Couplespeak™ Blog

Thanksgiving 2020 and Permission Not to Be So Thankful This Year

I read this CNN article and thought it was very timely and right on, I couldn’t have made this point any more clearly, so I’ve re-printed it.

I hope you relate to it, and I’d say “Happy Thanksgiving!” but that kind of goes against the whole point here!

Enjoy your meal, whatever company you can safely have, and hopefully, the day off……

Susan

You have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving

By Allison Hope, CNN

Updated November 23, 2020

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Author Allison Hope intends to focus on eating her feelings about 2020 with extra helpings of sweet potato pie this Thanksgiving.

(CNN)The gratitude is being dished out in platitudes this Thanksgiving.

“This Thanksgiving’s a bust, but try to focus on gratitude,” advised one health site, a precursor to a warning to avoid gathering outside our immediate households for the holidays.

“Share gratitude, not COVID this Thanksgiving,” another warned.

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You can serve up a portion of gratitude for your Thanksgiving this year, but don’t expect me to join you. I am going to focus on eating my feelings with extra helpings of sweet potato pie that I don’t have to share with anyone — because no one else is coming to Thanksgiving.

In a year when a once-in-a-century pandemic collided with social and political unrest, an unhinging economy and job market, and increasingly severe weather events, I vacillate between feeling something more akin to sheer terror. That’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from gratitude. My cornucopia is impacted by supply chain shortages, global trade wars and an impending dark winter that is coming more quickly than I’d like.

I have plenty to be grateful for, I know. I remain gainfully employed and am privileged enough to get to work from home. As of this writing, I still have my health, not having yet caught the virus (knock on everything) that has killed more than 1.3 million people around the world. While I know people who have died from Covid-19, including those my age in my extended networks, my immediate circle remains, for the most part, well.

And yet. I am incapable of feeling the joy that has, for every Thanksgiving prior to 2020, accompanied me to the homes of friends and family. There will be no road trips, no extended family hugs, no old friends in town visiting and reminiscing over a tall cold one, no spontaneous moments featuring new characters. This year is all plot twists without the comic relief.

I have landed in a new place this year, one where it’s perfectly acceptable to want people to take their gratitude and shove it up this year’s pathetically small turkey cavity.

Yes, I retain the right to feel full-on Scrooge this year, and I invite you to join me.

After all, forcing yourself to feel happy or gracious — when you simply don’t — isn’t a helpful thing to do. Forced positive thinking, in fact, does not make you happier, according to experts.

“The practice of gratitude has become popular in recent years, and it can be valuable, but not as a forced one,” said Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Ackerman Institute, a family therapy institute in New York City.

Forced gratitude is not constructive

We’ve all heard from any number of self-help research and books and podcasts and gurus that gratitude is a necessary embodiment to help us live fulfilling lives. But the truth is, sometimes gratitude just isn’t possible.

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Still, we might try in small ways to attach to some hope before diving back into that apple pie.

“As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, what or who is holding us, a child’s smile, a poem, someone’s love, perhaps spirit,” Watts-Jones said. “We can allow appreciation for whatever beauty we may still see, even in the face of suffering, and if not, accept that at this moment, it is enough to be where you are.”

After our brief interlude with gratitude, feel free to snuggle back up to your inner bah humbug.

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If we’re getting real, Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American tradition (sorry, Canada, I am not counting you) whose origins are murky at best. In true fake news fashion, the original Thanksgiving story reeks of propaganda, a tale we take at face value to feel good about American history and to stuff our faces.

In reality, the story of Thanksgiving does nothing more than paint American lipstick on the proverbial colonial pig, hiding the true barbarism of a time when White men first set foot on the land that they would go on to claim, along with the lives of the vast majority of people already living there, whether by force or happenstance via smallpox.

There was no turkey, no ubiquitous kumbaya. In fact, the only thing that was widespread between America’s earliest settlers and the Native Americans was a deadly contagion that disproportionately took out people of color. Sound familiar? Maybe the first Thanksgiving has more in common with this year than ever before. Many emotions rise to the surface, but gratitude is not one of them.

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In the spirit of Festivus for the rest of us, and celebrating the anti-holiday to air grievances rather than pleasantries, I hereby rename Thanksgiving 2020 “Grumpstaking,” whereby we allow ourselves to feel whatever range of negative emotions we damn well feel like feeling without the pressure to proclaim all that we’re grateful for.

Don’t worry, you can eat all the pie.

Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.



Life Is Not on Hold!

Here is a post I just received and got permission to reprint from Cindy Giovagnoli, a wise old soul, world traveller, photographer, artist and writer. See what you think:

Our lives are not “on hold”

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Oooooh, do I have a doozy of a conversation to have with you today! 

Not everyone’s going to like this, but I think you’ll get it.

Sooooo…

There is a single phrase that keeps popping up in conversations with friends and clients, and I keep seeing it written as part of social media posts and in emails from people and companies I follow. 

And it’s a big fat ugly lie that I want to address head on.

The phrase?

That our lives are “on hold” during this pandemic.

Which, of course, they absolutely are not.

I know what you’re going to say, and yes, a lot of plans and projects and ideas are indeed on hold.

But plans and projects and ideas are not our lives.

They are part of our story, of course, but not its entirety.

Not even a little bit.

Every day the minutes and hours continue to tick away.

There is no “pause” button happening right now. No one yelled “freeze!” and the world stopped on its axis.

Ask any human who has suffered the unthinkable and they will tell you that there is no such thing.

The world marches on. The seasons change. The days pass whether we agree that that is the fair thing or not.

Our lives are never, ever “on hold” no matter how much we might beg for a time-out to catch our breaths.

But here’s the thing.

That is okay.

I’m not saying that it always feels okay, because it sure as shit doesn’t.

But it IS okay.

On a long enough timeline, everything is okay one way or another.

And here’s another thing. It’s the thing I really want you to take away from what I’m saying today.

You still have agency in your life unless you choose to relinquish it.

You have choices about how you spend each one of those minutes, hours, days- they are not “on hold.”

You always have and it’s as true now as it ever was.

Some choices have been taken off the table without our consent and we don’t like that.

Nobody does. 

Of course we don’t like that. 

But there are still plenty of choices left there for us. 

Feel whatever you feel— don’t shove your feelings away or pretend they don’t exist.

AND ALSO make conscious choices about what you do.

Those things are not mutually exclusive.

We can take ownership of our actions.

We can take ownership of our choices.

We do not have to relinquish the agency we have over our lives.

There is a lot in this world I cannot control. 

The truth is that there always has been. ALWAYS.

I choose to stay empowered.

I choose to decide how I want to spend my minutes and my hours and my days.

Sometimes those choices will look “productive” and sometimes they won’t.

Sometimes those choices will be to engage with people or tasks that “distract” me from other things I want.

But the choices are mine to make and I will strive to make ones that best serve the life I want for myself.

I wish the same empowerment and agency for you.

Stay curious out there.

Cindy

Some insight about managing your anxiety amidst Covid-19

(Here’s an article my cousin sent me I’m reprinting so all of you can benefit from the honesty and wisdom in it):

I have clinical anxiety. If the coronavirus scares you, this might help

I’m not a doctor, but what I’ve come to learn over 20 years is that you really can master your anxiety.

By Kara Baskin Globe Correspondent,Updated March 25, 2020, 2:08 p.m.
 
ADOBE STOCK IMAGE; GLOBE STAFF ILLUSTRATION

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Globe Magazine special report, appearing in print on Sunday, March 29.

You might think that this is a terrible moment for someone with a clinical anxiety disorder. But here’s the thing: It’s like the rest of you have finally caught up with me. Hyper-vigilance? Insomnia? Catastrophizing? Extreme fear of uncertainty? Welcome to my Isle of Dread. Care for a cocktail?

I’m kidding, sort of. Panic disorder and extreme health anxiety have alternatively propelled and paralyzed me for two decades. For the most part, I exist as a fully functional human being thanks to 10 milligrams of Lexapro, an insightful therapist (now available on video chat), and long-practiced behaviors that keep me even-keeled.


But many friends, thankfully never touched by the cold paws of anxiety, are now asking me how to deal. They don’t know what it’s like to awaken each morning wondering what kind of mood they’ll be in, or to contemplate whether today will be the day that mortality — in the form of a rash, a lump, a tremor — descends. They have never gasped for breath, ridden the acidic wave of heart palpitations and clammy sweats, and clawed for reassurance like a feral cat only to retreat into a mind that offers no solace, only more questions.

Most people move through the world assuming it has a veneer of predictability, or what psychologist Luana Marques calls a “thin veil of certainty.” We are not wired to deal with open-endedness; under normal circumstances, for example, we can feel fairly certain when we go to the grocery store that we’re not going to contract a virus. That has changed.

“But uncertainty is there all the time, and we just don’t feel it,” says Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety sufferers know this intimately. You might be realizing it for the first time.


Please know that it will be OK. What I’ve come to learn over the course of 20 years is that you really can master your anxiety. I’m not a New Age guru or a doctor; I’m just a person who’s ridden it out. Here’s the trick: Don’t deny it. Accept that you are absolutely, 100 percent going to feel awful sometimes. I know, I know — the world is rife with mindfulness apps, breathing strategies, glamping retreats, and drugs aplenty to keep your unease at bay. These have their place. We cannot live in a state of heightened vigilance at all times.

But engaging with discomfort is its own therapy, too. It’s the most un-American thing ever, yet: You must sometimes feel bad. So accept the anxiety. Don’t blunt it; summon it. This sounds counterintuitive, I know, but anxiety isn’t a mark of shame to hide from people whom you assume are far more resilient than you. (They’re not.) It will continue to bounce on your shoulders like a thorny goblin until you grab it, stare it in the face, and have a firm chat.

“The first thing I’ve been making people understand is that anxiety is a normal response to a threat,” Marques says. “We want to run away from discomfort, but pushing anxiety away makes it worse. We’re living in times when most of us are comfortably uncomfortable at a minimum. Understand that by embracing our emotions and labeling them, we can ride the wave a little more smoothly.” It’s like surfing. You’ll be jostled by the ocean, tossed around, and eventually tumbled back onto the shore.


Of course, this is all academic until you’re hiding under a weighted blanket scrolling Twitter, wondering about that tickle in your throat. A behavioral way to cope is by doing something action-oriented, Marques says: cooking dinner with your kids, going for a walk. You’re forcing your brain to deal with what’s right in front of you.

Yet those of us with anxiety disorders also know that the only way out is by sitting with the discomfort until it dissipates. It’s like stepping into a hot tub and staying there until the water grows lukewarm. Acknowledge that you’re scared, and then tell yourself that you’ll sit, and you’ll breathe, and you’ll exist — yes, you will exist, minute by minute — until the feeling goes away. And, of course, reach out for professional help if you feel you need it.

Frame it as what we’re being asked to do in quarantine, on a smaller scale. Your mind is your own private bunker. You can’t just get up to leave, but when the door finally opens, think how much stronger you’ll be.

Passive Choices

Most of us like to think that usually things happen to us because we’ve made an overt decision – we enroll in a class, then we take the class, we buy certain foods, then eat them later, we drive in a certain direction and end up at our destination. Our mindset is that when these things go awry, its misfortune or an overtly bad decision or mistake on our own part or someone else’s part. And that can be true, but how about the choices we make by not doing certain things or avoiding and denying certain things? How about the role of procrastination in shaping our outcomes?

I worked with a couple awhile ago who were in a war about these other types of choices I call “passive choices.” The husband years earlier had been diagnosed with very high blood pressure and high cholesterol. About 10 years ago he was hospitalized for a burst aortic aneurism, survived it and had a stent put in. He was advised to eat a heart healthy diet and exercise regularly to avoid further cardiovascular problems. According to his wife he initially paid some lip service to those instructions, then proceeded to eat whatever he wanted, drink alcohol liberally, and almost never do any cardio exercise. So it was no surprise to her when last year he needed another stent elsewhere and a repair of the aortic stent, a serious, painful operation requiring extensive recovery and involving lots of caregiving assistance. Needless to say the wife was rips**t! It was clear to her that this was the life he had passively chosen, he wasn’t a victim of bad luck. He couldn’t understand why she had so little empathy for his plight, why so cold? Her retort repeatedly was “You CHOSE this! Your inaction, your avoidance, your denial set the stage for this! What did you think would happen, living the way you did? You CHOSE this life!”

(In this case, the husband’s most recent health crisis sat on top of his history of 40 years of smoking, not heeding warnings from his doctors and dentist, and not stopping until most of his teeth had to be extracted, followed by a disfiguring cancer of the jaw, so the wife’s bandwidth for empathy now was almost nil. It all felt totally predictable to her while he continued to feel like a victim of fate). Predictably, they didn’t have a good outcome in therapy, as she continued to feel like a scolding mother to a childlike man who refused to look at how he was making decisions with his attitude and behaviors every single day.

So, what’s the moral of this sad story? Pay attention to not only what you do in an obvious, concrete way, but also to what you do through inaction or denial.

  • Do you routinely put off paying bills until you get charged late fees? If so, you are choosing to create bad credit and financial complications. 
  • Do you neglect to return calls or emails from family or friends? If so, you are choosing alienation or conflict in those relationships.
  • Do you wait for a health crisis to follow your doctor’s advise? If so, you are choosing poor health.
  • Do you procrastinate meeting deadlines for tasks at your job? If so, you are choosing to get a lousy review, maybe even be earmarked for the next layoff.
  • Do you avoid hot topic conversations with your spouse or partner? If so, you are choosing to create a reservoir of resentment and distance between you two.

Instead:

  • Focus less on your benign intentions and more on how you play them out behaviorally. Good intentions mean very little if your actions aren’t lined up with them.
  • Realize that you can be a good person, making some bad passive choices.
  • Pay attention to the “handwriting on the wall – early markers of negative outcomes so you can steer in a different, more desirable direction.
  • Recognize that you make choices every day, both actively and passively, and that both kinds can create very powerful outcomes.

 

Next 20 Minute BlogTalk Radio Podcast Sunday, 11/24 8:30 PM EST: “Take the Dread Out of the Holidays with Some Simple Strategies”

Don’t miss this next BlogTalk Radio podcast!
In this 20 minute episode I’ll share my insights about some of the common sources of holiday related anxiety and stress, and how being proactive and intentional can transform the season.

If you have a history of some really negative experiences related to the holidays, and struggle with how to make it all more manageable, even magical, then this episode is for you! I’ll help you see how some simple planning, realism, and clear boundaries can make all the difference. You’ll see how you alone, or you and your spouse may have the power to turn it all around to meaning, connection and joy.

Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046. If you can’t make this (first ever) Sunday night podcast while it’s happening, you can stream it at your convenience anytime at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.

Hope one way or the other you can join me!

Susan

Blog Talk Radio Host

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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