Many of us walked into the COVID-19 pandemic with great intentions of reading, learning, and being productive in some inspired way. The reality for most of us involved spending time doing everying but accomplishing our lofty goals (like sitting around doing nothing). Please give yourself a “hall pass” for not being productive during this time. Non-productivity was a very important thing you were doing, and served as a healthy coping tool.
As we shift into a different stage of our pandemic, you might be getting some energy to read, think, grow, and might still have lots of down time to do new things. Although our worlds appears to be opening back up, this will look different for all of us, and you might be retreating back home to regoup. Please check out this list of inspirational books. I am saving you the time of combing through the hundreds of books out there that claim to be helpful. The books below are by authors who really, really know what they are writing about, and will leave you feeling changed in some postive way. Please check out this list below for some inspiration (in no particular order):
The Artist’s Way isn’t just a book, but a twelve week process to explore creative growth and change. If you “do” this book (one chapter a week), it will change your life. Really! I have led several of these twelve week groups and observed participants radically change their lives. The change didn’t happen overnight, but offered a space for people to contemplate change, quiet down the negative noise in their head, and then take creative risks. This book has a bit of a cult following due to its success rate (The New Yorker een gave it a great review). You might want to find a pal or a group to “do” the Artist’s Way group for the additional support. Please look around your community or online for a group to join.
I only learned about Jordan Peterson through clients who came to therapy sessions completely blown away by his books and podcasts. I observed people really changing, growing, and becoming emotionally intelligent as they abosrbed the ideas proposed in this book. Dr. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and suddenly trending everywhere online in TED talks, podcasts, quotes, etc. This guy is the real deal.
If you are late to the Brene Brown party, my apologies. Her books have been trending for the past few years. She became famous following a viral TEDx talk, and many podcasts, attention from Oprah, etc. Her research on shame and vulnerability enlightens readers to challenge everything they previously thought about being, vulnerable. It turns out, that vulnerability is the key to strength, power, creativity, success and growth. This shift in thinking is expressed in a funny, snarky, and easy-breezy way in her writing style. Braving the Wilderness is just one of many of her amazing books. I recommend them all (along with her podcasts, TED talks, classes, interviews, etc).
This book will change your life. Dr, Eger is an octogenerian psychotherapist who specializes in PTSD due to combat trauma. This book weaves together her clinical experience and her personal story of surviving horrific experiences during the Holocaust. This powerful book is a game changer, and will shift your perspective on life, attitude, empathy, joy, love and emotional intelligence. This is NOT a light read, but you should rise to the occasion if you are in the mood, and READ THIS BOOK! Dr. Eger sees her work as a 21st century companion to Man’s Search for Meaning (see below).
You might have come across this book at some point in your life. Perhaps you read in in high school? The Library of Congress ranks it as one of the ten most influential books in America. The essence of Man’s Search for Meaning is that free will can be narrowed down to one thing- attitude. As our world shifted around in the past few moths due to COVID-19, this book can serve as a great guide for exceptional living in times of uncertainty. Yes- there are two slightly graphic, intense books about the Holocaust on this short list, but they actually inform one another. Dr. Viktor Frankl had a deep friendship with Dr. Eger (author of The Choice) who is listed in the previous recommendation. Read them both.
There are plenty of irreverant, snarky books out there inviting you to change, grow and become a new and improved person. What sets this hilarious book apart is that Alkon’s banter is backed up with references, resources, and real research. If you are looking for a pick-me-up to grow your self esteem pronto, this book is really in a league of it’s own. It will change your attitude, help you stifle the negative self talk, and you will wonder why you didn’t jump on the “confident person” band wagon a long time ago.
Can one person make a difference in the world? As you learn more about the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, you will be amazed, and inspired. Dr. Farmer’s founded Partner’s in Health, and has worken in Haiti for the past several decades, opening hospitals to some of the most impoverished people in the world. It is easy to be cynical these days, and the antidote to the toxic stuff we see all around us is to fill our heads with real information about real people doing profoundly good work in the world.
What makes life worth living? Neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul Kalanithi explores this topic in an intimate book written by him while navigating through treatment of stage IV lung cancer. This book was a best seller a few years ago, and also was Pulitzer prize finalist. If you missed it, now is a great time to read it. It will make you cry, but also make inspire you to live everyday more inspired.
There are TONS of drawing books out there. I searched high and low for THE ONE drawing book that really teaches people how to draw. I was looking for one that was simple, clearly written, offered a place for immediate gratification, had some humor, didn’t make me feel bad about myself, or make me give up on trying to draw. Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days is THE ONE. Trust me.
The irony of living through a pandemic is we really found out that the “I have no time” excuse we had been using all these years was a bit bogus. The extra time we actually got in quarantine didn’t always lead us into a place of being more creative. Enter- Art Before Breakfast. This books offeres loads of gentle invitations to make art in five and ten minute exercises. The real secret of why this book is an awesome companion to have during our COVID-19 pandemic is that little tiny accomplishments can mitigate the stress of not having an actual end to things. The warped feeling that comes from uncertainty of near future things is making all of us CRAZY. That is the truth. What can we do about it? Finding very short, very non-intimidating activities that have actual endings are great tasks to make us feel normal. A quick five minute drawing this the perfect tool for navigating thourgh our current season of crazy.
PS- The Image at the top of this post is of the Downtown Kansas City Library’s parking garage. Kansas City is AWESOME.
PPS-I am exploring the world of becoming an Amazon Affiliate, so the links above will take you directly to Amazon.
Zines are cool. If you are unfamiliar with this excellent avenue for making art and communicating ideas, please follow the quick instructional video. Zines have been a popular art form since the 1930s, and offer a simple medium for art making. Your mini booklets can be can be replicated with a copier (just unfold your book after you design it, copy it, and fold it back up).
Be creative, tell your story, and communicate your ideas. Our world so complicated these days, externalizing our inner dialogue can be very therapeutic. Using a small space to express your thoughts and emotions is less overwhelming than a giant blank journal or empty canvas. Unleash your inner creativity, express your thoughts, and share your emotions with your loved ones. Chances are high they might be experiencing the same emotions in these strange times.
If you want to learn more about making zines, check out these books:
Let’s skip the raging debate on a wearing mask. If you are venturing out into the world in 2020, chances are high that you WILL need to wear a mask somewhere. Please watch this quick video (1 minute, 34 seconds) to learn how to make a simple mask using a t-shirt, ruler and scissors. Let’s get crafty:
Mother’s Day 2020 in this Sunday, May 10th (in the US) might look and feel a lot different than in previous years. Let’s get creative and tap into our DIY resourceful side to create something awesome for your loved one. Don’t let an empty bank account, semi closed cities, or social distancing regulations ruin your mom’s special day. Here are five easy projects to make with things around your home:
Painted Rocks for a Garden
This project requires rocks and permanent markers such as a Sharpie pen. If you do not have rocks outside of your home, this migth require a scavenger hunt to a local park or trail. Please search for smooth rocks, and embellish it with positive words, repeated patterns or inspirational quotes. If your mom is stuck at home, and missing you and her grandchildren, she might be thrilled to find a pile of hand decorated rocks in her garden. If you are feeling super crafty, acrylic paints can work great as well.
3D Hand Image
Your mom loves your hands. Your mom loves her grandchildren’s hands too. Don’t forget, she MADE your hands when she was busy making you, and then held them a lot when you were tiny, and perhaps when you were not so tiny. Hugs and hand holding are somthing humans are really missing since social distancing became the norm. This very easy and very cool project can be done by a small child or an adult hoping to make their moms and grandmothers feel the love.
Make Mom a Reusable Cloth Mask
Masks are becoming an essential part of our lives this season. Can you follow these instructions to make you mom a super cool and very easy to make mask?
Cool COVID-19 Mother’s Day Card and Poem
Sometimes words, a card, or a poem can make your mom or special person in your life feel amazing. Sometimes expressing gratitude towards our loved ones can be far more impactful than just another gift. Be brave, write something from your heart and then be creative by folding in a cool way!
Seeds for a Garden and a Tiny Planter
If your only outings these days are to the grocery store, there are TONS of great gifts to be found such as seeds. If you have time and energy to create a tiny planter and throw in a bag of dirt, you are giving a gift and offering a fun little activity for your momma. Tiny is in. Note- the seed will probably have to be transferred to something larger after it sprouts, but starting with a tiny container is pretty fab.
Grief has descended upon human race fast and furiously this season. For people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, grief is sending many into uncharted emotional territory. For those whose lives have been disrupted, grief is also a very real thing. This post will offer some creative avenues to accompany you on this grief journey, as traditional forms of support have been disrupted due to social distancing.
Ideas in this blog post come from the book, On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Her template for the emotional journey of the grief cycle offers a helpful way to organize and make sense of our emotions. As you read through the grief stages, please write, draw, doodle, or create a visual template to explore your grief journey in this COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to use the template above. Regardless if your loss is tiny or gigantic, your emotions are real. A newer idea in the grief world is a diagnosis called complicated grief, in which grief is unrelenting, lasting for many months or years beyond a traditional grief cycle. Please reach out for help if you are struggling with your emotions. There are several links at the end of this post to guide you to the right place.
When we experience loss, denial is often the first emotion we feel. On occasion, we have time to prepare emotionally, but our new COVID-19 reality materialized so quickly, collective denial was one of the first emotions felt by many. Denial is a coping mechanism, a normal reaction to massive change, and perhaps a gentle way of helping us make sense of things that just don’t make sense.
It is remarkable how quickly we shifted to our at-home lives, but looking back, many of us might have felt like we were in zombie mode for those first few days and weeks of our quarantine. Many of my clients have felt some guilt and shame around not being productive during this quarantine time. Please give yourself a “hall pass” if you have not been productive during this time. Can you attribute your lack of motivation to denial or just coping, and the idea that you were in the process of acclimating to your new world?
If you lost a loved one related to COVID-19, please be gentle with yourself in this grieving process. We are often able to shift out of denial as we come to terms with the world around us, but for many people who did not get to be with their loved ones due to restrictions on visits, they missed the opportunity to experience all of these emotions and preparation for loss in real time.
Anger is a human emotion that can consume us. Anger is powerful, intense, scary, and can often rule over us if we allow this strong emotion to run the show. If emotions are information, anger is one that is telling us we have been violated in some way. As denial disappears, anger is often the first emotion to materialize as we make sense of our loss.
The difference between a feeling and an emotion is quite simple. A feeling is something we can name, and an emotion is often something our body feels before it becomes a conscious thought that can be named. If you are experiencing anger, this is normal, this is real, and you have every right to be angry. What can you do with your anger? That might be a topic for another blog post (stay tuned, we will get there as we unpack all of this emotional stuff). Anger can sometimes provide movement. Can you check in with your body, explore your anger, allow it some wiggle room? Can you give yourself permission to articulate it by naming it, drawing about it, or telling a loved one about it?
If you lost a loved one due to COVID-19, your anger might be more amorphous and hard to get a hold of. What we know about grief is we often have to travel through an emotional journey of sitting with emotions before we are ready to move on. I have had many clients try to short change grief work, explaining their lack of interest in processing a big loss. Eventually the needed work catches up, but everyone’s timetables for exploring grief might look a bit different.
Please be gentle with yourself and remind your friends to be gentle with you too. My observation from working as a therapist for the past few decades is people often get stuck in the anger stage of grieving, lose sight of the grief journey, and are left with the sense that their essence is based in anger. When we get to “classify” our anger as part of the grieving process, anger can serve as simply an emotion rather than something that defines us.
Bargaining is a challenging stage of grief, and probably one the most difficult ones to walk through in the grief cycle. When denial and anger have already been felt and processed, our mind often wanders in the direction of, “why,” and “what could I have done differently to have altered the outcome?” This is a huge grief stage to tackle, because it really addresses our sense of control vs. lack of control. COVID-19 is proving to be a prime example of something that is out of our control on many levels.
Bargaining also involves the existential angst we might have with our higher powers. People often bargain with the universe, thinking they can alter a permanent outcome by doing something in the here and now to retroactively create a different outcome. Self blame in loss is very, very common in young children. Kids often take on huge burdens of self blame for things far out of their control (numerous case studies described children who thought they caused the World Trade Center to collapse during 9/11). Communication is a key element to mitigate the inner dilemma in children and adults. As we suffer silently carrying these huge worries in our head, it is challenging to make sense of these complex emotions.
As we come to terms with our real lack of control with some things in the world, we can make peace with this grief stage. If you lost a loved one due to COVID-19, please let yourself feel all of the feelings, and please find a safe and trustworthy person to voice your thoughts. Self blame can be catastrophic, as you might wonder things like, “Did I not wash my hands enough? Did I infect my loved one? Did they know how much I loved them, even if I couldn’t be with them in their last days or moments?” Please voice these feelings you might be having. Even if they are not accurate, they are real emotions, because you are feeling them. What I love about the grief cycle, is it offers a space to recognize that we are not alone in the journey, as many of the things that feel endemic to our head and heart are felt by many as they walk through their own grief journey.
Many of us are now several weeks into this pandemic. My own family is on day 45 of being home at this writing. The term, “pandemic fatigue” has been coined to reflect the sense of ennui many of us our currently feeling. As we await the green light to return to the world, we might be feeling down. In the grief cycle, when we come to terms with the lack of control created by loss, and grapple with the “bargaining stage,” the sense of helplessness or depression might emerge on your emotional landscape. This is normal, natural, and a big part of loss.
When the world opens up again, it might look and feel a lot different than the one we knew just a few months ago. This is a place where sadness and loss might be truly felt. As you can name these feelings as you are experiencing them, please take the time to do so. If you are feeling off as you walk back into your open world, this is actually a sign of mental health. The world will feel different, and you might respond by feeling nostalgic of grief stricken about our recent past. Please allow yourself to embrace these emotions.
If you lost a loved one related to COVID-19, sadness, depression, and feelings of loss might take time to process. The collective grief we are feeling, compounded with personal grief are all really profound. Please encourage your loved ones to give you space, love, acceptance, and please do the same for anyone you know who is grieving a loss related to this pandemic.
These stages of loss are not linear, nor exact, but serve as a framework to help make some sense of your journey. Acceptance happens when we can recognize loss as a part of life, and feel less consumed by the experience. Grief is an excellent teacher, and in the end, offers us a space to grow, gain wisdom, and increase our emotional intelligence. Acceptance does not mean we gave up on loving our loved one who passed, it means we have found a place for it to live in us, while still carrying on with our own lives. Although this post is not as robust as a therapy group, it might still serve as a helpful space to heal, reflect, and engage your creativity for your healing journey.
Creativity can serve as an excellent avenue to get out of a dark place. You might be thinking you are not creative enough to engage in self expression as a form of healing, but please take a small risk to try something, even if it is just a simple doodle as you are reading this post. Art created in art therapy sessions is often raw, messy, ugly, and powerful. The honest form of self expression is often surprising as we can communicate things that cannot be expressed verbally. Visual information can serve as a vehicle for self expression of emotions that often have no words. Please use your creativity as a guide for self expression.
Because we do not have community to sit with in person, Zoom has served as a unique vehicle for simulated condolence calls, but really can’t replicate what happens face to face with community support. If you know someone who is grieving due to a loss, please reach out to them, give them some love, and make plans to spend time with them in the near future. We will get through this. Humans are resilient.
If you are struggling emotionally, please follow these links for more help:
This blog post was written in memory of Melvin Solomon, who passed away this week due to COVID-19 related causes. The post was also written in memory of Rick Beiles, another amazing person whose life was cut short by COVID-19. May both of their memories be for a blessing.
The debate on wearing a mask in public is endless, and varies depending on your location on the globe. The search for medical masks is also endless, as there is a world wide shortage. Please let the medical professionals have first access to the actual medical masks, and use your creativity to create your own mask. This video will teach you how to make you own reusable mask from an old t-shirt (this requires a sewing machine for creating your mask):
As we entered into our first week of social distancing, I pitched an idea to friends in my neighborhood to take pictures of them standing on their front porches. This project was an instant hit, and is serving many purposes, including socializing with the limitations of social distancing, documenting this experience, and providing a creative activity to connect or reconnect with community. I invite you to join me on this creative endeavor.
I am hearing about many parts of the world where leaving one’s home is forbidden during this pandemic, and violating this prohibition can lead to jail time or hefty fines. If you live in a place where you can still roam about, perhaps this might be a great project to introduce to your neighbors. Aside from the primary issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, LONELINESS is perhaps the largest issue that will come out of this experience. 28% of Americans currently live alone. While this might have been manageable in our lives just a few weeks ago, this current dilemma of losing all elements of community can be debilitating to many people who live alone. Do you have anyone in your world who might really appreciate you dropping by (from a distance) to take their picture and send them some good vibes?
I am not a photographer, and am actually using an I-phone to take my portraits. The options for editing a photo on any smart phone are so advanced, anyone can take a pretty great photo with this small device. I would also encourage emailing a consent form (I used Google forms to create mine), offering subjects the options of them alone keeping the photo, sharing the photo in your friend group and/or sharing it publicly. Getting consent is essential to this project (especially if you are considering posting any of the images on social media). Good luck and spread the creativity to keep our communities humming along.
Let’s switch up the negative names of our new Coronavirus reality to something slightly more life affirming. We have been told to hunker down and quarantine (the word hunker is defined as to squat or crouch down low). Before we switch up the names though, we might need to re-imagine what we are doing. Can you use the metaphor of a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly to mark your current experience of being stuck at home? Please try this project to muster some resilience.
- Please find some paper in your home, or just use your imagination to conceptualize this creative angle on our strange situation.
- Please divide your paper up into three sections.
- In the first section, please create a caterpillar. If you are not feeling the creativity urge, maybe just jot down a list of things you were doing a few weeks ago that might represent a less robust version of yourself (for all of us who were stretched thin, this might not be too hard to imagine). My list would probably include drinking too much coffee, not completing projects, not returning phone calls, etc
- In the second section, please draw a cocoon or chrysalis (chrysalis is the technical term any third grader might remind you of, should you refer to the metamorphosis of a butterfly using the word cocoon). Again if this is too base or juvenile for your liking, please use this space to jot down a list of enjoyable and life affirming things you might explore during this home time.
- In the third section, please draw a butterfly to represent a new and improved version of you who might walk out of your home when this is all over (yes- it will end). Imagine yourself reconnecting with the outside world in a new way with wings or something cool like that. A fresh perspective which is just about the same as new wings. We will all be different. Social isolation is not in our genetic makeup, so reconnecting with our species will probably be pretty spectacular. Again, if the butterfly metaphor is a bit pedestrian for you, perhaps just jot down a list of how you might envision reconnecting with the world.
More than two billion people are currently on lockdown in their homes on the planet as of this writing. That number might actually go up, as experts have warned that this week is going to look pretty grim. This unprecedented experience is perhaps the first time in human history that such a massive number of people are all essentially doing the same thing. The quest to stop the transmission of Coronavirus is being called a variety of ominous things such as shelter in place, lockdown , quarantine, social distancing, self isolation, and other negative things. In some cities, this experience is being enforced with harsh punishments for violations, with soldiers in the streets. What would happen if we changed the languaging to conceptualize this as something more palatable to the human experience? Could we call it cocooning? hibernating? pausing? resetting our compass? Slowing down? Respecting our elders and fragile fellow humans? Being a great Homo sapien?
How we conceptualize this whole thing will really determine our mental health throughout this experience. If we shift our experience to call this cocooning, we will be emerging from this quarantine as a completely different person, community, world, and species. Things could go wonderfully or terribly in this process, but there are some theories being kicked around that this might be a jump in consciousness caused by a radical shift in re-evaluating our values, and a radical appreciation for life we might have ignored just a few weeks ago. Stay safe and be well.
TIME. When we look back at this radical week in human history, one vantage point we might observe it from is how we handled time. Many people on Earth are simultaneously experiencing a cataclysmic shift in reality, as our familiar lives have come to a screeching halt. Several of my therapy sessions with clients over the past few weeks included conversations on the possibility of a quarantine, and how that might provide some respite from our crazy, busy lives. Now that we are really experiencing that reality, what to DO WITH ALL OF THIS TIME is proving to be a bit overwhelming. Navigating through news that is changing fast, finding provisions, worrying about our livelihoods, and just making it through each day this week is simply overwhelming.
The real question we might want to ask ourselves in this stage of this thing, is how do we master time? All of us secretly wanted extra time and now that we have it, what should we do with it? How do we navigate through the very confusing, very scary, and very real, new world we have entered? I would like to propose two very simple tasks to try today:
Quarantine Wish List
Please make a list of things you might accomplish for your quarantined time. Please add some practical things (my first task is doing my taxes for the US deadline of April 15). Please also add some pleasurable things that you never have time to do, and some projects you might have started awhile ago, but never had time to finish. Next, hang your list in a prominent place. Then, and this is most important part, do not pressure yourself to jump into any of these projects too quickly. I have spoken to several people this week who are feeling guilty they have not been productive this week. Please do not pressure yourself to be productive or creative.
We are all in a state of shock, and when we are in that place, it is very hard to do anything beyond just being in survival mode. This might looks a bit different to each of us, and might include binging on Netflix, binging on news, buying toilet paper, etc. Having your wish list handy, but not feeling pressured by it can serve as a buffer to make the time you are spending now feel more temporary, knowing that when you settle into your new reality, you will have a lot to keep yourself busy.
Make a Daily Schedule
Last night, I forced my kids to go to bed on time as if it were a regular school night. They protested, and I held my ground, explaining that as soon as our schedule goes haywire (or we stay in pajamas all day), we will have succumbed to time in a really negative way. We actually didn’t create any schedule during the first few days of our new “at home all the time” lives. I did this as a social experiment to see what would happen. As suspected, everyone kept drifting to their screens, and the days marched along in a loopy, slow, negative way.
We have since created daily schedules for each person in our home as the days drift along. These have included meal times, hang out times, solo time, together time, etc. Although we are not being super strict at following them, the lists are still serving as boundary makers to make our boundary-less new world feel more manageable. What would your daily schedule include?
In my therapy sessions last week, my clients all fantasized how great a quarantine might be, because they would suddenly have the glorious TIME we never had enough of in the lives we were living just last week. When this is all over (yes, it will end), we will walk out of our homes with new attitudes, new perspectives on humanity, and perhaps will have regrouped enough to envision a different and more beautiful life for ourselves and our loved ones. Step one of this transformation is learning to reclaim time.
Having an accountability partner in this process can also be important. Feel free to post your lists here. Hang in there!