Connection with Mind

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In this year of personal focus on connection, I shall devote the month of March to connecting with Mind. This endeavour could be challenging. Meetings of Mind feel intimidatingly cerebral. I would rather tell a story or describe a relationship than get lost in concentric circles of analysis. Or worse, be called upon to engage in a debate. Words come with less flow and conviction. I get stuck in the mire looking for the right sentence structure to express my tumbling thoughts, ever seeking depth and clarity. Perhaps such is the nature of Mind.

I am learning more about the workings of Mind, thanks to big-brained researchers translating scientific knowledge into psychotherapy practice. From their clarity of thought springs forth new language. Useful words to articulate the impacts of trauma: what happens at the level of the brain and nervous system when a living being, particularly a human child, experiences pain and neglect versus joy and nurturing. Neurobiology explains attachment processes, emotional regulation, and stress responses. On a personal level, a deeper understanding of how experience has shaped my own values and view of the world, and the ways in which I move through emotional states and survival responses such as fight, flight or freeze, provides insight. Opportunity for more conscious choices of action. Powerful stuff.

Having language for these pathways opens meaningful dialogue with Mind, but not the deeper connection I crave. On her part, I sense disatisfaction with the scope of current research. Mind seeks insight into the bigger picture. Light shed on the meaning of consciousness. Clarification of complex phenomena like Intuition, Imagination, Wonder and Transcendence. She states matter-of-factly that there is more to her than the physiological mechanisms of the brain and the workings of chemical transmitters and neural pathways. Vast, infinitely complex and interconnected to a wider web.

My sense is that although my understanding of Mind may be outwardly informed by science, true connection with her will have to come from within.

To connect with Mind, I endeavour to be present. Seek stillness to meditate and contemplate. Embrace her eccentricities. Indulge her liberal use of metaphor to link fact to feeling. Tolerate her meanderings when she drifts into daydreaming and symbolic language. Keep up with promises to feed her well and make sure she gets enough sleep. Provide her with tea and chocolate. Warm baths.

To connect with Mind, I shall approach her with loving kindness. Through years of academic striving and professional practice, I pushed her hard to get things right, unduly harsh towards lapses and imperfections, stifling imagination and creativity. Witnessing the dignity with which my mother faced cognitive decline brought me to my kness, and softened my ego. Mind deserves to age gracefully, in respect and celebration of the wisdom that comes from making mistakes.

To connect with Mind, I resolve to be patient when I need her wisdom. Mind does not operate in a linear fashion. She examines all possibilities before making a decision, balancing intuition with an ethic of equanimity. I will ask better questions. Listen to her reasoning for overriding impulsive or compulsive ideas. She knows more than I give her credit for.

To connect with Mind, I will create intentional space for creativity, imagination and pure fun. When the world opens up again, we shall explore art galleries and museums, take a train across Canada, and travel the world. We will dance into our dotage, open to new experiences and ways of thinking. When stuck inside, I will keep her amused and stimulated with books, crossword puzzles, and games of Scrabble. Mind loves playing with words.

In meditation, I get a rare glimpse of Mind in all her glory. A clear blue sky behind the weather of thoughts and worries, vast and peaceful. Most of the time, our connection feels more like this:

An attic room, a dusty, cobwebbed, seemingly disorganized space. The centre of the floor scattered with memorabilia and half-completed projects. Overwhelmed by the clutter and chaos, I feel the urge to flee. Then curiousity gets the better of me, and I stay to explore. The dust begins to settle, and I realize there is some kind of order to the disarray. Massive shelves overflowing with books, plants, pictures, board games and craft materials line the walls. A huge map highlights places I have been, and places I want to go to. A stream of soft music provides the perfect soundtrack to my thoughts. At one end of the room, beautiful sunshine filters in through a window, illuminating a desk for creating, and a comfortable corner to curl up in. A steaming pot of tea. Mind whispers ” Let’s hang out today. I have missed you”.

How will you nurture your mind this month?

Connection with Love

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Valentine’s Day is both a sweet opportunity to celebrate ongoing romantic love, and a reminder of loves’ lost. As a relationship counsellor, I hold extra space this month for hearts pierced by cupid’s arrows. I pay particular attention to those who are grieving recent losses or anticipating painful endings. February can evoke the more tender aspects of our relationships with self and others. Strong emotions may arise, sometimes unexpectedly. When the feelings and physical sensations are lovingly witnessed, allowed expression, and made meaning of, growth and healing can occur.

In order to consistently hold loving space for myself and others, February has evolved for me, to a time for connecting more deeply with love itself. Love as a concept. Love as a feeling state. Love as a verb. Love as playful engagement with life. I reflect during these winter months on my words, my choices, my actions, and about small ways in which to inhabit the earth from a more loving place. I believe that Love expands consciousness and opens possibilities, and yet it is too easy in these troubled times to view the world from a place of fear.

Some simple ideas for making February a more loving month, no matter what your current circumstances:

Extend love to houseplants. Sing or play music while you water them. Tend to their needs. Maybe this one has outgrown its pot, or would benefit from being rotated towards the sun. Perhaps a little plant food is in order. Look upon them with love, and thank them for their silent gifts to you.

Write yourself a love letter. This past year has been tough. Take a moment to consider the ways you have grown, the sacrifices you have made, and the small kindnesses you have bestowed and received.

Embrace sensuality. Wear the clothes you love. Break fashion rules and mix shades of pink and red, silk and flannel, leather and lace; whatever you feel good in. Many of us are touch deprived these days. Wrap yourself in warmth and texture. Break out the fragrance you usually ration for special occasions.

Cook with love and abandon. Change your living space and the space in your head by creating meals with aromatic spices, choosing the right background music, and lighting candles. Pretend you are eating at your favourite cafe or restaurant.

Send Valentine greetings. To a romantic partner for sure, but why not to anyone you care for? Especially if they are feeling lonely or broken-hearted. The messages can be sentimental, silly or sarcastic. Love has many flavours of expression. No need to subscribe to the commercialism of the season. Make your own Valentine, or send a digital message or a short video. Often the most meaningful gift is your time and attention.

Clarify expectations. This may not be best the time for romantic partners to Define the Relationship. Wait until after Valentine’s Day for that conversation. But do talk and come to some mutual understanding ahead of time about the giving and receiving of gifts and shared activities. Your lover cannot read your mind, and may have different ideas from you about what turns them on and makes them feel appreciated.

Plan for difficult days. If you are freshly single and feeling jaded about romance, plan to do something meaningful rather than wishing Valentine’s Day away or being triggered by social media posts of champagne and roses.

Focus on family Family Day falls on the day after Valentine’s Day this year. Extend your love to those in your inner circle, whether they are related by blood or choice.

Take stock of your grudges and hurts. Perhaps this is the time to shed some light and love on past wounds and unfinished relationship business. Especially if they are getting in the way of fully connecting with love in its many forms.

Find an inspiring love story. Ask a happy older couple about how they met. Watch a touching movie. Write out your own love story, the one you are living or perhaps….the one you want.

How will you connect with Love this season?

Connection to Soul

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I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Promising to do more or less of something for an entire year feels like daring fate somehow. Those earnest stroke of midnight declarations rarely seem to manifest into authentic, enduring action on my part anyway. Forgotten by February.

Instead, each January I give myself a month or so to come up for a word for the year ahead. My word for 2021 is connection. This pandemic and other global events have brought home for me the extent to which connection, in its multiplicity of forms, is necessary for survival. Connection with self. Connection with other beings and aspects of living. We connect through our senses, particularly through touch, and via language, movement, ideas, music, art and story. Connection is so important that it can bridge the vastness of space and time. Human beings are wired to connect.

This past month has been particularly disconnecting: globally, locally and personally. I vacillate between a pit of uncertainty about the coming months, and earnest hope that life on this planet will return to some kind of normalcy by the summer. Celebrating the speed of scientific advancements while thrumming with restless impatience with the implementation process. Moved to tears by simple acts of kindness one minute, vehemently disgusted by senseless violence in the news the next. Grateful for the work I do, but spent by the end of the day. I feel quite alone riding the waves of my emotions, despite knowing that others feel similarly. And underneath it all, a crushing sadness about the losses that humanity is coping with. Too many souls departing the earth even as we shelter in place in relative comfort and prosperity here in Ontario.

Technology facilitates connection to the extent that it allows me to “see” clients and colleagues and to meet up with family and friends near and far. But I cannot hug my grown up children over Zoom. Human interactions feel muted and disjointed. We all grow tired of connecting across devices, of conversations and media reports centred around rising infection numbers and the impacts of new restrictions.

I miss simple pleasures and freedoms of living that I took for granted. People watching at a coffee shop. Dancing at a wedding. Hanging out with happy people in real time. In quieter moments meditating or walking outside, I realize that I am more easily pulled off my centre these days, At risk of falling prey to negative thoughts and darker imaginings.

Where I most need to stay connected to navigate the storms ahead is to that place deep within myself. The most powerful tool in my mental health toolbox (when wielded from a place of love and awareness) is quite simply, my imagination. When my soul longs to dance and explore the world and be closer to those I love, I can tune in and picture the places we have been and the good times we have had together. I can imagine positive experiences yet to come, and in so doing influence both the biochemistry and the inner landscape of my mind. Imagining is not about escaping the current reality, but about putting it into context and making it more bearable.

From the perspective of soul, the quietness of this time is a rare opportunity to unplug from automatic patterns of living. To connect more deeply to passion and purpose, plant seeds for future, fuller connections with life, and cultivate a healthy imagination.

What are you looking forward to in 2021? What does your soul long for?

Good Enough

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I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Claus are safe and healthy at the North Pole. They should probably avoid travelling this Christmas. Stay put and let us figure out the material trappings of the holiday season. I am not sure that what is truly needed this year can be put into a box under the tree anyway.

Naughty or nice, rich or poor, most of us are struggling to cope right now, and hard on ourselves as a result. This December, I am asking Santa to send a little extra holiday spirit our way. To recognize those doing their best to adapt to difficult times and be there for each other. Maybe we could celebrate just being good enough as we are this year.

Good enough parents No parenting book ever came with a chapter on how to keep children safe and happy during a pandemic. We are all flying by the seat of our pants, keeping little kids entertained, making tough decisions about school and daycare, balancing work and family, and staying connected to adult offspring from afar. Exhausted parents, please give yourselves permission to dial back on the extravagance of the season.

Good enough children Kids are incredibly resilient. It breaks my heart to see kindergarteners lined up six feet apart with tiny masks on, waiting for the bus. They have adapted to the new normal, as kids do, even when rules keep changing. This year has been heart wrenchingly difficult for many adults too, who are caring for, separated from, or grieving the losses of older parents. We are all children at Christmastime. Let’s focus on the simple things that make the season magical.

Good enough partners Sometimes the people closest to us receive the brunt of our frustrations. Let your sweetie know your heart still beats for them even if they have not been at their best this year.

Good enough relatives Some families are more dysfunctional than others, but I have yet to meet a clan where everyone lived in harmony. Disagreements are inevitable. Perhaps this is the year to let go of a grudge or two and reach out to distant relatives.

Good enough friends It is harder to stay in touch when life gets busy and the winter winds howl. Make a point of reaching out to the people in your circle. Virtual hugs are not the same, but a heartfelt text or a phone call can make a difference in someone’s day.

Good enough neighbours With social gatherings curtailed, many people are spending more time close to home this year. We may not see eye to eye with all our neighbours, but what is the harm of putting aside any petty grievances for the season? Go for a walk down your street and smile at the people you meet. Stop to admire their Christmas lights. Maybe check in on neighbours who are frail or living alone.

Good enough workers This year has been particularly hard on health and social service workers, teachers, and those employed in retail and service industries. Maybe we could all be a little more patient and generous when accessing professional services, and take extra care of the front line workers in our lives.

Good enough politicians So easy to criticize the other party or to rebel against unpopular decisions. Maybe they too, are just doing their best to deal with the mayhem of 2020.

Wishing you and yours a good enough holiday season this year!

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Eco-Anxiety

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The impact of environmental issues on mental health is a recurrent theme in my practice.

Many people describe an unsettled, niggling worry about the environment and what the human race is collectively doing to make things worse and not doing to address the current reality. They are genuinely concerned about climate change, but their level of distress ebbs and flows, pushed to simmer on the back burner when reactions to other personal or global issues arise. Their worries come to the forefront when triggered by external events such as natural disasters or pictures of starving polar bears. I describe this prevalent level of concern as “eco-anxiety”. Environmental concerns bring us to face our own mortality in uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking ways.

For a growing number of people I meet, the emotional impact of environmental devastation extends way beyond disquiet and concern. They describe a deep and pervasive sense of fear, powerlessness and hopelessness about the future, accompanied by a little or a lot of bitterness and cynicism about the apathy and greed of humankind. I conceptualize this level of distress as “eco-despair”. I see it in caring human beings who have close and personal contact with our changing ecological system: millennials whose ideals and passion for healing the planet are crushed by the uphill battle of change, seasoned activists feeling burnt out from years of lobbying and fighting to preserve nature, artists and lovers of the great outdoors, those who live off the land, particularly in the rapidly changing Arctic, and the “canaries in the coal mine” who are affected by malignancies and autoimmune disease.

As a therapist, I have no magic phrases or precision tools in my mental health toolbox for living happily and at peace in relationship with an ailing planet. I too, am deeply disturbed, saddened, and trying to find a middle ground between hope for innovative solutions and despair that we have slid too far. When the global environmental crisis invokes personal existential crises in my clients, I pay close attention to the burden of their suffering, help define and unpack mixed emotions while holding space for their expression, and reflect back their deeply held values, strengths and positive actions, while bearing witness to the struggle of maintaining hope and optimism.

Eco-anxiety and despair may be accompanied by a mix of conflicting emotions, such guilt for not personally taking action as much as they would like, anger and disgust towards corporate offenders, distrust of government policies, and renewed grief and sorrow with each new ecological disaster.

I worry about some of my clients. Depression and burnout are real and growing consequences that need to be addressed. As much as time is of the essence in taking action on environmental devastation, sometimes helpers need to step back from the issues to take care of themselves, especially when bitterness and hopelessness prevail. Similar to compassion fatigue in frontline healthcare workers and caregivers, how are environmentalists to extend care to the planet when their own cups are empty? Simple strategies can help, such as spending time in nature, connecting with supportive people, finding sources of inspiration and learning about new innovations in addressing climate change. We all need to restore mind and body and lean into each other sometimes.

One way of coping with feeling overwhelmed and discouraged is to pick one area to focus on, and commit to a course of action that feels congruent with personal values, individual circumstances, skills and capacity. In between powerlessness and absolute control over any situation, there is always a way to exert some influence. Even small actions can have a ripple effect. Finding a personal zone of influence has power, especially if multiple people do so.

I see many hopeful examples in my work and daily life. Mothers and teachers cultivating a love of nature in young children and teaching them simple ways of treading lightly on the earth. Students pursuing environmental studies or becoming more politically active in social change. Millennials using technology and social media in countless innovative ways. Artists of all kinds plying their crafts to highlight the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Retirees volunteering time and skills. For most of us, it comes down to the choices we make every day, from where we spend our money to the ways we conserve resources and live sustainably.

In mental health, we need to keep in mind that politicians and pandemics will come and go, but the environmental crisis is an issue that is here to stay. How has your well-being been impacted? What helps?

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The lighter side of working together at a distance

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Since March 2020, so much of what we do has migrated to online spaces, a testament to the adaptive capacity of human beings and the communication systems we have developed. While there are many challenges associated with connecting from a distance, it feels important to highlight some of the unexpected perks and sweeter moments of working together while apart.

With professional colleges giving the green light for virtual psychotherapy, so much is possible. People have varying degrees of emotional and technical bandwidth for accessing online spaces, or connecting about personal issues by phone. Some lack privacy at home to speak freely, or access to reliable equipment or Wi-Fi. Others distrust or simply dislike connecting over virtual interfaces. Yet for many, appointments by distance are a welcome bridge to safety, health, location, time and other practical barriers to accessing counselling services.

Ease of access For women coping with postpartum issues, virtual therapy simplifies the process, especially in those early days of caring for an infant when getting out of the house for an appointment can be a monumental task. Getting to see new Mums interact with their babies from the comfort of home and hearing their little sounds in the background is a sweet bonus from my end.

Walk therapy I never much enjoyed talking on the phone, until I discovered that some of the best conversations with people in my life happen while one or both of us is walking somewhere. There is something about actively moving hands-free with headphones that generates ideas and discussion. Some therapy clients are opting for telephone appointments so that they have the freedom to roam around the house or go for private walk outside during session. Not for everyone, but it can work well.

Connecting families With my own large family spread across Canada, we have discovered the power of being all together in real time virtually in a way that rarely happens in person. But who knew that online couples counselling and family therapy could be so effective? There is something about us all being able to all see each other on screen at the same time that enriches empathetic communication, and I think it helps that only one person can speak at a time.

Animal helpers My cat proudly marched into my home office during a virtual couple therapy session the other day, the tail of a live and struggling field mouse dangling from his mouth. The couple’s cat heard its plaintive squeaking and jumped into the frame. Laughter ensued, but it took a few minutes to settle back to business. Zoom-bombing pets are a distraction in online spaces, but the presence of a calm, attentive animal can be grounding during stressful moments or when strong emotions arise during therapy. I love meeting and resourcing people’s dogs, cats, birds and other pets online, especially with some of my younger or more anxious clients.

Thinking outside the box This has been a year of learning creative ways of being together on-line: playing games, breaking bread and shared activities in real time. In the absence of in-person Sand Tray work, I am exploring novel approaches to working experientially, such as screen sharing resources and incorporating physical objects and craft materials from their home environments.

Opportunities for mindfulness The mini-interruptions, time lags and glitches with working remotely can easily disrupt flow and the usual give and take of conversation, particularly when more than two people are involved. Easy to become impatient and frustrated, or to zone out. I am trying to use these moments as an opportunity to be mindful, stay present and focused. It helps to pause and take a sip of water or a deep breath. I am learning to hang out more patiently in online spaces and over the phone, feeling less compelled to fill silences with words, and more intentional about slowing things down to talk about the things that really matter. This is definitely a work in progress.

Improved technology Internet capacity and the scope of online platforms are also a work in process, but rapidly evolving. There are regular hiccups. Faces frozen in unflattering expressions, and voices distorted into robotic monosyllables or trailing off into nothingness. However, the glitches are briefer and I am seeing vast improvements in overall connection quality (in my urban setting at least) compared to pre- and early pandemic experiences of learning and coaching in virtual spaces. And encryption standards have tightened. Privacy is paramount online.

Self awareness I often turn off the “mirror” when working virtually to minimize the distraction of my own on screen image Seeing ourselves can serve a useful feedback function though, bringing awareness to our non-verbal reactions, posture, and energy levels. I find it useful for teaching yoga, in that I can monitor my own alignment in postures as well as the participants.

Witnessing Virtual appointments felt a tad awkward at first. I worried about missing important body language cues given the partial, two-dimensional view of the person “in front” of me. Yet over time, the experience has shifted from a sense of interacting with a disembodied screen image to an actual face-to-face encounter in shared, intimate space. With greater “eye contact” at a closer range than would be comfortable in person (especially during a pandemic), I am noticing subtle changes in facial expression, and my headphones pick up nuances in tone of voice that I might miss in an actual room sitting further apart. Investing in better operating systems, lighting and audio equipment helps, but it seems like our brains have somehow adapted to this virtual reality.

Economics There are cost savings to working remotely, even with increased insurance fees and virtual office expenses. My clients save money on gas, parking, and time. I have bought way less Kleenex this year (but more cleaning supplies). Many of my colleagues are forgoing brick and mortar offices altogether, but I feel like I have the best of both worlds with splitting my time between home office and shared professional space.

Location freedom Being able to connect more reliably now with each other from almost anywhere in this global village is a game changer. Working virtually opens up so many new possibilities in terms of where we live and travel.

Balance Hours spent plugged into remote connections are hard on mind and body. Simple self-care strategies focus on maintaining comfort, movement, connection, hydration, and fresh air. With realizing my long held dream of working barefoot in yoga pants, stretching or resting between appointments is easier. My work space includes a stand-up desk close to a window and a full-spectrum lamp. I take advantage of telephone appointments to move freely and rest my eyes, book longer lunch breaks in the winter months for daylight walking dates with friends, and attend regular virtual meditation in real time with a caring group of people, We are all doing what we can to stay positive and well during these crazy times.

Future considerations Connecting over distance is definitely here to stay, in my line of work anyway. Learning how to better communicate in virtual spaces and over the phone will serve us all moving forward. I see the benefits of continuing to work remotely, in terms of convenience, accessibility, managing overhead costs, location freedom, and the potential for deeper connection than I ever expected in virtual spaces. I anticipate maintaining a hybrid model, integrating the benefits of both in-person and online life and work.

How do you find living and working over distance?

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Covid-Proofing your Relationship

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Relationships can be hard hit by Covid-19, whether partners are living under the same roof 24/7, trying to stay connected long-distance across borders, or something in between. We have bizarre new things to argue about now. Whether or not to spend two hours wiping groceries down with Lysol. Managing space when more than one person is working from home, especially when there are kids and pets in the mix. Who to include in a social bubble. How to pay the rent after job loss. Whether to put off or reorganize big life events like graduations, weddings and funerals. How to celebrate holidays and stay safely connected to extended family and friends.

Many worries and multiple losses to grieve, without roadmaps for coping with uncertainty and rapid change. While facing challenges together can strengthen bonds between partners, prolonged stress can turn the fissures that exist in any relationship into chasms. I have no magic solutions to offer, but here are some simple suggestions to make your relationship more “covid-proof”:

Make time to be fully present to each other. You can spend 24/7 with someone and never actually see them. Create a ritual of connecting for at least 10 undistracted minutes. Be together in relative stillness with minimal conversation. Take notice of this person close to you. Do they seem different at all, tired or worried?  Let yourself be seen by them too. This is a powerful practice, that can be done over Zoom if you live apart.

Priorize getting outside every day. Especially if you are living in a high-rise and working from home. Being cooped up indoors leads to irritability and escalates disagreements. Feel the sun on your face. Go for a walk or a run. Smile at the people you pass. Take pictures of nature. Return refreshed.

Create spaces in your togetherness. The immortal words of Khalil Gibran never rang truer. A universe of two can easily become a closed system. Stay connected with individual friends and relatives. Within your living space, create zones for connecting with each other and designated areas for each person to connect with themselves. A chair and a set of headphones will do in a small apartment. Respect each other’s boundaries and individual differences in the need for alone time.

Separate work from home. This is not easily done when one partner is working at the kitchen table but try a keep work from bleeding into home life. If you go out to work, use the commute to let go of your workday as much as possible.

Be mindful of substance use. Line-ups for liquor and marijuana stores have never been longer. Notice if you or you partner are over-using substance to numb out from stress. Are you arguing more as a result? Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the impact of substance use on your relationship, and to seek help.

Strive for good endings and beginnings to the day. Make the bedroom a sanctuary if you can, free from clutter and electronic distractions. Try not to watch the news before sleep. Take arguments to another room. Remember to say goodnight from afar when living apart.

Recognize and have compassion for symptoms of grief in yourself and your partner(s). The entire planet is grieving right now, and grief has many faces beyond sadness. Waves of irritability, loneliness, numbness, anger, apathy, all are symptoms of grief. Find ways of identifying and expressing these emotions. Support each other and tap into outside sources of help when it feels like too much to bear.

Seek help for depression and anxiety. Symptoms that impair functioning need to be addressed. You can be there for each other, but you cannot fix each other’s mental health.

Keep your dreams alive. Talk about that trip you want to make in the future. Go to Google Earth and explore another country virtually. Watch a foreign film.

Be kind. Simple rituals and acts of kindness can go a long way. Learn your love language and ask for what you need from your partner. Some of us thrive on hugs, others on acts of service or words of appreciation.

Find a shared project. Do something together that you both feel passionate about, such as creating a garden, learning a new skill, volunteering or training a puppy. (Good luck finding a puppy…)

Have the courage to work on or walk away from an unhealthy relationship. Not all partnerships will survive Covid. It may be better for both parties to separate than to cling together unhappily. If pre-existing issues have escalated to the point of unbearable tensions or violence, this may be the time to get out or seek help.

There are many other ways of strengthening intimate relationships during these crazy times. I would love to hear more about what is working for you and your partner.

Covid-Proofing your Relationship

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Relationships can be hard hit by Covid-19, whether partners are living under the same roof 24/7, trying to stay connected long-distance across borders, or something in between. We have bizarre new things to argue about now. Whether or not to spend two hours wiping groceries down with Lysol. Managing space when more than one person is working from home, especially when there are kids and pets in the mix. Who to include in a social bubble. How to pay the rent after job loss. Whether to put off or reorganize big life events like graduations, weddings and funerals. How to celebrate holidays and stay safely connected to extended family and friends.

Many worries and multiple losses to grieve, without roadmaps for coping with uncertainty and rapid change. While facing challenges together can strengthen bonds between partners, prolonged stress can turn the fissures that exist in any relationship into chasms. I have no magic solutions to offer, but here are some simple suggestions to make your relationship more “covid-proof”:

Make time to be fully present to each other. You can spend 24/7 with someone and never actually see them. Create a ritual of connecting for at least 10 undistracted minutes. Be together in relative stillness with minimal conversation. Take notice of this person close to you. Do they seem different at all, tired or worried?  Let yourself be seen by them too. This is a powerful practice, that can be done virtually if you live apart.

Priorize getting outside every day. Especially if you are living in a high-rise and working from home. Being cooped up indoors leads to irritability and escalates disagreements. Feel the sun on your face. Go for a walk or a run. Smile at the people you pass. Take pictures of nature. Return refreshed.

Create spaces in your togetherness. The immortal words of Khalil Gibran never rang truer. A universe of two can easily become a closed system. Stay connected with individual friends and relatives. Within your living space, create zones for connecting with each other and designated areas for each person to connect with themselves. A chair and a set of headphones will do in a small apartment. Respect each other’s boundaries and individual differences in the need for alone time.

Separate work from home. This is not easily done when one partner is working at the kitchen table but try to keep work from bleeding into home life. If you work outside the home, use your commute to let go of the workday as much as possible.

Be mindful of substance use. Line-ups for liquor and marijuana stores have never been longer. Notice if you or you partner are over-using substance to numb out from stress. Are you arguing more as a result? Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the impact of substance use on your relationship, and to seek help.

Strive for good endings and beginnings to the day. Make the bedroom a sanctuary if you can, free from clutter and electronic distractions. Try not to watch the news before sleep. Take arguments to another room. Remember to say goodnight from afar when living apart.

Recognize and have compassion for symptoms of grief in yourself and your partner(s). The entire planet is grieving right now, and grief has many faces beyond sadness. Waves of irritability, loneliness, numbness, anger, apathy, all are symptoms of grief. Find ways of identifying and expressing these emotions. Support each other and tap into outside sources of help when it feels like too much to bear.

Seek help for depression and anxiety. Symptoms that impair functioning need to be addressed. You can be there for each other, but you cannot fix each other’s mental health.

Keep your dreams alive. Talk about that trip you want to make in the future. Go to Google Earth and explore another country virtually. Watch a foreign film.

Be kind. Simple rituals and acts of kindness can go a long way. Learn your love language and ask for what you need from your partner. Some of us thrive on hugs, others on acts of service or words of appreciation.

Find a shared project. Do something together that you both feel passionate about, such as creating a garden, learning a new skill, volunteering or training a puppy. (Good luck finding a puppy…)

Have the courage to work on or walk away from an unhealthy relationship. Not all partnerships will survive Covid. It may be better for both parties to separate than to cling together unhappily. If pre-existing issues have escalated to the point of unbearable tensions or violence, this may be the time to get out or seek help.

There are many other ways of strengthening intimate relationships during these crazy times. I would love to hear more about what is working for you and your partner.

Dancing with Words

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Dance brings me great pleasure. I love most styles of moving to music, from ballet to ballroom. I stumbled awkwardly into dancing as a teenager, but it slowly and surely became integral to my adult identity. Pre-pandemic, I danced hours each week between classes, practice and social parties. If I had only known that last tango class in March was heralding a prolonged reality of social distancing and staying close to home. I would have lingered longer, savoured it more deeply. Danced long into the evening like nobody was watching and hugged everyone in sight. The abrupt interruption felt jarring, and somewhat destabilizing.

Dance is integral to my mental health. After a day of giving to others, moving to music reconnects me to some primal source of emotional release and renewal. I try to compensate with walking or running outside, music streaming through ear buds. I have turned my yoga practice into a rhythmic flow. Yet neither activity can quite replace the whole body letting-go and letting-in experience of dance.

Dance is social. Moving to music in my living room feels hollow, even with a partner. I miss the sense of community and belonging, the expansiveness of the dance space, and the emotional and physical connection with like-minded beings. I miss learning from other dancers, and simply picking up on their energy. Life feels muted without the push and pull of Argentine Tango, the sensual expressiveness of Rumba, the graceful, nostalgic rise and fall of a stream of couples waltzing, the energizing fun of swing and jive, the childlike joy of clomping around in tap shoes, the steely grace of ballet, and the explosive synergy of a roomful of people grooving in time to live music. Dance is so very human.

The shadow side of dance is that it provides the perfect, compulsive distraction from inner work. As my withdrawal symptoms subside, the absence of social touch and rhythm is an opportunity for more “being” and exploration of deeper realms of consciousness. I can finally take the time to bring written expression to my experience.

The dance floor will still be there, I hope, when this pandemic is over. I anticipate returning with a mended shoulder and renewed appreciation and abandon. In the meantime, I will dance with words.

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Love in the Time of Covid

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Being a “last line” worker in the midst of a global pandemic is not easy. People are stressed. With each new wave of the virus comes a new wave of impact on jobs, relationships, and mental health. In the psychotherapy world, we have adapted, moved on line. Virtual sessions are a good compromise, but they are certainly more tiring. What keeps me going, in spite of the fatigue, and the daily exposure to fear and uncertainty, is quite simply, that I get to be a witness, more than ever before, to the incredible human capacity for love and courage.

Love is the couple addressing the impact of living in close quarters 24/7 on their relationship.

Love is the exhausted new parents adjusting to caring for an infant in the absence of helping hands.

Love is the person living alone, struggling to stay both safe and connected.

Love is the front-line worker worried about about being fully present to their own family.

Love is feeling weary of forgoing personal freedom and convenience to keep others safe.

Love is the helping professional addressing symptoms of burn-out so they can keep helping.

Love is the family worried sick about their elders living and dying in long-term care.

Love is the laid-off worker figuring out a new path.

Love is the business owner having to make tough decisions.

Love is the disenfranchised grief of the family who were not able to say goodbye.

Love is the young person negotiating schooling and social relationships in a virtual world

Love is people committing to a social bubble of mutual care and concern.

An observation from the “back-lines” in this time of Covid : addressing the impact on our own well-being and the health of our families and relationships is truly an act of love. More to follow in subsequent posts.

Em-bracing Winter

Eco-therapy is based on the premise that people are healthier and happier when they are immersed in nature. Trees are oxygen-producing and sunlight-filtering geniuses. They smell good, and makes us feel good. I for one, feel more alive and grounded in the woods. My mind is clearer, my heart lighter. Forests are magical.

My natural survival strategy throughout this pandemic has been to spend regular time amongst trees. walking off the workday stress by the river’s edge close to home, and venturing deeper into the forest trails on the weekends. The practice has kept me sane during a crazy time in history. I walked almost daily through the burgeoning spring through to fall, alone or with a friend or on a phone call. The constancy of the path and the subtle changes in the scenery and the wildlife from March to October brought life and hope.

As winter descends and the days shorten, I find it more difficult to motivate myself to get out. Dampness seeps into my bones the moment I step out the door, and conspires with the bitter, breath stealing wind that sweeps off the river, tempting me to stay inside and hibernate for the winter. The deciduous trees along the path look barren now against the bleak November sky. Stark and quiet, easily forsaken after shedding their autumn splendor. They sadden me.

I have to remind myself that these trees are still very much alive despite their subdued, seemingly depressed outward state. They have merely slowed down and turned their attention towards tending to more introverted tasks. I imagine them whispering lullabyes to the animals wintering within boughs and branches, tucked in tenderly amongst their roots. The trees are conserving strength for the bitter months ahead, collectively taking time to rest and heal after the busyness of the warmer seasons.

My new plan is to take heed of the trees, and shift my focus towards em-bracing the restorative properties of winter rather than my usual bracing for the harshness. Bright days will be bookmarked for replenishing daytime walks with friends, stretching our branches towards the sun. When the cold winds howl and the sky is gray, I will turn my attention inwards, extending roots into creative projects and connect with love ones over warm soup and meaningful conversations. I will take time this season to process the happenings of 2020 and tend to the introspective emotions of winter.

What is your survival plan for the shorter days of November and December?

I’m launching a website!

Like trees in a forest, clinicians in private practice may appear to be standing apart, but In order to thrive our roots are deeply, intricately interwoven. We lean into each other for connection and support.

This Thanksgiving, I am pausing to convey heartfelt kudos to some of the trees in my personal forest. I am grateful to have an amazing network of family, friends and colleagues, as well the good fortune of mentorship and belonging to more formal supervision, community of practice, and personal development groups. Their kindness and expertise helped make the daunting process of transitioning to a mainly virtual psychotherapy and consulting practice in the midst of a global pandemic remarkably seamless.

As I step into this next chapter, I think back with gratitude to the nurses who mentored me with toughness, tenderness, and a holistic view of health and illness. They taught me to lead collaboratively, with care, composure, levity and respect for human dignity. The families I worked with as a nurse, a nurse practitioner and a cancer coach taught me by opening my heart to compassion for illness and suffering, and my mind to the true meaning of resilience in the face of adversity. My paediatric patients taught me about the importance of play and choice in healing. Working both in Indigenous health and with newcomers to Canada broadened my perspective on the diversity and interconnectedness of human experience. I no longer see people as separate from intergenerational family, community or the natural world.

There are many perspectives on mental health. Not all of them are kind or person centered. I am grateful to my Narrative Therapy mentors for guiding me in such a deeply reflective, collaborative, strengths-focused process of getting to the heart of each person’s story. I am at heart a storyteller, fond of metaphor and poetry, and helping people reclaim their positions as heroes of their personal narratives. I appreciate belonging to Collaborative Practice groups. Connecting with diverse mental health practitioners around narrative concepts every month keeps me engaged, passionate and grounded in this work.

I am grateful for ongoing mentoring in experiential, mind-body approaches to therapy. Profound and playful, Sand Tray Therapy goes where no words can venture. I love this little corner of my practice and the deep work that happens there. Somatic Experiencing Therapy training and supervision are rocking my world, enriching my work with clients. Both trauma and healing are embodied experiences. So is pleasure. I feel deeply privileged to have learned from Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz and able to bring a slice of her years of dedication and research on Optimal Sexuality into my practice with couples

My spiritual path keeps me centered and making meaning in this work. I owe a debt of gratitude to a long line of wise and compassionate teachers of yoga, meditation and dance, as well as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch, and the Inner Journey community. I have soft places to land, learn, laugh, and connect with myself and others. I receive insightful, practical and heart opening teachings that enhance my life and my work. I care deeply for the people I have met through these communities, and look forward to reconnecting in person once this pandemic is over. In the meantime, we Zoom…..

A heartfelt shout out to Erin Nazarali, communications genius, for the infinite patience, technical skill and creativity she brought to designing this website, Michelle Valberg and Leslie-Anne Barrett for extraordinary, soul-capturing photography, and my mentors with the Wellness Leadership Academy for their coaching and expertise.

I am incredibly grateful to the clients and supervisees I get to work with every day. Thank you for trusting me and teaching me. Thank you for your patience during this time of adjusting to a new normal of working mainly virtually and by phone.

Lastly, I want to express deep appreciation to my family and close friends. I feel loved and supported.

Happy Thanksgiving!