Friday, April 3, 2020

The Dichotomy Between My Brain and Me During COVID-19

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am well aware that the stuff that follows is NOWHERE NEAR comparable to what our health care providers and all of those on the front lines of this crazy thing are going through. This global pandemic is some serious shit – I’m just here to do what I can – and in this case it’s just to bring some trivial, self-deprecating levity that hopefully some of you can relate to. 

That said, there’s a lot we’re having to do differently these days, am I right? And I don’t have a problem complying with the recommended best practices to help flatten the curve. However, it’s one thing to read them – it’s another to sort out the thoughts that go through my head as a result.

For over-thinkers like myself, this pandemic is full of thought-provoking land mines capable of endless rumination. For every seemingly rational thought, there is always an additional, less rational counter-thought immediately following. 

For example:

What I do: On a walk, I spot someone approaching, so practice social distancing and move off the sidewalk and into the grass.
What I’m thinking: Wait, do they think I moved onto the grass because I think they have coronavirus? Or do they think I have it because I moved onto the grass? Do they think I’m paranoid? Should I have waited for them to social distance first? Maybe I should just keep walking on the grass like that’s what I wanted to do the whole time. Maybe I’ll just skip the walk all together.

What I do: Go to the grocery store.
What I'm thinking: Can I just wipe off the handle of the cart or should I take it out and spray it down with a hose? Can I drive this thing with my elbows? How long do I have to wait for the person in front of the frozen food case to move before I blow my social distancing to snag the last carton of chocolate ice cream? Should I apologize to the cashier for even being here? And is it rude to squirt someone with hand sanitizer?

What I do: Smile and wave at my co-workers on a video conference call.
What I'm thinking: HOLY HELL is that what I really look like? I’m pretty sure I have never looked as unattractive as I do at this angle, with this lighting, on this screen, on this day. Wow – that is not a good camera angle for you, Karen. And your video button is NOT broken, Steven, you just aren't being a team player.

What I do: Get out a bunch of books I haven’t read and vow to set aside an hour a day to get caught up.
What happens next: OMG the third season of Ozark is out! Wait – what happened again at the end of Season 2? Better recap, right after I watch the latest Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and a Chopped marathon.

What I say to myself: Wow, look at all the people outside enjoying the fresh air. 
My next thought: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE OUTSIDE??? There have never been this many outside people. How am I supposed to walk my neurotic dog with this many people – even if I stay on the grass? These people need to go back inside. 

What happens: Randomly cough lightly 
What I do: Google coronavirus symptoms, take a shower and go to bed

What I’m wishing: If this had to happen at all I wish it could have been when my kids were younger so they would be home with me.
How that would have played out: After initially crushing the first few hours of isolation with homemade edible play-dough, a chore chart and plenty of flash cards, I’d subsequently be pounding a bottle of wine in the bathroom while my kids watch Finding Nemo on repeat and eat marshmallows for breakfast.

What I’m thinking: I wish I could go out to a happy hour or see a band with a bunch of friends. 
What I’m thinking, follow-up: Because now I have nothing to flake out of when I’d rather stay home. 

What I'm thinking: This would be a great opportunity to eat healthier and try to cook more. 
What actually happens: Breakfast: four cups of coffee and a freezer-burned cinnamon waffle. Lunch: Lean Cuisine and a Jell-o cup. Dinner: Seven rolls of Smarties and a six-pack.

What I say to myself: I should really make some face masks. Or maybe make a Tik-Tok video. Or fill out one of those Facebook lists. Or deep clean my house. 
What I actually do: None of these things. 

Like I said, we over-thinkers are now in overdrive – because it’s so easy to do. Just look on social media – for every fact, opinion or suggestion there is a counter-fact, counter-opinion and counter-suggestion. I guess all we can do is do the best that we can to stop the spread, and that’s stay home, wash our hands and try to keep our sanity until we can get back to life as we know it once again.

Hang in there, my friends. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

How to Keep Exercising During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Well that's a headline I never thought I'd write.

But here we are, in this unprecedented, ever-evolving, global situation, having to make decisions or abide by guidelines that go completely against our routines and human nature.

OK - so we all have to figure out our new normal for a while. Above and beyond the obvious, "How do I keep from getting or passing on coronavirus" questions, which is kind of hard for us all to even wrap our heads around, we have questions more like, "What am I going to do with my kids?" "How am I going to get work done?" "What if I can't get my medications or groceries?" "What do I do if I have to go to the doctor?"

Obviously I'm not qualified to answer any of those questions. But what I can do is remind you that it's important to continue to exercise during this time - for your own health and for the benefit of those you take care of.

It's very easy after being told to "stay home" to think, "What a great time to sit on the couch and binge-watch (insert favorite shows here)." Which is fine, to an extent. But if you're like me, you're probably not going to get those 10,000 steps in during the day if you're working from home THEN binge-watching Netflix. While I believe the gyms and health clubs in my area are still open, I'm wondering if it's only a matter of time until they are forced to temporarily close their doors. And honestly, I have not been going to my gym, not necessarily because I'm afraid of contracting the virus, but because I have an 89-year old father that I'd like to have around for a while, so I'm not taking any chances.

So, back to exercise. Here are a few of my thoughts on how you can get up, get moving and stay healthy during this crazy time:

Get Outside
Last time I checked, outside is not closed. I walked my dog today and saw very few people out and about. Lace up those tennis shoes and hit the sidewalk, the trail, whatever you have. Take a hike. Ride a bike. Go for a run. Go play touch (or no touch) football with your kids. Play go fetch with your dog. It's practically spring - bundle up if it's cold and get out for at least 20 minutes and get your heart rate up a little. This is also good for your mental health, which I'm sure has taken a hit in all of us lately.

Workout at HomeIf you're a gym rat, you're probably well-versed in adapting the routine you have at the gym for home. I'm not too worried about you. But if you're like me, who still struggles to make it to the gym two or three times a week as recommended, you might have some well-intentioned equipment sitting around at home. Maybe some hand weights, or exercise bands, or a treadmill hidden under some laundry. Now's the time to bring that stuff out of hiding and start using it. There are a plethora of exercises online and plenty of YouTube videos out there to guide and motivate you.

Disclaimer: Make sure you're using trusted sources and not something like, "Karen's Beginner Strength Training Workout Using 50 Pound Weights". I honestly am not in the fitness profession, so I don't have any specific recommendations. If anyone who is reads this, please feel free to include any resources you know of in the comments section below and I'll add them.

Using the TV for Good, Not Evil
Depending on your TV provider or streaming service, you may have access to quite a few fitness channels. I have Hulu Live and Amazon Prime, and a quick search brought up an array of videos including Pilates, Yoga (um, even Face Yoga and Nude Yoga popped up, WTF), Zumba, Kung Fu Girl Fighter (not kidding),  Dumbell Workout, Resistance Band, Dance Cardio, Kickboxing and Tai Chi.

Disclaimer: Again, see above disclaimer. 

For All You Fitness Instructors Out There
I am very lucky that my company provides on-site fitness classes over the lunch hour during the week through a local health club. I'm really going to miss those for however long they're on hold. So, here's an idea for both gyms and instructors. Consider making some of your classes available online! Maybe they're only available to your members, who are paying a monthly fee anyway, or maybe you're a freelance instructor or personal trainer who would be willing to teach out of your home. There are plenty of online webcasting platforms, but the one that comes to mind is Facetime Live. Totally free. This is a great way to not only keep your customer base but expand it as well!

Or do like this guy in Spain, who trains from the rooftop!

So, that's my small contribution for today. Don't neglect exercising. I know this is the PERFECT excuse not to, and believe me, I have made plenty of them. But I guarantee your body and your mind will thank you, and once this is all over, you can pick up where you left off without missing a beat.

I feel the need to post the usual disclaimer to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, but you're probably not going to be able to get in to any doctor, so just be smart and be safe. And as I mentioned above, if you have any exercise tips or recommendations, please mention them in the comments section below.

Wash your hands and stay healthy, everyone.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

When Band-Aids and Popsicles Aren't Enough: On Fixing Our (Almost) Adult Children's Hurts

With more than two decades of parenting under my belt, I can safely say that the worst pain a mother can feel is to see her child suffering. (This may certainly be the case for fathers, too, but as I am not a father, I will not speak for them.)

The pain our children experience throughout their lives can be physical or emotional - I'm sure like me, most of you have lived through both. We all know those blood-curdling screams that come from a child after he bumps his head while learning to walk or skins his knee after crashing on his bike. As moms, our hearts leap into our throats and we go into momma bear mode, consoling, wiping away tears and making it all better with a band-aid and a Popsicle.

If your child has ever experienced serious physical pain and injury, like mine, you still go into momma bear mode but without that comfort of knowing you can make it all better. There's this moment when you are literally paralyzed because you cannot, in fact, make this pain go away - and it's fucking awful. It's at this moment that you realize - if you haven't already - that you are powerless to abate his physical pain - and subsequently yours. All you can do is be calm, comforting, and make sure he's getting the care he needs to heal him - care you cannot provide.

"Being powerless to abate his physical pain - and subsequently yours" is a statement I make after the realization that sometimes - many times - I try to make my children's pain "go away" not only for their benefit, but to quiet my own feelings of sadness and powerlessness of witnessing said pain.

This leads to the subject of our children and emotional pain. Some parents - probably the "better" parents - understand from day one that their children are going to feel sadness, disappointment, rejection and despair. They understand these are powerful emotions that shape a child and provide him with the resilience he needs to get through this thing called life.

I was late to this game, and I'm still kind of on the bench, understanding what's happening on the field and maybe coming in for a play or two but not quite consistent enough to be a starter. You'd think after all this time on the team, I'd be better.

But I'm learning, through trial and error. My error was definitely spending too much time saving my children from these critical emotions they needed to feel by "fixing" things for them. And believe me, it was a struggle. You forgot your book at school again??? One side of my brain tells me that the only way he'll learn to remember his book is to face the consequences of forgetting it. The other side says he's only human and kids make mistakes and he already has trouble in that subject and doesn't need the added pressures of getting a zero for that assignment.

Jesus, I'm such a pussy sometimes. But that has been the dichotomy in my head EVERY SINGLE TIME something like this happened - no matter what the scale. And it wasn't until my kids got older that I realized by saving them so many times, they didn't have the tools they needed to save themselves, nor the ability to work through the emotions caused by consequences that I was no longer able to help them avoid.

In the last six or seven years, I've realized that I did this "saving" not only to erroneously keep them from feeling negative emotions from consequential situations, but to save myself from feeling negative emotions - the emotions that come when a mom can no longer fix the hurt with a band-aid and a Popsicle.

I really don't know what's worse, honestly. Listening to your son cry out in pain from a hospital bed or listening to your son sobbing on the other end of the phone when he's thousands of miles away. You'd think it would be the former, right? Because one is "more serious" than the other? I'm not sure.

It is very easy for me to feel completely helpless when my children are experiencing emotional "trauma" - and I use the word "trauma" pretty loosely to describe those gut-wrenching feelings that some struggle with more than others - sadness, heartbreak, despair, worthlessness, anxiety, helplessness ... People like me (and most of us) who have experienced these emotions multiple times in our lives have the ability to look back on the past and learn. I remember feeling sad after a relationship ended but thinking, "Remember when that one relationship you had ended and how devastated you felt? You got through that and this isn't even as bad. You got this." Older people like us have the luxury of knowing that for the most part, what we are going through sucks but it's not forever. Even having depression I know that there's a cycle involved and for every set of down days there will eventually be some good ones.

I know this not only from experience, though, but in how I was raised. Whether my parents meant to or not, they certainly didn't spend a lot of time helping me through my negative emotions. On the one hand, that was a good thing. I grew up to be very independent and never really relied on anyone else to "save" me. On the other hand, I've learned that I tend to invalidate my emotions because they weren't really recognized as a child. Again, no fault of my parents - they were and are amazing - that's just how it was and how a sensitive child like myself just grew up to be a sensitive adult trying to figure out how to recognize and process her own emotions.

Which is probably why I have such a hard time watching my kids suffer. I know what it's like to feel alone in those negative emotions. But I'm slowly learning that it is not my job to FIX them - it's vitally important for them to FEEL them and work through them on their own.

What I have discovered, however, is that I can HOLD SPACE for them. I found this brilliant article years ago that gave me a real "aha" moment. I know now this is an actual thing that is widely known, this holding space thing, but at the time it was completely new to me, and changed how I reacted to my children's emotions. I don't know if this is the actual article I read, but it's one that explains it beautifully:

What it Really Means to Hold Space

Basically, it's just being there. Listening without judgment. NOT trying to fix it (this is my nemesis, this "fixing" thing). And it's hard to do - especially when you're on the phone and you're trying to fill the space rather than hold it. As a mom, you want to stop the sobs and the anguish on the other end of the line, and you're afraid of what the silence on the other end means. Sometimes, there's only so many cliches you can say: "I know how you feel." "I've been there." "This too shall pass." In the end, silence is probably better than hearing those empty sentences, no matter how true they may be.

What I've also found is by holding space, I'm allowing my children to work through these difficult adult emotional curve balls the way they should have worked through the difficult child emotional curve balls. Because of me, this process is harder, but once again, I cannot be the answer or the solution. That's not how it works.

Holding space is hard for some moms because we ourselves cannot handle how WE feel when our child is hurting. Once we start to realize that trying to help them FIX it is only to assuage our own sadness, we give them the power to experience the journey and accomplish their own destiny.

I'm writing this now because I need to remember it. I have two, very complex children, both of whom are going through some very complicated emotions. It's SO easy for me right now to try to find any way I can to change their thinking, tell them what I think they should do or how they should feel. It's in these moments I need to catch myself and remember that this is an important, vital piece of their life that will shape who they are becoming. Every situation or period in their life they work through is something they need to be able to look back on with a sense of pride and accomplishment, not, "Wow, good thing Mom told me what to do there."

Holding space is the new band-aid. Acknowledging feelings is the new Popsicle. The rest is up to them, and even though their suffering still gets to me like a punch in the gut, I have a weird sense of peace and confidence that they have everything it takes to get through whatever life throws at them.

Right now, I think that's all they need from their momma.