Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 8-17-2020
“Laughing is easier than crying, anger is easier than grief, silence is easier than talking about it, forgetting is easier than remembering. But, we do not get the luxury of choosing how and when to feel things. And although we can disguise and hide our pain, we cannot will it to go away.” -EaE
‘Adapt and overcome’, it’s supposed to feel like a breeze. Change is inevitable and we all must go with the changes; use our natural adaptability skills as people often do. Just when we settle and think things are what they will be ‘forever’ a new path comes ‘out of nowhere’, forcing us to go through growing pains, yet again. Why?! Even though humans are tremendously adaptable, we cannot help but fight the changes every step of the way. That is, until we eventually give up in defeat and settle for this new reality/ norm. Why do we fight it? Perhaps because we have fought blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are at, and it hurts to see it all taken away or swept up in a whirlwind that we had next to no control over. Ouch. What feelings and emotions are really being triggered when a new chaos emerges? Powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness… terrifying feelings.
We want to believe we have control; we want to believe that if we do things right and plan our lives in a calculated manner, that everything will go okay. As much as it is true that our life choices are crucial in how we turn out, it is also true that there will be things that we have zero control over, that may ‘destroy’ all progress that we had made. Can we accept that? Can we adapt? Can we work with new limitations while we deal with these excruciating growing pains? Whether someone is gaining or losing something, yes, I will always call it growing pains. As a matter of fact, I hate when people use the phrase “starting over”. I do not believe humans ‘start over’. I believe that their life is consistently changing, and they are consistently learning and growing with it. Even if a life event leaves us for broke, are we not richer in experience? If a life event caused us to have a nervous breakdown, are we not wiser from surviving through that mental battle? Even if someone is 30 years sober and has a relapse on their drug, did it really undo 30 years of sobriety? Even if life is shit, can we not hope for and perhaps create a bigger and better future by taking from those lessons?
I have worked with many clients during some of the hardest situations in their lives. Military deployments, family separations, divorces, abusive relationships, addictions, bankruptcy’s, legal issues, suicidal contemplations, homicidal fantasies and so on. One thing I believe in is our ability to live on despite every card and every play working against us. However, just because humans can adapt, does not mean it’s easy or that it feels ‘fair’. Currently we are going through a tremendous amount of growing pains. These growing pains involve loss, grief, helplessness, powerlessness, racial divides, changes in financial status & housing stability… it feels more like a loss than growth. However, no matter how rough the crisis, I have a responsibility to remind those that stay living, about the ways in which they can engage in self-care.
In crisis, adaptations, change and chaos, a good therapist goes ‘back to the basics’. My basics come from a military mental health background. When in a war zone, we cannot go outside without being in danger, resources are limited, support systems are thousands of miles away, danger is lurking around every corner. Sound a bit familiar? Nothing is definite or definitive. Nothing is figured out all the way. I cannot lie and say it will “all be okay” when I do not know if myself or my client will die tomorrow. So, back to the basics of self-care. Are you eating? Are you drinking water? Are you resting? Are you engaged in a social activity of some sorts (even if it can only be tele communication for now)? Are you attempting to do something, anything, that brings joy to your life? Ever?
Ironically when humans are faced with the hardest growing pains of their lives, that is when they often shut down and do everything except self-care. Self-destructive tendencies often kick in. Why? When we are emotionally distraught, we do not steer toward healthy activities necessarily, rather we tend to engage in comforting and coddling activities. Things that have powerful temporary ‘healing’ powers, but no true healing powers. This could include isolating, staying sedentary, substance abuse, codependency, compulsive behaviors, neglecting plans/ chores for the future and so on. I must remind people to care for themselves, especially in the hardest of times. External life circumstances can/ will break us if we let our guard down and forget the most important thing of all: our own personal self-preservation. Below is a list of tips that can help alleviate some of the current growing pains, traumas and grievances we are currently facing:
- Engage in regular eating and hydration, first and foremost. Listen to your bodies cues when it is telling you it’s hungry or thirsty, do not let less important things get in the way of this (it’s at the top of the list for a reason).
- Allow yourself an adequate amount of sleep/ time off. This should also be prioritized above the rest of the list.
- Filter toxic/ negative energy with boundaries. (ex: filtering social media, scheduled time in solitude, abstaining from abusive people etc)
- Monitor screen time to include: TV, gaming, social media, news etc. Obviously, screens are here to stay, but we are not meant to be on them all day every day. Though screen purging may instigate FOMO moments, by abusing the screen, we miss out in our organic lives.
- Have MULTIPLE healthy coping outlets (ex: musical instrument/ journaling/ coloring/ gardening/ singing/ arts & crafts/ socializing etc)
- Exercise! I put this separately from ‘healthy coping outlets’ only because it’s not optional. We MUST exercise. Humans need to keep momentum. What is optional, is what you choose to do for exercise, and the list to choose from is HUGE. Find something you love!
- Always remember/ be humbled by what is out of your control. This includes other people’s decisions, other people’s viewpoints/ beliefs, mother nature & so on. Picking our battles & missions wisely is imperative because we only have so much physical/ mental energy to get us through the day.
- Be aware of your self-destructive habits (we all have them! No shame!) and the triggers that onset these habits. Ex: Watching the news regarding ____ makes me feel ____ and then I tend to engage in ______.
- Learn lessons. Accountability can be one of the hardest things to face in a crisis, but when the calm of the storm hits and we can find something of value to take with us, it can foster some much-needed life improvements.
- Get help if you need help. There are just some things we cannot face all alone. No one is equipped for everything. Whether the help be a networking connection, a resource, professional counseling, crisis intervention or so forth, it is worth doing for the sake of your mental health.