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. 

Funny Thing About Gratitude, Week 26 in the Time of Transition

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I find it incredibly annoying when I’m upset about a person, place, or thing, I’m on a rant, and the individual listening responds by telling me I should be grateful.  It feels like a dismissal of my complaint, valid or not, and a recommendation that I pivot to a “soft music inserted here” blissful moment when I see how lovely life is and how wrong I was to find the awful in this grand world we inhabit.  

I see the benefits of complaining.  I find it helps me to release my frustration, as well as other unpleasant emotions, so that I can find that blissful place on my own.  I am all for being inspired, but I am not a fan of skipping the messy parts so that I make it easier for someone else.  

Conversely, in moments of awe and wonder I enjoy the wave of gratitude that envelops me.  And, in times when I experience hardship and my family, friends, acquaintances and/or strangers offer their support, I am forever grateful.  Kindness is taken in and helps me to grow.  My heart softens.  

When I listen to award shows, I feel badly for the winners who only want to share their special moment by acknowledging the countless others who allowed them to reach that stage, but the orchestra music plays to interrupt them.  Though I won’t name names here, only because I am apt to miss some, I am forever grateful to my relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, therapists, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others who have shared their thoughtfulness.  It has inspired me.  Their acts of kindnesses have been invaluable whether they remember them or not.  

So, if for a short time I complain, it is only so that I can unload on my own terms, allowing me to get back to a place in which I am genuinely grateful for all the times I’ve been the recipient of your and others’ generosity of heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find a person to whom you can share your complaints.  In the absence of a neutral listener, write down your complaints so they are not swimming in circles in your brain.  
  • Remember times in which you were the recipient of arbitrary kindness.  Check in with how it feels to recollect that time.  
  • Write a thank you note.  We have lost that art, and they are so appreciated.  

A Rare Moment of Calm, Week 24 in the Time of Transition

I hit the ground running.  There was so much to get done and I’m still behind.  I did the best I could, which means I had to readjust from vacation mode to New York City-paced backlog catch-up.  Within a few days the vacation glow is flickering.  

Sometimes getting away is the space needed to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no way I can keep up my current pace.  What goes?  Time will tell. 

The idea of living simply makes perfect sense.  I can be still when meditating.  The quiet time before my coffee is delightfully simple.    The rest of the day is a maze of work, calls, paperwork, walks, family time, dog time, emails, and if I have the energy and a rare opening, a good tv program.  

It took me until today, while walking Lucy, to appreciate the cool air on the East River Promenade, without my phone, without a podcast, without distraction.  Just Lucy and I strolling along.  When I was away, I was able to go for swims.  I love the tranquility of an empty lap pool.  Though I have yet to find a quiet pool in the city, my walk with Lucy brought calm to my otherwise hectic days.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Find a new book, tv program, a movie, or something you can enjoy at the end of busy days.  
  • Try to go for a quiet walk without a phone or other interferences.  Notice what it’s like to move peacefully.  
  • Play the make-believe drums with spatulas and pots.  Get out all your frustration by tapping into your inner child pretending to be a rock star.   

Getting Away, Week 23 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Sometimes we just need to get away.  It helps to clear our heads and take a break from day-to-day stress.  That’s exactly what we did this weekend. It’s been a long time coming.  I booked this trip before the pandemic shut down our world.  I rebooked three times in the hope that quarantines were a temporary inconvenience.  In the end we had to wait until the Canadian borders opened up for the fully vaccinated. 

I was nervous to take my first big trip out of the country.  But I also wanted a proper vacation.  It felt like I needed a proper vacation.  So here we are in Quebec City fully enjoying the hospitality and food that is offered with care.  

The joy of walking unfamiliar streets and seeing the colors change on the trees has proven to be just the break I needed.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take a break.  If you can’t get away, give yourself quick moments throughout the day when you take 5 deep breaths for a short pause.
  • Start taking note of the colors changing on the trees.  What colors do you like the most?  Which trees look as if they’re ablaze?  Enjoy he richness of the season.  
  • Savor the natural foods of the season.  Whether you like all things pumpkin, or you’re an apple fan, the flavors of fall offer so much.  

Popularity Contest, Week 22 in the Time of Transition

Over fifteen years ago I organized a networking event for psychotherapists and others in related fields.  I hosted it in my office garden and prepared a beautiful buffet of crudité and homemade dips and finger food.  I received a lot of maybes, and about fifteen said they would attend.  Of course, I over-estimated and prepared too much food.  In the end I had five guests, two just stopped by.  

It was an intimate event. The four of us were able to appreciate and understand what each of us offered clients, and it ended on a positive note. However, I was mortified that more people didn’t come.  I was embarrassed for myself, and felt I let my colleagues down.  It was challenging to stay focused with the other women who came. Instead I spent too much energy  focusing on who wasn’t there.  

It harkened back to parties in elementary school and junior high to which I was never invited.  Or times when the red rope was not unhooked for me at Studio 54 and the Palladium.  The rejection felt personal.  I was not one of the chosen ones.  

Since those times I realize I do better in small groups or one on one.  I get too distracted at large parties.  Yet, as I currently work on a book, mostly on odd weekends, I have been told by so many that I need a platform.  That means that I must amass followers and readers.  I always feel awkward when asking for others to read my work.  Larry, my husband, may be the exception. 

I like writing, but I don’t like marketing for myself.  It feels too much like my 10-year-old-self asking to be liked.  No, thank you.  I will continue to create this book on getting through difficult times with self-care tips, slowly and painstakingly.  I don’t know that I’ll get an agent or get it published. Nonetheless, I will proceed, trusting that I don’t need to be someone I’m not just to be popular.  It is not in my best interest to consider numbers rather than you, dear reader.   

Self-care Tips:

  • Affirm that you are enough.  Write “I Am Enough” on post-its and place one on a corner of your bathroom mirror, and other places you  view daily (inside a drawer, on your refrigerator door, etc.)
  • Learn a new song.  It can be easier to remember things put to music.  So learning a new song is a great way to exercise your brain.  
  • Remind yourself that bigger is not necessarily better.  When plans change and you have a smaller event (as in these past 18 months) find the sweetness in the intimacy of the experience.  

Singing in the Park, Week 21 in the Time of Transition

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As a young child I delighted in our Magnavox HiFi.  I would sit on the scratchy green wool sofa in our den while listening to Rosemary Clooney.  Her album, Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children with its pink background was a clear favorite.  I loved the track, Betsy, My Paper Doll, because I was the lucky recipient of the Betsy McCall paper dolls hidden in the pages of my mother’s McCall’s Magazine.  The other song that spoke to me was The Little Shoemaker because my father was in the shoe business.  At six, it felt like Rosemary Clooney was singing to me personally.  I hadn’t realized Rosemary Clooney was an icon until years later when I watched her sing with Bing Crosby in White Christmas on the Sunday Million Dollar Movie. 

Recently I was reminded of that album while walking in Central and Carl Shurz Parks in this time of transition.  On the grass are one- and two year-olds in a safely distanced semi-circle with their caregivers listening to Broadway level singers shaking egg instruments and leading the children in song.  They are singing their hearts out to their young audiences who may or may not be singing along.  Each performer grateful for any gig as theater crawls back from being dark.  

How fortunate I was to have enjoyed the musical styling of a great songstress.  And, how lucky these toddlers are to meet up with some of the best singers from around the country. It’s not clear if it’s simply a part of their activity schedule or if the family values the influence of music in our lives.  Either way, I appreciate walking past them remembering the simple touch of my mother’s hand when placing the needle gently on the spinning album even when I asked to hear it again and again. 

In addition to Rosemary Clooney, I heard Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and many more who allude my memory, crooning through our oak HiFi.  On Sundays we listened to opera on the classical radio station.  That’s when my grandparents visited. We all sat quietly on the same itchy green sofa or love seat.  If we couldn’t be quiet, we had to go play in the basement.  I favored Puccini and Mozart.  The songs felt pretty to me.  But not having an album cover to attempt to read was a limitation that had me go to the basement after an aria or two.  

I’m not listening to enough music these days.  It’s time to open-up iTunes and delight in Rosemary Clooney and friends.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play music you used to enjoy.  Take in the memories and notice how the songs and music impact you now
  • Take a walk and see what associations you conjure.  What recollections come to mind?
  • Create new memories by sharing music with someone you respect.  If possible, listen together.  If you can’t, you can enjoy the association with the music. 

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.  

Are You Okay? Week Nineteen in the Time of Transition

Transitions can be tricky.  We usually wish for a straightforward line to the next signpost, but what we often get is a winding road uphill.  That is certainly the case these days.  This past week is a perfect example of changed plans and tragic outcomes.  Water and fire have altered lives irrevocably.  

The news is full of sweeping coverage of homes lost and displaced families.  In addition, we know of or are hearing of personal stories of loss and vulnerability.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I was not in our subway system, and I am not in a flood zone.  I hadn’t gone on Facebook, so I wasn’t aware that we could indicate we were safe.  Sometimes I’m just clueless about social media.  I’m still uncertain how to navigate Instagram.  

However, some friends and family in other parts of the country, and other parts of the world were so thoughtful in reaching out to see if I was okay.  These are simple, caring acts that are deeply appreciated.  In my day-to-day I get caught up in whatever is in front of me.  I’m not great about being in touch with friends and family. Sometimes I’m even criticized for it, though I never find that approach inviting.  

Life can get very full very fast.  But this week taught me that being in someone’s heart is not a matter of how many times I’ve called or written.  I so appreciate that.  I know it’s true for me.  Throughout any given week, I recall a moment or a personal exchange with someone I consider close, and I smile.  Unbeknownst to them they provide sustained joy over time.  

There have been a good many people who have given their time, attention, love and humor.  I am forever grateful. For that, thank you to those who reached out to me or to others.  It matters.  It matters a lot.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send a simple text or IM to let someone know you’re thinking of them
  • Play music aligned with your emotions.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, play Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  If you’re a bit playful, listen to Gershwin.  Or, if you’re wistful perhaps Aaron Copland will do. 
  • Go to a different Janet Zinn’s website for stunning nature pictures: https://www.jczinn.com