Can We Re-Up?

3 Things That Will Help

            I just did something I’ve never done before. I turned in my completed draft for the book I’m writing to my editor! It was a momentous thing that was accomplished by a stunningly ordinary click at the end of a very regular looking email, but man! What the attachment on that email represented for me?

Lots

Of

Work

            I’m not sure why I had this impression that it would be a month or so before my editor got back to me with edits and revisions, but somehow, I thought I’d have this gap-month where there would be nothing to do on this project that has been so consuming for the last year! I could think about things I’ve put off…”Janice, just wait till your draft is submitted” has been a bit of a mantra of late. My mentor group has pressed me, “write your book, Janice, don’t get distracted!” And so I did! And I was expecting this break between submission and the next big effort. But you know what happened? My editor said, “ok, let’s set up a meeting next week to talk about it.”  NEXT WEEK?!?!?! What happened to my month? And…yikes, what are they going to say? I suddenly realize I need to be prepared to hear their feedback and actually face what will undoubtedly be another round of?

Lots

Of

Work

            Does anyone relate to this? I think we have all been expecting that COVID was behind us, that we could forget our masks when we went out, and that we could be confident of in person, indoor stuff happening…I dunno, forever?! But no. We have to re-up our efforts and watch those delicious freedoms get rolled back in order to keep people safe. Not what we were expecting. What do we need to re-up? I was thinking of this in relationship to my book project and three things cross-over.

  1. We need to remember our why. I’m writing this book for so many reasons, but a huge one is to help the suffering humans learn about the kind of self-care that will actually sustain them. That can get a little lost for me when intimidation stares me down. For all of us?let’s remember our why?we wear masks and we’re careful again because we can all spread this new variant even if we are vaccinated. And this one is impacting kids a lot more. There’s a big ‘why’ for all of us to claim.
  2. Be impressed that you?ve come this far. When I look at the work ahead of me, I can lean on the fact that I got this book written during the Pandemic with a really big client load. Similarly, look back at the resilient and strong parts of yourself that showed up in the Pandemic. You still have those now and those parts of yourself can help you make it through the next challenge.
  3. Get your cheering squad in place. To get this project done, I have absolutely needed my tribe in place who encouraged me to this point (you know who you are?THANK YOU!!). We all need encouragement to do what we do in the world with the challenge of prolonged COVID realities. Who is your tribe? Talk with them about how to be connected and what types of encouragement are best for you. Make a pact that you will lean on each other and help each other press through this phase.

Hanging onto these things will help us all to come together and re-up for the challenge ahead. Together, we can do it.

Look for my book coming out in the fall of 2022. The working title now is, Living Better: Self-Care for your Inner World.

Life, In Person

Starting in June, I began to see some of my clients in the office. A first in nearly 16 months and…wow. My clients are beautiful. That’s what I keep thinking as I sit with them. The subtleties of their eyes and gestures…they way they hold tension in their bodies and catch their breath with emotion…there is so much I miss through the screens. I had one client say, “yeah, I will definitely be coming in person from now on. I get so much more out of therapy this way.” While I cannot say that our conversation that day was qualitatively much different that the ones we had in May, I knew exactly what she meant. The connection felt different. The energy went back and forth with more ease and I could feel our brains mapping each other in a way that is just harder over Zoom. It was just…organic. Easier and more flowing.

I realize that some of my clients will never come back to my office. The ease of meeting online is a huge plus; no pressure to get a sitter for my couples, the ability to meet during a lunch hour, not having to deal with traffic or a long drive.  I have many clients that I’ve never met face-to-face and as I review the month, the ones who have come into my office are clients I had seen before the pandemic hit. They know how meeting face-to-face felt before and they are the ones opting to make the trek back to the office. We are so happy to be in the room together again that we share many dumbstruck, grinning moments, marveled at the normal feeling so novel!

By now I have many, many clients that I’ve only ever treated online. For them, they don’t know me in the flesh! I’ve only ever been their telehealth therapist. I wonder if the motivation to come in to the office will ever come? We’ve gotten to know each other through the screen and we’re in a therapeutic groove and so, maybe we just keep it this way. That thought makes me a bit sad. 

I think of the couple that murmurs to each other during our sessions while I ask helplessly what they are saying. Or all the times I think that someone has reached over to touch their spouse, but their hands are out of sight. I’m slower to know if my dear clients are tearing up or getting disregulated through the screen as well. I can?t see a jiggling leg or wringing hands or see a quivering lip as easily. And I suppose they are missing much of me as well.

And so, my field has forever changed. We all now settle for ‘not quite as human’ experiences because we’ve trained ourselves to cope and even prefer them. For now, I’ll keep celebrating the gentle thrill of my in-person sessions and soaking in all the humanity I’ve missed this long year.

Reopening Ambivalence

“If I’m excited about life returning to normal, then why do I feel so tired? I mean, I’m happy but I feel so intimidated!” My client was in tears as she mucked through her confusing mix of feelings.

I’ve had a number of conversations with clients this month who are struggling to understand how they can be so happy that there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel while also feeling so confused and stressed at the prospect of doing things again. I feel it too! I was thrilled to be able to have a backyard BBQ with my small group last weekend (we are all vaccinated!) but I was unaccountably exhausted afterwards! Not only are we out of practice, we have loads of questions to deal with around what is and is not considered safe, what the new rules might be, and how appropriate it is to ask whether folks are vaccinated.

Krista Tippet interviewed Christine Runyan on March 18th this spring and discussed “What’s Happening in our Nervous Systems”. I highly recommend this podcast because she explains so well what so many of us feel right now; tired, foggy, irritable, emotionally fragile…and she validates it as normal. Our bodies have been on long-term alert and we are feeling the cost of it. So, watch yourself if you are tempted to berate yourself or ruminate on why you don’t have more energy. Now you know! And accepting the reason can help you be more kind with yourself.

I encourage us all to be patient with ourselves. Re-entry will be a journey and our bodies are still stressed from the long months of being on edge. And consider all of the events of the year that pulled on our nervous systems! Not only the threat of the virus, but all the strain of being separated from loved ones, a national reckoning with racial injustice, an unprecedented election year, and now Derek Chauvin’s conviction of murder while news continues to pour in of shootings and death. We are more than a little frayed.

Christine Runyan suggests that we periodically breathe in and exhale slowly for a long time. I tried it and found it to be regulating, like she said it would. But it also felt like I was cleansing my insides. That exhaling for a longer time felt somehow fitting, as if too much junk had gotten tied up inside. We’ll be metabolizing the impact of this year for a long while yet. Sometimes all you can do is breathe.

Click here to hear Christine Runyan’s podcast.

Excellence in the Clutch Shot

Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and UCLA may go down in history as one of the best basketball games of all time. Well-matched teams, both playing excellently and a magical shot in the final second of overtime by Jalen Suggs, a freshman.

            There is a camera angle where you get to watch Jalen’s face as he prepares for, executes, and then reacts to his shot.  He is full focus, eyes on all that matters, the basket. He seems oblivious to all the movement around him and I’m guessing that all the many years of practicing such shots comes together in this concentrated moment. A perfect jump, perfect release as the buzzer sounds, a perfect bounce off the backboard and in. He was in a state of flow, in the zone, everything coming together at the right time.

            It inspires me to see human excellence like that. The talents of a person honing in when it matters. To hear the commentary, you hear the respect the experts have for both teams, how much of the outcome was tied up in who won the final possession. But Suggs was able to capitalize on it and take our breath away.

            Joyous excellence. I can only hope for moments like that to touch all of us as we take a risk, make a crazy shot and see that all of our hard work, learning, and giftedness come together to make something happen. What can we learn from Jalen Suggs to help our moments of excellence come to life?

  1. You have to be willing to miss. Jalen took a shot that easily could have missed the basket. It was shot from very far back and no one would have faulted him if the shot had landed a hair in either direction and bounced off the rim. But he tried it, knowing it could go either way. He put his everything into the attempt.
  2. Excellence comes from practice. Jalen and all of his teammates practice every conceivable scenario for the endings of games. It reminds me of the best moment of a therapy training program I’m in where we role play our most difficult clients and consider the most effective way to interface with them.
  3. Find your talent. Jalen Suggs is doing something he is really, really good at. He’s found a talent in himself and developed it. Don’t stop growing and nurturing and developing your own talent! We can all have moments, for most of us it won’t be about basketball though. It will be about OUR thing. The thing God put in each of us that we do especially well.

We have always loved the Zags in this house. My father-in-law and nephew both went there and my husband, from Spokane, always had affection for his local team. We’ll see if Gonzaga’s perfect season ends perfectly with the NCAA Championship. If it’s up to Jalen Suggs it certainly will be.

Vaccination Superhero

 

It felt very strange to be in group 1a, lumped with medical workers when I compared myself to those I deem to be essentially essential. I hadn’t seen a client face-to-face since the initial lockdown, and yet the strong encouragement to therapists in January was “Shots in arms! Shots in arms! Get an appointment because shots may go to waste!” And so, I made my way to the fairgrounds, a mix of gratitude and guilt, wishing it were my parents going first, or my teacher friends, or my daughter who has disabilities. It was yet another experience of walking in my privilege, hoping for overall freedom to unfold.

Being vaccinated now feels a little like being a secret superhero, prohibited from using her powers until everyone is a superhero. That seems fitting, really. We cannot live into our superpowers alone this time. We privileged ones who got vaccinated in the early groups must wait and realize that we do not move forward until we ALL move forward. Freedom will come when the vaccine is administered to all who will receive it, and we pray it will be enough of the population to bring us to safety. So much about this pandemic has been a group effort.

The place I got my shot was massive and unbelievably well organized. They were set up for hundreds more to be in line than were there when I came for my appointment, but the seamless process awed me. The number of workers there made me wonder at the cost and organization of this effort. So many people spending entire workdays making this machine work. How many?

I remember going to BWI, our local airport, last July as we made our annual trek to vacation in my husband’s part of the world, braving the risk for the sake of some sense of respite and normalcy. All the parking lots but one were closed. Entire sections of the airport were partitioned off, empty with chained gates over the storefronts. So many employees not working! An airport so busy every parking lot occasionally completely fills around the holidays, now functioning at what? 10% capacity? So many people displaced as I went on working, my life relatively unchanged. Guilt and gratitude, side by side.

I wept that day in the airport as I wept in the fairgrounds, waiting for my shot. I was having an experience I knew I would remember forever, yet would wind up being a story like nearly everyone will have and that will go into our collective memory of this time. Now I wait, like so many of us, for everyone to become a superhero. Together is the only way forward.

The Humans are Suffering

February Blues + Pandemic = SUFFERING

Some of my clients report sliding into low moods these days. It is a helpless feeling to witness it at times as it just feels like so many people are struggling to make it through a pandemic winter. It’s as if they are trying to walk up a hill that is coated in cooking oil. Everything feels hard and bleak. Even hopeful signs are mired in confusion; “great, we’re getting vaccinated!…when??”, “kids are going back to school…to what kinds of situations??”

The humans are suffering. Winter can be hard for those who are seasonally affected by the cold and shorter days, but add to that the difficulty with safe outdoor social contact and outdoor exercise? The moods are slipping and sliding down the hill!

I’ve felt grateful to have planned a vacation next week for my own sake! I’ve compared notes with other mental health workers too who are growing fatigued as the swollen caseloads and pandemic fatigue are hitting hard now in the weeks before spring emerges. We all need to be very serious about self-care.

What can we do about it? I have some ideas for how we can come together, hold each other up, and just hang on for a bit longer.

  • Make time to call a friend this week. Perhaps don’t use Zoom – Zoom doom is big right now too – just call someone that you love to encourage them. I’ve done this twice in the last week and my mood lifted right away!
  • Be kind to yourself about how much you might be struggling. We are in unprecedented times with this many months of global difficulty paired with winter. It makes sense that you are suffering and it would be a bit strange if you weren’t impacted!
  • Vitamin D – figure out some way to get some sun on your skin most days. Consider getting your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Low Vitamin D can contribute to low mood.
  • Plan something you can look forward to enjoying at some future date. I’m currently planning my husband’s Zoom birthday party and it is making me happy to have it out there. Some big percentage of the benefit of a vacation is looking forward to it.
  • If you have a mental health or healthcare worker in your life, do something nice for them. Chances are they are feeling the weight of their clients’ and patients’ struggles as they attempt to care for them.

Vaccines are happening

Spring is coming

We can help each other get to the other side

Relocation

I have recently moved into a different house. It isn?t far from my old one, but it has still felt like a massive and consuming project. We complicated the transition by doing some renovation on the house that continued after we moved in, so my life has been overwhelmed with dust, decisions, and displacement.

Now that we are mostly finished, I feel like the real work of relocating can begin. Leaving my home and neighborhood of 13 years has been deeply rattling. I?ve been amazed by how many things feel different and uncomfortable. We used to be at the bottom of a hill and now we are at the top of one, so my whole perspective of the street in front of the house has shifted. Having a home with more space means the walls are further from me and that makes me feel smaller than before. Everyone is finding their favorite spots and so I don?t always know where everyone is. It is easy to feel a little lost. Never mind missing the comfort of my beloved neighbors close by!

I’ve moved across the country twice, not to mention relocating from Alabama to suburban DC when I was a teenager. This recent move was only a mile away but relocation has never felt stranger to me. I think it’s because I didn?t expect it to feel so viscerally unsettling. I had no idea how much I thought of myself as a duplex/row house person, and now I live in a detached house. This change to a bigger space actually shifts a part of my identity I only unconsciously held! I?m adjusting to the space between the walls and me, but I?m also adjusting to this small shift in my idea of myself.

Relocation can mean finding yourself in a new place AND in a new idea of who you are. This process of finding yourself anew can be precipitated by a move, a break up, a job change, health crisis, or becoming a parent. Sometimes we have to get messy in grappling with parts of our identity that we had no idea gave us pride or security.

As I find myself in the process of relocating here, I need to find the rhythms, both old and new, that help me find the deeper places of security and home. So far, I?ve taken some wonderful walks, hosted some good friends for meals, played board games with the kids, gotten my morning routine sufficiently tweaked, and found my spot to pray. I?m getting there.

Are you facing some kind of relocation in your life? Either literal or metaphorical? What new patterns do you need for the shifts in your life right now?

Listen!

I was challenged recently to do this: when someone tells you their story, listen and believe them. It sounds really simple, but it?s hard.

It?s hard when the story involves you, either directly or indirectly.

It?s hard when it threatens your own worldview.

It?s hard when the story challenges your ideas about the way things work.

After Urbana, a 16,000-student missions conference I staffed last week, it was hard for many to stomach an evangelical ministry embracing Black Lives Matter. In my counseling office, I see people every day who will not believe the story their spouse, child, parent, or friend tells them. Yesterday I heard yet another story of a sexual assault victim who was scolded by the first two people she told for “letting this happen”. Many trauma victims are more traumatized by the reactions of others to hearing of their trauma than by the trauma itself. How can we all help change this narrative?

It is scary and threatening, but it may be our only hope towards healing. How can it look? I lean on the wisdom of Erna Stubblefield:

We say, ?tell me more? rather than disputing someone else?s story.

We lean in, rather than pushing back and away.

And I?d add the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, in his famous prayer, who prayed, ?O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much . . . to be understood as to understand.?

To believe another?s story requires us to let go of our own, at least a little. If someone tells us we hurt them, can we let go of our need to be right and listen? If someone tells us they were hurt by our society/institutions can we let go of our need to believe those things serve everyone equally and believe?  Can we do it?

Unexpected Inspiration

OK, this is embarrassing. I miss Amy Poehler. For the last week, I?ve been listening to her book, Yes, Please via audio book while I?ve been running/walking each morning. It?s been utterly unfair to be listening rather than just reading. I?ve been duped into thinking that she?s been my running partner who just talks a lot more than me. She is irreverent, vulnerable, and alternately serious and wickedly funny. If you are now imagining me jogging around my neighborhood laughing out loud (and even crying once) with nothing but my earphones for company, then you are picturing this friendship accurately. Amy?s great. She?s warm and believeable, companionable and entertaining. But there was something more about ?getting to know? Amy that tapped into things I want to be about.

Amy talks about how important her friends are all the time. At every rough patch, in every job and through all the muck of life, Amy made reference to the people around her who were holding her up. I?ve tried to make friendships a greater priority in the last months and I?m starting to see exciting changes. I want to keep pressing on!

Amy went for it. She discovered that she loved making people laugh and she shaped and bent her life around this passion when there was no money or glory in it at all. It was all about creativity and risk and living on the edge and doing it all with people you love and respect. I want to stay hungry like that for the stuff I want to be about!

Amy cries a lot. In so many of her stories, Amy will say something like. And then ____________ happened, and I cried. Right there in front of ____________. I love that she has so many experiences of just letting it go and letting people see that vulnerable part of her. I want to keep being willing to show that part of myself too.

            Amy is courageous. Her chapter on apologizing showed me an example of taking responsibility and owning her actions that moved me to review my own responses to people who bring up their hurts with me.

            Amy is willing to be the one. Amy orchestrated a lot of gags for events like the Golden Globes and she was always willing to be the one taking the greatest risk on a prank! By doing this she bravely led the way and helped others shine. She was gutsy and generous.

            I didn?t expect to be inspired when I started to listen to this book. I expected to laugh. I have laughed at Amy Poehler for years?Parks and Rec is pure genius! But I want to grab every opportunity to stretch into the person God created me to be, and surprisingly, Amy Poehler is helping me do that. And hey, maybe she?ll read this blog, we?ll have lunch, and we?ll get to pick up on our friendship and make it a bit less lop-sided. You never know!

 

Where have you been inspired in an unexpected place?

Too Careful For Our Own Good

Apparently the message, ?our lives are messy? is too critical for today?s college student to hear. I consulted recently with a campus minister who had been challenged by a counselor at the small liberal arts college where they both work. The counselor said that telling students their lives were messy was just too hard for them to hear?..that they should not be given such a critical message.

This is really disturbing to me.

Who decided college students are so fragile?

Why is the University taking on the role of protector in this way?

This month?s Atlantic has a thought-provoking story on this idea called ?The Coddling of the American Mind?. The author goes into great detail about current practices at Universities that perpetuate the fragility of the American college student. A couple of primary examples are punishments for microaggressions (?small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless?( p.44) and insistence on the use of trigger warnings when professors assign readings that may evoke strong emotional reactions.

As an anxiety therapist, I appreciated the writer?s investigation of how the presiding attitudes on campus foster an avoidance of emotional reactions that reinforces over and over again for students that it is dangerous and harmful to feel offended, provoked, angry, or anxious. While I affirm being sensitive and am grateful for movements in the past that sought to move towards more inclusive language as a reflection of our world, I see the difference that writers Lukianoff and Haidt explain in this way: ?The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ?safe spaces? where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.? (p.44 )

The writers rightly point out that avoidance of feared things is actually counterproductive to psychological well-being and certain does not prepare students for life after college on many levels. I worry that these practices actually serve to convince students that they truly cannot handle feeling bad, which is an attitude I am constantly fighting against with my clients. Even for students with a true trauma background, the answer for their growth and healing is not creating a fantasy world where problems don?t exist. And certainly I wish the message was being injected into these students that they can handle evocative content?.that their stress and anxiety responses can be functional and helpful, not dangerous!

I want to be a part of helping people see that their God-given emotional capacities are there for good reason and are a part of what make us human. There is no emotional state that needs to be summarily avoided! Our resiliency and maturity are both stretched by being squarely in reality, noticing our triggers and emotional reactions, and learning to soothe ourselves and stay grounded. These skills are things that can be developed and should be a goal for any college age person. Let?s allow life to teach college students what they need to learn about their tremendous capacity to experience emotions and be ok!

 

The article cited is from the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic.