Ask the Expert

Now what? The Pandemic Blues

I’m getting sick and tired… of all the unsolicited advice, all the emails, all the Facebook posts telling me what I should do, which online support groups I should connect with, to get through this pandemic. It’s really quite annoying, actually. Like I don’t know that I shouldn’t just eat cookies by the bagful… that I should exercise, get outside, have a routine, embrace family time… So what else is new?

Yes, I’m staying at home at least 20 hours a day, staying at least 2 metres away from family, friends, and adversaries, washing my hands so often that they’re chapped and raw, wearing a bright yellow homemade mask (or not) when I’m out in public, and putting up with copious amounts of hand sanitizer that makes me gag like my grandfather’s stale aftershave. I’m being patient, polite, and doing my civic duty. I’m Canadian. This is what we do.

When this pandemic first started, we all went through the busy-busy shock phase of self-isolation, Got all those projects done. Garden beds built. Closets cleaned, Clothes saved because they might just fit again one day finally (sigh!) set out for the thrift store. Fridge and freezer emptied and cleaned (yikes! what adventures did you have exploring the deep, dark corners of your fridge?!). Cooking like a pro. Homemade bread, cookies, cakes, pies, pizza… now, for sure those clothes have to go to the thrift store! People with kids at home deserve a medal, having active little ones underfoot while you’re trying to work, explaining to a three-year-old why they can’t go and play at the playground, or can’t go and see grandma and grandpa. Crafts, arts, music… we’ve done it all. For some people, those lucky folks, the wellspring of creativity never ends. For the rest of us, well, it’s more like… What do I do now? Listen to yet another podcast? Reach out to yet another online support group? Facetime again with Aunt Martha and other family members and friends from elementary school I haven’t seen or heard from for forty years? Play another game of scrabble, or have another movie watch-party with friends online? Forget it… I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. And even more uncertain when this will end.

At the beginning, we reassured ourselves with words like… It won’t last forever… We can cope with this… We got this… The government will fix it… A vaccine is coming… but as time goes on, we’re starting to crack. More irritable, less patient with ourselves and others, broke, frustrated, and feeling like it might just be forever. It’s getting close to the bone.

So what now? When we get to the end of what we know, now what?

We’ve been forced to slow down… many of us against our will… and for many people, that’s hard. Really hard. Yet, here it is. Parts of us just don’t want to be still and quiet. Parts of us are railing against this whole pandemic, the government, the injustice, the incessant barking of the dog, and the neighbour’s cat that just jumped over the fence and deposited in my yard for the fifth time today! Parts of us want to hide under a blanket until it’s all over. Parts of us are fearful of going outside in case the virus is lying in wait. Parts of us long to run and play and forget about the whole thing. It won’t catch us if we’re fast enough, maybe. It’s hard. Really hard.

And yet… It’s a different story on the inside. If we pay attention, that is. Once we’re able to acknowledge and name our parts… yes, even those old painful parts or memories that have been activated by the current situation… somehow a calm emerges. It may seem counter-intuitive, but as we sit with all our parts, listen to their concerns and fears with care and compassion, and reassure them that we’re not going anywhere, that we’ll stay present, they become comforted. No matter what happens in the external world, on the inside there is still a place of calm, of clarity, of centeredness, courage, and kindness. It’s a place where we connect with the interconnectedness of nature, of all living things, of the divine, if you will. Some people meditate, practice yoga, and pray to discover this space. Many people have learned to centre and calm by focusing on their breath, or relaxation exercises that focus on the internal world. Others take a walk in the woods, or sit by the sea.

Wherever you find it, take space. For even a few moments, connect on the inside. That may just be enough.

Everything’s gonna be all right.

I feel so lonely. What can I do about it?

Loneliness is a problem faced by almost a quarter of people of all ages, particularly seniors, and affects both mental and physical health.  We all long for connection with other people.  In a time where we have the technology for more social connectivity than ever before, it’s paradoxical that we live in a time of tremendous loneliness and isolation.

There are many reasons for loneliness, many aspects underlying it, and no one answer fits everyone.  For starters, however, what does help is reaching out to find some sort of meaningful engagement, particularly involvement with other people.  That might be joining someone for a walk, volunteering, or joining a club, or it might be as simple as smiling, waving, or saying hello to a neighbour.

If you’re lonely, or know someone who is, don’t wait.  Reach out and get connected.  If you’re unsure how to do that — take the first step… Talk to Fran.

How can I engage my partner in more meaningful conversation?

It’s easy for conversations to get boring, day after day, year after year.  Some couples end up hardly speaking, or just talk about logistics… while other couples avoid talking about anything that might bring about conflict.  Either way, couples grow more distant instead of thriving.

I recently read about two questions that might help.  “What would you like to be acknowledged for today?” and “What would you like me to know about you today?”  The trick is in acknowledging what we ourselves have done, thought, or felt, and sharing that with our partner.  At first, it may feel stilted and awkward, but ultimately these questions give way to better conversation.  There are many fireside chats to be had that can be deeply meaningful and sustaining to a relationship — and fun, too!

If you’d like to learn more about having better conversations, take the first step:  Talk to Fran.

How big of a problem are mental health issues?

I was curious myself, so I looked it up.  This is straight from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.  By the time we reach age 40, at least half of us have (or have had) a mental illness.  Men have higher rates of addiction, while women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders.  The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year, including $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism.

What’s important to know is that with appropriate treatment and support, most people with a mental illness will recover. The key is to act early.  There is no need to suffer in silence.

If you, or someone you know is suffering, reach out and get the help you deserve.  Take the First Step… Talk to Fran.

Why? Wisdom from a 3-Year-Old

This summer, I spent two weeks with an almost-three-year-old child who insistently asked, “Why?”  A parent of young children will recognize this normal stage of child development.  Rather than tossing off the “Because I said so” answer I’d heard as a child, I decided to follow this and see where it went.  “Let’s go to the ocean.”  Why?  “Because it’s interesting.”  Why?  “Because there might be some new shells there to find.”  Why?  “Because the ocean may have washed some up.”  Why?  “Because that’s what the ocean does.”  Why?  Eventually, the only thing I could say was — “Good question.”  Inevitably, every “Why” led to something else, certain to be interesting, challenging, often mysterious, and something I hadn’t thought about.

What a wonderful question — Why?  Keep asking yourself the question.  The depth of the answers may surprise you.

If you’d like to learn new ways of seeing things, take the first step:  Talk to Fran.


My partner has just retired and is in my hair all the time now. What can I do?

Retirement can be a mixed blessing.  It comes with time to explore new interests, travel, and fulfill other dreams, but it also means spending a LOT more time together.  This often brings unanticipated stress, sometimes to the brink of divorce.

Here are some tips for easing through the transition:

  • Maintain your usual routines, activities, and social contacts
  • Plan outings together that you both enjoy
  • Change up the sharing of tasks, eg. finances, cooking, cleaning
  • Make time every day to listen and support your partner
  • Most importantly, talk about it

Things that you might have put up with about your partner in the past are suddenly front and center.  It’s important to deal with them, and talk about your differences and longings openly and frankly.

Need some help?  Take the first step:  Talk to Fran.

We’re getting married this summer. What advice can you give us?

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

Here are a few tips to help make sure that your marriage is as beautiful as your wedding day:

  1.  Make space and time for each other, every day;
  2.  There will be differences between you.  Learn to recognize them, and talk about them openly and respectfully before they turn into scary topics;
  3. When you disagree, learn how to repair.  Quickly.
  4. Men, the best thing you can do is to totally cherish your wife.  When we shines, tell her.  You’ll feel like a million bucks, too?

It takes commitment, trust, and skills to make for a successful and happy long-term partnership.  If you’d like to learn more, take the first step:  Talk to Fran.


What’s the value of doing nothing?

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of having too much to do, too little time and feel stressed, unappreciated, and overwhelmed.  Many of us have been called lazy if we do nothing.  And yet, that’s precisely what we sometimes need to do.

Stopping for a minute… an hour… a day… a week… a month… or even a year… can real large rewards.  When we take the time to do nothing but just be, we create space to get in touch with ourselves in a new way.  The answer to an elusive question may come.  Clarity about our priorities may arise.  A sense of greater connection with other people, with nature, and with our inner Self are the rewards of spending quiet time.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with life and want to learn how to stop, take the first step:  Talk to Fran.


What does it mean to have an open mind?

Creative people are often said to have an open mind.  The rest of us often think we’re not capable of it.  But we are — all we need to do is stop putting limitations on ourselves.  If we settle on the first thing that comes to mind, we often miss the spark of the best idea we might ever have.  It takes a bit of effort, but challenging ourselves to think, “How else could we…?” stretches our mind, and opens up space to think and do things differently.  Often with meaningful and inspiring results.

Remember those brainstorming exercises back in school, like list as many ways as possible to use a paper clip?  They were meant to get us thinking of many possibilities, opening our minds to other ways of doing things.  It’s a useful skill for life.

If you’d like to learn new ways of doing things, take the first step:  Talk to Fran.


Do men suffer from depression?

Absolutely, yes.  Depression among men has been described as a silent epidemic, as men have tended to hide their condition to avoid being perceived as weak or unmanly.  When hidden, depression in men shows up in other ways — for example, physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems.  Irritability or hostility are often rooted in untreated depression.  Excessive drinking, overworking, and sexual acting out are often attempts to escape depression, but cause more suffering.  It’s important for men to begin talking about it, and for all of us to listen.

If you’re a man suffering from depression, know that it is definitely treatable.  If you know a man who’s depressed, encourage him to seek the help that he deserves.  If you need help, take the first step… Talk to Fran.