Tag Archives: Mister Rogers

STOP “Looking For The Helpers” /Avert Your Eyes or Get Busy

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If I NEVER see the Mister Rogers quote to “Look for the helpers; there are always people who are helping,” when something goes dreadfully awry in our world again, it will be too soon.

Unfortunately, in the mist of our latest and greatest (by greatest I mean completely camel shit dick ball sucking craptastic) international disaster, I’ve found this platitude of the famous children’s TV show personality almost everywhere I look.

Sure, on the surface, it’s sweet, kind; it offers hope in the midst of despair. Hope is a good thing. I have nothing against hope.

What I DO resent is the bastardization of a sentiment intended to comfort children and reassure them their adults were in control of dangerous, traumatizing situations.

While it is natural this quote might comfort adults of children to whom they might offer it, it is often held aloft by adults instead, a sort of shield against their own anxiety.

In a way it pretends nothing more need be done than utter those magic words, and presto! Instant comfort and hope. All better.

Mister Rogers has had a moment over the past couple years. Our frenetic, mean world seems to crave his slow-spoken kindness. But with any figure who becomes pop icon, there is a sort of revisionist hagiography, a blurring of flaws so only goodness and purity shine through.

On a lot of pages and sites online, I see people asking, “What would Mister Rogers tell us about Covid-19?” And the invariable answer is, “He would tell us to look for the helpers!”

I didn’t know him personally, but I guess he might tell you that if you were in the four to eight-year-old demographic his show targeted.

But an adult?

I have to believe a man with his intelligence would have challenged us a bit more than just to look for arbitrary people doing important jobs in order to comfort ourselves in the paralysis of our own helplessness, or worse, our laziness.

If I am to continue having ANY respect for Mister Rogers, I must believe he would not encourage us to simply look for helpers while the world literally falls apart around us.

Here’s another reason I truly resent the use of that phrase: I’m a helper myself.

I’m a therapist. This time has been unbelievably unsettling for my clients, my colleagues, my profession.

Within a couple days, we had to figure out how to do our jobs completely differently to continue helping during this time of unprecedented challenge.

Anxiety, isolation, depression. Addiction. Abuse. Hunger. Homelessness.

Loneliness.

In a world with billions upon billions of humans, people are lonelier than ever.

I also have a family. My kids are scared. They are schooling at home. I am helping them while juggling my entire caseload. The idea people would look for me as a helper and not see the entirety of my humanity agonizes me.

I’m only doing telehealth from the comfort and safety of home. Doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, bus drivers, pharmacists, and millions of other people who can be considered “helpers” don’t have that luxury.

One thing we all have in common? Fear.

You want to look for us? Know this: We are burnt out. Terrified. We are scared of getting infected, but even more than that, of infecting our families. We carry the weight of our clients and patients every waking moment and into our dreams. We experience vicarious trauma that keeps us up at night.

Right now, the usual boundaries we set for ourselves to stay balanced and healthy are askew. We are being asked to do more, take on more, be more flexible. It comes with the territory, but damn it feels dirty and unfair.

Being a helper gives me chest pains and raging shits. Sometimes I shake. Being a helper leaves me with very little for my own family. Being a helper makes me cry and feel hopeless. Often, my heart races. Being a helper makes me angry, full of rage. Being a helper makes me so tired, but doesn’t let me sleep.

Does this mean I shouldn’t be a helper? No. I don’t believe so. I believe it means I’m human.

Watch the clip of Fred Rogers, in the 2018 documentary, trying to address the nation after 911. He felt it too. He wasn’t perfect. He didn’t have endless reserves of compassion or patience. He despaired just like the rest of us. You can see it in his eyes, the slump of his shoulders. The rest of that documentary was dross to me for its desire to propel him to sainthood, but that one scene felt so real to me. It was the one moment to which I could relate to his actual humanity.

We are all of us squishy, stupid, flawed, fucking human beans.

We are imperfect, but we have a gift of being able to connect with people. If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be this tired. If I didn’t truly care, I wouldn’t bother speaking out right now.

Here’s the other thing: As a helper, I can’t help anyone who isn’t willing to help themselves. You depressed? You got trauma? Cool. Let’s work. But let me be abundantly clear, you will be getting busy. My job is to open a door. It is your job to get up and walk through it. I can point to the thread that might start to untangle your messy web. It is your job to start pulling.

The reductive idea helpers exist to endlessly help is not only tiring, it is quite frankly offensive.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. That’s fine.

When pain, fear, or sorrow trigger us we tend to go where we are familiar and feel comfort. For many, Mister Rogers provides such refuge, and has since they were young. Do what you need, but I beg you, if you want to look for me as a helper- look at all of me.

Look for me with my greasy hair and baggy eyes. Look for me with the ugliness of my stress acne. Look for me falling asleep watching TV with my kids. Look for me taking walks and trying to crawl out of my own skin because the world scares me and I want to fly away.

Please don’t just look for me hanging up after a telehealth session when I’ve said something wise to create connective tissue with a client, massaged an old scar with clinical theory, helped someone establish safety. Please don’t just look at me when I am “winning” at helping. Helping is hard, fucking drudgery.

And for the love of milkshakes, please don’t just stand there and look! Spring into action!

None of us can know what Mister Rogers would say if he were here. Honestly, I can’t imagine he’d have any point of reference to say anything remotely cohesive about the horror happening on our planet. It doesn’t really matter what he would say.

I wonder if he would want adults to be more proactive with helping children and each other, as opposed to just sitting back and “looking” around.

What words of comfort or motivation can you offer?

There are a lot of ways that start within ourselves and have nothing to do with looking for others.

Reach out to someone to see if they are okay. Reach out to a helper to see if they are okay! I promise you, they are almost certainly not okay even if they say they are.

Draw, journal, listen to music, dance. Infuse the brilliance of art into the bleakness of trauma. Take walks. Sing. Nurture your body and soul.

Make cards and send them to a nursing home for the residents, or even to the staff to pick up their spirits during this time.

Start a gratitude journal. Studies show that focusing on things about which we can be thankful, as opposed to concentrating on the negative, helps encourage positive feelings to take root.

Take time and talk to the children in your life. Check in with them. Read them stories. Allow them time to ask questions about what is going on and to process their own feelings.

Focus on facts, not feelings. Consume social media and the news in smaller doses so you don’t fuel your own anxiety. This will allow you more energy for helping others.

If you are able, donate to a food pantry or to a shelter that is helping the most vulnerable of our citizens during this time. There are so many who don’t even have the luxury of what many of us take for granted every morning.

Together we can do so much to lift each other up during times of trouble, but only if we move beyond our comfort zone, past the shallows of familiar platitudes to the places where authentic connection can truly heal.

 

 

New Territory– Accepting My Beautiful Shit

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  While walking back to my office from a staff meeting today, I commented to a coworker that I did not enjoy the meeting.

“These meetings always make me anxious and paranoid that I’m doing tons of stuff wrong,” I said. “Ooohhh, is that new territory for you?  Anxiety?”  One of my coworkers snarked.

I have a reputation for being anxious.  It’s not a secret.

I tend to be highly organized, very sensitive, and sometimes compulsive when it comes not just to my work, but to life in general. But to hear my coworker mocking me for it left my jaw hanging open.

Of course he was just joking with me, and he didn’t know I was having a really raw week.  I don’t think he meant anything unkind by it, but it left me feeling sad and, yes, even more anxious.

I don’t need to read the book to know I am the poster child for the Highly Sensitive Person.  I’m introverted, emotional, and have a hard time not taking things personally.  I worry almost constantly about how I am presenting myself, what others think of me, and startle easily.  I spend hours contemplating things I’ve said, or how I’ve reacted to things.  I get almost unreasonably obsessive about little things like books and TV shows and dreams I’ve had.  I need a lot of alone time, and I’m a daydreamer for sure.  My heart leaps before my head.

I also have a hard time trusting not only that others will accept and understand the dimensions that the facet of anxiety adds to my personality.  I have a hard time trusting my own self, and my own instincts and intuition.

Highly sensitive people who are highly evolved own their traits as strength, and wear their empathy, creativity, and emotionality like badges. This is something on which I am still working.

I heard beautiful Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, describe our flaws as manure.  Our jealousies, insecurities, anger, fears, and sorrows may just be the shitty stuff about us, or about our lives.  But one does not just throw away the shit.  We use it to nourish and grow our gardens.

I am eternally grateful to Ani Pema for this little pearl of wisdom. Because a lot of the time, I feel like a pretty shitty person.

Anxiety is shitty.  Panic attacks are shitty.  If you have ever gone through a period of intense anxiety, you know it is not a naturally beautiful emotion.  It is not easy to accept.  This tender analogy has helped me be more accepting and nurturing of myself.

It’s not always easy. 

 I often feel like a shitty person because there are times, as a HSP, I don’t know where I am going to be emotionally from one hour to the next.  This is rough not just for me, but for the people around me, especially my spousal unit and children.  Let me make it clear that I do not spend my days ranting and raving–  I AM STABLE.  But there are days where life can feel like a roller coaster.  If you are a HSP, you get what I am saying.

It’s like this:  One moment I am driving to work in a bliss of music, and I catch some wild flowers on the side of the road and tell myself to bloom where I am planted.  And that feels incredibly inspiring and I walk into work feeling awesome and confident.  Ten minutes later when my phone is ringing and I have three intakes waiting for me, my heart starts to race and I am feeling angry and anxious because fear I won’t meet everyone’s needs and expectations.

But it’s not all bad. Anxiety and sensitivity motivate me to do better all the time.  I have learned to practice mindfulness, and when I start creeping down Anxiety Avenue, I know enough to tug myself back and slow down.  Anxiety keeps me organized.

My traits as a highly sensitive person also allow me to attune with my clients.  For some reason, it is harder for me to attune to my family, when I am exhausted and drained and prickly at the end of the day, but I am working on that.

I wanted to tell my insensitive coworker that if he knew anything about anxiety, (which he SHOULD since he is a mental health worker), then he would never, ever say something like that to someone WITH anxiety. I know he didn’t mean anything by it.  He was joking with me, probably because he feels comfortable enough with me to do so.  But I still felt belittled, judged, diagnosed, and mocked.

My first instinct was that I needed to do something to change myself, be someone different.  I ruminated on this as I tried to find ways to present myself as cool, calm, and collected.

My second instinct was to scream, “FUCK.  THAT!”

Have you ever looked at your own reflection and said, “You are beautiful and amazing, and you do incredible things,”?

My hero, Mister Rogers, said, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”  He also said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

There is something simultaneously grounding and liberating about accepting who and what you’re all about at any given moment.  It opens up a world of endless possibility and infinite love.

It’s not always easy.

While it made me uncomfortable in the moment, at the end of the day, I was grateful that my coworker’s comment gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my honest self.  So, yeah, maybe that was new territory, or at least another visit to a place where I am not yet overly familiar.

Mister Rogers to the Rescue (again…)

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During the period of introspection before and after writing yesterday’s post, I happened to pick up a little book of quotes from Mister Rogers.  Jack bought it for me when he was on a trip with his grandparents, knowing that I love Mister Rogers with abiding devotion that some people only save for their Lord.

My bible.

My bible.

I thought about Jack picking out the little book.  I remembered him presenting it to me when he returned from his trip, how proud and thoughtful he was about it.

He had written in the front cover, “To Mom and Daddy.  Jack.  Love.”

I opened it to this page, which I thought was appropriate for the particular moment in my life:

“. . .  in the long, long trip of growing, there are stops along the way.  It’s important to know when we need to stop, reflect, and receive.  In our competitive world, that might be called a waste of time.  I’ve learned that those times can be the preamble to periods of enormous growth.”

These words seemed particularly wise to me.  Maybe I’m on the brink of growing and learning as a mom.

What I did stop and reflect on was trying to see and feel things from Jack’s point of view when he is having a tantrum.  Usually, I am so blind with my own anxiety and rage during his episodes, that it is hard for me to emphasize much with what he is going through.

He must be so frustrated.  He might even feel estranged from the love of his mom which at times probably does not feel all that unconditional.

Yikes.  It sounds awful to admit that.  But it’s true.

Poor Jack is such a guinea pig for me.  Some things we have gotten spot on, but for the most part it is a huge game of trial and error when it comes to parenting him.  There is a lot that I have gone through with him to which I will not have to subject Emily.

Being a type A perfectionist, it galls me that I’ve made mistakes as a mom, and to know that I will make even more.  Often these mistakes are made out of anxiety on my part which exacerbate Jack’s temperament.

Taking the time to stop and think, like Mister Rogers advised, is definitely key.  I’m always in such a hurry to get stuff done– finish bath time, make a balanced dinner, make lunches, clean the coffee pot, find educational crafts, get the kids to the playground, etc.

My rushing to make sure that my kids are immaculate, nourished, and entertained makes Jack crazy!  He hates being rushed, and yet I have this compulsion to get stuff accomplished.

When I stop and think about it, I’m not sure what difference it would make if my kids skipped a bath, or if we ate cereal for dinner once in a while to avoid this dynamic.

So, I am going to try to stop and breathe and be more aware of the opportunities for learning and growing.

What parenting mistakes have you made, and how have you learned to become aware of them?  What do you think about when you take the time to reflect on parenting your child?  

Thursday Truth– Tomorrow- Wisdom from Scarlett and Mister Rogers

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the classic movie poster of Rhett and Scarlett

Momaste to all my blog buds out there!

I am trying to be faithful to my decision to do a weekly post on Thursdays, attempting to write this before darting out of the house to take Emily to daycare, and go to work myself. Whew. I don’t know how you other mamas blog daily or on a schedule– you all seriously rock!

Today’s Thursday Truth is the saying, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Hmmm, that doesn’t exactly fit with the “Be here now,” mindful in the moment theme of my blog, does it?

And yet, I have found this saying to be very true and important.

When I was in middle school I became obsessed with the classic movie Gone With The Wind, and with its Southern-belle protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. I had the video and every book ever written on the movie, including several editions of the Margaret Mitchell classic on which the movie was based. (And yes, I read the book before seeing the movie, but loved both equally.) I even had GWTW dolls!

“Tomorrow is another day” is one of Scarlett’s mottos that she would say whenever something devastating happened to her. As a 12 year old I accepted these words as a simple line in a movie and nothing more. Over the years, I have come to understand that this is actually a pretty profound sentiment, and many times it has helped me feel a sense of peace and serenity.

For example, no sooner had I written my last Thursday Truth on Compassion, I had a total meltdown with my family. I was anything but compassionate, and felt fairly fraudulent for my earlier post. Angry and frustrated with my family, I left for work after saying some pretty terrible things that made me feel awful and ashamed. For the better part of the day I felt dark and in a soft state of despair.

But then I went home, we all ate pizza together, hung out, and everything was fine. The next night my husband and I went out for dinner and talked things out. All was well.

Part of the whole Buddhism thing is that we live in a state of impermanence. So, as soon as something happens, it is over and gone. I’m not sure if I accurately understand this or anything else about Buddhism clearly, but I will say that I have gained enough perspective on life to know that things come and go pretty quickly. When I was younger it always seemed like intense and uncomfortable feelings would last forever. This sense led to feelings of depression and anxiety that things would never change or be “better.”

As I write this post, an old Mister Rogers song is singing itself through my head:

Tomorrow, tomorrow, we’ll start the day tomorrow with a song or two.

Tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll start the day tomorrow with a smile for you.

Til then I hope your feeling happy. Till then I hope your day is snappy.

Tomorrow, tomorrow it soon will be tomorrow and be our day

we will say, a very happy tomorrow to you!”

My hero, Fred Rogers

My hero, Fred Rogers

This was the song that my personal God, Fred Rogers, ended all of his shows with when I was very little (in his later shows he used the “It’s Such a Good Feeling” song). I sometimes sing this song to my kids at bedtime, and it still makes me feel happy and hopeful. As a small child, I loved Fred Rogers as passionately as I loved GWTW as a teenager. The end of his show was sad for me because I never wanted it to end! But when he sang this song, it was comforting, reasurring that he would be back the next day.

I hope you all have a beautiful day today!

Be here now, because tomorrow is another day, and you won’t get today back.

Do not despair, because tomorrow is another day and we will have fresh starts.