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.  

Oh, The Memories, Week 52 in the Time of Coronavirus

This is the last week of a full year of social distancing and all that comes with it.  Most of us are ready to finish this disruptive chapter and return to the activities we love.  Yet, I imagine there will come of a time in the future when we will wax nostalgic for this time.  

Perhaps we’ll appreciate the safety of wearing masks, not just to protect ourselves from Covid-19, but because we had less colds or cases of influenza.  We will yearn for a ready-made excuse for plans we prefer not to attend.  We will crave long walks in the middle of the day.  We will appreciate the rare times when family members in the house laughed together at silly moments.  We will hunger for communion with nature on a regular basis.  We will long for a simpler time, like we’ve been experiencing now. 

We all discovered, had we not known before, the public value of toilet paper, the comfort of everyday yoga pants, the ease of simply staying in.  We found comfort in our surroundings. The delight of first blooms. The joy of open spaces, a river view.  And we found solace in the small wins.  In losing so much in the span of this pandemic year, we gained a deep appreciation that less is more.  We’ll see how this plays out in the coming months.  And it will be interesting to see when we become sentimental for the lessons learned in the time of Coronavirus.   

Self-Care Tips:

  • Ask yourself, “Is there anything I need?”  Answer as honestly as you can.  You may discover there are needs not addressed.  Or you may find that you are taking care of yourself better œthan expected.  Whatever the answer, checking in with yourself is a reminder of your importance.  
  • Think of a situation in which being right became the be all and end all.  If possible, see if you can shift to compassion and apologize for not appreciating the other’s perspective.  
  • Note an insecurity of yours.  Now see if there is an upside for something that feels bad to you.  I.e., I used to cry a lot and thought I was too sensitive, now I use my sensitivity to appreciate music, joy, and empathy.  
  • Choose an item at home that elicits a specific memory.  See if you can remember the experience, then assess if you might feel freer should you be able to discard or give away that item.  
  • Enjoy a soundtrack from a beloved film of the past.  It will envelop you in euphony and nostalgia.  

Cautiously Optimistic, Week 43 in the Time of Coronavirus

Is this really a Happy New Year?  Yes, we survived 2020.  And, yet, recalling how happy we were to be in a new decade just a year ago, we are constantly reminded of the unexpected turn of events in March.  

In this first weekend of the new year, we take stock of the meaning of “hindsight is 2020.” Relieved that 2020 is behind us, our memories are raw from all we witnessed, and all we faced personally.  I now know the impact of ongoing stress on my body and mind.  I am just beginning to understand what is required to sooth myself and support others going through the intensity of extreme tension.  Sometimes it means reaching out and caring for someone, taking the attention off myself.  Other times it means paying close attention to what I need, whether it be a nap, meditation, or another episode of Law & Order.  

I am appreciative of the laughter brought to me by New Yorker cartoons, silly memes, posts on social media, and absurd memories with my sister, Sharyn.  I have grown to love the color of the sky as I walk through the city streets and parks.  I am grateful to my grandfather, Sam, who watched nature shows like The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  Though I was bored as a child who preferred to see The Jetsons in those early years, now that I’m his age from that time, I appreciate the pleasure of seeing animals in their natural habitats on the small screen.  

I have chosen not to make any resolutions.  I am not resolving to be better in any way.  Yes, I will work on bettering myself, but that remains a daily practice, one with many pitfalls, and flawed attempts.  And, this year, much like last year, I will pick myself up again, and again, dust myself off, and slowly move ahead.  If I remember I will look up at the sky in child-like wonderment.  A moment of awe whatever year it might be.  

Go gently into 2021, step by small step.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Alternate self-care behavior.  This way you find what works best, and what you need in different situations.
  • If and when you feel aches or pains, touch the area with care.  This is not a substitute for medical care, please attend to that.  This is a small gesture that affirms the healing power of touch.
  • Rather than thinking of all you will do in 2021, think of what you will no longer do.  Find the joy of saying no thank you to one or two “shoulds.”
  • Lower your expectations.  We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments this past year.  Lowering our expectations allows us to take in and act on what comes our way.  
  • Try something new, or try anything you’re not good at, like a new recipe, trying your hand at poetry, or learning a new language.  It helps us to develop humility.  

Thanksgiving, Gratitude & Disappointment, Week 37 in the Time of Coronavirus

There’s no doubt that this is a Thanksgiving like no other.  Many will spend Thanksgiving, if it is being spent at all, without loved ones.  In a large number of cases, it will be the first holiday without someone because they died, either of Covid-19 or from other causes.  It’s hard to feel thankful for these facts.  We can embody gratitude for what we’ve had in the past.  Or we may feel grateful for not having to be social when we’re not up to seeing anyone.  However, that’s a far cry from the delight of festivities of past years.  

Gratitude and its cousin, appreciation, can feel like a burden in times of fear, sadness and loss.  I am all for gratitude journals, and gratitude as a tenet of living a deeply satisfying life.  But we must come to this on our own terms.  When Thanksgiving comes around, I find there’s a collective social desire to manufacture gratitude on top of hardship.  A kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” premise.  I propose that we are tender with the losses and disappointments of 2020.  In telling the truth of what we have and what we don’t have any more, or what we never had, we can find compassion for ourselves in these times.  And if we can be grateful for anything it is for our capacity to heal.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Enjoy laughs. David Sedaris’s new book The Best of Me is just what we need in these times.  Hearing him read it in the Audible version adds to the pleasure. 
  • Consider the Buddhist tenet “we are not our thoughts.”  When you are having thoughts that you don’t like, or are uncomfortable, do a mental separation.  Touch your hand and say, “The is me.  That was a thought.”  You may have to repeat it a few times.  
  • Listen to jazz standards or other soothing music.  I can recommend Natalie Douglas, Diana Krall, or Nancy Lamott.
  • Hydrate.  We tend to forget to drink water in the colder weather.  
  • Purposefully take a day off.  If you can’t do that, take short breaks, even if it means going to the bathroom alone and taking a couple of breaths before resuming your responsibilities.  

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.

 

 

 

 

Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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Choices

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I am not going to my yoga class today. If I go I won’t get a chance to write, and I want to go for a jog before work, too, which I won’t be able to do if I go to my class. I love yoga and will miss the stretching and the relaxation that comes from the class. Lately I’ve chosen not to go more often than I go. I miss it. But when I do go, I miss these easy mornings before long days. I miss time spent with the family in the morning, or taking Lucy, our dog, for a walk and enjoying beautiful Carl Shurz Park. With every choice I gain something and I lose something else.

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When I was in my 20’s & 30’s I hated making choices. I felt personally responsible for others’ happiness and if I made a choice that someone didn’t like, then I felt deeply guilty. I always said, “it doesn’t matter to me, you decide.” Often I did have a preference. I preferred to go to a café rather than a coffee shop for breakfast, but I kept my mouth shut, while I silently regretted their decision. It took a long time for me to be able to voice my preferences. It’s not always easy, but I’d rather have a say in what happens, feel whatever I feel in relationship to the results than resent the ultimate outcome.

When we’ve experienced deprivation in any form making certain choices can feel daunting. We know we’ll feel a loss of what we don’t get, even as we know we’ll enjoy what we have. This has happened to me on vacations. By the time I take a vacation, I am so looking forward to the rest. Yet, because I yearn to travel the world, I am sad that I’m not choosing the Amalfi Coast over an inn in Connecticut. The practical, easier choice is the inn, which will be lovely. But the Amalfi Coast looks splendid. And, Italy is a wonderful country. If, in the end, I choose to go abroad, then I choose wander over simplicity.

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No, I am not deprived in that I get a vacation, a luxurious option in any life. But considering my options brings up all the times I had to do what I was told without being able to voice my unhappiness or disgust. The fear of the consequences of voicing my displeasure always seemed worse than just doing what I was told.   So even though my current life is not one of deprivation, making a simple choice can feel oppressive. But with practice the deprivation lessens, and the choices get easier. So, as I learn from a day without yoga , I feel more equipped to make the harder choices that life brings our way. And, I don’t feel like the old victim because I now understand that I do have a say.