As I write this post, it’s early July and incredibly warm—not a fan of 39 degree days! I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of July when this blog is scheduled to be posted. My hope is that we will be farther along in opening back up, as more of us are fully vaccinated, case numbers are down and fewer of our loved ones are in the hospital battling Covid.
No matter what your temperature :-), here are the interesting ideas links for this month.
The pandemic has changed the way that we hold funeral services (or even if we do) and how we celebrate our loved ones who have died. This Guardian article tells the poignant story of one woman’s 150-mile walking journey along the Thames River from London to Oxford to visit her brother’s grave and the realizations that she had along the way.
The following two items; an article from the Atlantic and a post from the blog Food52, help us to maneuver as we work our way through post-pandemic social norms around what is now considered to be polite when interacting with others and how to host gatherings. What is the expectations around physical contact? Distancing? How do you have explicit conversations about who is being invited and what the ground rules will be? I especially like the use of compassion in these areas as everyone is at a different place in their re-entry journey. Being around others can bring both a profound sense of relief and its own emotional hurdles and compassion can help us navigate it.
Life continues to be interesting. Depending on where you live, and the status of your vaccination schedule, your life may be seeing signs of returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy. While many of us have been craving and dreaming of being out in the world, now that the reality is getting closer, many of us are also feeling anxious about what this may actually look like.
Many people I have spoken to, both personally and professionally, are concerned about social anxiety, loss of confidence and fear of leaving their homes after almost 15 months of being stuck at home. On one hand, we want to be out and about, yet on the other, our Covid routines are safe and predictable. In March 2020, our world ground to a screeching halt, and we adjusted. And, it is reopening at a slower rate, giving us time to re-enter with awareness.
The following three interesting articles speak to this return to society. This commentary from the Guardian suggests ways to re-approach friends that have fallen to the wayside during the pandemic.
We talk about guilt a lot. Not only is it one of the most common topics of discussion during therapy, but it’s also a buzzword in our conversations with others. “I feel so guilty about eating that second piece of cake.” “My guilty COVID pleasure is binge-watching Sponge Bob Square Pants.” “My partner makes me feel guilty after I’ve watched the 100th episode of Sponge Bob.” While we focus on guilt, we forget about shame and regret. But what do these words actually mean?
On a hot summer day in 1973, three 12-year-old boys (Dave, Mike and Steve) are playing baseball in the empty lot at the end of their street. They’re engrossed in their game—taking turns being batter, pitcher and fielder. Suddenly, Mike hits a perfect homer. They watch as the ball takes off, amazed at its distance and speed as it travels out of the lot. However, their fascination quickly ends with the crash of the ball going through the cranky “old man Smith’s” living room window. The boys scatter to the wind, hoping that they won’t get caught.
Thinking they are safe back in Steve’s garage, they’re unaware that the event was seen by another neighbour, who reported them to Mr. Smith.
As the story goes…parents were informed, lectures were given and punishments received. In this case, the boys had to do a few days of yard work for Mr. Smith to make up for the cost of the broken window.
Years later the boys (now men) meet at a school reunion. As they reminisce about their childhoods, their memories weave around to that day in the empty lot. Interestingly, the three men had different reactions to the memory. Dave didn’t really want to talk about that particular event, and when pressed said that he felt shame that he had run away when the window broke. Mike, on the other hand, said that he felt guilty–especially now that he had his own home and knew how much work and expense it would be to fix that window. Steve expressed his regret, as he thinks about those perfect summer days spent weeding Mr. Smith’s garden when he could have been riding his bike in the gravel pit.
Shame, Guilt and Regret—They’re Not the Same Thing
While we often use these words interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing.
When we feel shame, it’s because we believe that we, personally, are bad.
When we feel guilt, we recognize that we did something bad.
With regret, we wish that we had done something different.
While the differences seem subtle, these words carry a lot of power. They speak to our core beliefs and resulting self-esteem.
The Concept of Toxic Shame
The most dangerous of these three is the concept of shame because of how it is intrinsically linked to how we see ourselves. Often starting in childhood, born of the negative comments of parents and others around us on our self-worth and calls into question if we are wanted or even loveable. Being unable to see ourselves as worthy of love is a key core belief related to toxic shame.
That shame can lead us to a place of fear (that our world isn’t safe for us) that can make us extremely susceptible to low self-esteem, an attitude of perfectionism, as well as anxiety and depression.
How do you cope with toxic shame? It is a process, working with a therapist to help reform your core beliefs about yourself. They will help both your adult self and your “inner child”, doing healing work and helping you rebuild and increase your sense of self-esteem.
What to Do With Guilt
Guilt, like so many of the difficult emotions (anger, fear, hate, etc), can be a tremendous teacher. Events that make us feel guilty give us valuable insight into our values and who we are as people. For Mike, for example, he realized he valued the hard work that goes into turning a house into a home and how adulthood brings about the need for proper stewardship of resources.
Even mild forms of guilt (like eating too much cake or binge-watching your favourite TV show, gives insight. It is your subconscious providing breadcrumbs to what you’d like to change about your behaviour in the future.
While we can have strong regrets about the past, I often think of regret as being somewhat ‘bitter-sweet’. If only…
The key to looking at regret is to remember the context of the events while looking at ourselves through the eyes of compassion. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to judge ourselves from our present position. It’s important to take some time to think about where we were at the time–how old were we? What was our developmental level? What coping strategies and supports did we have access to? Can we honestly say that we did the best we could at the time?
For both guilt and regret, there may be the option of making amends or a ‘do over’.
Just like Dorothy’s fear of lions and tigers and bears…shining a light on these emotions can help us to make positive changes, lessen their hold on us and perhaps learn something along the way.
Covid-19 has brought us all many curve balls in the past 14 months. We have collectively had to adapt, pivot, react, adjust and so much more. I thought this post from the archives spoke to our collective need to be able to cope and that we don’t always cope as well as we might. I hope you find a nugget or two in here that helps you manage the curve balls already thrown and any more that might be on their way.
From the Archives: When Life Throws You a Curve Ball
You don’t have to do it all. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball. Maybe we have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Our partner has ended the relationship or died. Something else happens, and we suddenly find ourselves living alone and struggling to cope.
It is at the curve ball points in life that people often seek out a therapist. When I’m working with people who are at this point, one of the common challenges they are encountering isn’t emotional but involves the regular tasks of life. They are stressed about home maintenance, groceries, laundry, auto repairs, cutting the grass/snow shovelling…all the ‘bricks and mortar’ things that need to be done, no matter what else is going on in life.
It is these seemingly ‘simple’ items that can make our situation appear to be even worse than it already is. Everything is overwhelming.
Edith is a 40-year-old, parent of 10-year-old twins. She was diagnosed two years ago with fibromyalgia. By working with her doctor and making lifestyle changes, her symptoms had decreased significantly. Just as Edith thought that life was beginning to feel manageable, her long-term partner said that they wanted to end their relationship and was moving across the country.
Edith was devastated! Suddenly she became a single parent of twins as well as in charge of running the household on her own. The increase in stress led to an increase in her symptoms. Anyone of these changes in life situations would be enough to make someone feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, Edith was handed both–with one exacerbating the other. Edith was having trouble coping.
The Power of Habit
One thing that is true about humans, is that we are ‘creatures of habit’. If we’ve done something for a while, we feel that we should continue to do it…and in the same way. On some level this mode of being serves us well. We don’t have to keep rethinking how to do routine tasks…we go on autopilot, leaving brain space to think about other things. However, sometimes this habit isn’t in our best interest. We need to make alterations. Habits are difficult to overcome when our lives are on an even keel, and when we are stressed we don’t usually have the mental space to make changes.
When I suggest to people that they may want to try something different, I’m often met with the response “but I’ve always done it that way” or “so and so will be so disappointed if I stop doing this” or “If I don’t do it, I’m failing as a …..”.
These comments especially come out at curve ball times, when we trying to cope with a new reality.
We Don’t Have To Do It All!
It often comes as a surprise to people that they don’t have to do it all. They are allowed to ask for help or ‘outsource’ tasks.
Both the authors speak from experience (Gail through multiple divorces; Victoria because of the death of a spouse). Between the two of them, they cover everything from coping during the early stages of change to childcare to dating to housing. They share their thoughts and experience on what to look for as you make decisions on whether to outsource or not.
The thing that I appreciate most about this book is that it gives the reader permission not to have to do everything. In fact, the authors logically explain why it’s impossible–especially if you’re trying to cover the work of a missing person when life has been turned upside down.
After a while, Edith realized that she needed help with her ‘to do’ list. She figured out what she could manage based on her health and time commitments. Talking with her therapist she was able to see how the difficult emotions of grief and guilt were getting in the way of making choices about what tasks she could let go of. Edith knew that, after her own self-care, her main priority was supporting her children through this change.
Once Edith became clear about where she wanted to focus her energy, she created the list of what else needed to be done and who could help. Even though Edith didn’t feel comfortable asking for help, she began to accept offers from friends and family. Thankfully, she could afford to pay someone for any other help she needed.
The road ahead for Edith and her children wasn’t going to be easy, and at least she had less on her plate taking up her time and energy.
But What if you can’t afford to hire someone?
Not everyone is as fortunate as Edith in being able to hire help. This is where your support system can come in–those friends and family members who help each other when the going gets tough. With an established support system, we’re less likely to feel uncomfortable asking for help.
However, not everyone has been able to create such a system, either due to being new to an area, work pressures, etc. So where can we look for help when facing a curve ball?
Talk to the people you know and explain what you’re looking for. You may not be able to get help for free, but there are often people who are willing to do work at a lower rate.
If you belong to a church group or other organization let people know that you need support. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, and most organizations (especially religious groups) have committees or ministry staff set up to help.
Check with local high schools for students looking for volunteer hours. In Ontario, secondary students are required to complete 40 volunteer hours before graduation. Volunteering for household chores does count towards these hours–since they’re not being paid.
And now if you decide to get help for household repairs or chores, watch out for this guy! It’s some classic British comedy for the series Some Mothers Do Av Em. Enjoy!
I’m not sure where another month has gone, and yet we’re at the end of April. Here in Ontario, as we work our way through the ‘groundhog days’ of another pandemic stay-at-home order, here are a few “interesting ideas” articles that may help to pass the time.
Take care and stay safe.
Where’s My Self-Control?
Do you find yourself with less self-control as the pandemic drags on? If so, you’re not alone. According to this article in The Guardian, our ‘moral muscles’ are getting flabby! So what’s the ‘fitness’ plan? Take a look!
If you’re having trouble putting a description to your mood…not depressed, but not happy either…this second article, from the New York Times talks about the concept of “languishing”. I appreciate this article, not only for its background information but also because it provides tools.
This weekend the world was given an image of the loneliness of grief. On April 17, 2021, many people in the world watched as the British Royal Family said goodbye to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at his funeral service in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Through media coverage, we were granted an intimate view of a family in mourning. No matter our opinion of the monarchy, it’s important to remember that this is a family that is grieving the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Prince Philip would have celebrated his 100th birthday this June.
A Common Experience
While we are probably not a member of a royal family, many of us have shared this experience of losing and honouring a loved one during this pandemic. We can relate to having to limit the number of guests who can attend the service and internment. We know what it’s like to maintain physical distance from our friends and family members when what we need more than anything is a hug and words of comfort whispered in our ear.
Part of the original plan for Prince Philip’s funeral was that his coffin would be carried by a custom-built Land Rover hearse (Prince Philip designed it himself) through the streets of London in order for the public to pay their respects and say their farewells. Understandably this didn’t happen. We also know the pain of not being able to honour our loved one in the way that they may have pre-arranged themselves or as we would like to do for them.
A Woman Alone
One of the most poignant images from the service is that of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only thirty people were able to be in the church. Those in attendance had to sit in their household ‘bubbles’. This wife is now alone in her bubble.
For a minute, let’s forget the famous identity of this woman and think of her as a fellow human. Elizabeth met Philip when she was thirteen years old. Philip was 18. Apparently, for Elizabeth, it was “love at first sight”. For eight years they continued their relationship through letters until they were able to marry when Elizabeth was 21.
As a married couple, they set up a household, had children and worked at their careers. Sadly, a few years into their marriage, Elizabeth’s father died suddenly. This meant that Elizabeth had to take over the family business. Philip, knowing how important this work was to his wife and her family, had already agreed that he would support her in this endeavour—even if it meant stepping back from his career.
When Philip died, they had been married for almost 74 years. Throughout those years, their relationship weathered good times and bad. They worked together on common goals—supporting each other along the way. Elizabeth was heard to say soon after her husband’s death, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years…”
And now…like many other people who have lost a spouse, Elizabeth is without ‘her person’.
How Can We Help?
Unless we personally know Queen Elizabeth, there isn’t anything we can do for her. However, I think she represents many grieving people that we do know.
One of the most common things I hear as a therapist is that people mourning the loss of a loved one (no matter the connection to them), is that they are surrounded by care and support immediately following their person’s death. However, over time, the check-in calls dwindle away, notes and emails stop and offers to spend time together become farther and farther apart. Others go back to their own lives, and the person in mourning is left sitting alone. The loneliness of grief is intense.
While being busy can be the way of life for everyone, what the griever experiences is a ‘secondary’ loss.
We can think of it this way…imagine a still pond of water. A large rock is dropped into the pond sending large ripples away from where the rock entered. This rock symbolizes the death of the loved one and the ripples are the major changes that happen in the griever’s life.
As the ripples move away from the initial point of contact, they become less violent—yet they still make waves—upsetting the surface of the pond. These are the secondary losses. The difficult thing is that they tend to happen as the bereaved is coming out of the shock phase that follows the death of a loved one, and are experiencing active grief experiences such as grief bursts (sudden crying jags), sleep issues (too much or too little), and grief brain (brain fog).
If you know someone who is grieving, please stick around. I know that life is busy, and it doesn’t take much. In fact, you often don’t even need to say anything. One client shared with me that one of the most comforting things a friend did for them was to show up for regularly scheduled walks. This wise friend let them take the emotional lead. Sometimes they needed to talk, other times to laugh or cry. Often, they needed to be quiet together and not feel quite so alone.
And now…here’s a wonderful video from grief therapist, Megan Devine, on How to Help a Grieving Friend. Enjoy!
Time for March’s edition of Interesting Ideas. Depending on where you live, you are at some place in the ‘third wave’. Whether you are watching it approach, starting the ride or balancing on the peak; like most of us you’re probably tired of ‘surfing’.
Here are three interesting ideas that can help.
The Fear of Failure
As we’ve spent more time online over the past year, it’s clear that so much of what we do is seen by so many. With the increased visibility, our fear of failure (and the resulting judgement) can increase to the point that we become afraid to try anything new. This Atlantic article encourages us to ‘go ahead and fail’ along with ways to build the courage to do so.
“I have to see people in-person again?!!!”
At some point in the future, we’ll be able to socialize with large groups of people. However, for many of us, this is a source of anxiety–and not just for individuals who experienced social anxiety before the pandemic. This article in The Guardian lets you know that you’re not alone, and provides coping strategies to ease yourself back into the outside world.
While pet ownership has increased over the past year, dog walking or cat litter cleaning isn’t for everyone. An alternative? According to this Washington Post article, you can hug a cow! Even if you don’t read the article, the pictures are adorable!
Like everyone else I know, I’m tired of the pandemic.
Now that we’re at the one-year mark of the beginning of the first Ontario lockdown, it’s hard to avoid the commemorative pieces flooding the airwaves. I’m ignoring them all. I’ve lived through it. I don’t need a reminder.
And yet, as someone who loves words, I’ve been thinking about the nouns, verbs and adjectives that have been created (or modified) to describe Covid 19. We’ve been told to “shelter in place” in order to “flatten the curve“. We talk about “airborne transmission” and “variants“. Are we “asymptomatic“, while we watch the rates of “community transmission“? We no longer live in families or have friends, but are part of a “bubble“. Many of us are thankful for “CERB“. Some of us can not only rhyme off the “Five Zones of Public Health Measures“, we know which ‘colour’ applies to the location of our loved ones.
With all the new words we’ve added to our vocabulary this year, I’ve decided to resurrect an old word, and use it in a new context.
My New Favourite Word–“Dialectical”
At its most basic level, dialectical means that two opposing things can be true at the same time. For example: when squirrels ate the sunflower seeds I planted last spring, I was angry that my dream of a sunflower hedge had been ‘digested’; while also feeling happy that the squirrels had found food.
Dialectics (or Dialectical Method) is as old as ancient Greece. It was a method to hold a discussion between two or more people who held different points of view but wanted to figure out the truth by using logical argument. Emotions weren’t involved.
Today, the idea of dialectics is best known as the basis for DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). In DBT, a therapist and client work together to develop the client’s acceptance of their current situation, while at the same time, working on ways to change it. Details about DBT can be found here.
But why is this my new theme word?
The Idea of Control
Our desire for control is the theme behind The Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1872-1971). It asks:
God, grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
No matter how you describe your religion or spirituality, one lesson over the past year is that there’s very little we can control. Many of us have spent a lot of time and energy fighting against this truth–with little success.
The Serenity Prayer speaks to the dialectics of life–the things we can change versus those we can’t. Pandemic time versus ‘a new normal’. In other words, accepting today as it is while planning for the future.
A lot of articles are being written about how the authors are planning to live post-pandemic. While they have no control over how long Covid will dictate a large part of their daily existence, they see themselves applying the lessons they have learned over the past year–less rushing around, less spending, more time with loved ones, lots more hugs…
They are living dialectically…accepting where they are today while working towards what they want in the future.
One way to do this is to create a “future” list. However, the list doesn’t include just activities, but how we want to live–emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Are there new things we need to learn to fulfill our vision? People we need to reconnect with? Skills to develop?
As we move through this pandemic, we can choose to do so with hope. As we create our individual lists, what do we hope for? Emily Dickinson said:
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”
As we keep living dialectically today, let’s keep leaving seeds out for the ‘thing with feathers’.
I hope you found the February interesting ideas round to be interesting and that the articles inspired some reflection. If you have articles you think would be interesting to share, please let me know.
When I originally posted the following Valentine piece back in 2018, the world was a very different place. No Covid; therefore, no stress about lockdowns. Chances were that we could celebrate Valentine’s Day with our loved ones and give them a hug. The opportunity for a romantic dinner at a favourite restaurant was assured.
While February 14, 2021 arrives in a different context, I suggest that all is not lost. We just need to widen our scope. As innocent as it sounds, who says that ‘the day of hearts, chocolate and flowers’ has to only be for romantic partners? In a time when many of us are feeling lonely and isolated, let’s make an effort to let others know that they are ‘seen’ for the wonderful humans that they are. I don’t mean ‘in person’ (unless there is a safe way), but in a way that lets them know we love and appreciate them. Doesn’t have to be fancy…a call, note in a mailbox, e-card, or wave will do. We can do this even if we have to spend the day alone. Please reach out to another living creature (yup, pets count!).
In whatever way you spend Valentine’s Day 2021, I wish you the best day possible.
Valentine’s Day–What’s It To You?
Ah, Valentine’s Day! For some, it’s the most romantic day of the year…for others, it’s the biggest ‘Hallmark Holiday’ of all time. However, no matter where you fit on that continuum, February 14 can be an opportunity for you to create a personal experience of love while avoiding the pitfalls that can accompany the day.
The Dark History of Valentine’s Day
Traditionally we may think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love, cute stuffed toys, kisses and chocolate; however, its beginnings were not so cozy. According to a 2011 opinion piece presented on National Public Radio (US), the Romans had a lot to do with the creation of Valentine’s Day.
“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival ? or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men both named Valentine on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.”
There wasn’t a cupid in sight!
As time went on, through the 15th and 16th century works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, February 14 took on the more romantic tone that we recognize today. In Britain and Europe, hand-make paper cards became part of the tradition during that time.
Modern Valentine’s Day
What about now? How does an ordinary Canadian mark Valentine’s Day?
A 2016 Montreal Gazette article stated that in 2015, Canadians spent $3.3 billion on chocolate. When we add in money spent on other gifts (flowers, jewelry) and dinners out, our bank accounts went down by an average of $177–all in aid of February 14.
Businesses appreciate this ‘love festival’ as there are no associated discounts associated as there are with Christmas (i.e. pre-holiday and Boxing Day sales).
This holiday is seen to be such a romantic day, that 10 percent of marriage proposals happen on Valentine’s Day!
What If I’m Single?
Traditionally, we think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration for couples. But what if we’re un-coupled? No worries! Business has found a solution! Thanks to the Canadian Association of Professional Cuddlers (CAPC), you can hire a professional cuddler to spend Valentine’s Day with. Cuddling starts at $45 for 30 minutes and goes up to $155 for two hours. If you’re looking for skin-to-skin cuddling, there is an additional fee per hour. Cuddlers are trained to ensure that everyone is safe and comfortable at all times.
Some single people will participate in Single Awareness Day–a celebration of the love of friends, family and self. Individuals recognize the day by getting together with loved ones, buying themselves a gift and/or taking part in a favourite activity.
It appears that if you want to celebrate, there are many options.
Expectations…A Roadblock on the Road of Romance
Sometimes this ‘holiday of love’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Based on what I hear personally and professionally, Valentine’s Day can be a minefield…and I don’t mean the “Will you be mine” variety! The problem comes down to expectations about how our partners should show their love. However, there may be a solution.
Gary Chapman, in his 1995 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate; outlines the five ways that we show and accept love from our significant other(s). These are: giving/receiving gifts, spending quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion) and physical touch. When a couple doesn’t understand each other’s ‘love language’ hurt feelings can erupt.
Let’s look at Bob and Sue…Valentine’s Day is around the corner and Bob has dropped many (what he thinks are obvious) hints about his ideal gift (Kitchener Rangers tickets). Sue has decided that she will surprise Bob by taking their children to her parents’ home for an over-night visit and then making him a romantic dinner. A clash is possible as Bob is looking forward to tickets, and Sue is imagining Bob’s appreciation and delight at all the work she has done to make Bob feel loved.
When we are part of a couple, it’s important to communicate with each other about our expectations–especially as these can change over time. If you’re curious about your ‘love language’, check out Dr. Chapman’s site and take the quiz. It may be a useful pre-Valentine’s Day activity!
Speaking of Communication…
Valentine’s Day can bring a lot of pressure to new relationships. What does my new person want? Will dinner out be too much? Too little? My last partner really loved jewelry, but is it too soon in this relationship? What impression will my gift give? Maybe I’ll just go out of town on February 14 and skip the entire thing!
What would happen if Valentine’s Day became an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation around expectations–what we like, what we don’t? Is this something we want to celebrate as a couple?
I wonder how many hurt feelings and broken relationships could be avoided by having a simple conversation?
Despite all the buildup, February 14 is just another day on the calendar. No matter how you choose to spend it, I wish you love and your fair share of chocolate!