Debbie Gross, LCSW, Ltd.
Individual, Marital & Family Therapy
Blogging on Life
Insights, Positivity, and Common Sense Ideas for Happier Living
by Debbie Gross, LCSW
How to Navigate our Emotions as We Prepare to Reopen Our Community: Balancing Fear and Hopefulness
May 19, 2020
By Debbie Gross, LCSW
There were two moments in the past week where some normalcy was beginning to emerge, but I was quickly reminded that our lives are not going to be typical anytime soon, and I would have to acknowledge my emotions and make a plan for how I will reintegrate as my state opens up. The first experience was pickleball. I had been playing about three to four times a week starting in January and loved the friendships and physical activity it brought. When the fitness center closed mid-March, I even purchased a driveway-sized net and set up a court for singles play at home. When my community opened their outdoor courts last week, I was ecstatic! The rule was, if you’re playing doubles, wear a mask. I went with mask, sanitizer and wipes, but soon realized most people were playing without masks. I know I’m a rule follower, but I also know that the best way to prevent spreading the virus is with the mentality of “I protect you, you protect me” and we do this by wearing masks. It heightened my anxiety, and challenged me to think if I should continue playing or advocate for wearing masks. I respect everyone’s individual choice, and I don’t want to be the mask police, so I have decided to wait to play publicly until I feel more comfortable with being around a group of people without masks. Until then, my home court will do. My second encounter came today, when I dropped off some packages at the UPS store. I looked through the window and saw a patron holding her mask in hand. I walked in, stood fifteen or so feet away, and told her the mask would work much better if worn on her face. She put it on and when she left, the store clerk thanked me. So much for not being the mask police!
What does all this mean? We are approaching new territory with states reopening, and it is up to us as individuals to maintain the health of our communities. We need to trust our instincts, find peace in what we do and balance our need for inclusion and normalcy with safety and health. This blog is about how to navigate this while balancing our fears with our hopes.
First, it’s important to recognize that when a state or community reopens, it doesn’t mean the coronavirus no longer is a threat, it means that the numbers are below a threshold that allows for healthcare professionals and hospitals to manage new cases. Therefore, if you don’t have to leave home to work or other essential things, continue to stay home as much as possible. If you go out, limit trips to off-hours, check with establishments about their precautions, and stay vigilant about personal hygiene.
Five Pillars to Successfully Reopen A Community
Dr. Atul Gawande, staff writer for the New Yorker and surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital wrote a great piece on the five pillars to successfully reopening a community: hygiene, distancing, screening, masks and culture.
Hygiene: Did you know that if you clean your hands five times a day, research shows it cuts down on medical visits by 45%! Keep this up! Wash or sanitize your hands every time you go into and out of a group environment or every couple of hours while in that group setting. And make sure you are disinfecting high-touch surfaces at least once a day, more often if that location does not have good ventilation.
Distancing: The six-foot rule for social distancing is extremely important for your health! Pay attention as you reemerge into public when standing in lines, elevators or work stations. Avoid those handshakes or hugs. Our desire for personal connection will have to be tampered down and replaced with “namaste”, a wave, peace sign, hand over heart, or even a ‘live long and prosper’ greeting!
Screening: While we aren’t up to speed with the levels of testing for the virus or antibodies, we can do an informal screening and follow the guidelines each day. If you have a fever over 100⁰, you need to stay home. Talk to your medical professional about how long to remain at home before you can safely go out. Follow the same guidelines if you have body aches, cough, sore throat, cold symptoms, loss of taste or smell, or shortness of breath, or if you have come in contact with someone with COVID. You should get tested if you have the above symptoms. Even with a negative test, remain vigilant and stay home until you are fever free and no other symptoms for 72 hours.
Masks: If we can get 60% of the population to wear well-fitting masks, the epidemic could be stopped! When you wear it correctly, a surgical mask (not N95) should block a high percentage of respiratory droplets. A cloth, homemade double-layered mask will similarly protect you, but are not as breathable, so people tend to touch their faces and wear them loosely. Wearing it properly, you should touch your face less often and help stop the spread! When you remove your mask, do so by the straps to avoid touching the mask itself.
Culture: Knowing what we need to do and practicing it are two different things, as my two stories show. We need to create a culture of practice! If you imagine that everyone you encounter has coronavirus, you will be more cautious and observant of the guidelines. Likewise, if you imagine you have it and don’t want to infect others, you will make safe choices for yourself, and help those around you! One article noted that if a person was in a surgical suite and pulled his mask down to speak, everyone around him would quickly speak up about covering his face to protect the environment. Recognize the culture of today is about keeping ourselves AND our community safe, so do your part!
Anxiety is Real, Understandable and Manageable!
We also need to recognize that feeling discomfort, anxiety and even panic are normal responses right now as things begin to open up. Don’t judge yourself for having these feelings; instead notice and accept your emotions and work to find ways to direct your attention to positivity through mindfulness and calm yourself with healthy, belly breathing. When you are feeling the intensity ramp up, practice gratitude, observe nature, get active, or reach out to someone for support. If you follow the advice of experts and recognize that anxiety is okay, especially during uncertain times, you will see that you can feel anxious and happy!
Activating our prefrontal cortex of our brain is important when we are feeling panicked. Typically, we have a thought that triggers panic. If we act on that, our panic action can lead to impulsive behaviors like stockpiling toilet paper, drinking, or other stress responses. Taking a few seconds to pause and think, we can shift our panic action into a thoughtful action. For example, if you are out in public and encounter a group not wearing masks or walking too closely to you, you might panic, but if you pause and think, “I’m wearing my mask, I am not touching my face, no one coughed or sneezed” you can recognize that brief encounter is highly unlikely to bring you any harm and continue your walk, feeling calmer.
Practical Tips to Reemerge Safely
Now that you are aware of the five pillars for safely opening a community and have some strategies for managing anxiety, here are some tips to help guide you along the path of reopening in as healthy a manner as possible.
1. Keep a mask, hand sanitizer, and wipes in your car
2. Start slowly – begin exposure with safe, similar-minded individuals
a. Babysitter if you need help at home while working
b. Parents/Grandparents if they are continuing to practice safe distancing and aren’t immune compromised
c. Friends, but with social gatherings below 10 people safely able to distance
d. Nonessential & retail places that are adhering to safe practices
3. Walking, biking, or driving yourself to work is safest
4. If you take public transportation or Uber, roll down windows to circulate
in the fresh air
5. Handle your own bags
6. Elevators – avoid if possible
a. Wear a mask
b. Use tissue or paper towel to press buttons and immediately use
hand sanitizer or wash hands
c. Wait for a less crowded elevator
7. Public bathrooms are hot zones
a. Avoid crowded bathrooms
b. Use paper towels as forced-air hand dryers spread droplets around
c. Use paper towel on door knobs, faucets, and when flushing
d. Wash your hands well!
a. Avoid menus that aren’t throw away and sanitize or wash your hands if you do handle the menu
b. Download menu on your phone if it’s available
c. Outdoor seating is preferable to inside seating
d. Call ahead to find out safety precautions that are in place and visit
ones that are working on 6’ spacing and following recommended guidelines in place
9. If you have a business and you’re considering reopening, ask yourself:
a. Can I make sure employees and customers are 6’ apart?
b. Can I sanitize my place of business at least once per day, more
often with smaller, less ventilated spaces?
c. Will my liability or malpractice policy cover me for any mishaps/illness claims?
10. Remember: Safety vs. Freedom
a. Your desire to keep others safe means you don’t mind being called out if you’re not following procedure
b. I protect you, you protect me mentality
I want to end by recognizing the people in our communities that have tirelessly stepped up and have been working directly with customers or patients while I have been able to sit comfortably at my computer at home while virtually seeing my clients. They have to face these worries every single day! To my daughter Nikki, who works as an occupational therapist at a hospital helping COVID positive patients rehab in order to return to their families, hugs coming soon! To all those doctors, nurses, therapists, store employees, Instacart workers, and first responders, your courage and compassion are so appreciated! I hope we can all step up like you have and do our part to keep our state thriving and safe.
Brewer, Judson A. M.D., A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle, NY Times, March 13, 2020, updated April 1, 2020 (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/well/mind/a-brain-hack-to-break-the-coronavirus-anxiety-cycle.amp.html)
Gawande, Dr. Atul, Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, A Regimen for Reentry, May 13, 2020, The New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/science/medical-dispatch/amid-the-coronavirus-crisis-a-regimen-for-reentry)
Smothers, Hannah & Way, Katie, How to Protect Yourself When Your State Reopens Way Too Early, Vice.com, April 30, 2020. (https://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/v745jm/how-to-protect-yourself-when-states-reopen-early-georgia-texas-coronavirus)
Walls, Meghan T., Coronavirus (COVID-19): Calming Anxiety, KidsHealth.org, March 2020 (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-calm.html)
Tips to Manage Anxiety During COVID-19 Stay-At-Home
April 28, 2020
For many of my clients who deal with anxiety on a daily basis, the new stress of COVID-19 feels a lot like the rest of their lives have been; always thinking about what’s coming, not able to be in the moment without flashes of ‘what’s next’ dancing in their heads, along with sleepless nights and restless days. For the rest of the world, you have keen awareness that this new reality is tipping your life upside down, with feelings you have maybe heard about or felt on occasion tripping you up frequently throughout the day. This post is to help you understand how to help yourself manage the inner turmoil so you can make the most of each day and find positivity, excitement, and laughter amidst crisis.
1. Give yourself permission to feel stressed, then give yourself permission to cheer yourself up! “How can I feel good when people are dying?” “How can I make jokes while front-line workers are overwhelmed?” “How can I feel happy when I can’t see an end to this crazy?” Those are normal questions in this abnormal time. Life is about balance. We can acknowledge the hardships, we can grieve our losses, but we can also heal, continue on, and feel pleasure.
2. When will life return to normal? We don’t have a crystal ball answer for this. We do know that there are going to be stages to the rebirth of normal. First, we will slowly begin to ease the restrictions, testing how well we maintain stability of cases. Just like we eased into the stay-at-home order, from no groups over 100, to gatherings of 25 or less, to 10 or less, to stay-at-home, these will reopen in a tiered way. We need to trust our medical and science professionals to keep us updated on data and trends so that as we reopen our society, we are prepared for all outcomes.
3. What about my events I have schedule in the summer? Or fall? When clients are beginning to date, I remind them to plan their relationship at the beginning for no further out than the length that the person has been dating. So if you’ve been seeing someone for a month, don’t plan a concert for three months from now! Same for COVID-19. We have been at this for about 5 weeks, so keep your focus on the next five weeks at most. Of course, if you need to prepare big events that are upcoming, do so, but with the understanding that everything right now needs to be done with flexibility and acceptance that we don’t have all the answers and can’t plan that far out with certainty. Try to stay focused on today, and the most immediate future if you need to look forward.
4. Will our children’s education suffer from online schooling that seems toned down from typical curriculum, or is not being managed as well by parents as classroom teachers would do with the children in their classrooms? First of all, that is as it should be! Educators are trained on teaching standards, techniques, and classroom management. They get to focus solely on students (along with differing abilities and behavioral challenges), and get most get planning time during their typical school day. Parents are multitasking all day long between work, household tasks, each child’s grade-specific needs, and extended family concerns, to name just a few things. Parents SHOULD NOT be expecting the level of success that a classroom teacher can give to your children! That said, children are the most resilient! They will come out of this just fine if they see us managing it just fine. If we let them know we will get through this, if we support their needs, if we share the frustrations but overwhelm them with activities that are engaging and fun, this will be just a hiccup in the entirety of their lives. And remember, education comes in so many forms. When they help you bake a cake, learning about order of adding ingredients, measuring, observing the process of what heat does when baking, and helping clean up, we are teaching them about math, science and home economics. When they write messages of positivity in chalk on the sidewalk for their neighbors passing by, we are teaching them empathy and kindness. When they cry because they cannot hug their grandparent, but learn to visit from a six-foot distance, we are teaching them respect for rules and that sometimes, a little of something we like can be good enough.
5. How can my life be ok right now when I cannot work, my business is collapsing, or my retirement savings is shrinking daily? Each one of us has a unique story to tell. These stories typically have generations of family who have endured suffering, hardship, grief and loss. Many tell of individuals leaving their homes, countries, family behind to come to the United States for a better future. Life is not easy right now. There are so many reasons to feel hopeless, helpless, and defeated. But there are more reasons to push through and remain hopeful. Just as a pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, so will this. We will come out of this on the other side and resume our lives, work, and livelihood. It will take time, and we will feel the bumps in the road more now than ever. But it will smooth out. If you can believe in yourself, if you can believe in your neighbor, friends, and family, we will push through this together. Ask for help if you are in need. If you are able, reach out to those around you that might be suffering and assist. One of the most blessed things that has come out of the pandemic is the number of people volunteering to help others. Whether making masks, providing meals, sending money, or giving time to others, record number of volunteers have brightened our world.
6. Take the time to notice the beauty around you. This is the number one way to relieve your stress. I look for symbols around me that represent things that make me feel good. Cardinals remind me of my father-in-law who passed last year. Hawks signal me to call my dad. Rainbows bring a smile to my face and hope in my heart. Flowers blooming on trees refresh my feelings of winter gloom with upcoming summer warmth. Seeing anything purple brings me joy. Think about what you can look for to feel happiness. I have friends who see pennies or butterflies and think of loved ones who have passed. When you go outside or take a walk, notice those things, pause, breathe, and feel gratitude. You are alive. You are valued. You are loved.
To quote one of my favorite characters, Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” We are in this together, and we will get through this together, one day at a time.
What is Social Distancing- or How Close is Too Close?
By Debbie Gross, LCSW
In this time of unknowns, how can we as a society allow ourselves to feel so vulnerable that we turn to social distancing, voluntary quarantine, and isolation? We can start by recognizing that this isn’t something political or imaginary, or a video game or movie, but real life. Your real life. Your children’s and neighbors’ and parents’ and co-workers’ real life.
Our country, often divided by so many barriers, can become united and strong if we work to protect each other as if each person we encounter is a family member we love dearly. Don’t put yourself or others at risk by acting invincible right now. Your carefree attitude might collide with someone’s elderly parent, someone’s health-compromised child, your neighbor or coworker.
So, what does social distancing really mean? It means letting go of your norms. Start by reminding yourself of the difference between your wants and needs. Allow yourself to be protective and proactive rather than dismissive and then reactive. It means recognizing that you don’t “have” to do a lot of things you’re so used to doing in order to keep yourself and your family as risk-free as possible.
We’ve gone from hand-shaking, hug-and-kiss greetings to fist or elbow bumps. And now it might be even better to greet each other by saying “Namaste” with your hands in prayer position at your chest. It means “I honor the divine in you.”
You can take a break from activities where you touch shared things like cards, mahj tiles, sports equipment, slot machines or shared gym equipment. Yes, it sounds crazy to deviate from something so simple as social connection and daily living, but each one of us is depending on each other to respect the space. A week ago, the main focus was good sanitizing and hand washing. However, this virus is spreading rapidly, so we need to spread the word rapidly to go one step further - socially distancing ourselves to protect each other.
I hope our government will recognize these sacrifices that will undoubtedly affect commerce over the next two weeks to several months and be prepared to offer subsidies for those businesses that get hit hard from our restricted activities.
Work from home if possible. If not, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and make sure to stay home if you feel ill!
I read an article that described how fresh air and sunlight were once regarded as best practice for killing viruses and bacteria. Maybe it’s best to spend some time outdoors, keeping your healthy distance from others (6 feet is recommended).
If we all slow down today, there will be so many opportunities for us to celebrate in the near future.
How to Find Your Happy Place During the Holidays
December 11, 2019
Welcoming another holiday season and new year can sometimes be filled with angst. Expectations are always high, which leaves lots of room for letdowns. Sometimes people use the time to reflect on the year gone by, only to notice the resolutions not met, disappointments, and heartaches rather than the moments that took our breath away. Somehow, our strongest memories sometimes are the darkest ones. It can take some people a lot of energy to hold onto the positive moments without the “but…” comments that follow. And planning for the year to come often is met with grandiose ideas that are a set up for more disappointment. So how then, can we possibly maintain the “happy” in “happy holidays”? What follows are six ideas for a wonderful holiday season to help transition into 2020 with hopefulness.
1. Get Vertellis and play it. (www.vertellis.com) The card deck has four rounds:
a. Round 1: reflect on the year past, focusing on people who inspired you, things you did that wowed you, recall special moments
b. Round 2: group reflection of the past year
c. Round 3: focusing on the year ahead, making note of things you look
forward to, plans you can make, ideas to carry into the next year
d. Round 4: group reflection of the year ahead
If you don’t want to get the cards, share your own thoughts on the questions referenced above, and add your own. Use December as a time to reflect on how you spent the past year and think about what you want the next one to be like.
2. Practice forgiveness. Focusing on the present, rather than holding onto the pain from the past. In an article by Katherine Hurst, she compiled steps to forgiveness:
a. Stage 1: Awareness: You notice that you’re still angry, hurt or bitter about something, and this lets you know that you need to forgive. This
awareness is crucial; without it, negative feelings will continue to
undermine you at a subconscious level.
b. Stage 2: Experience. Forgiveness isn’t about suppressing or ignoring painful
feelings. In fact, you need to go through a period of fully feeling
those emotions. Engage with their full impact, whether by
journaling or talking, and let yourself express your rage and pain.
c. Stage 3: Acceptance. You don’t need to make excuses for the person who
hurt you or to endorse the choices they made. In fact, you may not
even want to let them back into your life. However, you do have to
accept that you’ve had this unpleasant experience and that it
cannot be changed.
d. Stage 4: Willingness to Forgive. Often, it’s only after we experience the full
range of our emotions and consign them to the past that we
become willing to forgive. At this stage, you’ll really see that there’s
no benefit to staying in a place of suffering, and you’ll stop clinging
to the old pain that’s holding you back.
e. Stage 5: Releasing. The final stage of forgiveness is letting go of your grudge
and releasing your emotions from your body. Once you do that,
you can actively move on with your life positively and productively.
You will feel a profound and lasting sense of peace and closure.
3. Balance time spent with family and friends with time spent taking care of yourself. If you’re an introvert, you grow your energy from time by yourself, nurturing the quiet, inner peace. You especially need to honor the downtime! You will feel better in the group settings when you make sure to take that time to destress and unwind. If you’re an extrovert, you grow your energy from spending time interacting with others. While you might feel invigorated and alive in the group setting, you also need to have the balance of time alone. In those quiet moments you can check in with yourself, and caring for any stress, worries, or pain you might be feeling, physically or emotionally, from the experience of focusing on others.
4. Be charitable! The holiday time is a great time to give back to your community, individuals in need, or friends and family who can use your help. Even if you have little yourself, you can go through your house and closets and pull out those gently used items that can be donated to others in need. Or make a date to give your time to an organization or individual who is in need of assistance. It feels so good to help! Whether giving of your time, money, or gifts, when you put yourself out there this way, the smiles or hugs you receive in return definitely fill your heart!
5. Traditions!! There’s nothing like having some predictable enjoyment during the holiday times. Every family can create their own ideas for traditions if you don’t already have some. It can be game night, particular movies you watch, gingerbread house decorating, caroling, cooking baking, shopping, certain meals or decorations you use. Having some routine activities that you look forward to each year help strengthen the bonding or fun during this time. If you feel drudgery when thinking about an activity, try checking in with yourself about what is getting in the way. Sometimes traditions need altering to maintain the festive, enjoyable nature that was intended. Don’t be afraid to modify and enhance!
6. Don’t go overboard and live beyond your means. Holiday time is not the time to spend down your savings, deplete the bonus, or charge up your limits. Gifts of the heart are as meaningful as store bought ones. Identify your budget for gift giving, entertaining, travelling or decorating and stick to it! The last thing you want is to overspend in December and spend the next year repairing the damage.
So whatever holidays you celebrate, may they be joyous, filled with love and laughter, and may you enjoy health, peace and happiness in 2020.
Hurst, Katherine. http://www.thelawofattraction.com/forgive-someone-hurt-you/. 2013-2019. Document. 10 December 2019.
Helping Navigate the Discussion Around Marijuana Legalization
A Guide for Communicating with Children and Adolescents
November 19, 2019
With the legalization of recreational marijuana two months away, I feel it important to share some thoughts and guidance, as I have been receiving many questions about the impact on children and adolescents, families, as well as adult individuals. This first blog post will be dedicated to how to talk about the legalization with children and adolescents, offering parenting advice regarding marijuana use, and some educational resources to help you further understand the drug and research around its use.
I want to first state that marijuana will not be legal for consumption by anyone under 21, just like alcohol. It is also important to know that it poses health risks for children and adolescents. The brain is still developing and does not mature until around age 25. In a recent study conducted by the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas Dallas, they found structural differences in brain development of adults who began using marijuana before age 16. These differences were primarily in the prefrontal cortex, which controls judgment, reasoning and complex thinking, and was directly linked to both the amount of marijuana used and number of years of continued use. (brainhealth.utdallas.edu) According to drugfree.org, “Even the occasional use of pot can cause teens to engage in risky behavior, find themselves in vulnerable situations and make bad choices while under the influence.” While it is legal for marijuana to be sold and used by adults over age 21 in the state of Illinois beginning in 2020, this doesn’t change the fact that ALL mind-altering substances, including marijuana, are harmful to the still developing adolescent brain. (drugfree.org)
Therefore, it is important for parents to send a strong, clear message that underage use of marijuana is not allowed. The different ways marijuana can be ingested compared to thirty years ago has no doubt created a greater appeal to people who would otherwise not consider smoking. Getting high by smoking joints or a bong was the primary mode of use for years. Currently, vaping had been on the rise, but has gotten very bad press as of late with vape-related deaths. It is not clear yet what is causing this; whether it is physically related to what vaping does to lungs, what is in the substance being vaped, or some alternative reason. With the creation of edibles, people who might have otherwise avoided smoking weed now see more of a comfort level in trying or using it. Whether baked into brownies or cookies, or added to sweet treats like gummies or liquids like teas, there are many ways now to indulge. These edibles seem more socially acceptable than smoking or vaping and therefore pose a greater risk to youth attraction.
It will be important if parents choose to use, they are very careful about storage of all drugs, including edibles. Leaving containers out, much like leaving alcohol unattended, is risky behavior when children and teens are in the home. In addition, edibles do not get absorbed the same by each individual. There is a gap between eating an edible and feeling the psychoactive high that accompanies it. It can range from twenty minutes to four hours, depending on many factors, including any medications the person has taken, any other substances ingested, food eaten, and metabolism of the individual. If a teen eats an edible and doesn’t feel anything, he or she might be likely to eat more. The effects then can become exaggerated, and often one might feel paranoid, anxious, or nauseated. These symptoms can last up to twelve hours and be very scary.
Getting into a car with someone under the influence of marijuana is also dangerous. Any impairment by substance use creates a risk that adolescents must avoid. Please have discussions with your children, much like you would talk regarding alcohol, about not getting into a car with someone (and not driving themselves) if the driver has eaten or smoked marijuana. Roadside sobriety tests will identify impairment from substance use, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers with regard to marijuana.
There is a great resource for parents, called the Marijuana Talk Kit, that is put out by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. It helps break down the discussions you can have with your children and teens and will help set the stage for ongoing dialog. You can find it at https://drugfree.org/download/marijuana-talk-kit/
Knowing the facts, starting the conversation, and creating a safe environment for your children and adolescents will go a long way in keeping them safe as our state legalizes marijuana. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have at [email protected]
Health at Every Size
I’ve decided to write on a personal, yet controversial topic – weight stigma and the diet culture in our society. As a plus size woman, some people might disregard this because they feel I am writing this to justify my size. Actually, I am writing this because I am worried about young girls and women and the messages we give them day after day that they just aren’t good enough! And here’s the thing, while I know I don’t exercise enough, or I my eating patterns aren’t as healthy as they can be because of too many late night meals from working crazy hours, or fast food snacks because I don’t make the time to prepare something that my body really needs, that makes up only a part of who I am! When you look at me, do you hold a bias that because of my size, I am not healthy? Because actually, I am!
When we tell our young girls and teens that their body mass index or weight is not in the ‘zone’, we aren’t considering the whole picture. People of all shapes and sizes get sick. I have seen thin women suffer greatly with medical issues just as I have seen larger women with medical problems. And I have seen thin women who don’t exercise, and fat women who are quite athletic and physically fit! Size isn’t a reliable measure of health! Body health is not one dimensional, determined only by the number on the scale compared to our height and age! If we can instead teach girls to love themselves, move in healthy ways, eat foods that feel good and nourish them in a balanced way, then we can expect them to grow into happy, self-esteemed women who take care of themselves! Dieting teaches a person to restrict certain foods labeled as bad, which results in a deprivation mentality, followed by a break from the plan, then feeling a sense of failure, and retreating into the negative messages associated with falling off the diet.
Think about those messages we hear every day! “Oh my goodness, I gained three pounds…I feel horrible!” “I can’t eat that, I have to keep my weight down for the ‘fill in the event’!” When someone has dieted and taken some pounds off, she might hear, “You lost weight! You look beautiful!” As if by implication before the weight loss, she wasn’t? Or at the next meeting, there is no reflection on how she looks, and maybe she gained a few pounds, so then she feels the weight equals less value, less beauty, less self-worth. I know girls and women who won’t wear bathing suits or shorts because they are embarrassed of their body type. I know girls and women who hide at pictures, afraid that they wouldn’t look their best in pictures because of their size. We are so tuned in to size and looks as a culture that we have lost the true beauty of an individual, and chiseled it down to only be reflected as a size 0 or 2 model.
What would it feel like if we raised a generation of girls who could dance like no one was looking, wear what felt good and comfortable because she liked it, eat what felt great, view exercise as fun and energizing for her body, and could encourage her fellow ‘sisters’ to do the same? We are finally encouraging girls that they can do anything they set their sights on; girls can excel in math and science, for example. We must also teach them that they are beautiful in every shape and size they come in. If a diet program like Weight Watchers wants to invite teens to participate in a summer program of health and fitness for free, that would be exciting, as long as BMI and weight loss are not part of the plan, and they took ‘diet’ out of their equation! Deprived eating and shameful feelings around choosing carbs or grains don’t help teens develop a love for their bodies that will last a lifetime; rather it teaches them to feel they are never good enough, never thin enough, and need to practice self-deprivation at all costs. Instead let’s teach them that all food groups are ok and they can have a healthy relationship with food! Health can come at every size! Listening to what your body wants, be it salty or sweet, chewy or crunchy, hot or cold, and learning to stop when the body feels the first signs of full would be awesome! Helping teens to move for the pleasure of it; whether dancing, swimming, walking, running, or playing out in the fresh air would be glorious! Teaching teen girls that they should love themselves first, be proud of who they are and what they can do, and feel good from the inside out will lead to young women who can enjoy life without hesitation.
So for me, while I want to get into some better habits as I continue this aging process in my 50s, it won’t be about losing weight. It will be about keeping my joints and muscles as healthy and lubricated as they can be to protect me as I get older. It will be about making sure I plan my meals better so I don’t feel so hungry at 9:30 at night that I need to stay up late after finishing a meal, and then feel too tired the next morning. And I will enjoy my chocolate because I love the creamy goodness as it swirls in my mouth as much as I love that crunchy, juicy pear, the savory chicken soup with that fluffy matzoh ball or that delicious king crab dipped in butter. When you look at me, I hope you see that I am healthy, smart, funny, creative, helpful, caring, and, by the way, I happen to come in a plus size body.
The Cubs are a Symbol for What Therapy Teaches
As a lifetime diehard Cubs fan, winning the World Series was one of those highlights in my life that I know as the years pass will be as treasured then as it is now. As a marriage and family therapist, the symbolism in being a Cubs fan, both as looking at this year’s success as well as the long term drought and ‘maybe next year’ attitude can explain how one should live his or her life.
First, let’s look at the championship game this year to understand. During the rain delay, a players only meeting was called and Jason Heyward spoke to his teammates. Almost every player spoke after the game about his words, rallying the team to pull together to finish this season with the 114th win that they have dreamt about. Why Heyward? Why is this significant to a social worker? Well, the guy is paid oodles of money, in the millions, to be there. Many would say this year has been a letdown in terms of what he has brought to the club. His fielding is never in question. His defensive role has been stellar this year. But during the playoffs, he had one of the worst batting averages, stranded fellow Cubbies on base, and left many wondering why we (all Cubs fans speak about the team as if it was our money spent!) are carrying him this way. Yet his talk represents why. During that game, at that rain delay, he could have sat quietly, passively, allowing others who have made pivotal plays or had at-bats that were compared with legends speak. But he decided he still had a role to play on HIS team. The Heyward symbol? Never lose sight of what you can contribute.
Next, the theme of this year seems to have been “we never give up.” There have been so many moments, in the playoffs and during the season, where you look up at the scoreboard and thought, “no way.” But these Cubs are different from many others from years past. The score, the late inning doesn’t matter. The hopelessness doesn’t exist. They came from behind in many eighth and ninth innings to win. They were down 3 games to 1 in the World Series, where commentators were all but handing the coveted trophy to the Indians. They blew a four run lead and by the eighth inning, the score was tied. It didn’t matter. The team motto? “We never give up.” Anything can happen if you have a can-do attitude.
The big picture. As a Cubs fan since the early 60’s, I have spent over fifty years thinking it can happen each year, only to sit in August explaining to my Sox or Cardinals fan friends that I’m hopeful that it might be next year. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics, “someday we’ll go all the way” is what we have felt our entire lives. There are so many like my dad, 81, and my mother-in-law, also 81, who have been doing this their entire lives, and they pass it down like a treasured heirloom, from generation to generation. My three daughters have inherited the Cubs gene as well. It’s what we do. It’s how we live. You start the season with hopes and dreams. You watch the games, wincing at each close play, sighing at each loss. By late July you shake your head and hope for a miracle, wish we could break from the curses that so many attribute to our fate. And by August the familiar saying is spoken, “Well, maybe next year.” And then November 2nd happened. Well, technically November 3rd. Because in Cleveland, the win occurred at 12:47 a.m. on November 3rd. A time we Cubs fans will never forget. That moment we have dreamt of has happened. The screams. The cheers. I went to bed with a huge smile and woke up with tears in my eyes, telling myself, “This really just happened.”
I have spent much of my therapy career explaining to people that they are trying to live too safely. They are so afraid to get hurt; they aren’t truly living their lives to the fullest extent. They can’t really feel joy, after all, if they work so hard to avoid sadness or pain. And this is the biggest Cubs therapy lesson of all. The joy we are feeling right now is higher than any other team’s victory has ever felt. Not because I’m a Cubs fan and feel selfishly that this moment was better than Boston’s moment, or the Sox’ moment. But because when you wait 108 years for it while truly engaging in the ups and downs, and really riding the drought of disaster, when you finally reach the pinnacle, the view is more spectacular than you could have ever imagined. Only because we have felt the suffering, stayed loyal through the down times, believing even though our hearts ached and our opponents gloated, do we truly feel joy. I know we will hit the skids again. I am a Cubs fan. It doesn’t matter. I will be hopeful. I will be loyal. And just like the Cubs, in our lives, we will struggle.
The ultimate message is, “Put yourself out there. Take risks. Know that pain is real and hurts. But if you keep at it, if you don’t give up, if you don’t lose sight of what you can contribute, the victories, no matter how infrequent, feel euphoric!”
As I do all the things I do to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am trying to pay attention to all that I am feeling these days. I look forward to listening to the comments by my friends and family around the Thanksgiving table as we each share what we are grateful for. As a highly positive person, I know I always have a glass is almost full attitude, and I want to think that having that ‘can do’ attitude has helped me achieve the things in my life that are truly important. As a social worker, I am also highly tuned in to where others are at any given moment; the empath in me feels all that is around me and I tend to take that in and hold onto it. Partly because I hope that I can share some of the burden of others, and in part because I hope that my positive outlook drives me to find sources of healing, places of hope, and solutions to all that puzzles for problems that affect the people who are in my life.
I am also aware that as a white person living in America, I have had a privileged life in so many ways, that my positivity has had a chance to thrive and grow. This has resulted in being able to quickly work to identify a positive outlook after the election results. There is a part of me that always holds onto hope. In general, I see myself as a social democrat and a fiscal republican. This election, I felt that putting someone into the White House that could shift the supreme court to extreme conservatism scared me most of all. I worried that a platform thriving on hate and fear would spark the voices of radicals who see no value in shared community, diversity, or equal rights for all. When Trump won, I lowered my head for a day, and then shifted my balance back to my positive self. Maybe he had a loud bark, but a gentle bite? Maybe he wanted to wake up America to notice we have gotten too complacent, but once awakened, he would shift his voice to unite us all? Maybe, since he spent most of his life as a democrat, he would make as surprise shift in aligning his cabinet to be inclusive and work towards acceptance?
It was easy for me to do. I am white. I am second generation American. I blend in. Yes, I’m Jewish, so technically there is a target on my back, but I can look pretty much like many in America if I don’t put on my Jewish star necklace, or you don’t see me walking into my synagogue or catch my Menorah in the window on Chanukah. I’m also heterosexual. I have spent the last thirty years in a traditional marriage, raising three daughters, and basically living the American dream. I went to college and work in a profession I love, my husband went to college and has, thankfully, been steadily employed throughout our marriage, two of our children went to college and have entered the workforce, and the third is finishing graduate school. Pretty normal stuff. You see, from where I am, I can ignore the crazy on a day to day basis and continue to live my safe comfortable life.
When I see Trump beginning to build his Cabinet with people who publicly hate communities of people, I have to step out of my world and speak up. Because I want my world to not only be safe and comfortable for me and my family, but for my friends, clients, neighbors, and community. It is anything but safe right now, and I am sorry for that. How can I expect people around me to be positive and grow that feeling when there’s a storm of hate swirling over America and growing with intensity? Unless we band together and continue to wake up our friends, and help advocate for a balanced government that wants to: protect the rights of ALL its citizens, allow for equality across genders, sexuality, religion, cultures, and abilities, and spread a message of respect to all people within its borders, none of us can or should sit back and feel comfortable.
This is not about ‘my candidate’ losing the election, because I was highly aware of the flaws of Hillary Clinton too. I’m not a sour grapes person. But I am an empath, and feel the worry, pain and panic around me and understand that it is well felt. The one hope we do have is that President-elect Trump has always been one to be proud to say, “you’re fired!” I can only hope that when he sees the impact of what is coming, he utters those words to some of his soon-to-be key players and brings a more uniting team to his table.
So when I sit at my Thanksgiving table, I will focus on gratitude and hopefulness. But I will also pray for those leading our country to spend the next four years building up the lives of ALL Americans instead of working to tear select groups down.