I have this on and off love-hate relationship with social media. I think a lot of people do. I haven’t quite harnessed it’s power professionally, and personally I often find it to be a major distraction and at times – especially over the last few weeks – a source of frustration that can fuel my anger or anxiety. I’m on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and SnapChat (haven’t quite mastered SnapChat, but my daughter insisted I join – I was just happy she wanted to include me in something!). What I’m really talking about here is FaceBook.
This is what I posted on my wall a couple days after the election:
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, long before the election or even the campaigning. I have over 800 friends on here. How did that happen? Are there really 800 people in my life that I can honesty call “friend?” Of course not.
I use the term “virtual cocktail party” to describe how I position FaceBook in my life. I want it to be fun, and stimulating, and positively provocative…and add “life” to my life. I don’t want it to be stressful, or something that I have to shut down to regain my composure. And MY page is MY cocktail party, so I get to make the guest list. No, not all guests have to share my political views, what fun would that be? But I do want to surround myself with people that I feel have similar values and morals.
To be able to “listen” to my friends, the party also can’t have 800 guests. There are times when I have missed out on big news from people I really truly care about because someone I haven’t seen since the 80s was monopolizing my news feed. And my god, all those birthdays! I can’t take the pressure!
So, I’m going to start gradually editing my friends’ list. Please don’t take it personally if you don’t make the cut…I share groups with some of you and it will be much more appropriate for us to connect there; some of you I’ve seen in toand we don’t even say hello; some of you I haven’t seen since high school; some of you I honestly don’t know where you came from (friends of friends perhaps?); a couple of you I currently work with (and it was always my policy before this job not to “friend” current co-workers).
There are other social media vehicles through which we can still keep in touch. Please make sure I am following you on Instagram and Twitter. Linked In is a much better place for business connections to network with me. If you want to keep up with me, I’m also on Instagram and Twitter. And of course you can keep up on my blog The Cause Coach (on FaceBook, Twitter & Instagram). A lot of what I post on FaceBook is cross-posted on other social media. And finally, please feel free to message me here. If you are totally offended by this, please go ahead and make the decision to un-friend *me* – I won’t be offended. As I stress to my coaching clients, we always have choices…
Yes, we have choices. And just like you wouldn’t invite some people into your home, you don’t need to accept every friend request. If people are a source of negative emotions for you un-freind them! It’s okay. If they don’t like it, that’s their issue. If you’d rather not make waves, then just unfollow them, make them an “acquaintance” – FaceBook has built in a way to help us make choices. We have to make choices that create the life we want for ourselves.
The worst thing that FaceBook has done perhaps is change the definition of friend. We need real friends! People that we meet for coffee, have over for dinner, or who are a phone call away when we need support. That’s not to say those people don’t exist on FaceBook, but I’m sure there are a lot of lonely people out there that have 1000 friends. Let’s all think about being a real friend. Send a message to 5 friends and make plans. Schedule an hour of your time to be with them…really with them. See their smile widen as they know you are really listening; hear their laughter at a joke you tell; feel the warmth of their embrace. Go ahead and find the true meaning of friendship.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Philadelphia, 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.
“The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road
My father died 10 years ago – 27 years to the day that the world lost Kerouac – on October 21st. That was the beginning of my loathing October.
On October 7, 2010, my beloved Wheaton Terrier, and running buddy, Malachy, died. He wasn’t even 9-years-old.
In 2014, the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wrote this on Facebook: So it’s October and although I have felt this way for a long time, I have now earned the right to express my opinion. I HATE PINK! While the “pink ribbon campaign” certainly did something tremendous in terms of creating awareness for the importance of early detection screenings and raised a lot of money for research, the marketing of PINK, IMHO, has gone overboard. There are tons of companies out there making a lot of profit on the backs of survivors and victims. So all I ask is that before you deck yourself out in PINK as a means of “supporting” the cause, do your research and find out the *real* % of your purchase that actually helps the cause and how much is actually “supporting” the business that is selling it.
Then five days later, when I didn’t think anything else could possible make me hate October any more, my husband died by suicide.
Between anniversaries and pink ribbons, October is an emotional minefield to be navigated with graceful precision. Somehow each year I succeed. And each year I get better at it.
This year I noticed how on a really foggy October morning the bold colors still penetrate the haze, making even the dullest day bright. This year I noticed how the setting sun magnifies the foliage so sky and landscape blend into a blazing fire.
I remember looking out the window in the CCU where my father lay dying and thinking, “It’s a beautiful sunny day. And look at the magnificent colors in the leaves!” When I left the veterinarian’s office the day Malachy died, I didn’t go home. I went to Saddle River County Park where he and I ran so many miles together. I soaked up the natural beauty of the season and cherished my memories. The weekend after Chris’ funeral, my daughter and I went apple picking with some family and friends. Someone took a picture of us hugging at the top of the hill in the orchard. It now hangs in a frame on my bedroom wall. It’s a symbol to me of the continuation of life. I ran a race that weekend too. I always run races in October.
We gather with friends on crisp evenings around the fire pit on the patio. We enjoy hot apple cider and donuts. We plant mums and carve pumpkins, and the leaves in hues of oranges, yellows and browns once again cover the lawn.
The bus roared on…the continuation of life.
For me, October has become a month to mourn those lost; yet be reminded that I am a survivor. With the warmth of sunshine and vibrant fall foliage, I find something to celebrate: the lives once lived and the rest of my life full of Octobers yet to be lived.
May is mental health month, with mental heath week having just concluded on the 21st. So I want to talk about mental heath. At the end of April, in “Part 2”, I shared the story of my husband’s suicide. Part of that story is still untold. It’s what I learned about mental health. I thought it was worth sharing.
Like any survivor of suicide loss, I have replayed in my mind the weeks, months, and even years, leading up to that event, trying to figure out what went wrong, what I could have done differently, what I could have said, to prevent that tragedy.
In February, I believe in some sort of effort to make peace with the thoughts – the guilt perhaps – racing through my mind, I took an 8-hour course to become certified in mental health first aid. As I attempted to joke to a friend, “no more suicides on my watch.”
The course was offered by Vantage Health System here in Bergen County, New Jersey, as part of the Stigma Free initiative (for more information on a course in your area, go to http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/). As explained in the introduction, “most of us assume mental illness is something that only affects others and believe it won’t affect our family or friends. The truth is that mental health problems are more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer — combined!”
When we think of mental health problems we often think of conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which can be caused by genetics and biochemistry, but psychosis is far from the most common. The course explored mental health issues in five categories. In addition to psychosis, it looked at depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, and eating disorders. The causes of many of these are far more common: difficult childhood, trauma, separation and divorce, loss of a job, financial problems, death of a family member, developing a long-term illness, caring for a family member with a long-term illness, to name a few.
In the first hours of the course, I saw my husband in the symptoms and causes being discussed…difficult childhood…a more sensitive emotional nature…substance use…long-term job loss…anxiety…depression…a break up of a relationship… And as I listened to the instructor share the dos and don’ts of what to say to someone in need of mental health first aid, I couldn’t help but beat myself up realizing I had done everything wrong…and was, at times, downright insensitive.
But then something changed. I began to see myself not as a caretaker or first aider, but as someone who had been in need of mental health first aid myself. I realized that I was in no shape to administer first aid to anyone. Not long after her father’s death, my daughter said to me, “you know I always thought you were the unstable parent.” I realized there was some truth to that.
I have mentioned before that prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was experiencing what I referred to as “toxic stress.” It came on gradually beginning in 2005. I was already a full-time working mother of a pre-school child; my husband was out of work. I took on the position of CEO of a struggling, young non-profit organization in January. They were celebrating the 5th anniversary of their founding and I was the 7th CEO. Later that year my parents moved back to New Jersey. I started to realize my father was becoming frailer. In the fall, in order to improve the financial position of the organization, I had to lay off a third of the staff.
Although the organization’s financial health improved somewhat, we were running short-staffed. I was working long hours. My father’s health was deteriorating. At that time, I was grateful that my husband was out of work, spending time with our now 6 year-old daughter and keeping things running at home. Having him as a “stay-at-home dad” worked for me at that time.
My dad died in October, 2006. A year later we moved into a bigger house and moved my mom in with us. That was supposed to make things easier. My husband was supposed to go back to work. However, it became obvious that my mother’s “senior moments” were something far worse. My husband grew angry and resentful in caring for my mother and juggling a 2nd grader. I spent my days trying to manage a non-profit on the verge of bankruptcy and came home in the evenings to chaos. My husband was struggling.
After moving my mother into an assisted living facility and taking a few months off from work to regroup, I went back to work full-time, commuting everyday now into New York City. My husband continued to stay home despite my pleas for him to find a job. Within a year, my mother’s condition exceeded the level of care available at her current home and she had to be moved. Not long after that, I was called on to be guardian to my aunt – her sister – also with severe dementia. For the next year I managed their financial affairs and healthcare, called out of meetings to talk to nurses, doctors and lawyers. My dog died. Then my aunt died and then there was planning her funeral and settling of her estate. In the year that followed, my mother had to be moved twice as she spent down her life savings.
After three years at my job, a new boss decided I needed to go. It was understandable. Maybe I was too distracted. So I was out of work six weeks when my mom died. I will always appreciate the time I had with her at the end. I buried her on the first day of summer in 2012 and it seemed to bookend nicely the difficult times. I found some work to do, the bills were getting paid and I went into 2013 with a new lease on life. I was ready to live…but with that the stark differences between my husband and me became more obvious. And I also began to need his support more, only to realize he wasn’t capable of being who I needed him to be.
Once both of my parents were gone, I was without my emotional safety net and my biggest fans. While I never doubted my husband’s love for me, because of his own struggles, he lacked the capacity to love the way they loved. I also felt an enormous strain in being the sole provider for my family and having very little flexibility in terms of what I wanted to do. I went where the money was because I felt I had no choice. The last stop of my career at that point was Chief Development Officer of a big adoption agency located on the Upper East Side. The average commute was 90 minutes – one way (on a good day). And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had a very difficult boss; absent at times, micromanaging at others. It was a snowy winter and I opted to work from home against her wishes on the really bad days. I remember a phone conversation with her one day I was working from home. She was frustrated I wasn’t in the office and a miscommunication between us resulted in a document not being ready for a meeting. After I hung up the phone, I sank to the floor and sobbed.
Why am I telling you all this? Because that’s mental illness. Life is not about being positive and staying optimistic. It’s not whether you see the glass as half empty or half full; it’s how heavy the glass is and how much heavier it feels when you can’t put it down. It’s getting to the breaking point…and then being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer six weeks later. Mental illness doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you, any more so than when you catch the flu. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t get better.
At that point in my life, I couldn’t make simple decisions. I felt paralyzed. Alone. Angry. Frustrated. Hopeless. And Chris felt all those things too. But it was all I could do to support myself, so he lost the support I had provided for so many years. I had read something many years ago about marriage; how a marriage fails when both partners “go crazy” at the same time.
My mental health issues were caused by the cumulative affects of the stress of caring for my mother and aunt, loss of my parents, job losses, financial instability, and the trauma of my cancer diagnosis. I recognized that and got help. I started counseling a week after my cancer surgery. Chris refused to go for counseling and his issues were more deeply rooted in a difficult childhood and ultimately exasperated by the potential loss of the person who had kept it all together for him for over 20 years.
Thanks to two years of therapy, I no longer hold myself responsible for that. I mediate daily, and of course I run. When I got my certificate in Mental Health First Aid, I forgave myself and I forgave Chris for not being the people each of us needed in our lives at that time. My daughter told me too that she realized that “healthy” people get help like I did. One day recently when she was having a particularly stressful day she told me, “I’m going for a run.”
So go for a run. Meditate. Talk to a therapist. Call a friend. Find a coach. Realize it’s okay to ask for help.