The Best of Times, the Worst of Times, the Quarantimes: Self-Care in the Time of Corona

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Corona inspired Soul Collages

I’d like to start this post out by acknowledging the privilege of my quarantine. I have no dependents aside from myself, I’m a white, able-bodied, cisgender person in a financial, emotional, physical and mental position that allows me to have what I imagine is quite an uncommon experience of this time. 

Holy moly. What a moment in time we are all experiencing, huh? In some ways it feels like time reset when the quarantine began, and it feels both like the world before social distancing was just a moment ago and also a lifetime. My experience of the quarantine has been so many things. More than anything else, though, it has been a petri dish of opportunity for me to practice all of the tools I have been learning in life and in therapy school, over the last (nearly) twenty-nine years.

At the beginning of quarantine the company I’ve worked for over the last four plus years was forced to shut down. Vantigo has been my home and my family for such a long time at this point, and has helped me grow into myself in such unexpected ways, that this sudden loss felt much like the death of a beloved person for me. My gratitude for Vantigo extended even into its sudden departure of my life. Historically I would have reacted to the news that the company and my job were over (at least for now) by dissociating from my feelings and binge eating. In this moment, however, I called upon my mindfulness practice and the baby therapist part of me that has been developing over the last two years to make a different choice. As I felt the sadness welling up inside of me I heard part of me say, “this is an opportunity, let it come.” So I went with it. I put on the Jeff Buckley cover of Hallelujah,  got in the shower, and cried it out hard. As I surfed the waves of grief, I allowed myself to fully feel them. And hot damn, did they hurt. I felt a kind of primal grief rise up in me as I wailed, while at the same time another part of me comforted myself. “There, there, just like that, this is exactly what you need right now,” I crooned, like a mother to a child. I called my old boss, who started Vantigo, and cried with him too. That evening I wrote about my experience for about twenty minutes, giving my brain an opportunity to begin integrating what had happened. By the morning, I felt light and free. By fully embracing the grieving process, I avoided what could have been weeks of anxious and overwhelming feelings hiding beneath avoidant binge eating. I was able to realize through this experience that I’ve been avoiding processing my parent’s mortality- something that seemed to be coming up a lot for my peer group at the beginning of all of this. Channelling this initial grief allowed me to access the realization that by confronting their mortality now, I can more fully embrace the time I do still have with them, instead of taking it for granted.

Holy moly batman, personal growth is so cool.

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The start of a run

This experience also set the stage for how I’ve worked with my parts and processed my feelings throughout quarantine. Earlier this year I attended an Internal Family Systems workshop, where I learned technical descriptions for carrying out the self-loving parts work that has become a fundamental part of my personal growth in the last six years. Sometimes what this looks like for me is getting underneath my weighted blanket with a few pillows under my knees and saying to myself, “okay, who needs to be heard?” Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh. Sometimes it is easier to ask myself this prompt and then type my responses into my journal instead of trying to keep track of them in my head. I often feel much lighter once I’ve done this, and more often than not any urges to binge eat are released.

I’ve noticed that if I try to do parts work with the intention of feeling my feelings so that the hard ones will go away, it doesn’t work. Our parts are smarter than us, and they need to be allowed to express what they are feeling in their own time, with no agenda. Doing this parts work has helped me to see and understand what I needed to do for self-care in this time, and ultimately come to understand what I will need to do to truly care for myself throughout my career as a therapist (which I’m sure will continue to evolve).

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Giant snowflakes make great privacy screens

The predominant theme of my self-care practices have been, how can I best take care of my inner child, so that she can stay vulnerable and access the play that she needs to thrive and experience joy?

My self-care activities have included:

  • Starting my mornings by turning on classical music and drinking water before getting out of bed, making coffee and meditating
  • Dancing and singing in my room
  • Nesting in my apartment
  • Channelling my creative energy into crafting
  • Zoom calls with friends where we do Soul Collage (an expressive arts therapy type activity)
  • Giving myself permission to do nothing
  • Giving myself self-compassion when I’ve turned to ice cream or chocolate for self-soothing
  • Watching the sunset from the 16th street steps while social distancing with Franny
  • Caring for my body and mind through yoga, running, and other kinds of exercise
  • Cooking creative meals
  • Talking to my parents, grandparents, friends and siblings (shout out to my dad saying, “call me on the television phone,” in reference to facetime)
  • Allowing hard feelings to flow
  • Being gentle with myself when it has been incredibly difficult to focus or get homework done
  • Allowing myself to be present, take things one day at a time, and embrace uncertainty in a beautiful way for the first time (possibly ever)
  • Journalling
  • Reading and listening to audiobooks while knitting
  • Accessing gratitude
  • Bonding with my new & old housemates
  • Playing games
  • Watching movies
  • Riding my bicycle
  • Sharing silly childhood photos and music on instagram stories with my friends
  • Volunteering at the food bank and delivering burritos to folks in need through the burrito project with Anthony
  • Allowing myself the opportunity to craft during my graduate school Zoom classes (which has done wonder for my ADHD)
  • Being vulnerable
  • Putting trader joe’s everything bagel seasoning on greek yogurt 🙂
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So grateful to live two blocks from Golden Gate Park

In some ways this time has brought me back to childhood. The feeling I used to get at the beginning of summer vacation, like this endless expanse of time that I can fill with whatever my heart pleases. A few other elements have added an element of summer camp vibes to my quarantine, particularly spending three days a week volunteering at the food bank. Finding a new community of friends who come together to laugh, dance, and sing as we package boxes of food for seniors, build cardboard castles out of boxes meant for apples, and support one another throughout this time has been such an unexpected joy and gift.

I don’t quite know where or how to include this, but the other most protective factor for me during this time has been my friend Anthony. We met through volunteering a few weeks before quarantine started. Given that my three housemates were going to be gone for the first month of quarantine, I made a personal decision for my mental health to social distance with Anthony. I’ve joked to him that when I write the novella about us after all this is over it’ll be called, “A Friend at the End of the World.” This quarantine would have been entirely different without him, and my inner child couldn’t be more delighted to have found the childhood best friend I never knew existed. Throughout the time I’ve spent with Anthony, I’ve had the opportunity to observe patterns in myself, practice boundaries, and keep growing through some of my biggest personal challenges. Needless to say, grateful is putting it lightly.

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When I look back on this moment of my life, I hope the thing that shines the most brightly is the realization that I was benefitting from having a new kind of partnership with myself. One that I have been working on since I started going to therapy at age 23 with the expressed goal of learning how to take care of myself. Falling in love with me is possibly the most amazing experience I’ve ever had, and I can deeply sense just how different the rest of my life is going to be because of that.

 

My Profoundly Simple Burning Man Takeaway

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I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.

And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.

What’s in a culture?

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I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).

Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.

With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.

The Shuttle Buses Are Not The Problem.

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 Most of what’s being reported about the “class warfare” occurring in San Francisco is happening from afar. I’d like to zoom in for a second and point a few things out. First of all, while calling the recent Google shuttle protests “class warfare” sounds exciting and sort of SF does Les Mis-ish, I think this is taking it WAY too far. Let us not forget that the type of people who are drawn to the Bay Area are passionate individuals who love to take up a cause. For the most part the recent protests have seemed reasonable to me if not downright necessary. Gay marriage? Absolutely. Public nudity rights? Not for me, but hey, whatever floats your boat. But protesting companies like Yahoo and Google for running shuttle buses from SF to the peninsula is not the same as protesting for our rights. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Everyone has a right to live in the city. Riding a shuttle, in fact, keeps more cars off the roads.  For everyone who is enraged at the ruling that companies using Muni stops will pay $1 per stop, you need to understand the fact that the city isn’t allowed to make a profit on this, and that it is just a pilot program. It’s a step in the right direction.

What pisses me off the most is that I might be clumped in with the entitled tech startup stereotype because I work at a tech startup, but I’m still living paycheck to paycheck, and my only form of transportation is my bicycle. Housing rates are ridiculously high, but that’s because SF is an awesome city, a lot of people want to live here, and the amount of housing hasn’t increased at anything like the rate that people have been moving here. The shuttles are nothing more than a symptom of the tech boom.

So let’s not waste any more time talking about them, and instead focus our energy on finding ways to increase housing or make housing more affordable.

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here

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The Fetch Blog

We’re taught from a very young age that there are certain major life events that will have significant importance and deliver at least a modicum of respect. Being born (though you aren’t quite aware of that one), graduating from college, getting married, having children, buying a house, turning 50, etc. These are the Events with a capital ‘E’.

What no one really tells you, however, is the way the other kind of events will impact your life. These events will present the opportunity for learning, fun, and personal growth. Occasionally they will offer you a few hours of complete anonymity, and with it the extraordinary chance to be whoever you want.

When you scan The Fetch each week, deciding which events you’d like to attend, you never know how they will go. You could meet a new friend, make a new connection that leads to a new job, or find the perfect person with…

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If Marissa Mayer Succeeds…

If Marissa Mayer succeeds in bringing Yahoo! back from the grave will it be attributed to hard work or good advice?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she be compared to Steve Jobs (in his 1996 resuscitation of Apple) or will she be heralded as “the female Steve Jobs”?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will her haters still hate her or will they applaud her with the pretentious false air of having known she would succeed the whole time?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will I have a better chance of being considered a person working in tech first, and a woman working in tech second?

And most significantly,

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she go down in history as the person who saved Yahoo! or the woman who saved Yahoo! ?

Facebook Is What You Make Of It

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One of my close friends recently deactivated her Facebook account. When asked for the reason she told me, “This morning I saw a status update from a girl I haven’t spoken to in years. The status was about how bummed out she was about being unable to take her puppy back to school because it hadn’t had it’s shots. That was the moment I felt completely over knowing minute details about the lives of people I barely know.”

Fair enough.

I think it’s a safe bet that most people who have been on Facebook since the early years (ahem 2005) have at one time or another considered deactivating their accounts. Although I have seen a number of friends deactivate, most have reactivated. The most common reason for re-joining the herd is FOMO (fear of missing out) related to all those events, handily posted to Facebook.

Fact: It’s hard to be in the loop and not on Facebook at the same time.

What I want to advocate here is not settling for being bombarded with useless nonsense about people that you barely know.  I want to advocate for curating your Facebook accounts to deliver you relevant information about people you actually care about. (That shouldn’t sound as refreshing as it does.)

Do some spring cleaning.

I regularly go through my “friends” list and try to delete anyone that I can’t remember talking to within the last six months. For those of you worried about cutting out people permanently, Facebook has added a nifty “unfollow” feature that will allow you to remove said “friends” from your news feed. The “review tags” function is also handy, especially with so many employers scouring potential employees’ Facebook accounts for incriminating photos. On the note of employment…

Facebook as a professional tool? Yes you can!

When I started working in the Bay last summer I was unsure how to approach being “friends” with my employers on Facebook. The obvious solution was to make a second, professional account. Before you write this off as too much effort, let me say it was one of the smartest things I’ve done in a while. My professional account is kept on public, and allows me to share blog posts with the family members, teachers and colleagues who don’t necessarily need to know every detail of my personal life. If you search for my name on Facebook you’ll find my professional account, not my personal account. Oh, and the best part? You know every time you’re asked to log-in to a site through Facebook? I use my professional account, with no worries that my private information will be accidentally shared with the world.

The last point I want to make is in relation to a somewhat disconcerting trend I’ve noticed recently. Not only is “Facebook stalking” a real thing, a waste of time, and (very) creepy, it is also proven to affect overall happiness and self-esteem. If you find yourself wasting time on Facebook doing this I’d recommend adding a Google extension like StayFocusd. Another good trick is to not keep your Facebook automatically logged-in.

Now log off your Facebook and go play outside, it’s Spring!