Elisa. A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 09-03-2020
“One more emotion or stressor could be one too many. The greatest awareness you can have, is knowing when you cannot take anymore… and when you must hope, dream and fight for something different.”
There are layers to this madness that is the mental health profession. I cannot even give a glimpse of how deep it goes, how deep we can go. People are like onions, with hundreds and hundreds of layers. Most of us only peal back a few layers, what’s left is a tangled mess that we are terrified to unravel. It takes tremendous courage to work in the mental health profession. It also takes tremendous courage to go to therapy and allow these mental layers to be peeled away as you bare your vulnerability to an absolute stranger. People want answers, primarily they want to ask me things like “What’s going on, why is the suicide rate so high?” “What makes people so.. ‘crazy’?” “What do you usually see in the therapy room?” How can we answer these things? Any and everything is possible. Also, no two people are exactly alike. This isn’t math, this isn’t engineering, this isn’t business, this isn’t economics. This is people. But, not their body, or teeth, or fitness or sales … but the human mind. The most complex thing to study, and no matter how much we study it, we will never have it all the way figured out.
I think one of the more disappointing things I sometimes see in my own profession is a ‘them and us’ attitude, as if we are not the clients, and they are not us. However, when we really think about it, we are them, and they are us. Meaning we are susceptible to emotional pain and trauma just the same as they are. We as therapists, are also susceptible to addictions, depression, anxiety, grief, anger outbursts and so on. We are NOT above any of the issues that we see from our clients in that therapy room. We can also question our own mortality, and our own desires to live and die. It’s not nearly as uncommon as people want to believe it is.
There is an unfortunate amount of people that want to die. There is also an unfortunate amount of people that claim they want to live but are slowly killing themselves in a dissociative state. They don’t even realize they are doing it. If we have ever worked ourselves to burnout and then went home only to feed on junk and poisons in front of a screen day in and day out for years, we are already halfway there. I believe that we need hopes and dreams in the same way we need sunlight and oxygen. We need something that brings joy, something to look forward to. My parents often told me I ‘had my head in the clouds’ way too often. Little did they know, I was concocting my future life plans. I was scheming a way out much like those ‘small town girls’ in the chick flicks that are prepping for an exciting future over in a place where ‘the grass is greener’. We will not always be bursting with happiness, motivation and concentration of course… but constant misery isn’t healthy either. When there is an accumulation of turmoil and misery, we need hope and desire to pull us through. We need reason’s to want to live, especially when living is horrifically painful.
How many people in this world have looked a person dead in the eyes when they talk about their suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts? Who else has seen and heard about their scars as they recount how and why they inflicted self harm? Why does the world need mental health therapists? Ultimately, we need people that are willing to ‘go there’ with us. The ones that are willing to sit with us in the depths of our pain and unspoken secrets. There are many things that are hard to say out loud, especially when it’s a matter of summoning up the will to keep living a life we don’t want to live anymore. I will humbly admit that I have helped people summon up the desire to continue with their lives, even when I was at breaking points in my own life. Hopes and dreams even when self-care, coping tools and everything else has fallen apart. Humans are phenomenal in that way. They suffer so much, yet they hope and dream so hard. They find things to live for, sometimes, even when absent of reinforced positivity.
HOPE gives us the ability to:
- Have faith in the goodness of others and ourselves
- Remember that nothing is permanent, to include debilitating emotions
- Receive doses of positivity and euphoria
Dreams give us:
- The beginning of a goal, which we can plan out clear objectives for later
- An orientation toward the future while ‘trapped’ in the present
- Guided imagery toward an alter life with envisioned possibilities
This is what the emotional mind needs to continue the desire of life and the pursuit of contentment. Meanwhile the physical body needs safety, food, water, sleep, sunlight, oxygen etc. Decreasing suicidal thought is often about restoring hope and willingness to fight through the monotony and misery. The second step would be to establish a sense of self, self-care and the confidence to pursue what we want vs what others want for us. Self love and self-actualization (higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) require a solid foundation. A descent balanced life is not as easy as we make it out to be. So, if you happen to be struggling, know that you shouldn’t be ashamed. If anything, society should be ashamed, and take a portion of the responsibility. If someone you know is struggling, be easy on them. Life does evil things to us.
Things we shouldn’t say:
- “You have so much to live for” (not everyone shares this sentiment or see’s something in their life that is perceivably worth living for… yet.)
- “Think about your children” (Children are an obligation, they come with many added stressors and are separate from self. A child CAN be considered a protective factor, but it is still very possible for a parent to be suicidal)
- “It will all be okay” (we can’t promise that, especially if we are not willing to go the distance of caregiving for another human being until they are more settled in life and in their minds.)
- “That’s a coward’s way out” (No, it’s a way out for those that feel they have exhausted all measures that they know of, still feel like shit, and have people giving them ridiculous feedback such as this quote.)
- “Don’t be weak” (There are different types of strength in the world, mental fortitude is a tremendous one. The reality is you can’t measure another person’s mental fortitude because you will never be in their mind to feel how much they are suffering through.)
My blanket advice to all people? Take care of you first, because quite honestly, no one else is going to know how to do it as well as you. No one is going to understand what you need as well as you. If anything, we need this constant daily reminder that we are worthy of self-care and pursuit of happiness. We are also worthy of help when we need it, and hopefully we find that help. Hopefully we also find those hopes and dreams that are worth waking up for. If someone finds something that they love and they pursue it with a vengeance, support it. We don’t really know just how much it’s saving them; to follow that dream. It has nothing to do with whether we will attain what we set out to attain. It’s about channeling the dream into motivation, momentum and ultimately, living a life.