Musings on Remembrance Day and Covid-19

Remembrance Day poppy fieldIn Canada, Remembrance Day will be marked this Wednesday, November 11.  Due to Covid-19, ceremonies of remembrance will be different this year–no parades, no gathering at local cenotaphs,  curtailed (if any) events at Legion branches.  And yet, I wonder if the events of past wars are more relevant to us this year than any other as we attempt to adjust to living with the pandemic.  While I recognize that Remembrance Day honours veterans from all the wars, based on my family history,  I’m going to focus on World War 1 (WWI) and World War 2 (WWII).

At no time in this post am I implying that what we are going through with Covid-19 comes close to the horrors experienced during WWI or WWII.  I am only wondering about some similarities.

The Use of Language

As I started to think about the similarities, I couldn’t help but notice the language.  Words are important.  They frame how we look at events.  It’s interesting to note that the language used around the pandemic is ‘battle’ language.  We talk about ‘the war’ against Covid-19.  Nurses, doctors and first responders work on the ‘front line’.  Government and public health officials are creating ‘Covid strategies’.  Just as casualty lists were published during the world wars, we have daily access to Covid-19 statistics by world, country, province, region and city.  The frequent statement of “We’re all in this together.” applies to all of it.

How Long Will This Last?

The thing about history is that we know how the stories end (and when).  The First World War was fought from 1914 to 1918, the Second from 1939 to 1945.  These global military conflicts, the largest in human history, lasted years, not months.

For those living through the two world wars, struggle and sacrifice were a daily occurrence.  Travel was curtailed in order to save precious fuel so it could be used by the military.  Citizens lined up for food and used ration cards–not only to help support troops but also due to food shortages.

Since everything was in short supply, people became experts at making do–whether by reusing materials, making things from scratch, mending, sharing or doing without.  Various governments published information pamphlets with instructions on everything from turning cuffs on shirts (in order to make them last longer) to growing Victory Gardens and canning the resulting produce.

Because of the travel restrictions, as well as the reality of loved ones fighting overseas or in different parts of the country, it was impossible (or difficult) to see family and friends.  Sometimes people didn’t see loved ones for months or years.  A baby born near the beginning of the war may not meet one of their parents until they were about to start kindergarten.

Depending on where they lived, individuals dealt with the reality of daily bombings (being forced from their homes on a moment’s notice, spending night after night in underground shelters). Many people living in England urban centres sent their children to live with family members (or strangers) in safer parts of the country.

Our Current Experience

While not to the same extreme, during this pandemic, we are being asked to restrict travel–not to support the war effort, but to make sure that we stay close to home in order to avoid spreading the virus.  Borders have been closed.

During the spring lockdown, there was a resurgence of cooking, baking, DIY projects and making do with what we had on hand.  Remember the shortages of food staples, cleaning products and toilet paper?  We didn’t have ration cards, yet we were limited to how many bottles of hand sanitizer or loaves of bread we could buy (if any were to be had).

We’ve been asked to make sacrifices–restrict our social contacts, stay away from seniors homes, give up organized sports, work from home and home school our kids (often at the same time).  During lockdowns, public playgrounds were closed.

A major thing that we share with our ancestors is that they didn’t know how long the war would last, or what the future looked like.  They coped on a daily basis.  We are being asked to do the same as we await a vaccine and levels of immunity.

The Change in Grief Rituals

A similarity in both the world wars and our current time with COVID-19 is changing in the way we publicly mourn.

It is estimated that 76 million people died during the two world wars.  Another 50 million died as a result of the 1918 pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu).  With many of the military deaths occurring overseas, fallen soldiers were buried in military cemeteries near where they died.  Due to the circumstances, many of the deceased were buried in mass graves.  After the wars, great attempts were made to identify individuals and give them their own grave and marker.

While some families may have erected a grave marker in the local cemetery, everyone had access to public memorials to mark the deaths of local people killed in battle.  This was a big change from being able to care for the loved one and be an active participant in the funeral process.

During the 1918 pandemic, people were dying so quickly, and in such large numbers, that regular funeral and burial practices were impossible.  Funeral services were banned and funeral personnel of the time (undertakers, coffin makers, grave diggers) were unable to keep up with demand.  Burials had to happen quickly, leaving little or no time for public mourning rituals.

Grief During Covid-19

As I read about the burial practices of the wars and 1918 pandemic, I’m reminded of news footage of mass graves and one-mourner funerals occurring earlier this year in Europe and New York City.

As we’re aware, funeral homes in Canada have been restricted by the number of family and friends allowed to attend a funeral/memorial service.  Physical distancing has prohibited hugging of loved ones when it is needed most.  We haven’t been able to hold the service that we or the deceased wanted to have.

Grief has sometimes taken a back-seat as we struggle to cope with the daily realities of living in a pandemic, leaving mourners to feel guilty that they’re not honouring their ‘person’ as they think they should.

Strangely enough, while lonely, grieving has become even lonelier as we become aware of the weight of everyone’s grief.

Doing Things for the Common Good

One of the common memories that the Great War veterans and civilians share is that there was a sense of purpose and that everyone was working for the same thing–victory.  People did things for the common good–knitting for the troops, saving food scraps, supporting neighbours and strangers.  While this may paint too rosy a picture, when I have spoken to family members and elderly friends who lived through this time, the hard stories are interspersed with stories of great sharing and connection.

Today, the biggest symbol of doing things for the benefit of all is wearing a mask.  We are asked to wear them in order to keep others safe.  We try to wait patiently in line when required and practice kindness for others.  On a good day, we can give others the benefit of the doubt and on hard days, we can try to keep our lips sealed.

There are also many stories of window visits for people who are in isolation, grocery pickups for at-risk neighbours, food drop-offs for healthcare workers, drive-by birthday parties and baby showers…

Life Will Be Different

Life wasn’t the same for those living after WWI and II.  WWI ushered in the beginning of the end of the class system in Britain (Downtown Abbey anyone?).  Both wars led to a global loss of innocence as we learned of the atrocities that humans were capable of doing to other humans and the earth.  In the US, the technology created by WWII led to the creation of chemicals that changed the world forever as well as the exuberance of 1950’s consumerism.

While we don’t yet know how our world will be changed by Covid-19, we have seen some massive changes already.

  • Working from home has become so common that we may never return to offices in the same way.
  • We are on the move.  As our jobs are no longer as tied to a physical location, people are moving in order to be closer to family and away from urban centres.
  • Relationships are shifting as we let some people go and focus more on others.
  • We are becoming more used to spending more time at home and less socializing in person.
  • We are relearning what is important to us and asking big questions about how we want to continue after the pandemic is a memory.
The Big Differences

While I’ve been focusing on the similarities, there are two big differences that I see between these times in history:  a visible enemy and the ability for physical closeness and support.

No matter which side of the war you were on, there was a shared enemy.  Not only was the enemy shared, but the result of the battle was very visible–casualty lists, bombed out buildings, absent loved ones.  Today, we can’t see a microscopic virus.  It’s hard to believe in what we can’t see.  This can make us feel like the threat isn’t as serious as we are told by health and government officials.  It’s hard to keep up the fight and remain vigilant.

We miss human contact.  During the wars, people were able to band together–friends and strangers alike–as they viewed the destruction.  While they may not have been able to hold a burial for a loved one, they were surrounded by those who could hold and comfort them.

When people are sick of this entire thing, dealing with anxiety/depression and wondering when it will be over; it’s the isolation from all of their people that they feel is the hardest.

So in whatever way you mark Remembrance Day, please take a moment to honour those who share similar struggles today.  We are all in this together.

Let’s remember…

Riding the Second Wave of Covid-19

Riding the Covid19 waveAs I write this post, Canada is seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the beginning of the second wave.  While the virus remains the same, there are differences between the two waves–medical experts’ knowledge of how COVID works, the time of year, government responses (I’m speaking of Ontario) and our experience of COVID fatigue.

As we move into the upcoming Winter of COVID, how are ways we can successfully ride this wave?

I’ve Been Reading…

Over the summer months, a very good friend (and researcher) has been sending me articles about COVID experiences worldwide.   Many of them have discussed how the pandemic has negatively affected mental health (increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness).

Another common theme is that many of us are attempting to cope in unhealthy ways such as increased alcohol and drug use, poor diet and lack of exercise.  These strategies can lead to a vicious downward cycle of addiction and poor mental/physical health.  For a few of us, extreme exercise has been our tool of choice.  As one person I know wisely said, “At the end of COVID, we’ll either be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk”.

A final group of articles speaks to how our grief has been affected by restrictions around being with loved ones at their time of death, changes in funeral practices and lack of in-person support.  An October 11, 2020 NBC News article suggested that, “The Covid-19 pandemic will be outlasted by the grief pandemic.”

However, while the situation is dire, I suggest that it’s important not to bury our heads in the sands of avoidance, or to float in the waters of despair.  Instead, let’s take stock to get a clear picture of where we are–somewhat like weighing ourselves after the early pandemic baking extravaganzas.  We may not like the ‘number’, and we know where we’re starting from.

It’s About Having a Plan…

We are no longer ‘COVID innocents’. Because of our experience we know what’s coming.  As one news article stated, “Winter is Coming.” no longer relates just to Game of Thrones!  We lived through the tail-end of last winter, and it was hard (and short).  After a three-seasons of socializing outside, we’re staring down the tunnel of potentially five months of weather-induced, minimal human contact.

Now that we have an idea about what the game board looks like, let’s plan our strategy using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a template.

Be prepared:  take care of the ‘bricks and mortar’ stuff.

There is a sense of safety knowing that our basic needs (food and shelter) are covered.  It’s hard to function when we’re concerned about how we are going to get to the store during a possible lockdown if our furnace will stop working requiring someone to come into our home, or we are running low on prescription medications.

If possible make sure that you have some extra staples (food and medicines) on hand if stores move to limited hours, or there are shortages as the wave continues.  I’m not suggesting building mountains of toilet paper in your home!  Also, think about your physical space and what you may need to do to prepare.

Establish or re-establish social networks. 

Once our physiological and safety requirements are met, next comes our need for human connection.  While many of us were able to see more of our loved ones and expand our ‘bubbles’ during warmer weather, those bubbles burst once children went back to school and limited contact became much more difficult.  Cooler weather is also becoming a factor (though many of us are extending the Fall season by using patio heaters, fire pits, etc.).

Stay connected however you can during covid-19Think about who you would like to be connected to, and then talk with them about ways to spend time together.  We know what helped (and didn’t) last time, so we’re not recreating the wheel.  Maybe Zoom calls didn’t work as well due to technical challenges or ‘Zoom fatigue’.  Is the use of FaceTime apps (if possible) or shorter Zoom calls the answer?  In some cases, can small in-person bubbles be kept in place or restarted?  A friend of mine has started to write letters by hand to her friends and family.  Not only is she using this as a mindfulness practice, but enjoying the anticipation of checking the mailbox for replies.  For some of us, sending holiday greeting cards is making a comeback.

One way to continue to see people in-person is to come to terms with the cold of winter.  A podcast on “The Big Story” talks about how people in far northern communities deal with cold and near-darkness for several months of the year.  The answer–change their mindset about winter.  Embrace the colder, cozier months.  You can listen to this podcast here.  Personally, never having been a fan of the cold, I’m investing in warmer winter clothing so that I can see friends and family outside.

Spend time this Winter developing a new skill.  

Maslow’s next level is “Esteem”–not only the respect that we feel for ourselves but also the respect we feel from others.  Now can be a great time to think about how we would like to grow and develop.

Has covid-19 got you feeling frozen?While there are many websites that list activities/hobbies to take on while in lockdown, I’m suggesting that we go deeper.  What kind of human do we want to be going forward?  When we look back at this time (5, 10 or 20 years from now), what will we see?  And it doesn’t have to be all serious–play is important as well.  In my new snow pants, I’m planning to build some monumental snow people, that may be the talk of the neighbourhood!

Relax and give back. 

Self-actualization.  Now that our other needs have been met, we can relax while having a sense of reality.  Because we are in a safe and clear place we have the energy to provide support for others.  Based on the research on how mental health is being negatively affected by COVID, it is clear that the need is great.  Providing help can be as simple as taking the time to really listen to others when you sense that all may not be well with them, or waving at others on your physically distanced walks.

This BBC video talks about how one person’s life was changed by randomly receiving a bunch of flowers.  It’s not difficult to do–even in these times.

Fighting Covid-19 stress with snow angelsSome things are in our control and some are not.  The fact that the second wave is a reality is beyond our control.  However, we can attempt to influence its progress by wearing masks, washing our hands, practicing physical distancing, and following other guidelines recommended by public health officials.  We also have the choice of how we frame our experience.  This is an opportunity to grow our resilience.  Me….I’ll be making snow angels.

And now…because so many of us are adopting Pandemic Puppies, here’s some puppy love!  Enjoy!

 

The Journey, and Anxiety, Continues

It has been quite a journey. Who knew that when our daily lives underwent an abrupt change in mid-March that we, now staring at mid-August, would still be adjusting to a world with COVID-19.

Personally, when I reflect on this time, I am given hope by the many acts of kindness and respect that I have witnessed…people choosing to wear masks before it became mandatory, the smile and wave from fellow walkers as we cross the street to allow for physical distancing, neighbours running errands for others who are at risk, and front line workers that I know who have gone above and beyond to support those who need their help.

On the other side, while there have been many disheartening stories, for my own mental health, I am choosing to focus on the positive aspects of my fellow humans.

Anxiety…a Constant

Professionally, if I sum up the last few months, one word would be anxiety.

When COVID first appeared there was the anxiety around fulfilling basic tasks such as getting groceries, PPE and hand sanitizer. Remember the concern about toilet paper shortages? We worried about at-risk friends and relatives who suddenly became isolated. So many of our seniors lost their lives, and anxiety about their circumstances was a constant. Many parents juggled working at home with home-schooling their kids.

For those who lost loved ones, there was the anxiety and altered grief journey due to the inability to be with our person when they died and the changes/restrictions to funeral services.

Eventually, we settled into a ‘new normal’ and our levels of anxiety levelled off as well. And then we hit Stage 1 of reopening.

Anxiety and the Re-opening Process

Slowly we’ve been able to come out of our homes. First, it was increasing our ‘bubble’. Next COVID hair was ‘shorn’ and we could visit on outdoor patios. There have been visits to massage therapists, chiropractors or dentists. And this hasn’t always been easy.

I’ve started to notice that some of us are ‘early adopters’. At each stage of reopening, these are the people who are first in line to experience the newly returned activity–dinner on the patio or inside the restaurant…trips to the spa…going to movies. On the other hand, there are those of us that are slower in venturing out. We want to see what will happen at each new stage of opening. Will the local COVID case numbers increase, decrease or stay the same? Does the mandatory mask-wearing have the desired effect? How will opening up my world affect my ‘bubble’?

It’s not a surprise that moving back into the world is a source of anxiety. For so long we were told to “stay the blazes home!”, keep ourselves and others safe. Now we’re encouraged that all is well and to go out. Some of us can’t make the change that quickly.

The Need for Respect

Whether you’re an early adopter or someone who wants to see the results of opening businesses and services before changing your behaviour, either option is ok. And, it’s important to respect each person’s choices (as long as they are keeping the safety of others in mind when making them).

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, becoming aware of the stress of the lock-down on relationships. We saw loved ones taking risks that we found to be impossible to understand. Maybe we thought they were being reckless and strongly voiced our opinions. Social media was flooded with messages about the need to be kind. Now we’re in the same boat, but at the opposite end as the world opens up.

How To Cope

I admit that during COVID-19, I have not been an early adopter. Even before the pandemic, I’ve followed a somewhat iterative style of decision making…Let’s try this and see what happens. Let’s get a bit more information before moving on. What’s the plan going forward? I’ve found this to be a useful tactic in times of anxiety.

So, what does this style look like? Basically, just because my area has moved to a new stage, doesn’t mean that I have to. Stubbornly, I find peace in that, as my internal two-year-old stamps her feet saying “I’m the boss of me!” Want to be bossy too?

  • Set your own parameters of when you want to move on (while not going ahead of government rules). Maybe the COVID new case numbers have to continue to decline daily for a number of days/weeks before you’ll take advantage of new opportunities.
  • Listen to your ‘gut’. What is your own anxiety level telling you about safety? You can learn from this. However, recognize that being afraid to leave your home is not what I’m talking about here.
  • If others pressure you to move forward before you are ready, hold your ground. You can let them know that while you respect their choice. . . you are choosing something else and will let them know when you are ready to join them.
  • Continue to keep up with your self-care. One of the best ways to cope with anxiety involves eating healthy food, exercise, hobbies…anything that helps to keep you feeling balanced.
Strange Days Ahead

One of the most anxiety-provoking things about living in the time of COVID-19 is all the things that we don’t know. How long will this last? When will there be a vaccine? What about a second wave, potentially mixed with flu season? What is the best decision about sending our kids back to school, and how does that affect COVID numbers? While there is a lot of chatter out there, ultimately, it’s various degrees of informed opinions.

Feeling that we can have some level of control over what we do helps to decrease anxiety. So, at the end of the day, I strive to make decisions with the best information that I can find at the time….balancing hope and preparation.

And now…a story of how one person copes with stress…Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom

We are now almost four months into living with various stages of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s been hard, and we’re doing it. Sometimes with grace, and sometimes it’s not pretty. I can confess to a few episodes of “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE!” along with some stamping of feet.

One of the ways that I’ve been able to cope during the last few months is through the wisdom of friends. Three of these wonderful people have been willing to share their thoughts and methods about continuing during this time with you. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

So, take a moment, breathe, and see if their wisdom resonates with you…

Anita Woodard, Woodard Administration

“Dealing with the world of an ongoing pandemic is a balancing act. It’s acknowledging that the future is extremely unknown and that regardless of my desire for it to be otherwise, I can’t guarantee anything. How am I coping? I am lucky enough to be able to manage my time so that when I cannot deal with a specific element of the world, be that people, the news, or even just work, I take time for myself to do something I know will recharge my mental batteries. I make time to see loved ones, virtually, so that I maintain that connection. And finally? I remember history. This is not the first pandemic that humanity has dealt with, nor will it be the last. Living through history is rarely easy but in the long run, things will work out. Eventually.”

LHC, Therapist
  • “Walking or yoga….every day…..especially if there has been something that is upsetting.
  • Doing normal things at a social distance with friends such as campfires and kayaking and painting over Zoom with my painting instructor.
  • Attending church services where my experience gets validated and supported by my spiritual community.”
MaryIris Reibling, M.S.W., R.S.W.
(Individual, Couple, Family Therapy; P.T.S.D., Trauma, E.M.D.R., Consultation)

“Today’s date is the last day of school before the ?summer holidays? begin.

The end of the school year picnics have been replaced with porch visits by teachers presenting students with their works of the past year ending abruptly at March Break.

Surviving Covid-19 has meant many things.

It has meant being/feeling isolated; physically/socially distanced; buying supplies of disinfectant sprays, wipes and sanitizers; wearing masks and the washing of hands continually for the past three months (seems so much longer). It has meant being strategic in our practical lives as we shop less and buy in bulk.

It has meant being caught by surprise and having to acknowledge the unexpected and the uncertainty in our lives.

It has meant trying to make sense of our new reality, being fearful of getting sick, losing loved ones and losing our security and control.

It has meant dealing with feelings of powerlessness and helpless in a time of mixed messaging and chaos as we work through surviving Covid-19.

It has meant fighting an invisible enemy by not engaging with others, staying home.

For many Covid-19 has meant feeling very alone in the world together with everyone else in the world. ?Together apart? is the poignant catch-phrase describing our new world order.

The first two to three weeks of the new ?normal? were spent in denying and minimizing the threat of Covid-19 in an attempt to feel the illusion of ?control?. Paperwork was caught up and bags of shredded paper appeared on the curb on numerous garbage days.

The importance of routine and schedules took on significant importance as the rules for work and everyday life changed from moment to moment. Morning radio took on an important role of reminding the world of it uncertainty and losses, while reassuring us.

Limiting the news of the day helped put some distance between the reality of Covid-19 and surviving emotionally and mentally.

Everyday walks were implemented in the beginning of April in spite of the coldness of the strange spring. It seemed that Covid-19 had slowed the coming of spring. The sun shone, but trees, shrub branches remained brown and bare. The sounds of the streets and roads were quiet as staying at home meant safety for everyone.

Attempts were made to connect with others some successful, some not, as everyone tried to find their own way through the confusion and disbelief. The learning curves of technology and video visits were overwhelming at times. Support systems and routines were implemented dinners with family, baking birthday cakes together, sharing breakfasts, reading bedtime stories — all virtual.

Talk of Victory gardens after the impact of World Wars inspired the planting of a vegetable garden in the spring to regain a sense control and survival. The creation of a large berm in the yard has provided a sense of pain-staking purpose, a place to plant the bushes of beauty next spring providing hope and a future beyond Covid-19.

The many unfinished tasks at home have become projects of gratitude in this time.

The perspective is now different, it is a process, not a task. The pace is much more manageable.

Letter writing has had a resurgence –? connecting with family and friends in a meaningful way.

Surviving Covid-19, music, dance and movement of the body, have become sources of joy as we become reacquainted with ourselves and our lives during this time as we look forward to the future in September with renewed hope.

Stay Safe, Be Kind, Seek Joy…”

 

 

Blaikie Psychotherapy is Going Online!

Image of calendar introducing online therapy optionsIt’s almost the end of May, and as this pandemic rages on, many businesses have had to make decisions about how to meet clients’ needs as the world moved from ‘life as usual’, including moving online. Blaikie Psychotherapy is no exception. Since March 15, 2020, I have been providing client sessions by phone, while hoping that we would be meeting in-person before too long.

With the Ontario government’s May 14, 2020 announcement that psychotherapists could begin to provide in-person sessions with clients (assuming that proper safety precautions in place), I thought perhaps the time was coming. However, in an email sent to members the next day, the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO) stated that:

“Given that the risk of infection continues to exist, in cases where you have the option of providing e-therapy or in-person therapy, we advise that you still choose e-therapy. If you choose to provide in-person care, you should be clear as to why you have made this decision. Consideration should be given to the inherent risks given the client, your modality of practice and your ability to ensure the use of best practices for preventing and spreading COVID-19.”

We’re Going On-Line!

Cartoon image of online video chatBased on CRPO’s recommendation about returning to in-person sessions, I have decided to provide online client sessions beginning June 1, 2020. This service will be provided through the OnCall Health platform. On Call Health is very secure with the use of encryption and servers located in Canada. You can find more information about OnCall Health here. I will continue to provide telephone sessions for those of you who prefer that format.

I hope that we are able to meet in-person in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’m getting my office ready for us to meet safely by putting new procedures in place, rearranging seating and looking into Plexiglas screens. My goal is that in-person therapy post-pandemic will be as safe as possible while creating the type of therapeutic relationships that were possible beforehand sanitizer and face masks.

So, let’s continue to wash our hands, wear our masks, practice physical distancing and be kind…And now, something to brighten your day…Enjoy!

 

The Editing of Address Books

When you edit your address books when dealing with griefAs we continue our practice of physical distancing and social isolation during this time of COVID-19, certain things are obvious…we miss seeing our friends and family members in-person; Zoom parties have lost their novelty, and many of us feel lonely. I noted in a previous post that we are all grieving–and grief changes our relationships.

Secondary Losses–Our People

Book - It's Ok That You're Not Ok by Megan DevinePeople who have experienced grief after the death of a loved one, often report that they are amazed at the changes in their family/friend group–people they thought would be there for them are ‘nowhere to be found’, while acquaintances step up and provide tremendous support, understanding and enduring care. This isn’t unusual.

Megan Devine, in her book It’s Ok That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand suggests that grief edits our address book. Devine writes:

“And–it’s one of the cruellest aspects of intense loss: at a time when you most need love and support, some friends either behave horribly or they disappear altogether. There are disappointments and disagreements. Old grudges resurface. Small fault lines become impassable distances. People say the weirdest, most dismissive and bizarre things. Grief changes your friendships.”

The author suggests that this happens for a variety of reasons: seeing someone we care about in pain is difficult for us–our pain rubs up against their pain; in our grief-phobic culture, they don’t know what to say; or ‘real’ life takes over and they drift away.

So Now That We’re All Grieving…

A big bugI suggest that our time “of the big bug” is giving us a glimpse into, not only what we care about, but whom. It takes more effort to stay in touch with others, and frankly, some relationships won’t survive. I don’t mean the ones where spending so much uninterrupted time together is stressing already fragile bonds. Instead, I’m thinking about the casual, repetitive relationships that are based on habit. The relationships where one side put in more effort to stay in touch than the other and that pattern wasn’t obvious. Friendships that may have outlived their connection may quietly end.

While this may sound harsh, it’s not meant to be. I see it as a function of the COVID ‘reset’ that some say we are experiencing. And, we will all be on both sides of the keep/lose equation. We will let some people go, and be let go of by others. And it will be painful.

The Levels of Relationship

One way to put this ebb and flow of our relationships into perspective is the concept of the Levels of Relationship. I suggest that there are four levels–each with its own characteristics and levels of intimacy:

  • Level 1: Relationship you may have with the barista at your favourite cafe. Interactions are purely transactional and there is no level of intimacy. If you’re Canadian, maybe you talk about the weather.
  • Level 2: Relationship with a distant co-worker. While more than transactional, little personal information is shared. For example, you may need to let them know that you are going on vacation in order for them to do their job, but you probably won’t share where you are going or who with.
  • Level 3: Friendships. There are many sub-levels in this section, but all include the sharing of personal information and mutual support to varying degrees. If one of these relationships ended, we would feel their loss.
  • Level 4: Our 24/7 people. These relationships are rare and hard to find. These people tend to be our best friends, spouses, and maybe family members. These are the ones that we know have our back 24/7, and we have theirs. 24/7 people are the ones we can call in the middle of the night when things go wonderfully good, or horribly bad; and we know that they will always answer the text.
Moving Up and Down the Levels

Living with grief can be like trying to blend two different thingsThese levels are not carved in stone…they can be fluid. For example, let’s say that you go to your neighbourhood cafe every day on the way to school. You like the barista who usually fills your order, as well as the cafe’s warm environment (Level 1). After a few months, you notice a ‘help wanted’ sign and decide to apply. After starting to work at the cafe, you and Barista Bob become co-workers (Level 2) and this relationship develops into a friendship (Level 3). Over time, you and Bob become best friends–knowing that there is mutual caring, trust, and respect on a deep level (Level 4).

We can also move up the levels from 4 to 1–we move away or change jobs, maybe a close relationship ends due to outside circumstances, perhaps someone we thought had the emotional intelligence to be a 24/7 person didn’t.

If we think about it, we may notice that this has happened a lot in our past, usually at a fairly slow pace. But now, in the time of Zoom meetings and social distancing, the relationship patterns are speeding up.

What Does This Mean Going Forward?

Child using magnifying glass to look at plantHonestly? I’m not sure. I only know that as a therapist I’m seeing this happen and am curious about how it will affect us in the future. Will our relationships become less in number yet emotionally deeper because we have weeded out the ones that really didn’t need to be there? Will we be more choosy about who we let into our lives going forward as we want to give them the time and nurture that they deserve? Will we recognize the importance of being our own best friend? All this remains to be seen.

In the meantime, please be kind…when we let others go, and when we, ourselves, are released. It’s normal.

And now, a hopeful take on where we all may be once this is over…Enjoy!

 

 

The Precariousness of Balance…Especially During Covid-19

Balance is a topic that has been coming up a lot recently, both personally and with clients. During this time of Covid-19, many of us are trying to figure out how to juggle the reality of daily existence while not knowing how long restrictions and physical distancing will last.

The following post from the archives talks about the concept of balance and how we can apply it to our lives today.

Take care and be safe!

When people find out that I publish a blog post on a regular basis, they often ask where I find ideas to write about. I share that the inspiration can come from lots of different areas. Sometimes it’s a book or article that I’ve read. Sometimes a discussion with a friend, colleague, client or stranger has been the spark. And then there are posts that? I write as a way to wrestle with a topic that I am puzzling with…such as today’s post on balance.

What is Balance?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘balance’ in a number of ways…

  • as a piece of equipment used for measurement
  • physical equilibrium (keeping your balance on a sailboat)
  • the equal space between two opposing elements (junk food vs. exercise)
  • in the context of art, balance is an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements
  • an amount in excess especially on the credit side of a bank account
  • mental or emotional stability.

The ideas of physical equilibrium, space between opposing elements and mental/emotional stability are somewhat helpful, but they don’t quite fit what I’m looking for. They are describing an exact point, but life is made up by a series of ‘points’ or moments.

Balance as a Concept

At some point during the time that a client and I are working together, we will talk about how things may be different when they have finished therapy. What is their picture of life after ‘the change’ In order to discover your view ‘balance’, substitute ‘balanced’ for ‘finished therapy’ or “What is your picture of life after you have achieved a level of balance?” I suspect that each of you will answer differently.

When we recognize that what is an ideal balance for one person, is completely out of balance for someone else, it becomes clear that ‘balance’ as a concept is incredibly individual. Also, what a balanced life looks like at one stage of life no longer fits at a later stage. To complicate things, that sense of being balanced can change from one day to another depending on energy levels, weather, people contact, or an endless bunch of other factors.

Finding Balance…By Paying Attention to the Opposite

I wonder if being able to live a balanced life requires a certain level of self-awareness…knowing not only when we feel balanced, but also being aware of when we feel ‘off-balance’. Feeling ‘off-balance’ is one of the most common reasons that people begin to see a therapist. They may not be sure what is going on, but they don’t feel ‘right’.

Similar to the old saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”, maybe we don’t recognize that we are living a balanced life, because everything is ticking along nicely. We are living our lives with few problems. We look for balance only when we become aware of its non-existence. Then we play the game of adding more of this and less of that in an attempt to bring back feelings of equilibrium. How many of us have thought that “I just need more sleep… or less work, or more fun, or less … and life will be better”.

Once we can imagine what a balanced life looks like for us…what we are aspiring to…how do we get there?

Tools for Living a Balanced Life

It appears that the search for a balanced life has been a human activity for a long time. Here are some of the tools that I have found:

  • The 80/20 Rule: The idea behind this tool is that when looking for balance it’s unnecessary to micro-manage things in your life or constantly correct when things feel a bit off-kilter. People use this as a way to balance spending (80% of total income) and saving (20%), or managing food. If 80% of your diet is healthy, don’t worry about the rest.
  • The Buddhist Idea of the Middle Way: The Buddha came to this idea after living a life of extremes. In his youth, he was a wealthy prince and then chose to give it up to live as an ascetic. As a holy man, his practices were so extreme that he almost died. As part of his spiritual journey, he discovered the value of living between the two extremes, or the Middle Way.
  • Everything in Moderation: This tool fits with the Middle Way as the search for balance doesn’t preclude anything–just don’t do too much of it!
  • The One in/One out Rule: This tool helps to maintain balance once it has been reached. Basically, for every new thing you add into your life, something else must leave. This could apply to things, people (in some cases) or activities.
Can We Have It All?

One of the reasons that many people search for a balanced life is their desire to have/or do it all. But is this possible? Maybe, but not at the same time.

Perhaps one piece to the search for a balanced life is that we need to expand the time-frame. Rather than asking if we’re balanced in this week, month or year; maybe we can ask if we are living a balanced life at this stage. Or what if the Merriam-Webster definition is right and balance takes place in the moment, only to shift out of balance so easily? Hmmm….the search continues….

And now…an amazing display of balance–elegant, graceful and inspiring….Enjoy!

 

I’m Spinning…and So Is Everyone Else

I'm not hurt, I'm playing in the grass!

People who know me, are aware that I’m an avid wool spinner and knitter…but when I’m talking about “I’m Spinning…” in this post’s title, I’m not talking about the wool I’m playing with because of extra time at home, I’m talking about my head. All the rapid changes that are happening are mind-boggling!

Last week, I asked the question “Where is Your Grief?”. Over the past few days I’ve noticed many media sources suggesting that “we’re all grieving”, but for a culture that doesn’t talk about grief, what does this mean?

A Grief Primer

The Dog ate my Homework!For those of us to whom grief is a ‘new-ish’ idea, here are some basic concepts.

  • Grief is a normal response to the loss of something or someone that is important to us. While we usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, we may also grieve when we lose a job, relationship, life role or favourite possession. If it’s something we value, it’s loss is difficult. If we love, we grieve.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there are no five stages of grief. The grief journey is a spiral that we work through. Grief is circular, not linear.
  • Grief is individual. Not only do we each grieve differently, but we also grieve each loss differently. The way that I suffer the loss of a partner, won’t be the same way that I grieve the death of a parent–and it won’t be the way that my sibling will grieve the same parent.
  • Grief not only affects us emotionally, but we are also affected mentally and physically. Common experiences of grief include (and not limited to):
      • extreme tiredness
      • digestive changes
      • fuzzy brain
      • increased anxiety
      • sudden emotional flooding such as crying (grief bursts)
      • sleeplessness or too much sleep
  • Grief irrevocably changes us. We are not the same people at the beginning of the process than at the end.
  • Grief lasts as long as it lasts. There is no rushing the process. The only way out is through.
Applying the Concepts

When we superimpose what we now know about grief to our experiences with a world dealing with COVID-19, the media statement starts to make sense.

Grief is a normal response.

On a grand scale, we are grieving the globe as we knew it. We watch as different countries cope with the virus in different ways, with different levels of success. Suddenly we may be more aware of daily fluctuations in global financial markets or supply lines than ever before. Our world-view is shifting.

On a national and local scale, my country appears to be coping, though long-term care facilities and front-line supports appear to be bearing the brunt of the number of COVID cases.

On an individual scale, we miss seeing our friends and families in the same way. For some of us who have family and friends living in different countries, there is the realization that we can’t reach them if they experience an emergency. If we have lost our jobs, paying bills may be a concern. If we are working from home, there is an adjustment to new ways of being productive.

We are all grieving social contact–even if it means smiling at someone in the grocery store. No one knows if you’re smiling when you’re wearing a mask.

Grief is a non-linear spiral.

When we think of a linear process, we move through the stages and then we’re done. The reality is that we cycle through the same behaviours (high-levels of emotions, sleep issues, increased anxiety, etc.) and the context will be different. We’re not failing at grief, we are growing. We may have a day or two when we start to feel normal, and then a few difficult days. This is normal as we adjust to changes.

Grief is individual.

You may have noticed as you speak to others that we are all coping (or not coping) in different ways. What may be a trigger for one person doesn’t affect another. Part of this process is determining our own healthy ways to get through this time.

Grief not only affects us emotionally, but we are also affected mentally and physically.

Based on our experiences, it’s important to recognize that what we are feeling is normal given these extraordinary circumstances. We only have so much ‘bandwidth’ to deal with life, and when so much of it is taken up with having to adjust to a fast-changing world, it makes sense that our entire systems are going to be affected.

Like a caterpillar into a butterfly, we will changeGrief irrevocably changes us.

Pundits are saying that the world will no longer be the same after COVID-19. We won’t be either. Hopefully, we will have a new respect for the resiliency of ourselves and others.

Grief lasts as long as it lasts. There is no rushing the process. The only way out is through.

Depending on the loss and our relationship to it, grief becomes a part of us for the rest of our lives–though it changes over time. I suggest that, just as historical events affected our ancestors, we too will be altered. I remember speaking with grandparents about their experiences during WWII. Their losses were as poignant then as when they had occurred, and they were able to place them in the context of the rest of their lives. They had integrated their experiences.

So, We’re Grieving, Now What?
The Need for Self-care

Two hands holding, reading You Are and Not AloneSelf-care is always important, and never more so than in times of stress and uncertainty–such as when we are grieving. While activities that feed us are individual, here are some basics.

  • Eat well. Follow the 80/20 rule – if 80 percent of your diet is healthy, the rest can be “fun” food.
  • Drink lots of water. When we are under pressure, our bodies move into fight or flight mode. The hormones rushing through our systems at that time need to be flushed out.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar. These substances mimic the stress hormones which we’re trying to get rid of.
  • Exercise. Something as simple as going for a regular walk is helpful.
  • Give your brain a break. If you have a meditation practice, try to find time to fit it in. If not, find a simple mindfulness practice online. Even 10 minutes a day is beneficial.
  • Find or revisit a hobby. Even 15 minutes doing something that you enjoy will help you to relax.
  • Spend time with loved ones–in ways that are safely possible.

We are all grieving together. So, let’s be kind…to ourselves and others.

And now…this clip was sent to me by a friend about what’s happening in Nova Scotia. It definitely brightened my day, and was in my head all day! Enjoy!

 

 

Where’s Your Grief?

As we continue to navigate through these strange times, a consistent thing that I’m hearing from people I speak with is that their grief seems to have gone into hiding. It’s not that it’s completely gone, or that they don’t think about their loved one on a regular basis, but that grief feels less ‘sharp’. We’re trying to adjust to everything else, and also having to get used to this change in grief.

Feelings of Guilt

When we are grieving, especially once the shock wears off after the first few weeks or months, grief becomes our primary focus. Physically, we may not be able to sleep, eat (or eat more than before) or have difficulty focusing on basic tasks. Our ability to remember simple things may be compromised. Emotionally, we may cry a lot–sometimes out of the blue (grief bursts). We may experience flashbacks to the time when the death occurred as our brains try to come to terms with what happened. However, we may not be having feelings of guilt.

Now guilt seems to be a common feeling. Guilt that we’re not feeling as ‘sad’ as we were before we were forced to deal with the repercussions of COVID-19. Guilt that we’re not thinking about our loved one as much. Guilt that maybe we’re not honouring our ‘person’ anymore.

While these thoughts and feelings are understandable, there is a reason for this change to our grief behaviours.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - managing grief is part of thisThere are five levels in the hierarchy: physiological (i.e. those needed by our physical body), safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

The original hierarchy states that a lower level must be completely satisfied and fulfilled before moving onto a higher pursuit. However, today scholars prefer to think of these levels as continuously overlapping each other. This means that the lower levels may take precedence back over the other levels at any point in time.

Where Grief and Maslow Meet

When grief can feel like the sudden drop off of the oceanRight now we are adjusting to a ‘new normal’. For many of us, much of our time and energy is going into figuring out how to meet our basic physiological and safety needs. How do I get groceries and basic supplies? Watching social media, and the constant updates on ways to protect ourselves and loved ones from the virus, safety becomes a primary concern. These two areas overlap when a trip to the store feels as if we’re putting our health at risk.

I suggest that grief is a higher-level activity. Grieving takes up a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy–energy that we don’t have at this point. Trauma will trump grief every time–and for some of us, these are traumatic times. That is why grief appears to be hiding.

Where Did Grief Go?

While the grief process is really hard and not something that we would choose to experience, from a guilt perspective, it may be comforting to know that our grief is still there waiting for us. Once we have mastered our current reality, or life has returned to normal, grief will resurface. At this point, it’s not clear if we will take it up where we left off or us/it will have changed into something else. This is new territory.

What I do know is that we are not dishonouring our loved ones because grief has changed or is on a hiatus. We still love and miss our person. We continue to remember them. We may even be striving to incorporate lessons they have taught us as we learn new ways to be in the world.

So, with everything else to cope with, please let yourself off the grief hook and be kind to yourself.

And now for a timely lesson from MASH…Enjoy!

 

Love in the Time of COVID-19

These are unusual times.

It’s been suggested that I write about ways to cope with the anxiety that is a reality as we try to cope with having the world as we know it turned upside down. However, I’m not sure that I have anything to add to the already helpful resources available (I recommend this article from the Globe and Mail if you are looking for a good summary resource). ?Instead, I want to share with you what I’m experiencing and doing to cope.

I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning because I can’t fall asleep. I try, but my mind is a kaleidoscope: of images from the news items I have watched throughout the day; thoughts of my friends and family who are experiencing social distancing, work closures and the reality of the recently declared state of emergency; students who have been told to leave University residence with little notice.

I think about my clients and how I can continue to support them. I think about those who don’t have the ability to work from home because their jobs are to provide support to others in person. I think about people who are frantically looking for toilet paper, food staples and cleaning products, and others who volunteer to continue to provide food to primary school students who use the school nutrition programs (now that the schools are closed for three weeks).

So, in this swirl of anxiety, thoughts, fears and negative images; how will I cope?

In times like these, I think about Viktor Frankl and his observation that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control our reactions.

My reaction? Love.

  • I will clean. Self-love is to make sure that my home is in some semblance of order. I’ll take the time to wash floors and clean out the fridge. Furniture will be dusted and mirrors polished. Junk drawers and Tupperware cupboards may be sorted.
  • I will bake (and then share). I plan to bake many, many, many cookies and then leave them at loved one’s front doors.
  • I will only buy what I need rather than giving in to fears of scarcity that prevent other humans from getting what they need.
  • I will go for walks, and smile and say hello?while practicing social distancing.
  • I will try to be kind. This means keeping my opinions to myself.
  • I will practice self-care by limiting the amount of news I listen to or read. Instead, I will enjoy books, knit and watch movies that I’ve been too busy to watch.

And?

  • When I’m at the store looking for toilet paper and eggs? I’ll also buy flowers.