Happy New Year! How did it feel for you to turn the calendar from 2020 to 2021?
Most people I know felt a whole lot of relief and happiness as they saw the end of 2020 – a year that was full if unexpected challenged from public health to job insecurity to financial hardship to isolation and more. Even worse? It was all unexpected — a complete shock to ourselves as things unfolded and then dragged on and on — still actually dragging.
However, there was hope in turning the calendar a few days ago. We did end 2020 with seeing our healthcare workers getting vaccinated. Wow! Our US healthcare system may soon be completely secured from the pandemic. That is definitely hopeful — and we all know that we will have out turn sometime in the New Year.
With the vaccine there is also the hope that our lives will resume to normality — but I am left to wonder will it be a new normal? The pandemic has gone on long enough that people are making new habits, living their lives along different rhythms, and orientating meaning in a different way. Dare I say it almost feels like a return to olden day ways. We are at home most of the time, cooking our own food, spending time with our family constantly – not just quality time – discerning who we really want to share time with via Zoom, engaging with our children on a deeper level, and more. Life has shifted and it’s not all been bad — the break from our break-neck, fast-paced lives has provided us with a different way to live our lives.
How often do we get such a reset in our modern day?
Having had the reset, what will you keep and what will you discard when we are all vaccinated and life is ready to return to “normal?”
As we enter 2021, I am hoping a new normal takes hold that honors the best of who we found ourselves to be in 2020 under extraordinary circumstances and also allows us to bring these parts of ourselves to our lives as we resume normality.
I am a therapist. And I am also a writer. Are there two different professional paths that you embody? For me, my work is about seeing my patients as well as writing on a fairly continual basis. It may be a screenplay, a non-fiction book, or this blog — but I write and always have. Somebody once said to me, “If you write, you’re a writer. Own it.”
Why is it so different to own something like writing?
In any case, this Autumn I found myself without the impetus to write. My motivation sort of up and left in what seemed like a mere instant. Perhaps it was my own election stress, perhaps being caught up in home projects, or perhaps even the change of seasons. Not sure what happened, but I did not want to write — not even this blog.
I don’t know about you, but when I have something like a blog to write that I have committed to write on a daily basis, I tend to “feel bad” if I don’t meet my own expectations. However, when my motivation to write vanished, I let go. I decided that it was “OK” to not write and to be curious when my desire to write would alight upon me.
How refreshing to not put myself through the ringer for not doing something that I felt I should be doing. I allowed for there to be a pause in my writing on this blog and other projects as well. I just let it be. The longer I let it be, the happier I became with my decision to not write, to not do, and to simply be with this.
And then my writing impetus began to return. Not sure if it is a daily thing, a weekly thing or a monthly thing or if I will switch it up between all three. I am not sure at all. What I am sure of is how awesome it feels to let go of an item on the old “to do” list when it is really not something you want to do. Freedom!
Are you feeling this way as the holiday season kicks in? Is there something you think you should be doing — professionally or personally — that you have no interest in doing? Perhaps the greatest gift you could give to yourself this season is the gift of not doing without guilt or care. Trusting it will return — or not. But whatever the outcome, there is something to become curious about yourself and learn from.
For now, I hope to be back to at least semi-regular posting. After all, I am a writer, even if one who takes breaks.
Election Stress Disorder? Is this even a real thing?
Yes it is and is a term was coined by Steven Stosny back during the run up to the 2016 election. From what I read in the NYT about this disorder, it’s back — bigger and badder than ever.
How would you know if you are suffering from it? Well, common symptoms include: doom scrolling, watching polls non-stop, your mind being crowded with election scenarios — who knew there could be so many? (This is probably one of the main reasons why we even have election stress to begin with!) Everybody and everyone is so divided and it feels like it has already been formally announced —
If one side wins, they cheated.
If the other side wins, the vote was suppressed.
Who can win and where does this end? Anticipating this is driving many of us to have Election Stress Disorder. So much information to scroll, so many scenarios to consider, so much worry over where it’ll all end up. Talk about frustration and anger that leads to stress related directly the the election. Often it comes off as feeling and being irritable.
What can be done? Well, first off recognize that the political landscape is causing you stress. Also, be honest — is it just the other side that you are upset with or is it also your own side and the extreme views that lie within? Or even those you respect who may be forwarding or posting news that is not true. If you can answer this question honestly, it can help to create a strategy to combat your Election Stress.
So, what can you do?
First, if you are going to engage in debate try to limit your time arguing with people. Adding to the divisiveness due to your stress simply adds to more discord. Pick and choose who you do battle with and when you engage look first to connect with someone and understand their opinions — listen! — and then bring your own thoughts to the conversation. If the whole engagement stalls, let it be. Find peace within and give yourself credit for trying to understand the other. Make sure to limit the amount of time you engage.
Yes, take time out from the news. Yet, when you do engage make sure you are reading and engaging with sources that are accurate and truthful. It is on all of us to take responsibility for how we are getting our news and where we are spending our time reading news that informs us about the election and beyond. So, yes, limit your time reading the news, but, when you do, make sure it is worth your time and not “fake.”
Take a break. It’s hard to keep all of this in perspective, but it is necessary. Let history be a guide for you in these times. In the past, people have met the challenges of war and racism and pandemics and the world continued to move forward. Some may say that the world no longer has this chance due to man’s impact on the environment. If this is your perspective, take some of your stress and channel it doing something good for whatever cause is near and dear to your heart.
From there, take heart that life will move forward — no matter the election results. Being present, doing what you can do — especially VOTING — and keeping in mind the larger perspective of where this moment in history fits into the greater history of the world can help one see that it is a moment. Yes, there will be impacts, but there is also hope that we can overcome any one moment.
Election Stress Disorder is real, especially with this final lead up to the election on November 3rd in America. Recognize it, take care of yourself, and seek perspective of this moment across the history of time.
I read and interesting article about Yearning for the Past in the New York Times this past week. The gist of the article is that during times of crisis, such as the COVID pandemic we are facing, people yearn to go back to the times before this time where things were easier, simpler, and uncomplicated with the concerns of the day.
Do you find yourself yearning for the days before COVID — or even times from an earlier time in your life? The article points out people are reconnecting with their old childhood friends, dressing as they did when they were teenagers, revisiting in their minds places that are full of ease, like a favorite park.
For me, nostalgia is active at this time. It plays out in the yearning for the olden days when I traveled without a care in the world. If I needed to be in Asia the next day, the ease of buying a plane ticket, packing a bag, and boarding the plane to take me far, far away. I now marvel at how I did this with such ease and confidence. Now, I wonder if I will ever travel like this again? My travel memories delight me and hold me in good stead during this crisis. I have lived and enjoyed travel when and while I could. It makes me happy to remember and allows me to hope for it in the future once again.
The article points out that having bouts of nostalgia are neither good nor bad, but noticing what is going on for you when you think of yester years and days is more the point. What is coming up for you? Are you living in those times to avoid your sorrow and depression of these days? Or are you returning to happy memories that sustain you and give you hope as you live out your present days? Noticing is the key word when thinking about how you are using nostalgia.
The good ol’ days have always been called upon by the older generations. However, even the youngest of us can now recall the “good ol days” — i.e those days before COVID. It’s perfectly fine to remember and enjoy the memories of the past. However, being in the present and remember that one day these pandemic days will also be stories we recall to younger people who were to young to remember this time or are not even yet in the world. Yes, we most likely will even romanticize a pandemic in the future.
Take a trip down memory lane when you need to and also be present and notice what that trip is doing for you in the here and now.
When the quarantine lock down happened back in the spring it felt serious. My state and immediate community felt locked down. I remember I was at home, except for a Thursday grocery shopping trip. I worked from home, took care of my home, and lived at home for weeks into months. I did not have anyone in and, except for walking the dog, did not go out myself.
Home for me became everything. Where I worked out, met friends and family (on-line), met my patients, cooked, watched movies and plays, and more. It was the only place I had that felt safe and where I was told to be. Now, all of that is changing as restrictions have been lifting, the economy opening up, and my own sense of feeling freedom to move again.
However, there is still the recommendation in place to stay at home if at all possible. What does that mean? Is it quarantine time again or something else? I find myself at home and being there a lot of the time, but I also find I am working from office more — even if alone and using tele-health — I am doing more errands and my personal rituals of self care are back. I may still be doing a lot from home, but it is certainly not everything. It feels good.
Yet, others I know are not only as out there as I am, but also traveling, sharing significant time with groups of friends, and generally not home that much. Others are still in lock down. Wow! Everyone is making their way in what they feel is good for them. No longer consistent in staying at home or going out, people are up to their own thing based on their level of comfort given what is unfolding.
What does it mean for you to be home these days? How has it changed since it all started? How will you sustain this life into the future? Are you able to respect the choices people are making in regard to how often they are in or out of their homes? Taking stock of what home means to you as well as how it continues to shift as the pandemic sticks around is a space to hold all of our feelings and care well for ourselves.
Helplessness is not something that any of us aspire to, right? To be helpless is to feel out of control, unable to make a difference, and a general feeling of being useless to improve a situation.
Not good, right? Most of us seek to feel and be helpful to ourselves and others in our community. However, sometimes we use helplessness as a defense to not have to take responsibility for ourselves and actions. We may not even be conscious of doing this, but we claim “We didn’t know,” or “We didn’t know what to do” or “I’ve never had to deal with this before,” and more.
Whenever you hear yourself or others saying these types of phrases, raising your consciousness that you have said such a thing and becoming curious about what may or may not be going on is essential. Perhaps you truly are helpless in a situation but perhaps, in order to not have to fully engage, you say these things to get distance and not have to take ownership.
All of us have taken this stance at one time or another. When we are out of our comfort zone, we often feel helpless. There is nothing wrong with the feeling. Actually, making peace with a feeling of helplessness is important. From there, instead of making excuses to gain that distance and get out from uncomfortable situations, we can move in and tolerate feelings of not knowing and how this may shake us to the core. However, it can also lead us to tolerating this state and move toward trying to figure it out so we can be helpful and feel we can do something about a situation.
With the Black Lives Matter Movement, this is a place where we may feel helpless. In feeling this, we may just close our eyes to the pain in our society, we may run away, we may try to adhere to a neutral stance, or just check out. Instead of taking these actions, feeling our helplessness and moving toward it to greater understanding can move us out of using our helplessness to keep us distant, in denial. and upholding the systems in place as they are.
Replacing helplessness with curiosity is key to openings for ourselves, our community, and to creating systems that incorporate the entire society. Next time you feel helpless instead of running away, run in and engage, open up to curiosity, and see where this may take you to a place where you can feel helpful.
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:
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.
Well, the evidence is everywhere. People are emerging from the lock down, shelter-in-place state across the world and America. In Seattle, our lock down continues in many ways that have been lifted in other parts of the nation. However, certain areas have been opened including the hiking paths, parking, camping, medical appointments, dog walkers and more. When I am driving around these days, I am noticing more traffic on the roads, more people out and about, more freedom of movement.
As quickly as we were put into lockdown for several months and had to seek a new normal, we are now being invited back out into the world. The virus is still very much alive and active in society, but so too is man. However, the shelter in place orders allowed for a new routine to take hold for many of us.
Many people have been working from home in their comfortable clothes with more autonomy over how they are working. The rhythms are simply different. With all stores closed, except for grocery stores and pharmacies and a few other places, perhaps you found yourself consuming less over this time. Did you miss it? My guess is you have been spending your time with your family – this closest to you – and your pets. How has it been to slow down and be with your cherished family? Perhaps you are now playing board games and solving puzzles? Maybe you have explored cooking and perfected some new recipes.
Ah! Life has certainly been different, and there have been new pleasures we have been able to explore given the significant disruption to our routines. My guess is as we continue to open up, these new routines and ways of living will recede as we return to our lives and to one another.
However, are there parts of your new lockdown routine that you don’t want to give up, but want to be a part of your new post shelter in place routine? Maybe you don’t miss your gourmet coffee out or shopping? Perhaps you really appreciate not commuting and using that time to ground yourself in your home and garden and family? Has there been a new hobby you have picked up that you do not want to abandon?
This is the perfect moment to take a little time and reflect on how the past few months have been in totality for you. From there, determine what parts of your old routine you would like to restore and what parts you want to take from your new routine and keep. I believe we have all learned a great deal about ourselves and none of these learnings need to be abandoned because people are again moving and interacting.
Intention around how you want to live your life moving forward could be a major shift we feel across society as people renew their sense of what life and living is about based on the truths they learned from slowing down, being limited in movement, and spending significant time with self and close loved ones. Let this be a moment of choice of how you may return to your routine — or not.
Just as there has been something lost as we locked down this past spring, something again will be lost as we move back into society. Mark this moment and make it meaningful for you and yours.
A friend sent me an article about laughter during a pandemic. I think my friend knew I needed a lift and sent it along to me as a reminder to keep good humor during this uncertain time. Of course, I enthusiastically asked her to send me this article as I desperately needed to read it as I sometimes feel it is not OK to laugh or be light and funny during this time. Yet, it’s actually exactly what I need — i.e. to not take the whole thing so seriously and not get caught up in the abyss of the future that is more unknown than ever.
Are you keeping good humor these days? Are you the one sending around funny memes? Are you engaging in a deep belly laugh every now and again? Are you able to see the light side of the situation and make a joke? Or are you the person scouring when others engage in these ways? Whichever your reaction, my guess is that is says something about your mental state.
To be able to laugh is mentally healthy. Yes, even during a pandemic, it is important to give in to the lighter side of life and see that we can still hold on to this part of ourselves that is resilient, courageous, and has the ability to persevere in times of crisis and/or facing the unknown. Giving ourselves permission to give in and enjoy life during this time with good humor is really very important.
Have you noticed if nothing feels fun or funny or that people are annoying you who are embracing this these days? It may be an indicator of being very stressed, anxious, or depressed or a combination of all three states. One cannot embrace good humor – either our own or that of others – if we stay stuck in a serious, dire, anxious frame of mind. Living too far into the future or just looking around at reality in despair can truly lead to bad humor which can lead to low moods, physical ailments, or a general feeling of despair and inertia.
I want to encourage you to maintain some level of good humor during this time, especially if you feel anything but. Moving out of your comfort zone of being in misery, sadness, anxiousness, or hard-heartedness will not be easy, but I want you to open up and give it a try. See if some good humor can make it any better. And don’t do it for any great reason besides lifting your own spirits. Sometimes we feel guilty for putting ourselves above the collective situation and taking care of ourselves through something like laughter.
Good humor, laughter, optimism are all important components to being mentally healthy and resilient during this pandemic. Keep this in mind and laugh away!
I read an interesting article the other day in the Washington Post regarding how the current COVID-19 pandemic is pushing America to the brink of a mental health crisis. I cannot even believe it has taken a severe public health crisis like this one for the media to begin to pick up on how difficult it is for Americans to find and receive quality mental health care today.
Sitting from the vantage point of a therapist, I know this to be true for many reasons. While most articles, like the one in the Post above, focus on access to mental health care, there is something else one has to first realize. Access to mental health care starts with clinicians who are in training to work in the field and serve people in need of mental health services.
It is an unfortunate truth and one not often discussed in the media that to do the work of a therapist, or, as the traditional license is called, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, is a costly and time-consuming journey. One cannot clinically practice one-on-one therapy with individuals without holding a Master’s Degree in counseling, social work, or marriage and family work. This type of degree takes 3-5 years to complete with significant amounts of debt taken on to complete the degree, upwards and over $100,000.
Along this journey, graduate students in training are called to do an internship with a significant number of clinical hours and supervision time spent in order to earn one’s degree. Although a person may have at least 2-3 years of training experience in school, one’s internship is unpaid. People must find paid jobs as they juggle their internship demands.
This is where it strikes me that the mental health system is failing at its core. Community Mental Health Agencies that serve the poor and mentally unwell, a segment of the population that would have very little access to mental health services, are staffed with interns from graduate schools who are seeing these people for free. The core of the mental health services offered to thousands of Americans is valued at an intern level who earn nothing.
From there, graduate students leave school and are permitted their first license. Where I live it is an Associate’s license, which means you have the ability to see patients, but you must be supervised for a set amount of hours as you work toward full licensure, which is additional hours. Often Associate Mental Health Counselors use this period of time to take clinician positions in mental health agencies. Now they are no longer serving for free, but for $17 to $23 per hour. The average case load for a new Clinician is upwards to 100 clients. Then add in the math of $100,000 of student loan debt.
It is from this vantage point that I see our mental health system failing in America. From the start, when people seek to train to become a mental health clinician, no value is given to the skills that they are learning and employing to help people with their mental health needs. From weighting people down with student loan debt, to not providing any value to the intern seeing clients, and then providing a very low income to the new clinician with a caseload that no one can keep up with — not only are the clinicians burned out, but the system is overwrought with little to no support for people who need tremendous care.
What happens after one has completed her Associate’s license requirements and you are now a fully licensed therapist? Unfortunately, most clinicians leave Community Mental Health and set up their own private practice. Even if the clinician charges a reduced fee, it is often three times the amount one was earning at the mental health agencies. It is unfortunate that the very poor and mentally unwell people in America are left to be churned through by clinicians who are in some training phase of their career burning out without proper care, support, or caseload numbers.
Insurance also plays a roll in the inequity of the Mental Health system in America. Are you in network and, if you are, your patients may benefit, but the Clinician will likely make very little money for their services when all is said and done. If you are out of network, then the Clinician works with the patient to determine the fee. A patient may submit a receipt to their insurance company which may provide them with a portion of the fee they have paid. In this way, the patient has to decide what can they afford given the insurance company will only be reimbursing some of the full fee and that is often after deductibles are met.
All of this to say that when we look at the mental health crisis in America, we need to critically think about how we value our clinicians in training as well as how we value the services provided to the mentally unwell, especially those accessing care through the community mental health agencies. It begins with both parties being valued and supported in terms of money and care.
Until this happens, the system is on crumbling crutches which is going to further lead to the black hole of inadequate care, funding, and a lack of people to serve during crisis such as the one we are in currently.