Mental Health Monday – Do One Thing

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It doesn’t need to be big.

It doesn’t need to be important.

It doesn’t even need to be political.

Or public.

Do one thing for you.

This morning my intention was to attend church. I woke up too late, but…I could still take a shower and attend church on FB Live, which I did, and then I went to Starbucks.

Three small things that loom large, but that’s okay. Any one of them would have been a success.

Your one thing matters to only one person: YOU.

Remember that everyone’s goals and wins are different from everyone else’s.

Own it.

Enjoy it.

Celebrate it.

Do one thing.

Mental Health Monday

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September is Suicide Prevention Month. Each year, too many people commit suicide and one thing that would prevent some of those suicides is knowing where to go to get help. Visit the websites of these three organizations and find out how you can get help or how you can help someone in crisis.

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

The Trevor Project – for LGBTQ+ and Trans Youth.

The Trevor Project provides confidential support for LGBTQ youth in crisis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Labyrinths Heal; The Rain Reflects

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Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.

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In the Midst of Loss

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My retreat house recently began to offer some limited online experiences. The first one that I explored was about the losses we’ve confronted during this pandemic since March. This was a two hour session, split into two days one month apart. I know the presenter, Father K, through other classes and workshops I’ve taken through the Diocese. He’s a local priest who also works in the area of mental health and I really enjoy the way he approaches things. He also reminds me of my therapist. At the end of the first hour, I thought I had been given an extra therapy session this month! It really was a comforting hour that led me to spend the next twenty-four hours deep in thought. For the first time in a long time, I felt calm and thoughtful but also, in a way invigorated.

To start out, he asked us to think about the losses we’ve faced since March, and to write them down, and then to share a couple of them with the group. I was one of the first called on, and for me that meant that I hadn’t any time to prepare what I might say. I had a list, but it felt superficial. I began with a pseudo-apology; something that many of us do on a daily basis, especially women. That isn’t to say that men don’t do it, but women, I’ve found are the primary apologists for things they aren’t at fault for. For example, have you ever had someone walk into you on the street or in a store, and you apologize to them? I do this almost every time. Women apologize for taking up space, for taking too long, for a myriad of things that men just don’t apologize for, and really, that we shouldn’t apologize for.

I began by saying that I was fortunate that my family and I haven’t lost anyone to covid and we haven’t been ill, minimizing what we have been going through, and that while it hasn’t been life-threatening (so far) it has also not been easy for our family. My husband already works from home, so we continued receiving our salary. I feel guilty. All of my losses come from a place of privilege and I feel it’s my obligation to add the disclaimer of our privilege even while trying to be honest with the emotional and mental toll this pandemic crisis has put upon us. I mentioned a few things that we have lost since March, and as I listened to the others share their losses. I was reminded of things that I hadn’t thought of as losses and I added them to my list as well.

At the close of this part, Father K said what I already knew (and I’m paraphrasing): whatever I’m going through is just as valid as the next person. Their struggle may seem more difficult, harder to get through, having more emotional value, but my losses are still just that: my losses. These are the losses that I’m feeling every day; that my family is feeling every day and I shouldn’t dismiss them because someone else has had a more challenging time than I have; whose struggle appears more difficult or more painful.

My losses are real, and this session allowed me to accept that and confront the actual loss and how I can move forward.
What are the losses that I don’t feel measure up to others’ losses?

The loss of time. What day is it? Even trying to tell time based on a favorite television show has been eliminated with the shutdown of Hollywood and all the global acting studios. Anything that wasn’t completed before March 17th ceased production; how many season finales were postponed? How many cliffhangers left hanging? On March 31, more than one friend mentioned how long March had been. March was a year long. I felt it in my soul. Would April also be a year long?

The loss of routine. School was canceled for my kids, but their schoolwork continued. They slept until nine, did some work, took naps, grazed all day or skipped meals. We were eating breakfast at ten in the morning, and dinner at nine at night, bedtime after eleven even on a “school night”. Haphazard doesn’t scratch the surface of our “new routine”. The kids’ independent learning and creating their own schedule seemed to be working, but at what cost?

Mass was canceled, and it took a few weeks to get the livestreaming set up, so at least now I know when Sunday is. All of my spring retreats were postponed at first, then canceled entirely. Therapy moved to the phone. Meetings canceled or moved to Zoom. If school and work were gone, was there even a weekend to look forward to?

The loss of being lazy. That’s wrong and a little harsh on myself. It’s more the loss of choice. It could also fall under the loss of routines. If I didn’t feel like cooking, we couldn’t just go out to dinner. Even if we did takeout, the restaurants closed about two hours earlier than normal. Menus needed to be planned so groceries could be shopped for in a way that minimized our leaving the house and coming in contact with other people. Planning every meal. Having food for the kids to eat lunch when they would normally eat lunch in school.

The loss of of seeing and hugging my adult son. We barely saw him. He came by once every two weeks until I was exposed to covid, and then he stayed away until my fourteen day isolation was completed. He’s an essential worker and a first responder, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want to expose him to something that we still know so little about. Fortunately, I did not have covid. We eventually had our family Easter dinner.

The loss of myself. I stopped being me. I had to become the covid expert. I had to tell everyone to wash their hands every time they came home from school (before the lockdown) or the grocery store after. The one time my husband needed to go into the office, it was half an hour of discussion weighing the pros and cons, and how to do it safely. I had to know how much toilet paper we needed and go shopping with all the others preparing for their own lockdown. I had to educate people about this virus and call out misinformation because if I didn’t do it, who would? I became teacher again.

And the burden that I put upon myself led to the loss or permanent change in status with some friends. It’s hard to maintain the reciprocal, balanced relationship with people when their fundamental values are so at odds with mine, like wearing a mask and isolating or simply the basic idea that covid was made in a lab somewhere to ruin the President’s term of office.

Some losses that others in the group brought up that resonated with me included the loss of purpose and the safety and peace of mind that I’d had from only a week before; the loss of trust especially in the authority of the federal government to take care of something so catastrophic as this and which they ignored so much and let us fall so far, and of course, the loss of the Eucharist and the rituals of mass, so much a part of my life.

I craved the Eucharist, but when the opportunity arrived to return to in person masses, I decided against going, and I surprised myself that as those in the pews received their communion while I was at home watching the livestream, I felt just as close as if I’d been there and received it in my hand and consumed it. I credit my parish and my priest for giving me that feeling of belonging and even though I wasn’t there in front of him and others, I was still present and G-d was still present for me. That was a good thing.

In the midst of the losses, there have been some gains, some good things to reflect on. What was good about this time as lockdown comes to a close? The last question asked in the session was how do we find joy in the confusion and the chaos? These are things I need to meditate on, to think about and discover the answers to. Reflecting more on the losses I’ve documented above and move toward accepting and then moving forward to finding the joy is a thing I want to work on between now and the next group meeting. I want to acknowledge the gains; find my joy.

In the coming days, I’ll share the one day back in March that kept me going, and then hopefully after that I can answer the question: how do we find the joy? At the moment, I don’t know, but I hope to find out.

Mental Health Monday – Black Lives Matter and Resources

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After the last post, I have tried to sit down to write about how I feel and what I think in preparation for returning with posts this week, and it has really been something of a struggle. Even before last week’s unrest and ongoing police brutality, I have been in a state of numbness throughout the lockdown and the marches and the President’s rhetoric is only exacerbating that.

In fact, it has made things more difficult as I watched what happened in Minnesota travel as an ever-increasing ripple from coast to coast and then swirling around the world.

I say all of this with the acknowledgement of enormous privilege. I do know that it is much more difficult for the people mourning George Floyd and marching and protesting and making their voices heard. I have no intention of co-opting that, and I’m trying to discern how I can navigate my way to allow myself to continue what I do here and at home while honoring and respecting what is happening in this country.

I spent last Wednesday, what Twitter called #BlackoutTuesday as a way to not post my usual nonsense across my social media platforms. I didn’t go completely offline because I don’t think that was the point of the day, but I didn’t engage unless I was amplifying black voices. I let myself read black community tweets, follow links, look into things that black voices recommended and consequently, I found some really good resources, most of which I will share tomorrow.

Today, I will recommend two books and a link to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that they shared especially for African-American people who are living through another trauma that many of us just can’t understand.

Recently, in January, as part of a spiritual workshop I participated in that talked about inclusion, diversity and recognizing bias, I was able to discover and read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. I would recommend it to every white person to read. It was a tough one, especially recognizing myself and people I know in the pages.

I am currently reading How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s also a tough one, in a very different way, but, it is also very good.

This is NAMI’s statement on recent racist incidents and Mental Health Resources for African Americans.

I will return tomorrow with more as part of Tuesday’s Election Connection series.

Is It Really Quarantine If You’re Not Baking Bread?

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About a week into quarantine, I told my kids that we’d make bread. They groaned. We had all the ingredients – at our first grocery run before isolation I got a bag each of flour and sugar. I don’t know why; it just felt like a staple I needed like milk, bread, and eggs. I just thought I should have it in the house as if I were Ma Ingalls and baked fresh bread every morning (which I do not).

The next week, I said it again. Hey kids, do either of you have any FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) class assignments? Let’s bake bread. They groaned. We did not bake bread.

Another week went by and my daughter asked to go to the supermarket; she had an assignment that she needed to prepare and photograph and submit for FACS. I cheered. We’ll bake bread! No, she said after she groaned; I’m making a grilled chicken salad. Fine, I said, but you need to make enough for all of us to eat lunch. She groaned again.

I watched people all over Twitter and Facebook baking bread. Some used regular rising yeast, some used self-rising flour, some used starters, mostly sourdough starter, a lot made banana bread. A lot. Why were my kids immune to the call of the fresh smell of baking bread. Sure, I could have made it on my own, but we can buy bread. I didn’t need fresh bread. I hated the kneading, and my dough was never smooth like in the photos or on the Food Network, and I wanted it to be a family project. Me and the kids, measuring and watching the dough rising, kneading like we used to do with playdoh, and then baking it at three hundred fifty degrees for thirty to forty minutes. Why wouldn’t they cooperate?

Five years ago, I would have had them. They’d put on the too-big aprons and they’d get flour on their faces, and they’d burn their fingers trying to pull bits of bread right when it came out of the oven. Five years is a long time in kid ages. My two youngest are fourteen and fifteen, and they had no interest in baking bread with Mommy.

We have to, I said more than once. Everyone is baking bread. Everyone, I whispered. Is it really quarantine if we’re not baking bread? They looked at me in that way that teenagers look at their parents – the face that is partly pity and partly embarrassment; and not of you, but for you. I let them walk away.

We were cooking at least I thought with a shrug. We made pasta, Chef Jose Andres‘ Angel hair with tomato sauce (he called it pomodoro), chicken Alfredo, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, lasagna, roast chicken, pork in orange sauce, even my own leek and potato soup.

And still no bread.

Until….

I have a friend in Oklahoma who made a starter and offered it to her friends, like a chain letter. You get the starter, you grow it, and then, after ten days, you bake your bread, and you share the rest with your friends leaving one cup for you to continue the starter or freeze it for when you’re ready. for more Hmm, I thought, sure why not.

About two weeks later, a small postal box arrived at my doorstop. My starter was here! This was day one, and the directions couldn’t have been easier: do nothing.

I can do nothing.

For ten days, I mix the starter in the bag and I feed it twice. At the second feeding it’s ready to divide and use.

I put on my red apron, I got covered with flour because really what choice did I have – that stuff gets everywhere! One of the best parts of this type of bread is that apart from the starter, I already had every ingredient in my house.

I mixed it smooth. There is no kneading; it has a batter consistency and it poured into the loaf pan easily. I covered it with cinnamon sugar, although I feel as though in the end I should have mixed the sugar with butter to give it a streusel-style topping. I will try that when I make this the next time, and I will definitely add my results in here with an update (but not for awhile). I baked the bread on Wednesday, and I still have a full half of a loaf left. I think my family hasn’t figured out where the bread is or it would be gone already.

Apart from the community of what seems like the entire world baking bread simultaneously, the act of baking the bread is its own therapy. It brings out the homesteading, the nurturing, the nesting that just naturally happens in days of trauma, especially this shared trauma we’ve been facing. This feels different, though, maybe not as natural as other moments, and there is a level of stress and an undercurrent of fear sitting on the surface; the unknown that awaits. Like a rising tide lifts all boats, bread rising is an act of faith. You can follow the directions, mix all the ingredients, knead and rise, and it works or it doesn’t. Sweet breads are a little different, but there is still the wonder of making something from your hands and then sharing that with the people around you, whether that is physically with your family or here online with the people who make up our community.

I got the starter and I followed the directions. I added the ingredients. I mixed. I poured. I spread. I baked.

It hadn’t taken much for the house to smell like a bakery. A little cinnamon and vanilla goes a long way. The smells combined with each other – the cinnamon mixed in with the vanilla – and then it spread throughout the entire house until it was just there; it was consoling, comforting. It calmed. It’s quiet work reassured that things are okay and if they’re not okay right now, they will be. They will be.

Twenty-twenty’s been a year, hasn’t it? We’ll get through it in our own ways and yet still together.

It will take time, but we’ll be okay.

And there will always be bread.

For anyone who wants to make this bread, this is the link for the ingredients and directions as well as a few photos from my baking venture.

Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

Mental Health Monday, Part 1

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Three days late, so there will be two MHM posts today. Don’t applaud; it’s not great.

I feel an obligation to post what I intend to post. I have a planner, I do research, I write, I link, I take photos, and I really enjoy it even as I give myself deadlines, and perhaps miss a few.

These last several weeks have been a struggle (for so many people) and what I’ve encouraged myself to do is to do what I offer others: take a deep breath, take a few moments to myself, spend some time outside.

Today I delivered a bread starter to my friend and she asked if I had a few minutes. Kind of. Do you want to take a walk? I umm’ed, but I also said sure. It was hot, my face mask was stuck to my face, my glasses were fogged, but we walked and talked, keeping our distance, and it was nice. It wasn’t Facebook or Zoom.

This is the new normal, I guess.

Sometimes maintaining your mental health is just letting go and doing what can be done while keeping the stress as low as possible.

Stopping for a break, doing nothing is not lazy; it’s not even doing nothing. It’s just as important as eating and sleeping. Fit it in.

I will have two more posts today. One is the regular mental health Monday and one is a quick plug for an online event with Pope Francis.

Stay well.

Mental Health Monday – Re-opening Stress

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​I’ve kind of put this off for most of the day. I didn’t intentionally procrastinate. I did need to get groceries, and I suppose I could have not bribed my son to come with my by promising him a trip to the bagel shop and Starbucks for a frappechino, but I did. And while I do really need to sit down and finish my lesson plan for RCIA next Sunday and contact the printer for the handouts (that need to be mailed since we’re meeting by Zoom), I still really did not intentionally put this off. There were also people WRONG ON THE INTERNET that I needed to take care of.

It is true that this Mental Health Monday comes at the beginning of the last week for us in New York for NY Pause. While the entire state won’t be opening up, and the emergency orders are still in effect, the formal Pause expires on Friday, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. It gives me stress just thinking about it. That is partly because I will continue to isolate at home, as will my family; I will continue to wear a mask when I go out, and I will stay six feet away from you, and I will expect you to stay six feet away from me. Being cautious doesn’t make me paranoid. After all, sometimes they really are out to get you.

Seriously though, the stress associated with opening up the states is almost as viscerally debilitating as closing them down was in the first place.

My main advice to you is the same that I’m giving myself: Take it slow. If you’re not ready to go to the store when everyone else is there, don’t go. I can tell you that there is food on the shelves. Today when we went they didn’t have everything I wanted but I just picked alternatives, like in pasta – cavatappi instead of penne, thin spaghetti instead of angel hair. They didn’t have Bertolli’s pasta sauce but they did have Prego. Meats were all on sale and we got everything we came for. The only thing we didn’t get that was on our long list was Alfredo sauce. 

My church is still livestreaming on Facebook Live four times a week. If they came back on Sunday, I would still not attend. If you’re not comfortable, there is no reason for you to go to the building for your worship service. There are appropriate alternatives.

If you’re working from home, see if you can extend that. 

If you’re in a house, get outside once a day. You don’t have to go anywhere – just breathe in the fresh air. Of course, if it’s snowing, like it was here in New York on Saturday, maybe avoid that. If you’re in an apartment, go for a drive. I will take a drive at least once a week (and not go through a drive through) just for a change of pace.

Go to bed earlier than usual. Turn off the electronics, get away from the internet and social media, take a quiet half an hour before sleeping. I may have mentioned that I’ve been sleeping with an eye mask. The light pressure of it has a way of calming me down for sleep, which surprised me, but it seems to work for me; maybe it will work for you.

Share some of your coping and stress relievers in the comments so we can all benefit from each other. We are all in this together.