And Don’t Forget a Good Chair!

Woman working at home.

 

Effective strategies, Part 2 – Working from home

 

Last month I wrote about how to do teletherapy successfully.  The timing of that post was so weird, because guess what happened about 10 days after I posted it?  I injured my back.  For two days I couldn’t move at all, the spasms were so bad.  And it took another several days before I could walk around, let alone sit for long periods. It’s not that I did a sudden, physical task or had an accident. It was more gradual. I had a sore spot that gradually worsened until I was bedbound. 

When I finally got to the doctor, he determined that it was probably a herniated disk.  “It’s in the lower lumbar area, and it’s one of the most common areas where we see back issues”, he told me.  He ordered physical therapy to start immediately.  I was only too happy to oblige. I remember feeling so helpless and frustrated.  But I took it slow, day by day, and started to “relearn” how to use my muscles so that I was strengthening my core and not doing more harm. Those days gave me a newfound compassion for people with mobility issues and chronic pain.  I know sometimes it’s all you can do to just be present hour by hour. And this was only for a few days; some people live with this for years.

Looking back, I think it was a combination of factors.  Years of underused core muscles, and then as of March and COVID, working from home and being more sedentary. I really thought at the time that this pandemic was only going to last around 2 or 3 months, tops.  I wasn’t sure what to imagine down the road.  So like many people, I set up a makeshift office at home.  I used two foldout side tables for my desk and a dining room chair to sit on.  It worked, so I didn’t think much more about it. Until it didn’t.  A long drive had me sitting for hours behind the wheel, thereby straining the back muscles even more.  And then, boom, pain.

After starting to recover from the spasms, that chair was excruciating to sit on.  And the tiny tables were getting harder to maneuver. I’d put a book on one, and everything would fall off.  I realized that it did me no good to be vaguely irritated and wish I could be back at the office. I had to make some changes where I was.  So I went out and bought an office chair with good lumbar support, along with a lumbar cushion.  And the difference is night and day. For me, it was an insight into how we might ignore our needs when they seem small. We get busy and we tell ourselves this is good enough for now. 

“If you ignore the signs you get from the universe, it will not just knock on your door, but it will come pounding”, said a life coach to me once, years ago. She wasn’t talking about my back, but a difficult job situation. But I still think the point applies.

I could make this about judgment, telling myself, “stupid me, I should have known”. But that kind of beating myself up doesn’t help. Or, in the parlance of the therapy method I use right now, it’s a wrong indication. It’s not accurate, and it’s not helpful.  I’ll have compassion for the self I was back in March, trying to make the best of an unprecedented situation with this pandemic.  I did the best I knew how to do at the time.  Now, with a different experience and perspective, I opened myself up for a change that I felt I needed.

So I ask you to do the same. What areas of your life have been affected, and are still being affected, if you are working from home during COVID?  Or at least, spending most of your time at home with other family members.  This can make the hard things harder, for sure.  But I try to remember that out of every crisis comes an opportunity.  Crisis makes us open to change. And we might see possibilities, even small ones, that we did not before. What can you change, right now?  What DON’T you have to change?  What do you need to change?

By the way, these are prompts that I sometimes use in my therapy sessions.  I don’t know the answers, and I’m not leading clients to any particular answer or solution.  But the process of thinking about the questions gets people to look at different aspects of an issue, so they can “unlayer” the different parts and come to some sort of resolution.  Trust me, it works.

I could change my chair, first off.  I got a really good one, because I sit in it for so many hours of a day. My body should be well-supported in it.

I could change out those two tiny fold-out tables for a longer, lightweight, foldout table.  I did that. It doesn’t take up so much more space, and the now I have a good table top.

I didn’t need to change the entire room. I didn’t need to change my other work equipment, or go back to the office during COVID.   

I needed to change how I was sitting and what I was sitting on, because that dining room chair was painful.  And pain is our body telling us that something is wrong and needs attention.

If you had asked me back in March – heck, just last month, before I put my back out – if this was all needed, I would have scoffed and said no, I’ll make do.  But I’m not in that place anymore.  Maybe there are some things in your own environment you can tweak for your own self-care. What might it be? 

Is it needing a good office chair?  You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars.  There are ones that are more affordable. Even a cushion with good lumbar support can be found online.  Just ask yourself if you really need to sit on a hard chair with NO support at all. 

If you have severe mobility issues, this is still worth asking yourself. What small thing can you change in your physical and emotional sphere?  And what awareness do you have, while there?  My back injury, as short-lived as it has been, has given me a newfound compassion for people with mobility issues and chronic pain.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to just be present hour by hour.  Did you ever read the book or see the movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly? I didn’t.  My husband did, though, and he said the book was amazing, so now I’m going to. Along with the movie about the cartoonist, John Callahan, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.  All about people experiences life with paralysis. And even then, they had acute awareness of their moments, and dare I say, of the effects of the smallest change within their environments, whether imposed by others or themselves.

Whatever it is, once you make that tweak, no matter how small, acknowledge that you did it. Even if you just thought about it.  It’s no small thing!*  And with that, may you have a mindful, self-caring, and compassionate November!

*Note:  Just as I finished writing this, my computer mouse died.  I uttered a few bad words, tried clicking a thousand times, then finally went and got new batteries.  It’s all about the tweaks.

 

 

 

Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier: Seven Strategies to Improve Your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19

 

 

Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier; Seven Strategies to Improve your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19


It’s mid-May, so those of us in Virginia are entering week 6 of stay-at-home orders.  Many of us have parents or close relatives that we cannot visit, either because they or we are isolating due to COVID-19.  First of all, give yourself credit for all the changes you have adjusted to.  It’s a lot, whether you are at home by yourself or with other family members, roommates, or friends. 

Your parents may be older seniors in various states of physical and mental health, of the company of others, or desire or ability to see people. Some of them may be extroverts who are having a very hard time coping with staying at home and social distancing.

Some of them may not be social distancing the way that they need to, or that you think they need to.   If you have already had the conversation with them about why this is important, you may need to come to terms with the fact that at this point, you cannot control their behavior, only your response to it.

 If you need to set limits on seeing them because their behavior puts you or another loved one at risk, it may help to state this, not as a judgment (e.g., “I’m not going to visit you because you are being stupid” is not heard as well as, “Mom, I understand that playing tennis is important to you and your friends. You understand those risks, and I may not like your decisions, but I need to accept them. Please likewise understand that I need to stay isolated due to my health concerns, so we can look at other ways we can connect that are not in person.”  If they accept this, obviously that’s easier than if they don’t.  But ultimately, we need to acknowledge our own needs and own these decisions.

If they don’t, or they get defensive, try not to get hooked into an argument that doesn’t change their behaviors.  Yes, this is hard.  But, do you want to spend this time in a tug-of-war with them, or do you want a different relationship with them?

  They may be in varying degrees of digital ability or access. They didn’t grow up during the digital age, after all. Come to think of it, neither did I! But here are some ways you can stay connected with them, regardless.

What is most important to many of our parents, is their legacy. What they feel they have accomplished or valued in life?

The larger portion of their lives is behind them, not ahead. This does not mean they don’t have meaningful days or plans; of course,  we all need to have that!  But it means that a big way to connect with them now is through their sense of legacy. So these are ways to do it.

First, ask yourself this:  When I look back on this time, during this crazy year when I couldn’t see my parents like I wanted, what do I want to know that I did? What do I think I’ll be happy I did (or didn’t do)?

 

  • Start with the Practical:  Work out a daily “check-in” plan with them, such as texting or calling you daily by 12noon, so you all know you are ok, conscious, and that if you don’t hear from each other, you’ll give a few hours grace period before calling another person they have regular contact with. If you still get no answer, the next step will be 911. Again, discuss this with them as good planning.
  • Work out a contingency plan for “if you (or they) get sick”, with a list of who to call, what medications to pack, and a list of medications, doses, and doctors that they can share with you.  In the event that they do become unwell, you will be prepared and will have this on hand.  
  • Now that that’s done, work on increasing the satisfaction quotient of your relationship.  For example recount an important memory you have with them. Something you experienced, learned from them, or was impressed by. Even the sarcastic and not-exactly tender folks will still find this meaningful. I’ll never forget the time I told my Dad, years ago, years before his Alzheimer’s took over, “I not only love you, Dad, but I like you”, to which he replied, “Uh…Well, that’s your problem!”
  • Ask them something about their personal history. (What’s significant about the place they grew up, a job they had, etc.? Ancestry or family stories that are important? A musical instrument or sport that they played?) Even if you were not particularly close, you can still recall something about a car, work day, object that you both remember.  It’s something you can do to connect with them.
  • Ask them about a particular time in their life that was meaningful or game-changing for them. A time they got out of a pinch, got a great job or travel opportunity, relationship, or even an object like a car or tool that they were able to do things with. You’d be surprised at how much information you’d get out of them.What was your favorite activity together, dish that they cooked, vacation you took? Let them know what it was, and ask what their favorites are or were.
  • Send them a care package. That is, if you think they will take care to wash their hands after they open it. It may contain favorite foods, books, a gardening kit, or something else that they value that they can do or enjoy.  Skip the mug or tote bag, or plant unless that’s something they will particularly love. One more thing to take care of or to add to clutter, may not be as appreciated.
  • Ask for advice. Yes, the thing that most parents give, unsolicited, in spades, our entire lives, right?   Whether it is advice on how do they make that particular soup, what can they suggest for painting or fixing your home?  Career advice – what was the best thing they did that helped them advance in their job, or keep it at the right time? And just let them give it. (Yes, there are times their advice may have driven you crazy. That’s the nature of things!)  If they can walk you through making a recipe, fixing an appliance, or some project while you are both on the phone or video calling, so much the better. This often drives their sense of purpose and gives you both an activity to do together. Which can also help to give them something to look forward to doing, in an area where there expertise or interest lies. 
  • Ask what would they like to be known for.  By you, people in their line of work or faith community, their grandkids? And if you can, get some (or all) of this on tape or write it down, even in bullet-points. 

Granted, you will still be concerned about your parents.  But these strategies will likely bring you a more satisfying relationship with your parents these days.  You may find that if you make these strategies your project, stress and conflict with your parents may go down quite a bit.  Instead of a power struggle, your relationship may have a renewed sense of purpose.  As hard as this may be, ask yourself, “where is the opportunity here?” 

Stay in touch with your supports in the meantime.  Take care of yourself, and see you next month!

 

Changes to my Website and my Practice

We’ll connect this way. And yes, it works!

And to the whole world in the last month, right?  So much has changed since my March post.  In Virginia we have been on stay-at-home orders for the past month.  It’s been challenging to adapt to this surreal period, but most of us are doing it.

The good news is, I am still here!  But with the lockdown, the definition of “here” has changed a bit.  During this time, I won’t be doing therapy at the Fairfax office. I’m doing teletherapy for all current and new clients.  This has been the case since mid-March, so at this point I’ve been seeing everyone through my online therapy platform. And you know what?  I’ve been pleasantly surprised that everyone has done an amazing job in handling this transition.  I know it’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around, the idea of doing therapy through a screen. Many of us are missing more human contact as we’ve been on lockdown. And we like having a separate space to go to, away from our work, home, etc. to be able to discuss our issues.  I get that.  But, right now, in-person is not the safest option.  I’m taking this lockdown seriously and have been pretty much on lockdown myself, save a few needed trips to the grocery store.  So in keeping with the goal of flattening the curve and lowering risk, it’s teletherapy. 

The plus side?  First of all, reduced risk of COVID-19 between us.  Secondly, you don’t have to spend time or energy commuting to see me.  Third, the research shows that one-on-one therapy is just as effective online as it is in person. And individual therapy is my specialty, so that works well.

When will I go back to seeing clients in person?  Good question. There is a lot of uncertainty around this pandemic, and I can’t be sure, but I would estimate some time in June.  The situation is evolving rapidly though, so what I can say is, I plan to be available to you via teletherapy as long as that seems to be the best option. 

More positive changes:  I have revamped my website so that it is up-to-date, and I have a Facebook Business Page

Newsletter:  I have decided to update the date of my monthly blog/newsletter to the second Tuesday of each month. I’ve found that this timing just makes more sense.  So if you already subscribe to my newsletter, please keep an eye out then.  Or, feel free to subscribe now.

And finally, I have added some videos to Facebook and my website, where I chat about your concerns and how I can help you.

To start seeing me via teletherapy:

Call me!  You just need to be 18 or over, have a laptop, smartphone/tablet with internet connection, and be in the State of Virginia to do this therapy.  (That last part is a requirement of my State Board.)  Plus a private space you can go to in your home, to do this therapy.  By the way, please don’t worry about what your space looks like to me. I get that we are mostly in our homes during all this.  The important thing to me is that you and I both show up. 

So with these changes, I’m still here. When you are ready, I’ll be here for you!


You may be on stay-at-home, but you can still get some relief.

 

Staying Connected in the Time of Coronavirus

Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses.

” Do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.”

Staying connected in the time of Coronavirus: It’s a change, but it’s not the end.

 

Do you think this concern about Coronavirus is a load of hooey?  Then you aren’t going to like what I am going to say, and I am probably not the therapist for you. 

Before I get into that, let me apologize for this post being a week late.  I was out of town, and then I got mildly sick, which delayed things. Thankfully, I’m better now.  All of this coincided with the unfolding news about Coronavirus, aka, COVID-19, which has been disruptive to most, lethal to some, and very annoying to virtually everyone.

Depending on where you live or where you (or people you know) have visited, you might be rethinking vacation plans, festival outings, public transportation. It’s calling into question how, exactly, we are willing and reasonably able to stay connected right now.

Mainly, right now, most people seem to be in a low-grade anxious, watchful waiting pattern. A lot of people feel, if not like rats that are trapped, at least like ones that being blocked and poked at, not sure which way to turn, or exactly what to do. We are told that the virus is mostly mild, but we are told to take important steps. We are told it is spreading and we can’t test everyone who wants or needs it, but containment is a goal. We should practice social distancing, but we aren’t sure for how long, or exactly how.   Do we want to cancel that ball game, this work meeting, or that outing? Is it worth the lost opportunity, lost pay/professional gain? How do we decide?

To date, those of us in Virginia have not received definitive, clear guidelines from community or national leaders on how to proceed. Without official quarantines, work and school closures or even widely available testing, next steps have been left largely up to individuals.  For better or worse, that’s the reality right now.

Are you in the defiance camp, determined not to change anything about your routine? Or are you panicking, afraid to go outside at all?

For most of us, we are somewhere in the middle. We don’t like what is happening, and we know we need to do something. I am speaking to the second and third group.

Those in the first group will not like what I have to say.  In fact, I would advise caution in being in physical proximity to those in the first group.  If such people live with you, I know it’s tough, but keep reading anyway.

For a lot of us who are caregivers or professional providers to elderly people and/or to people with underlying health issues, we know it’s not just about us. We are worried about them. Yes, for MOST people, the virus has cause mild to moderate symptoms.  But there are some vulnerable groups, mainly, adults over 60 and/or those with underlying health issues, for whom this virus may be life threatening.  

We may also have young children, so we are trying to balance their needs, too.

And let’s face it.  The other issues in our lives are still there. It’s not like those issues are going away.  So, what do we do?

I’m not a doctor, and the situation and knowledge about the virus is changing daily, so I’m going to list what my personal and professional takeaways are right now.

How you can proceed:

Respond mindfully

This is very different from reacting, which is purely emotional.  Responding is done with some level of reflection and intent.

Regarding COVID-19: Get the facts, not the opinions that are circling around online.  Stay in touch with health departments, medical doctors, and yours or your family’s specialists on their guidelines and recommendations.

The best take on this issue that I have found to date is this article (scientific American) on what to do, and why. If you read nothing else, though, read this article .*

Practice mindful hygiene, especially around vulnerable people.  Wearing a basic mask may not protect us much, but evidence suggests that it helps reduce the chances of infecting them.  They may need to stay quarantined for a time, and definitely, social distancing, avoiding crowds, busy places.  Washing hands thoroughly is important, especially just before you come in contact with them.  Have others in their environment do the same thing, especially other caregivers with close contact.  In fact, this is a good practice right now in any environment.

What if you have defiant types in your home?  I’m thinking stubborn teens, partners, or other housemates. Now may be the time to practice some logical consequences, such as saying, “If you want me to make that dinner or watch that show with you, please wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” If they have a respected friend, online resource who can back up what you say to them, it may help to ask that person to rally and talk to them, or to read up on that resource. I repeat, you do what you can.  Or show them this article and let them know that I am telling them, please don’t be a jerk. Let Cleopatra be the only Queen of Denial, and do your part to help out.

Remember that, for the most part, this flu has not impacted children too badly, for the most part.  So we keep them practicing the good hygiene, such as washing hands, especially at home and near their vulnerable loved ones.  With positive reinforcement and encouragement, of course.

Stay in touch with your friends as you are reasonably able or willing. Your supports are still important, but for now, modify how you interact with them. Use telecommunications like Facetime, texting or phone, keep interactions one-one on or smaller groups, stand farther apart.  If your friends are in the first group that I mentioned above (that is, determined not to change anything, even hygiene habits), now is not the time to worry that you are offending them by social distancing.  Minimize or avoid contact with them in person if you can, calmly explaining your need to do so. Did I mention, wash your hands?

Change your greeting style:  Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses, especially at work or for the vulnerable folks in your life.

Take advantage of the outdoors.  Are you or your family going stir-crazy? Go outside. At least the weather in the DMV area is getting milder.  Whether you walk around the block, go up a driveway, or walk in a park, the green space will definitely help your mind reset.  If you work late, take a stroll around the block or stare at the sky before turning in for the night.

How I will proceed:

As you probably know by now, I specialize in working with anxiety, trauma, and caregiver issues in adults.  This means that I work with many caregivers and some immuno-suppressed people, so I will be regularly cleaning my office and washing my hands.  If you have special health concerns, I will wear a (basic paper) mask or sit at least six feet from you during sessions.  I do this out of care and concern for us both.  Mama don’t play, as they say.

 If I am feeling ill, I’ll let you know, and I will not come into the office.  It would be really, really helpful if you do the same thing. We can talk about other options during this time period. For people I have met at least once in person, we can look at teletherapy options. It may delay our work, but it will be better in the long run.

Keeping things in perspective:

Many things are being shaken up right now, but this too, shall pass. Not as quickly or as predictably as we want it to, but it will, hopefully with minimal impact.  

If you want to stay connected, contact me.  I am here to help you process whatever is on your mind and in your life.  And while gave advice to you here, I don’t give opinions or interpretations for the most part, in session. That work is about you, and that’s what a therapist is for. 

So do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.

*More resources:  

Fairfax County Health Department

World Health Organization

Center for Disease Control

Sawbone, a podcast about health issues.

Talking to kids about Coronavirus