Young girl on a swing in the park alone
Christy Gualtieri, eTalkTherapy

Life Goes On

When my mother died in a January that’s been years ago now, I was surprised by how swiftly the rest of the world continued to operate. It moved forward unrelentingly, singly-focused, completely churning along as it always had. It didn’t skip a beat, not one: the sun still rose, the February weather was still frigid, waves of the oceans still approached and receded from the shorelines. I don’t know what I’d expected; of course the world would go on. My world, as I had known it, was so different, but the world at large had no idea. And I had resented it a little, at first – didn’t everyone understand what a big deal this was?

(My mother used to tell a similar story, in the opposite way, every year on my birthday: “When you were born, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t on the front page of every newspaper. Didn’t everyone understand what a big deal this was?”)

Death, birth.  The world kept turning through both of those things.

I thought about this the other day when I saw a friend of mine. I was trying not to huff and puff too loudly as I walked up the hill of our street (a couple of months in isolation without strenuous exercise can make anyone winded pretty quickly these days), and I waved as I approached her driveway from the requisite six feet away.

“How’s it going?” I asked, the way I asked everybody who’s been under lockdown for weeks on end, in that tone that clearly implied that I knew exactly how it was going.

Only I didn’t know. My friend stood still in the driveway, her boys playing behind her, and told me the news as I stood across the street, six feet away.

“I found a lump.”

Aggressive breast cancer in a 36-year old mother of two little boys, a tremendous wave of uncertainty in a time that already feels like a tsunami. And still, the world rolls on.

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One of my favorite traditions around Mother’s Day is to watch the BBC version of “Little Women” that came out just a couple of years ago. Every time I watch it, I’m struck by how death and birth exist so closely to one another. When someone dies, two little ones are born. Bad things happen, but so do the good. There is War, and separation; but there are also weddings and reunions.  

It is not lost on me that the world, although it looks and feels very different than it did just a few months ago, is still home to not only terrible things, but good things, too. All of the precautions we are taking to combat the coronavirus are also shedding light on things that we really enjoyed and miss, and can’t wait to take part in again. We are, like it or not, learning that for all the things in our lives we can control, there are so many that we cannot.

There are plenty of terrible things to see in the world, but there are also beautiful things.  They may be harder to find than they used to be (in fact, I’m sure of it); but maybe it’s a comfort to you to know that they are there. Maybe we can seek them out more than we used to, now that we are beginning to understand the importance of seeking the beauty around us. And I totally understand how frustrating that exercise is if you’re stuck inside… but is there a way the light hits a table in a way that is beautiful to you, that you’ve never noticed before? Is there a curtain you could pull back, or a blind you could roll up, or a photo you could move to a more prominent place in your home space to look at that reminds you of love?

Think of the smallest thing you can, then try to find more because just as the world rolls on through sadness, it’ll roll on through joy, as well.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Mother with little daughter playing in a autumn field
Christy Gualtieri, eTalkTherapy

Hold Things Loosely

There’s been a lot of talk about sacrifices these days, especially in comparison to the past. There’s the usual talk about how people today would never have been able to “hack it” back during times of real struggle, like during World Wars and Great Depressions; but there’s also some good discussion out there about how best to put the time we’re in right now to good use.  And what I’ve found most appealing so far hasn’t been pep talks like “Now’s the time to write that novel you’ve always wanted to!” (Which I think puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on an already unstable situation, but anyway) It’s been articles of historical value: “Here’s how people got through the really hard times.” It’s concrete history that’s shown us how resilient we’ve been as a species; and if you ask me, it’s helpful to remember that we’re just as resilient now, even if it looks a bit differently. 

In the face of all of this uncertainty (and who doesn’t see it everywhere they go these days?) I’ve found it’s best to “hold things loosely.” To think ahead and to hope, but to not put too much stock in what’s coming because it might be taken away more quickly than we think. Pennsylvania is operating on a tri-colored tier, and although it’s tempting to fix our eyes on the “green” phase of operations, it may be a good practice to realize that we could get kicked back to the “red” zone pretty quickly.

When the shutdowns first began, my kids’ school moved pretty quickly to shuffle everything online. They’ve done a wonderful job, and my kids do benefit from the one-on-one instruction that I cobble together to supplement their teachers’ videos. But I still find myself so thrilled by the PA Department of Education’s report that they expect students to be returning to their brick-and-mortar schools in the Fall. I dream of the day in just a few months when my kids can step on the school bus, fresh supplies in their bags, ready to start a new year, all crisply new amid the backdrop of all of that uncertainty.

But I’m learning not to hold on to even that so tightly because we just don’t know. We just don’t know what it will look like in even just those few months. And lest the disappointment be even worse than the hope, I’m finding it’s better for me to keep hoping, but also plan for things just in case.

We’re all in that boat, aren’t we? We’re all in this shared situation of having to wait, and I think it’s a sure bet that by now most of us have grown accustomed to disappointment. But before we go swimming into all of that despair, what are some ways we can find to balance out our disappointments? What are the small hopes we can believe in that can temper our temptations to believe that the world will be forever terrible? How can we hold things loosely in our lives and gain the freedom that comes with that flexibility?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Boy holding a magnifying glass showing a big eye next to the door
eTalkTherapy

Follow the clues

For all of the reasons I hate living with an anxiety disorder, there is one reason I’m glad for it – helping others through it. One of my children has a lot of anxiety too, and because I have lived with it for so long, I’m able to help guide him through his experience.  (Although, to be honest, sometimes it feels like the blind leading the blind!) I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for parents to help their children who do not themselves suffer from anxiety, because it is just an intricately difficult mindset to understand if you don’t already experience it.

One way I’ve been trying to help him, and this is a technique that I’ve found really helpful over the years, is to introduce the idea of being a detective. He’s just about at the age where the idea of detective work sounds so exciting. So for every anxiety-filled thought he has that causes him a lot of trouble, we “investigate” it: look at it from every angle, trying to inject as much logic as we can into it to see if the anxious thoughts will hold or if they’ll fall apart.

Most times, it works relatively quickly, but it does take some effort, particularly because his body is hyped up from the fight-or-flight response that accompanies the worries too.  (We’ve found that it’s best to wait until his body is calmer to help him take in the questions better.) We’ll try to sit down and ask questions of his worry:

  • What worry are you feeling right now?
  • Where in your body do you feel the worry?
  • What really happened? (We’re looking for objectivity here.)
  • What evidence do we have that makes your worry true?
  • What would someone else think about what happened?

And we go from there. The more we talk it out, the better.  Of course, as a parent, it gets tiresome because I don’t always feel like stopping everything I’m doing in the moment (making dinner, or cleaning up, or helping with a school assignment) to sit down and address these worries with him. More often than not, I brush off his worries with a “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry about it.” But as someone who struggles daily with anxiety and worry, I know statements like that do nothing to help the situation. It really is worth the time it takes to untangle his worry and help him back on the path to a good day and, if it can wait, some time right before bed is also helpful, when our attention can fully be focused on him and his needs.

Being a detective can also work for you! What worry do you have that keeps popping up, robbing you of your peace and your happiness? Where in your body do you feel it? What is really happening, and what evidence do you have for what you’re perceiving to be happening? What would a trusted friend think about what happened? Give yourself time to think about it, write it down/type it out in a journal, and talk to a therapist or friend if you need outside affirmation and guidance.

This is just one tool that we can find useful in our supplies to help us rise above and conquer the anxieties in our day, and can help us see more clearly as we go about our daily lives.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Woman enjoying a cup of coffee during healthy breakfast at home. Writing on notebook. Adorable golden retriever dog besides.
Christy Gualtieri, eTalkTherapy

It’s Okay To Be Okay

A writer/comedienne that I follow on social media, Jennifer Fulweiler, shared an Instagram stories post recently that expressed her shock at the reaction of a friend of hers to the current quarantine.  “How are you?” Jennifer asked her friend. “Never better!” was the reply.

“Never better?” At first, I had the same reaction to Jennifer’s: pure shock. How in the world could that be possible? And yet, it was, at least for this woman. And you know what? I’m sure that it’s true for more folks than just her. And I think it’s perfectly fine!

You know the saying “It’s okay to not be okay?” Well it is also “okay to be okay!” It’s okay to realize that, all things considered, now that we’ve had over a month of self-isolation under our belts, maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought they might be. Maybe you’ve been able to find some bright spots and silver linings in between the disappointments and the sufferings. Maybe you’ve been able to play at some new hobbies: baking bread, learning to knit, trying your hand at poetry. Maybe you’ve been able to catch up on a few TV shows you’ve missed out on, or you’ve been walking around the block during the day and you’re watching Spring unfold in a new way for what seems like the first time.

Of course, I don’t think (even for the woman who is doing so well) that there’s anyone going through this that is all okay every minute of the day. Even when we didn’t have a pandemic going on around us, no day in our lives was completely wonderful for every single minute of it. And maybe the complete opposite of all of this is true, and you’re miserable. Maybe your days are filled with dread, or disappointment, or just plain old weariness. But just as things don’t have to be okay for every minute, they don’t have to be terrible for every minute either. If you do feel despair, fear and rising anxiety, please reach out – and if you can find a window, walk over to it, and look outside. Spring is here. The birds are singing, and the plants are growing. Plants are funny things. It seems like they’re completely bare one minute, and then the next, boom! Everything is in full bloom.  But they were growing all the time.

We’re growing too, in this time of quarantine. It may not feel that way – it still may feel a lot like winter to you, at least interiorly. But we are growing. We’re becoming more patient. We’re becoming more hopeful. When things are opened back up to us, we’ll be able to do things we love again, and maybe this time around, we’ll be better people for it.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

two women on a bus wearing face masks looking at their phones
Christy Gualtieri

Love in the Time of Covid-19

Well, that came out of left field, didn’t it? For most people, I mean. You may have felt the tremors, but I’ll be honest with you: I certainly wasn’t expecting it. But that’s how life-changing (really, truly life-altering) things go, really: they’re sudden, even when you know they’re coming. There’s always a before, and then an after. Right now, I suppose we’re experiencing the during. But there will be an end, and then will come the befores and afters.

This cosmic blend of same and different – I’ll give you an example: I observed my neighbor getting into the car and backing out of her driveway. Same. She stopped the car to stretch blue medical gloves over her hands. Different. Here’s another: my kids learn during the day. Same. At home now, with me, rather than at school. Different. A hundred million little transitions that we need to make, and are making, sometimes without even thinking of them.

One of my mother’s favorite things to do while she was still alive was make us watch all of her favorite movies. Some were great fun (“The Birdcage”) and some were considerably less fun (“Spartacus”). The all-time great was (and I actually agreed with her) “The Sound of Music.” And now that I’m a mom, I get to make my kids watch my favorites, too. So, with great effort, I removed my much-screen-refreshed phone and settled in with them for three hours of merriment, humor, telegrams, and a wonderful puppet show. The VonTrapps, they too dealt with the same and the different. They too dealt with evil, and fear, and heartbreak against all of that beautiful mountain scenery. 

Humanity experiences suffering. Same. Humanity experiences COVID-19. Different. It is okay to feel every emotion you feel about it. It’s okay to cry when Fraulein Maria marries Captain VonTrapp, even if you’ve seen it fifty times. It’s okay to wonder what happens to Max at the end of the Austrian folk festival, because you know Herr Zeller wasn’t going to let that go. And it’s okay to be afraid when you’re fumbling around in the darkness, stumbling blindly toward the first light you see.

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As part of their new educational experience, my kids watch one episode of “Our Planet” on Netflix per day. The episode on forests was particularly striking, because it shows the resiliency of our wonderful, absolutely amazing planet. There is a segment on a forest fire, and only a few months after hundreds of miles of forestland was absolutely devastated from fire, the floor was blushing again with green, with vines, with life.

As we go through our own, very particular fire of fear and uncertainty, don’t look down only in sorrow, and in regret, and in fear. Look down to see the life that is growing just below, underneath. Invisible, but certain.

Same.

Until next time, be well!
Christy