Thankful for simple things

Thankful for simple things

When I was a kid, my parents owned a restaurant that was open on Thanksgiving. So my earliest memories of the holiday were sitting in the corner of a very busy restaurant trying to stay out of the way. Once I learned to count I was given a job. Since I guess no restaurant owner wants to be stuck with a whole bunch of drumsticks at the end of the night, they offered an incentive: the waitress who sold the most received some sort of worthwhile prize (I don’t recall what it was). It became my job to keep the tally. I remembered those Thanksgivings as a lot of fun. The restaurant staff was our extended family and it seemed we were all happy to be together even if it was spent serving other families.

I guess because those early Thanksgivings were a departure from what most might consider “traditional” I never felt completely obligated to honor a tradition and therefore that became the one holiday I would often spend with friends rather than family as I got older. In college my childhood friend and I drove to South Carolina for the long weekend one year; another year I went with a dear friend to visit with her family in West Virginia. When I was first married and also launching my career, we would look to spend the long weekend keeping to ourselves decompressing, sometimes away, sometimes just hibernating.

Of course now I long for an opportunity to spend a Thanksgiving around my parents dining room table. I remember succumbing to the big family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2000 – my daughter’s first. We went to a restaurant – all of us – my parents, my aunt and uncle, my in-laws – and that was the last time everyone was together. The years that followed are a bunch of blurs. Time passed too quickly, and there were no real traditions to hold on to.

Holidays since my husband’s death have been hard to say the least, but maybe not having traditions that would further highlight the emptiness is something I am thankful for. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday we had to tackle after he died falling just six weeks later. My daughter and I went to the Macy’s Parade in New York. Something we had never done before. We had brunch in the city and called it a day. We survived. Last year I neglected to make plans. I learned that “winging it” is a recipe for disaster. I stooped to an all-time Thanksgiving low and got dinner at the McDonald’s drive-thru when there was no place open that didn’t require a reservation. This year I vowed things would be different.

Checking in on FaceBook after my Big Mac last year, I saw I wasn’t the only one without plans. So this year I invited those friends to spend Thanksgiving at my house. For the first time in 16 years, I was going to be at a table set for eight! Thanksgiving – the original Thanksgiving – was about friendship and community. And that’s what we represented.

The only problem was my daughter decided to go to a friend’s house. She didn’t want to spend the holiday with my friends who she didn’t know well. I was disappointed to say the least. Here I was trying to create a holiday celebration that would make her feel part of something, and was left feeling like I alienated her in the process

But you know, it all turned out fine. I ran a race first thing in the morning — a fairly new tradition where I attempt to start the day with a calorie deficit. Came home, started cooking and cleaning and then she was off; had Thanksgiving at her friend’s crowded house, filled with lots of other kids her age. I had a nice time with my friends. The meal turned out nice, and I think everyone was glad to be together.

“Black Friday” was a mother-daughter day that involved shopping for some new decorations and Christmas themed scented candles and decorating the house for the next holiday. She was uncharacteristically enthusiastic and helpful. For this, I am most thankful. What took me several days last year, was completed and looked better than ever in one short afternoon. I am thankful for team work, a clean house all decorated for Christmas, and for each and every minute spent with my daughter – on holidays and every simple day in between.

img_5384Thanksgiving Table at my house. November 2016.

Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

NOTE: This is addressing Hillary Clinton supporters who are feeling really stressed out right now – maybe even depressed. If you voted for someone else or simply don’t care about the results of the election or think we can just “move on”, please stop reading right here. And if you don’t, please refrain from making some insensitive comment about us being sore losers, or the protests against the president-elect being “the result of giving every child a trophy.” If you choose not to follow this blog any longer, so be it. I’ve completely lost respect for you anyway.

I’ve addressed mental health in this blog numerous times. We need to again. According to data released by the American Psychological Association in October, 52 percent of Americans say the election was a significant source of stress in their lives.  Actor Robert De Niro compared his post-election mood to feeling like he did after 9-11.  The number of articles published about the subject of stress, anxiety and depression surrounding this election – dating as far back as March – are astounding (see additional links for a sampling of those at the bottom of this post).

“But 2016 is something else. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, aspires to implement policies far more extreme than the ordinary candidate’s. He talks of launching a trade war with China, deporting millions of immigrants, and enacting a total ban on Muslim immigration. Either through sky-high prices or constrained religious rights, his plans would dramatically alter the lives of far more Americans—in a far more sweeping way—than the proposals of Clinton, Obama, Romney, or McCain.”

How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election  – Robinson Meyer, THE ATLANTIC, May 24, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

I let my daughter stay home from school the day after the election. She said she didn’t want to face the kids who supported (that other candidate). Yes, I allowed her to stay home. I made the most appropriate decision for my child. At the extreme, I didn’t want her to have a fight at school. But mostly, I didn’t want to force a kid already dealing with normal teenage anxiety, and some of the other stressors associated with everything we’ve been through, to take on anymore.

“Even before the votes were counted on Tuesday night, phone calls were pouring into suicide hotlines across the US in record numbers. Americans, including those in the LGBTQ community, were looking for help coping with feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and a sense of betrayal.”

Suicide hotlines receive record number of calls after the election – Rachel Becker, THE VERGE, Nov 11, 2016. Read the full article here.

I left work early that day. Even my boss admitted it was hard to focus. My daughter told me about a protest in New York City and asked if we could go. At first I said it was pointless. But as I typed out my reply to her text…you protest policies that need to change or in support of something that will make for the kind of world you want live in…I realized that’s exactly why we needed to go. We needed to voice our concern and show the president-elect that we would not tolerate what we heard and saw from his campaign. This wasn’t about being a sore-loser. I learned how to handle losing in elections and in sporting events 40 years ago.

“This isn’t about party or losing an election. I had respect for George W Bush even though I disagreed with him, and he never scared me as a person. His actions scared me for our planet at times, but never was I vomiting out of personal fear of him. I can’t think of another politician who has evoked such an immediate, visceral reaction so consistently.

“It’s about kicking women in the guts, electing a man we know is a dangerous, unstable predator. This is a man who has nothing but contempt for human life.”

American Women Are Suffering from Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sarah Jones, POLITICUS, Nov 10, 2016. Read the full article here.

We met up with a group at Columbus Circle at the south-west corner of Central Park. There were signs and chants and music. It felt good to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We then began to march down Broadway. We chanted. Donald Trump has got to go; Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay. We were a parade and the spectators cheered. What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like! The police support was amazing. They stopped traffic, closed streets and saw to it that we were safe. Black Lives Matter. A guy next to me expressed hope that the police would be this supportive when the new administration encouraged the increased use of “stop and frisk.” My Body! My Choice! I walked in solidarity with my daughter. For the first time in all her teenage years she wasn’t embarrassed by me. She chanted louder. Not my president! Restaurant workers came out onto the streets to cheer. We got high fives from cab drivers. Our fellow New Yorkers. And I realized that is why we were there. We needed them to know we had their back. There were plenty of Americans that cared about the rights of others.

“Republicans contribute significantly to the breaking of the system, and then they thunder to the country that the system is broken. They refuse to govern, and then they denounce government. They seem to confuse governing with having their way. And more to the point, how does this vast alienation from Washington excuse this vast contempt for whole groups and races and genders?”

Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America. – Leon Wieseltier THE WASHINGTON POST, Nov 11, 2017. Read the full article here.

It felt good. I was glad we went. Even when I got home and saw the FaceBook posts – a friend who was inconvenienced by the gridlock in the city; others who simply thought of protesters as sore losers. My daughter said she felt better – and that she realized it was so much healthier to shout for the sake of shouting than shouting at someone! – an important lesson in anger management.

We did something. Doing something – being something – helps. It helps change perspectives. It helps keep you focused on what’s important to you.

“Continue to take actions that are in line with your values,” says Keenan-Miller. She advises those who are feeling helpless to focus on a couple of issues they’re passionate about. “Ask yourself, can you be a better advocate to that community in your daily actions?” Think about how much you’re doing in your everyday life to promote things you care about. “Can you turn up the volume on that?” she says. Clark agrees: “Turn your anger and fear into productive action.”

5 Ways to Recover From the Post-Election Blues – Elizabeth Varnell, VOGUE, Nov 9, 2016. Read the full article here.

As a coach I talk to my clients about their values and how they can live the most fulfilling life possible by honoring those values. Young people voted overwhelming against what they heard from the Republican candidate, and now they’re angry; not because we gave them trophies, but because we taught them that bigotry and hate are wrong. We taught them about inclusiveness, and to not tolerate bullies. And in this election, we let them down. They feel their values have been trampled.

I see it in my coaching clients, they feel stress when their values and ideology are crushed. This is what we are feeling. At first we needed to mourn the loss, but with the transition and cabinet nominations, we continue to feel our values being torn to shreds…even if we don’t personally fear losing our rights.

We need to continue to honor our values. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. We have to make donations, protest, sign petitions, call our representatives, and stand up when we see discrimination. And while we’re doing all that, we also need to practice self-care. We need to run and meditate and see our therapist or work with a coach; get a massage and enjoy a walk in the woods or along the beach.

What we can’t do is stop caring. So, no, I’m not going to accept the new administration. I am not going to “join together” in support of him. Doing so wouldn’t honor my values and would be way more stressful. I am going to stand and fight. And I’m going to continue to be an advocate for mental health and Stigma Free. We have come a long way in so many areas – including mental heath – and we can’t go backwards.

More Articles on the Election and Mental Health:

Stressed Out By This Crazy Election? Here’s What To Do About It – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, March 4, 2016

Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump – Michelle Goldberg, SLATE, September 23, 2016

Here’s How To Manage Your Overwhelming Election Stress – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, Oct. 13, 2016

Talking to Your Therapist About Election Anxiety – Lesley Aldermanoct, NEW YORK TIMES, Oct. 20, 2016

What Women Are Telling their Therapists About Election Stress – Alexandra Sifferlin TIME, Nov. 1, 2016

Election anxiety is real. Many Americans report “significant stress” due to 2016 – Brian Resnick, VOX Nov 7, 2016

Post-Election Depression: How to Cope – Charlotte Libov, NEWSMAX, Nov 9, 2016

Election got you feeling down? Good news: It isn’t just you – Maimuna Majumder, WIRED, Nov 11, 2016.

img_5362Collection created by pinning on a race bib at close to 250 road races in the last 20+ years.

A Request

A Request

I have procrastinated writing this blog in what was a busy and emotional week. On Sunday I volunteered at the New York City Marathon with members of my running club. Tuesday I voted. Wednesday I protested (more on that in my next post and please read that before expressing an opinion on why you think anyone should or shouldn’t be protesting). Last night I went to a fundraising gala in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County. Which brings me to today. Veterans Day. So rather than reflecting on the results of the presidential election, the theme that has emerged is SERVICE.

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”

–  President George H. W. Bush, 1989 inaugural address

Giving of ourselves. Making an effort to help others. Advocating – and voting – for the world in which we want to live makes the world a better place and enriches our lives tremendously. My father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. My late husband served in the Navy during the Beirut Conflict. Some form of service – to our county and to our community – is a necessary aspect of our lives as Americans. Not everyone does it. But everyone should.

People rely on others to be the active community investors. And thankfully there will always be those busy people who are willing to take on one more job, serve on one more non-profit board, coach one more team, and knock on one more door. But each and every one of us has a responsibility to be involved. We all have to stop assuming someone else will do it.

So here is my request…honor a veteran today by signing up to volunteer. And make a commitment to volunteering next week and next month and next year. Find a non-profit organization whose mission is meaningful to you; find a community organization that makes things better for your neighbors in need; run for public office; look to see what’s missing or needs to be fixed and be the answer. Stop waiting for someone else. And stop complaining about the results of other people’s volunteer service if you’re not serving yourself.

img_5323Sunrise on the Mile 21 Water Stop in Harlem. New York City Marathon. November 2016.

I’ve been silent too long

I’ve been silent too long

I’m going to do something I said I wasn’t going to do and discuss politics on this blog. Well, not politics per se, but the presidential election, simple because I feel there is more here than just traditional politics as usual – that is, the usual differences of opinions about what is the right way to govern that are at the heart of our democracy. It’s November 1st. The election is just a week away and I can’t remain silent on this blog any longer.

I grew up in a politically-active family. My father considered himself a patriot. He was an elected official and a staunch Republican. He had a picture of Richard Nixon hanging on his wall until the day he died. His father-in-law never understood why he didn’t support Kennedy. Didn’t all the Irish-Catholics support Kennedy? Was there anything more you needed to know about Kennedy? But my dad had his convictions of what was right and I always respected him for that. He had me agreeing with him until my 20s, when I began to find my own way. When my dad and I began to disagreed on issues we still respected one another for the fact that we cared. To him apathy was a far greater flaw. We were able to engage in healthy debates.

If my father was still alive today, I’d like to think he would finally feel the need to break with the Republican Party. If he didn’t, he would be on the receiving end of MY “I’m so disappointed in you lecture.” Disappointing my dad was, for me, the greatest sin of all. My father could be mad at me – screaming and yelling even – for a whole host of wrong doings, but nothing hit me harder than the simple statement, “I’m so disappointed in you.” That would break my heart. My dad meant the world to me and did so much for me that I just didn’t feel he ever deserved to be disappointed. Now as a parent myself, I have come to understand that parents don’t want to disappoint their children either. This year, if he chose to support the Republican nominee for President, I would be immensely disappointed in him – as I am in all of my friends that express support for that man.

If this was simply about being on different sides of an issue, I could understand why Hillary Clinton may not get your vote. I can appreciate and respect that we have different viewpoints and come at the issues from varying perspectives. This election however is not about the issues – it’s about honoring the values we share as Americans. We are a nation of immigrants that have been fighting for equality for religions, ethnicities, races, and genders throughout our 240-year history. The GOP’s nominee began his campaign saying, “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems [to] us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

That was just the beginning. The New York Times has a list: 279 People, Places and Things [the Republican Nominee] has insulted on Twitter. I ask you, is this what we want from a President? I got reprimanded in a FaceBook mom’s group for calling those supporting him “crazies.” My response was that we should be teaching our children that the hate, racism, sexism and xenophobia exhibited by the Republican nominee and many of his supporters is “crazy” and that we, as Americans – frankly just as decent human beings – are better than that.

Share Everything.

Don’t hit people.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt people.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

– Robert Fulgham, All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten

I was told that not all of his supports are racist (although I never called them anything more than “crazy”), like all Muslims weren’t terrorists, Mexicans weren’t all rapists, and the Irish (I guess this was supposed to resonate with me?) weren’t all drunks. Of course they aren’t, but when you support a candidate for President that spews so much hatred, you have to ask yourself, “Were there good Nazis?” Is it not our duty to stand up for what is fundamentally wrong? By speaking up, I am honoring my values around respect and fundamental human decency. And maybe more importantly, being a person that my daughter can look at with pride.

As I said, I was initially going to keep politics out of this blog. The tipping point was the Access Hollywood tape. If any good comes from his candidacy it’s that it opened up a dialogue; gave us – women – the opportunity to have a conversation with our daughters, our partners, and even our fathers about our experience as women. This is where I know I would have finally been persuasive. My father treated women with respect. My mother was an equal partner in their business and their life since the 1940s. My father encouraged me in sports, in school, and in business to be the best that I could be and never allowed me to even think for a moment I was inferior to a boy. Maybe that’s why I did so well deflecting the snide remarks, criticism, and harassment from males at school, on the street, in the workplace, and in my own marriage.

Maybe I can even dream and think that maybe, just maybe, my father would share my excitement for a Woman President. No, Hillary Clinton is not perfect. No President has ever been. I think it’s interesting how someone with her resume could be considered by anyone as less than an ideal candidate. She is not “the lesser of two evils.” She is smart, strong, and immensely qualified.

img_5277Philadelphia, PA. October, 2016. Student Union at La Salle University, where as a college student I sat behind a table with a banner for “Students for Reagan-Bush ’84.” Change is good.