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

HIT for the Covid-19 Era

My spouse and I take daily evening walks.  We meet neighbors also out strolling or porch sitting and ask, “How are you doing?”  And almost without fail, the answer is “Hanging in there.”  We often give the same response when asked.

We are hanging in there:  HIT.  That’s the truth.  (And I don’t mean HIIT: High-intensity Interval Training, although living through this precarious, uncertain, fluid and difficult time is like a workout. ) 

But I mean HIT.  And HIT is enough.

Before COVID19, “hanging in there” seemed an inferior space to be in, an acknowledgment that we were going through something temporarily difficult we didn’t want to talk about.

Now, increasingly, I understand HIT as strength, as a sign that we are distressed and we are getting through one day, sometimes one minute, at a time. And we all know exactly what we mean when we say we are “hanging in there.”

Because we can’t dismiss that we’re in a mess.  We’re getting frequently changing and mixed messages from our national leaders about how to conquer, or at least tame this virus. The response to Covid-19 looks like a torn crazy quilt across state and regional lines.

Here in New York, we’ve had firm, clear leadership from our governor. After first being an epicenter, our infection rate is low, but we know our borders are permeable, some citizens continue to buck the mandates, and colleges are soon opening. We wonder about the impact when students, who love to party and congregate en masse in our summer-quiet neighborhoods, return. 

Some of us are getting sick.  Some of us are bracing and planning for another disrupted school year.  Some of us are sending college students off to an uncertain semester.  Some of us continue to isolate because we’re older, have risk factors, or want to protect others. Some of us are juggling parenting and working from home.  Some of us are afraid of returning to the workplace or have no workplace to return to.  Some of us need to re-envision our careers or our daily lives in light of this pandemic. Some of us do not know how we are going to financially survive.  Some of us wanted to travel and chose not to, or can’t because so many borders are currently closed to us.  Some of us are worried for elderly family members and friends who are isolated.  Some of us are very tired, lonely and afraid.

And then there’s the reality that a significant number of Americans find this all a hoax, a “plandemic,”  or at the very least, way overblown. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion and yet, this further complicates any chance for a mostly unified response.

Along with all Covid-related uncertainty and pain is the persistent and important anti-racism movement, long overdue and with so many of us having so much to learn. 

Oh and did I mention a critical presidential election is scheduled to take place in three months? And who knows what else each of us is dealing with?

So it’s no wonder, that a lot of days, a lot of us are “hanging in there.”

And that’s a good thing; I’m glad we are.  Because in the midst of all this uncertainty, staying the course, doing our best, giving ourselves a break, and accepting that this time is hard – well if that’s hanging in there, then more power to us.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSWR   July 2020

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Watering Holes

My spouse, young adult children and I currently have two daily rituals together: late morning coffee and supper.

I’ve been thinking of those gatherings, along with other regular activities, as my watering holes; as brief, essential oases in this surreal landscape called COVID-19.

My kids laugh at this description of what we do together every day.  They didn’t grow up among the Amish, as I did, and see horses and cows at watering troughs.  They didn’t grow up in the country where ponds or springs were places animals found water.

I’m used to them rolling their eyes at me.  And they are two of my best mentors, insisting on our rituals as a place and time each day that grounds us, brings us together and allows us to process feelings and thoughts, tell jokes, and review the COVID-19 “numbers.”  We revisit and grieve our losses and, being together, acknowledge that we are fortunate.  We might even, once in a while, note that this time we have – with two young adults ready to launch – is precious. (Never mind that we also regularly get on each others’ nerves!)

I know this is not everyone’s experience and I am not sugarcoating how difficult this shelter-in-place is.  It’s really hard, devastating and destabilizing for many of our human brothers and sisters.  Every day I listen to stories that include worry, fear, uncertainty and pain.

That’s not the point of this essay.  The point is that YOU NEED WATERING HOLES to get through this crisis.

While the definition of a watering hole includes a place where animals drink or a place where people gather for socialization, to me a watering hole is anything that provides brief pause, and emotional, mental, physical or spiritual nourishment. 

You can come up with your own watering holes.  If they provide respite and nourishment, and aren’t harmful to anyone else in your sphere, they will work.

My watering holes, in addition to being with my family, include getting outside for both exercise and leisurely walks, early morning reading, texting friends and family members, meditation and yoga.  Every day if possible.  These rituals ground me, help me stay in my body, help me stay present and enrich telehealth sessions with clients.

Create Your Own

You can create a watering hole by doing whatever feels nourishing to you.  Or if you can’t do that, by remembering a time of security and safety, or a restorative place – a vacation spot, for example.  And if that doesn’t work, then right now, in the present moment, you can create, in your mind, a safe and lovely space and rest in that imagery even just briefly.

Here are some watering holes I’ve heard about from friends and clients:  breathing deeply, dancing, baking, planting seeds, getting out in the garden, exercise, streaming shows, journaling and  zooming friends.  Whatever you come up with, I suggest you visit and drink from your watering hole at a regular time each day or week.

Watering holes are a way to fill us up for what the rest of each day brings: remote study or work, applying for unemployment or loans, crunching numbers, potentially becoming ill, homeschooling kids, keeping food in the fridge and on the table, etc.

So, here’s the question for this week:  What are your watering holes?

Some resources for you:

Yoga:  I’m doing a 30-day yoga challenge with Do Yoga With Me.  They’re offering two months free during the COVID-19 crisis.  You just sign up, don’t need to give any payment information, and then enjoy all their website offers.  Click here for the link,

Podcast: Tami Simon from Sounds True interviewed poet/author Mark Nepo.  You can listen to “Resilience in Trying Times” here.

There are so many podcasts, articles and resources out there to help just about anyone with any kind of challenge during this time.  Take advantage of them, don’t get overwhelmed…and stick to one or two as your watering holes.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW-R, April 2020

Photo credit: Phillip Cordts, Unsplash