Dear Therapist: Quarantine Envy

Quarantine Envy

Dear Therapist:

Hate to admit it, but after reading an article this week on something called “Quarantine Envy,” I think I’ve got a case of it. Everyone around me seems like they are having an easier time with staying in with whomever they are staying in with. They are either off at their summer home or don’t have any kids to have to worry about with school or just seem happier than me. How do I put it aside and be happy with just how I am quarantining?

Sincerely, Quarantine Green Eye

You must be referring to this article in the New York Times this week discussing Quarantine Envy. It was a new term for me too. I mean I would never think that people would find quarantine to be a time to envy another person. However, we are such a competitive and comparative society, I suppose it makes sense that people are looking around and seeing who has quarantine easier or more enjoyable or less complicated or something else.

Envy is wanting what someone else has, but the truth of the matter is “the grass is always greener on the other side.” We really don’t know what it is like to be in someone else’s quarantine situation. Perhaps your friends are hunkered down in their beach home with one another. From the outside, the home, the setting, and all looks like something to be envied. Yet, the truth of the matter is it may be just a bunch of miserable people inside the fabulous beach home rather than their regular old home.

Same when you look at people without children. Perhaps their lives are less complicated not having to deal with school openings, but it can also be far lonelier than those with families of kids. I think this is why many single people and childless couples have been adopting pets like crazy during this time. People are lonely. Perhaps there is freedom and quiet without kids, but there are other truths that then must be faced.

Everyone is trying to paint on a sunny, happy face for themselves and their loved ones. If someone is trying hard to sell you on their quarantine being amazing and spectacular, take it with a grain of salt. We just don’t know. My guess is the person has her share of ups and downs like all of us.

Now, step out of your own mind for a second and peer into your life. Yes, the one you are living right now. See! There is so much to envy!

Dear Therapist: August Already?

August already

Dear Therapist,

Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, I feel like the year is moving by fast. Like wicked quick! It’s strange because none of this year feels like how an actual year feels, but what are some ways to enjoy August even as life and the end-of-summer rituals are almost non-existent at this point?

Sincerely, Pining for End of Summer Normal

Wow! August already. I agree — it’s been a strange summer, but that didn’t keep it from flying right on by. Seems no matter what the circumstances summer is a fleeting season of the year.

For me, August stirs up a late summer vacation, getting ready for school with shopping and all of the paperwork, and taking advantage of the last of the long, hot days before Autumn’s familiar routines settle us into the end-of-year.

My guess is there may be a lot of disappointment on all of these fronts this August. Parents and children may be preparing for the school year, but it is one that continues at home for most without the regular routines, activities, social interactions, and more. It’s just the family together continuing on – tough. Grieving what is lost for all of you is very important, while at the same time imagining new routines and ways of being in this together that is unique and offers some thing to look forward to this month.

Those late summer vacations have been seriously curtailed this year, but how about some day trips or local weekend getaways? At this point, any time away taking in life from a new vista is refreshing. Surely there is a park, beach, or hiking path nearby that will serve as a late summer refresher for you and yours. Making time to get away is important to mark summer’s end.

We may not be able to be with loads of people, but we can grill out, take long evening strolls, harvest the garden we may have planted, head to an ice cream shop, and other simple summer pleasures that keep a sense of time during this late summer.

Even with life upside down, the yearning for those traditions that mark this time of year is important. Keeping this in mind and getting creative about how you will do this will not disappoint.

August will come around again – hopefully, by then, we will find life’s normal pace has returned. Until then, hold on to the memories of past summers and create something new too.

Dear Therapist: Overthinking

Dear Therapist:

Friends tell me I overthink everything — to the point where I can’t make a decision. How do I stop and actually just make a decision, feel good about it, and move on?

Sincerely, Too Much Thinking

WOW! I think you are not alone. How many of us take hours, days, weeks when trying to decide on what to do in any given situation? I think this is common, but if overthinking is leading you to not actually being able to make a decision, then it is paralyzing you. Which leads to feeling stuck.

So, first off, ask yourself why it is difficult to actually make a decision? Is it a lack of trust in self and what you will decide? Is there more than one option that you would like to pursue, but can only decide on one? Are you concerned about others and how they will react to your decision? It could be any of these reasons or something else, but getting to the source of why you overthink can be helpful in gaining more knowledge of self to help you move forward.

From there, when decision time arises, create a way forward to what you will decide that helps you decide rather than leaves you spinning wheels in your mind. As an example, on your own sit down and write down the positives and negatives of what you are deciding. From there, size it up. And do this using your intuition, i.e. what feels like the right way to go for you. So, engaging your mind and your felt sense of intuition is important.

If you are looking for opinions from others, ask a few trusted friends about the situation and what you are intending to do. See if they can offer you something further to help you make the decision. Do note, it is important to NOT engage this step if you feel swayed by people to do what they think you should do, rather than helping you decide for yourself.

Finally — DECIDE. And I would give myself a certain frame of time to do this in. If you leave it completely open-ended, it will be easy to simply let it hang open and lead you to feeling stuck in indecision.

Once you have decided, celebrate! You didn’t get stuck, but pushed forward.

Overthinking a decision or anything is a sign that we are taking the situation seriously, However, using overthinking to avoid and/or stay stuck is not going to help you decide anything. Recognizing you overthink and employing tools to help is key.

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.

Dear Therapist: Birthday Blues

Birthday Blues

Dear Therapist:

My Birthday is coming up and perhaps its the pandemic or other issues going on in society, but I don’t feel in the mood to celebrate — at all. I think I may have the Birthday blues. Any thoughts on how to get into the mood to celebrate and look forward to my new year?

Sincerely, Singing the Birthday Blues

Although it may feel strange to have a Birthday coming up and not be that excited for your day, it is more common than you may think — even without the pandemic and societal unrest. A Birthday comes around and it is supposed to be a time to celebrate big and be happy and often it can feel like a moment to look back and be disappointed in the past year or worry about the upcoming year. Finally, it can just be a reminder that you are another year older without much having changed in life.

Now, add in the pandemic and the social unrest and I certainly can see why you may be singing the Birthday Blues this year. And if that is how you feel, letting that be OK is key. Think of it as a gift you can give yourself this year. If you are not in the mood to celebrate your big day, that is fine. Let it be fine.

At the same time, others may still want to celebrate you. Feel free to let them know you aren’t feeling it too much this year, but allow people to celebrate you if they want to. Who knows? Although you may not feel in the mood to celebrate, someone bringing a cake and candles over may lighten your mood and cause a shift in your mood. Being open to this shift can be difficult when we are not in a celebratory mood, but holding space for a little something positive can prove beneficial as well.

The truth is Birthday Blues are real. Society and friends and family often ask us to push these feelings away as we are “supposed” to be happy on our Birthday, but letting it be OK to not be in a great mood, accepting it, remaining open to some surprises that may still arise, and moving on from your day without anticipation of the next one being bad are all ways to manage feeling a little depressed on your Birthday.

Although I hear you are not in the mood to celebrate, Happy Birthday to you!

Dear Therapist: What To Do With My White Privilege?

White Privilege

Dear Therapist:

Now that I am aware of my privilege, what am I supposed to do? I can’t undo my racial identity. I feel helpless!

Sincerely, Someone with White Privilege

Sounds like you may have been spending time learning about what white privilege is and what it means in terms of keeping systemic racism in place in America.

I don’t believe the Black Lives Matter movement is asking for anyone to give up their white racial identity. However, it is asking all white people to learn how they hold privilege by being a white person in society. How this privilege has benefited you and taken away from others. Finally, how you can use your privilege to help move society away from systemic racism by checking your privilege.

These steps are not easy to undertake for anyone. For many, even recognizing that they carry privilege is something completely eye opening. From there, owning the implicit bias we carry, how we have contributed to systemic racism based on our socio-economic class and racial identity and owning how this has taken away from others is all very difficult to uncover, own, and change.

I hear your helplessness. It is not easy in the least, but if we are looking to change the racist founding and underpinnings of the nation, each of us must undertake this courageous work. We swim in the water of a racist society, where it lies in every aspect of our society. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, we are in the system.

You cannot change your racial identity, but you can educate yourself, you can self-reflect on your own path of privilege, and choose to be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement in the ways that feel right to you.

The last thing you want to do is become overwhelmed and checked out. When this happens, systemic racism wins and takes hold with more grip. So, keep going – learn, seek understanding, show compassion to yourself and the other, and take action that changes our society. Be well and take care.

Dear Therapist: Racial Identity Development

Racial Identity Development

Dear Therapist:

I’ve been going to protests the past few weeks. Not every day, but enough to put it into my days on a pretty regular basis. I feel it’s really important to be out there standing side-by-side with my community demanding change. Yet, many of my friends are not only not attending, they don’t seem interested in the least. They seem to live in a vacuum where none of this awakening is happening. I want to call them out on social media. Quite frankly, I am ashamed to call these people my friends. How can I convince them to care?

Sincerely, A Protestor Who Wants His Friends to Care Too

Such a good question. Thanks for writing in with this conundrum. It has been a very busy, fruitful, and engaging few weeks as people in communities across America have come together to protest the police and how systemic racism is often guiding their actions as they serve the community. The fact that the protests continue daily with a commitment to not ending until real change and reform takes hold also marks a turning point in the struggle.

At this critical moment, I hear your anger at your own personal community of friends who are not participating in the protests or even seem to be engaging in any part of their lives. One thing to remember is not everyone is in the same place of being “woke.” This is what makes systemic racism so difficult to break. There may be millions working toward change and justice, and yet there are millions of others who aren’t even thinking about the problem. And, I bet, even more people who fall somewhere in between these two positions.

I consider each person to be on a journey of racial identity development. To me, this means people looking at who they are through a racial identity lens and what does this mean for them in their thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and how they choose to live their lives. People are at many different points along this path. Some can only name their race. Others have tuned into the news and make a judgment of things occurring being good and bad, but feel it sits outside of themselves and who they are. Still others are not ready to do anything public, but are reading and thinking about these ideas. Then there are others who are educated, woke, and taking action. Finally, there is a group who have dedicated their entire existence to this cause and creating the change they want to see in society. It is quite a spectrum.

Before deciding to call these people out as “bad” and publicly shame them, take a moment to become curious about where they may be in their own racial identity development. This may be very difficult to do as it may be easy to say they should be where you are and anything else is plain wrong. And it may be wrong, but I am not sure it is a question of right and wrong. People are somewhere along this spectrum of racial identity development and shaming people may or may not get you what you want.

Rather, is there a way you could hold and encourage an open dialogue about what is going on? Rather than attacking, engaging them in discussion. If it is just not on their mind, is there a way you could form a book group and read a relevant text and engage in discussion? Perhaps there are hard discussions that need to happen in a space that is safe and open. Being able to engage the other in a way that honors the other, but also brings forth the importance you feel of doing something to help your friends wake up to the importance of this moment.

Too often it’s a good-bad paradigm. If you are doing what I see is right and important you are good. If you are not, you are bad. From there, society and personal relationships break down. This type of schism is often too what keeps systemic racism in place. Approaching with openness and with a spirit of seeking understanding, educating, and thoughtful dialogue may open a sliver of hope toward real change that shame and attacks can never overcome.

Dear Therapist: End of Lockdown Sadness

End of Lockdown Sadness
End of Lockdown Got You Down?

Dear Therapist:

I know this may sound crazy, but I am sort of sad over the end of the full lockdown period. It came on quick where all of a sudden society was completely locked down with everyone in their homes. That took some time to adjust to, but now I have actually made the adjustment and now I am sad to return to the craziness of life as it was. We were only in lockdown for two months, but it also took hold quick. Presence, old fashioned activities, time to cook, time to be – it was a break from so many pressures. How to grieve the loss of lockdown?

Sincerely, Singing Leaving the Lockdown Blues

It may seem strange to you to own that you are going to miss this interesting time. Even now, writing from an area that is still locked down, there is more movement happening. It’s not the same as it was a month or two months ago when society pretty much came to a standstill and everyone was in their homes in a locked down state of affairs.

It was, as you say, a quick and hard adjustment to lock down, and now that we are able to begin to move again and be together, we know this comes with obligation, being busy, less time for self and family, and the pressures of modern day living. When we actually had a moment to take in how our lives shifted and how this felt, I think many of us felt it was a good shift on some level. No wonder you are struggling — you are going to miss parts of lockdown living.

So, one of the first things to do, which I can see you are already doing by writing in, is acknowledge your feelings of grief and sadness that the pure lockdown state is over or gradually is coming to an end depending on where you live. From there, think about what you want to do differently as lockdown lifts. Perhaps you will cook more on the weekends- instead of eating out the entire weekend as you are enjoying cooking and want this to stay in your life. Perhaps you want to walk your dog rather than having someone else do it for you as you find it fun and relaxing.

There are so many new things and ways of being that have come up during this intense time — take time with yourself to choose how you want to see your life in more normal time – perhaps more present, balanced, enjoying different activities in different ways. Also, take a look at what you really missed and what was really difficult for you and be grateful that those things are now over and that life can return in these ways for you.

Life is always changing and these past two months this has never been more true. Now is the time to act on the changes and create your own new normal. Life cannot remain locked down, but this brief interlude has been a prime opportunity to reset.

My best to you as you move from grieving the loss of the lockdown life to celebrating a new normal for you and yours.

Dear Therapist: Protests and COVID

Protests and COVID
The Mixture of Protests and COVID

Dear Therapist:

Protests have been happening all week in my city, but I also know COVID is still an active virus out there. Do the two mix? I want to get involved and show my support by marching, but I also want to be aware that we are still in a pandemic and care for others by staying away. What to do?

Sincerely, A Protestor Worried About COVID

Yes, I hear you on this one. Up until Memorial Day the biggest news of the day was staying inside as to not infect others with COVID-19. There are several areas of the country that are still fairly locked down with quarantine in place except for a few things. For almost three months we have been told to social distance.

Now, the protests are on across the nation and there is a need to march together. Social distance is not what we want, but rather social togetherness to show our strength and resistance to the institutionalized racism in America. The time for distance is over in this context. People are coming together as one to protest.

What to do? It is right to realize the virus is active. People think there will be an explosion of cases where all of these protests are happening. So, if you join one my guess is you will not maintain social distance, but you can wear a mask and gloves to protect from droplets from the other and to protect them from yours as well.

If it is just too close contact for you even while wearing a mask, there are many ways to protest besides heading to the marches. Donate to causes, shop at black-owned business, read, speak out, become aware of your privilege and work to change it by becoming honest with yourself, places signs in your car or in the windows of your home.

These are just a few suggestions. This movement is wide and needs so much support in so many ways. Do not think because you are not marching due to COVID, you are not engaging in the struggle. Find ways to do so, embrace them, and add your voice and actions to the cause, while at the same time protecting the health of your community.

Many people feel safe out there or just feel their safety is a secondary concern. For you, who I hear is seeking to abide by the COVID quarantine measures, that is OK too.

It’s a long fight. Do what you can and support everyone else in how they are participating as well.

Dear Therapist Column Form

Have something on your mind? For questions about mental health, life, and anything in between, please submit the form below — I’m looking forward to hearing from you! If you are interested in therapy services, please contact me directly rather than submitting the form below.

Dear Therapist: To Mask or Not To Mask

To Mask or Not To Mask

Dear Therapist,

Our state is making it mandatory to wear masks in any indoor spaces and any outdoor space that may have one close to other people. The problem — this is not enforced at all except for public shaming by glares and other non-verbal body language. No one is going to force anyone to put it on. I thought people would just naturally mask up to protect themselves and others. Not so! What do you think? This stresses me out and I don’t like to be in places where I see tons of people without a mask of some sort on these days.

Sincerely, Masked Up

This seems to be THE controversy brewing across America at this moment. People do not want to be told to wear something if they do not want to. As I was mentioning last week, people prize their autonomy in America over any sort of protection or value on community and society. The latter is valued as long as it does not impinge on one’s life or lifestyle in any way.

As such, not only are people not willing to wear them, but state governments are only comfortable making the recommendation but stop short of enforcement. Yes, people can give dirty looks and perhaps even say something directly to the other about it, but I doubt very much it is going to change how people feel about wearing their masks and/or whether they will actually start wearing them for having been shamed.

At some level, the masks seem to represent something about our personal freedom and liberty in America. It is not about public health safety. Until we start messaging this in a way that makes senses to a collective that prizes individual rights above all else the mask requirement will not succeed. I often think the messaging that the mask is not for you, but for the safety of others is completely the wrong message in America. This is the reason many will not do it as people are not valuing others, but rather self.

To undo this ethos is going to take more than COVID-19 and mask wearing. In the meantime, suggesting masks around an argument that preserves self may be the way to go. Americans get taking care of themselves and their own above all else. It sounds backwards and unscientific, but this is the era we live in.

I can hear how stressful it is for you to go out and see many not wearing masks. Debates are raging on social media regarding wearing them or not. There is, of course, a divide. All of us are charged with navigating this divide right now. It sounds like you are alway wearing a mask. This is what we control — ourselves. From there, the other important component is social distancing. So, keeping distance from everyone – whether wearing a mask or not – seems to be another way to be safe in public.

Beginning a discussion in your family, with your friends, community organizations you are involved with, and more may also be a place to start to move the needle away from our individual rights to what it means to build a society based on looking out for one another. This conversation needs to start in order to make something like collective mask wearing becomes something people feel is an autonomous choice that protects all.

This will take time, but there is hope we can move into this territory. In the meantime, mask up and be safe!

Dear Therapist Column Form

Have something on your mind? For questions about mental health, life, and anything in between, please submit the form below — I’m looking forward to hearing from you! If you are interested in therapy services, please contact me directly rather than submitting the form below.