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.  

Not This! Week Seventeen in the Time of Transition

I remember when I was in my 20s I took a self-help seminar.  I was doing a team activity, and I really didn’t like one of the members.  She was inappropriately rude, saying things like, “I can feel your anger.  Your jaw clenches.  It’s not pretty.  Why don’t you just let it go?”  Though it enraged me that she would say such a thing, only adding to my ire, I thought I was supposed to become more tolerant of others.  So I pushed my anger down, thinking I was “letting it go,” and tried to be accepting of this team member.  

It’s taken me years to listen to myself and not others idea of me.  I now see I can respond by saying I don’t want someone to speak to me in that way.  At the time, I thought I had to carry my shame for allowing my anger to be seen, and I had to hold her insensitive reaction to me.  Part of the slow learning curve on my part had to do with not wanting to be where I was.  I didn’t want to be an angry person.  I thought that made me negative.  At worst, unlovable.  Sometimes I just didn’t want to be where I was at any given moment because it was uncomfortable, or it felt intolerable.  

Getting through the pandemic has felt so uncomfortable for most of us.  Now in this transitional time that has seen a surge of cases, so many have little or no tolerance.  We’re seeing more impatience, more agitation.  We’re beat. Collectively we are silently saying, “Not This!”  Though we wish this was all behind us, we continue to endure.  Repeatedly we are challenged to meet the moment we’re in.  If and when we look back, we are sadly nostalgic.  When we attempt to look ahead, we can feel anxious and hopeless.  We might not like these feelings but they’re real.  When we deny them because we want to be in a better place, my experience is that those uncomfortable emotions linger.  The old adage, “What we resist, persists,” is fitting.  

If we’re able to live with our anger, impatience, boredom, frustration, and exasperation, we can address those feelings.  And, in dealing with where we are, no matter how we feel about it, we get to the next moment, and the next.  Getting through these difficult times is a moment-by-moment process.  Our courage to face ourselves no matter what, more than anything else, allows us to grow in so many ways.  Let’s meet ourselves at this time with patience, kindness and care.  And, when it’s too difficult to muster patience, kindness, and care, let’s have extra compassion for living in a difficult space. 

Self-Care Tips: 

  • When having a difficult time, speak with yourself, or write a note, as if you were addressing a beloved friend.  
  • Turn on the music and dance.  It can be as short as one song or make a playlist for a movement break. 
  • If you’re able, balance on one foot.  Do it for a few seconds or for longer.  It can improve your ability to be in the moment, especially in relationship to time and space.  

Sweet Sixteen, Week Sixteen in the Time of Coronavirus

Sweet Sixteen.  It doesn’t feel so sweet these days.  I remember when I was turning sixteen, I yearned to have a fancy party as many of my friends were having that year.  We couldn’t afford an expensive affair, so I begged and cajoled my parents into allowing me to have a house party.  My mother did not enjoy entertaining, nor did she feel comfortable in having a good number of adolescents in her home.  I didn’t realize at the time what a gift she was giving me just by saying yes.  

I worked hard to pay for the party doing overtime to make it happen.  I would make runs into Philadelphia to get beads so I could make each guest a personalized necklace.  My ambitions were high even though my craft skills were not.  

When the party came to be I remember how uncomfortable I was to bring together my friends from various parts of my life, from Hebrew school cronies to my drama student friend, to those in B’nai Brith Girls (BBG) to old elementary school friends, and my more avant-garde crowd.  I was an emotional mess thinking that each knew a part of me, but I was not at ease with me as a whole, and projected quick rejection once they saw the other aspects of  my personality.  Needless to say, trying to calm my mother pre-party and calm myself took all my energy while setting up.  

Each person I invited had a special place in my heart.  They had given me their friendship. Not understanding what that meant, I wanted to repay their kindnesses.  However, I didn’t know myself well enough.  I felt fragmented.  Sadly I only remember my discomfort walking indoors and out to make sure everyone had what they needed.  Scared they’d find out I wasn’t who they thought I was.  

It took me decades to learn that our many personality traits are naturally unified.  We are and have always been a culmination of the different parts of ourselves.    

Last night I had the great fortune of going out for the evening.  I was able to meet a FaceBook friend from the pandemic for the first time, as well as her awesome sixteen-year-old daughter.  My new friend is an extraordinary woman who is bright, sensitive, and fun, among other wonderful traits.  Larry was there, as was his friend who has become mine, and his delightful girlfriend.  For me it was a magical evening.  Perhaps even more so since there’s been a Covid-19 surge, and yet we could still meet for dinner.  We don’t know what’s coming, but in our uncertainty and fear we made room for laughter and love.  

If I think back to my 16-year-old self, I don’t know that I could have shared my fears if I was supposed to be having fun.  Or, I would have missed the fun in deference to my uncertainty.  Thank goodness for life experiences that allow us to keep moving forward while honoring the moment. Though I am not grateful for the pandemic and what I thought was this time of transition, I am grateful for new friends, long-term friends, a good husband, and all the other gifts from these many pain-filled months.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Make a positive comment online.  It can be a compliment for good service, a nice comment to a post, or a short hello to an old friend.  It’s an easy way to make someone’s day.
  • Make a note of a life lesson you’ve learned.  Remember how you used to be and recognize how you’ve grown since then.
  • Check in with yourself to see what you need.  Sometimes we’re preoccupied with what others need, and we don’t know if we need rest, if we need to reach out to a friend, or we need quiet time.  

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.   

Goodbye to the Old, Week Fourteen in the Time of Transition

I’m in my congested closet trying to decide which of the various, multi-colored pocketbooks and bags I’m going to let go.  I tend to rely on the same two or three, but I love to choose from the others on special occasions.  Of course, there have been few special occasions in the past year or so.  Nonetheless I had the privilege of attending a joyous outdoor event last night, and though no one else would care, I was so happy to sport the perfect small, blue bag for the evening.  

As it turns out I’m not as willing to give up as many bags as I thought.  I was able to go through my closet, and doing my own version of Marie Kondo, I let go of anything that no longer brought me joy.  Three bags later and I’m feeling a bit lighter.  I love the concept of evaluating things based on the joy it provides.   It works in so many areas of our lives.  

I gave up my gym membership.  I prefer movement in my own company or walking with a friend.  I was able to downsize my social life so that I can recharge more effectively.  Plus, I feel no obligation to continue to read books that aren’t right for the time, or watch shows that may be good, but for me. 

All this gives me a freedom.  I may be busy, but my life is less crowded.  My defenses less fired.  As I let go to enjoy more peace, I feel the joy.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Let go of something that is joyless this week.  It can be a plan you made or an item in the back of your closet.  Start small.
  • Experiment with doing something differently.  Workout with someone if you tend to go solo.  Or drink your favorite beverage in a new cup or glass.  See if you like the change.  
  • Muster the courage to disagree with someone who can be forceful.  Or, if you tend to voice your disagreement, have the courage to listen quietly, perhaps hearing from a new place.  

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.

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.

The Charm of a Three-Day Weekend

Memorial Day reminded me of the joy of a three-day weekend.  I can always use three days.  I don’t so much see it as an extra 24 hours, as I do experience it as needed time.  If we split up the weekend, one day is devoted to accomplishing chores, while completing unfinished tasks from the previous week.  The next day is for socializing.  Whether we catch up virtually or in person, it can be nice to check in with friends and loved ones.  And the third day is for much needed rest.  That is what I consider a full and gratifying weekend. 

During this current Saturday, Sunday coupling, I am already stressed attempting to get everything done while staying well-rested.  If I want to relieve my stress, then I have to let go of getting everything done and find a way to deal with half a deck.  It reminds me of times in my childhood when I’d find pieces missing from games, usually thanks to Susan, my younger sister, who seemed to get great pleasure playing with my toys and ruining them in the process. The red might be missing from Candy Land, or Mrs Peacock and the lead pipe were nowhere to be found when I took out Clue.   I’d find work-arounds so that I could finish games, not familiar yet with adult-onset stress. 

The simplicity of life during lock-down is waning.  Now I’m adjusting to longer to-do lists, adding to daily stress.  While I have maintained some anxiety relieving practices, I find that my mind wanders to expanding responsibilities, leaving me with a full mind, lessening my mindfulness.    It seems essential to return to the care free playfulness I had as a child.  Should I be able to access a younger me, then I’d easily let go of the missing pieces and continue on with my weekend, such as it is. 

I will spend the rest of my Sunday working around a limited time frame.  As care free as my seven-year-old self, I will enjoy the game of life, at least for the next 12 hours, even if it turns out I’m missing a random Jack and the Six of Spades.  Apparently just writing about this is an exercise in letting go.  Thanks for playing along with me, you made my weekend. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play.  Remind yourself of a younger you who enjoys a carefree period of time
  • Take dance breaks.  Even dancing to one song shifts our energy and allows us to move from stress to ease. 
  • Throw out old spices.  Go through your spice rack and let go of old spices while discovering forgotten spices that will add new flavors to your meals.