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.  

The Joy and Trepidation of Seeing Smiles, Week Three in the Time of Transition

I woke up early and ran to the East River promenade to get a glimpse of the sunrise.  I almost forgot my mask, but quickly put it in my pocket testing the waters of walking down the block without one.  No one was wearing masks but the few of us out were all at least 20 feet apart.  That felt comfortable enough for me.  

As we all know, the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated their mask mandate.  For a couple of days now more and more people are on the streets and in the parks maskless.  I love being able to see the many faces of the city.  Yet, I also feel mask shy.  I would have preferred a step-by-step shift during this transitional period.  Instead I’m hearing people mention mask burning parties.  I hear plans to make up for lost time.  There is warmth and excitement in the air, as well as a good measure of apprehension.  

I may be progressive in my political thinking, but I’m conservative in my Covid-19 opinions. I want more people to get vaccinated, making it safer for all of us.  I liked the illusion of security I felt when everyone was wearing a mask.  Well, mostly everyone.  

My ambivalence is present when I remove my mask to enjoy the aromatic lilacs in the park.  I then test the boundaries by walking with my mask on my wrist should I need to quickly don the face covering when others pass by.  After exiting a store, I forget to take it off since a more recent habit has me wearing it inside and out.  

To quell the mixed feelings I focus on the flowers in front of apartment buildings, in window boxes, and the beautiful plantings in the gardens and parks.  Whatever I may be experiencing, ambivalence and all, Spring colors, longer days, and warmer air all seem to make it easier to get through this time in transition.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Stop and smell the flowers.  
  • Take a walk.  Whether you go around the block or enjoy an afternoon stroll, there’s nothing like a walk on a Spring day to feel refreshed.  
  • Enjoy in-season fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market or farm stand.  

Boy, Oh, Boy, Week 44 in the Time of Coronavirus

Yesterday I hit the wall.  Before I lost all steam, I had lofty plans.  I had research to do.  There is always cleaning and organizing.  I was behind on my writing.  Yet, by the time I was three fourths of the way through a walk in Central Park, I felt as if I was dragging my leaden legs on the southern arc of the Reservoir.  When I finally reached home, I couldn’t get my sweats on fast enough.  Then Lucy had to go out.  I love her, and also dearly wished there was someone else who would have taken her out.  I was able to speak with a friend from the other coast, and that gave me a pleasurable energy shot.  Though life in California is as fraught as it is in New York and throughout the world. 

This past week brought to the forefront the negative results of anger and hate.  Those are human experiences, but when those feelings are unchecked, then further fueled, they become destructive.  I hope we can learn from this, rather than take sides with defensive righteousness.  I certainly see how my own unexamined anger hurts Larry, Alex and probably others.  Once I see that I’ve hurt them, I have to consider what changes I can make so that we share joy rather than pain.  It’s an ongoing process of patience and kindness mixed with tools to calm my agitated soul.  

Was it possible that I had no energy to calm myself after Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol?  That played a part in my exhaustion, nonetheless, having witnessed it from afar, it’s not the only reason.  From what I’ve heard I am not alone in running out of steam in this time of Coronavirus.  We are all frayed.  We have been faced with challenges that have pushed us beyond our known limits, while still having to conduct our lives on a daily basis.  

I imagine yesterday’s pause was essential.  It meant I missed attending my first Zoom party.  It was only this morning that I even remembered that it was last night.  I think of my friends and family daily.  I so appreciate what they are doing to brighten others’ lives.  Though it’s an internal reflection since I rarely reach out these days, I am grateful that they are in the world and in my thoughts.  

Here we go into another week.  What will it bring?  We’ll see.   For me, I plan to get more rest.  I’m hopeful that will make room for added patience and kindness. 

Self-Care

  • Light a candle.  Whether it’s a small birthday candle or a luxurious scented candle, light a candle to brighten these dark winter nights.  
  • Compliment someone.  It’s easy to think nice thoughts, but it’s invaluable for someone to hear that you noticed.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes we see things we would have otherwise missed. 
  • Go for a walk, short or long, it can be an essential calming tool
  • Pause.  Check your breath and survey your body.  Coming back to ourselves, even 30 seconds at a time, is another way of acquiring calm. 

One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t I Like Her?

Ms. Garcia was fussy. She was tense and persnickety. She was one day old when I met her and addicted to meth. Understandably, she was not easily soothed.

Some of my best teachers were infants. There was a time years ago when I held babies at St. Luke’s Hospital in the nursery. It was a wonderful program initially created for newborns who were at risk for AIDS. But as crack grew to epidemic proportions, the program expanded to include drug-addicted infants. Most of the nurses were wonderful, but their work load was full, so they enlisted volunteers to help with the holding and feeding, giving the babies human touch when their families were unable to be there.

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What I found fascinating about the infants was that instinctively they felt more comfortable in some arms rather than others. While Ms. Garcia would allow me to feed her, Mr. Brown did better in the arms of Cindy, one of the pediatric nurses. We all had our favorites. Because so many of the infants were taken from their mothers following the birth, they were referred to as Mr. and Ms. So & so since few had been named.

One important lesson the babies taught me is that we are drawn to some people and not others. Prior to that, I worked so hard to have others like me. I was not a popular kid. The more I tried to fit in, the further down the social ladder I fell. It never occurred to me to check in with myself to see if I liked them. So from the time I was in elementary school I measured my self-worth by the acceptance of others. Not a winning strategy.

The babies taught me to trust my instincts. To listen to the feelings I have when around others. We all come up with reasons why we don’t like one person, or why we like another. But what I saw in the hospital nursery was that the reasons came later to us. We like whom we like. We see it most in dating. I dated a lot in my twenties. I met a lot of people who were very nice, but I still wasn’t interested in them. When I asked, I would say, “he was boring,” or, “we didn’t have the same interests.” But the truth was, it just wasn’t right. Not because of our interests, that was incidental to my initial experience with the date.

As a psychotherapist this lesson has been invaluable. Since I see psychotherapy as a path back to trusting oneself, the relationship matters. When asked for recommendations, I suggest meeting with a few therapists so a potential client has a chance of getting a good feeling about their prospective therapist. This might be the first step in learning to trust themselves.

I learned to trust myself after working with the infants, observing how and with whom they bonded.   I am grateful to the Misters and Ms.’s for this important lesson. The babies I held are in their twenties now. And I’m hopeful that they are returning to their natural state of being, in touch with their instincts. After all they gave freely and unknowingly, they deserve that, and so much more.

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