Monday, February 01, 2021

Both, at the same time

My 22 kilometer bike ride last week gave me time to process a concept I have been working on personally to internalize and share with others over the past several years.

The concept, simply described, is that two seemingly opposite emotions can be felt at the same time. We don’t have to get stuck completely in one emotion at a time. We can allow them to happen together. Allowing two opposite emotions to happen at the same time creates emotional and mental balance. Although we might have been told by our parents, or we somehow came to believe otherwise, we don’t have to live in extremes of one emotion or the other. 

Allow me to use a personal example to explain: 

This time of year, in Israel, in the off-road/mountain biking world is the most magnificent time. Biking in the forest or fields of Israel in the winter months is a sensory experience. The air is crisp, the sun is comfortably warm, and the smells of wet mud and trees after a rain are sweet and exhilarating. The shades of green are like fresh paint on a canvas. The blooming cyclamen create beds of purple and pink fairy angels and we begin to see dots of red poppies appear in the green fields. The experience is breathtaking. 

This past June, Ari and I moved further away from the forest and closer to the beach. Unfortunately in Israel right now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a lockdown, and we are legally not allowed to put our bikes on the car to travel for exercise. 

I love living by the beach. I am so grateful to have the daily morning sea view, a 7 minute walk to put my toes in the sand and the ability to breathe the salty air.  Biking near the beach is only on paved bike trails, some parallel along the beach, others through the streets or not-yet-constructed neighborhoods. My biking experience has changed and become very different to biking in the forest. 

As I was peddling up an incline last week, on a long strip of black topped bike path, it came to me, and here is where I needed to integrate: While I really miss being able to bike in the colorful, sweet smelling forest right now, I am so happy to be living near the beach. 

Both. At the same time. Appreciating where I am and missing where I could be. Not just saying, I “should be happy where I am,” but feeling both: grateful for where I am and sad that I can’t be closer to the forest.

I wasn’t raised with this concept. I was raised with “Let me see a smile,” or “Dont worry, be happy!” Or even this one, from my Grandma Rose, “No one wants to be around a bitch!” People in general have difficulty hearing or dealing with their own difficult emotions, and have even greater difficulty managing another person’s. So many people feel shame about the negative emotions. We tell ourselves, “I should be happy,” or “I should be grateful,” or “I need to be more positive.” When we recognize these difficult emotions and allow them the space to exist, we validate them. And then we fight the shame of “how I should be...”

I find this concept freeing. I find it empowering. I find it easier with practice. Finding the comfortable balance changes with each situation.

Another cute example of this happened recently while reading a children’s book to my grandson. In “Franklin Goes to the Hospital,” we see that we can be brave and scared at the same time. Franklin was brave to face having the surgery he needed in order to fix the crack in his shell, while still expressing his fears. My grandson repeated the concept several times: “Right, I can be brave and scared at the same time, Grama?” Brave and scared at the same time. Two opposing emotions, that we can allow ourselves to feel simultaneously. Being able to teach this concept to my grandchildren, is such a gift.

So too, the same as with this pandemic, allowing ourselves to feel frustration and impatient at being cooped up inside for so many hours of the day, while at the same time feeling grateful to be healthy and well. Consciously allowing ourselves to feel both emotions at the same time.

That’s what I mean by Both, At the same time.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Never assume you know what you are looking at!

This picture has you fooled, I am sure of it.

You might say, “It’s so sweet!”
Or think, “Look how comfortable you both look.”
Or, “You’re both so relaxed.”

You might feel the love between us.
You might be in awe of the sweetness between grandmother and grandson

And all would be true.

But, once again, you don’t know the story behind the picture.

This picture was taken last Thursday, December 6th, at around 3:00 pm in the afternoon. 
I had finally gotten Shachar to fall asleep on my shoulder while I was standing up and holding him. I laid down in my bed and we both slept there for 2 hours.

Again, you might be thinking, “That is so sweet…”
But, remember, there’s always more story behind a picture. 

The story is that the night before, I mistakenly and without second thought, gave my grandson a minuscule piece of macadamia nut. 
For those who don’t know, my grandson, Shachar, is THAT kid who is allergic to peanuts (and dairy, and sesame, and eggs!) His mother asked me if I had given him a macadamia nut before, and I thought I had.

Not more than 1 minute later, the poor little guy was drooling, lips swelling and breaking out in a rash. His parents very quickly gave him Benedryl. But it did not seem to do the job. They took him to our local Urgent Care facility, where they gave him steroids, and then an epipen, as the symptoms were not getting better. At that point protocol dictated that he be sent to the hospital.

Ari and I met them at Urgent Care around 11:00 pm, as they were getting into the ambulance. Ari followed in our children’s car, and I drove home in our car to quickly gather phone chargers, toys for Shachar, some allergy free snacks, and hospital admission forms, in case Nechama went into labor.

When I arrived at the hospital, Shachar was in the children’s emergency room, being monitored, where they would keep him all night. They were no longer concerned that the symptoms would get worse, as it seemed the epipen did the job, but they wanted to keep him for observation. Ari and I left Shachar and his parents at the hospital around 12:30 am, to return home.

I was drained. I felt horribly guilty. I was questioning my memory. I was second guessing myself. I was so unsure as to whether I had given him a macadamia nut before or not? If I would have been more conscientious, everyone would be home in their warm snuggly beds. I felt guilty for making my daughter and son-in-law have to (try to) sleep in a hospital all night. I felt responsible. I kept thinking about the trauma I had caused him. And his parents. And there was nothing more I could do.

They returned home the next day, after receiving the OK from the doctor to be discharged. I sent Shachar’s parents to sleep, and then fed, played with and basically followed Shachar around the rest of the day. Until the moment when we both needed a nap. He was so tired, but he was not cooperating to lay down without me.

So I left everything I was doing and took him to my room. I held him, sang to him and spoke quietly in my dark room, until he fell asleep with his head on my shoulder. 

It was heaven. I couldn’t decide if I was feeling guilt or gratitude. Or both. I just wanted to make the whole scary night go away!

It was sweet.
It was loving.
It was comfortable.
It was very relaxing.

But it was also for a very scary reason!
And for a mistake that I plan not to repeat!

So, bottom line, when you look at this picture, and any others that I post:

Really, just don’t ever assume you know the full story….

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Be a Mentch!

I have spent my adult years working on myself to be more accepting, more understanding, and less judgemental. I grew up in a large family of strong opinions and unsuppressed criticism. Retraining my brain not to naturally be critical or judgmental is a daily, minute-by-minute struggle for me.

There is one behaviour though, (at least for the purpose of this writing) that I cannot accept. I MUST express my opinion and I cannot allow it to be ok in our world.

As a mental health professional who works in the world of appointment-making and keeping, I have spent many years skilfully working with my clients on their time keeping, showing up when they are supposed to, and informing me when they are going to be late, or not going to show up at all.
Unfortunately, I have spent countless hours waiting for people and wondering if they are going to call me or let me know they will be late, or even coming at all. I have gone so far as to create a policy contract that clients must sign when they begin to work with me, agreeing that they are responsible to arrive on time, to pay if they don't come for their session without notice, and, in general, making them aware that their presence matters.

I am sensitive to and thoughtfully diligent to communicate with whomever is waiting for me, if I know I will be late. I feel a deep respect for them and their time. And I certainly know how it feels to be disregarded. The business aspect of not showing up at all, or letting a customer know you are not coming or will be late, is just bad business, for sure.

I have tried very hard to raise my children (and husband) to be thoughtful and considerate humans. To be respectful of other people’s time and planning. To think outside of just themselves, and to realise that other people are involved in or with the planning of their lives. To let me know IF they will be home, or WHEN they expect to arrive home. In general, to communicate. I consider myself a reasonable person who expects basic common courtesy.

I am excruciatingly aware, that this is a personally difficult topic.

For me, it is connected to the basic human need of feeling seen. Being heard. Being respected. 

If you cannot communicate with me a basic Derech Eretz - a showing of respect - as a human being, then it’s hurtful. I get angry. But in reality, I am hurt. The anger is a reaction to the hurt. It is as if you are saying, “You don’t matter enough to me to communicate with.” And that feels personal. 

I would rather you communicate with me time after time, to tell me you are running late, or not able to come, because then we have something to speak about. Then I know I am worthy of your communication. And you are not just thinking about yourself. Not being able to or choosing not to communicate is a lousy excuse for thinking only about yourself.

When I try to tell myself that what you think of me doesn’t matter, I can’t in this case. In my opinion, you not respecting me leads to a global breakdown of the basic human needs in our world.  If no one spoke up and said, “The way you are treating me is not ok,” then there would be constant and overall chaos in communication and relationships in our world. 
If absolutely no one cared about or respected another person, their time, or their needs, then how could we continue to exist as a collective people? 
We don’t live on islands alone. We must learn how to live together, to communicate and to be in relationship with one another.

I am aware that I am choosing here to use my own inner pain and trigger to demand from others to be a mensch. To be considerate and thoughtful of others. I cannot just accept. I will express my opinion, and I will continue to expect you to see me, and to respect me, as long as I am still living in this world.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How I respond to difficult news....

I wake up every morning and wonder what has happened during the night?

I end every Shabbat or holiday, wondering what am I going to hear or read?

After every hour I am in session with a client, I wonder what I am going to hear or read?

That’s what happens in life. I can’t hear or read or know everything at every moment.

And when I hear news my brain reacts.

I hear good news and I feel joy.

I hear sad news and I feel pained.

I hear tragic news and I am in shock.

Every day is an unknown. 

And so, once again, I am processing tragedy. Curious about G-d’s Plan? 

Man’s actions. Man’s pain. Man’s suffering. Man’s sickness.

I take in the information, and feel my feelings.

And then I must try to focus on what I can. Focus on what I can do something about.

The good. The love. The care. The self-understanding. The self-knowing. The clarity of self. The holding. The healing. The growing. The teaching. The sharing. The vulnerability.

I Just. Keep. Going.

And know there is always more news to come…in the next day, or next hour, or next moment.

Each day is a blessing. And I must continue to live while I can.

Monday, October 08, 2018

A "Sometimes it's Hard" Party

Today I ran away from something very hard.
I didn’t actually RUN away.
I actually took my bags and walked away. Got in my car and drove away. 
I couldn't stay.
It was too hard.
And not worth my time to stay and be frustrated.
So I left.

I’m trying to face the shame of walking away from this hard thing.
I feel embarrassed and ashamed of not being smart enough. Good enough. Hebrew-speaking enough. Brave enough.

So I walked away instead.

I try to tell myself, I’m still good enough. 
I’m smart.
In English, I can do hard things. I can be brave.
But in Hebrew, it’s just too hard.

This week I had the opportunity to be an assistant in a week-long training course, of which I have already completed the training. I was looking forward to going to assist/help out the new students learning the material for their first time, and deepen my own understanding of the material while I was there.

I changed my weekly schedule around. I woke up early. I sat in traffic on my way to the course, and fought for parking.

I walked into the classroom late, and right away realized I had made a mistake.

The teacher was speaking in Hebrew and the students all seemed to understand what she was saying.

Except me. 

I sat down and tried to understand. I heard a few Hebrew words here and there that I understood. But like what usually happens for me when I go to a Hebrew speaking meeting or event, I hear words I know, but can’t put together enough to understand the context of what is being spoken about.

Very quickly the shame crept in.
“You should know this stuff in Hebrew by now. You’ve been here 15 years.”
“You’ve heard these words in other courses, you should recognize them enough to make some sense of it all.”
“There will definitely be two or three students who speak English and are willing to work in English so you can assist them.”
“It’s so embarrassing to have to admit to everyone that I can’t work in Hebrew.”
“Don’t leave or they will think less of you. They will think you’re not a good therapist because you can’t work in Hebrew.”
“They will think you’re weak if you can’t stay and try to understand the Hebrew.”
"Just be brave and fake it. That will look better."

These and so many more.

At the break, I approached the teacher, who remembered from the last time I came to assist and had to leave because of the Hebrew (I had forgotten that), and who hugged me saying into my ear, “How are you doing with my Hebrew?”
“I’m not,” I answered. “I’m leaving.”
“You need some EMDR,” was her response.
To which I answered, “To help me better understand the Hebrew? How exactly does THAT work?!”
She said something about how EMDR, in one session, will help get rid of the block I have to understand.

She thinks I have a block?
So, I thought, great, there’s one more shame monster to add to the others. If only I would get rid of the block, I could stay and be helpful and learn.

No thank you.
I left.

I’m home now, trying to fight the embarrassment and shame of not being Hebrew-speaking enough, or brave enough to try anyhow...

I don’t want to make excuses.
I don't want to write about how it would just be a waste of my time.
I don't want to write about the reality of my low level of Hebrew speaking and comprehension skills.
I don’t want to write about how after 15 years living in a Hebrew speaking country, I still don’t have the confidence to understand or express myself in Hebrew.

I only want to write about the shame I feel right now.
I want to name it.
I want to lessen it’s power.
I want to tell shame that it cannot take up space in my head and body today.

I want shame to know that it’s annoying and not useful to me.
I am capable.
I am smart.
I function very well in many places in my life.
I love to learn.
I love to assist.
I love to understand.

Just not in Hebrew.
And that doesn't make me a worthless person.

Dear Shame,
Sometimes things are just hard. It doesn't mean you need to get involved. Hard doesn't mean that everything is hard. Just some things. And it doesn't make me a bad or weak or worthless person because I think it’s hard. Today I walked away from something hard because it was hard. Period.
And you are never ever invited again to my “Sometimes it’s Hard" party!! 
Yours truly,


Sunday, September 30, 2018

I miss my Rabbi

Today is the Hebrew date. 2 years since he left us alone in this world. I don’t even know the English date. This day on the Hebrew calendar that will always be remembered. 

I miss my Rabbi. 
Rabbi Kosman left our world too fast. Too fast for me, at least. 
I didn’t get to tell him how much I appreciated what he taught me.

I wanted to tell him that he taught me to look at every person. Even when they annoy me. Even when they make me feel awkward. 
Even when I feel uncomfortable around them. 
Even when I feel frustrated by something they’ve said or done. 
Even when I allow them to hurt my feelings. 
To look at them, with total love in my heart, and accept them as a human being, Understand them to be a human being, created in the image of our Creator.

I can no longer call him and ask him what he would recommend in any situation. 
But I can feel his spirit in my heart, and in my body, and know exactly what to do or what to say, or how to react.

Rabbi Kosman modeled love.
Rabbi Kosman modeled acceptance. Deep, non-judgmental, acceptance.
Rabbi Kosman modeled being human, with every flaw.

And so even when I struggle with this person or that. 
With the choices people around me make that I may not agree or feel comfortable with, I still can love and accept their humanness. I close my eyes. And I feel Rabbi Kosman within me. Around me.

This is what I feel today. A combination of sadness and loss and complete joy and gratitude.

Today I miss my Rabbi.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I have to write something....

"You have to write something," a voice inside keeps repeating. 
"But I don't know what to write." Another voice answers back. "And I fear words aren't enough."
I've read so many other more prolific and articulate words. 
I tell myself, "Don't bother, you don't have anything important to add." 
And then another voice becomes adamant, "You can't stay silent!! Someone, somewhere will learn or be inspired or hear...And besides, Yom Kippur is tonight. Life is too short."

So, I am forcing myself to sit down and write, as my chicken roasts in the oven, and my turkey soup bubbles on the stove.

I want to say I'm so sad.

And so shocked.
And so angry.
And so disillusioned.
And so inspired.
And so sad.

The 45-year-old man, father, son, brother, and friend who was murdered on Sunday, for being a Jew (and it seems an English speaking Jew), was my next-door neighbor's brother. On one hand it feels really close. The entire Fuld family has been coming to Chashmonaim and staying at my neighbor, Moshe's house, twice a year for the past 12 years.

But really, it doesn't matter. Ari Fuld was a innocent human being. It doesn't matter whether I knew him or not. 

He was at the shopping mall, sent on errands for his wife. He was on the phone, as many of us are many times a day, when the terrorist came up behind him and stabbed him. He was targeted because he was a Jew. (And again, it seems from reports on the scene, that the sick, dagger wielding animal was looking for an English-speaking Jew.) He was a man going about his day.

All the rest of the details are not what I want to focus on here.

Tonight is Yom Kippur. The important day on the Jewish holiday calendar where I look at myself and ask, "What have I done this year to hurt another, to disregard or disrespect, to embarrass or shame another? What have I said or done without consciousness? What have I done to diminish my relationship with G-d?"

I have a responsibility to answer for myself, my words, and my actions. I want others to call me out when I have said or done something hurtful, or have overstepped my boundaries. But ultimately, I am responsible for myself.

Life is so so so so so (did I say, so?) precarious. So precious. So short. Every day is a blessing if I wake up in it. I don't have the energy anymore to spend my time on people or things that I have no control over. Although I do feel that I have responsibility when I can make a difference, to be silent when I have something to say is undermining my power.

What I want to share following Ari Fuld's murder is the main message I take from this tragic loss. And that is that the small stuff just doesn't matter. I can control my reactions and what I tell myself. And I can only make a difference first to myself and then to my family. And then, if I have energy leftover, I can make a difference out side of my house. 

We cannot fight for a nation unless we are fighting for ourselves.

This has been a conceptual understanding for many years. A message that I believed in, but didn't know exactly how to follow. I understand now.

The loss of life, whether awaited or sudden, makes me look at my mortality and really take in the message that life is too short.

My blessing to myself and anyone who has read this far, is that we take the time to set our priorities and values. Make them clear, and then live our lives based on these choices.

My nephew posted this a couple weeks ago that I will leave here: