Valentine’s Day: Four Steps to Make It Hurt Less

Valentine’s Day is coming, and if there’s one thing I know about this day of red and chocolate, it’s that it can be a big let-down. Whether you are single, in a relationship, married, or divorced, it can really just be a festive time for you to beat yourself up for one reason or another.

This post is here to address some of those reasons and to remove some of their power.

Some people are going to have a hard time on Valentine’s Day because they lost someone that they love. Some are going to have a hard time because they are single, others will have a hard time because even though they are with someone, the actual celebration of the Day is going to fall short of what they want.

When there is recent trauma involved, this advice may not apply, especially if the loss is recent. Speaking to a professional would be good if you are in that situation. In the cases where someone is being let down by this day because of anything other than physical loss, the pain of Valentine’s Day is going to come down to one thing: Our expectations.

Step One: Identify Why It Will Most Likely Suck

If you are single, then why does February 14th have to suck? If you are in a relationship, and you and your partner both have to work and won’t end up with a dozen photos to paste up on Facebook at 7:45pm, does that suck? Your expectations may say that it does, but it really doesn’t.

The trick is to identify why you think Valentine’s Day might suck, and tackle them. Figure out what it is in your thought process that tells you what this day should be. Then realize that it’s all false. Every last drop. This day is subject to your decisions and values, just like every other day.

Maybe you are supposed to get a beautiful bouquet of tulips or bacon roses. Maybe you are supposed to have a fancy dinner or breakfast, mimosas, a great adventure, a romantic meal out complete with glowy pictures to put on Instagram, really great sex with fancy lace underwear and no stretch marks. These things are not love, they are not human connection, and they are not a recipe for fulfillment. They are aiming at some values that we all share, but they miss the mark in more than a couple of ways.

Step Two: Figure Out What You Value

Remember that a value is not a goal that can be pass/fail (Like, I’m going to have a fancy dinner tonight) but more of a way that you see the world (I value appreciating the taste of my meal as I eat). The values that you have about Valentine’s Day can be explored to figure out how your expectations can be questioned and your values met.

What do you value about this day and the meaning of it? Is it the love, the connection, the feeling of being loved? Is it the togethernesss, the fancy items, the sex? Whatever it is, pin it down, put it on your table of mindfulness, and look at it with an open heart.

You can get any of those things on this day whether or not you are in a relationship, whether or not you and your partner can spend time together on that day, and whether or not you are even on the same side of the world as them.

For me, this day will be slightly painful because me and my partner cannot spend it together. We will both be working in different towns, and because of my new job I can’t simply decide to take the day off and make less money in order to spend time together. I’ll be alone in a place I barely know while he works till the late hours. It’s also our anniversary. So I know it’s going to fall short in some ways of my expectations. But I also know that I can find the values that I place on it, and nourish them in new ways.

Step Three: Get Creative on Nourishing Those Values

Use your imagination. How might you nourish the value of “being loved” if there is not a partner to love you? Maybe you can call someone that you feel close with. Tell them ahead of time that you would love to talk to them for at least an hour on Valentine’s Day. If you plan now, you can have a lot of people to talk to during the day to offer and receive love and support.

Take a few hours and do whatever you want without thinking about what the people on Facebook would think about it. In fact, vow not to even mention it on Facebook. For all they know, you are too busy to post a status update because you are busy getting a massage in a Hilton Suite with your new fling. Show yourself love as you would show someone else love. We all know we have to learn how to do this for ourselves before we do it for someone else.

Buy yourself some fancy underwear and wear it around the house. Make a mimosa for fun and sip it while you watch the clouds roll by. Do something for you. It’s easy to say and it sounds cheesy and ridiculous, but take a second to really think about spending an entire hour just letting yourself be. Draw, paint, cook, dance, sit, nap, eat, pet the dog, sing the songs you liked when you were 15, make silly faces at the TV, do push-ups and count out loud in funny voices, wear your hair differently, dye it even. Do whatever you want, and do it for you.

You’ll be having more fun than people on forced dates who pause every five seconds to get the perfect picture so that their acquaintances know how much fun they’re having.

Step Four: Realize You Are Not Alone

This is the most important step. No matter what, no matter how February 14th is going to suck for you or not live up to the meagerest of your expectations, you are not alone. There is another human in the world who shares your pain. Maybe you can send love and compassion to them, since you understand what they are going through.

I hope that you all are having a great week and that if Valentine’s is going to bring any pain, that at least some of it can be averted and transformed into your own fun day that happens just the way you want it to, on your own terms, nourishing your own values, and making you smile!

Are you looking forward to Valentine’s Day?

Do you know someone who may be suffering on that day, someone that you might want to reach out to?

Do you always have fun on February 14th no matter what?

Will it Ever Feel Like Christmas Again?

This is the extent of our decorations..and it's still 80 degrees..

This is the extent of our decorations..and it’s still 80 degrees..

The older I get, there are more sad associations build up around holidays. Especially this year because it’s 80 degrees, my nuclear family is a few thousand miles away, and hearts are broken all over my home state of Connecticut. The holidays just don’t feel as good and innocent as they did when I was little.

I remember being young and asking about Santa. I asked if he could get us anything, and my parents nodded, knowing that the huge box of markers I had in mind was already a done deal. I asked if he came to everyone’s house, they said he did. I asked why people who need money don’t just ask for it then, instead of presents. They didn’t have a good answer. Maybe they said the elves couldn’t make money in the North Pole, I’m not sure. I just remember that it seemed awfully unfair, but I didn’t stop believing just yet.

That’s the thing. The unfairness was harder to handle than disbelief, in some ways. It was awful, and yet there was nothing I could do. The elves can’t make money and toys don’t pay bills, so suffering would happen and my fleeting notion that I had solved the world’s poverty problem was thrown out the window.

The Difficulty of Grasping “It’s Just Unfair”

When it came to learning Santa was fake, it was far more simple. Okay, there is no Santa. Not a huge deal, I sorta saw it coming anyway. Being a big fan of magic, I was just happy that they taught my brain to believe in magic at all (Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I’d think about as a kid). It was harder to feel and hold the sadness and anger that I could get presents, but not get money to give to everyone that needed it.

Let’s go to the Connecticut tragedy for a second, because that feeds into this too. In the midst of conspiracy theories and extreme religious people saying that God planned it or something like that, I can’t help but feel like these mentalities are held by those trying to run from that feeling of how horrible it is that someone could do such a thing without being brainwashed or part of God’s master plan. Murder of innocent people is happening in so many places, so much of the time, and yet we can’t always picture it or feel sorrow. For me, it’s easy to picture a suburban Connecticut town in December right before Christmas; that was where I came from. Maybe if it happened in the high plains it would seem farther. But having the ability to visualize it and relate with the situation makes it feel more powerful to me, and I’m not going to feel guilty for that. I can use the high impact of the tragedy in my consciousness to lead to more empathy when I hear of the many deaths of children around the world, but the ones that are “close to home” are going to hit harder, I would imagine.  It’s just how it is.

Back to the holidays, though.

Sure Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas Time

It doesn’t feel like Christmas and I don’t know if it ever will. Even if I was with my family on the East Coast, there is less of that feeling. Perhaps the holiday joy gets deeper and less sparkly as we age. Maybe it gets grainy and raw, a holiday feeling that has Sam Elliot’s voice and the grumble of a diesel engine. Maybe it isn’t light and fluffy like movie snow, but resistant and firm like a wrought iron crowbar from hundreds of years ago, being dug up from the dust.

Who knows.

But it’s okay. It’s fine. It doesn’t need to be any certain way, it just has never quite dawned on me that perhaps it isn’t just “this year” that feels off. Maybe the holiday spirit has taken on a permanent new form for me. The amount of friends I have who have lost parents or people close to them is growing, my heart goes to them as the holidays roll around, and there is sadness. It’s not just about trying to wish hard enough for new markers or crochet a dozen last-minute scarves. It’s about realizing that the holidays are as much a trigger for pain for some  people I love as a reason to celebrate for others.

The Roots of the Magic Becoming Transparent

Part of it is the decorations and consumer-based nature of this beast.

Cute plush stockings are our only decoration this year, but I know that the places where they were made would probably make me a bit sick. There are so many illusions, all trying to support the idea of love, but distracting from it, too. Cut down trees, buy gifts, buy insane amounts of decorations. I imagine being in some faraway factory, bracing for the time when Americans go nuts for cheap treasures.

What am I saying here? I’m not quite sure. I am having a hard time thinking normal thoughts since the Connecticut shooting, and anything else seems rather trite. I wonder if other people are feeling the difference in holidays as they get older, and if this holiday season will feel like other holiday seasons to anyone who felt a connection to Connecticut and the other recent tragedies.

Are you having a good holiday season, whatever holidays it is that you celebrate?

Are you finding the joy in these times, even with the pain happening?

Do you feel like the holiday spirit changes as we get older, or does it change as a product of the times, with technology and blow-up decorations taking the place of hand-made presents and simple ornaments?

Any thoughts you have related to the above are completely welcome.

I hope you are all well!

The Process of Pathologizing Among New Healers: Let’s Get Clear.

Many of us are healers of various types. We want to heal with our words, our hands, our songs, our science. We want to heal and help, and this is so natural to us. Or so it seems.

Sometimes we are already wondering when someone thinks they can tell us, we want to believe them.

Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to heal others because we ourselves have been wounded. If those wounds are still tender, then we may not be aware when something is triggering us to shut down, even as we try to help them.

Sometimes, I feel that someone can listen to me and pathologize my experience, especially those who are trying to help.

This is something that I must do as well, so I figured we could explore it here and perhaps find some tools for the future!


What Do You Mean, “Pathologize?”

Pathologizing according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is

To view or characterize as medically or psychologically abnormal.


If I say that I’m thinking about something a lot lately, and you ask me if I’m obsessed with it, that is sort of making me appear sick. It is taking something simple and giving it a loaded label.

The same is true if you tell me you are feeling down, and I ask you if you are depressed or worse yet, if I say something like “Wow it sounds like you’re depressed” or another statement that makes it implicitly easier for you to agree, consciously or unconsciously, than to argue with me. Really, there are better questions to ask than that and better ways of going about trying to help someone.

Why Is Pathologizing Dangerous?

Maybe it’s not dangerous. But I do think it gets in the way of a more pure and simple understanding that comes from compassion and empathy. It bypasses the process of curiosity and zips right into labels; and not just any labels. Charged labels, judgy labels, labels that you then have to talk yourself out of.
And the funny thing is, these labels can also make us feel like better healers. That’s right. If I decide that you’re depressed when you say you’re sad, and by the end of our conversation you sound happier, then I sort of cured your depression! in some messed up unconscious way. If I simply talked to you long enough for your natural mood to pass, then that’s less cool for me and my ego, but it might be the reality.

The Value of Curiosity

I realize that I am probably notorious for this process of pathologizing or else I wouldn’t notice it so sharply when other people do it. I must remember that having a curiosity for the reality of someone else is one of the best things that I can do. It teaches me to slow down and to have that same curiosity for myself, rather than to zip from “wow I’m sad in this moment” to “I must have a raging case of undiagnosed depression and I better make sure I don’t accidentally bring others down with me.”

The charged label is simply piling on layers that then become harder to get rid of, especially for those of us that are already hard on ourselves.

But Isn’t there More Anxiety And Depression?

Psychology Today has an interesting article on this topic. According to the article, depression and anxiety are becoming more commonplace because the normal human experience is being labeled as such more often, not because these states of mind are becoming more common. Furthermore, the author talks about how the labels are not meant to be taken as being solid things. They are meant to be used for the therapists to do their job more effectively, not to label people. The article is quite good, I recommend it!

With easy access to WebMd and other sources for self-diagnosis, it’s no wonder that more of us learn these terms and try to use them on ourselves, and on each other. It sounds better if we say “Sounds like you have an acute episode of a semi-psychosomatic illness brought on by environmental stressors” than if we say “I don’t know how to really relate with your experience at this moment, maybe you could call a therapist or just come over for some tea and we can hang out.” Or however it works with your relationship.

Is this from the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who just love getting their chemicals on your neurotransmitters, or from people eating more additives in their food and having finicky immune systems? Who knows, but one thing remains clear:

We Can Stand Up For Ourselves

I know that personally, when someone gives me an insult, it can stick if it’s something that I already partially believe. For this reason, if someone labels me in a way that I’ve been labeled against my will in the past, then I may get a little triggered. I may feel the need to defend, or an impulse to believe them. Maybe I AM obsessed, maybe I AM in denial, or whatever.

I haven’t spoken to my therapist in years, and if I do, then I can hear whatever words of wisdom she has and take them in. She’s licensed, she knows me, and it’s her job. The people that may mean well but that throw out these loaded terms simply to try and understand something are most definitely not in the same position as she is to be, as they say, “going there.”

If you hear loaded terms from anyone who is trying to help you and is not a therapist, perhaps there is something that you can say back to them. Or someone you can talk to about the situation to see what they think, such as a real therapist. For now, I’m going to remind myself to use this question:

This is easy, simple, doable. Whatever someone says, whether they are my therapist or a stranger on the bus or a person I just met, I can ask them “Why use that word?” if they use a word that I find to be particularly charged.

I don’t know if that’s what you should do. I don’t want to pretend to have advice that I don’t have. I do know that if I get better at using some Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, then I might end up with more creative solutions to this issue.

I also know that trying to do this will help me at least to be aware of when the feeling of resistance or being triggered arises. If I can notice it, I can ask this question, and perhaps help the people I talk to become aware of when they are doing it, and help myself to do the same.

Do you have any experience with this, has someone ever used powerful words to describe your experience when you feel they are out of line?

Do you have friends that offer unsolicited therapy advice? Is it hard to turn it down or tell them to stop, or do you love when they do it?

Are you aware of the words that are most charged for you? (I’m not asking you to share them, though) Do you think that being aware of them can help you when people start using them unskillfully?

I hope you all have a great week!


What Makes Your Voice Valuable?

If you want to make a living doing something you love, it needs to be valuable. When that something is writing, it comes down to your voice.

As a new writer, I think an awful lot about my voice. Where is it coming from, what does it offer, and why is it useful to anybody?

What all this leads up to is, will anybody want to pay for it?

When I think about what to write, what to do, or where to draw inspiration from, sometimes I find myself with an incessant thought.

I am limited by the choices I made in my life.

It may seem obvious, and perhaps it doesn’t bother you like it does me. But I wonder how it would be if I spent more time learning about writing when I was younger. How would it be if I had never gone to school and just traveled instead? Will I ever get to see Amsterdam? How can I find my true voice if I cannot live out every possible option and learn from them all?

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Impermanence: Can You Live Like You are Always About to Leave the Party?

Nothing like the open road to wake you up to what you are leaving behind.

The easiest way to see what you have is to leave it behind.

At a family party a few weeks ago, my dad said something rather profound. We had just told the family that we had to leave, and although the party had been rather quiet for the last few hours, people began talking more energetically once we had declared our looming departure.

“You see that, Jen? As soon as they know they are leaving, everyone just wants to talk, talk, talk.” We watched the group and pondered this.

Situations that we are in shift the focus of our reality-lens. For me, leaving a place is always a sure-fire way to get me to see all the little things I’ve been missing. The way my dad smiles at me. The feeling of pulling into my driveway. The sound of the drip in the kitchen sink. These things are sometimes only brought to my attention when I know that I am not going to be around them again for a long, long time.

The prospect of moving to Austin, Texas is thrilling to me in many ways. I am going to be in a community of people who are interesting. I am going to be right near the Green Belt, where my dog can be happy and I can be around trees. I am going to keep my article-writing job and be able to work from amazing little coffee shops that are new and interesting.

And yet, anxiety flows all through my veins. I am going to be leaving behind my family, who I have certainly left behind before; but now I’m doing it again. I will leave behind the comfort of a town I am familiar with. I will be going to a city that I have never lived, in a place I have never been, around people I do not yet know. These things are crazy.

And yet, I can perceive none of them. I can only perceive where I am, this house, this forest, this town. The details appear as if they are brand new. Suddenly the exact shape of the yard is brought to my attention. The sound of the distant traffic at night is more potent, the stars are more vivid. Why is this? Is my anxiety causing an increased level of attention? Is my sympathetic nervous system on high-alert and causing me to perceive each detail?

Or am I merely aware of what is always true but is easily ignored; that is, the fact that everything is impermanent.

We never know who we are going to see each day. The friends and loved ones we know can always leave, in expected or unexpected ways. Our house could burn down, our town could get demolished in a storm, our continent could be swallowed by a black hole. These things can always happen, everything is always temporary…

So why is it such a damn shock when it becomes utterly apparent that this is the case?

Now, I am in Virginia. I wrote this post a few weeks ago as I was getting ready to leave. The whole thing stands true. Leaving was ridiculously hard. Suddenly the love and comfort I feel at my childhood home became utterly apparent to me, all at once, like a ton of bricks.

We all go through things like this, and we may think to ourselves, gee golly wiz, why don’t I just make an intention to feel this way, all the time? Stay aware of the impermanence, talk as if I’m about to leave the party, love as if I might never see someone again?

Is it possible? I don’t know. I wish it was.