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.




Is Tension in Your Workplace Triggering Past Trauma?


“I’m having a lot of tension with my team supervisor lately.  Our interactions remind me of some things I went through way back when.  I thought I had gotten past it.  I worked through how I was treated in middle school already, and now this issue with my supervisor is reminding me of what I went through back then.
“She says things to me like, ‘Can’t you do anything right?’  She rolled her eyes when I asked an important question in a meeting last week, and said something sarcastic. People giggled, and I felt humiliated.  It’s to where I avoid consulting with her, because I want to avoid being on the receiving end of this treatment.  I want to do a good job and get along with people at work.  
“I’m tired of feeling like a bullied kid. I want to be able to feel differently and be valued.  I know I am smart and hard-working. The worst part is, I keep wondering how much of this is something I am really doing wrong, and how much is not me, or even about me? Am I too sensitive, making a big deal out of a stupid comment, or am I really being treated badly? I’m a hard worker, but it’s starting to affect my performance.  And I want to be a good worker and team person and feel positive about my workplace, like I did when I first started here.”
Work issues can be tricky, right? Because unlike our friendships or other people we actively choose to be with, we usually only have limited control (if any) over who we work with.  Just like school.  And what happens when someone we work with is behaving in a way that feels adversarial?  We can feel helpless or ostracized, just like we did as kids. 
 You aren’t in this for more meaningful connection, like you (ideally) would be with friends. It’s great if it happens, but that’s not the main reason you and your supervisor are in each others’ lives. It’s a working relationship, with different goals. But that doesn’t make it okay for you to feel like this.
There are many ways you can deal with this. Checking in with trusted friends, coworkers, or other folks you have experienced as honest and reliable are great starts.  There are resources for dealing with work conflict.  It can occur because of anything from different communication styles, all the way to actual bullying or abuse.   Often there are channels through your Human Resources office or legal channels to go through in that instance.  Or even a job change.   
That speaks to concrete steps.  But the other piece is coping with the distress you are feeling personally.
Might it help to talk to a therapist? You know I’m a big proponent of talking to someone supportive, non-judgmental, and trained to help you work through it.
“Oh, come on.  These things were not such a big deal, and I’m not such a snowflake.  I get it. We were kids. I’m a grown-up now.”
You know something? That’s not even the point.  It’s true, you are not a kid anymore, and your coworker or supervisor is not the same person who put you through a bad thing or things in middle school.  Yes, middle school is (thankfully, for many) over.   Does it help relieve your symptoms to know this? Does it really help to give yourself negative talk and call yourself a “snowflake”?  Maybe that gave you perspective, and that’s great.  But if you are still feeling these unwanted feelings, or replaying these memories, this type of self-talk probably only made you feel worse.
When something is very distressing, whether it is happening now or it triggered something from before, it’s how it’s popping up in our lives now that we want to address.   For instance, you may be feeling the following:
 The memories and images (whether from an earlier incident or from last week)  play over and over in your head. Strong feelings (or body sensations) pop up – in dreams, in moments during the day,  or in a particular location at work.
Your stomach went in knots when you went down that particular hallway. 
You feel like you are breathing fast, or not well, at certain points, like the start of a meeting.
You want to not feel these things, but “pushing” those feelings down only helps for a minute, and then they come back.
These memories, sensations, and feelings can be like annoying gophers popping up, all the way to charging bulls that get in the way of how you want to live life.
 And this thing going on now with your supervisor has really triggered these memories/sensations into high gear.  
So what can you do?
Step back and examine the situation.  Go through the steps above, checking in with friends and trusted colleagues. If the situation merits more formal workplace intervention, you may want to go through the appropriate channels, such as Human Resources, to address this.
Assess your symptoms. Do at least some of them match with this checklist?  If so…
Accept help.    Sometimes we need concrete guidance and resolution to this here-and-now issue with your supervisor.  Do the steps above, if they apply.  
But when it comes to what’s being triggered for you, that’s where some deeper work can happen, too. 
It doesn’t make you weak to admit that this is really bugging you. It takes courage to admit something in your world is not right and you want to work through it with a professional. By the way, I’m also talking to the guys out there who are being told that.  Or think that.  Or have been told to think that.  This process is effective on people regardless of gender, gender identity, or other such factors.  The idea is to get you to a place where it is NOT impacting you so much, and you can start finding ways to deal with these issues, past and present.

Think about it. When you are ready, give me a call.

Some guidelines on next steps:
When you call me, leave me a message.  (If you don’t hear back right away, hang tight! I will usually call you back during my office hours.)  When we connect, we will do a 10-minute telephone consultation about yourself and what is happening right now.  You may want to pick a good time and place to call me, so that you can speak freely to me about your concerns.
If I am a good fit for you, we will schedule your appointment. I look forward to hearing from you!