The End is in Sight (Maybe)

In my family, we have 4 of the necessary 7 vaccine shots. One of us chose Johnson & Johnson, hence the odd number. So we’re halfway there. And I’m a little giddy about soon being fully vaccinated.

We are all living through an ordeal. The 13-month and counting pandemic upended our routines, relationships, living spaces, work, and everyday activities. We’ve been crabby and sad, we’ve adjusted and found new ways to manage, all while living in a time warp. And now, with effective vaccinations, we are starting to eye the future and our possibilities as life opens up.

As a therapist, I hold deep respect for how clients faced the pandemic, how they expressed emotion and endured, how they did what was needed to keep themselves and others safe, and kept working on their goals. A crisis like the pandemic brings out the best and the worst in us and clients have been creative, resourceful, and have also suffered and faced themselves in new, sometimes painful ways. They are meeting with me virtually, a significant shift for all but a few of them. Some clients prefer telehealth while others look forward to sitting together again in my office. I look forward to that too and anticipate providing both in-person and telehealth services. The pandemic forced this innovative shift for me and I’m grateful for that.

Clients are also expressing trepidation about how to emerge from the cage or cocoon – depending on how the pandemic has been experienced by them – of their homes. And while I’m relieved to be vaccinated, I can relate, especially as an introvert. I’ve missed seeing clients in the office, and friends in my home, at restaurants or gatherings. But I’ve also kind of liked the simple schedule of outdoor walks with friends, phone calls and texts with extended family members, and pretty much hanging out with my spouse and young adult children. I’m aware that stepping out into social activities and public events might feel strange, be difficult, might lead to a heightened vulnerability. We need to give ourselves time to adjust yet again.

Courtney Martin’s blog post titled “Internally Rearranged.” is terrific. I hope you’ll read it here and give yourself space to think through your own internal shifts. I know I keep referring to her writing – but it’s so spot-on, especially through this past year. I’m pretty sure that as we contemplate and accept how we’ve changed, we’ll know more clearly how to step into the next phase of the pandemic.

Stay well, be patient. We’re getting through this, and that’s cause for celebration.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R
April 2021

photo by Unsplash

Covid-19: A Year In

photo by Glen Carrie, Unsplash

A year ago most of us were still living in pre-pandemic mode.  We’d just visited our college senior daughter, attending an on-campus dance production and eating at a full and lively restaurant.  Our high school senior son, along with other actors and techies, was in the final days of rehearsals for The Addams Family; psyched for opening night.  My spouse was working.  I was seeing clients in my office.

March 2020 is one of those unforgettable dates we’ll reference, as our parents did when JFK was assassinated or those of us did who alive during the horrific events of 9/11: “Do you remember what you were doing when the pandemic hit?”

What were you doing a year ago?   Is it hard to remember?

And now, a year later?

Well, we’ve gone through disbelief, grief, acceptance, impatience, anger, surrender and feeling blah. Sometimes all in one day.  

At first, we thought this virus would be muffled in months.  Spring was coming and it didn’t feel so awful because we were able to get outside and be with friends.

My daughter came home mid-March, graduated without a ceremony, and is living with us, working, saving money, and making plans.

The musical was canceled on opening night. Our son attended his 5-minute drive-through graduation, moved to college in August, and found the experience so dystopian with masks, social distancing, no in-person gatherings, no eating in the cafeteria, etc., he decided to study online from home this semester.  

My spouse stopped interior painting jobs as he wasn’t considered “essential” until August. Unemployment benefits, newly created for the self-employed, saved the day.

I moved from in-person sessions at the office to video or phone sessions from the finished attic of our home.  I’m still paying rent but only visit my office to get the mail and water the begonia.  It’s blooming now, and  I need it there to remind me that I’ll return to the office at some point.

Where are you now?

And, what have we learned?

Whew – that’s a tough one.  Here are first thoughts.

We learned we are more resilient and flexible than we thought.  

We learned to delicately balance between grieving what was lost and also accepting what was happening – often toggling back and forth between those actions.

We learned our government did not have a well-planned strategy for a disaster like a pandemic. 

We learned we are not in control of events but that we can work at managing our response to life so it’s an intentional response and not impulsive reactivity.  We learned this is really hard.  

We learned that our time together is precious and enjoyable – all of us in a small home – and we are also all looking forward to the time when our young adult children can restart halted plans.

We learned that participation in nourishing activities and rituals is vital.

We learned we need each other; that being together virtually is an available alternative but pales in comparison to being together, in person, with those we love.  

What have you learned?

With vaccines coming and deaths and infections decreasing, we appear to be moving into the wind-down phase of the pandemic but of course we don’t really know.

So, how do we live now, one year in?

We work to surrender to what’s not in our control and to focus on what is. And we allow ourselves days when we’re just sick of all of it.

We keep wearing masks and social distancing.

We mourn those we’ve lost and whose lives we couldn’t adequately honor during the pandemic.  My dad died in October and a favorite neighbor down the street just last month.  We mourn with those who have suffered terribly this year. Our family’s losses were small ones compared to those whose family members and friends died from Covid-19, or lost jobs, homes, security.  We remember that all of us are vulnerable and all of us are connected.

We eye the calendar hopefully and try to be patient. Perhaps we can visit family later this year. Maybe our son can return to a more normal college experience, and our daughter can move in with friends. Neighborhood potlucks, street festivals, concerts, and all sorts of gatherings might become reality! And perhaps we’ll be able to stop worrying about loved ones or ourselves getting seriously ill.

Returning to a new normal will bring new challenges. Still, I’m confident that given what we’ve learned this past year, we’re more likely to adequately manage what lies ahead.

How are you living now, one year in?

A final note: Courtney Martin wrote a terrific post with more questions if you are in a reflective mode. You can access it here

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R  March 2021

Covid’s Still Here and Winter is Coming

I’m writing this just before Thanksgiving.  The news includes photos of Americans traveling for the holiday despite rising Covid-19 infection rates and pleas to limit or cancel family gatherings.  Three weeks after the election, President-elect Biden and his team are now formally authorized to begin their transition. The weather here in Syracuse is predictable: cold and often gloomy with snitches of sunshine.

In conversations with friends and clients, I hear about so much stress directly resulting from the pandemic. Parents of young children must constantly respond to shifting realties while trying to hold it all together.  They’re stretched to the max sorting out the risks of day care and school, or working from home while tending to children learning remotely and trying to safely maintain social connections. Some folks are largely isolated and long for the familiar social holiday events.  Some are choosing not to visit family members and friends because of health risks and advice from health experts.  Some have lost income or jobs. Some have friends or family members with Covid. Promising vaccine news helps some to be more hopeful.

At first I drafted a blog post that basically said, in a nice way, “Suck it up, you all!  Get over your grumbling and make the most of this.”  But it didn’t sit right and I realized I was doing what I advise clients not to do: avoid grief, fear and anger.

And so for the past weeks, with Covid-19 numbers rising and our city back to partial shutdowns and restrictions, with a fractious election, and winter’s long haul coming, I’ve let myself feel scared, sad and angry.  I don’t want to head into five cold months without the usual events, gatherings, and rituals.  I’m tired of only chilly walks with friends when I’d rather have them in my home. I worry about older or immune-compromised family members and friends, about their physical and also emotional wellbeing.  I am angry about the patchwork and ineffective governmental response and our inability to stem the spread. I could go on and on, and sometimes I do!

Acknowledging how challenging life is allows me to accept it a little more. And paradoxically, it also permits me to more fully be with family, friends and clients as they express grief, frustration and anger.

I’m learning, again, that when we allow ourselves to experience our emotions, (without taking them out on others) there’s more space to discover our resourcefulness and creativity, and to trust in our ability to endure.

We cannot Pollyanna our way through this particular time but we are going to get through it. We have to allow ourselves to be human with the full palette of complex and shifting emotions. When we do so, we are more likely to learn about ourselves in hard times and what we’re capable of.

Several resources:

A family member sent an article that seems up-to-date, hopeful and science-based. It’s called “The Sane Person’s Winter Covid Survival Guide” by Susie Bright.  It’s got strong language, and you might not agree with all of it, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there.  Read it here if you are looking for help making decisions about whether or not to socialize, and how to do it as safely as possible, through the months ahead.

If your threshold for risk is different from others in your life, it’s important to find your own basis for making decisions, getting comfortable with them, (even if they are hard) and also letting go of judgment when others make different choices.  For reading on this that may be helpful, I recommend Sheryl Paul’s blog post:  How to Navigate COVID-19 – Let Me Count the Ways.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, November 2020

Autumn Reflections #2: Work & Life in Haiku

Virtual sessions with
clients who dig deep, work to
change what’s possible.

Shifts takes time, patterns
hard to break, pain underneath.
Deeper still: hope, peace.

================

My mom is voting 
for the very first time in 
her eighty-nine years.

(She lives in a swing state.)

================

Daughter essential,
works checkout, guest services.
Masked, gloved, eyes smile.

================

Son’s college on “pause,”
online only for two weeks.
Works, eats, draws in dorm.

“Covid Dashboard,” such 
power to determine fate
of college students.

=================

Spouse paints, transforms rooms.
Fresh paint inside lends repose
to outer chaos.

===================

Biking the canal,
leaves in fiery farewell.
Tires crunch. Breathe deep.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, September 2020

From poets.org:  A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression.

Photo by Chris Lawson, Unsplash

Autumn’s Short Reflection #1

Dear Readers,

I have blog post drafts that don’t seem appropriate in the context of this autumn, 2020.  I don’t know about you, but I can easily feel that I am a little boat tossed about in a wild sea.  There are few calm days; almost every day is filled with news of upcoming elections, of political ploys, Covid-19, wildfires, hurricanes, economic struggle, loneliness and isolation. (And that might be a short list!)  

While stories of hope, beauty, courage and community building may be more difficult to find, they’re present, like treasure in the bottom of the sea, and we may have to work a little harder to find them and allow them to balance out the blaring, often negative headlines.

I persist in believing that whatever happens this fall, and into the winter and beyond, we are more sturdy and resilient than we know. If we are feeling tossed about, we must go deeper to get anchored, must find and use all available internal and external resources to manage and maybe, at times, even do well in this season of chaos and uncertainty. 

So I’m going to post short, quickly written poems that reflect my own process and observations for the next while. I hope you can find something in here to relate to.

Today’s is about my little side garden, because nothing calms me more than watching life’s trustworthy cycles through the lens of tending to soil.

September 2020

Last days to comfortably sit
on porch or patio,
the breeze cool,
the angle of light slanting,
whispering “darker, colder, slower.”

The tomato plants are browning
the cucumbers have been pulled,
the beans are barely producing.

But the zinnias remain colorful and lush,
orange, magenta, pink and poppy-red.

And the snow peas are racing
up their trellis
as if fully planning to beat
the first frost
with sweet, plump pods.

The garden is clueless about Covid.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, September 2020