The Soul Wound from COVID-19

The most helpful thing everyone can do right now is offer emotional support to others. Please look around you. No one should be left alone. Everyone needs a buddy to check in, to call, to go for walks, to say, “I care about you,” and ask, “How are you?”

I am deeply concerned about the moral injuries I am seeing as a result of how COVID-19 has been handled in the United States.

What is moral injury?
According to the Moral Injury Project at Syracuse University, “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress ones own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.”

It is also described as an injury to your soul. We know from veterans of war that moral injuries have deep effects that take a long time to recover from. Moral injuries are devastating on the inside – and are often carried in silence – like a grenade inside it threatens the life of the person who is suffering.

Moral injuries are starting to appear in many people. The symptoms show as a feeling of betrayal, particularly from leaders. Other symptoms are a lack of trust, alienation, hopelessness, highly anxious, burnout, overwhelm, despair, and suicide.

When you are suffering from a moral injury, your pain can be aimed at yourself as shame, failure, and inability to help anyone. You may believe that what you are doing has harmed people. 

One of the most helpful things you can do right now is leave no one behind, no one alone, no one carrying the despair and fears from COVID-19 on their own.

Essential workers across all disciplines are dealing with issues of safety, trust, isolation, and fear. You can help by staying in touch with the people in your circle. Grow your circle. Stay checked in. Everyone needs more connection and support in these times. Please keep reaching out. When you ask someone how they are and they say, “fine”, ask again. Let them know you really can be present for them.  

If you are suffering from a moral injury, reach out for counseling help. Support is available. You are a valuable person who could not prevent what has happened. This is not your fault.
You deserve care and help. We’ve got you. Please don’t carry the burden of this alone.

Emotional Comfort for COVID19

I promised each week I would send some tips for getting through COVID19
This week is about supporting yourself and others emotionally.

Who can you be emotionally real with?

This is the time to take a closer look at your closest people. None of us can emotionally carry the weight of everything we are witnessing or experiencing by ourselves.
Now is the time to allow yourself to be emotionally honest with others.
You don’t have to pretend.
Authenticity helps.

 For those of you who are used to doing emotional support with others - in healthcare and human services, and education - you are not made of anything different than others. In fact, you may be feeling the weight of this and worn through.
If you are feeling worn down:
Notice and give yourself a break.
You are not superhuman. You don’t always have to be strong.
Feel what you are feeling.
Stay checked in with yourself and call someone - a colleague, a friend, or a family member. Be a listening post for each other. Take turns talking and listening. 
This is the only way through overwhelm. Everyone, including you, needs to have someone who can listen to what you are feeling.

You may be feeling helpless, sorrow, grief, and fear of what is next. 

We are all seeing things we have never seen before. You may be exhausted. You may be wired. Just notice what you are feeling. Keep taking small breaks - notice when you need some recovery time to breathe, close your eyes, step outside, write in a journal, talk to someone. Don’t keep it all in and try to carry this alone.

You may also be finding your moments of grace or gratitude. Gratitude does not erase the hard stuff. You may notice both.
Moments of grace, creating art, prayer, reading, stillness, your kids, your partner, your pets - whatever helps you get moments of grace. Music, poetry, and art feed the soul and are helpful during tough times.

Your emotions are fluid. Feelings shift from moment to moment, day to day.
It helps not to guess how you will feel, but to notice - how you do feel in this moment.
It is not permanent.

So much has changed so quickly. You had sudden losses. We are all in this together. Be kind to yourself and to others. Everyone is experiencing loss right now. The grief may be hurting your heart or your head or landing somewhere in your body. Try taking extra care with your body. It is carrying so much extra right now.

Be gentle with your body. You may notice it is hard to take showers, get dressed, wash your clothes, wash your bedding, stretch, take walks. Even though it is harder, be sure to do those small things. Be kind to your body. It is your home.

What gives you comfort?
No matter what we are walking through, witnessing, notice the very small things that give you comfort.
It may be hard to feel reassured right now. The virus is invisible and could come from anywhere.
You are not crazy if you feel scared. Feeling scared makes sense right now.
But when you are scared, do the things that help bring you some comfort.

Call a friend. Ask what they are doing for comfort.
Do the very simple things that are comforting. Look up at the sky. Read. Lay under a blanket. Rub your arms or legs. Say the comforting things you would say to a child. Write those words to yourself.

The days ahead may be harder than the ones we have just faced. We need to brace ourselves. Now is the time to circle in with your support. Find one person, one place where you can be a listener and be listened to. Truth talking helps.

Whatever you are experiencing, if your fear seems bigger at times, it is reasonable. Keep reminding yourself, this is a normal response to extraordinary circumstances.
If you need more support, call on people for help.

The only way we will get through this is together. We will get through this together.

Small Tips for you, families, and small business owners

Friends are calling and asking for some tips to share. Here are some tips for this week.

Focus on today.
Like you, much of my schedule has changed.

I am doing a morning routine, an afternoon routine, and an evening routine.

Having some structure is helpful. Even if it is only a structure for the day.

 Do a few things that repeat from one day to the next so your days feel like they have some continuity. Knit, walk, read, write, music, work, reach out, chore. These hold my day together.

Reduce time on social media time and reading the news. I have a brief daily check-in time to limit my exposure and protect my psyche. 

Keep track of each other.
Call family and friends. Voice is better than text. It is more sensory your feelings, tone, and care comes across with your voice.

If you have teenagers, it helps to have them read or watch the daily news and discuss what it means. It is an opportunity to build the habits of following the news and thinking about what they need to know.

Children and elderly family members also need a routine. Include them in making a daily schedule, discuss chores and ways they can help. My 88 year old mother in-law has taken charge of the dishwasher and folding clothes from the dryer. Her help is greatly appreciated. She is also a serious scrabble player! I'm dusting off the board games in my house. 

If you have children at home, you may find it easier to do some cooking ahead so that you are not starting every meal from scratch. It makes each week easier, and one less thing to think about each day.

Couples: Give your partner acknowledgment and gratitude. Notice who is managing the groceries and keeping track of what is needed. Notice who is trying to protect the family with hand washing reminders. Notice who is leading family meetings and trying to plan the days. Notice who is earning an income while working from home. Take time to appreciate all you are doing and all your partner is doing. Daily love and appreciation matters when everyone is stretched so thin. 

Small Business Owners: Many of you are caring for employees, keeping your business from drowning, and you are looking out for your families. Now is the time to give yourself some grace. None of this is in your control. It's ok to take some time to create your emergency strategy. You did not have had a plan in place for this. No one has. 
Pause. Create your strategy within the severe limits of what you have to work with right now. What people will remember is how you treated them. 
How you treat your employees is key. Caring leadership is what is needed now.

How you treat your customers will be remembered when this is over. I am watching some businesses soar by how well they are managing refunds while others are sinking themselves with the way they are treating customers. 

Take breaks. Stop and take care of yourself. You must replenish yourself each day by doing small things for yourself. A walk, read a novel, listen to your favorite music. Take a break from the enormous challenge. Notice what else is happening- this is my neighbor's tree in bloom. I wait all year to see it.

I will continue to share tips in this evolving situation.

Take good care of each other.

Is the Squirrel at Your Door?

When I opened my cabin-office in the woods, I hoped the healing energy of the trees would support my clients, offering comfort and peace. You can see the trees from the large windows  in my office and a French glass door. "The cabin is surrounded by a cathedral of trees" said one of my clients.
What I did not think about was how all the woodland animals who live in those trees would participate in counseling at my cabin.

Yesterday, I stood at the French door and watched a squirrel digging right outside the door. A client came in and I asked him to stand by the door with me. We watched the squirrel digging. It was fast digging with both paws. Quick breaks and then more digging.

I thought the squirrel was going to pop something in the hole.
No, the squirrel poked her head in and pulled out some food she had buried. She looked at us with the prize in her mouth and then ran off.

I was amazed by the squirrel's timing. 
I said to my client, "All the work you have been doing to unbury a part of yourself, and this squirrel came at your session, right up the door."

After my client left, I thought about the squirrel. Unburying a part of yourself is painful, deep digging work. It's painful because this may be a part we have missed in our lives.  Sometimes this part challenges who we think we are. Unburying asks us many questions that require reflection, digging, digesting.

All the while, we are on the way to being more whole. 

If you are unburying yourself these days, may the squirrel be with you.

Tips for Holding A Gathering

Here are some tips if you are holding a gathering for women to share their stories of sexual assault and abuse.

1- Think about the space for your gathering. 
Be sure it is quiet and protected from interruptions.

2-It is important to have an opening and closing that supports connection between those gathered. Remind people that it is important to do something physical after to help their bodies. 

3-It is important to have a list of resources of counselors who specialize in trauma. It will say this on the counseling page of a website- where someone describes their qualifications. This list is a referral list for gatherers who may need support after the event.

4- Let gatherers know they may feel shaken or have waves of emotion that night or the next day and next week.  Many are already feeling this prior to the gathering.  Tell them to really plan to do lots of extra selfcare that night or the next day. 

5-Define selfcare for gatherers. Not everyone knows how to do this. Give examples. I have 25 tips for mental health wellbeing on my website. You can download this and share it as a handout. Or share some other lists.

6-Think about how gatherers transition from one speaker to the next. Who will help move to the next person?

7- Please discuss flooding and have a way for someone to step back or step out if they need without feeling they are hurting others. You may want to have extra support for someone who becomes flooded. Flooding can happen when a person is listening to all the stories. 

Take good care. This matters. Thanks for all everyone is doing to hold these gatherings. Please plan to take good care of you too. 

Where does joy come from?

My client looked at me and asked, "Where does joy come from?"
This is a question that I think many people wonder about. 

Joy comes from our sense of gratitude and appreciation. 

Joy happens when we pause and notice, really notice something we appreciate. 

To fully appreciate something or someone we need to hold it in our gaze, listen with full attention, and pause to feel it. Absorb and take in whatever it is you are appreciating. 

It can be the smell of the ocean, the water on my feet, the color of the roses. As I drove up the street a bright yellow goldfinch flew by. This morning it was the last of my earl grey tea, the soft grey color of the clouds, the message from my daughter, the warmth of the sweater on my skin. Joy comes from noticing what is right in front of you.

For some people, this is a way of being. You can make it your way of being. Pause from whatever you are doing, every hour or more, and notice something you appreciate. The more you pay attention to what you appreciate, the more you will feel joy.

Some people practice by keeping a gratitude journal. Stopping to write down and hold in your thoughts something you appreciate. This is the art of holding the gratitude in your mind, lingering on the appreciation. It is not the writing or drawing that creates the joy, it is the lingering in the appreciation. This is where joy comes from.

Can you do this without journaling?  Yes. You can do it by pausing and noticing.

What if you don't feel anything? 
It may take time for you to feel, fully feel your own appreciation of something. Be patient with yourself.  Begin by appreciating with your sight, hearing, smell, and touch whatever it is you are feeling grateful for.  Smiling can help get you closer to joy while you appreciate. Neuroscientists have found that smiling sets off a neural response in your brain that will make you feel happier. You will feel joy in time. 

What You Can Say and Do for Someone who is Depressed

The things we say and do and can make a difference when someone is depressed. Here are some things that help. 

It takes patience, courage, and practice.

The first thing to do: 
It's not easy to find a good therapist or the right fit. You can help someone by getting recommendations of a good therapist. When you help find a recommendation, you are a lifeline. Ask your friends for recommendations. Check with your healthcare provider, naturopath, acupuncturist, or massage therapist. They will usually know someone.  

You can even help set up the first appointment or stand with them when they make the first phone call. 
It takes courage to go to that first appointment.
Note when their appointment is and bring some care.
Call them, check in and ask how the appointment went. Ask if they made another appointment. 

It is important to ask if your loved one is feeling suicidal. Ask. Get immediate help if they say yes. Stay with them. Do not leave them alone.

Lend them your faith:
People who are depressed can get exhausted by the fight and as we know, they may give up. Bring lots of faith. The faith that they will recover, remind them of the better days. Loan them your faith when they run out of it. Tell them they will heal.

Support the meds:
Never ever say, "meds don't work". Medication is sometimes essential. Be affirming and support people to take the medication. The medication can help them stabilize. Medication alone is not enough. If someone says they have stopped taking all their meds, be concerned. Remind them if you saw the medication helping. Be understanding that medication has side effects. 

Show up often:
Join them in doing the life affirming things that help people recover. Show up. Be a good friend. Hang out with them and get them to take a walk, go out in nature. Do meditation together. Go for a massage. Take a yoga class together. Be the soft shoulder.

Bring your strength:

Never be tired of their fight. It can be exhausting for them and exhausting to everyone supporting them, including you. In fact, there will be times when it is too much for you. Try not to withdraw. Try to bring others onto the team to support and care and help so you can take breaks.

We have all heard of people who were getting help, taking meds, had loving people around and still took their lives. It takes more than meds, more than therapy, it takes a whole lot to break through with someone to find a life worth living. 

Support Changes:
Often they need to make changes in their life to make it better. Try not to be reactive and think they are making a big mistake. It takes so much courage to take the steps to make the changes. Be supportive of them taking those steps. 

For those who have lost a loved one to suicide,  the burden of "what could we have done differently" weighs so heavy. Your love and understanding will be needed.  They did everything they could.