This week has been a long one for a lot of people. There’s panic, uncertainty, increased stress and a lot of people worried. There’s countless lives around the globe that have been impacted in some way. Some see this as an opportunity to take a break from a crazy schedules while others are feeling overwhelmed as they are tasked with finding childcare and entertaining their children in the middle of the school year. There’s isn’t an easy answer or solution to anything. The only thing that has been constant has been the rapid changes that have happened with the passing of each day. People are having to make adjustments in ways that they never planned to before. It’s a great time to be compassionate and show some kindness.
Grief is one of those things that can be complicated. While I’ve never sought formal training in being a grief coach or a grief therapist, it’s something that I’ve experienced in my years of practice. I’ve worked in hospice settings and in many hospitals where anticipatory grieving and grieving after a loved one has passed happened frequently. But there’s a significant level of less understanding for people who have lost a pet. Pet (especially dogs) are extensions of our families. My dog Sam was with me from high school all the way up until I finished my doctorate. He was a companion, pain in the butt, loyal friend, and a good listener. He didn’t have any safety awareness and tended to run up to cars instead of away. While he was brave in biting bigger dogs, his 13lb body shook from fear when there was a thunderstorm close by. He hated to have his paws touched but loved to find an empty lap to jump on and sleep. Overall, he was fairly mellow and didn’t have the explosive constant energy that was indicative of his breed. He usually slept through the night but on some occasions he wanted to go out every hour on the hour. Even after a year of him being gone I still miss him but I appreciate all the memories that I have of him. If there’s a doggie heaven I hope we’ll meet again.
For the longest time I considered myself to be terminally single. Nothing and I do mean nothing actually worked out. There were a whole lot of frogs, the most recent being an older retired guy who didn’t want to talk about anything other than the cars that he was restoring. While I like old school cars, I felt my brain cells dying after the first half hour lecture about the kind of parts that he was ordering. Needless to say, it was great motivation to proceed with the plan to relocate out of the area. I knew that I needed to do something different and so I did. An opportunity to explore relationship possibilities just randomly landed in my lap and I took the chance. The end results have been that I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process and it’s given me the opportunity to finally see what it’s like to have a significant other. It’s been a major learning curve and also outside of my comfort zone but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m settling down and the idea of finally putting down some roots doesn’t feel as paralyzing and confining as it used to.
I recently realized how much my circle has changed. I’m not in close contact with many of the people I grew up with and over the years I’ve also grown apart from some friends I met during my college years. One thing I like about my current circle is the fact that everyone wants to do better. There’s intentionality around improving personally and professionally. One great quality of a good friendship is that you feel accepted as a person. You aren’t judged or made to feel like your friend is trying to change you. However, I’ve come to realize that the mark of a good friend is one that challenges you to grow—even if it’s an uncomfortable process. They aren’t trying to change you but they also realize opportunities for growth that you may not see so they challenge you to be better. Constructive criticism feels different when it comes from someone you know who genuinely has the best intentions for you. Instead of becoming more defensive, it’s easier to internalize what they’re saying. This type of a friend is rare to have and if you find one be grateful and keep them around.
I’ve been attempting to write a bit more consistently and it’s been quite a challenge. One thing that has been interesting for me has been the recent increase in working with couples as a therapist. It is such a different vibe than seeing a person by themselves or a family as a whole. A spouse/partner can be your best friend or worst enemy and a lot of things in between. One thing that many of my clients have in common is the fact that they failed to make the small changes that would have helped them to avoid the major issues that came up. They grew apart over the course of months and years and they became so comfortable with avoiding meaningful communication that the other individual has become a stranger. But the truth is that you can’t undo years of damage overnight; there’s too much disconnection and both people have been going in different directions. It’s in those times that a major course correction is necessary. One of the things that I’ve learned is it the importance of making minor course corrections when they are still minor. Checking in, talking about tough stuff, and making time for each other are some of the things that have to be done intentionally because it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture and take your partner for granted. Developing healthy communication patterns and fighting respectfully and effectively while remaining emotionally connected is a narrow tightrope to walk on. However, the things that are worthwhile are worth doing well. Great relationships don’t happen haphazardly. They are maintained through intentional effort, time, and emotional connection.
I have to say that this previous week has been pretty stressful as it’s been a huge change in the daily routine that I have gotten used to. I’m normally someone who can adapt quickly but the absence of afternoon naps was really difficult. I found it hard to catch up on sleep and as a result I did not feel rested. I encountered some difficult news and also had an realization that was difficult to process. Disappointment is a part of life and sometimes it just can’t be anticipated. Things change unexpectedly without warning and we have to roll with the punches. I’m finding that experiencing multiple disappointments does not make each one any easier to handle. There is always the process of finding a way to make peace with the new normal or the new circumstance. You have results or an ending that you did not anticipate and you have to create a different plan because things have changed. It’s rough because in some ways you have to mourn the ending that you wanted but never received while recognizing the need to change priorities and focus. I think that there’s also a certain level of annoyance and frustration that accompanies disappointment because of the sheer inconvenience of having to make an unplanned adjustment. However, it’s one of those things that are unavoidable. How we respond to these disappointments says a lot about our resiliency and ability to adapt. But it’s a tough place to be in.
I’ve come to appreciate those lightbulb moments that make you pause and contemplate your life. Recently, after two weekends of work I decided that I needed to get away for a bit and go on a road trip. It wasn’t really planned but I knew that I wanted a change of scenery and that I didn’t want to drive too far away. I drove to the next state over and found myself at my alma mater. I guess I should give the background story. My college experience was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. Outside of staying with my grandmother for a few nights, I had not been allowed to spend the night anywhere else. I packed way too much stuff and had to send most of it home. I was incredibly studious and was hyper-focused on making sure that the balance of my school bill was paid. I took a lot of classes and worked several jobs so that I would finish my degree as soon as possible. I lived in the library and sang in the choir. I knew a lot of people but was never invited to a party or asked out on a date. It was so nostalgic to walk back on campus eight years later with three additional degrees and years of professional practice. I had the opportunity to speak to students in the same classroom that I was taught in and it felt incredibly weird but full circle to be introduced by the title of “Doctor.” I was reminded of the fact that I’ve learned so much over the years and as a result my worldview has shifted a bit. There’s nothing like being reminded of where you came from and I think that acknowledging the past can be a way to give ourselves permission to create a future that we want.