Masked Strangers; Week 26 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not being rude, I just don’t know who you are.  Though it seems ill-mannered, I rarely recognize anyone I see.  While walking about, I hear my name but have no idea who is summoning me.  Even after you tell me how we know each other, I have difficulty placing you.  Thus is the dilemma of mask wearing.  

Sometimes I recognize the voice.  Yesterday my name was called behind me.  And, though I couldn’t pinpoint who she was, ultimately her voice gave her away.  She’s our upstairs neighbor for about eighteen years.  It’s as if I have face blindness, a malady made well-known by the late, great Oliver Sacks.  

I used to recognize everyone, even those who had no clue who I was.  I’m not great with names, but I remember faces, shared experiences, and my personal impressions.  But now that we’re wearing masks, and, for my part, I prefer you wear one than not, I can rarely identify neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and colleagues.  It adds to the many moments in which I am caught without a clue during this time of the Coronavirus.  My mind is not as sharp now as it was in January.  Are any of us as focused or attentive as last year?  From what I hear, no.  

What I do recognize is modern dance on the bridle path with the reservoir as a backdrop.  A man was doing amazing moves as I slowly ran the path.  And I can identify a small ballet class on the East River promenade.  They were quite advanced.  It was pure joy passing them by as they strongly and gracefully leapt in the wind. 

A Saachi stock photo image from an online search

I also recognize the dogs I know.  They remain maskless for now.  And in that way, I know the identity of the owner.   I also recognize bees, butterflies, turtles and horses.  Most importantly, I can recognize smiling eyes.  They say the soul can be seen in the eyes.  And, the beautiful creases that adorn perfect strangers is a welcomed reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.  It connects us even when I don’t know if I know you.  

Self-Care Tips

-Buy 2 masks, give one away. 

-Shake things up, try a new hot sauce.

-Whatever you forget, whatever mistakes you make, whatever embarrassing moment you. might have now, remind yourself you’re living through a global pandemic. 

-Smile at a masked stranger.

-Dance indoors or out, bringing joy to yourself and perhaps others.  

Inner Resources; Week 24 in the Time of Coronavirus

Monday I arrived home from a week in the country.  It’s great to be home in my familiar surroundings, working from my office. And, now that I’m home, I happily go to my closet for my clothes rather than reaching into a suitcase. The pastoral setting on vacation was restorative. Yet the familiarity of our apartment and the city is comforting in its own way.  

Ever since we began to feel the impact of the Coronavirus by social distancing, public spaces closing, or our everyday lives being turned upside down, we’ve had to confront so many losses, and cull our resilience to get through our days.   While we used to have so much to look forward to on our time off, we’ve hunkered down, finding small pleasures during these stressful times.  Our vacations are altered, while our time at home is unique to this unprecedented year. 

We found a reprieve by going away for a week.  But the true challenge is finding pleasure in the here and now.  One thing I do is make my own frappuccino at home.  My coffee goes in the blender with ice, stevia and almond milk.  It’s easy, and it cools down the summer mornings.  Though it’s a simple pleasure, I know I can start my day having given myself this small treat.  Then throughout the day I stretch, breath, go for walks when on a break. Today I went to the park for a short run.  I do what I can.  We all do. 

But what happens we’re feeling vulnerable?  We may not have an effortless way to comfort ourselves.  Sometimes we are left bereft of stamina, of internal reserves.  Maybe we’re having difficulty sleeping.  Or, we’re too foggy-brained to attend to daily activities.  Whatever makes us vulnerable can temporarily rob us of access to our inner resources.  In those moments even having patience is a stretch.  

The idea that “this too shall pass” can be comforting.  But we also feel the frustration of not knowing when this will end.  So, we lurch forward on this crooked road.  We endure the troubling times and embrace the small wins.  We drink homemade frozen lattes, and double down on meditation.  We soothe ourselves when we can.  And, we comfort our friends and family, because we all need support now.  Because, after all, we’re living through a pandemic. 

Self-Care Tips

  • Send a love letter via email to yourself.  For example:  “Dear Janet, You are loved.”  Or, “I matter.”  It’s as simple as that.  Of course, it can be more like a diary or journal entry.  It’s your email, you decide.  
  • Take a mindfulness walk. It can be 5 to 10 minutes.  Simply walk feeling your body move indoors or out. 
  • Make a very small domestic change.  It can be throwing out a kitchen tool that no longer serves you. Or it could be dusting the top of the picture frames.  It’s just something easy that is outside your usual routine.    
  • Do one thing fully focused, no distractions.  We are so used to multi-tasking without thinking.  Instead: Try eating a snack, sitting down, conscious of the flavors and the sensation of chewing and swallowing.  No TV on, or phone in your hand.  Or, just focus on a phone call, listening without doing anything else.  
  • Save.  If you feel that you’re stuck, see if there is a way to crack a window on saving.  Find one thing that is doable, then do it.  For instance, if there is something you want, but the money just isn’t there, start by saving some change, or a dollar at a time. It may take some time, but you get to create a way to obtain something you want.  

Stressing About Stress, Week 22 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Oh Boy, another opportunity to stress.  We are going away to unload stress from city living, and yet here I am stressing about going away.  I’ve gotten used to the steady hum of anxiety just below the surface.  I have yet to speak to anyone during the pandemic that hasn’t acknowledged added stress. These feelings manifest themselves in many forms.  For me, I have a hard time focusing, going from one task to another without completing any of them until I’ve come back around twice.

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For the first time in years we will be at a place where there is no WiFi or cell service.  To that end I set a deadline for myself to complete this post before we left.  Last night was my made-up target.  When I failed to do that, I had to search for another word rather than fail to come back to myself with some patience and understanding.  Now I’m telling myself I simply did not finish this last night, and am doing that now.

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This also meant that my walk, run or bike ride was going to be short today.  I didn’t wake up early.  Instead I slept until I woke naturally and abbreviated my previous goals.  Perhaps we’ll settle in early enough for me to take a walk around the large property this evening.   Or, not.  Either way, we’re on an adventure.  I am in turns, excited and nervous.  And I’m interested how my stress will wane in the wooded Catskills.

 

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Self-Care Tips

 

  • Do something sensual. This isn’t necessarily sexual.  This has to do with your five senses.  Find a scent you like, make touch a sensate experience.  Mold clay, taste something divine.  Listen to the birds or music, or secondary sounds.
  • Make-up with yourself. Think of something for which you got mad at yourself.  Now let yourself know that you are your own reclaimed friend.  As a friend to yourself you may feel more inclined to treat yourself with respect and compassion.
  • Learn something new. Whether you listen to someone who knows something you didn’t know, or whether you look up information online on a site like lifehacker.com or zidbits.com, it’s fun to learn facts, hacks or material new to you.
  • Do it differently. Like I had to shorten my run today, as well as my blog post, it can be relieving to accomplish something outside your routine.
  • Get away. If you’re not going anywhere try a virtual tour on Fodor’s or another travel website.  Or, take a new route on a walk.  Or leave your home for a safe place in a new venue.   All can expand your outlook.

Being Okay Not Being Okay, Week 18 Blog Post in the Time of Coronavirus

I am in awe at the speed and dominance my emotions morph during the time of Coronavirus.  I am moved to tears by the humanity I witness or hear about.  Moments later I am immersed in fury for a perceived injustice.   I am in love with my child and husband for their simple kindnesses, and then I am agitated when I turn the corner to see that some arbitrary chore or other wasn’t accomplished.  My pettiness is astounding. My gratitude short-lived.  

As an observer I find this fascinating.  As the subject I find it disconcerting.  More and more I’m hearing similar stories of unwielded emotional lability.  By the week’s end I am exhausted.  Too tired to be social or active.  So I am resting more and more.  I have found resting to be restorative.  Prior to Covid-19, I thought resting was an obligatory lessening of activities when I hit a wall or got sick.  No longer.

I am not a closet napper these days.  Now I proudly nap, understanding the need for the down time.  I hadn’t realized the array of my rigid beliefs until I had to set up new rules during the time of Coronavirus.  All of a sudden I am making room for my widening range of emotional connection.  I have eschewed the notion that getting the most things done is a winning strategy.  And, I am throwing out plans right and left in favor of what works for me in the moment.  

This has been a tragic time in our world’s history.  And, though I recognize the losses we all have had to endure, I am also grateful for the gifts of this time.  The difficulties that have come our way make it impossible to go on as before.  I am unable to hide my less attractive features like my pettiness or judgments.  I can see them upfront and personal.  All I have to do is go for a walk to hear my thoughts; appreciating someone who raises their mask when passing, while silently cursing those who are not choosing to protect me and everyone else from the spread of Covid-19.  

These are kneejerk responses.  Later I may be able to find compassion, understanding everyone is doing the best they can.  But I don’t always dwell there.  So, I am using my ire to teach me.  I’m not defending against the notion that I get angry or disparaging of myself and others.  Instead I am learning about how and when those feelings present themselves and seeing if I can have patience for myself and others as we travel this unchartered territory on our own and all together.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Change the lighting to shift a mood.  We get set in the way we light things.  Yet, sometimes turning off a light or changing the bulb color helps to relax us.  Conversely, bringing in more or altered light can provide an emotional lift
  • Expand your vocabulary.  There is something singularly satisfying in learning new words.  Word Genius brings new words to your email.  There are also other platforms that are terrific.  
  • Star Gaze.  If you can, go out on a clear night a gaze up at the stars.  You will see infinite possibilities which will be a lovely contrast from the limited options we presently have.  If you can’t go out, then check NASA’s website for images or go to NOVA for images. 
  • Light a candle. It’s so simple and can remind us that a small source of light brightens large spaces.  
  • Add fresh herbs to the inside of your mask.  One mint leaf or rosemary sprig on the inner side of the mask can make all the difference.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, perhaps trying an essential oil or a light fragrance 

On my Bike, Week 17 in the Time of Coronavirus

Each one of us have been impacted by the Coronavirus in a personal way.  Some have been ill. Many have been in quarantine. Too many have lost their jobs and income, some of our loved ones have died.  And, the weight of the pandemic continues.  Friends have been divided based on the level of protection we have chosen.  Plans have been cancelled.  Supply chains are interrupted.  And we have all made appropriate adjustments centered on what is right for us under these circumstances.  

I am riding my bicycle more than I have in past years.  I like it because once I pass the trafficked streets it’s easy to ride the slow lane in the park.  And, as with every activity, I wear my mask, wishing everyone would wear there’s when in public.  This is a reflection of the rumble of fear right below the surface.  I am as afraid to infect others as I am of contracting a life-threatening illness.  As an extra precaution, I ride at times when the park is apt to be less populated.  So far, so good.  

My bicycle is a low-standing, folding bike.  I like the truncated height because my feet can easily reach the ground.  A throwback to shaky bike riding during the long summers peddling to The Haddontowne Swim Club.  I keep my bicycle in my office, located on the ground floor, to avoid schlepping it up and down the stairs of our apartment building.  It’s nice when I can create a simple solution.  Stashing my bike in the office also gets me out more.  Given these times, if it’s easy, it’s more apt to get done.  

Humidity was high this weekend. I don’t mind that so much.   It’s pleasant to feel a light breeze cruising down the hills.  Tracing the topography of Central Park, as well as the streets on the Upper Eastside, is a unique experience I encounter during my rides.  It’s physical and mental.  And a bit more challenging while wearing my mask.  I even tried a cycling mask, which was hot and constricting, making it harder to ride.  So, I returned to my office for the light cotton style that allows for an easier, though somewhat restrictive, air flow.  

I am both challenged and contented on these rides.  For one, though a cliché, the short journey on my bike is a metaphor for my ability to face difficulties and experience joy. I have to harness the energy to get up a hill.  Whether I go slowly or forge ahead, I can feel my muscles in motion.  My body is supporting me in moving through space.  My mind is telling me I can do it.  My conviction assures me I will do it.  I am grateful that I am at an age that I can trust this thinking.  I didn’t have that ability twenty years ago.  And, I understand that taking on the big and small hills builds mental and physical strength so that I can face them and others like them again.

Conversely, I can enjoy the flat roads, the ease of cycling at a pace that suits me.  I can enjoy the light breezes of summer as I turn the pedals.  Also, I get to know the streets that are open to me.  When I’m short on time, or just want a different ride, I make two rights to get to East End Avenue.  It’s partially closed to traffic, making it a great option. Cycling on East End is convenient and stress-free. Before the pandemic, I had no idea that I live on the top of a gentle slope. I never really saw the hilly street as anything but quiet. It’s a lovely way to get to know the city’s surfaces.  Enjoying old pleasures now is reminiscent of childhood, when every adventure was new again.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Purposelessly take a break.  Rather than push through, stop, meditate, or take a breath, and slow things down a beat.  It’s personally affirmational.  
  • Send a card or a letter snail-mail to someone who has been on your mind.  
  • Bring fresh herb plants into your home.  They smell great, and you can always clip them to flavor your meals and drinks.  If you already have an indoor or outdoor herb garden, perhaps adding another fragrant herb will round out the robust fragrances.  
  • Change up something in your routine(s).  For instance, walk a different direction to get a different view.  Or, if you always brush your teeth after your shower, brush them before.  It will feel odd to do something slightly differently, but it changes how we see things, and will allow for a new perspective.  
  • Smile under your mask.  It’s a mood changer.  

Week 16 in the Time of Coronavirus; Attending to the Mundane

While social distancing, and quarantining when necessary, I have experienced, as we all have, moments in which we are faced with small but necessary tasks.  Cleaning for me is one of those responsibilities that feels great when it’s done, yet I procrastinate getting it done.  This weekend I had to defrost my small office freezer.  It’s not so difficult as it is annoying.  And, even on the annoying scale it’s pretty low, especially when we have to deal with so many annoyances while going through this Covid-19 period.  Nonetheless, when the ice trays can’t be removed, and my Tito’s bottle is stuck, both from neglect, as well as frost accumulation, it’s time to take on the mini fridge.  

The nice part about it is that I can do it in stages.  First stage is to empty out everything from the refrigerator.  Mostly it’s water bottles, beverages, and condiments.  I place anything that needs to be kept cold in a bag.  Then I turn off the unit, open the door, and place a large, absorbent towel in front to prevent flooding.  Next I haul the bag one and half blocks where I place it in my apartment fridge.  From there I went on a walk.  

I loved the walk.  It was a hot and humid day yesterday.  So I walked a bit slower into Central Park, then north on the bridal path, and uptown once again to the shady north woods along a brook.  It was quiet and peaceful.  I try to take paths I don’t know.  It’s fun to get lost and see things I might not have seen before.  Or, find that I can see them from another vantage point.  After I was satisfied and tired, I trekked back home. When I made it to the Eastside it started to rain gently.  Perfect.  The streets empty out, yet the precipitation is light enough to barely get wet.  I could smell the musky, sweet aroma of a storm to come. 

 

I was instantaneously brought back to summers of yore when I would be playing outside and had to run in, sometimes getting my red Keds wet in the process.  It is a routine perfumed scent, yet very specific, bringing joy to me as I made my way back home.  Once home, I saw that the rugs needed vacuuming, and I had just enough energy to get that done.  Again, a mundane task, yet I recalled all the weekends as a child I had to stay in until I finished my chores.  One was to dust and vacuum the living room, a golden carpet under staid furniture that barely hosted activity.  

There is much in these small moments, these mundane undertakings that recall memories.  Today I went back to my office to wipe down the refrigerator and restock it, remembering broken freezers in my 20s, and impromptu parties so the goods wouldn’t spoil.    These mundane projects remind us that getting through this time of the Coronavirus connects our troublesome present with our past, as well as hope for a safe future.  A future when we can blend banal moments with pleasurable diversions like walking in Central Park with a friend.  

Self-Care Tips

*Read poetry. There’s everything from accessible poetry like Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and  Maya Angelou.  Or, other forms such as Rumi, Nikki Giovanni, Mark Doty, and Shakespeare.  There are also really funny and fun poems, if you’d like to lighten your day.  Elinor Lipman on FB has very funny poems (they have a left slant).  Or, go basic like Dr. Suess, Shel Silverstein, or Dorothy Parker.  

*Decorate a mask.  Make your mask your own.  Draw lips, or if you’re okay getting messy, put on bling and sparkles.  Enjoy presenting your creativity when out.  

*Hydrate.  Being outdoors in the summer can be fun, but staying hydrated allows for even more fun.  If you are opposed to drinking water, find flavored, unsweetened water or make your own.   I find fresh mint leaves in my water or iced tea is really refreshing

*Clear up one small area in your space.  Whether you tackle a drawer, or simply straighten up your work area by going through some papers and making it a bit tidier, it will help to bring the smallest bit of mental space.

*Be silly.  Find the playful child in you.  

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

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