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.  

Gifts of the Ordinary, Week Eleven in the Time of Transition

This morning was clear and cool enough for summer.  My knee wasn’t hurting and I could take a slow run by the East River.  Ah, a moment of little pain.  A small yet welcomed gift when my days are full.  Not only could I run after a week of limited walking, but I could enjoy an empty promenade with friendly passers-by.  That all added up to a great start to the day. 

As we continue to step into a world redefined it’s so easy to want to go back to all we were doing prior to the pandemic.  We might miss socializing, or live entertainment.  Choosing what we do and with whom enhances our sense of continued well-being.  And choosing to find the gifts in the ordinary is helpful in our day to day.  

I am appreciative of the large flowers gracing our small garden.  The smiles and gentle “hellos” are a kindness I so enjoy since I tend to busily move about without seeing individuals.  A day without rain brightens the weekend.  All these simple gifts deepen my satisfaction.  As I can become easily agitated by unpleasantness when I’m feeling raw, I am grateful when I’m in a place in which I can take in the goodness around me. 

Ordinary moments are turned into small gems as we amass them throughout the day.  They become even more dear, because they may be ordinary, but they are not always common.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take stock of the small moments of joy you amass throughout your day.
  • Sing to yourself.  Notice what you choose.  Enjoy it if you can.  And, if not, change the station.  
  • Read good news.  Usually newspapers and other news outlets have pieces that are inspiring, humorous, or just positive.  

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. 

Good Will, Week 59 in the Time of Coronavirus


This past week I posted a birthday wish for my 22-year-old child on FaceBook.  So many share the downside of social media.  And, yes, there are downsides, nonetheless, my most recent experience has been one of kindness and care.  In the past I’ve been reunited with friends near and far with whom I had lost touch.  Some have since passed away.  And, social media, namely FaceBook, gave us a chance to reconnect, reminding us of the moments that have shaped us.  

This past week I came out as a parent of a trans child. He has been out for years throughout the transition process. I stayed silent for the most part.  I had much to learn from Alex and the community, and I didn’t feel ready to speak while I educated myself and grow as a parent, therapist and human.   I have friends on FaceBook who share different religious beliefs.  I have friends who live very different lifestyles than that of our urban world.  Yet, the outpouring of love, support, care, and good will was extraordinary.  I felt meaningful connections rather than disparity.  

There are many times social media can seem like a window into a polished world.  One in which I can find myself feeling a good deal of envy for milestones or experiences I haven’t achieved or may never know.  It’s imperative that we live our own lives without measuring our successes based on others.  Yet, I find that challenging, and often fall short.  The responses to my most recent post remind me of the generous hearts far and wide.  

Sadly, I can get caught up in the behavior of annoying strangers or hateful acts in the news.  It’s easy to feel despairing of humankind.  However, when I take in the love shared, I am filled with the healing power of kindness.  My friends and family have reminded me that thoughtfulness is natural for most of us, and it always behooves me to live in that truth.  I will endeavor to focus on the good will I see.  And when I stray, much as my thoughts can stray in meditation, I will bring myself back to the reality of pervasive good will.  

Self-Care Tips

Snow, Week 41 in the Time of Coronavirus

Initially there were grave warnings about the snowstorm that was going to plague the Northeast.  When it started to fall, the winds were strong, and walking home from work was a bit of an effort.  The following day there were hills with footsteps at the curbsides.  Crossing the street took balance and navigation.  Patience was needed, as only one person at a time could reach the next corner.  Each person had their own pace, based on age, winter fitness, and footwear.  Good snow boots were the best.  So happy that past winters required me to find the right boots. 

            By Friday I was ready for a walk in the park.  The park closest to me, Carl Shurz, had sledding children with their parents.  It was hard to tell who was having more fun.  The walkways were icy, so my time in the park was limited to dog walks.  Central Park was more of a mix.  The Park Drive was clear for walking and running.  The side paths were too slippery to walk safely.  So, I stuck to the Park Drive.  From the Upper Eastside I could see snowmen and women being constructed.  There was a couple cross-country skiing displaying easy smiles.  A snow ball exchange spontaneously occurred.  A great way to play while socially distanced.  

            Rather than the storm being a threat to the city, it provided a needed change to the atmosphere.  Families had a reason to come out and play in the cold.  Individuals were able to enjoy the scenery, as well as the dogs and people romping about.  It lifted our moods.  If anyone fell, strangers came to their rescue.  Passing connections were found in these acts of kindness.  

            The sun’s reflection on the snow adds a brightness to our days.  The light has melted some of the pain on these past months.  The snow has been a gift in this time of Coronavirus.

Self-care Tips:

Make Plans and the Universe Laughs, Week 23 in the Time of Coronavirus

I put a lot of stock into getting away.  I was sure I needed a vacation, time away from work and the city to regroup.  We drove for a few hours until we found our rental home in the heart of the Western Catskills.  It is breathtaking here.  Having space to simply be has been a relief.  Yet, I brought some old baggage with me.  I’m not talking luggage here, I’m speaking of my long-term dysfunctional beliefs and habits.   

It took no time at all to enjoy the view from the front porch.  The mountains and the greenery are simply verdant.  The home has a winter-lodge feel to it, and it was nice to be in a place with high ceilings, lofts, and space.  I was off-line and on vacation.  A pandemic vacation.  A vacation in an unknown home rather than at a destination further than our own state.  I’m so grateful that we have a chance to get away.  I know how fortunate I am to have a job that I love, and am employed in this difficult time.  I am aware of the privilege of being able to get away.  Yet, I also know that my privilege does not make me immune to human foibles.  This vacation gave me a chance to become more acquainted with a few of my shortcomings.  

There’s a lot to do when at a rental.  Planning and preparing food, cleaning things to feel more comfortable, getting to know the house, the property, and the surrounding area.  We did well the first couple of days.  We found hikes, and trails, towns and local provisions.  I felt at ease in the mountains and woods.  

I was fooled, though.  My shoulders had softened.  They were no longer touching my ears. They were making their way into their natural position below my neck on either side. That alone had me believe that I was relaxed, and there were no worries.  But by day three, I was starting to weigh my relief at being in the country with my small disappointments with the house, the area, the responsibilities.  I didn’t think how much work it takes to be away like this.  I was no longer used to preparing multiple meals each day.  And, I got resentful that I was doing so much work around the house.  No one made me do it.  But I learned to be a people pleaser, and I took on that role like it was 1990.  

It wasn’t until I became nasty because others were lounging during their vacation (how dare they!), that I saw that I was no longer giving to make others happy, I was sacrificing my rest because of some unknown sense of duty.  It was not out of love, but rather out of a need to be appreciated.  What I got was the opposite of appreciation.  So I got cranky.  A killjoy during a vacation, or at any time, for that matter.  

Thank goodness they’re a forgiving bunch, or so it seems.  I could go back to them and let them know that I appreciate them.  And, so often, when I give what I think I’m owed, it shifts my experience.  I am now able to gaze up at the night sky to commune with the countless stars.  I was able to go on a walk today and enjoy the space and freedom of seeing no one.  It helped to take in the huge trees, the sky. Listening to the birds chirping, and the lapping brook. Larry and I went for a couple of drives and came upon a lovely farmer’s market.  Everyone friendly.  Very refreshing.  

And, when dinner needed to be made today, I was able to ask for help in a kinder way. Everyone pitched in happily making for a lovely evening.  Sometimes it takes a break to make a break from habits that never served us. 

Self-Care Tips

  • Pay attention to difficult feelings.  Let them be and they will reveal hidden truths that hold us back.  Then, without judgement, continue to provide space for the discomfort.  It will release itself.  
  • Write a letter to your future self. Choose how many years that will be, 5, 10, 20, or another number.  In thinking about yourself in the future, also think about one thing you can do today that supports the future you to whom you wrote the letter.  Then, in addition to writing the letter take an action that supports your future you.  
  • Give yourself a second chance.  If there’s something that you’ve done or that you want to do but haven’t done, rather than give up, giving yourself another opportunity to try it, means there is no dead end to the issue.  
  • Be in touch with someone who believes in you.  When we spend time, speak with, or are in the presence (even virtually) of someone who knows your value, you automatically feel empowered, and that promotes self-esteem.  If, you have yet to meet that person, look at someone who you admire and see if you feel inspired. 
  • Light a candle in the dark or turn on a small flashlight.  You will see how one small light illuminates the darkness.  Now, think of yourself and your actions as that light.  

The Frustration Budget, Week 20 in the Time of Coronavirus


The light breeze in the high heat and humidity of this New York summer is a simple pleasure these days.  When I amble along on the sweltering sidewalks I can feel the gentle air waves stroke my head and shoulders lifting me up from the heaviness of the muggy day.  It’s a simple joy to feel the wind when it comes.  It eases the countless frustrations that have set upon us during this time of the Coronavirus. 
 
Given how easily I can be set off these days, I have come up with a made-up system.  I have begun to enact a frustration budget.  Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc with our nervous systems.  So, I am going to assess what is a livable measure of frustration, and anything above that quotient will not be spent.  I am not my best when I’m overstressed.  And, then I circle back on annoyance with my mood and behavior, thus adding to my agitation level.  
 
At this point I think I need to set up my budget with a low level of frustration.  I am subtracting rather than adding to my to-do list.  I am laughing at myself for my lack of memory, including my lack of access to common words, and forgetting seemingly simple tasks.   I open my pajama drawer when I mean to retrieve socks from a parallel drawer.  I am at work, and I am unable to make a point since the word “overcome” will not make itself known to my brain in that moment.  Pre-pandemic, I would get annoyed with myself, and maybe even defensive.  Now, deep in the storm of Covid-19, I am amused by my foibles.  At least that’s how it is this hour.  
 
The frustration budget will be a work in progress.  I just thought of it this week, as I felt exhausted by the end of my day, and quickly followed it up by being less than pleasant when I came home.  It was then I thought, “why not limit what I take in that doesn’t bring me joy?”  And, why not?  I don’t need to finish those articles now when I don’t have the bandwidth.  I can look at the New Yorker cartoons, and save anything else that really interests me.  I can leave the room if the TV is on a program that I neither like nor care about.  I can shorten my walk if I get exasperated by those who are not following the CDC recommendations.  I can lengthen my meditation so that I purposely have more calm moments in my day.  
 
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred since our world changed.  Much of it is difficult.  But some of it, like noticing that I can’t continue on building a wall of aggravations on top of displeasures brings a sliver of mindfulness. It’s a kindness that I can give myself.  I imagine the daily distractions and activities in the past allowed me to ignore certain annoyances, but now they are front and center.  It is time to tear down the wall one frustration at a time until I am thriving within my frustration budget.  
  

Self-Care Tips:
·      Notice what frustrates you and see if you can let go of anything on your list
·      Start a Bullet Journal.  It’s a creative way to track what’s important to you.  
·      Keep a Mood Tracker so you can care for yourself no matter what you’re feeling
·      Write personal affirmations and put them on post-its, then place them where you’ll see them like on the bathroom mirror, in your sock drawer, or on the calendar.  
·      See if you can laugh at yourself when you find you’re being hard on yourself.  It really shifts your mindset.  If you can’t laugh at yourself.  Maybe you can smile at the fact that it’s not easy to go from frustration to humor.  

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