Today I painted my nails two different colors.
I’m sure some of you are thinking “Girl, what’s the big deal? I paint my nails ten different colors each week!”
But when you are like me, you get comfortable with being comfortable. You don’t stray too much over the lines. You avoid change.
You order the same meals at the same restaurants.
You watch the same tv shows over and over again.
You wear the same clothes week after week — often buying the same shirts and pants in different colors and sometimes in the same colors because you know you like them.
You look for the predictable, the routine, the ordinary — especially in the midst of a pandemic. Those ordinary things became a lifeline for me this year.
As the world outside me swirled into chaos over the last several months, I leaned into the things I could control and the things I could predict. I responded to the daily uncertainty of our lives by choosing to live my life in comfort, a space that sometimes felt like control.
But today I leaned a bit out of my comfort zone. I embraced something unpredictable and different.
I chose change.
Yes, today I remembered that even though it’s safe and cozy sometimes to live inside the lines, sometimes the things that make us feel secure are actually the things that hold us back from living life to its fullest.
So, to those of you out there coping like me — by choosing order, predictability, and ordinary — today might be a good day to stray just a bit outside the lines.
I can’t promise that you won’t regret it but I can promise that it’s an important exercise.
Hey you out there, the woman holding back who she really is, stop.
It’s ok to step into your light.
It’s ok to show up and be yourself.
It’s ok to finally figure out who your real people are.
It’s ok to want more, ask for more, need more.
It’s ok to be the person you really are.
It’s ok to ask for help.
It’s ok to break a little, feel lost, and struggle with the next steps.
It’s ok to make changes in your life.
It’s ok to be vulnerable.
It’s ok to acknowledge that life is sometimes really freaking hard.
It’s ok to be 100% you.
It’s ok to be proud of yourself.
It’s ok to be happy.
It’s ok to be ok.
It’s hard to find these days.
I don’t think it’s been here for over 6 months.
Between the kids and 2 parents working from home and 3 noisy dogs and 2 cats (or 4 dogs and 1 cat if you count the cat that thinks she is a dog), this house is very loud.
Silence here is simply not a thing.
Sometimes I can sneak away and soak in the bathtub while the bathroom fan drowns out the noise of dogs barking, video games being shouted at, pianos being played, cats knocking stuff off tables, and dishes being washed.
In those moments, I can almost hear silence.
But tonight I found silence that I didn’t know I was missing.
After my oldest and I ate dinner, he left the kitchen to take a shower. My youngest and my husband were out running an errand. The dogs were sleeping peacefully with their recently full bellies. I have no idea where the cats were but they were quiet.
Work was done.
TVs and radios were off.
The street was empty.
All I could hear was the gentle humming of the ice machine and the soft snores of the dogs.
Rather than getting up to do the dishes or flip over the laundry or sort the mail or prep backpacks for tomorrow, I sat.
I took in the silence.
I breathed in the silence, allowing myself to be fully present for the first time all week.
I felt the chair legs beneath my feet (because I’m short).
I felt the smoothness of the kitchen island built by my family during the height of quarantine.
I felt the air fill my allergy-induced asthma lungs and took my first full deep breath all day.
I felt my mind wander but I brought it back each time to focus on my breathing and the sounds of the silence.
I sat fully present in that moment for as long as it lasted.
Gradually the silence was filled. The ice machine dumped its newly formed tray of ice. The shower turned on in the bathroom down the hall. A car pulled down the street, waking two dogs, causing one of them to bark and the other one to tip tap up and down the hallway, her way of asking to be let outside.
As I stood to do those dishes and flip over that laundry and sort that mail and pack those backpacks, I noticed a lightness inside.
The weight I had been carrying all week was lighter, somehow made less heavy just by being in the silence.
Then I remembered an important fact about me. Silence refuels me. It recharges me. It recenters me.
But silence is hard to find.
Tonight I remember that I have to try harder to find it, even if I have to find it in some stolen moments at a kitchen island.
I lost it this morning.
The weight of the past 6 months caught up with me.
My favorite time of the year — the reset provided by fall and back to school — finally made it to my house, albeit 3 weeks later than usual.
It’s my annual chance to reorganize my life, my routines, my systems, and my brain. New clothes for the boys for back to school, expanded hours for my clients, new classes for me to teach at the college level, and evenings spent on a sports field watching my boys play their favorite game usually fill my life this time of year.
Of course, none of that happened this year.
But today did mark the start of the in-person portion of the school year for my boys — the first time my oldest would step foot inside the high school as a student, not a visitor, and the same for my youngest at the middle school. It was kind of a big deal.
But, I lost it.
I slept through my first alarm and spent the rest of the morning playing catch up, racing through our morning to do list with one eye on the clock because they couldn’t be late — not on their first day.
Then the negative thoughts started.
I felt the weight and guilt of having to turn yet another handful of interested clients away because I cannot increase my hours this fall due to at-home schooling 3 days/week.
The state of disarray that is my house with backpacks, school supplies, masks, half-finished projects, dog toys, and a weird blend of clean and dirty clothes was all I could see everywhere I turned.
The bickering on social media flashed before my eyes as I absentmindedly scrolled through my feed while waiting for my tea to steep. Negativity and stress was everywhere this morning.
When I went to wake up my now middle schooler for his first day of school, I found the grumpy, moody, developmentally appropriate but patience-testing version of him before me.
I lost it.
Everything boiled over.
The doubts about whether this hybrid model is the right choice for him, whether this school was the right choice for him, whether this town was the right choice for him, it all rushed to the surface and I yelled.
I lost it.
I imposed an early bedtime, said I would take away all electronics, took away his option to walk home from school today, and I cried.
Today was our big day as a family and I lost it.
I failed to see that everything I was feeling, he probably was also feeling.
Six long months without being in school. Six long months of hearing about this virus. Six long months without the routine and structure that had filled most of his 12 years on this planet.
He doesn’t want this. He wants the world back to the way it was. He wants to play football. He wants to go to school full time with ALL of his friends. He wants to ride the bus while sharing a seat with his friend. He wants to sit across from his friends at a lunch table.
I failed to recognize all of that this morning and instead focused on how he wanted to wear ratty sweatpants with a hole in the knee to school and had a negative, grumpy attitude.
We were sure to say I love you and hug goodbye after our meltdowns but there were no cheerful first day of school photos for him.
Because I lost it.
We all have mornings like I had today — mornings where everything feels rushed and wrong and the choices you make are just the wrong ones. The guilt from those wrong choices is heavy and thick and can stick with us long after the bad moments have passed.
The truth is, no amount of “hold onto hope,” “be patient,” “give it time,” or “find the bright spot” memes or stories can actually take the stress of reality away. Sometimes life is just hard and it all catches up to you, washing over you like a gigantic rogue wave. Sometimes you just have to feel your feelings. I guess this morning was one of those times for him and for me.
So, what do you do after you lose it? What do you do when you regret the choices you have made as a parent, a partner, a friend, a worker?
Sure, I could sit in this guilt and negativity all day but that will probably only set off a whole big chain of further negativity. Today I choose to reflect on it, learn from it, take ownership for my actions, and reset.
Tomorrow is another day and I will try my best to do better, to be better.
Also, maybe I will set a back up alarm.
This past weekend I ran away. I took my family north for one last trip to the mountains to take a break before the next chapter of 2020 begins.
There were lots of reasons to not take the trip. My pet sitter wasn't available. The hotel cost more than I wanted to spend. The weather wasn't going to be great. Covid-19 is still a thing and would prevent us from doing the things we usually like to do up there. It would have been easier to stay home, save money, and try again another time.
But, we went anyways.
It was the right decision.
On our final day up there, we stopped for ice cream. My eye fell to the homemade chocolate chocolate chip flavor on the menu. Once again, there were many reasons not to order it. I just worked hard to lose 10 pounds in August. I would probably only eat three bites before declaring it too sweet. I would probably get a tummy ache.
But, I ordered it anyways.
It was the right decision.
A few minutes later, my family of 4 sat at a picnic table overlooking the mountains as we enjoyed our ice cream and talked about our trip, the upcoming school year, and the start of the football season.
Then it hit me.
Life is short.
I’m so glad we invested in the moment this weekend. I feel recharged and ready for whatever September has in store for us. The weekend was just what we needed.
So, what's your ice cream in the mountains going to be this week? What is that one thing you have a million reasons NOT to do but deep down you know it will serve you well? What would it take to make it a reality?
Yesterday I stopped.
My gas tank was completely and utterly empty. I had nothing left to give to anyone.
I closed my computer.
I left the dishes in the sink.
I left the the laundry in the baskets.
I left the mail on the counter.
I left emails unanswered.
I left my to do list undone.
I laid in my hammock and did nothing but listen to the wind rustling the giant tree in my backyard while two of my dogs ran and played.
I pushed away all the “shoulds” and just breathed.
And it was glorious.
We all need to stop a little more.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I start yet another day at my kitchen table, the place where I now can be found trying my hardest to balance the responsibilities of working from home with parenting two children and attempting to serve as their substitute teacher. Any given morning now finds me tackling clinical documentation and billing for my private therapy practice while helping my 14 year old muddle his way through assignments for 8 different subjects in a now completely digital learning environment while also debating the usefulness of responding to a journal prompt about an abandoned fort with my 5th grader.
Each day begins the same in this new Groundhog Day version of life and as I sit down at the kitchen table, I am keenly aware of the fact that I have less than 90 minutes to get at least some “school time” in for my kids before I completely ditch them and lock myself in my home office for 8 back to back psychotherapy sessions. Sure, I’ll pop out for the 10–15 minutes I have between sessions to refill my water glass, throw some food at my boys, put dogs out for a bathroom break, break up whatever dispute has started between the boys, and maybe even find time for a restroom break myself. Then it’s right back to work — headphones in, camera on, therapeutic space live and on the air.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I hold space for patient after patient who is working on the front lines of the COVID19 crisis. ICU nurses, doctors, and social workers all recounting horrible tales of what they are seeing day after day to me in our sessions. Suddenly my practice has become one filled with trauma work as I help my clients find hope, practice self care, and manage their intense fears of the virus.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I sit virtually with new moms who were already struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression and now have lost many of the lifelines we helped them to establish in our work together before the virus changed our world.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as my email and voicemail inboxes swell with former clients who are reaching out for support in light of what the virus has done to their lives.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I attempt to support patients who finally had achieved pregnancy after years of loss and failed IUD cycles and yet now have to attend doctor’s appointments alone and fear that if things get worse they may even have to deliver their babies without their partner present.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as patient after patient shares their fears about what will happen to them now that they have been laid off or furloughed or are no longer feasibly able to retire in a few months as their funds took too big of a hit.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as friends around me face grief, loss, and challenges completely unrelated to COVID19 — things like the sudden deaths of loved ones, health issues, and relationships coming to an end.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I begin to realize that I feel completely and wholly inadequate — utterly only mediocre in all aspects of my life now.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I wonder how I can possibly be the therapist my clients need when one of my ears is always listening to make sure my boys aren’t calling me to help them with something.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I question how I can be the parent my boys need when every day finds me shut up in my office with instructions for them to only bother me if there’s an emergency.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I worry about how I can be the wife my husband needs when he is continuing to manage a 24 hour/day medical service from home 2–3 days/week and then covering at least two 12–14 hour shifts each week. We are two ships passing in the night and when we finally do get to see each other we both are too emotionally spent to even acknowledge each other’s presence.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I try my best to reach out to my friends and family to offer them support and remind them that they are loved but I find my energy at the end of the day is almost completely nonexistent.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I lie awake in bed each night staring at the ceiling, wondering what will happen to us if one of us catches the virus or if my husband loses his job or if the weight of not being able to play sports and see their friends finally catches up with my boys.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I realize yet again that if I am struggling this much, imagine how much more painful life is right now for others.
“I’m one of the lucky ones and it is still ok to not feel ok right now,” I remind myself. Regardless of our individual circumstances, life right now is hard and is not at all like it used to be. Even if you, like me, are one of the lucky ones in all of this, it’s still ok to admit that our situation sucks right now. It’s ok to feel your feelings and wish that things were better for all of us, even for yourself. It’s ok to remind yourself that even though you may be lucky, you still can be hurting.
Now that I am Getting "Me" Back, I have been much more mindful of the concept of balance in my life. For many years, I have grappled with the age old question "Can we really have it all?" While I tend to believe that we can, in fact, have it all, I don't necessarily think we can have it all in total balance all the time. In other words, sometimes something has to be focused on a little less so that our other needs can be addressed. Recently I was reminded via Timehop of how important tracking my macros used to be to me from a physical standpoint and I realized that macros are a great metaphor to how to balance life.
So, what are macros?
I'm sure there is a scientific explanation for macros but you won't find it here. In my experience, macros are components of nutrition - namely carbs, proteins and fats. They are elements that make up the food we eat. Our body needs carbs, proteins and fats each day to help it function at its best. When I was working out 12+ hours/week, my body always functioned best when my average daily intake of food was 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. Other people's ideal macros may be different. It took some trial and error and experimentation to determine what was best for me. Was I perfect every day? Hell, no. But, it sure felt good when my pretty little macro pie chart was perfect. There was no denying that everything just clicked when those three elements were balanced in the way that worked for me.
So, how does this relate to life? Easy. What are your life macros? What are the components of your life that each are good in their own way but need to be balanced in order for you to function at your best? In other words, what makes up YOU?
My macros include my various roles in life: psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, professor, mother, wife, friend, healthy woman and pet owner (perhaps pet collector?). Are all of my roles equally balanced each day? Hell, no! Are there areas which need to take more of my attention or fill my life more than others in order for me to feel whole? Absolutely!
Are you ready for a small homework assignment? (Sorry, sometimes my CBT and professor sides start to show). Grab a writing utensil and piece of paper. Or, open up a new document on your computer.
1. Make a list of your life macros. Who are you? What is important to you? What are your various roles? What makes you YOU? Write those down.
2. Assign a percentage to each of your life macros. How much of your attention and focus each week gets directed at each macro? Be honest. This should be how things get distributed on average each week, not how you want them to be distributed. Don't forget about your elementary math skills - these percentages need to add up to 100%
3. Are there things that are missing from your list? Things that make you YOU but you are not giving attention to right now? Add those to your list and write "0%" beside them.
4. Draw a pretty little pie chart of your life macros so that it reflects the assigned percentages.
5. Take some time to reflect on your chart. How does it feel? Is it accurate? Are you proud of it? Do you wish it were different? If your pie chart is perfect and you feel totally balanced, bravo! Store that chart somewhere handy and refer to it regularly to make sure you are keeping your life macros in balance. If not, read on...
6. After you have spent some real time reflecting on your macro distribution and chart, make a new one - one that reflects your ideal life macros. What would your ideal life macros be and how much attention would they receive?
7. Now it's time to create an action plan. What would it take to be able to shift your current life macro chart to your ideal one? What small things can you do today to help get your macros moving in a way that works better for you?
Spend some time evaluating your life macros and seeing how making some adjustments might move your life to a more balanced and satisfying state.
Winter in the northeast is super fun.
Strep, flu, stomach bug and other weird viruses are hitting everyone these days. A quick scroll through social media will show another family down for the count. Facebook has become filled with photos of puke buckets, cans of lysol, and photos of sick children camped out on couches. Suddenly all those political posts don't seem so bad anymore. As if these germs don't pose enough of a challenge though, here in New England in February we also have to contend with blizzards, Nor'easters and snowstorms that are measured in feet rather than inches. Do you know what that means? Snow days. Lots of them.
So, despite the cute snowmen, picturesque snow covered trees, delicious mugs of hot chocolate, and laughing children sledding down hills, It's simply not a fun time of year for many of us. We feel stuck and feel like things will never start moving forward again.
We are in the doldrums.
But, the doldrums are a funny thing. They are a place, actually - a place near the equator where everything is often quite still. The winds and seas are calmer and life feels paused in the doldrums. Somehow over time the term doldrums began to be used for life's slumps - those times in life when we are just stuck: times like the thick of winter in New England. Yet, when I was in the doldrums during my Fall 2000 Semester at Sea I found my days in the doldrums quite magical. I remember sitting on the deck of the Universe Explorer, sun on my face, watching the dolphins gracefully gliding alongside our ship. They loved the stillness of the ocean. Those doldrums were inspirational and recharging for me. There was something beautiful about that stillness.
It can be hard to find the beauty in the winter doldrums though. These doldrums are filled with germs, guilt, white-knuckled driving, power outages, stretches of days without seeing the sunshine and let's not forget about the bitter cold. The winter doldrums suck.
So, as I sit here facing yet another potential snow day (third day in a row), more income lost (self-employed folks don't get paid snow days) and am bracing myself as I wait to see if child #2's recent stomach bug will hit the rest of us (please, God, no), I wonder how I can make the winter doldrums more like the physical doldrums. How can I change my perspective?
Let's face it. We have very little control over what happens to us during the winter doldrums. Aside from frequent hand washing, house cleaning and not sharing drinks, we cannot do too much to avoid the winter germs. We also can't do much about the winter weather either. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situations cast upon us in the winter doldrums.
These winter doldrums will pass. Spring and summer always come. Yes, it may take extra time for the ball fields to be cleared, defrost and be ready for opening day. Yes, we may have more snow days and find our kids in school a bit longer in June. Yes, we may be hit with more illnesses. But, days are already getting longer. Spring is coming.
Maybe the snow days and bugs aren't about interrupting our life. Maybe they can be about mandatory pauses from the rush of our typical days. Remember the dolphins I saw playing in the doldrums all those years ago? Maybe we need to be those dolphins and soak up the playful moments the winter doldrums provide us. Snuggle on the coach with our children, break into the hallway closet's mountain of board games, tackle some home projects, re-arrange some furniture, write, read, play. Slow down. Find the fun. Just be. And, when it gets to be too much, remember another thing I learned from my 100 days living on a ship: looking at the horizon can help cure seasickness. When the winter doldrums just get to be too much for you, turn your eyes towards our horizon - the spring - and remember that we are heading in the right direction. We'll get there. We just need to hold on.
Now, let's talk about sunshine. While we can't make the sun appear, there are some tools for those of us who really need the sunshine. Light therapy started as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where individuals see increased signs of depression in conjunction with lower exposure to sunlight. Over the years, access to light therapy boxes or lamps has become easier and far more affordable. So, while I cannot make the next snowstorm avoid us, I can bring some sunshine back into my life. I am finally going to purchase one of these lamps for myself and for my office. I've included some links to some highly rated options in case you want to join me in purchasing some sunshine.
In the meantime, find a way to be a dolphin the doldrums!
NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp
Day Light Classic 10000 LUX Bright Light Therapy Lamp
Verilux HappyLight Liberty Personal Portable Light Therapy Energy Lamp
Circadian Optics Lumos Light Therapy Lamp 10000 LUX Full Spectrum LED
Before I became a parent, I had some basic parenting expectations for myself. For example, I was quite positive that my children:
Once I became a parent, however, that list quickly got tossed into the garbage. Parenting, it turns out, is something that you can never fully prepare for or predict. I am often making things up as I go along, course correcting and adjusting as I evaluate how I am handling the monumental task of parenting. Most days I feel like a total failure but sometimes, every once in a while, everything falls into place and often, when it does, it's because I listened to that little feeling in my gut - my intuition.
Two nights ago, after a weekend full of sports game, field clean up, work, errands and kitchen painting, my 8 year old laid in his bed and sobbed in my arms about how all he wants is "one day to just do nothing." He was tired of school, tired of sports, tired of running errands, tired of having to clean his room. He was tired. His gas tank was empty.
I talk about this concept a lot with my patients - the notion that we are like cars (crude comparison, I know) and if we don't take care of our cars and fill them with fuel, eventually they will sputter and leave us stranded on the side of the road. My little guy was very quickly running out of fuel and was close to breaking down on the side of the road. With my patients, we brainstorm ways to refuel ourselves. For some of us, it's exercise, for others it's time with friends, for others it's time alone. For my insightful 8 year old, he had identified that what would refuel him was a day to just be a kid.
My initial reaction was to validate his feelings and commit to finding a time to take a day off together but as we talked, I felt that feeling. You know the one: that intuitive, instinctive feeling in our bellies or our chests that is left over from evolution. Usually it tells us what we need to know in critical moments - like when we are in danger. But, if we listen, it can also help guide us in our decision making process and let us know which decision is the "right" one. My gut was telling me that I needed to make time now.
I tucked him in to bed and then set to work rearranging my schedule so I could be home the next day. When he woke in the morning, I invited him to stay home with me and have his day off. He smiled bigger than I had seen in a few weeks, hugged me and ran into the living room. I also invited his older brother, who had been fighting off a virus, to stay home as well. It took him a good 30 minutes to make his decision but he also ultimately decided that he could use a day off too.
You read that right. I let my children miss school and neither of them were physically sick. But, I would argue, both of them were mentally and emotionally running out of fuel and needed some time off. After all, mental health and emotional health are just as important as physical health. In fact, they could be MORE important than physical health as it has often been suggested that when we are emotionally and mentally run down, we are more susceptible to illness.
The rules of the day off were quite simple - there were no rules. Also, there had to be fresh baked banana bread (per my 8 year's old request.) We stayed in our pajamas and sweat pants for the day, ate fresh banana bread and just "were." The boys played games, watched tv, played video games, drew, colored and played outside. It was like a snow day, the blizzard kind, where the roads get closed down and everything pauses. Except there was no snow and no need to shovel.
As dinner time rolled around, I found myself reflecting a lot on the day. My boys were smiling and their fuel tanks were refilled. I also noticed that my fuel tank was much more full. Hearing my children just be children and do the work of children - play - was a beautiful thing. If we, as adults, can take a breath and really evaluate our lives, we probably will find that we could benefit from more snow days, minus the snow, in our lives.
No matter how busy our lives are, I strongly believe we all can find a way to fit some snow days into our schedule. Sometimes the laundry, dishes, phone calls, bills, errands and work can wait. Sometimes it is ok to ask others for help. None of my hospice patients have ever looked at me while approaching their final days on Earth and admitted that they wished they had worked more, kept a cleaner house or spent less time with their loved ones. No. It's the opposite. Almost everyone I have been with at the end of their lives shares the same sentiments - it's the small things that matter in the end - time with children doing nothing, time with friends over coffee, tea or wine, lazy mornings with their partner. It turns out that often the things that refuel us are also the things that we treasure and need the most.
So, my challenge to all of you is to tune everything out for 5 minutes. Really. Do it. Let the dishes pile up. Leave the stack of bills on the counter. Leave the laundry in the baskets. Let those calls you need to return wait a few moments. Look around at your life. What is truly most important? What fills your tank? How can you make room in your schedule this week to fit in some of these activities?
I suspect that for many of you, you are running on fumes now. You are flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour, seeing your gas needle nearing closer and closer to "E." Yet, you are ignoring it, hoping that you can run on fumes, "just" a bit longer. Pull over now and fill that tank. Stop putting you and your own needs last. Make your own snow day!
Mental Health & Wellness
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.