may i be blessed, may i feel safe (thoughts for 2017)

I’ve written about positivity before.

I’ve written about positivity lot, actually. A quick search of this blog for the topic brings up about twenty entries in one form or another, from the happiness project I did last year (to moderate success?) to assorted musings on self-care, acting with kindness, self-care, making transitions–etc, etc, etc.

Being positive doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always been something that I’ve had to work at–left to its own devices, my brain trends towards assuming the worst possible outcome in any given situation, or to self-deprecation, or to all sorts of other unpleasant things that I’ll skip over here for the sake of space, time, and a lack of trigger warnings. The point being, positivity, to me, is work.

(Sometimes, because humor is my very favorite coping mechanism, I make a game out of it. Which mental illness is acting up today? Anxiety? Depression? Some super-fun combination of both? Whee!)

(My husband does not find this game as amusing as I do.)

But I like to work at it, because honestly, the alternative sucks. My dad likes to say I’m an idealist, which is a nice way to phrase it, but I think it’s more that if I don’t work at it, then there I am, just kind of sitting in this swirling pool of negativity that might start out as a reflection of reality but will, thanks to my brain chemistry, very quickly devolve into something much darker.

So we work on positivity instead.

You may have noticed that we started a new year recently–2017, woo! (And none for 2016, you absolute shitshow, oh my god.) Last year, I spent some time setting actual resolutions, which I never do, and for a pretty good reason: they stress me out, and then I get overwhelmed when I don’t keep them. Amazingly enough, I managed to not get super anxious about not keeping all of the resolutions I set last year–and I actually probably ended up keeping about half of them in one way or another. Which, for me, is pretty good.

But it’s a new year. And it’s going to be a rough one.

We’re coming into a new political administration in the US, one that’s heightening anxiety for just about everyone I know. It doesn’t feel like a safe time to be a queer person, a Jewish person, a woman, a disabled person. I have the benefit of being white and financially stable, but so many people don’t. My sense of safety is shaken.

It’s hard to think about positivity right now–and even harder to think honestly about self-care when it kind of seems like the world is collapsing around us.

At a recent retreat for work, I participated in a meditation based around Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing. In Jewish communities, this blessing is recited on a number of holy days, as well as on Shabbat, when parents recite it over their children. The prayer goes as follows:

May the Eternal bless you and keep you
May the Eternal’s light shine upon you, and may the Eternal be gracious to you
May the Eternal’s presence be with you, and give you peace.

As we sat together, we focused on the sensations of feeling blessed, and feeling kept. They were warm feelings, I thought: warm like climbing into bed after a long day, warm like an embrace, warm like a guiding hand. And they were cool, too: cool like the dip of your toes into the ocean on the first day of summer, cool like the breeze that comes after a rainstorm, cool like fresh, clean sheets. Focusing on those sensations, we repeated the phrases: May I feel blessed. May I feel safe. 

Tonight I lit Shabbat candles while my social media feeds exploded about Donald Trump’s inauguration. I kept my notifications off.

My blessing practice for this terrifying new world is to surround myself with a resistance that is working to keep justice and safety alive. I’m going to begin with a march for women, alongside some of my closest family members and most loving role models. People who make me feel held, and kept, and safe. I’m going to wrap myself in sensations of warmth. Of coolness. Of calm.

I don’t know if this will be a year of positivity. That might be too much to ask. But it can be a year of practicing blessing.

A year of repeating:

May I be blessed. May I feel safe.

 

10 things a year as a therapist taught me about life, work & growth

As of 6pm on Friday, I am no longer a therapist.

It’s a strange, bittersweet feeling. For over a year, being a therapist was more than just a job–it was part of my identity. Work didn’t get to stay at work; it was part of my life in a deeply profound way. My co-workers became my supporters in ways that were unlike anything I’d experienced at any other job; the concept of a “mental health day” took on an entirely new meaning, being present in my work became more important than ever.

Looking back on the past year, it’s hard to pick out the things that I learned from being a therapist as opposed to things I learned simply by getting another year older (and maybe a few months wiser). But that, I suppose, is why self-reflection has become such an important part of my growth process. I’ve written before about journaling and how daily reflective practice has changed the way I spend my time, but it really has made a huge difference–not just in my ability to look back at moments of gratitude, but to watch myself experience learning and growth. It’s also allowed me to read old entries and see the places where I learned hard lessons and received some painful reminders of my own limitations–limitations that, thanks in part to that active self-reflection, I was sometimes able to turn into strengths.

But not without challenges, and not without luck, and not without help.

For better or worse, I’m a lists person, and I do my best memory collection through organization. So, here we are:

10 Things a Year as a Therapist Taught Me about Life, Work & Growth

Continue reading

#readingwednesday: walking in circles before lying down

117370

So, something that a lot of people know about me is that I am a huge dork about dogs. I mean, I love my own dog, because she is great, but I love dogs in general. I’m that person who will interrupt a conversation to point out a dog walking across the street while I’m driving. I will make faces at dogs out the window of a restaurant. I will cry at dog videos.

In conclusion: dogs, man.

I think that it’s pretty common of dog owners to talk to their dogs. Maybe cat people do this, too, but my experience with cats is that they’re not quite as expressive as dogs when you’re talking to them. Dogs, on the other hand, are super expressive. They twitch their ears, they raise their eyebrows, they just have all sorts of feelings about what you’re saying. And they’re always ready to party, even if you’re just like, “hey, remember pizza?”

IMG_2607

In this picture, I’m offering her an ice cube. She’s stoked.

But I think we’d all like to know what our dogs would say back to us, if we could understand them in a Dr. Doolittle twist of fate. And I think that’s what first drew me to Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. 

This novel by Merrill Markoe doesn’t claim to be fancy or literary, and I didn’t really need it to be when I picked it up this past summer, or when I curled up with it today after a particularly crappy day of work. The book tells the story of Dawn Tarnauer, a down-on-her-luck Californian in her mid-thirties who’s been unlucky in love, family, and career, but very lucky in canine affection. After a rough breakup with her boyfriend, Dawn realizes that her dog, Chuck, has stopped just looking at her, and has started to talk.

Look, guys, I’m gonna be honest. Walking in Circles Before Lying Down is pretty ridiculous rom-com of a novel, and pretty much everyone in it (dogs included) is dysfunctional and a little silly. But this book is a fun, playful read. It’s a lovely little pick-me-up for dogs and people alike, and I had a lot of fun reading some of the bits out loud to Sammi. She was pretty intrigued by the dog voices. You’ll have to take my word for it, since I couldn’t take any pictures due to her attempting to climb onto my lap.

IMG_2957

There is no personal space. There is only dog.

 

Sometimes, you just need to read a book that’s fun and silly. Sometimes you’ve got to take off your “grown-up reader” hat and just pull something off your shelf that’s going to make you chuckle, even if it’s a story about the sort of dysfunctional family that would make you smack your head into a wall if they came into your office (womp womp). Sometimes, you need to curl up on the couch with your dog, and read a book about a depressed girl in a tiring job who really just loves her dog, and who finds out just how much her dog loves her back.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to throw the ball, and look at that face.

IMG_2614

 

#readingwednesday: spindle’s end

 

0399234667

Some weeks, you have more than enough physical, emotional, and mental energy to pick up a new book and start at page one. Other weeks, you need the literary equivalent of a warm, cozy hug.

Guess what kind of week I’m having?

Spindle’s End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and has been one of my absolute favorite books since high school–so much of a favorite, in fact, that I actually, totally accidentally, stole a copy from my high school library. Sorry, school! (I sent them a new copy a few years ago with an apology note. Hopefully I’ve been forgiven, and the late fees aren’t still adding up. Eek.) Unlike the Disney cartoon, Spindle’s End works hard to create a genuine world of magic and politics, and a full cast of wonderful, lovable characters with flaws and growth.

But what really keeps bringing me back to Spindle’s End again and again is the wonderful female friendships that make up the core of the story. The book is really about female strength–not just “strong female characters” (the hatred I have for that phrase, guys, seriously) but female characters who are allowed to be feminine and androgynous, rambunctious and calm, family-focused and independent, and sometimes all of those things at once.

At the end of the day, it’s a story about the power of love and friendship conquering evil. How much more of a literary hug can you get?