Nollaig shona dhuit!

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Merry Christmas to you! From Ireland. For the first time since my second Christmas…1966…50 years ago…I am spending Christmas in Ireland! This trip was hatched back in July, although it’s probably been in the making all my life. Since finding my biological family over 20 years ago, I had considered the idea as “some year we should…” but other things – and people – kept me in North America and at home in New Jersey most years.

The first year without her father, my daughter and I fled to Cancun for Christmas week with  his mom. There were some redeeming attributes to that trip, for me at least, but my girl said she’d never travel with Grandma again. I honestly should have learned from the 11-day Caribbean Cruise we had taken together for Christmas 10 years earlier. The Mexico trip two years ago, while providing some escape from a holiday table with an empty chair, reminded me too much of the cruise which at times made me sadder. If anything Chris and I were always united against his mother. So a few times when she said something odd, I found myself turning to roll my eyes at someone who was no longer there.

So we were in agreement, no more trips with Grandma. And my daughter said she liked Christmas at home better anyway. Last year we made dinner reservations at The Rock Center Cafe. Essentially home. A quintessential New York City Christmas! Except that it was 70 degrees. And a city packed with people still felt a little empty.

The pros and cons of escaping for Christmas came up in a conversation in July. She admitted that “Christmas at home” didn’t necessarily mean our home, but someone’s home. Christmas was a family holiday. And that’s when she said it, “why can’t we spend Christmas in Ireland.” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and a great deal on airfare solidified the plans.

So here we are.

I have had some guilt about not including Grandma in our holidays. Then someone posted this article on FaceBook Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving. Author Michelle Steinke-Baumgard advises, “be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real.”

So I have accepted the idea that I need to deal with the holidays in a way that is most appropriate for me and my daughter. That’s my biggest responsibility. My former mother-in-law probably feels the same about spending the holidays with me. She declined my dinner invitation Thanksgiving weekend. Change is hard. Especially when it’s about people that are gone. So, so many people that have been part of my Christmases are no longer here. Even the nun that cared for me in Ireland in 1966 has been gone for years now.

It’s better though to live in the present. To feel the bagpipes outside the Church of the Sacred Heart last night when we arrived for Christmas Eve mass. To open presents with my sister’s family. I don’t feel lonely in a room full of people who love me (or a barn full of 43 cows and 5 little calves). This is 2016. We have a big family here in Ireland. And it’s nice to be home.

Shehill Holstein, Couraguneen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Christmas Day, 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 Tribute

A Tribute

This is a tribute to my Dad as given at his Funeral Service ten years ago today…October 25, 2006:

Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

My father was a thoughtful, committed citizen. Thanks to my dad, by the time I turned twelve I had stuffed more envelopes, knocked on more doors and passed out more political brochures than most people will, or would care to, in their life time.

My dad wasn’t just someone who cared, but was someone who was usually leading the charge – the ring leader of the small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. And for him, it wasn’t just about politics. Sure he served as a Republican County Committeeman, an Elector for President Nixon, a town councilman and president of the Republican Club in Franklin Lakes, but he was also a volunteer and the president of the Franklin Lakes Ambulance Corps, President of the Parish Council and PTA at Most Blessed Sacrament, and he was even my softball coach.

His life of community involvement started as a member of the Knights of Columbus and then he went on to serve his country in the Army Air Corps during World War II. While retired on Shelter Island he became an active member of the American Legion and although he said he planned to stay out of politics in retirement, he found himself leading the Shelter Island Republican Club and running my mother’s successful campaign for Tax Assessor.

As committed as my dad was to his community, he never missed an opportunity to be with his family. Some of my fondest memories are of our many vacations. He also never missed a Girl Scout Father-Daughter Square Dance. He was always in the bleachers cheering me on and he was ahead of his time – a dad, who in the 1970s arranged his work schedule so he would be waiting for me with milk and cookies after school anxious to hear about my day. I have often thought how much better the world be if every little girl had a caring father with milk and cookies waiting for her after school.

I believe my father has left a legacy in everything he has passed on to me and I, in turn, hope to pass on to my daughter. I am a Rotarian, not because he was, but because he taught me the importance of “service above self.” I am the executive director of a non-profit organization, not because he was, but because he taught me the importance of being passionate about what you believe in. I like to think that I too am a thoughtful, committed citizen – I am because he was.

My dad shared all this with me, but he also let me find my own way and my own passionate causes. He always was there to support me, even if he didn’t agree with me. I will remember that and hopefully be able to do the same.

img_5289Palisades Interstate Park, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. October 2016.

October

October

“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.

img_2426
Ramsey, New Jersey. October 2015.