Big Feelings

Tues, April 21

Like a lot of you, I tuned into the “One World: Together at Home” benefit concert on Saturday night. I enjoyed the music, the appearances and the tributes to the heroes on the front lines. It was really cool knowing that I was having a shared experience with so many around the country and the world.

I was moved in particular by a snippet in the program geared towards children and I’ve been thinking about it since Saturday. Abby, a pink, pig-tailed, 4-year-old Muppet from Sesame Street gave some advice directly to children about dealing with their big feelings. While adorable, yes, I found Abby’s advice to be very profound and wise for adults too. She normalized having big feelings and said that when we have big, little, or feelings in between we can give ourselves a big, self hug, take a deep breath, and feel comforted.

During these times I’ve been thinking a lot about folks who live by themselves and are self quarantined with either just themselves or with their animals for company. I thought about Abby’s advice for these folks, especially, in terms of self comforting or self soothing. My prayer for this population is that they find solace and comfort in their own company (and if applicable their fur babies) while reaching out to family and friends for virtual comfort. Sending strength and fortitude and some relief to all who are alone or lonely.

Yesterday the governor of Ohio made the announcement that K-12 schools will be finishing up the year online rather than going back to school. This hit me hard. While I knew this was coming and I totally support the decision I had big feelings about this. In reality it only means that the 15 days in May that my son might have had in school are not going to happen now. They have had a month of online learning already. So why was I so upset? I think it just re-triggered my initial big feelings when the schools first went online. Remembering again all of the loss. Yes, I acknowledge that while we are all in this together, we are also in different boats in the same storm. But all loss is tough on those going through it. My feelings of loss are so strong both for my son’s experience, but also for me! Yes, I am one of those parents who goes to every concert, game, celebration, and event. I not only want to be supportive of my son’s interests, but I actually enjoy it myself! I love my son’s girlfriend and group of friends and my heart aches for their loss and mine. From the big things like prom and graduation to the small things like senior skip day, and loitering at Wal-mart at 10pm, the kids in the class of 2020 are missing things. It probably also stings a bit more because my son is a very social creature. He has gone from literally never being home to literally never leaving the house.

I call to mind the stages of grief (Kubler-Ross) I learned about in college: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Yep, I recognize all of these over the last month and I’m sure you do too. The funny quirky thing about loss is that it is not linear. For example, just when I’ve rounded the corner to some semblance of acceptance…BOOM…something happens that brings me right back to utter sadness. So with that being said, what can we do to comfort ourselves when we have these big feelings? I’ve been reflecting on this and here are some of the things that are helpful for me in terms of feelings. Some of this I’ve learned over my 50 years and some I’ve been reminded about during these recent days.

  1. It is okay to have big feelings. Okay, this is probably an obvious one, right? Yes, but I think a lot of us can fall prey to either covering up our feelings (especially ones that don’t really feel good) with false positivity or self medicating with food, sugar, alcohol or something else. I’ve realized that the best way to actually deal with these feelings is to give yourself permission to actually feel them!
  2. Set a time limit. At first this might sound odd, but sometimes it is helpful to give ourselves a time limit to feel negative emotions. This is good for two reasons: (1) We acknowledge the feeling and realize we need to feel it and (2) we have an out for ourselves to not wallow in our feelings and get stuck there for too long. For example, I’ve actually given myself 10 minutes to be upset about something in the past and then it is time to move on.
  3. Learn how to comfort yourself. Just like Abby in the video sometimes we need to know how to comfort ourselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean to not rely on others for comfort, but I think it means to know what you need to do to comfort yourself. What strategies do you have that work for you? Do you like a nice, hot bath? A chat with a friend? Getting lost in a puzzle or a good book? Going on a brisk walk? Yesterday, when I was feeling sad I went for a run and felt a bit better. It wasn’t a magical cure for the situation, but I had a change of scenery and was able to get out of my head for awhile.
  4. Ask for what you need. We are in uncharted territory right now. Folks now working from home are in a different environment than what they knew before. Being in close proximity to only a few people for days on end has been challenging for me in that in my real life work environment I had other support systems that I could count on. That combined with the stay at home order has made me realize that I need to ask for what I need in terms of family support. News flash: my family cannot read my mind! This is a good growth area for me even without a pandemic, but some lessons take longer to learn for some, I guess!
  5. Get perspective. Different boats – same storm. Yes, it is okay to acknowledge your loss. End stop. No matter what stage you find yourself in on any particular day – give yourself the grace to feel it without rushing to judge yourself. But it does help, when you are ready, to re-frame your situation and find gratitude where you can. This does make all the difference.

And if all else fails, remember, like Abby said you can always give yourself a big self hug. That feels really good too.

The New Normal

April 7, 2020

Okay, so I’ll admit it. It was awesome to change the calendar to April. First and foremost we got THE best news from Xavier University on the morning of April 1. At the risk of bragging I’m going to share that Zach received one of only 18 FACHEX full tuition awards (benefits for folks who work in the Jesuit college network) to Xavier for all four years of college! Hell yeah! Last year they awarded 60 in total. I’m making this public because I’m super excited and I think we all have to celebrate good news during this time, especially! Plus, we have been playing this waiting game since like November when Zach applied so it has been a long, stressful, wait for all of us! We sent in the deposit the next day and now we await how things will unfold in the coming weeks and months. I remain hopeful that this too shall pass and fall schedules can resume for all of us. I choose to be hopeful and I won’t let anyone steal my joy!!!

Speaking of hope, as we all settle into the new normal of life these days I thought I would reflect on the good things that have emerged so far that I’ve seen – the silver linings, as it were. Now I am not that naive to not realize that things are not peachy for lots of folks and that we are plagued by fears, anxiety and uncertainty all over the country and world, but this is not the blog post for that. This is the post about what I see as light in the darkness that surrounds us. Our attitude is shaped by what we focus on, right? Here is what I’ve noticed:

  • The abundant creativity and generosity of people for mask making. Not only are people making them in droves for medical personnel, but people are coming up with creative ways for folks to make them out of ordinary household items (bandannas, socks, etc) and are sharing them!
  • More family time. I have spent more time with my husband and son over this time. Even though Zach has been climbing for over a year, only last week did my husband and I go with him to support him in this activity. Now, would he rather be with this friends? Perhaps, but that is not the point. I think he even enjoyed being able to share this with us firsthand. Yesterday, I even shared my lunchtime run with my son – on a Monday. That has never happened before!
  • More doggy walks. I have increased my walking time by 100%. Before the pandemic hit my dog was lucky to get a walk once or twice in the morning before work. Now we are averaging about 3 walks a day. This is so good for my physical and mental health in addition to keeping a happy dog!
  • Virtual Church! We have been able to share our church service highlights on the web for Sundays and now for Holy Week. We also have started a virtual women’s bible study on Zoom that has enabled women even outside of the Hudson community to join in.
  • Increased communication. My sister and parents and I have committed to a nightly 30 minute family check-in on FaceTime. This has been a great way for us all to stay connected, share updates and just chat. Not to mention the miracle that my folks now know how to FaceTime (tee hee)! Before this I would probably connect with my parents weekly, if that, and maybe monthly, if I was lucky, with my sis.
  • Increased online opportunities. It seems that so many opportunities have cropped up for folks to virtually experience things that are unavailable “in real life” right now. From exercise and yoga videos, museum tours, celebrity performances, and neighborhood social hours, there are so many new opportunities for folks to connect with others, explore new interests or continue to practice self care. It really is amazing and is a huge benefit of the technology that is all around us. I find it fascinating that in the past I saw so much of the negative in social media, but now I can only think of how life giving it really can be if used with a good purpose. Maybe it is my change in perspective? Hmm.
  • Being/Staying in the present. This is the best one. And also the hardest for me. I’m an extrovert, external processor, planner, and all around person who gets her energy from being around people. This is a time when those personality traits/strengths are not entirely useful and actually are not productive. This is a challenge for me to say the least. But, what I am learning is to embrace this whole being in the present thing. Not just after my yoga class and repeating “namaste” to the teacher and then rushing off to hurriedly get to the rest of my busy day. I’m talking about actually being in the present moment. Like my dog is. I’m not in control of the future, but I can take on today. There is a certain freedom in this, actually. Thinking about this idea, the lyrics of a Bob Marley song keep coming to me, “Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” Yes, I believe it will be. Do you?