Positive Affirmations in Our Music

Positive Affirmations in Our Music

One the the things I said I was grateful for last week was Spotify. I have always been sincerely grateful for music, as it’s made me feel alive, put a spring in my step, and helped me dance through housework. Spotify is merely a vehicle through which to conveniently appreciate music and have all our favorites a click or two away. 

Each year, by providing us with a playlist of the 100 songs we listened to most in the previous 12 months, Spotify provides us with a glimpse of where our head was that year. I’ve been getting these lists since 2016 and in analyzing the songs they contain, I’ve noticed a few things.

First there are the songs that are consistent from one year to the next. These, not surprisingly, are songs that I’ve had as top songs in my head for a time that certainly pre-dates Spotify. They’d all be considered “oldies” by anyone’s account, and they all have a way of lifting my mood. Seriously, try listening to any of these and remaining in a foul mood. 

  • Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 
  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting me) Higher & Higher 
  • You Sexy Thing 
  • I Can See Clearly Now 
  • Do You Believe in Magic 
  • Sugar, Sugar 
  • I Won’t Back Down 
  • Let Your Love Flow 
  • Come and Get Your Love
  • You Can Get It If Your Really Want

Link to complete playlist: My Top Songs of All Time. 10 songs. 30 minutes.

Then I noticed the differences in the playlists from year to year. 2016, I was still in a bit of a dark place and the in the top 10 on that list was most of the melancholy, bitter sweet sounds from Teenage Fanclub’s 2016 Release “Here” including The Darkest Part of the Night, I’m in Love, and I was Beautiful When I was Alive

There is a place for melancholy, bitter sweetness and in music we can find mediation and reflection. Music can transport us back to a time and place we want to remember, and some we’d prefer not to. We avoid those songs, don’t we? 2017 showed I was moving forward. My number one song that year was the bouncy, Strangers by Langhorne Slim, that I found about the same time I got the convertible. It’s one of the highlights of my “Cruisin’ with the Top Down” playlist. 

2018 included a lot of memories that I put on my “NJ to IL Road Trip” playlist for my drive out here. My top 3 songs that year were Everybody Loves You Now (Billy Joel), Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays), and I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston), thankfully followed by many more upbeat selections. 

It was last year that I noticed that out of 100 songs, only six were not upbeat, lively, and positive. I also noticed that was also a reflection of how I felt about my life that year. 94% of the time I was feeling upbeat, lively, and positive. Did the music create my outlook on life? Or was it my outlook on life that was creating the playlist? I guess we’ll never really know for sure.

Just in case though, back in January, I created a playlist for 2020. With the idea that they would all be positive songs. We’ve certainly needed them haven’t we? I think the music we listen to can have a huge affect on our demeanor. Best to choose something positive, right? Here’s hoping “Your Top Songs 2020” is a reflection on not such a bad year after all.

20 Things for which to be Grateful – even in 2020

20 Things for which to be Grateful – even in 2020

The holidays are going to be very different this year. That’s okay. Taking on a perspective of gratitude for all that we do have – even this year – can go a long way toward improving our mood. So here’s what I’m grateful for in no particular order.

  1. Family. While we may not be able to spend this holiday with all of them or maybe any of them, if they’re still in our lives, that’s something to be downright joyful about! Those of us who know the heartache of loss, know it’s not worth endangering the lives of our loved ones, to share a holiday meal or even a long weekend. There are 365 days before next Thanksgiving and 52 weekends. When it comes to family, I think everyday should be Thanksgiving! 
  2. Friends. Just because we haven’t seen as much of our friends over the last 8 months as we’ve wanted too, they are still there for us.  They are a phone call, a FaceTime, a text message, or a social media post away. I think one of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is that I’m no longer taking even the smallest interactions with friends for granted, and I’m making an effort to reach out as often as I can.
  3. Neighbors. With everyone working from home, I feel like I’ve gotten to know our neighbors better and I’ve seen many of us come together for one another – at a social distance and with masks of course!
  4. Health. Right now this can’t be overstated; heath is everything. If you are healthy right now, and also fortunate enough to not have any underlying conditions compromising your immune system, express gratitude for that!
  5. Adequate healthcare. Even if you’re healthy right now, not know how you will handle medical expenses should an issue arise can cause a lot of anxiety. I don’t have employer-based healthcare, and have been getting it through the Healthcare Marketplace since 2018, when the COBRA from my last job ran out. As precarious as that has felt in the past few years, it’s something and for that, I am grateful.
  6. Medical science. This is the only way out of this pandemic. The fact that two companies in the US and more globally are on the verge of having an effective vaccine so quickly is monumental. When we are back celebrating with family and friends next year, it will be because we relied on science. 
  7. Ability to exercise. Walking the dog is something I look forward to! I am thankfully every day for my ability to just get out to do that. My ability to run is the proverbial icing on the cake. This simple act of putting one foot in front of the other over the course of a few blocks or a few miles helps maintain physical heath and mental health; two things that cannot be taken for granted. Ever.
  8. Adequate nutrition and housing. We often take basic needs for granted. Most of us have a roof over our heads and food for Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. In Cook, Lake, and DuPage Counties here in Illinois, while 12% of the population lives in poverty, another 30% have household incomes below the survival rate (for my NJ friends, your numbers are very similar). Read about the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) population and see stats for your area HERE.  
  9. Internet access. One thing we learned from the pandemic was the importance of internet access because it’s what has enabled us to work from home, created a space for online learning, and has been a vehicle through which we have maintained contact with family and friends. But simply logging on was not an option for everyone and the “digital divide” came into view (review #8). You’re reading this because you have internet access.
  10. Smart phones. I couldn’t even begin to imagine WFH or online learning with everyone in the household vying for time on a shared landline – but just a short 20 years ago, for the majority of us, that would have been the case. 
  11. Zoom. Throughout this ordeal, I have often thought about how much more difficult things would be without some of the modern conveniences like the internet and cell service as I stated in #9 & 10. At least for me, Zoom was the new thing! I had video calls via zoom in the past, but had not embraced it the way I have in the past 8 months. I find it’s much easier to use than Skype and more adequate than FaceTime. 
  12. Freedom of expression. We are lucky that we pretty much have the ability to express our opinions, our passions, and who we are. While I’d like to see more people take on the responsibility that goes along with it, we still have that freedom.
  13. Activists. One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” While a good number of us voted, a much smaller group of people mobilized Get Out The Vote efforts, and created awareness for important causes. After the Women’s March almost four years ago, I wrote specifically about the efforts of thoughtful, committed women.
  14. NGOs. That is Non-Government Organizations, the organizations that help organize and fund the activists. While elected officials can dismantle important programs, it’s the NGOs that keep important efforts at the forefront. Organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, The Nature Conservancy, The ACLU, Equality Now, Rotary International, and United Way are just a few examples.
  15. Spotify. Music really has a way to brighten my mood. I have playlists called hugs and Mary Sunshine and the songs they contain give me all that and more (next week I’m going to write about the positive affirmations in the music we listen to because there is just so much more I want to say). I mention Spotify here specifically because I love that it’s an affordable, easy way to keep up on the latest music and listen to old favorite too. 
  16. Sunshine. I am so grateful for the sun whenever and where ever it makes an appearance. Sunny days this time of year are limited, so I try to not take them for granted. 
  17. Education. Even if you only graduated from high school, you have the ability every day to learn something new. See #9. My dad always said, “If you can read, you can…” followed by what ever it was I was struggling with at the time. So I’m grateful for my ability to read and therefore continue to educate myself.
  18. Motivation. It’s hard sometimes, especially these days, so when it comes I go with it and I’m grateful for it.
  19. Inspiration. There are so many inspiring people in this world. People in my neighborhood overcoming challenges, so many ordinary people throughout the world achieving greatness.
  20. Assets. We all have them. Yes, that may mean financial savings, a nest egg, or owning your own home, or having stuff. To me, assets are everything. All of the things in my “tool kit” – pretty much everything listed from 1 – 19 above. Assets are everything we collect throughout our life designed to make things easier: a network of supportive people, coping skills, talents, and abilities – and maybe a little bit of stuff

I’d like to challenge you to make your own list of 20 things. If you can do it, you are truly blessed and have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. If you can only state one thing, focus on that. Life isn’t always fair or joyful. It wasn’t meant to be. Life however can certainly be better if we remember to come at it from a place of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving.

Vernon Hills, Illinois. November 2020.
On this day

On this day

The feeling begins to emerge right after summer ends. When school resumes, not the official end to summer weeks later, long before the temperature dips and I start thinking about bringing out the sweaters, I start thinking about this day. This was the day – October 6th – that fell on a Monday that year and would forever change the course of our lives.

It’s been six years. Oddly it has never fallen on a Monday again in all that time and won’t again until 2025. Our lives are so different now, it really doesn’t matter what day it is. The cool breezes, shorter days, and expanding colors in the landscape give notice of the approaching anniversary. I can feel it engulf me without consulting a calendar. Although we are far from that house that fills our memories; that place where he left us.

Respect for his memory, the man who will always be my daughter’s father, is part of the reason I pause now as the years create even more distance between who we were and who I am now. The sadness over the loss doesn’t need an anniversary to appear as an uninvited guest. That could happen on a Thursday in the middle of a bright sunny summer day or in the middle of a winter snow storm when a deep memory is resurrected by an unexpected trigger. 

Now I wish to honor his memory, the good times we shared, and demonstrate for our daughter the meaning of the relationship I had with her Dad. That, and the fact that it just doesn’t seem right not to pause and reflect on this day. 

The first year, the first Monday in October, the day before the first anniversary I picked up my daughter at school, so “nothing would be like last year.” On Tuesday, the first anniversary, we went to the closest point we could find to his burial in the Atlantic: the shore at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Sun setting on the first year. Sandy Hook, New Jersey. October 6, 2015.

We walked on the beach and took in a breathtaking sunset over the bay. A sign? We had a somewhat somber dinner at an Italian restaurant on the boardwalk in Long Branch where we had shared a pre-race dinner together before the New Jersey Marathon the year before. 

Without a grave to visit, we continued the tradition of visiting the water on the subsequent anniversaries.  A dinner cruise on the Hudson. The Water Club on the East River. And since coming to Chicago, Lake Michigan.  Those outings became less somber. 

This year, a year when nothing is as it’s ever been, we talked about how to acknowledge the day when making plans is a little more challenging.  A walk to the lake? A drive someplace? Takeout? I still don’t know the answer. 

It may be that on this day we just quietly reflect and continue to move forward. I have often thought that a commemorative act would be better suited on the anniversary of his birth, a more life-affirming day, anyhow.

It may be that on this day, I should look for peace and let go of how it all ended…on this day.

One of my absolute favorite photos. Independence Day. July 2004. Paramus, New Jersey.
I’m worried

I’m worried

Christmas is three months away. We are finally heading into the last quarter of 2020 and I have some deep concerns about where we go from here. For perhaps the first time in my life, my superpower of being able to roll with the punches, is feeling greatly challenged by the antagonist’s evil forces.

Another day working from home. That, I don’t mind. There are valuable resources of time and money being saved by not having to commute and being able to eat lunch at home. I am no longer a working mom of a school aged-child, so there is some peace found in my current situation.

I think back to the challenges I had as a working parent – back in the days when parents went to work and children went to school. I can’t even begin to imagine where we’d be in this. Even if your child is given an opportunity to attend school in person, it’s still a challenging environment, and parents are still worried about contagion.

Although we are the lucky ones. We are healthy. So far, our families and friends have escaped the worse of the pandemic and its collateral damage. We are employed. We have roofs over our heads and the bills are getting paid. That is certainly not the case for everyone. There is also that nagging question of will it last?

Then there is the divisiveness that rules our country and has trickled down into the crevices of our small communities. Fueled in part by social media as angry white men and suburban soccer moms shout insults and death threats from the security of their keyboards.

Some question whether elected officials have our best interests in mind, whether police officers are truly committed to protecting all of our citizenry, whether our country’s president understands the constitution he swore to uphold, and whether the judiciary will side with the rule of the laws set forth by previous courts.

Some see it differently. They may feel disenfranchised; they may believe something is being taken away from them or that America took a wrong turn somewhere, and this current state is somehow on course to right that wrong. People, who it would seem, have a very narrow view of what it means to be responsible to others.

And here we all sit. Waiting for November 3 like a ticking bomb we are powerless to defuse. 

As if a global pandemic, ensuing financial downturn, and a combusting heightened intolerance for inequality wasn’t enough. On top of trying to imagine how we all come out from under this burden, we are still victims of our own lives. The day-to-day stuff we always worried about.

For me, this time of year especially, it’s some form of PTSD because of my own experiences (the anniversary of my husband’s suicide is October 6), and I know we all have our own challenges to bear, behind, and perhaps escalated by, the obvious universal social ills. From what I’ve witnessed and discussed with friends, it’s taking a huge toll on everyone’s mental health.

I don’t have a conclusion or a collection of steps we can take to feel better about any of this. This was all just an observation. I think all we can do at this moment is simply pause and acknowledge there’s a problem. Maybe next week we’ll be in the right frame of mind to talk about how we’re going to make it through what remains of the year.

Destination unknown. Vernon Hills, Illinois. September 2020.
Suicide Prevention. Right now. Is everyone’s job.

Suicide Prevention. Right now. Is everyone’s job.

Today – September 10th – was World Suicide Prevention Day. I couldn’t go to sleep tonight without saying something.

Here in the U.S. this week (September 6-12) is National Suicide Prevention Week. This is the sixth National Suicide Prevention week for which I’ve been a survivor of suicide loss; the sixth consecutive year that I have felt compelled to say something.

What I’ve had to say in the past:

I hope what the progression through the years shows is my growth as a survivor. I believe, now at this point almost six years later, that I have provided an example of our resilience as humans and that we all do have the ability to move forward.

More importantly, I hope what I have shared has been a lifeline for someone else. I hope I have raised awareness so each and every one of you knows that it can happen to someone you know. And that reality has helped you act before it was too late.

As my personal journey with suicide loss has been focused on healing and creating awareness, we still see suicide rates continuing to rise. Now, during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts fear an even greater increase in suicides (for more on this read Are We Facing a Post-COVID-19 Suicide Epidemic | Psychology Today)

According to the CDC, “the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”

While suicide statistics have only been published through 2018, the CDC study shows that 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health issues. The people most at risk are those 18-24, Latinos, Blacks, and essential workers.

“According to a Boston University School of Public Health study published last week by the JAMA Network, prevalence of depression symptoms has risen 3 times higher during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before. The 21st also takes a look at a recent piece from The Trace in July showing how in Cook County, Illinois, there has been an alarming rise in suicides in Black communities.” (The 21st Show | Illinois Public Media, 10 Sept 2020)

The bottom line is that we must lookout for our friends and family. Now. Today. We can not assume that everything will be alright. Reach out to the people you care about to see how they are.

Recognize the risks. Become familiar with the warning signs. Know what you can do to help.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wealth of information. Please read. Please share.

From CNN “World Suicide Prevention Day: Here’s how to help”:

If you live in the US and are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for free and confidential support. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For crisis support in Spanish, call 888-628-9454.TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention counseling service for the LGBTQ community, can be reached at 866-488-7386.

Crisis Text Line provides a live, trained crisis counselor via a simple text for help. The first few responses will be automated until they get a counselor on the line — which typically takes less than five minutes. If you are in the US or Canada, text 741741. If you are in the UK, text 85258 and those in Ireland can text 50808. The National Health Service also lists a variety of resources on its website.