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.

 

Lowercase grief

When the big, existentially sad thing happened, capital letter emotions came with it. CONFUSION. SADNESS. ANGER. GRIEF. They stuck around for a while, sitting shiva with the heart. The world continued turning, and the limited number of capital letters moved on to fulfill other duties. One day little lowercase grief arrived to stay, quietly setting up camp next door to the heart. “Why hello there, how can I help you?” asked the brain, noticing the new arrival, but the responses given by little grief were unintelligible. The brain shrugged to the heart and went about its business. The heart, on the other hand, sat down on the ground next to little grief and waited. After a few days little grief crawled into the hearts lap, and the heart began to gently rock it. They quietly stayed this way while the brain stayed busy, keeping the legs running and the hands moving.

Weeks passed, and the heart waited.

The brain projected and stressed, searching for distractions and answers to where little grief had come from, and how to send it back. The teeth gnashed and the fingers scratched. The stomach showed up to help with a familiar coping mechanism. “How wonderful!” it thought, “I almost thought this one was history.” And still the heart waited, cradling little grief, rocking it back and forth.

Finally the brain tired itself out. It came back to the heart, and this time it listened patiently to the mumbled noises of little grief. To the brain’s surprise, the mumbles began to change into intelligible sentences. “My name is grief, and I’m here to stay,” said little grief. “I am here to remind everyone that life is finite, but love is infinite. If you give me regular acknowledgment and honor my purpose your existence will benefit. If you ignore me or try to fight me, I will simply transform and show up in bigger, badder places.” The heart, still rocking, nodded quietly in agreement. The brain went for a long walk to consider little grief’s words.

Bringing Self-Care Home for the Holidays

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There’s a reason they call self-care a practice. Unfortunately it’s not something you simply learn to do and then go on your merry way, having leveled up in the game of adulthood. No, self-care requires continual energy and awareness, and about as many hours of practice as anything else needed for mastery (10,000 hours? 100,000 hours? Still trying to convince myself I could sit still long enough to learn to play the guitar. TBD on that one).

This has been the first year that I’ve headed home for the holidays with the set intention of continuing the self care practices I’ve put in place in SF. Over thanksgiving I diligently meditated daily, and made time to exercise- even if it was only going running for 20 minutes (in the COLD). As a result of this I enjoyed the time I spent with my family more, ate more mindfully and was able to enjoy it, and kept my spending in check (in fact, by rationalizing that the $125 Madewell dress wasn’t worth it I eventually found essentially the same dress at American Apparel, on sale, for $9. George Costanza levels of excitement ensued.)

What in theory seems simple, the notion of continuing the helpful routines of daily life when out of your regular habitat, has radically changed my ability to enjoy being in places and around people that would normally trigger old behaviors that bring me stress and anxiety. Binge eating is the most common of these behaviors, and when surrounded by a lifetime of historic stressors, and delicious holiday food, it’s not hard to see why. This may have been the first Thanksgiving I didn’t anxiously devolve into binge eating followed swiftly by a dose of self-hate and the desire to get back to the West Coast so I could, “be an adult again.”

Back in San Francisco, I had dinner with my cousin, and relayed the success I’d seen in mindfully recreating my routines while in New York. I reflected on the various practices I employ to try and maintain balance (exercise, meditation, therapy, medication and soul enriching communication with friends) and during the conversation I came to an interesting realization. For so many years I thought I needed to figure out how to strong arm myself out of making the decision to binge eat in the moment. What I really needed to figure out was the right combination of self love and self care to prevent myself from reaching my breaking point where I think, “fuck this- I’m binging.”

The hardest part is keeping that in mind when I feel bad, whether physically or emotionally, and I don’t want to go to the gym or be forced to sit with my feelings while meditating. I’m not even close to mastering this, and I still have weeks where I choose chocolate and wallowing over self- love, support, acceptance and motivation.

But I’m also starting to have weeks where I actively, mindfully choose the positive behaviors- and the practice feels like it’s paying off.

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My favorite Thanksgiving outtake

7AM Saturday, In Transit

This may be a drug reference...

I’ve been finding a lot more art now that I’m walking to and from work.

When I remember to see the good in myself, it helps me to see the good in other people, and to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I get excited about the little things- like street art, or designing an extremely colorful backpack. I remember that that is how I want to live my life, seeing the beauty in each moment, feeling almost recklessly silly, loving the people around me and experiencing the kind of giggling that bubbles up from deep inside my soul. Some would probably call that joy. I call it my optimal state of existence.

I’ve spoken to a few friends recently who said they read one post or another of my blog that resonated with them so much they made an active change to their daily routine. Hearing that made me feel so good. I like to think one of the most valuable thing we can do with our experiences is share them, and learn from each other- whether that means learning from others’ mistakes, or simply feeling less alone. The power of writing, and the power of words, continues to astound me- and I hope I never lose that.

Why I’m Not Ready To Drink The Birthright Kool-Aid

Whose Birthright is it anyway?

Today I got a text message from Birthright letting me know that registration for winter trips is now available. Registration and assignment for these trips is extremely competitive due to a limited number of spots, yet I took no action.

For those of you who don’t know, Birthright is a program that sends Jews under the age of 25 (who have never been) to Israel for free. Friends of mine who have gone on the trip swear by it, and regale me with stories of adventures and partying. “It was so fun!” they say, “and it’s free!” My non-Jewish friends also harp on this point when birthright comes up. “It’s a free trip to another country!” I’m unsettled by the propagandic spin of the Birthright trip, during which the organization hopes participants will (in the course of ten days) find “nice Jewish partners to have nice Jewish babies with.” When I express my feelings about this friends retort with, “just go on the trip and extend your stay so you can see Israel on your terms.”

Sure a free trip to a foreign country is a sweet opportunity, but to be completely honest, I’m just not ready to drink the Kool-Aid.

As a child I attended Hebrew school twice a week, learning the merits of Reform Judaism and bagels. From ages 5-16 I accepted the explanation that Israel was the rightful home of the Jews, a place we were assigned in a religious housing lottery by (none other than) God, and a mystical faraway land accurately depicted in various Rugrats Jewish holiday specials. My basic viewpoint as a child was thus: Jews and Israel = good, people who oppressed them = bad.

Then I went to college.

I thoroughly studied the history and politics of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the ground up. Ironically enough, this resulted in my feeling entirely unqualified to form an opinion on the matter. Who am I to decide which group is in the right, and what does being right even mean at this point? From what I understand a vicious cycle of hate has been spiraling out of control (for a very, very long time). The worst part is that the situation seems to be largely perpetuated by government politics (and interests), leaving peaceful Israelis and Palestinians caught (literally) in the crossfire.

If you think you are ‘right’ about one side of this conflict or the other you will never be part of the solution.

Every day Palestinians are forced to wait hours in checkpoints while Israelis (and Birthright participants- ahem Americans) can move freely throughout the country, crossing whatever borders they please. I can’t help feeling like I’m being stared in the face by the sad and sick irony of the Israeli government treating the Palestinians with actions that echo the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Talk about bad karma. (Not to mention breaking the 6th commandment).

I may decide that I want to go to Israel someday, but when I do it will most certainly be on my own terms.

For those of you eagerly applying to the next round of Birthright my hope is not to discourage you from doing so. My aim is simply to encourage you to remove your blinders, to keep an open mind to the interpretation of history, and to stick to something more natural than Kool-Aid,

like water.