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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Anti-Covidanxiety Toolkit #8

Here's a reminder before I share a few tools.

Take what you like and leave the rest. All the tools in all the toolkits I've shared are, of course, merely suggestions. Or as author, therapist and teacher Deb Dana described, items on a menu at a restaurant. You can ignore the ones that you know won't work for you, and only choose those that are tasty and nourishing--for you.

For example, along with Ms. Dana, I will not be making a daily schedule for myself! Setting up a schedule seems to be the first suggestion on a number of quarantine self-help posts and webpages I've seen. But I know my personality--my heart and soul abhor tight timelines and schedules. In fact, for the past year, since retiring from my "regular" job, I have been relieved--thrilled even--to live my life a little more loosely. Of course I set up and keep appointments, and live by the clock and calendar to a certain extent. But to try to cram myself into a set schedule would only cause me more stress, so I tossed that idea right out the window.

There's a good chance you've reacted to one or more of these tools I've been offering in the same way. So please feel free to toss any (if not all!) of these suggestions.

Lists of Tools. That said, I decided it could be helpful to have lists of the tools in each toolkit, all in one place. So, I've created a special post which does that, like a table of contents. I will update it whenever I add a new toolkit. Next week I'll include a link to a one-page printable PDF with lists of all the tools in Toolkits 1 - 8 and the Mini-Toolkit.

Now for this week's offerings.

Half-size that window. In the months following a medical procedure that went awry (many years ago), I struggled with a lack of ability to turn my mind away from the painful memories of that experience. I was often overwhelmed and had a hard time functioning in any consistent way. A wise and kind counselor offered me a simple tool that I still find quite useful. She said she completely understood why I couldn't stop thinking about the experience. And she reminded me that there were many other good things, within me and around me.

She said, "When you can't help but focus on those stressful memories, it's like a window maximized on your computer screen, hiding everything else. There are a lot of other windows open, but right now you just can't see them. Right now you probably can't completely get rid of or minimize that window of focus on your trauma. But try just shrinking it a bit, half-sizing it, so you can catch a glimpse of those other windows. You might have a window for a hobby, or a book, or some activity you like, or another person. Or your job or the new recipe you might make this weekend. And if that painful window fills up the screen again and hides the other ones? Well, just remember that they are still there even if you can't see them, and that you'll be able to shrink that window of painful focus again sometime soon."

Our anxiety, frustration and fear can feel huge and overwhelming sometimes. Especially these days, of course. Remember, our brains have a negativity bias, which evolved to protect us. But we are more than that fear, more than that anxiety. So, if you can, drop the size of that fear window down just a tiny bit and see if you can glimpse something behind it that is a little more peaceful.

And along similar lines...

Think about a pink-spotted giraffe. What happens when someone tells you, or you tell yourself, "Don't think about that!" "That" being your current big problem or concern. It's like saying, "Don't think about a purple-striped zebra." And where does your mind go immediately? To an image of a purple-striped zebra, of course! Trying not to think about something just doesn't work. Much better to say to yourself, "think about a pink-spotted giraffe." That works a lot better. So be kind to yourself; find something truly interesting to think about that is far removed from whatever your mind is currently obsessing about. And many thanks to the old friend who first introduced me to this idea.

Feelie hearts. I don't remember where I first heard about feelie hearts. They are small handmade hearts of soft fabric like velvet, flannel or fleece, stuffed with a little soft material, small enough to carry in a child's pocket. Sometimes even smaller than the ones shown here. They originated at the Bridges Center for Grieving Children at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, WA. They were designed to be a tactile reminder of hope for children who were grieving the loss of someone special, a soft physical sign that someone was thinking of them, that they were not alone. Since then many other groups have picked up on the feelie heart idea, making them for foster children, for families facing serious illness and upset, for children who have lived through a school shooting, even for first year medical students "as a reminder to hold their own hearts and the hearts of their patients and colleagues tenderly." Wow.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a feelie heart? Or to make one for someone you love? Of course during the pandemic we should only carry them in our pockets when we are in a safe place, like a home where no one is sick, not out and about where we might forget and put an unwashed hand in our pocket. BUT! The good news is that human beings are creative, so we can re-imagine ways to use feelie hearts. You could hang one on your bathroom mirror. Or tuck one on your child's pillow before they go to bed. Or have one with you while you are doing homework, or attending a Zoom meeting for work. (No one will ever know!) Or if you're an artist you could do a series of pictures, "Where's Feelie Heart"? Or you could be silly and put one in the egg carton in the fridge. If you share your space with someone, you could even make a game out of it--where will the feelie heart turn up next?

And finally, from a man who knew about darkness. And difficulty. And courage and love:

The world indeed is full of peril,

and in it there are many dark places;

but still there is much that is fair,

and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief,

it grows perhaps the greater.

JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Andersen Jensen, unSplash

Alistair MacRobert, unSplash

Sian Cooper, unSplash (edited!)

Bridges Center (last two images)


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