mental health

Check your attitude during COVID-19

The best thing you can do for your mental health right now, if you haven’t already, is to snooze or get rid of every single person on your social media feeds who thinks this is the time to debate what’s going on because they don’t “trust” the government or they’re trying to prove some sort of point.

Get rid of anyone off your feeds who purposely makes others feel bad or in general is argumentative and negative.

My life is already and intentionally filled with people, the ones I am closest to, who are focused on being positive, helpful, optimistic (way more optimistic than I usually am), future thinking and expecting the best. There’s no room for conspiracy theorists in my own little delusional universe and that’s the way I like it.

I work for the B.C. Government and I can assure you there isn’t a single person in any ministry who isn’t doing what they can to make things easier within the realm of what’s possible for citizens in B.C. They are doing the best they can under these very difficult circumstances that are requiring immediate response and instant decisions, in an institution that isn’t used to making change on a dime.

There is that old saying when it comes to keeping the peace in relationships: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Well, now that question has changed slightly. Do you want to be right or do you want to be sick or in the worst case scenario, dead?

Focus on beauty and positivity. Join an online meditation group or whatever kind of group turns your crank. Listen to symphonies performing concerts online. Watch comedies on TV. Once you figure out Zoom or messenger, have a chat with those people who aren’t going to ramp up your anxiety, but in direct contrast, recognize that now is the time to soothe it.

This is not the time to prove that you’re an intellectual, wiser, more enlightened or more incisive than others. This is the time to be the kindest, most compassionate person you are capable of being. Be a good listener. Be open. Watch how you’re impacting others. Your community needs you to do the very best you can do.

This is also not the time to be a rugged individualist, stubborn insistence that you’ll be absolutely fine on your own. You’re missing the point. If someone reaches out to you and you don’t even respond to them, you’re not getting what’s going on and how you could use this as a time to rethink the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are your entire life.

If you’re like a lot of people, you have probably never been so connected to family and friends online on a daily basis – checking in, keeping spirits up, having a laugh, commiserating. Doing what humans have been doing for centuries – around the piazza, around the water cooler, at the watering hole, over the fence and now, from your own living room – apart but together. Same same but different.

Shut the Front Door to stay sane during COVID Crisis

Monks on the street in Phnom Penh.

For the first week, I couldn’t put down my cell phones.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I was watching the daily updates from Dr. Bonny Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, which I feel obligated to do as a government employee, and because I love watching how Dr. Bonnie Henry relays the information.

But then, come today, I felt like enough already! I know everything I need to do at this point. Wash my hands. Distance myself 6 feet when outside or around anyone. Stay home as much as possible. Get outside in the fresh air, maintaining the recommended distance.

I got out for a walk the past two days and it was so wonderful to feel the fresh air and to see spring beginning to bud all around.

But it’s when when I’m in my own space that I need to control myself in terms of watching media of any kind.

I’ve been on Zoom. I’ve been on messenger chat. I’ve been checking in and staying connected to others that way. It’s good. It’s almost a novelty at this point.

Deepak Chopra announced today that he is removing himself from all social media and is going into a room in his house to meditate and find and cultivate inner stillness for an entire week beginning today.

I’m not going to do that. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I do however feel the need to get some quiet from the noise and to think about some of the things I’ve learned from the stress reduction courses I’ve been taking since January and focus on extreme self care.

It’s time to put the old practice to the practice!

By the way, Deepak Chopra will be hosting a worldwide meditation next Sunday, March 28. Check out his Instagram page.

I want to share with you this fantastic chanting of Tibetan monks that I love. So sit yourself down, plug in, take a few deep breaths in and out, close your eyes and just listen to shared humanity focused on a single intention: https://youtu.be/0D4V5awe-PA

And afterwards, if you haven’t already, you could download Calm and Headspace

One day at a time peeps. Just one day at a time.

COVID-19, the almighty revealer

The corona virus has reminded us that the most highly educated and the least are of equal value in their service on the front lines.

The artificial socioeconomic value system that ties human worth to occupation is once again revealed as the arbitrary paradigm that it is.

In this time of crisis, and needing all hands on deck, the people whose socioeconomic status is at the bottom–the retail clerks, the janitors and cleaners and private home care providers or nursing home staff, child care providers and delivery/truck drivers are every bit as critical as the PhD medical staff, the online technology software wizards, the virologists and pharmacists and medical researchers.

Regardless of how undervalued the lowest paid people may feel on a typical day, they are now the canaries in the coal mines and the heroes on the front lines. They’re providing services that are every bit as important as the doctors and nurses responding to the deadly puzzle unfolding before their eyes.

These contributions have been revealed to be of equal value in our reliance on them but the difference is, those on the lowest end aren’t being protected in the same way. Many aren’t wearing gloves. They can’t back away when they’re ringing through groceries. They’re depending on you to do that, to keep them as safe as you can by not being there at all, or by following the rules of distance,  6 feet or 2 meters, and staying home if you’re feeling any of the symptoms at all. And self-isolating if you’ve returned from a trip, meaning, going right home, not to any grocery store where you’ll be in contact with others, then staying at home (14 days) until you know you are not ill.

Parents are on the front lines in a whole other way. Their roles are now magnified. They are having to offer the comfort, provide the distractions, set the example, waylay fears and anxiety, cook and be especially fastidious around the house in cleaning and making sure everyone in their family, from children to octogenarians, understands and keeps themselves and others safe by following the advice of the public health officers.

It’s a challenging time for social butterflies. They’re already losing their minds or they haven’t even taken the advice to heart, still going about their lives as if nothing is all that different.  

Someone pointed out that sometimes people respond to anxiety that way. They pretend everything is the same, denial their modus operandi.  They fail to understand or take to heart that their actions can no longer be dictated by preference or whim when those actions may cause someone else to lose their life because of how well or how poorly they changed their behaviour.

That’s the difference in mortality numbers between Taiwan who did everything right (100 deaths) and what’s happened in China, Italy and what’s to come around the world when seemingly draconian protective measures happen too late.

Sometimes I feel like the people who have had little hardship in their lives, emotional or otherwise, are just not very equipped to have the resilience required when things change for the worse on a dime like this.

They are so used to getting what they want, everything at their beck and call, that it’s hard for them to imagine they have to do something different when that something isn’t their choice.

And the most dangerous, the conspiracy theorists, are in heaven and in hell, so status quo for them, I guess.

The human body and its frailty holds the power.

Accept everything you must do to keep yourself and other’s healthy.  Accept everything. Accept what you can not change.

Flattening the curve means fewer people get sick quickly and all at once and that alone can save lives.

I’m not saying instant adaptation is easy or nice, but it’s not that hard either. Not really. Not in comparison to the worst case scenario you or someone who matters to you might find themselves in.

This video from an artist named Matteo Marchesi speaking near Lombardy, Italy, is compelling.

His father is an intensive care doctor. https://vimeo.com/398651424

Learn more about what’s happening in B.C. via the B.C. Government’s Covid-19 updates: www.gov.bc.ca

 

 

 

Amusing yourself during a pandemic

The thing about being an introvert and being told to hunker down is that it’s almost like being told, “Hey, just be yourself.” Finally! You mean I can just stay home and binge read, watch TV, clean my apartment, go for a walk in the park, go down to the beach, drink some wine, make some soup and chili and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing SOMETHING Instagram worthy?

It would seem the most important thing to control during this pandemic, as is true every single day, is our own thoughts.

A friend told me that she heard this cool thing. The word Pandemic can be broken down with the middle syllable “dem” — which originates from Greek and means “people” — and when you take out the people or “dem” in Pandemic whaddya got? Panic! Pan-DEM-ic! Very clever! And accurate.

Here’s a few suggested diversions to lower the panic, you dems you!

  • In B.C., keep up to date on what’s happening in your community by listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, on the local news as they report out daily, often at 3:00 p.m. or on the Government of BC Facebook page.
  • Then again, be aware of how much time you’re spending getting freaked out by broadcast and social media.
  • Watch the emotional eating and ramp up the self-care. If you’re scarfing down cupcakes and other crap like I was on Friday night like you’re the winner of a zombie apocalypse emotional eating contest,  you might decide that now is a good time to focus on extreme self-care.
  • Forget the toilet paper, buy some greens and avocados and get your guerrilla Dr. Gundry warfare on.  Take your Vitamin C and organic spirulina.
  • Get outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Look at the flowers, take photographs which requires your mind to focus on the present and on only what’s in front of you.
  • Don’t go to a big box store or stand in a long line-up for food surrounded by all those people who have not kept their panic at bay.
  • Try to practice the 2 metre rule of distancing yourself from people – that’s 6 feet.
  • If you’re feeling super anxious, start doing boxed breathing. 
  • If you’ve meditated in the past but stopped, this seems like a good time to breathe in, breathe out, stay focused on your breath.
  • Read a book – Check in on some Canadian authors at Canada Reads.
  • Make some soup from scratch and freeze it.
  • Write in a journal knowing you’re documenting an historic event in human history.
  • Seems like a good time to get back to the practice of the gratitude journal or just take time each evening to think of three things you’re grateful for – apparently just the process of seeking out those three things is good for your brain and can help you focus on your “wealth.”
  • Think about what arts organizations really need your support through this and purchase a ticket or give a donation.
  • Listen to public radio – CBC, NPR in the States.
  • Take an afternoon nap if you can, alone, or even better, with company.
  • Watch a movie, preferably a comedy, not Contagion.
  • Listen to some great jazz or blues or whatever you like best, maybe one of those “poor me” country tunes.
  • Find some podcasts that you’d like to start following.
  • Do your taxes (Yuk for sure, but it is that time of year).
  • Clean your house in a way you never get around to.
  • Do that chore at home you’ve been putting off for months.
  • Kondo your closet.
  • Play a board game or throw a baseball back and forth in a nearby park with your kids or your dog.
  • Call your friends or family who live elsewhere using whatever technology you can.
  • Make a Femo monster of the virus and smash it afterwards. Okay. A little weird, but could be fun. And the video is hilarious (to me)!
  • Yesterday, I was speaking over video chat with my 96 year old friend who I now feel, because of her vulnerability to the virus,  I shouldn’t go visit. While we haven’t quite perfected our use of the technology, we’ll get there. And as she so succinctly said, “What am I supposed to do, dig a hole, take some food and jump in?” The answer? “No. Don’t do that! Not yet, anyway. You’ve excelled at aging. Hang in there!”
  • Research where you want to go when we get past this, even if it takes months.
  • Mostly, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, follow the recommendations and for now, remind yourself that in this moment you are safe. Focus on how well you are right in this moment and focus on the facts, not forecasting the worst.  And carry on.

If you insist, here’s a few links to be over-informed by:

BC Centre for Disease Control:
http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19

Definitions:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center#Terms

Infection Prevention and Control – Canada
https://ipac-canada.org/coronavirus-resources.php

How it spreads: (If you have high anxiety, don’t read this link).
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

Taking the toxic out of masculinity and femininity

I heard that term toxic masculinity the other day, which of course I’ve heard before, but this time for the first time ever, I thought to myself, Ouch!

It could be that I felt that pang of emotion because I spend most of my weekdays with guys who seem to have more feminine qualities in many instances than the females they work with and I include myself in that assessment.

They’re quiet. They’re thoughtful. They’re intelligent. They read a lot. They have excellent manners. I feel like they barely take up any psychological space at all which is a rare and precious quality even though it sometimes leaves me wondering how all that restraint impacts them. Do they go home at night and beat the hell out of their childhood stuffed animals after biting their tongues all day long?

If there was a toxic masculinity scale, I’m sure they’d fall within the under 5 percentile. They’ve all probably even been victims of the reality behind the term.

On the other hand, our leader, a female, while very feminine in appearance has no trouble pulling out the yang when she needs to. She often yells out between walls when she wants to talk to someone like she’s some old grizzled print editor from a 1940s newsroom. She does have a really good sense of humour but in order to be funny, it does help to not be overly concerned about political correctness, so she isn’t.

And then there’s me. Let’s just say, should toxic masculinity raise its entitled head anywhere within the vicinity of our cubicles, it would be smacked down faster than unevenly matched opponents during a wrestling match in a high school gymnasium!

Toxic masculinity is all about power and entitlement to that power and then blindness to each of those things and the impact of those qualities on all those around who are being impacted by it.

It’s always confused me that men still have all the power in the formal world when it seems like women have almost all the power in interpersonal relationships. Or maybe that’s just true of the people I know. Or maybe it just looks like that observing people’s intimate relationships from the outside. 

It made me wonder what toxic femininity looks like. Helplessness. Pretending to be less intelligent than you really are. Talking about nails to an extreme. Expecting dates to pick up the tab even when you make more money than they do. Using sexuality as a manipulation tool. I wonder what else might fit into the category.

There are those who argue that there is no such thing as toxic femininity because all femininity is a response to toxic masculinity and the imbalance of power that has resulted from it.  This assumes that everyone in the world is cis-gendered.

As you can imagine, I’m not here to defend men, but it would still hurt to have a term that trashes an entire gender applied to oneself as an individual, especially if you’ve been a victim of that reality yourself. 

Here is a way more assertive, insightful and sometimes humorous reflection on toxic femininity in a feminist magazine I’d never read before called Bust.

And here’s a history of the term toxic masculinity in a sometimes hard to understand article in the Atlantic.  

You’ll never get this time back so don’t blame me if you click the links.

I liked thinking about this topic through these articles even though there are way TOO MANY ADS getting in the way.

Whatever you do don’t stand still

Lately, and I guess it’s totally related to aging, its becoming a little too clear to me that we really are all just lined up like airplanes on a runway waiting for take-off, except we have these invisible expiry dates stamped onto each one of us and we don’t find out our own Best Before date until it’s game over. Thank you ma’am. Boom. Done. Next.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh oh. This is a tad morbid. 

Lately too many people I have known are flying off into the big airport waiting room in the sky. They’re like missing luggage from United Airlines. It’s never coming back. And that is causing me an existential crisis that’s actually a little more disturbing than all the other crises I’ve already overcome in the past 20 years.  

Clawing my way back from depressions? Been there. Done that. Overcoming heartbreak as a result of bad choices in men? Ack. Whatever! Unemployment? But would you look at all that free time I had?

Now that I’m older and wiser, I actually find it amusing when people refer to a mid-life crisis, as if there is just a single crisis and once you get that baby under your belt you’re home free. Not true.

The mid-life crisis is like the beginning of the Bible. One crisis begets another crisis begets another crisis and so on and so forth until the ultimate end of life crisis. That’s how it feels to me these days.

My crises right now, at least, are a little less drama filled than in the past. No sex, drugs or rock and roll. In this phase of the crises, which is a total drag for sure because it’s so boring, albeit easier on the mental health and the blood pressure.

Maybe because of my birth order as youngest in a family of people who were a lot older, or because I’ve always befriended people that are older than me, aging is constantly on my mind these days. It’s like a third character shadowing my monologue.

I can no longer make any decisions without thinking about the fact that I have X number of years, barring early onset dementia, to work at a “real” job, before I have to give up that real job and become a greeter at Walmart for which I’d surely last maybe half a day before being fired.

I try to think of the kinds of jobs I might do, when I have to give up my “real” job, and it’s as if I have no useful skills at all. I’m like one of those people who can’t use common sense to get around the corner to the 7-Eleven because their GPS has led them astray even though they’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 35 years.

I used to quit jobs I didn’t like on a dime and worry about it later. And in a blink of an eye, over the last 10 years, later IS now. So, even if I don’t like the job, I could quit, like my younger self surely would right this second,  except experience has taught me that impulsivity can lead to even bigger crises.

As a result, the ugly reality of aging is beginning to turn me into the kind of person I used to disdain. That is, the kind of person, who at 30 years old is factoring pension into any equation. In my former world, if you were thinking about your pension at 30, you were leading the kind of life that surely must have made it feel as if you’d already died before you were dead. I had nothing to say to you.

Trying to make decisions along the time versus longevity continuum is like one of those mathematical word problems in Grade 3 I could never solve correctly and would now  have a totally different twist. 

My new mathematical word problem would go something like… If you get to be 60 years old and you don’t have cancer and you quit your job to go to the Ashram in India where you could theoretically live out your days working harder than you’ve ever worked doing some form of selfless service, how many fewer regrets might you have? Answer _____!

If you sold everything you owned and bought an RV and just drove in the direction of a hot beach, stopping on a whim, would you really be happier? Freedom being just another word and all that…  Wherever you go, there you be.

Except, that statement isn’t totally accurate because sometimes wherever you go, if it’s the right place, really shakes things up and changes life for the better. Of course, leaving can do the exact opposite as well. 

We’re supposed to live in the moment. Be present. Breathe. And that sounds good except when you begin to wonder what happens if your choices based on living in the moment mean you’ll be lining up at the food bank in 10 years? What then?

Does life really work that way? You might not even be here in 10 months. And then all the decisions you never made, the adventure you opted not to take, means you didn’t meet the love of your life or end up, through a detour, doing the best thing you’ll ever do, meeting your tribe or having experiences that create the kinds of memories that will overflow from your heart and fill it up until your very last sentient breath.

When I worked in Computer Science at UBC, I recall interviewing a prof whose research revolved around something called game theory or decision theory or something like that. I remember I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. I still can’t. It was like having a fortune teller in a machine except smarter.

You mean I can put all my questions into a computer with a special fairy godmother algorithm and have it spit out my next course of action knowing that something way more logical than me has done a risk assessment for me and then it has decided I should head that way? Over there. Keep going. A little to the left. Don’t look back. Don’t look too far ahead. And whatever you do, read my lips, definitely don’t stand still.

Making time for the benefits of doing nothing

This will sound strange to anyone who is currently raising children but when I reflect back on my childhood, in spite of being surrounded by adults, very few of those people consistently intersected in my daily reality in a way that felt as instructive or as memorable in the same positive way as the kids I interacted with back then.

Now that might be directly related to my own personal experience or it might actually be related to all children’s degree of freedom back in the 1960s.

Because of my birth order, later than the rest of my siblings, by more than a decade, what I recall most about my childhood has to do with my own time: how I spent that time, the time I spent with other kids and especially the time I spent with my best friend then. We were like a world unto ourselves, the most important humans in each others lives. That realization surprises me as I write it down and I question myself. Is my memory accurate? I think a little harder about important people: my parents, my twin brother, my older sisters, and yes, I think my memory is painting the hierarchy of their priority accurately.  

I remember having a lot of time to myself, especially in the summer, to do whatever I wanted. We made our own decisions when to come and go, when to play tennis across the street or go to the playground at the other end of the park, or to peer into our empty classroom windows across the park. We would go to Woodward’s a few blocks away, to the library a few blocks over, to the vacant lot where big kids would tease us about the mythical spotting of Big Foot. Our circumference of exploring in a city the size of New Westminster was relatively small but still allowed for ample freedom.

Other than eating meals with my family, the occasional special outing, and camping in Osoyoos for a few weeks in August, I was a free agent. I could and was expected to amuse myself. To read. To play the piano away from the rest of the family in our basement “rumpus room.” It felt in some way like there was an understanding that adults were not to be bothered because they were too busy with their own lives and had no time to waste, or at least that’s how it seemed to me as a child.

As a result, I seemed, like all kids then, to spend a lot of time in my own company or the company of other kids.  We’d explore their basements. We’d climb backyard willow trees. We’d play tag with all the neighborhood kids spreading out like the enemy across yards. We often played board games or sat and did nothing on the couch, to daydream, to negotiate what to do next, to think of ways to amuse ourselves in those endless stretches of summer days.

When we took off from the house in the morning there was no consideration of adult interventions due to cellphones or any of the compelling feelings of urgency we now have around checking e-mail. Technology’s advancement had been paused in our lives and was stuck then at the good old rotary dial phone or the Walkie Talkies we got for Christmas that only really worked between very short distances.

I’ve been reading this book, Solitude, In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, by Michael Harris. The author refers to UBC researcher, Kalina Christoff, Ph.D., who studies spontaneous thought and mind wandering.

“Given enough solitude and enough time, the mind shifts into default mode and begins to pan through connections that at first seem wholly random,” she says, adding that the “randomness is crucial.” “The power lies in the fact that in this state the brain censors nothing. And it then makes connections that it would never otherwise make. Mind wandering is managing much more than personal memories and a sense of self. The wandering mind is also solving problems in the real world.”

Think of how little time, if any, most of now spend just sitting and staring out the window or being without our cell phones in hand or very nearby. We have no time in our day for mind wandering as a health conscious, creativity-boosting decision.

And certainly, it seems that most children have almost no down time. Every minute is filled with video games, scheduled activities, organized playdates, parents checking in on their whereabouts or directly by their sides.

When I compare my childhood experience to that new reality, it brings me such feelings of absolute claustrophobia on behalf of today’s children. Luckily, they don’t know what they’re missing.

On my recent trip to Quebec, I sat on the plane, a seat apart from a little girl from Salt Spring Island who was traveling on her own. Her relatives would be waiting for her in Toronto.

She was such a self-assured child. Calm. Confident. Able to meet a stranger and engage. Able to use her time and remain okay. In chatting with her, I learned she is a young student at a special school on Salt Spring called Wolfkids an outdoor education school. At her young age, she said she’d even participated in an overnight in the woods, as part of the school’s experiential learning.

I wondered if that is what made the difference in her maturity levels and independence or if it was just related to her own family? I was sure she had spent time daydreaming for extended periods of time even though she was mostly glued to her IPad during the flight.

Christoff speaks to daydreaming as an inherently creative process because the daydreamer is then open to bizarre new thoughts and options. The book refers to some of the greatest inventors: Einstein, Isaac Newton and how retreat and solitude can and have led to intellectual advancement.

It made me wonder how such lack of downtime might be impacting the creative thinking of today’s children. Or has the advancement of technologies merely shaped it in more sophisticated ways? More importantly, how has the lack of solitude, away from the influence of adults, impacted their ability to shape a truly unique self, to create boundaries that prevent some pathological merging of parent and child to such a degree that the child might take even longer to define a unique sense of self.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to just sit and observe, to notice the scents in the air, to pay attention to your random thoughts, cumulus cloud ideas, that inevitably drift by, the occasional one stopping you in your mental tracks with that feeling of an epiphany found?

And then I wondered, would it be philosophically wrong to add such unproductive time use to a weekly To-Do list?