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.  

Moods Ebb & Flow, Week Twenty-Eight of the New Abnormal

The cycling of moods continues.  Today I’m happy.  It’s beautiful outside.  I get to walk on fairly empty sidewalks, and I’m ticking things off my to-do list.  Earlier this week I was crestfallen.  Too many tragedies and so much shared pain in the world.  I find it fascinating how the ups and downs shift from day to day.  Well, really, from moment to moment.  

The good news about these shifts is that I know when things are particularly low, they will rise again.  And when things are going well, I can appreciate them, understanding the fleeting nature of my feelings.  Impermanence used to feel like a threat.  I was always aware of the inevitable loss of something good. Luckily, given the fullness of time, I see things differently now.   I understand that there will be other occasions of highs and lows, and that I can plan to give myself extra care when things are tough, and I can delight in the glory days when they show up.  

I’m grateful that it’s been a good day since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But even a good day for me, may not be good for someone else.  If I’m feeling strong, I can listen and learn from someone in a different space.  But, often when I’m not at work and it’s been difficult for me, I don’t have the wherewithal to take in the troubles of others.  That is when I have to set limits.  It’s not easy since I don’t want to hurt someone else. And, yet, I know I will be hurting myself should I extend myself past my limits.  In that case, having the courage to say “No” to someone else is a huge Yes to me.  A simple but challenging kindness I can give myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  •  When you notice that your inner resources are scarce, see if you can lessen any interactions with those who require more of your energy than you can spare.  In this way you can build up your strength for whatever is to come.  
  • Listen to music that meets your mood.  Move to that music, whether it’s a simple sway, or a more vigorous dance.  
  • Surround yourself with those who are genuinely happy for you when things go well.  Their generosity of heart can be empowering.  

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. 

Post-Vacation, Week Twenty-Two in the New Abnormal

I don’t like the phrase at the end of a vacation, “Back to real life.” I think vacations are real life.  It’s a break from the everyday, but enjoying that break is very real. Coming back to my work and apartment, and New York City after this vacation was a terrific reentry.   

What I will take away from my vacation, and the Galapagos in particular, is that everything has an impact. That systems change and even if we think of the good in the short term, the long term might not be served by our actions.  This is nothing new for me.  I do understand if I savor a delicious meal but eat beyond my hunger, I’ll be uncomfortable later, even if I don’t want to end the delicious mouth experience.  In the same way if I read the news, I’m informed, but if I keep digging for every opinion piece on any given subject, I can become over saturated and can start to feel anxious.  

In the same way, if I push myself to be “productive” I end up having to redo some of what I’ve done because my good judgement wains.  Slowing down actually helps in my productivity.  I will do my best to remember that, too, from vacationing.  And, if I don’t, I need look no further than an impulsive purchase or a task I must do again.  

I like the idea of balancing rest with activity, another take-away from vacationing.  I will continually identify and work on calibrating that balance with the demands of life between vacationing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When rushing to get everything you need done, slow down by taking a couple of breaths and then do the next thing focused on each step in the moment.  
  • When hungry, chew slowly, savor each bite, and listen to your body for signs up satiety.  Stop when you feel full.  
  • Turn on music when busy or when you’re able to uplift everyday chores.  It brings joy to the mundane.  

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. 

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.

The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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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.