-pandemic.  Instead, we’re in this mist.  Some of our days look similar to what we’ve known before, but it’s still hazy and not clear enough to navigate straight ahead.  We’re living in a miasma of uncertainty.  

We thought that we would have to endure fear, loss, and ambiguity for a fixed period of time. Then we could face our futures because of these important, albeit, unwelcome experiences.  We could frame the pandemic with stories of what we’ve endured along with life lessons we were forced to learn.  But the discomfort has expanded to an indefinite stretch of time.  We are still reeling.  Our fears remain palpable.  

Nevertheless, I am going to continue to look for the sunrise when I wake up too early.  And, when the clouds are heavy I will find simple ways to comfort myself.  I’ll walk, drink water, read something fun, eat a peach, and rest well.  I’ll take care of myself as best I can, then I’ll see what’s needed by those I love, and by those who are in more need.  I’ll continue to face my days acknowledging my limitations while moving past barriers that keep me stuck.  I’ll get it wrong and try again.  In that way I keep going while in transition.  

Self-care Tips:

  • When you find you’re being hard on yourself, think about what you’re attempting to learn and shift your focus on the lesson, seeing this moment as part of your learning.
  • Remind yourself that it takes time to learn patience.  
  • Eat a peach or other fresh fruit or vegetables.  Summer is a great time to savor the land’s bounty.   

Lazy Summer Days, Week Twelve in the Time of Transition

I still remember my summers visiting friends and family at the Jersey Shore.  This was well before Atlantic City was burdened with casinos.  These were the days of shows at the Steel Pier and fragrant strolls on the boardwalk with Mr. Peanut greeting us on our way to James for salt water taffy. Those were the lazy summer days I enjoyed in my former years.  

Stock Photo

The drive to the beach felt interminable in a car that smelled of stale hot air and shoe polish.  My father always carried a wooden shoe shine kit, because ‘you never know.’ If we went on a Sunday, then the baseball game was on the radio.   As much as I loved going to see the Phillies in person, on our rides down the White Horse Pike the sports announcers’ drone added to the queasy feeling in the back of the station wagon.  Once out of the car, I forgot all about my churning stomach and the boredom.  

We knew we had arrived when we passed Lucy the Elephant in Margate, two small towns down from Atlantic City with its wicker basket carriages, and the divine Kohr’s frozen custard.  My mother insisted on apples for dessert at home.  But all bets were off when in the company of others on the iconic boardwalk.  The creamy lusciousness of the chocolate-vanilla twist remains unparalleled.  

Summers are so different now.  This season I’m working hard, with weekends assigned to life’s ongoing chores.  I try to languish.  It’s true that my walks are more like strolls in the thick air.  I feel more tired than lazy.  And I’m grateful for having that distinction pointed out to me.  Most of us are tired.  We have survived a pandemic, and now we’re dealing with a more virulent strain.  Some of us are critical of ourselves wondering why we’re not more productive, trying to make up for lost time.  Yet, it feels necessary to laze.  Instead, we can be tough on ourselves. Some are finding ourselves restless rather than resting.  Nonetheless, it’s imperative we create those rare moments in which we can elicit the ease of summers past.  

I rarely get to the shore.  But when I’m walking in the heat and humidity, I allow myself reminiscences of the sound of the waves mingled with the bustling beaches.  Recollecting the aroma of wafting sweetness being churned out behind Kohr’s service window. 

Stock Photo

Self-Care Tips

  • * Find a lovely aroma from an earlier time for a sweet remembrance. 
  • * Look at photos, yours or some online, from a place and time that prompts gratitude for having had a special experience.  
  • * Enjoy air conditioning when you can.  It can be truly reviving in the heat.  
  • * Give yourself the gift of rest.  
  • * Visit my site: https://janetzinn.com. If you’re inclined, and I hope you are, sign up for my quarter-yearly news letter. Your info will not be shared.

July 4th, Week Ten in the Time of Transition

From online stock images

When I was a child our family would pack into our Ford station-wagon and head out to Pennypacker Park to watch the fireworks.  We played in the playground or chased fireflies until the moment when it became dark.  Then the night would light up and we cheered with delight as we gazed skyward.  It felt magical to enjoy a hot night of colorful pyrotechnics.  The crack, pop and whiz of the fireworks foretold if we’d be seeing a Roman Candle or a burst of high-definition pink chrysanthemum.  My favorite was the waterfall, cascading sparkles in the sky. 

Online Stock Image

Tonight I may skip the fireworks.  Fortunate to live in New York City where the Macy’s fireworks grace the darkness over the East River, I am reticent to stand among so many on the East River Promenade to catch a glimpse of the larger displays.  It is not only that we are making our way out of a pandemic, it’s more that I don’t like myself so much when I jockey to find the right spot and stake my claim.  I become territorial and highly suspicious of my fellow humans.  Some come with young children, and I turn into an angry older woman afraid that they will block my view by placing their toddler on their shoulders.  Those moments as I wait do not showcase my best self.  I am greedy about my space, selfishly competitive to those who only seek an evening of summer recreation. 

After spending so much time these past fifteen months learning more patience, enjoying moments of solitude, I think stepping away from the fireworks will be an act of kindness for myself as well as the nameless strangers who I might secretly hold in contempt.  I’d rather bask in my young memories.  I was less cynical then.  That child in me still feels the awe of the seven-year-old in Pennypacker Park.  The sparkle of a childhood recollection reignites the magic of an earlier time. 

Self-Care Tools:

  • Think of the ways you’ve grown during the pandemic and find ways to foster that growth as we transition. 
  • Take a mental health day.  If you can’t take the day off, perhaps you can give yourself and hour or two.  And, if you don’t have any time to spare, take a minute to touch base with yourself. 
  • When things didn’t turn out how you would have liked, remember to say to yourself, ‘it’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I’ve got.’ Sometimes it just keeps it real. 

Nothing is Perfect, Week Eight in the Time of Transition

Happy Father’s Day.  For all who are fathers or have present and past relationships with your fathers, only you know how best to honor what you’re experiencing.  And, for those who do not have relationships with your dads, or who have complicated relationships, take care of yourselves.  That’s all I’ll say about that. 

I was preoccupied this past week with a few things that didn’t quite work out the way I would have liked. You know when you hear people say, “I don’t like to complain,” and then they’re off and running with their objections?  I am not that person.  I actually like to complain.  Truthfully it’s more that I feel compelled to complain, than that I like it, out and out.  I tend to be very particular and even when things are going really well, I’m apt to find the fly in the ointment. 

We returned from a vacation upstate.  Going up, the ride was beautiful once we got into Upper Westchester County.  We took backroads after we hit Sullivan County.  It’s refreshing to see open spaces, green meadows.  I am so fortunate to get away.  I know that, and I really appreciate it.  As a city girl, being in the country is literally a breath of fresh air.  I am grateful for a life in the city with these short breaks away from the metropolis. 

 Social Media posts can seem like someone else is living the good life.  Usually, the whole story is that some of it is very good, some not so much.  It is often the moral of romances, inspirational tales and toxic positivity that we should just be grateful.  We should only count our blessings.  Yet, denying what didn’t go well only leaves me stressed and resentful.  On this occasion, when I’m able to admit that it wasn’t the right rental for us, or that the rain put a damper on hiking, even if I did get the rest I needed, I find relief.  Things don’t have to be all good or all bad.  In fact, they rarely are.  Those are the exceptions.  In life good things have aspects that may not be pleasing.  So, yes, I will complain, just to name it.  Ultimately so I don’t hang onto it. Though admittedly, some displeasures stick with me long after the experience.  Not so for this short reprieve.  We went, we took advantage of the outdoors, and we appreciated the scenery.  Past that, I am relieved to be home.  Perhaps Airbnb’s aren’t for me.  Or perhaps this one wasn’t for me.  Either way, I complained and now I’m moving on. 

Self-Care Tips

  • Allow yourself to complain about the things that you don’t like.  It can be a great relief just to name them
  • Hydrate.  If water isn’t your thing, try adding fresh herbs to give the water a full flavor.  Or try something like True Lemon, Lime or Orange for a fruity finish. 
  • Give your tired feet a massage. 

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.

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.  

How Are You? Week 55 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s a rainy Sunday, overcast and wet outside.  I ventured out early to capture the sunrise on the East River, instead I was welcomed with grey clouds and mist.  Beautiful in its subtly, but not as majestic as even a partially cloudy day.  A day like today can be difficult for those going through hardships, the bereaved, the infirmed, caregivers, those suffering from mental illness, parents with young children, parents with older children, the lonely, and anyone else who is dealing with their own life struggles.  One of the worst questions, yet most often asked is, “How are you?”  How do we answer that in a pandemic?  

When we ask, “How are you?” we see the slight hesitation before the respondent says, “Fine.” The habitual question and answer are from pre-pandemic times.  It’s automatic, but not current.  I make mistakes from time to time and ask how someone is doing.  I then double back, and qualify it by inquiring, “How are you given the pandemic?”  At least then I’m acknowledging some hardship in our present reality.  Nonetheless, the question remains flawed.  Perhaps we can find other ways to connect.  

We can ask “What’s new?”  I’m joking.  What’s really new when we’re still socially distanced?  I’m more inclined to ask, “What are you reading?” “What are you watching?”  “What are you enjoying these days?”  “Do you cook or order in?”  “Anything you can recommend?” I ask all of these to assess how my friends, colleagues, and family are doing.  

I remember a neighbor who used to ask how I was.  I’d always say, “fine.”  However, her ask was more of an invitation to ask her how she was.  When she answered she was long-winded.  It surpassed the parameters of polite neighbor banter, and leapt into intrusive and annoying.  Needless to say, I smile politely when I see her now, but I pass by quickly with no curiosity of her state of being.  I merely feel relief that I dodged her socially-inappropriate bullet.  Maybe we all feel a sigh of relief for the absence of similar encounters. 

How are we?  We’re tired, we’re grateful, we’re sad, we’re joyful, we’re frustrated, we’re patient, we’re absentminded, we’re mindful, we’re angry and we’re peaceful.  It’s a veritable bouillabaisse of emotions.  Perhaps no different than pre-2020, but probably more noticeable than in our recent pasts.  Even so, we may not be able to tease out one feeling from another at any given moment.  So please refrain from asking, “How are you?”   

Self-Care Tips:

  • When speaking to someone, rather than asking them how they are, try another question or phrase.  You could say, “Good to speak with you, or see you.”  Or “Tell me what bores you these days?” 
  • Write lists and cross off items as needed.  We’ve been forgetting things, so writing lists help us to see what to do, and what we can forget about doing.  
  • Watch “In and Of Itself.”  It’s a magical theatrical performance now available on Hulu.  
  • Be silly. 
  • Find an app like www.myfridgefood.com to make quick, easy recipes for ingredients already in your pantry and refrigerator.  

Love and Hardship, Week 54 in the Time of Coronavirus

Throughout this past week I heard how difficult the week was.  We had all gone through a year milestone, but there would be no celebrating.  How do we celebrate one year of a pandemic?  We don’t. We hunker down, as we had for over 52 weeks, and trudge on.  It has been recommended that when we feel particularly vulnerable that is the best time to incorporate a self-care and self-love practice.  And, though I share self-care tips, all of which I either try or do on a regular basis, self-love and self-care can feel like ephemeral notions.  

Self-love and Self-care are phrases bandied about as if being able to understand the phrases gives us magical powers in living a life full of love and care towards ourselves.  I, however, think these ideas often stay conceptual because we are told to just do this or that and it will all be okay.  It is my belief that we have to rethink self-love and self-care.  

I used to imagine love meant 100% acceptance of the loved.  More often than not I pushed down feeling of sadness, anger, frustration, and bewilderment.  My thinking was, ‘How can I truly love them if I feel this or that?  I better learn to be more accepting.’  So I moved forward with shame and self-rage so that I could be a “loving” person.  I attended to their requirements, or at least I thought I was, while I eschewed my own needs.  Not only was this the opposite of self-love, but it was a misattunement of all love.  

When we deny ourselves the space to feel all our feelings then we block kindness and care towards ourselves and others.  Love more often than not is imperfect.  We’ve all seen this as we distance in place.  Cohabitating for long stretches without diversions means we witness the best and worst in each other day in and day out.  If we live alone, then we are grateful for any contact, sometimes even when it leaves us wanting.  

When I say how important it is to give ourselves the space to feel our feelings, I do not mean that we are free to rage or dump those feelings on others.  Sometimes I share my love by not sharing my thoughts.  I silently acknowledge this act of generosity.  In this way I have the room to experience my feelings but I am not compelled to hurt some else, even at those times I want them to hurt like I hurt.  

The great thing about love and care is that it is an evolving practice.  When we are hard on ourselves, perhaps for not being as caring as we think we should be, like when we want someone to hurt like we’re hurting, then we can double down on patience and kindness for attempting the difficult.  Perfection and the determination to reach perfection get in the way of living and loving fully.  Now that we have passed the one-year mark of living in the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s applaud our grit.  Let’s celebrate our imperfect love.  Let’s appreciate whatever self-care we’ve been able to incorporate. Let’s acknowledge how hard this has been. Let’s commend all we’ve learned about love, care, kindness, and patience.  Yay, us!

Self-care Tips:  

  • Daydream.  Let your mind go.  These breaks are essential, not only for creativity, but for survival at difficult times.
  • Savor breakfast.  Sometimes we want our day to start so we have whatever we can in the morning.  Truly enjoying our first meal is a lovely foundation for the day.
  • Chew slowly.  We can really relish our food by slowing down, chewing slowly.  It lowers our stress and supports us being in the moment.  
  • Find a new source of humor.  Laughter remains invaluable.  Ask those who share a similar sense of humor if they can recommend a show, a comedian, a video, or anything else that will make you laugh.  
  • Take a picture.  Whether you want to document a moment, beauty, or something meaningful, a photograph allows you to revisit it again and again.