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!

Are You Still At Home?

Are you still at home?

I read an interesting article in the NY Times recently titled What Does it Mean “To Be at Home” These Days? The title intrigued me so I clicked on through as I think I am wondering what does it mean as well.

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.

A Return to Routine

Return to Routine
Back to Your Routine?

A return to your routine — or not?

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.

Dear Therapist: Opening Envy

Opening Envy of People at Stores

Dear Therapist;
I live in a State that remains in lockdown. A few things are reopening, but the “shelter in place” order is still active and we are pretty much housebound in our community over 60 days at this point. I have family in other parts of the country that are enjoying dinner out with their friends, getting their hair and nails done, and living life somewhat back to the way it was just a few months ago. I am happy for them, but it also sort of ticks me off to not be able to have my freedom to move. It’s hard for me to be happy for them when I feel stuck. I guess I am envious. How do I keep it together?

Sincerely, Sick of It

I hear you. I think it’s wonderful you can admit to feeling envy for people in other areas gaining their freedom to move and get back to their lives. However, many people feel the risks they are undertaking is not worth it for their health or the health of others. Yet, it also is getting old to simply be indoors with take away, cooking, and watching movies and shows with the same people for months on end.

This pandemic is all about the other and the collective health of society and much less about ourselves as individuals. The problem in America is we are all about the individual and take very little care of the other. And this bears out in so many aspects of American life, but is now in full political mode as people exert their rights over the good of public health. So, continuing to shelter in place for the good of others as many Americans are given the freedom to live as we believe as Americans — for ourselves — makes it even more difficult.

Socialized nations, like Australia and New Zealand and countries in Europe, suffered with not being able to move as well, but believe that society and community comes first over themselves as individuals. In this way, it is easier to shelter in place because the entire nation has the ethos and is in it together.

There is not much we are in together as Americans anymore. The divide between the good of all v. our own personal good is on the line in a way that it has never been before. I hear in your question the desire to care for your community, and, at the same time, your envy of those who can move as we all believe we should. Being envious of this movement after months cooped up is completely understandable.

However, given you have acknowledged your envy, perhaps now frame it for yourself in a new way. Each day you maintain shelter in place you seek to protect and care for your fellow members in society. Something sorely lacking in America today. The notion of kindness is extended in this way. Although difficult, it may make it a little more bearable to remain sheltered in place even as you see your friends and family move with freedom right now.

I feel your envy, your stagnation, and frustration. It’s becoming a lot, but keeping the bigger picture in perspective will hopefully help you hold the breath a little longer. I hope your friends and family in other parts of our nation remain healthy and safe too.

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.

Keeping Good Humor

Family Keeping Good Humor

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!

Creativity Burst: Puzzle Time

Puzzle Time
Pandemic Puzzle Time!

Pandemic Puzzle Time!

It seems that these days all things old are new again. And this is true when it comes to puzzles. Remember the big jumbo 1000 piece puzzles you would do as a kid with other kids or your family. The pieces would be laid out on a large flat surface. There the puzzle pieces would sit beckoning to be put together.

It would often take hours to get it done over several days. Of course, starting at the corners, building the outside edge of the puzzle, and then filling it in — often by figuring out smaller puzzles that then fit into the big puzzle. It was quite something to see 1000 puzzle pieces be pieced together to find the picture on the front of the box.

With time on our hands and people in the house, puzzles offer us a place to ground ourselves in pieces that we can touch, creating a picture that is worth a 1000 pieces. There is something very satisfying to working a puzzle. I have seen puzzles in waiting rooms of therapy offices and often someone is in front of it working a piece of the puzzle. There are no apps, no screens, nothing bright and glitzy – just little pieces to put together. In this respect it feels really old fashioned.

It can also lead one to a sense of creativity as you are building picture of some sort as you work to solve the puzzle. Something that may be fun to do with your kids is to have them create their own puzzle. This doesn’t have to be 1000 pieces, but, using a thick piece of cardboard type paper, have them cut out different shapes that they seek to fit together to create their own picture. The can color in the picture once all of the blank pieces are pieced together. From there, pull it apart and solve their puzzle. Everyone in the family could do one and then hand it off to another family member to solve.

Puzzle time is back and in full force. I don’t think they ever went away — they just took our attention again when we had some time to solve them.

Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental Health Crisis in America
Mental Health Crisis Brews in America

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.

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.

Pandemic Drinking

Pandemic Drinking
How much are you drinking during this pandemic?

Pandemic Drinking! Yes, this has become a real thing.

I happened on an article in the New York Times and it is titled: New Yorkers Want Cheap Wine and Lots of It. This headline caught my attention and had me reading about the way people are buying wine, the demand for cheap bottles, and how they are turning to drinking to help cope with COVID-19. We all have heard of the very popular Zoom Happy Hours with our friends these days. I suppose we need to be stocked for these occasions.

Are we drinking more than usual? Are you drinking more than usual? These are good questions to ask ourselves in the midst of this stressful time. Observing and noticing our drinking habits to see if and how they may have changed would provide some insight as to how we are coping with the crisis.

If I were to take this article at face value, people have not stopped drinking, but rather there is a clear demand for alcohol, just bottles that are cheaper given how often they are buying it and the lack of money to indulge in fine, expensive bottles of alcohol.

I remember a Professor of mine back in school once said to her class, “At the end of the day, if you are enjoying a glass of wine, enjoy it. However, if you are reaching for a second glass, that is the time to be asking yourself why? What is going on?” I always thought that was a good thing for me to keep in mind whenever I was pouring myself a glass of wine during the end of my normal days.

Now, do we even need to ask ourselves such a question? Isn’t it obvious why, if we are reaching for a second glass, the reason? The stress of these days, the anxiety over the uncertainty of the situation, the boredom of not having much to do, the desire to escape our reality or, at least, to take the edge off of the days. There are many obvious reasons people are drinking more. It could also be you were always reaching for more drinks than you felt comfortable with, but the pandemic is now the perfect excuse to make you feel better about your habit.

Whatever the reason, alcohol, as it has always been, is around if we want it. Reaching for a glass or even two may not be a problem at all as long as we are conscience of what we are doing and noticing/observing how we are feeling as we do so. Even during these stressful times, it is still important to stay attuned to one’s self and what we are and are not doing to care for ourselves. In this way, we can stay present to the action of drinking.

Also, if you are reaching for the wine, make it an enjoyable, mindful experience. Smell the fermented grapes, take notice of the beautiful color, and really taste it when you take the drink. Bringing a mindful approach to how you drink may not only show you down, but offer a moment to really relish what you are drinking and not just drinking to drink. How about a Zoom Wine Tasting to experience mindful drinking with your friends?

Alcohol is playing its role during this pandemic. Notice, observe, and be present to how you are using it to stay in touch with yourself and how best to care for you. Cheers!

You Are Not Alone

You are not alone card

You are not alone! Say, what? Of course I am, you are thinking to yourself.

I was on my own last week when I heard the postman drop the mail through the slot. Ah! At least we get mail during this time of being at home. Mostly, I find my mail is made up of catalogues, bills, and junk, but every now and again a personal piece of mail is delivered and it totally delights me.

I am one who still writes real letters to friends and family near and far. I don’t do this to receive something in return, and so it is a delight to see that someone has returned the favor to me. I receive it with a grateful and open heart. These days, especially, where I spend the majority of my time at home, a personal missive means so much.

This day a friend had sent me a card with the message “You are not alone” on the front of the card, with hands reaching toward the center of the page where these words were written. Simple, yet powerful. I was feeling lonely or perhaps a little down with the whole situation. It has been awhile since I have seen my friends and family and, although there is Zoom, email, and Facebook, it is not the same as being together in person.

This was a powerful reminder that we are alone together these days. I think I even saw a cheesy commercial saying the same thing. We are apart, but together. All of us are at home, alone, and yet together. Just being reminded of this in such a tangible way gave me a hope and lift in my spirits.

It is important to remember that you are not alone at this moment in time. We are in our homes, doing our own things, and, in many ways, alone. Yet, each day we are a part of a shared collective experience of this across the world. People are thinking of others, people are still caring, people are still people with all the needs we have to be known, felt cared for, and be told we are not alone.

You are not alone. Not today. Not ever. Reach out and let someone you know know.