PS: Somber Sunday…time to RELAX

It’s dark, dull, cold, and rainy outside today. This, to me, is a PERFECT Sunday.

I want to take advantage of being home and look into new ideas to relax. Life is life and along with many happy moments also comes stress, anxiety, and tension. I thought I would share “8 Easy Ways to Relax” from an article I came across on Active.

 

1. MEDITATE
Meditation can be a great way to relax, especially if you are under a lot of stress. Research has shown that meditation can be helpful in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and even improving cognitive performance.

And meditation is pretty simple to do: just find a comfortable place, close your eyes, relax your muscles, and focus on ONE thing, whether it’s your breathing, an object (a flower, or a painting) — or even a picture in your mind — perhaps you are sitting on a beach in the Caribbean. You can do this for as little as 10 minutes to experience benefits. The key is staying focused and not letting any distractions or thoughts enter your mind — being mindful is key. If you have a bit more time, take a yoga or tai chi class — both incorporate mediation, along with physical movements.

I have never really attempted to Meditate or take anything like a yoga class, but the more I read, my friend, Teresa’s blog the more I get interested in yoga. I have heard from numerous people that the moment you take one class you feel so much better and never want to try anything else. So who knows, maybe I will get into this one day!

 

2. DRINK GREEN TEA, AVOID CAFFEINATED BEVERAGES
Green tea is very soothing — it contains theanine, an amino acid that gives flavor to green tea and also promotes relaxation. It is also thought that theanine is a caffeine antagonist, meaning it counters the stimulating effects of caffeine. So, drink green tea, and avoid caffeinated beverages, since caffeine can worsen the stress response.

I did this not too long ago. I quit coffee and soda and only had water and green tea and I can honestly say that I felt wonderful – I felt healthy! But of course, stress and insomnia kicked in and with that I turned back to my forgotten friends soda and coffee. Currently I am, practically addicted to, drinking caffeine – be it coffee or soda but I PROMISE to stop today and go back to water and tea – I’ll take the headaches for 3 days – as long as it means that by the end of the week I will feel great.

 

3. CONSUME SEROTONIN-BOOSTING FOODS
Many of us crave indulgent carbohydrates like cookies, candy, ice cream, pretzels, and other sweet and starchy foods when we’re stressed, anxious, or tense. These foods can have a soothing effect in some women, and it may have something to do with low serotonin levels during these mood states. Serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for feelings of calmness and relaxation. It’s thought that consuming these carbohydrates helps boost serotonin levels, which results in feelings of contentedness and relaxation. So, enjoy these treats if they provide some instant satisfaction, but do watch your portion sizes! I recommend 100 calorie portions — 4 Hershey Kisses, or a small handful of pretzels. You may want to pre-portion out pretzels, for example, and take them with you as a snack when you leave the house. The 100 calorie packs work well too.

WELL – this have been doing for YEARS already :P! Probably my best way to relax – just need to work on the portion control is all!

 

4. CREATE A RELAXATION ROOM AT HOME
Many spas have relaxation rooms to sit in before and after treatments, and it’s a great thing to create at home too. A relaxation room doesn’t have to be a “room” per se — it can be a space in your bedroom, for example, but the key is having an area or room at home, solely devoted to relaxing. You can have a really comfortable chair or daybed, with dim lights, or candles nearby — whatever it is that you enjoy and find relaxing. This will give you an opportunity to decompress, with very little stimulus — this is key. Forget the blackberry, cell phone and laptop — this is a time to kick back and relax. You might want to read a book or magazine, but the idea is to clear your mind of distractions and stressors.

My relaxation place is my bed with my laptop or a book. I enjoy being in my bed in complete silence – usually when my oldest daughter is in school and my youngest is taking a nap – it’s my time to just be in silence. But, I do like the idea of dedicating a whole room to relax – maybe one day ;-).

 

5. LISTEN TO YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC
Listening to soothing music can be very relaxing — and slow tempos in particular can induce a calm state of mind. (It can also slow down breathing and heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relax tense muscles too). This can be particularly beneficial when you’re getting ready for a tough day at work, or if you’re in your car stuck in traffic, or, if you’re lying in bed trying to free your mind of stressful thoughts. Interestingly, music therapy has been shown to be helpful in decreasing anxiety associated with medical procedures: one recent study found that heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly among individuals who listened to music during a colonoscopy (the control group did not experience any changes). The music intervention group also required less sedation during the procedure.

This is another one like #3 that I have already been practicing. I love all kinds of music. Music can calm me, soothe me, inspire me, motivate me – well you get the picture. And if you haven’t discovered it yet, PANDORA is the best place to listen to music. It’s my favorite music website!
 

6. ENJOY AN AROMATHERAPY MASSAGE
Getting a massage is a great way to free yourself of tension and relax, and adding aromatherapy oils such as chamomile or lavender can be particularly beneficial: one recent study found that emergency room nurses experienced reduced stress levels with aromatherapy massage: The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that 54 percent of the emergency room staff in summer and 65 percent in winter suffered moderate to extreme anxiety. However, this fell to 8 percent, regardless of the season, once staff received 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to music. If you don’t have a lot of spare time, you can get aromatherapy oils and massage tools to use at home.

Who doesn’t love a massage? But of course, when life gets busy (or costly) this can be difficult to obtain. Maybe when my birthday comes along next month I can treat myself guilt free – you know, for relaxation purposes.

 

7. INDULGE IN A HOT BATH
Heat relaxes muscles — and taking a long bath can be soothing for the mind as well. Stock up on your favorite bath salts and soaps, get a bath pillow, and decorate the room with candles. You can even create an in-home spa, by incorporating spa treatments like facials.

I can’t remember that last time I got to take a ‘bath’ but I myself find a nice long hot shower just as relaxing. It’s my place to be alone and clear my mind.

 

8. ENGAGE IN MODERATE EXERCISE DAILY
Exercise helps to boost endorphins and reduce stress — and research shows that 20 minutes each day is all that is needed to experience benefits.

I can agree to this 100%! Right before I started this blog I was actively taking boxing and spinning for months but with my daughter starting school, family being sick, and the loss of a loved one – exercise got pushed to the side. But I hope that along with kicking the caffeine habit I will get back into my exercise routine because I know that when I worked out  I had the confidence to handle any situation that came my way, just because I felt good mentally and physically.

 

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.  ~Etty Hillesum

 

Now off to relax on my favorite kind of Sunday…..until next time!

Just ‘BE’.

I now know full-heartedly why I was going through so much emotional pain last week and why I felt such a strong calling to remember God is with me. I believe that my mind, body, heart, and soul was preparing for what was really coming.

This past weekend, my childhood friend (since 4thgrade I may add), lost her father at a very young age. We have been through years of life experiences. We have lived through countless birthdays, school graduations, failures, numerous other friends, silliness, troubles, boys, boyfriends, first kisses, first dates, first loves, make-up, miniskirts, dances and proms, weddings and husbands, children – I can go on and on. We have always maintained great friends throughout all the highs and lows life gives us – but this time, this low, we were not ready for.

When I was informed of the devastating news my heart began to feel a foreign pain. All my woes and worries of the past week dissolved into the air, my focus was my friend and the grand loss the world has just had.

Prior to my husband’s deployment, I had worked on an interdisciplinary palliative medicine team as the therapist to patients and families walking on the journey of a long-term illness – be it the beginning, the middle, when they were lost, and the end. I became accustomed to the cycle of life. I was with patients and their families through life’s departures at least 3 times a week. It was my job to normalize this part of life and the feelings that came attached.

However, with all that professional experience, I find myself on an unfamiliar path. I am now on the other side of the journey, going from passenger to co-pilot. The news of my friend’s fathers’ passing went through me like a jagged sword. That feeling of all your insides dropping came alive within me. I became trapped in a whirlwind of emotions unable to retrieve what, I thought, should be appropriate.

This isn’t just my friend who lost her father – but her children who lost a very ‘awesome Grandpa’, her husband who lost his best friend, and of course the family and friends, including his beloved girlfriend who lost the love of her life, all lost a very special man. I too lost a part of me. This is the person that would drive us to all our extracurricular activities growing up – including dances and parties, took us out to dinners, told us we looked beautiful, yelled at me when I deserved it, attended my graduation(s) – my sweet 16 – my wedding, always treated my daughters with the same heart he did with me, and basically made me feel like family. This part of me is now void but I can’t imagine it even being comparable to what my dear friend and her family is experiencing.

As I drove to the wake, I couldn’t feel anything. I felt numb. I felt empty. I questioned it all being real. I hoped that if I closed my eyes tight and attempted to convince myself that I was in a dream that at any moment I would be waking up and none of this would have happened. Unfortunately it was not successful…

When I entered the funeral home, I found myself searching for my friend like a parent searching for their lost child in a chaotic playground. From a distance we locked eyes. Being so focused on connecting with my lifetime friend I unknowingly passed numerous family members and friends with arms reaching towards her. Upon embracing I could feel her soul melting as her tears burnt through my heart and pierced my shoulder. She crumbled into pieces as she yearned for her father. She sobbed like the little girl I grew up with. Holding her in my arms I could feel all her mixed emotions percolating through her pores. Her tears uncontrollably flooded her eyes and face as she trembled like a leaf caught in the wind. All I could do was helplessly stay with her in the moment. I sat with her in silence. We hugged, we held hands, we cried, we laughed, and reminisced on the great memories her father bestowed upon everyone as we stared into nothing attempting to disregard the reality that we were in.

Knowing it is unattainable – all I wanted was to rip her from the pains she was feeling. It hurt my heart so much to see my friend and her family have to experience such a loss. I told her, ‘out of all the things we always complain to be too young for (ie. wrinkles and grey hair), this supersedes them all – we are too young for this, he was too young for this’. My mind began to ponder at super speed to think of the right things to say and do, but I realized (and remembered what I always told my patient’s families) that this is the time to ‘just be’ and allow her to ‘be’. Be whatever my much-loved friend needs me to ‘be’ and give her a place in me for her to ‘be’ whatever she needs to ‘be’.

All I can promise my friend is what I will be. I will be the friend she has always known. I will be there to listen again and again. I will be respectful. I will do my best to be aware of her feelings and verbal cues. I will be present. I will be with her in silence. I will be genuine. And most of all, I will BE THERE.

It’s hard to accept knowing I am not capable of healing my friend’s broken heart because I want to be super-friend and fix it all. But I know my friend needs to walk the journey of grief and she can definitely count on me being right where she needs me – beside her holding her hand, behind her giving her space, or in front of her telling her to catch up. No matter what it is, I will ‘be’ there for her.

I have no expectations for how she will feel the end of this week, next week, or even next month. All I know is that she a person with real feelings. She may have a smile brighter than the sun or feel like she was hit by an unexpected earthquake at the thought of her father or when her children ask for their ‘grandpa’ – and that’s ok. There is no right or wrong way for her to grieve.

In life we have traditions to prepare for most of our milestones. When our birthdays are close, we plan for a celebration (big or small). When we marry, we have showers and parties and plan for the big day. When we have children, we create registries, have a shower, prepare all the necessary items prior to baby’s arrival.  Even in deployments, we prepare dinners and outings before our loved one leaves and have celebrations when our loved ones return. However, in the departure from life – there is no way to prepare especially for the aftermath. The ‘events’ of my friend’s fathers’ departure may have passed but the moments will always remain. Just as I told my friend, there is no such thing as ‘closure’ because you can never close him out of your life; it’s just life with him in a different form.

Even as I come to the end of this entry, I will admit that it still feels surreal.…May God bless the daughters, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, his beloved girlfriend, and all other friends and family that have been devastated by this loss. My prayer is that you all find comfort and peace in the wonderful memories left to each of us and in the love from one another.

RIP “Boss”

 

A POEM FOR THE GRIEVING…
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die…
– Anonymous

PS: My Happy List

I very much enjoy reading Teresa’s Blog  “My Embodiment: Misadventures and Adventures of a Psychotherapists in Yoga School.” Not only is she also a psychotherapists social worker but she works very closely with military families. Her blog is a great read and very thought provoking – all should definitely visit her blog sometime.

At the end of every week Teresa likes to end her blog with a “List”. The week prior she created her “Happy List” – things to be grateful for. With my week feeling like an emotional rollercoaster, I thought this exercise might change my mood a bit.

So here I go,

My Happy List:

1- I am happy my oldest daughter is such a social butterfly– this week she began a new school and she has adapted really well and loves it! (definitely puts my heart at ease)

2- My new Grey’s Anatomy Season 5 on DVD. My favorite show! However, I could never catch the episodes when they aired since season 1! So every fall season I excitedly await the DVD to come out and this past week I bought my copy of the most recent season – I’ve begun to watch them and I love it!!!! Can’t wait to watch what happens next.

dvdrelease

3-  Wonderpets!!Not only do I enjoy the theme song 😉 (hehe) but my toddler adores them. More importantly this show provides me at least 30min in the day to just sit and do whatever I want or nothing (smile).

Nickjr "Wonderpets"

Nickjr "Wonderpets"

4- Chocolate covered caramel…..yyyuuummmmyyy. I thank a million times to whoever came up with idea to put these two together. My all time favorite comfort snack and this week it has played an important role in my life.

5- Target!The best and most dangerous place I can be. I go here even when I have no reason to but always come home with a cart full. This week  was definitely no exception ;-).

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6- My public commitment. I am so glad that I started this blog. I love to write! Here I found a place where I can express myself as often as I want. Writing gives me a feeling beyond verbal expression.

7- HALLOWEEN!!One of favorite holidays and it’s almost here (YaY)! I already have my daughters’ costumes and I’m shopping for mine – enjoying every minute!

halloween1

8- FRIENDS!! Even though I am always thankful and grateful for my good friends – this week I’m extra appreciative for them. We have been trough so much together in this past year alone – but what never changes is that we are always here for one another.

9- Since my husband has been on deployment I have appreciated email like I never have before. This week, as you all may know now, has been a difficult one but thanks to email my husband was able to reach out to me and know exactly what to say to perk me up.

10- And finally, shoes!Being a typical shop-a-holic, my favorite is shoes! The main reason may be because the size never changes unlike shirts, skirts, and pants but also because for me it is the most important accessory. Not only can it make or break your outfit but I can tell you a story about every shoe I own – be it where I got them or where I have worn them too. My shoes can also predict my mood if you know me well and this week I wore my Puma Simplice Flats almost every day! I guess since I couldn’t feel comfy in my heart I’d figure at least my feet would.

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And that my fellow bloggers and bloggettes is My Happy List….

I must say, it did make me smile a bit 😉

Have a great weekend everyone!

Stillness…

Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God…’ 

Just when I needed it the most, a very good friend of mine sent me a little reminder today that I am not alone. Of course, she is here for me too – but she was referring to a greater being than her – God. I constantly speak of how we have no control of what happens around us, but often I forget the important part is that with that we have to trust God – I have to trust God. It’s so easy for me to wake up every morning and scream at my reflection in the mirror asking, “Why me?” or “Why not me?” Instead I realize that the questions I should be asking myself is, ‘Is it even about me?’ I realize I am still young as God’s child and that I must seek direction in understanding more that my life is about Him, His plans, and His purpose.

I was raised in a Christian home, my mother has always been very close to God, and as children she would teach my sister and I the importance of praying to God and trusting Him. One would assume that being pounded with such a mantra from childhood that it would be second nature to allow God to lead my life. However, being simply human creates a barrier to my beliefs especially when society’s motto is, ‘We want what we want and we want it – NOW!”

Many of us are plagued with the title ‘control freaks,’ and the majority of us remain completely in denial. We never want to surrender any power of any situation unto another even more so if we don’t receive an explanation or reasoning behind why things are going the way they are. We want to make sense of things that occur. I know I myself prefer to plan ahead in all events and situations and, if possible, even be prepared for anything unexpected. However, I know I do not merit any explanation from God. My trusting in God means accepting what comes my way – be it happy, sad, and/or terrifying – all I can do is lean on God and ask for peace, unconditional love, and patience.

In Proverbs 3:5, the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. Moreover it states in Proverbs 28:26, “he who trusts in himself is a fool…” I can’t count how many times I went against what my heart was saying only to respond to what my body wanted and the result always being hurt and/or failure. It’s amazing how a simple saying of to ‘trust God’ can calm me in so many levels and make everything feel ‘right’. Just as my friend explained to me, “When you’re feeling tired or lonely or something is missing, turn to Him. He will never leave you nor forsake you, He promises!! Learn to look to and lean on Him again and he will supply all your needs.” 

God never asks us to be perfect, all he asks is that we trust him and the rest will fall into place. My will, my desires, my dreams, my goals, my ideas, my future – all need to be placed in God’s hand and allow him to have complete control. Of course I don’t intend on sitting at home until some unexplainable force comes to physically move me to where I need to go – but my prayers will transform from asking God for the things I want to thanking him for what I have and to provide me with what He thinks I need as I go through life – a life that is about Him, His plans, and His purpose.

Who am I to question what God has placed on my path? God has never left me and He has never gone back on His promises. I am blessed everyday with the necessities of life and more love than I can handle in one day. Daily blessing that I simply forget because I find myself preoccupied with the things I don’t have. A good number of us have the propensity to claim that we trust in God – but it goes beyond just a statement. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation or trial that is when we begin to question God, His love, and His plan. I will admit that I too am guilty of this. God tests our trust through trials so we can go back and lean and depend on Him only. I have come to finally comprehend that all things that have occurred in my life – be it good or bad – have happened to bring me closer to God. The Lord ‘gives and takes away’ but His love always remains.

Going through my husband’s deployment has made me realize more than before how much my family and I need faith. The first few months I moved away from God – angry at His plan. I had great friends in the state we were living, I had my dream job, and my daughters were in great schools. I couldn’t understand why God was ripping me away from my happiness – I still don’t. But I’m okay with not knowing. I questioned His existence and stored my Bible in a drawer. I was upset God could not give me what I wanted even though I knew what I want may not be what I need. I am not, and never will exclaim to be, the perfect Christian. I am a child of God and with that I will make mistakes, sin, and live in flesh but what will not change is my faith.

God has chosen my husband to be away from our family. God has chosen for my youngest daughter to only know her father as a picture and a voice. God has chosen my patience to be tested as a single mother. God has chosen that I become ‘the educated housewife’. God has chosen that I abandon my goals and dreams. God has chosen that my oldest daughter will cry for her father when she misses him. God has chosen that I cry myself to sleep because I desire my husband to be home every night.

But because God loves me…

God has also chosen that my husband and I learn the true meaning of trust. God has also chosen that my youngest daughter, at her tender age, can recognize who her father is no matter where we are and can express that she loves him by hugging and kissing his photos. God has also chosen that the patience I have accrued will help me in all days to come. God has also chosen that while I have abandoned my career, dreams, and goals, that I have the pleasure of enjoying my children – watching them grow up. God has also chosen that my oldest daughter is learning to appreciate family and life daily. And God has also chosen that I fall in love with my husband again and again every night and appreciate the little things more than I ever have before.

God’s promises are beyond my understanding and His choices may make no sense to me but I will continue to walk blindly with Him. Even through the trials and tribulations, I know God has a plan for my family and me. I trust that God loves me unconditionally, has my best interest, and desires the best for my family and I. There are countless benefits in trusting God – the protection plan is unlimited. Anything else we place our trust in can disappoint us but God will never disappoint us.

“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. . .” (1 Chronicles 28:20).

A New Life, a New School Year, a New Football Season, and some Chocolate.

I feel like I have been hit with a sentiment loaded AK-47 these past couple of days. Each emotion-filled bullet packed with tears, joy, anger, happiness, hate, and love. And I, of course, stand in the open field – arms wide open with no shield. I find myself trapped in the middle of a dual landscape both equally pulling at me. I have no control – everyday is a cycle of sunshine, rain, and rainbows and I am given no signs on where to stop and/or go.

 

This past Friday a very good friend (practically a sister) of mine and her husband welcomed a precious baby boy into the world. I felt the excitement to meet the gorgeous little one as I did for my own daughters.  I cradled him in my arms and I held back tears of joy as I admired his ten little toes, his ten little fingers, his button nose, and his sweet lips. His innocence was so humbling. Here is a little a miracle gifted to two amazing people that had been planning and preparing for his arrival and all because and for love. I couldn’t resist having a steady smile – looking into my friend’s eyes I could see her heart had changed – it now beats for an extra person, her new son – and her husband, so in love and speechless, unable to fully digest the fact that this little wonder belongs to him.

My friend's new sons' itty-bitty toes

My friend's new sons' itty-bitty toes

 Witnessing the first moments of parenthood reminded me of how incredible it feels to hold love in my hands. A moment that I easily forget every now and then, especially when I feel I am at my ends of parenting alone since my husband is deployed. Our daughters, just as my good friends’ newborn son, were created with love and the desire to share our strong connection of wanting to become and beat as one. I was fortunate enough to have my husband home for both our daughters’ pregnancies and births, but I know that other military wives are not so lucky. My heart goes out to the military wives that are expecting and/or have newborns at home who don’t have their other half physically with them to walk in this journey. I know it may not be exactly how, as a military wife, you planned on walking the path to parenthood. I don’t know what it feels like to go through this, but I can only imagine. My hopes are that these women find strength and courage (and a best friend of course) to help them through this rutted road.

My rutted road these days includes experiencing another milestone with the absence of my husband. I sent my oldest daughter off to 1st grade this week. Though she felt the excitement of starting a new grade (and a new school as well – typical military brat) she, being very in tune with her emotions (my lil’ therapist as we call her), expressed that she wished her daddy could be home for her first day of school and that “it didn’t feel right”. On the way to school, she held back tears uttering that she was “trying to be ‘all’ happy”. Thankfully my daughter and I share great communication and I explained to her that it is ok to not be ‘all’ happy all the time. Every now and then, I explained to her, even the strongest people need to let out some tears to get through their day. My heart shattered into a billion pieces as the sadness seeped through her eyes. Upon on our arrival to her new school, she got out the car and said with a smile, “well, when daddy comes home – I can’t wait to tell about all my adventures.” She has adapted well so far just as the social butterfly that she is. I can’t say the same for myself yet, but I know soon we will back into our (interim) routine as we wait for ‘daddy’ to come home.

My daughter - excitedly walking into her school

My daughter - excitedly walking into her school

Football season has also begun again. Every television in my house is normally tuned into ESPN from the moment the sun comes up and goes down. Steaks, mashed potatoes, chips and salsa, and beer are usually top menu choices. The blood runs blue in our home. My husband always roots for the Giants and our oldest daughter usually puts on her Giants cheerleading outfit to cheer with him. Occasionally I would even envy the NFL for taking my quality time away from my husband and would give a pout or two. But here I find myself connecting to football like I have never before – hating and loving it all at the same time. I can honestly say that for me, football is not the same without my husband. I read about everyone’s excitement regarding the upcoming games and all I can think about is how much I miss my husband and how much I want him home – on the couch – drinking a beer – watching the game.

The product of all the emotions I have been pounded with these past couple of days was me super indulging in my favorite treat – chocolate. I have had so much of it that the outcome of my indulgence was taking a couple of Pepcid Acid Reducer pills (Yikes – I know). I find chocolate very comforting. Be it a day of celebration and/or sadness – chocolate is my companion. I know that it is probably not the best choice, especially since it has been quite a number of days since my last visit to the gym, but (hey) it at least enhances my mood for that moment and plus, carrots just don’t have the same effect.

Nevertheless, even though these kinds of weeks can be difficult to get through – I welcome all emotions, because in the end it becomes part of who I am and continues to mold me into a stronger and experienced veteran – military wife.

“Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of chocolate! ”
— Elaine Sherman

PS: Remembering 9/11: The Day My Backyard Changed…

Youtube Video: from DVideoPro – 9/11 Tribute

 

I know that my blog today is not unique in anyway but necessary.

To begin with it doesn’t feel like it has been 8 years – it feels like it was only last year that America was attacked, a memory that will never escape me and a day that I remember vividly. Born and bred in Jersey City, NJ, separated only by the Hudson River, New York City has always been my backyard. Instead of having beautiful lakes or mountains – I had the most amazing Skyline to gaze at every night outside my windows. September 11, 2001 changed the landscape that I once knew and grew to love as a little girl.

I was starting my second year of college and was on my second week of classes. I received a frantic phone call from my mother on the morning of September 11, 2001 as I was getting ready to leave for my morning class. The first thing she asked was when did my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time and already in the military, fly to California, I responded with “yesterday and why?” She instructed me to turn on the television, because I was obviously ignorant to what was occurring to our America.

I saw a plane in the World Trade Center and my heart was saddened at thought that there was a horrible plane accident right next door. And then, the other plane struck. I remember my facial expression, my hand gesture, my shock, my disbelief, and my confusion that I felt as I flipped through all the channels on my television as I repeatedly saw the same thing over and over again. I called my mother and she confirmed that what I had seen was real. I worried for my father because he works in New York but my mother comforted me with letting me know that he was safe. I couldn’t get in contact with my husband (boyfriend at the time), but I knew he was ok –  I just wanted to hear his voice.

I couldn’t take being home and wanted to escape. I didn’t want to watch anymore news coverage because inside me I knew something was wrong. All I could think is that ‘this doesn’t happen here’. I turned off my television, grabbed my car keys, and headed towards my college – I wanted to pretend nothing had happened and that it was a normal day. As I passed the Holland Tunnel there were people standing and stopped every where just starring at the Twin Towers burn. I remember when I came to a light, I stuck my head out the window to get a closer look at my skyline and a construction worker turned to me and said “Can you believe it? We are watching history!” I responded with an awkward smile and said “yea I know”. I continued on but everywhere I looked I saw the towers – and then on the highway to school I saw the first tower fall from a distance. Traffic slowed down and came to a complete stop. I knew everyone felt the exact same feeling at that moment. I pulled over to side of the road got out my car and cried. Others did the same. I, feeling alone again, got back into my car and headed towards school in hopes of finding support there.

Once I arrived at my college, all the students on the campus were glued to televisions – I walked past them all and took a seat in my classroom. The professor entered the room and told us that this day we will remember the rest of our lives and we should go home to be with family. My heart sank as reality became clearer. I dashed to my car and hurried back home – at this point there was no one on the highways.

 By the time I arrived home, both towers had fallen, the Pentagon had been hit, another plane had gone down in Pennsylvania, and no cell phones were working. I felt so disconnected – so alone – so scared. I got back in my car with no destination in mind and found myself 3 blocks away at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. The doors were open. I walked in and took a seat in the 2nd to last pew and stared at the altar as all I could do was think. I remember the quietness being so calming. Then the priest sat next me and only said “it’s ok” and held my hand and that’s when I cried and cried and cried. It was at that moment I allowed myself to accept that what had happened to our country was an act of terrorism and I, and my loved ones, were not guaranteed safety.

I don’t remember how I returned back to normalcy, but the smoke remained in my backyard for days and the landscape that I adored was gone. Everyone came together at this time. We hugged the strangers and cried with our neighbors. For the first time in my young life I knew what it meant to be, unapologetically, a proud American. My country had been attacked and the anger mixed with sadness began to stir.

My life changed that day. It made me appreciate more what it means to have the freedom and protection that our country’s military fights for. I also recognized that this meant we (America) would most likely be engaging in a war and the probability of my husband (then boyfriend) deploying was high.

Today I find myself still affected by this tragic event in our American history. I still cringe at videos of September 11 and even close my eyes at times as though I am watching a horror film.  I never feel 100% safe in New York City. I know this was a day that no one will forget – we all remember what we were doing, where we were going, and who we were with and/or not with.

My deepest condolences go out to all the families and friends that lost loved ones that day. I hope that you find comfort in the memories you have and from the love and support of those around you.

September 11, 2001……..Never forgotten.

PLEASE feel free to write your own story in the comment box – short or long, we all remember.

I (HEART) NYU: My day at a PTSD and PTG workshop

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

Today my lovely sister gifted me with a day for myself. She offered to take my girls on her day off from work. I, being the proud nerd that I am, excitedly planned for a date with my brain at my alma mater, New York University (NYU), for a workshop. From the moment I woke up I had a constant smile as I was overflowing with nostalgia.

Walking towards the train station, I reminisced being a young graduate student at the school of clinical social work. I dreaded the walk everyday towards the path – and needless to say – the feeling had not changed, which may very well be a result from the fact that I had to speed walk because I was late (as I always was as a grad student). Once in the station I felt like a child riding the train for the first time. I was brimming with happiness and anxiously waiting on the platform for the 33rd street train to come. As soon as the train came – it felt like hundreds of us collectively jammed into the little rail car and packed ourselves tight like sardines in a can. There was no ‘good morning’ (or talking of any kind) and eye contact was not an option – it’s just not done (as it would be rude to do so). So there I was, starring onto the floor admiring and critiquing the other passengers shoes as I found myself  plastered against some random persons’ ‘New York Post’ like a fly on a windshield. I honestly adored every single (un-breathable) minute – I knew I was in New York City and my mind was drifting away into memory lane of graduate school.

Unaccustomed to walking in Greenwich Village, NYU’s campus, as I did in my grad school days, I felt like a calf caught in a wild elephant stampede. I was surrounded by students going in all different directions. Some running, some listening to music, some chatting, some texting, and the newbies – as you can clearly read in their eyes that they are fresh to area– looking everywhere completely lost. After crossing Washington Square Park I finally arrived at the Kimmel Building where I found the conference room that was hosting the workshop. Once in the room, I glanced at the people around me and inside, my jaw wanted to drop as I quietly starred in amazement and in awe of the brilliant minds that encircled me.

The focus of the workshop I attended was “Shared Trauma, Resilience, and Posttraumatic Growth: Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11”. In addition to the array of extremely intelligent and highly experienced doctoral professors from NYU, there were keynote speaks. Dr. Charles Figley, also a Marine and Vietnam veteran, is a trauma psychologist from Tulane University who spoke on ‘Shared Trauma, Shared Benefits, and Shared Research Agenda’. Dr. Richard Tedeschi, key researcher and writer of posttraumatic growth from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, addressed ‘Post-traumatic Growth in the Aftermath of 9/11’. Major Thomas Jarrett, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a very seasoned active soldier for the United States Army, and Doctoral Candidate at NYU, bestowed us with his knowledge on ‘Educating Warriors for Combat Operational Stress and Post-traumatic Growth’.

Primarily talked about was how as therapists we should not accept Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of a traumatic or shared experience but promote Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) not only within ourselves but to our clients as we walk with them on their journey – at their own pace of course. PTG, as I understood it, was, in a nutshell, ‘meaning making’ of an experience. PTG is both a process and an outcome, transforming responses to adversity into a growth enhancing outlook to the traumatic event that has occurred creating a new level of functioning and perspective. The best approach is to guide our clients into narrative therapy and/or “story-telling” – allowing them to become their own author.

 Major Thomas Jarrett also introduced his “Warrior Resilience and Thriving” program in which he encourages soldiers and veterans to strive for PTG and fight their “internal insurgents”. He mentioned how in his work he urges military service members to not settle with their deployments as being only a traumatizing event but to transform it into learning and empowering experiences.

Additionally, Major Thomas Jarrett touched upon a topic more close to my heart. He openly informed the audience about how stigmatization remains loud and clear in the military with seeking guidance (as I prefer it called) from mental health professionals as well as mental health still being highly under-reported. Military service members fear being called weak or unable to proficiently lead, for example, if they are under the care of a therapist. This is no secret of course, and I know the military is consistently working towards breaking down the barriers to mental health and eliminating (or at least reducing) the stigma. A process I want to be part of (even if it means my beginnings are with this blog and/or speaking to individuals as I go along my journey of military life).

Even though I am a psychotherapist social worker, I am a military wife and mother first. I will admit that I constantly fight my own battles to suppress my desire to allow the social worker in me to jump out and counsel, advocate, and treat my husband during his deployment. (I can only imagine this getting worse when he comes home.) But I know that my husband needs me to just be his wife and the mother of his children. As Major Thomas Jarrett mentioned in the workshop, family resilience is even more so important during military deployments. “If one family member crumbles, we all crumble”.

I know that it would be of no benefit if I constantly diagnosed, titled, or named the situations or circumstances my husband is facing. The only best thing I can do for my husband is to offer a listening ear with constant reassurance and letting him tell me truthfully what he feels in his heart. I cannot ask my husband to tell my gory details if he does not want to and/or if he has none! Nor can I drag out of him weeping stories of how he would rather be home.  It has to be true – it has to be him – because frankly, his deployment and experience is not about me.

What I feel and what I experience through this deployment on the homefront is my truth to hold. Just as my husband – I can only speak for what is true in my heart and from what I am ready to share. And even though we are on this road together as a family – just as when we ride in our family vehicle – we are looking out of opposite windows. I cannot show antipathy towards him for what he sees and does not see just as he cannot do the same to me. The only thing I can hope for is that when we come to the end of the road – we are together and stronger than we ever were before.