Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Puppy Love — it’s real!

It seems everywhere I look around my neighborhood there are puppies. During this COVID pandemic I have heard it’s a thing – getting a puppy – and now I know it is true. I walk anywhere and there is a six month old puppy walking along her happy owner. Perhaps you are one of these people who got a pup at the beginning of quarantine.

And what lucky puppies they are. Everyone is at home with hardly a thing to do. What could be a better time to enjoy a puppy and give time to play, walk, train, and be with puppy. I think our little animal friends can provide a calming effect on people as we deal with these odd times. Instead of focusing on all that feels blocked and off this year, puppy gives us something to focus on and enjoy in the here and now — allowing us to be in the present moment rather than getting into thoughts of an anxious future.

Only thing — puppy costs quite a bit these days. Specialized diet, toys, training, vet bills, possibly insurance, and more — it is a significant expense to undertake a puppy who becomes a dog for the long term. So, keep this in mind. Second, keep in mind your schedule. If you are working from home for the foreseeable future, this may not be a problem, but it’s important to note your schedule and how it may change. And when it does, what will happen to puppy? Keep this in mind too.

Outside of the considerations, pets help regulate us and our own emotions, help us remain in the present, and ease our anxiety as they grow into this fun world. For them, it is fun. Keep the puppy love going and take some advice from our little furry friends.

Everything is going to be alright!

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

Needing Help and Feeling Helpless

We all need help. Yet, it’s a curious thing that needing help can often leave us feeling helpless.

Help is important as we navigate life. There is a lot to wade through, challenges to meet, deadlines to honor, things we need to know — sometimes we don’t know, sometimes we are overwhelmed by everything we have to do, sometimes the challenges seem insurmountable. In those times, it is natural to reach out for help. We are a community of people who need one another.

Why then is asking for help so often a challenge — one that can evoke shame and a deep felt sense of helplessness? I think about little babies who rely on someone else to “help” them get all of their needs met — the most basic ones of life actually. Food, sleep, change of diaper, active engagement with another. Baby looks to Mom and other caregivers for help with everything because baby is helpless to do any of these things for himself.

Now, here is an interesting question. Do you know how your caregiver treated you when you had all of those needs and had to have them by met by him or her? Often it is this early knowing of how our helpless selves’ needs were met that can clue us into how, as adults, we ask for and receive help from others. If, as babies, our parents did not do a good job at meeting our needs when we were helpless to meet them ourselves, it can often leave us with a felt sense in our implicit memory (the memories we hold before we consciously are aware of remembering) that to have our needs is to be too much to other people – needing help makes us feel helpless. Often out of this felt sense. we seek to help ourselves as we have had to all of our lives without relying on others.

Needing help leads to an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness that we seek to avoid. So, how can we need help and not feel the despair of being helpless? One, recognize that all of us need help at times. It may not be for every basic need we had as infants, but help is necessary and needed throughout our lives.

Second, equating needing help to being helpless is a misnomer. Often needing help is you recognizing your needs and getting them met — which is the exact opposite of being helpless. Taking action to get help is antithetical to being helpless.

Third, if this idea resonates within you or causes you anxiety, i.e. your need for help leads you to feeling helpless, it may be a good topic to bring in to your therapist to explore as this patterned thinking may have been set from your early days with how your earliest needs were or were not met. This type of therapeutic processing may help you let go of feeling that your needs, particularly for help, is something to feel ashamed of rather than applauded.

I am reminded of Dumbledore’s own advice to Harry Potter regarding help and how it is given at Hogwarts. Please remember, you deserve help.

I remember the famous Harry Potter movies and Dumbledore telling Harry about hel

Dear Therapist: Communicating Needs to Your Partner

Communicating Needs to Your Partner

Dear Therapist:

Recently, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my partner about a need I have that I had never told her about — she felt terrible thinking that for the entirety of our relationship she had let me down. I think that’s a bit extreme, but it became a big issue. Weeks later she brought it up again and this time she asked, “Why haven’t you asked me if there is something else I need from you too?” This took me aback. Imagine my surprise when I finally asked and she responded, “No, nothing.” Is she joking? What should I make of this?

Sincerely, Hanging on My Needs

Wow! This is one for the communication books indeed. How do we communicate our needs to our partner? What is the right timing? Also, should we assume if our partner is not meeting our needs that we may not be meeting theirs as well? Should we always consider opening it up to not only speaking our needs, but asking about the other’s needs too? So many questions.

If this is a new relationship, it may have taken you awhile to realize which of your needs are not being met to even be able to articulate them to the other. It sounds like you have decided to be “all in” and that feels like a time to start discussing one’s essential relationship needs.

It sounds as though this was a difficult conversation that had you both upset. First, you are explaining something difficult to your partner. In return, your partner has to hear what you are saying. If it’s been awhile that you have been together, it may be hard to hear and one may get defensive.

It is out of this type of set-up that I think it is important to ask the question to your partner. “Is she having all of her needs met by you?” Now that you hear it this way perhaps you feel vulnerable to the answer. Where will that conversation lead? Everybody likes to have the illusion of meeting their partners’ needs. Rarely is it the case that our partner does meet them all, but expressing what is most important to let them become aware to try and meet your needs feels important.

Do keep in mind that no one person can meet our every need. Is this need a make or break deal? Or is it a need that you can get fulfilled elsewhere or by yourself? There is always the give and take in the relationship. My guess is this need you have expressed is really important to you and needed to be expressed.

It is sort of a shock to hear that there is no need of your partner’s that is not being fulfilled. However, take note! She wanted you to offer her the opportunity to tell you if there was something not being met. So, she wants two-way communication with you regarding both of your needs.

Recognizing our needs and communicating them to our partner in a way that moves the relationship forward and does not hurt the other is key to growing together as a couple. The risk is worth it even if there is fear of what you will hear or how the other will react.

Hugs During a Pandemic

Hugs During a Pandemic

Hugs during a pandemic? Are you kidding me?

Are you missing being able to hug someone other than the people you live with? It feels like a hug has become almost as universal a greeting as the handshake for many. You see your friends and automatically want to show them a simple act of affection that brings you close for a second or two and allows for one to feel the touch of human connection.

With COVID-19 happening, the word has been all about keeping distance. Not only hugs, but handshakes, sitting next to somebody or anything else is really not permitted. Now, we have seen the protests nationwide and humans are engaging in touch on a regular basis. We are hoping that numbers of infections remain low, but I think it is smart to discuss how hugs can happen under a pandemic.

This is why I was so excited to read this article in The New York Times about how best to hug during this time. The article provides simple illustrations to point out the best way to hug. Guess which way is best? Here it is:

Hug Facing Opposite Directions!

And there are other ideas that include how to let a child hug you and how to kiss a child — i.e. on the back of her head.

Very clever! With the exposure time being short — less than 10 seconds — it is safe to hug in this way. From there, stand apart and continue to interact. You can have your hug, your conversation, and feel safe as you do both. I feel encouraged by this article. During our strict quarantine, I unexpectedly met a friend at a hiking path and we immediately went into hug one another and then stopped short remembering it was not a good idea. Yet, something had been lost for us both.

Hug away, but do so smartly with your family, friends, and children in your life.

I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True Review

I Know This Much Is True is a book that was published in the late 1990s by Wally Lamb. Someone gave me a copy that year and I was riveted by the story of these identical brothers and how one has developed full-blown schizophrenia and the other is functioning in his adult world, but emotionally paralyzed.

It’s a dark, sad, harrowing tale about life, mental illness, bad stuff that happens along the way — most of it not of our choosing. When I think about the paths that set these two brothers up for a terrible time in life it has nothing to do with choice, but who they were born to and how they were raised — and by people who had their own traumatic history wrought on them by their elders. The lot of these brothers feels generational, set in stone before their bodies and spirits ever entered. So many of our stories are already written before we are born.

So, this story is a downer. It is difficult to read and now the book has come to the small screen in a six-part limited series that brings the story alive. I had appreciated the book two decades ago and now, having studied mental health counseling for the past four years, I was ready to see this show and look at this story through a more clinical lens. No matter how clinical my eye, this story breaks my heart.

Mark Ruffalo is amazing as he plays both twin brothers. I understand that he shot the scenes as Dominic and then returned months later, weighing 30 lbs more, to play his brother, Thomas. The cast is strong all around, and I get the sense where one brother may be psychologically weak the other has strength and vice versa. Still, for Dominic, who promises his Mother to care for his schizophrenic twin brother for the rest of his days, we get a keen sense of the pain it is to take on such a role.

Each episode, I am actually horrified at what I am watching. It’s not really the mental illness that unfolds in the story, but the everyday catastrophes that we have difficulty facing let alone ever recover from. Our own lives are made up of those moments, people, episodes of difficulty and the way the story is told there is really no place to hide from the raw power of pain.

I do want to recommend this book/show to you. Yes, it is difficult. Certainly, during this pandemic, it may not exactly strike your mood, but it’s worth a watch. This is a six-part series, I am two episodes in. Yes, I am overwhelmed, but I am also riveted for the next episode.

Home School and Kids’ Autonomy

School and Kids' Autonomy

A friend of mine who has two school-aged children was mentioning the recent stress around having her children attend school at home during this pandemic. She and her husband are not ones who were ever in the homeschool camp, and I believe their children are following the on-line curriculum set forth, but something is becoming apparent the longer children are studying at home.

The fact that children not only go to school to learn and socialize, but also to gain autonomy over their selves and their lives as they move through the days and years of their school education. Parents play an important role of support to their kids during this time, but it is about recognizing how they are learning to become self-sufficient, gain confidence, and be able to navigate a world both professionally and personally that is not at home.

Now with children learning at home, parents are now a part and parcel of their kids’ education that does not take these needs into account very easily. First off, the children are at home with their parents. Whatever the patterns of interaction are set at that home base are now going to play out 24/7 with your children. Perhaps at school they have less fear and more confidence than they do at home. Now, all of a sudden, those character traits are no longer around.

Second, children are responsible for their school work and their learning, but this is aided by teachers teaching them who are not our relatives. Our kids have different relationships to their teachers than their parents. It may be that a parent discards certain subjects that a child loves and received affirmation for from his teacher. With that relationship gone, a child is now surrounded by the parent’s judgments on what they should or should not be focused on learning, which robs the child of his autonomy over his interests.

You may also notice that your children moved independently without you during school, but are more dependent on you at home. This is OK when the kids are sitting in both spaces most days, but now, at home, have they reverted to being completely dependent on Mom and Dad for everything. If so, how to encourage them to break away from this pattern, even as the parents are involved in the learning process.

Wow! a kids’ autonomy over himself and his school career can become seriously compromised during this home schooling period of time. Even noticing this tension is an excellent first step in removing one’s self from being so involved that children cannot be themselves as they learn. The parent must first see that their children are not exercising their autonomy to be able to make meaningful changes that will be helpful to their kids.

Once it is recognized, making sure to step back and build in space for them to find their way without you. Yes, you may need to solve tech challenges or answer questions that they are struggling with, but keeping distance and boundaries from your student’s on-line learning process would also be a good idea.

Also, if you are noticing a lack of independence, a reliance on you to solve their school problems, or you becoming too invested in their school work with judgment, it is time to put space in between you and your children’s learning process. Take a breath and break. Remember most of the time, you are not at school with them observing anything. Instead of trying to control what you are observing, give more space and sit back and notice what is unfolding. This is an unusual time that allows for you to observe your children in a new setting.

Noticing, observing, doing less, controlling less are all keys to helping kids hold on to and continue to develop their autonomy during this challenging time of going to school at home with Mom and Dad as central participants in the learning these days.

Zoom Exhaustion

Zoom Exhaustion
Zoom Exhaustion Setting In?

When the idea of social distancing became a thing a few months ago, there was the idea that we could all stay connected to our family and friends even as we isolate ourselves in our home. All of a sudden “Zoom” became a thing. I had never heard of it before, but all of a sudden friends were holding Zoom Happy Hours, Zoom Book Clubs, Zoom Dinners, Zoom Movie Nights and then Zoom meetings and Zoom classes for work.

WOW! I had to marvel about the fact that COVID-19 came around when man had developed technology to a point where we could all remain together even as we are apart. It sounded brilliant and every chance I could get I said yes to a Zoom this and a Zoom that. Being together while never leaving my home sounded like the best of both possible worlds.

For myself, I noticed after the first couple, I was pretty exhausted. It felt hard to hear people, only one person could really be speaking at a time, and then everyone had to ring in with a different comment regarding what was said. To try and move on to another topic without giving everyone who spoke a good amount of time for comments and feedback felt rude.

One time, someone shared a tragic piece of health news that she may have wanted only a few people to know, but with everyone gathered at the Zoom Happy Hour, her entire health diagnosis was made clear to everyone. Awkward. I was holding information that I most likely should not have been and under any usual circumstance would not know.

Of course, there are also the technology challenges — slow Internet, bad connection, in and out voices, people muting themselves or not, people’ video popping on and off. I am also doing all of these things too which I know may be adding to someone else’s stressful experience. I think, by now, we all know the ups and downs of Zoom connections – whether for personal or professional use.

So, I guess I am not surprised that all of a sudden there are a slew of articles talking about Zoom Exhaustion. This may come after having been on virtual calls all day, being more anxious and needing time on your own to sort through your feelings, general annoyance at how clunky Zoom meetings feel, obligation to have to connect this way since everyone knows you are home and not going out with supposed time on your hands, and more.

How to handle? First notice do you want to socialize virtually? If so — and I do not assume that your answer is yet — then to what extent do you want to socialize virtually and how often? Once you have these questions answered you can stay true to yourself as you with accept or decline offers to engage virtually. For myself, I engage virtually for work completely.

As a result, in my personal life, I am not too keen to engage via Zoom for fun gatherings. Rather, I prefer to have telephone chats or FaceTime one-on-one with someone. I have been invited to several Zoom gatherings, and I now just tell my friends that I find it too stressful of a medium for me and that I won’t be joining. Of course, I ask them not to take offense and I think most people respond positively, i.e. to do what I need to do to care for myself.

All of us understanding how people are feeling stress and exhaustion even when it comes to social connecting with a medium like Zoom is really important. If you are the person who is setting up the Zoom calls and want to connect, it’s important to take care of you and have the people on the Zoom who really want to be there and not just attending out of obligation to the group.

Everything is a balance, including Zoom calls these days. Remember too, if you are going to engage, keep some Zoom Etiquette guidelines in mind to make the experience good for everyone.

Zoom Exhaustion is real. Respect it and take care of yourself above all. And let us all look forward to the day we can hang out together.

Dear Therapist: Virtual Happy Hour Etiquette

Virtual Happy Hour

Dear Therapist:

Well, I’m at home most days all day long and the only way I connect with others is through technology. Most people are using Zoom, which I appreciate as I can see tons of my colleagues and friends all at one time. However, during casual Zoom gatherings, everyone is talking at one time or people take turns talking and all eyes are on that person. I know it’s a virtual Happy Hour, but it feels weird. Any advice on how to make casual Zoom gatherings easier for everyone to participate and feel heard?

Sincerely, Zooming Away

Sounds like you are a whole lot like me these days where most of our social connection outside of our immediate family is via technology. Any chance I get, I appreciate hopping on to a Zoom meeting for work or for fun to connect with others today. Recently, I too have noticed that work meetings seem to run smoother than casual meet ups on Zoom.

I think this is because when we are meeting for work or a class, the host has several rules set up that everyone must follow. The host asks the participants to “mute” themselves to clear out background noise, as well as use the “raise hand” feature when you have something to say so that people can take turns participating.

However, when you are thinking about a casual Zoom happy hour or other type of meetup, the last thing you want to do is employ rules. Yet, we may need to in order to connect in the best way possible. Sticking with the “mute” button is a good thing to use whether business or personal – the background noise cut out really helps.

Regarding people talking over one another is difficult, but perhaps you should ease up. Think about meeting up people at a crowded bar. It is loud, people are all talking at once, and it is difficult to keep up. However, I think this is something we are all missing right now, i.e. a crowd of people chatting together. Only thing is given the medium, people want to hear what people are saying. In the bar, what often happens is small groups of conversation begin to form and while everyone is together different conversations are happening at the same time. This is almost impossible on a Zoom meeting.

Which then leads to the awkwardness you are experiencing. One person is speaking, everyone listens and is focused on that one person, and then everyone chimes in one at a time about what the person has said. It definitely puts that person in the “hot seat” of attention and also nothing else can be spoken about because the attention is going to only one person. And then how to move on, especially if the person has shared something really difficult?

Ah! What to do? I don’t think there is much that can be done. This medium is odd for casual gatherings. Accepting this and moving into what it does offer, i.e. a big group of people we can see at once in a time when we hardly see anyone may be worth the difficulty of easy flow connection.

Be forgiving, find energy from the field of people who have come together, and don’t take any of it too seriously. The point is to connect. Let the rest go!

Human Connection without Touch

Elbow Bumps allow human connection without touching hands
The New Handshake: The Elbow Bump

Human connection without touch? Is that even possible?

I don’t think any of us realized until this time, how much humans touch one another. Of course, in our families we are constantly touching one another. We truly are mammals looking for touch and we give it freely and openly with our families – hugging, touching, holding, and more.

These days, we are now coming to realize how much we touch others who are not in our family inner circle. We greet friends with hugs, business associates with handshakes, and gym instructors with fist bumps. We are constantly touching others in our lives.

Many people are actually not comfortable with the welcome hug from the other, but, up until now, seemed to be a social taboo to not receive and give the hug. For these people, the times we are living in is providing some very welcome distance from touch from people. However, for many of us this is how we move through our days – with a touch here and a touch there.

Now, all of that needs to stop. Not only should you not touch, you should be 3 to 6 feet away from each other. So, what to do? How do we stay connected with limited to no touch?

Well, the elbow bump became one way to touch, but stay safe. However, with recommendations of staying apart from one another physically there is no longer room for touch among fellow humans. Yet, we need it. If you ever observe chimpanzees or gorillas, species that are so close to us, they are constantly touching and grooming each other all the time. Is it any wonder we seek to do the same through our own human ways?

Well, at home, with your loved ones and pets, I imagine a lot more touching is happening. Go ahead and do so – we all need it! If you don’t live with anyone, human or pet, reach out via technology for virtual hugs and touch. Even the symbols may help feel human touch and thus promote connection.

Another idea? Watch videos of people hugging and being together. The sense of sight will connect to the viewing of human touch and further help with feeling connected in this way. Of course, there is also the idea of touching other living things – such as hugging a tree or caring for plants and flowers. All are living parts of nature that can promote the idea of being connected to touch.

We may be limited in the amount of human-to-human touch at this time, but know that we all need it and get creative in bringing touch and connection into your life.

Kindness Matters

Hands giving and receiving flowers in an act of kindness

I was reviewing my Twitter feed and someone wrote, “Kindness matters.”

For some reason these two words made me stop in my tracks. It feels like there isn’t a whole lot of kindness around these days. Although I do see it on a a more personal one-on-one level more often than on community or society levels. Of course, the argument can be made that individual acts of kindness lead to the whole of a community or society embracing kindness.

I can understand that argument and I tend to disagree with it these days.

What I observe is kindness to those who are like us and we judge as deserving of it or, if the person is not like us, we can somehow feel good about our kind acts which may lead to deeper inroads of kindness remaining close to home. As an example, if you give a meal to a homeless man on the street, this would be regarded as a kind act that you decided to do. Yes, it is kind. Yes, you should feel good about helping someone. No, it does not mean that kindness is now spreading throughout the community.

Enough of these acts and it is supposed to roll on up into a big tidal wave of human kindness. What I observe are many acts like these happening on the personal level and the toil and trouble and unkindness on the larger levels. As an example, I happened to post something politically on social media that lead to an uproar of meanness and hatred. So quick, so fast. Name calling started happening instead of a curious posture. Fire erupted that was the exact opposite of choosing to be kind to another whom you don’t know but appears different to you.

Things are automatic these days, including our acts of kindness. Of course, most of us have no problem extending kindness to our friends and family and people we feel are on “our side.” Also, when we get to determine who to be kind to, kindness abounds. However, the exact opposite is true as well. If our beliefs and/or ideas are challenged, stretched, or otherwise foreign to who we are, automatic meanness seems to pop up as the go to solution.

Kindness matters whether we have agency over the decision of who we are being kind to or not. If we could all take a kind, curious posture no matter what we are meeting in any given day, I think kindness might have a chance at winning the day. Being kind on one level and the exact opposite on another is a mean split that is tearing up society — faster than I can keep up with these days.