But I’m not Ready! Shedding Our Masks and Maintaining Change as We Return to Work, School, and Those All-Important Social Connections

A COVID perspective, 2021

I’ve been watching the news and kind of keeping up on vaccination rates.

It seems like just about everybody who wants a vaccine and is ready to get it, has one. Those who don’t are either hesitating due to a fear they may have, do not want to get it, or just haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

But they are available, for those who want one, from what I can see.

I’m referring to the COVID vaccines, of course.

As a mental health therapist, I talk with people about what’s bugging them, what’s going well, and we work together to come up with ideas about how to help things they’d like to be different go a little more smoothly, and things that are going well to help stay that way or get better.

The primary groups of people I work with are teens, parents of teens, and people who may be struggling with life transitions or working to have fewer symptoms from depression, anxiety, or ADHD.

I also really like to notice random things people say, and tend to talk to people I see either at the grocery, while waiting in line for an appointment, or to the person sitting next to me at Pilates class.

A year ago, we were (sort of) getting used to wearing masks. It was right about this time that I purchased 5 from a local retailer, in some colors I wear, to coordinate with my outfits.

I wear glasses if I want to see well or read, so I began commiserating with other people who wear glasses that I saw around me.

‘Have you figured out how to wear a mask without fogging up your glasses?’ I might ask, as my glasses fogged from breathing into my mask, and I noticed someone else’s were also fogging, but less so.

‘My husband can’t wear that kind of mask with glasses either. He has to wear the kind that comes up on your nose’, I remember a kind soul telling me during one such experience.

I noticed that some faces tend to pull the mask down below a person’s nose as they speak, and some people have voices that come through the mask clear as a bell, while other people seem to experience a very much muted effect once the mask covers their mouth.

I recently read back over a couple of articles I wrote in March and May 2020, wondering what kind of differences this mandated isolation may cause for people. How our work habits might change, and how kids doing fewer activities might change family dynamics.

I met with someone earlier in the week, and we have been meeting in person since late fall. She was the second person this week who mentioned wearing lipstick ‘again’, and now transitioning to caring about the bottom of her face when she is out where other people can see her.

I had a teen that I meet with discuss that a downside of wearing masks is the acne it causes underneath the mask, and the upside is that the mask will then cover the acne so people do not see it.

Now that schools are beginning to open up (depending on your area, of course), and sports are having fans again, some of our old habits may come back, or may be altered.

How do we transition from working from home without commutes?

One thing I’ve noticed, as a social person, is the camraderie I feel with other people who are also social who have had a hard time with the lack of social interactions in the last year.

At Starbucks, where I continue to frequent, I have gone inside a few times, and even sat outside at a table for a moment taking a break from working or while talking with co-workers.

I saw someone sitting at a table I hadn’t noticed was there, and we spoke briefly about the benefits of being able to do some work at a coffee shop, and particularly the benefits of that somewhat hidden table where he sat.

I hesitate before I walk into stores or buildings, as the Texas rule is that a business may decide whether or not someone needs to wear mask inside. As I do that, I have had a couple of other people hesitate with me as we look at each other and either put on a mask, or continue inside with the mask at the ready in our hands.

Someone asked me yesterday what I was reading, as I walked outside for a brief break from work. We talked about the book, titled ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, and she wrote it down to help her remember to read it.

One goal I have, as an almost 2 year resident of the state (or country, as I like to call it) of Texas is to increase my in person social connections. I attended church last weekend, and was approached by a few people to welcome me.

I mentioned that I was new-ish to the area, and that this is the type of church I was brought up in. For those wondering, I was brought up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I spent a lot of time there, and feel comfortable attending the service even when I didn’t know anyone.

A woman approached me, and shook my hand. I was startled, but shook it back, and introduced myself to her. Her name is Abbie, and she also introduced me to another new friend, Stacy. We spoke for a few minutes, then dispersed to other activities of the day. We briefly talked about being glad that we were given the option, if comfortable, to attend the service without a mask.

I could smile at them, and they smiled back.

A social connection, even if just for the moment.

I’ll be really interested to hear, sociologically, how this generation of kids, 20 somethings, and middle age adults are affected by this last year of health concerns and social isolation.

in 2008-2009, we had recession that affected a lot of industries and people. Going back a little farther, in 2001, there was an attack on multiple sites in America that we frequently refer to as 9-11.

My own children, being in there almost mid-twenties, have now lived through a major life event at around the age of 3, a recession that affected both of their parents’ incomes during 2008-2009, and now a pandemic that prevented them from having an in-person graduation from college.

When I called my son early last May, I asked him if he was celebrating graduating and getting ready to move onto his next steps.

‘Feels more like a funeral’ he said, matter of factly. He and his brother walked around campus and took some amazing pictures, that included very few people.

As I watch my friends’ kids go through their own college graduation ceremony this year, I have some conflicting thoughts.

I see the proud smiles on the parents’ faces, the giant gowns the graduates wear with mortar boards and tassels, and think ‘my kids didn’t do that. My kids shared a graduation gown that their friend bought, and took turns taking each other’s pictures’. My son’s girlfriend was a great help in getting those pictures taken, and appeared in a few.

I asked her this year, as I was able to be with all three of them for what would have been the weekend of their college graduations, if she wanted to take a picture in a graduation gown. She said, quickly-

‘That depends. Could I wear one in a color I like??’

I appreciated her candor, and couldn’t help but remember the downsides from my own in-person graduation from Indiana University. My husband and I sat by each other-and commiserated. We would marry just over a year later.

It was hot, it was too crowded for all of the proud parents and grandparents who attended, and I couldn’t understand what was being said due to the echo in the football stadium at Indiana University that day in May, 1993.

The person who stated to me, earlier in the week, that she wasn’t ready to wear makeup like lipstick regularly, and wanted a little more warning that we are coming out of the pandemic, really stuck with me.

How are you, as a person who was affected in some way by the past year’s change in pace, preparing for upcomg changes as some things go back to in-person, and some things remain remote?

How are you maintaining your peace, and social connections, as you may have to return to your office for a set number of days?

What are you going to continue to do, that you’ve enjoyed doing for the past year, that you didn’t make time for before March of 2020?

I hope you find a way to ride your bike if you like to do that.

I hope you continue with your mental health therapy if that has been helpful to you. I also hope you continue to allow your child, who may participate in a lot of activities and have a lot of success, but also be anxious, depressed, or have an ADHD brain, to continue with their mental health therapy.

I’m really glad I don’t have to wear a mask as often anymore, at least for the moment. I really like to wear my very large glasses that help me see from different focal points, and they just aren’t as fun when I am coordinating them with a mask.

Mental Health: Everyone Makes Mistakes, Anxiety and ADHD

Remember the song from Sesame Street? (you may want to ask a parent if you are under 40)

“Everyone makes mistakes oh yes, they do…..

Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too…

big people

small people

matter of fact, ALL People…”

well, you get the idea.

We all have a tendency to make mistakes. What we don’t all have the tendency to do, is to be aware of how to be tolerant of others when they make mistakes. Even more importantly, we have to learn to be tolerant of ourselves when WE make mistakes.

Maybe the song should have gone something like this:

“Please remember this when you type on your social media page

Or yell at your spouse

or your child

or….yourself”

I write a lot about leadership and how important it is to foster a trusting relationship. I write about encouraging questions and an environment of learning.

What I haven’t written as much about is how to be OK with our own errors, and to work through those anxious feelings when mistakes happen. For adults with ADHD tendencies, or diagnosed ADHD, those learned behaviors of feeling anxious about behaviors and actions can result in a whole lot of anxiety.

Ever think back on a social event and think ‘why did I say that?? I probably shouldn’t have. I wish I could go back in time and not say it’.

This rumination, or thinking about the same thing over and over again, is a huge part of attention differences. Anxiety co-occurs with ADHD with a really high frequency, and can have a real negative affect on social relationships, sleep, and our own self-talk and self-care.

I’m really fascinated by the ADHD brain.

The ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) brain is different from brains which may be more neurotypical.

ADHD isn’t really about not being able to pay attention.

It is a different wiring of the brain, which can be either over or under-stimulated.

Let’s take an example of someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

That person may be able to focus intently on a specific task at times (referred to as hyperfocusing), and struggle to give attention to something they need to focus on at others.

As a parent to a child with those behaviors, it may seem that the child focuses on what they like, or what they want to, but not on what they need to focus on, such as completing chores or schoolwork.

The parent may then experience frustration and express that to their child in a negative way, perhaps by using a loud voice.

The child may then become anxious and worried about forgetting tasks, which creates a cycle of lower success.

Here are a few things that can help a child who has an ADHD brain to have more success:

Provide structure. Have a routine of tasks that need to be completed. The child then has more predictability and may know ‘OK, after dinner I do my homework. After homework I take my bath and get ready for bed’

Another idea is to break tasks into smaller chunks instead of listing everything out at once. A child who hears ‘Take your shoes upstairs, then put these clean clothes away, then I need you to come back down to finish your homework’ may take their clothes upstairs, notice they left out their game from earlier, and begin playing it.

The caregiver may then become upset with the child for not listening, and the child may become more and more anxious as the parent gives them a list of tasks because of their fear of forgetting.

The ADHD brain fires differently, and as with all things, we are still learning about how this works.

I encourage you, as an adult reading this article who may have a brain with ADHD or attention differences, to continue to educate yourself about how your brain may work differently than someone who does not have attention differences.

I encourage you, as a parent who may be reading this who experiences frustration, to give your child structure and provide small chunks of instructions instead of lists of them. To say ‘I need you to go upstairs and do 2 things. Take your shoes up and put your clothes away.’

You have then told the child how many things to do (2), and what those two things are. The child has a better chance of remembering to complete them because they may have focused on the number of things to do, or they may have focused what their tasks are. Having listed both the number of items and the tasks help to increase their chances of completing the requested tasks.

I then encourage you to monitor your child for success. Encourage them to recognize that they did complete a task, and to know you are both seeking and expecting them to have success, and that you are seeking less frustration from both of you.

As you and they continue to make mistakes, as you and they both will, remember the song I referenced at the beginning of this article. In this time of COVID, we’re learning a little more about our own tendencies and our children’s as we spend more time interacting and learning new patterns and habits.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do…..

47 Days: Changing Habits, Creating New Ones, and Social Connections. How the Protective Factor of Social Connections is Being Challenged During COVID

There’s a movie called ‘47 Days’ coming out.

It is a movie scheduled to come out in 2020 about the 47 days it takes to get a correct diagnosis for a woman who has an illness.

There’s another show, that was a television series, called ’24’.

All of the events of each season of the series occurred, in real time, in 24 hours. Jack Bauer was a main character, for those of you who remember the show.

Some episodes showed what was happening from one person’s perspective, and the perspectives would swap back and forth from one characters to another’s to help demonstrate the story, but the clock kept ticking to demonstrate the passage of time.

This social isolation, and change to our habits as we know them, have been ongoing now since Mid-March, 2020. In fact, when I first wrote about how the pandemic has been affecting our lives, I made several comments about March Madness (The NCAA Basketball Tournament), which was scheduled to happen the very next weekend.

In the last few days, as I continue to connect with some friends and family throughout this time of COVID, I have noticed that people have started mentioning where we are at in the timeline of our changes to our daily patterns and routines.

Like the tv series ‘24’, with the ticking clock showing where we are in the span of the 24 hours each season encompassed,

Or the movie ‘47 Days’, which I have not seen but have heard about, which is titled to reflect an amount of time that a diagnosis can take to occur for a health condition.

A friend of mine, with multiple children age 12 and under, texted me back this week when I asked her a couple of questions.

She responded that for ’47 days’, they have been in their house, with both parents attempting to work productively, care for their 3 children, and cook, clean, and take care of all other tasks.

She answered my question, and was able to provide me the help that I was looking for. In her answer, I could both hear and sense her frustration and fatigue about parenting, working, and staying healthy all while being at home, which has been a major disruption to her routine.

Today, I read on social media a post from my cousin about how things have been going for her since this Social Isolation began. She discussed that she hasn’t been able to see her new grandchild except for once, is missing her family and other grandchildren, and multiple other facts specific to her as well as some things that are universal to all of us.

Her love of her family and the fact she has not been able to be physically close to them was reflected in her post. I was also able to sense that she wrote the post to help others in her same situation know that they are not alone.

This time where we work to not spread our germs to each other, so that we can survive and not overwhelm our hospitals so that we may continue to live healthily, wreaks havoc on our Social Connections.

Social connections are the connections we have in our lives which help us get through times of stress, times without stress, and times where we want to enjoy ourselves.

They are the connections we have to help us know we have support when we need it, to help us laugh at something that we find funny, and to get along with others. Our social connections are the people who pick up our kids from day care when we are running late, listen to our story about the guy who scolded us for our driving, and help us decide when it is time for a new haircut (or that letting it grow is a great idea)

The Strengthening Families Institute has identified that there are 5 Protective Factors which help us to get along in life, and to feel better about things, and to be resilient.

The factors are: Parental Resilience, Concrete Support in Times of Need, Social Connections, Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development, and Social and Emotional Competence of Children. I am a National Trainer for them, so this way of thinking is near and dear to my heart.

So here, I want to talk about how our ‘Pause’ has affected our social connections.

21 days establishes a new habit. This means, that with this social distancing and quarrantine, we have all had the chance to establish one new set of habits, which I’ll call ‘the temporary quarantine’ habits, and then to establish a new set of them, which I’ll call the ‘in for the long haul’ habits.

One thing I am wondering is how are you doing with keeping your habit of having social connections, or establishing them if you did not already them?

Many people are starting to think about what it will look like when they get out and about again. Eventually, I will have shorter hair, with a little bit of lighter roots, and I will be getting used to my sons being out of college and into their next steps.

For some, this time has been one of working a ton of hours due to their work role. People who deliver carry-out food from restaurants, people who are grocery shopping for those who are ordering their groceries, medical professionals, and many, many others have had their lives turned upside down in the way of working their jobs differently, whether that is more hours, less patients, or more serious patients when they get them.

For others, this has been a time of extreme financial hardship. Their jobs in society have been ones that may not have the capacity to pay them while their income stream is down, or they may have had to have completely changed the way that they do their job, which may be better, or it may be worse.

But for all of us, whether we generally are at home and go out as we have to, or if we run errands to get around other people and like to have our lives structured, have had to change how we get our social needs met.

Some people are FaceTiming, Some others are spending many, many hours with their kids, and some are teaching others’ kids while they raise their own.

But for all of us, our patterns have changed and that changes how we feel on a day to day basis.

I’ve written previously about the effects on our lives in dealing with and avoiding this virus a couple of times. I wrote about it when it first seemed like things would change, when things really had closed, and now, 45 days in, or 48, or whatever day into or after the pandemic it is today as you read this article.

For some, who rely on social interaction and structure, this time has been really, really isolating.

For those who love to be at home, this time has been one to reduce the number of interactions with others to a level that they are comfortable with, and a way to set boundaries about how they like to talk with friends and family members, and even which hours they like to work.

For myself, my mobility is less because I fell from a bike. I am a mover by nature, and am doing all I can to get this ankle back up and ‘running’, even though running is something I hardly ever do. I am learning to navigate getting around a little differently, so that changes my patterns and everyday connections, in addition to changing how I provide mental health therapy, which prior to now was about 90% in person and face to face, vs Telehealth through a computer screen.

I’d like to think of this time of change and evolving from a few perspectives.

1. How are you adjusting to the changes in your social connections, and how are you working to feel better than you have been during this time of change and stress?

2. What can you do, as you want to talk to others, or even listen to someone else breathe, or to get away from the people in your home, to get that need met?

3. How about those of you who really like structure and routine? When you think about how you get your own needs met, how can you do that as your routines evolve and change? A routine you may have had before the ‘Pause’, is that you woke up, got ready for your day, took the dog out, got the kids ready for school, then left for work.

You may love that routine, but then had to change it to waking up, working quietly while your kids sleep, taking the dog out when he is ready to get up, and then getting the kids up and ready to do their e-learning for school.

Any change in routine can be hard and unsettling. We use our social connections to talk about how these things can be frustrating, and to bond with those close to us about how we are working to get through times of stress.

As I finish this article, I’d like you to think about who your social connections are.

Is it your spouse? Your brother?…..Maybe a best friend from college?

Is it a work friend you no longer see in person as often, or at all?

If you can’t think of any, then I encourage you to start with finding a social connection.

Whoever it is, and however you are used to getting those social needs met, what can you do to make that a little better, and a little easier for you?

What changes to your routine in the last 40+ days would you like to see stick around? Which ones would you like to change back, or to make adjustments to?

I hope that you find something you like to look at today. I love to look at things growing, and can’t get enough of looking at a cactus I planted in early spring.

I’m also hoping to work on expanding my social connections.

Changes: Tele-everything

It’s really interesting to see how companies are changing their norms and the way they do things to adapt to the safe-at-home model.

I am wondering which of these new norms may stay in place, and which of them will go away as our risk for the Coronavirus diminishes over time.

My guess is some things will change, and some things will remain the same. 🙂

I would hope that companies would be more open to their employees doing some work from home. Instead of going into a home visit where there may be germs, bugs, or dangerous people, maybe some companies who previously only allowed in person visits will now allow for some of the tele-health that has been going on during the last few weeks.

My guess is that the platform Zoom will continue to do well. They seem to have the market on teleconferencing, and have allowed some therapists to use their features for free (and other fields is my guess, I’m only familiar with my field).

I’m really wondering about how physical touches when people greet each other will change.

Will the handshake go away? Will we no longer hug friends we haven’t seen in a while, or hug to say goodbye?

Will we start having a 6 feet distance between each other as our social norms?

Only time will tell. I’m hoping that a lot of people are able to stay healthy, including those at risk, those who feel they can live forever, and those of us in between.

What are some things that are helping you get through these times of change and uncertainty?

Are you knitting? My grandma taught me to knit many years ago, and if this continues I may try to pick it back up again. My Aunt Rula taught me to crochet, which seemed a little easier at the time. I macrame-ed in Girl Scouts.

So many options. I’ve been face-timing my mom (and dad), which has been really nice. It is nice to see the person I’m talking with, so I’ll probably keep that up as long as my mom continues to carry her iPhone 5s 🙂

What are some habits you have picked up? What are some things you are thinking about doing, but haven’t done yet?

I’ve read a couple of articles about kids feeling that this time could be a memory that is positive. They spent time at home, which many don’t get a lot of chances to do these days. I call them ‘program’ kids, because they have every minute of their day programmed.

This is certainly a social experiment, and a time to remember how to stay safe while those in the health care field are working harder than ever.

I hope you enjoy your weekend. It’s pretty warm here in Texas. Hope you get some spring weather where you are.

Homebodies: 2020

So.

We’re spending a lot more time at home this week.

We’ll be getting to know each other a little differently, we’ll be eating at our kitchen tables, even if it is take-out, and we’ll be learning to work a little differently.

I think it will be interesting to see how this affects our social media, our social interactions, and how we get along with each other. Those keyboards that have been so powerful may just be a little bit less effective in some ways. And probably, a little more effective in others.

Health workers will be overworked. We will be taxing their resources, in terms of availability, wellness, and our levels of trust and anxiety.

Our politicians, who were already working overtime to get some votes this November, now have a different platform than they had previously.

Our elderly candidates, who were already compromised in some ways, are now even more at risk.

So let’s think of some thing we can do to enjoy this time that we will be spending differently.

What are some thing you enjoy doing?

Is it doing a puzzle? Reading a book? Drawing a picture?

FaceTiming your family that is not in your home? I read earlier this week that FaceTiming allows us to get our need for social stimulation met. We get our need for visual, auditory, and it feels more like a conversation than other forms.

What is something you have been putting off? Teaching your teen to drive, getting in those CEU’s for your license or degree, or something entirely different?

I hope you stay healthy as we all go through this together.

I hope you can take the advised precautions, and that you maintain a stream of income.

I hope, that you are able to see the light and see the positives in all of this chaos

Peace 🙂

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