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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