Living in a Nightmare

Elisa A Escalante/ LMSW/ 7-15-2020

“I often wonder, do they feel pain the same way I do? For the same reasons? And to the same extent? Or am I just crazy and alone in this? Maybe they are just good at hiding it too? Happiness is wanted from us all, it is easier than truth. What level of pain can I share, if I choose to share it? When am I a burden? I feel this need to ask because, there are just some things, that I simply cannot say out loud.” -EaE

Some people live in dreams, other people live in nightmares. For the longest time, it felt as if I was allergic to positivity. My brain could not get there, it could not access it. “Just be happy and positive” people always said. I felt as if maybe I hadn’t been trained to do that, my mind went dark fast. I was the “Emo” kid but without the black clothes & make up (I wasn’t allowed to).

What does a sad traumatized child do? They escape. They escape to something they think will be better than what they currently have, only to be immersed into another nightmare. Nightmares haunt and follow us like a dark cloud. Ever notice that those that have chaos, may have it no matter where they go? No matter what they do, darkness tends to follow?

We can escape toxic environments, we can escape toxic people. However, we cannot escape a toxic mind, we have to confront it. It’s terrifying and often feels hopeless. It’s hard to believe sometimes, that we may be genetically predisposed to harmful brain chemicals and/ or trained in mentally maladaptive patterns that sabotage our progress.

Living in a traumatized brain, a depressed brain, an anxious brain and/ or an enraged brain is 24/7 maintenance, it’s hard not to feel hopeless at times. If we cannot control our thoughts and sometimes our behaviors, what can we control? It’s the type of thing that causes kids, teens and young adults to stare at a screen, read, work, daydream, drug and/ or sleep for scary amounts of hours. The type of thing that pushes us to the point of severe escapism because anything is better than being alone with chronically toxic thoughts.

I once lived in a nightmare as a child and eventually lived in one as an adult. Currently even as life is more stable, I continue to have literal nightmares. My “dream” journal on my nightstand might as well be called nightmare book. I crossed out dream and replaced it with nightmare. Why lie? The majority of what is scribbled in that book involves storms, fights, flashbacks to personal trauma, murdering, getting killed, torture scenes etc.

Believe it or not this is more common than we like to imagine it is, and people like me walk alongside us everyday. In various professions, nationalities and so on. Also, in most cases, it won’t be obvious. It’s incredible how mentally ill people can suffer all day, but not in an obvious way so to speak. I trained myself well from a young age, as society doesn’t like sufferers. Society wants busy bodies and workers, and if there is suffering, it better be kept quiet.

I think an unusual thing about myself that only some mentally ill people can relate to is that I do not want communication to be what it is. I want to be able to discuss my nightmare the next morning without being looked at like I have 3 heads. I want to be able to discuss my eating disorder without someone trying to invalidate it. I want to be able to talk about my mothers drug addiction and neglect without people trying to quiet the conversation. I want to talk about my severe depression without being told “just be positive” because let’s be real, if it were that easy would therapists exist?

I want a world where we can talk about our nightmares just as easily as we can talk about the weather. Not in a chronic, loathing and victim mentality kind of way. But in a way where it isn’t stigmatized and people are willing to empathize, that yes, the world is tragic too. It isn’t just happy go lucky with rainbows in the air, but there are many storms. We need dialogue about the storms because maybe, just maybe, someone can relate and give some practical advice.

I want to know from another human being, how the hell did you manage to pull yourself through the chronic nightmares of the nights and days? Sometimes it gets hard and we all deserve to know how to weather these storms. However, if no one is talking about it, we may just feel crazy. Perception is NOT reality. I know this because I know how happy, courageous and motivated people always thought I was, but how miserable I really was in my own mind.

I was told by a colleague once (a highly seasoned clinical social worker) that I was the only person he had ever seen, come back from a war zone unaffected. Unchanged. Still my “happy” and “positive” self. My goodness, could I act! I was the only person I knew of, that found out that I had lost a parent over the phone via voicemail, and go on to do my entire work shift, and not tell anyone about it for months.

I was also abused, neglected and abandoned. I never told a soul for the longest of times. My mind was convinced that if I could live an outwardly appearing successful life, and never utter to another person of my pain and trauma, that perhaps it no longer existed. However, the nightmares do stay. Pain is truly apart of who some of us are, and it is unfair/ irrational that the world expects us to hide it. If I hide my pain then, there’s not much else to share unfortunately. Trauma and emotional pain is a large part of what I dealt with growing up, nothing will change that fact. If I were to pretend otherwise (like I had for so long) then I will not be a genuine, honest & sincere person. Unfortunately, when I do open up, sometimes it is viewed as “negativity”. Sharing trauma isn’t being negative though, it’s telling the scary truth.

I realize now, and I hope I can teach many others, that the nightmares become more horrendous when we live through them alone. An ill mind cannot correct itself with a template of horror and travesty. We need healing and we need something different. We do not deserve to live in a nightmare forever. Trauma is chronic and haunting, but what it can teach us is what we do NOT deserve in life. When things are painful, discard of them. When things bring joy, hold onto it. When we are being self destructive, learn to recognize it. For those of us that have lived nightmares, we must explore and discover dreams. It was inaccessible once upon a time, but I will always empower people to keep searching for their long lost dreams. Searching for hope and living in day dreams was literally all some of us had, once upon a time.

The Burden of Wanting

Elisa A Escalante/ LMSW/ 7-9-2020

“I am tormented, and not because of what I have been through, but because of what I have chosen to commit my life to.” -EaE

There is a device in our hands with a world of knowledge, but there is a world around us that we can choose to see for ourselves. What did we dream of before the new reality crept in. Before obligation, work, savings & retirement planning? What did we want before we were taught what to want? Did we realize that we were being steered in a dangerous direction?

What really changes as we get older? All I can really feel is that time is passing me up. I am terrified that I am not living. Fogged down and ‘zombified’ for a community to use my talent, while my spirit withers away.

How often do we find ourselves at the mercy of the clock, for the purpose of the paycheck, for the payment of those bills so that we may enjoy the things we were told we NEED to achieve pursuit of happiness. We also need the paycheck for the “drugs” that get us through those days, because they are rarely enjoyable days. (Yes you do it too, even if it’s caffeine, sugar or carbs, that’s self medicating.)

Unfortunately, by the time we realize we are roped into this cycle and buried underneath it’s burdensome weight, it is far too late to get out. Why? We are indebted, we made a deal with the consumer devil and we must pay the price for the mediocre luxury we bought into.

It’s always fun for a time, it never lasts. Humans may get older, but the habit of a toddler in regards to toys stays the same. Get the latest and greatest, play the shit out of it, discard. When we see another with the same toy, we go after it. Steal it, share it, or scream at someone to get one for us, some things don’t change.

To this day I am still very fascinated and horrified regarding how quickly a want turns into a perceived need. When a want becomes embedded into a persons daily routine, it is then perceived as a need. Humans get conditioned and then have no desire to go back. A life without pursuing those addicting wants would just feel deprived and meaningless.


The cycle of frequently fulfilling our wants can often get out of control. We then pass the thin line into greed, making it all the more difficult to dial the issue back. Greed- when we compulsively give into our wants. When we get things for the sake of having them vs the sake of using them.

One day, this is no longer fun. Just like the toys and games we played as toddlers, we outgrow things. But was the investment worth what we outgrew? What did we lose in the process of working ourselves to near stress death to buy the latest and “greatest”?Not just money, but time wise, what did we give up? Why was it worth the debt? As we are older and wiser, hopefully, we realize it. It was never originally, about things. It was about finding quality in our time here on Earth. We forgot to value the most important thing of all.

I sold myself to the consumer Devil at the age of 19. At the age of thirty, I am finally working my way to significantly less debt. Every painful credit card payment is a reminder of what I must change moving forward. A painful reminder of that young brain washed capitalist ‘crackhead’ that was shopping to self medicate because there was a void I just did not understand yet. I was being exploited off of this void and in complete denial about its existence.

Moving forward, I know what I need, and I want much less. More importantly, my wants changed to things of value. What is more important for us to work toward? What are things we can attain and do that can fulfill many voids while keeping us out of the burden of over wanting, greed and debt? It’s not a coincidence that minimalism, tiny homes and van life is becoming more mainstream. A new American Dream is coming to the forefront. Less is more, less means, more freedom.

Moral Codes

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 07-01-2020

“You do not know what you would do in a situation you have not been in. So spare people the ‘well I would do this’ line if you have not walked a day in their shoes” -EaE

There is one thing I have admittedly been a bit fed up with, and that is being accused of ‘drinking the Kool aid’, or ‘believing everything I read’ along with the rest of the population. If only, if only… it was that simple. See, on the contrary of the average human being on this planet, my primary sources of information come from clients, not news channels or sources. Real people, real stories, real traumas from firsthand accounts. If I get a little passionate about protecting my fellow humans, there’s a valid reason for it. Therapists rarely have the luxury of living in denial about why people do the things they do, and why the world and humanity is what it is. We do not get a sugar-coated version of what is really happening in the world, nor a bias perspective from a third party. We not only help victims and survivors, but perpetrators of crimes. We hear it all, and unlike the rest of the world we do not get to judge it and penalize it, we must find a way to connect with it instead. The good, the bad and the ugly.

     Mental health is never about finding excuses, or necessarily about finding someone else to blame, it is about finding reasons. Why do people do the things they do? To include committing some crimes. What are the biological, psychological, sociological and environmental factors that may contribute to a change in our moral codes? We must explore this, if we do not, who else will? If we as a population continue to stay uneducated on the biopsychosocial factors that contribute to a disruption of self or a ‘disruption of peace’, we only punish problems rather than fix them. We put band aids on stab wounds, we address symptoms vs exploring a root cause. Hence, we will continue to be ill informed and react in counterproductive ways.

     It is from my observation that people’s moral codes are ever changing. With times, with situations and with added stress/ toxicity. A human that is in a stable environment for a long period of time with a good support system and good routine may find that their moral codes feel “set in stone” and never changing. However, if we add any extreme circumstance to a person’s life, we may start to see a change in their moral code. This includes but is not limited to:  

  • Loss of home/ Job
  • Community violence/ war exposure
  • Chronic poverty
  • Trauma & extreme external triggers/ threats
  • Underlying Mental health conditions
  • Build up of chronic stress through external demands (work/ family/society etc.)

     Crime is not always a direct reflection on character, but sometimes rather, a consequence of extenuating circumstances. Sometimes it is about how far a person is willing to go to stay alive and/ or keep their families fed. Sometimes it’s chronic pain and suffering combined with an extreme lack of a support system and resources. We can punish the behaviors that come from a painful root cause, and we often do. Or, we can search for a more effective intervention such as social services, emotional support, social policy changes and mental health interventions.

     Unfortunately, I have grown to see that America as a society and as individuals are rarely focused on proactive and preventative measures. Rather we are a crisis response country. Meaning when the crisis finally hits, then we react in haste. Not before the crisis when there were warning signs, not even when seeing another group suffer, rather we only tend to react when it is a crisis for us. We as individuals and a society often allow things to fester and allow things to be covered up under the guise that we are ‘quite normal’ and ‘doing okay’. We are not okay, we are not normal, there is no normal so why pretend to be anyways? Sometimes it is hard for us to understand and accept an ill mind, ill family, ill community or an ill country. They exist, often in denial because a chaotic/ chronically stressful life as a norm… feels like… well, the norm.

We criminalize some people that truly deserve it, but unfortunately, we quite often criminalize good people who had strong morals. However, they may have fallen victim to chaotic situations with limited options. Mental health and healing can also work in reverse. We can consistently treat the underlying issue’s and restore the individuals and then in turn, the society. Stable people with quality lives tend to get restored in morals and behaviors. Protecting and treating our ‘victims of unfortunate circumstances’ and/ or oppression can create an enormous impact on community health. It can set a guideline on how quality we are as people, IF we all get to enjoy a quality life.

Neglected & Abandoned

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-26-2020

“When you are forced to find peace in chaos and suffering, you will be chaotic even in peace. You can take the human out of the nightmare, but the nightmare is still in them.” -EaE

One of the most not talked about privileges of the world is the luck of being born into a family that wants you and loves you.  It’s the expectation, and it’s the norm, but it is not concrete.  There will forever be some unfortunate children that fall through the cracks and barely get to experience an unconditional love and nurturance. The general public will not see or view emotional neglect as well as abandonment as a form of trauma, but that is exactly what it is. If a child is in distress and not receiving comfort from their external environment/ guardians, they will grow up perceiving the world as a stressful place of little/ to no support. If a child experiences one, if not more parents abandoning them, they will most likely personalize it. These traumas produce incredibly damaging ‘invisible wounds’ to the psyche, and unfortunately children and even teens do not have the ability to verbalize most of this emotional pain.

     For a neglected and/ or abandoned child, the confusion never stops. “I am being good and doing my best, yet my parent pulls away.” “Why do everyone else’s parents seem to love them, but mine hate me?” “Why are people mad or stressed with me for simply existing?” “Why am I going from place to place to place? Doesn’t anyone want to be with me or deal with me?” When a child personalizes any and all these questions, a self-hatred and a self-shame may develop. “Obviously if this keep’s happening, there is something wrong with me.”  

     I personally recall a time when a friendly adult told me, at the age of six, that I was beautiful. I absolutely did not believe it. My own mother dropped me and my brother off at least 10 different homes and/ or trailer parks so that she could escape and get her fix of methamphetamines and alcohol. I was not wanted or beautiful, rather consistently neglected and considered a nuisance to those that expected me to be gone in a day, vs days/ to weeks at a time because my mother went MIA. The only time she stuck around was when we lived with one of her boyfriends, but unfortunately that had its own risks too, hence me getting physically abused by one of them when she was MIA. My mere existence was a problem, it took me until the age of 20 to forgive my mother as she died on her death bed.

     However, “children bounce back” as they say. Children “are resilient”. The child does not seem to be bothered and impacted by this, they stay quiet, do what they are told and seem to “function” well. When they act up, it’s just a “child being a child”. “You can’t blame your past on your present situation.” Rest assured these statements are myths and often coming from an uneducated place. Because at the very core of a neglected/ abandoned child’s belief system, is a series of cognitions, symptoms and behaviors that will set them up for an enormous amount of pain and suffering in their adult life.

     Neglect symptoms, cognitions, and behavioral traits/ patterns:

  • Extreme lack of confidence & feelings of unworthiness
  • Loneliness & learning to isolate from a young age
  • Boredom & dissociation (often seen as head in the clouds or day dreaming)
  • Issue’s w/ attachment as the individual craves some much-needed attention or resists any/ all attachments because they cannot trust anymore
  • Feeling “less than” others
  • Anger/ rage toward those that ignore or dismiss them
  • A belief that they will ‘screw up’ any social interaction they have
  • The general and consistent wondering of “is life even worth living?”
  • Believing they will ‘always fail’
  • Difficulty with regulating any/ all emotions due to the consistent lack of a support system/ caregiver

    Abandonment symptoms, cognitions, and behavioral traits/ patterns:

  • Terrifying/ chronic belief that they will lose everyone they care about
  • Issue’s with attachment, sometimes to include toxic/ abusive partners (bad attention is better than another abandonment)
  • Personalizing & overreacting to any/ all comments or criticisms
  • A core belief that they deserve to suffer
  • A core belief that they are not worthy of love or good things
  • Clinging too tightly to the ones in their life that choose to stick around
  • Anger/ rage toward those that pull away or express frustration with them
  • Perfectionism so that others may learn to finally love/ appreciate them
  • Constant people pleasing due to a belief that if they help/ nurture others enough, that perhaps they will stay
  • Consistently getting used/ abused/ taken advantage of but unable to see it. (Because without a consistent guardian, there is no way of learning what healthy relationships look like)

    So, what does healthy look like?? A healthy upbringing where a child get’s consistent nurturing/ love from parents may look like:

  • An easier time regulating emotions and getting back to equilibrium
  • A healthy sense of boundaries and knowing that it is okay to say ‘no’ and stick up for themselves
  • A core belief that they are good and worthy of happiness
  • Self esteem and confidence, therefore more likely to engage in healthy risk taking
  • An enjoyment with social engagements, can socialize with relative ease
  • A healthy level of energy and concentration due to a healthy sense of safety/ secure attachment w/ those around them

    Learn the difference, know the difference. If you suffered from neglect and/ or abandonment know that it is not your fault for being born into a family that was not ready and/ or gave up on you. Get help, you deserve to experience a life of joy/ happiness even though you were not given one when you needed it most. Our most rapid stages of development happen in utero and then in the first seven years of our lives. These things take time to reverse, but as a clinician I can promise you, that you are not a lost cause. Those that suffer from childhood traumas have huge mental holes to climb out of, but they owe it to themselves to climb that climb.  Learn self-care despite the fact you were not taught it, learn self-love even though it wasn’t ingrained. These are the hurdles and disadvantages of an unwanted and/ or abandoned child.

Surviving off of Bias

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-19-2020

We could all agree that our country appears to be divisive, yet again. Do I say that as if it’s an awful thing? Not necessarily. I believe, very truly, in freedom of speech. I also believe, that although it is rooted into our human rights in the U.S., people tend to come up with very crafty ways of shutting down those who try to practice it. Regardless of the amount of wars we have fought, the amount of murders we deem ‘acceptable’, as a mental health clinician, Afghanistan veteran and trauma specialist, I do NOT believe it is human nature to kill and destroy.  I believe, it is human nature to want to survive. Unfortunately, there are occasions where our survival means others (attackers or predators) must die. That is the exception, not the rule. For the most part, our survival relies on connection, love, work ethic, community and kindness. If we are taught that our survival relies on the extinction, oppression or neglect of another human race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender and so on, we were terribly misled.

     I think back on Afghanistan quite a bit, who wouldn’t? I will be honest, finally, when I discuss those small minute seconds/ minutes that scared me the most. Honestly, it wasn’t even the bombs that landed on our FOB (forward operating base), as if that wasn’t alarming enough.  (These damn fireworks and sirens going off in Brooklyn everyday have not been fun.) I will never forget the stares. Anywhere I went, armed Afghan men (Afghan national army & civilians as well were working on our base) staring me down. This was after we were already warned of “green on blue shootings”, meaning an Afghan soldier killing an American soldier. They didn’t stare at the men the same way, they stared at the women more intently, the gaze never stopped. I’m sure it had something to do with them never seeing women unveiled, I learned to adapt to those stares every day. Whether I was headed to work, the gym or driving the gator across the FOB to pick up the mail, they never stopped staring. I was outnumbered every single time. I was armed, of course, but so were they. Everything in my mind wanted to see them as an enemy, it was one of the hardest bias’s I ever had to shake. Yes, I had to shake off that bias. Why? Because we can’t just go killing people or getting people killed due to our fear and bias. That is unjust. I recognize many are proud American’s, but we as humans are not more valuable than the humans in any other country.

     It sounds ironic, but the military is incredibly good at teaching us the value of human life. One of the more common lines most of us have heard is “You need to take this shit seriously, or people can/ will get killed.” This was said not just in relation to ‘our own people on our own team’, but also the risk of collateral damage; innocent civilians. Most of the military men/ women I have met and worked with in a mental health setting did not crave killing others. They also had many moral injuries due to the nature of the mission’s they were tasked to do. Most would agree, they hope no one must die. Most would make the conscious decision to spare a life if they could help it.

     We are fighting for survival every single day, but it does not mean people have to always kill in order to accomplish this. Although every human has that innate need to survive, we were not necessarily taught the same way, how to survive. Some are taught that survival means kindness, morals, teamwork. Others, unfortunately must fight for survival. Especially if they are in an area plagued with community violence/ oppression. Then survival becomes an exhausting and plaguing mission, leaving little to no energy to thrive. Then, others are in seemingly safer areas, being taught that survival means ‘staying away from certain areas’ or ‘staying away from certain types of people’. When we get into this mode, we are no longer surviving with healthy & moral tactics, we are now trying to survive off of a bias. It may seem innocent, and many can downplay this with a “better to be safe than sorry” mindset. However, if our bias get’s one innocent person killed, we took it way too far. Then, our mislead survival ‘instincts’ (prejudice, bias, triggers) become more dangerous than any enemy we could have ever imagined. We are now the danger, if we incriminate others based off those taught fears.

     Who has the capability of minding their bias and knowing when their bias becomes a danger to themselves or other people? I find that it is incredibly hard to put ourselves and others in check with this. Right now, the average person is having a very hard time getting their points across without it turning into a large verbal altercation either in person or via online ‘keyboard warrior style’.  I can absolutely relate to most of the population when I say, these arguments do in fact, get old and played out. However, if we lose our ability to practice our freedom of speech, we lose our ability to talk about danger and survival. We then lose our ability to stand up for ourselves and point out injustice. If we are forced into sweeping injustices under the rug and staying silent about it, we then live in a world where the true predators are free to prey again. Which is even more of a detriment to our survival than social media arguments.  

In order to build and ‘survive’, this country has had a long and extensive history of war, murder, slavery, servitude, oppression and so on. Let’s just call it what it is. Bringing up the past is not a threat, and we must stop perceiving it as such. It’s reminding us that we must do better and be better. We may have all “gotten this far”, but could we have not done a better job? Couldn’t we be doing better now? Free of bias, coercion and control? We may have gotten this far, but are we all free and liberated to the point where we can speak freely without being told to leave the country? Can we all pursuit happiness as easily and effortlessly as our neighbor? Can we all go for a jog without getting shot? Can we all get our right to a trial and not get murdered? (No, I’m not a democrat)

How were you taught to survive? Was it easy or hard? Did it involve a form of discrimination to include staying away from other’s who looked different? Did it involve stepping on others to make your way to the top? Did it involve calling 911 if something or someone just looked suspicious? What is suspicious to you? Why is it suspicious? Were you taught that some must die for others to survive? Did your survival involve pretending the past didn’t happen? Denial? Moving on with life and not talking about the horrors of what you saw others go through? Were you taught that other people practicing freedom of speech are dangerous and ‘ungrateful’? Were you taught to listen and hear a person out when they are discussing their traumas and their fight for survival? Were you taught that your community is the way every community is? Or were you taught that perhaps other people’s version of survival involves a completely different template, something that you may never be able to fathom? Have you ventured outside the ‘safety bubble’ of your hometown long enough to experience a new way of survival?

I recognize this may be one of my more offensive blogs. However, I do believe in freedom of speech like I said in the intro. I also recognize the importance of deep discussions and self-exploration, much like what I do with clients. When humans began to realize that the power of speech sometimes meant the power/ ability to survive, it opened a door for a completely new/ safer lifestyle. It meant they could reason with each other, borrow, trade, assimilate, blend and much more. We may all be surviving with some form of bias but remember that everyone else wants to survive as well. That ‘annoying’ person screaming and ranting and raving on Facebook that has completely different views than you, wants to survive as well. More listening, less killing. We want to survive, and the bitch of it is, we need each other to do it. You can go and live off of the grid in the mountains with no neighbor in sight, but someone was experienced enough to build that house for you. Someone is delivering your fresh water, someone is taking your trash. Someone is farming/ slaughtering/ cleaning/ packaging and providing your food. They may or may not be people that are ‘to your liking’, but they are involved in your survival. We need each other to survive, more than we need our bias.

Those ‘Psycho’ Athletes

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-16-2020

“The biggest mistake people make is having an end goal. An end goal implies that you will stop. Stopping means that the change will only be temporary.” -EaE

     No one forgets their most painful workouts; they are defining and legendary. Even if at the time it was pure misery, there’s something in us that wanted it that way, and we wouldn’t change it for the world. We wouldn’t give up our athletic sacrifices. Athletics is never a waste of time, money or resources. It gives us something that is irreplaceable. It is one of the most productive ways to spend our time, and it is known as the greatest endorphin release that we can naturally give ourselves. Everyone should workout. I say that both as a clinician and an athlete: EVERYONE SHOULD WORK OUT. This doesn’t mean that everyone should be an athlete, it means that we as humans should all get involved in some type of physical activity for the sake of our mental health. Yes, even if it’s 3 or 4, 30-minute walks a week, it’s something and it really does make a difference.

     I have been athletic since freshman year of High school, but unfortunately for the longest time I would not call myself an athlete. I did not feel worthy of such a title. However, I ran all year round for 4 years in High school to include 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 meter track races as well as 5K cross country races. My transition into the military at the age of 18 then put me in a position to explore other athletic avenues, starting with 0400 PT (physical training sessions) in Boot camp 5 days a week! I do not miss that! Once settled down at my permanent duty station in Texas, I continued to run various 5K’s as well as being peer pressured into doing the Tough Mudder! I eventually ‘retired’ from running and transitioned into weightlifting and belly dance to include two powerlifting meets on Dyess Air force Base and a dozen belly dance recitals around the town of Abilene.  Moving to NYC I found my new passion: Brazilian Jiu jitsu and MMA training. I have since then, in the past six years, competed in 20 Brazilian Jiu jitsu matches and earned my Purple belt. Racing, grappling competitions and dance recitals require TONS of training and practice; thus, I am an athlete. An amateur level athlete hobbyist with a full-time job, to be exact.

    When the general public thinks of an athlete, they think about pro level athletes, and therefore ‘they will never be able to aspire to get to that level’. However, I am here to tell everyone that most athletes are very much like the average American person. Tied down with a full-time job/ family demands and exhausted most days of the week. We do not “feel up for a workout out” most of the time, we do not have extra magical energy or time in the day, we make sacrifices to be athletic. We sacrifice the couch, money, Netflix, dinner dates, outings, solitude, R&R time, our ‘ego’ and more. Why do we do it, especially when we are tempted to ‘wind down’ after work along with the majority of the population?

     After my very first day of cross-country practice (age 14 going on 15) I woke up the very next day so sore that I could barely walk. Every inch of my body was on fire and I was legitimately terrified to go back. I expressed my fear to my stepmother, I was slow, it was embarrassing, it was painful and tiring. She simply said to me: “What else are you going to do with your free time?! Sit around and watch TV?!” Well, yea I guess she had a point, that was all I was doing. Whenever I get back into a depressive rut even as an adult, that is all I end up doing. When we are ill, we get sucked into what I call “powerful temporary potions and medicines” that have amazing short-term relief, but long-term maladaptive consequences. For the sake of mental health though, humans need less powerful short-term potions, and more long-term self-care regiments. Hence, why athletics ended up becoming the single most long-term self-care activity I have ever done or will do. I am married to fitness and will not let it go. It’s one of the healthiest things I have, therefore it is worth it.

     We should not pull people away from their athletic self-care, to do so is unkind. We should also not shame people that are getting into fitness self-care for the first time in their lives, but be encouraging instead. I’ve heard of many circumstances where a new athlete walked away from a gym due to a lack of inclusivity, which is NEVER okay. The incredible metaphor I learned as a teen in cross country involved the way we trained together. We start off running in a pack, but eventually the faster runners get further ahead, and the slower runners keep their pace in the back. It was the job of each individual runner to chase the person ahead of them, use them as their encouragement. It was also our job to run away from the person that’s coming up behind us, use them as our encouragement to stay strong and keep a solid pace. Every human is on the spectrum of fitness and athletics, and we all matter, we all play our part as individuals and as a team. Despite popular belief, we are not in the fitness world to ‘compete’. In fact, if we allow competition to get into our heads, it will destroy our athletic progress. It’s a journey, and the endpoint is whatever we want to make it. Every girl that I competed with in grappling, whether I won, or they beat me, I considered them my teammates, not my enemy. We helped each other in our grappling journeys whether we won or lost.

     I joke that I have quit Brazilian Jiu jitsu about 4-5 times so far in my six-year endeavor. Martial arts is HARD, and perhaps that is why I cannot let it go. I came from a background of running until my lungs almost exploded, to now being in a sport where the training partner and/ or opponent is trying to break one of my limbs or choke me unconscious. However, it is one of the most fun and beautiful things I have ever taken part in. We learn nothing about ourselves without mental and physical challenges. We do not necessarily need to compete or be ‘the best’, but we need a sense of purpose, objectives, goals, concentration and clarity. Training in Jiu jitsu, MMA, wrestling and Muay Thai almost broke me, yet I am still training. I think back to my ‘lowest of lows’ moments in martial arts after embarrassing spar sessions where I got beat up and embarrassing matches where I lost really fast, horrible injuries that could have been prevented had I not been so stubborn. All I see now is lesson’s learned without regrets.

     My fiancé recently reminded me of that important concept that my stepmother gave me 15 years ago. He worded it a bit differently: “We (humans) are suffering/ miserable every day anyways, we might as well suffer doing something that will improve our lives vs suffering with something that will get us nowhere” (couch, TV etc.). I respect every single athlete I have ever come across. An athlete is a person that defy’ s odds and takes courageous steps every time they head to their workout. Every time we head to our gym in fear of how we will perform, every time we enter our workout exhausted, every time we want to quit but don’t, we are combatting depressive, anxiety and anger symptoms. We are molding ourselves into a person of substance. We are valuing and fighting for our lives and mental health. Athletic activity is the language of many sufferers. To the outsider we appear as “Superhuman”, to our teammates, coaches and ourselves, we are humans fighting to defy the odds stacked against us and all of humanity.

Working out is not meant to be a punishment, it is meant for self-care. Do not mistake the comfort of excessive relaxation and idle time as ‘self care’. Balanced people tend to have a pattern of low and high momentum throughout the day. If we sit or lay for too long we sink, if we workout and train for too long we burnout. Incorporating fitness into our daily or weekly regiments can balance out those symptoms that are otherwise next to impossible to deal with. It is a matter of finding YOUR fitness activity or sport NEXT. If you are an athlete, I applaud you and encourage you to keep going. If you are thinking about exploring an athletic endeavor, I support and encourage it. Reward your body, reward your mind. Learn what the fuss is all about! Those ‘psycho’ athletes may just be onto something.

The Jacobs Ladder Effect-for depression & fatigue

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-10-2020

“There is beauty even in pain. Beauty in hard paths and difficult choices. Beauty as a messy person in a messy life. Character and lessons are built when we accept our imperfections and try regardless of fear, barriers and judgements.” -EaE

       I would call myself a busy body, perhaps maybe even a bit addicted to adrenaline. I have hit slumps as well, depression consistently being a major factor. On one of my more recent slumps, I found myself trying to get my cardio back up. I chose the Jacobs Ladder. (Pre quarantine of course) For anyone that does not know, it is a workout machine that requires us to strap on a waist belt before we incline our way up a revolving ladder. The higher on the machine we get, the faster the ladder goes, forcing us to move at a quick and exhausting pace. The lower the ladder, the slower it goes, an easier more reasonable pace. This latter makes for an incredible workout!

     As I climbed the Jacobs ladder, I realized that not only is it a great workout, but an incredible metaphor for humans and their daily lives. Much like the ladder, we need momentum, when we fall off the ladder, it is that much harder to get the momentum back. Why? Primarily because slowing down means we are still present and actively climbing, but falling off requires us to process the experience, get up and try again. Way more exhausting and draining. This is the unfortunate vicious cycle that many people have found themselves falling into:

  • Depression
  • Decrease in motivation & energy
  • Decrease in activity
  • Increase in fatigue & sedentary activities
  • Shame

(Repeat cycle if symptoms are not tended to)

     We can think of this cycle much like the flush of a toilet or the action of a tornado, as humans we plummet further and further if we stay sedentary. The other unfortunate thing is we often feel lonely in a cycle such as this. Especially if our peers/ family members are on their ladders going full force, and we feel way too exhausted to get up and grab the rung again. Common barriers to this can include:

  • Other underlying Mental health conditions
  • Family demands
  • Occupational stressors
  • Self-Hate/ Inner critic
  • Substance Abuse

There is a practical way to get back on the Jacob’s ladder, and there is also a very self-sabotaging/ self-destructive way to try to do it. First, I will go over the self-destructive way. Shame, as I mention in the very last step of our depressive rut cycle, is a powerful emotion. Shame may cause us to never want to try. Also, shame may cause us to compulsively do things that are impractical. If we are off the ladder, feeling the shame kick in, we may get the compulsion to jump on the top of the rungs and sprint full force. This will surely lead to exhaustion, fatigue and burnout. Then before we know it, we have fallen off the ladder again. We are defeated “yet again” and we feel like we “failed”. The result might be more shame, more depression cycles, and hence more time off our ladder. What causes a person to go from binge eating all week to then starving themselves? Shame. What causes a person to go from being sedentary for an entire month to running a 12 miler in one day? Shame. What causes a person to sink into a depression and then want to give up the moment they grabbed the ladder rung because “what’s the point I won’t’ be able to keep up the pace or do this forever” and then they quit?? Shame.

     The practical and healthy way humans gain momentum, is by grabbing one ladder rung first. Or metaphorically speaking, working one simple goal at a time. Take things step by step, day by day, do not rush! Grab the second latter rung, then ‘you put your left foot in and then your right foot in!’ Before we know it, we will be climbing again. But not so fast! When we are at the bottom of the ladder, we tend to want to rush up it, but what are we racing for? Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Need I mention the last time I jumped and sprinted on that ladder I regretted it terribly after? It was not a practical pace; it was not something I could sustain forever and therefore when I fell, I fell hard. It takes time to build back momentum in life, and we cannot do it by force. Rather, we do it with daily habits and daily self-care. My grandmother had told me a long time ago that many people rush, and there is no need to try and keep up with them, “go your own pace Elisa, no matter how fast or slow, as long as it is your pace”.


     If/ when possible go to your local gym and find that ladder. A stair master is also a great substitute machine. Get a feel for the exercise. Take your time, listen to your mind and body, and truly do it for you and you alone. When you are tired, slow down the pace. Just do not stop. When a burst of energy comes in, be honest with yourself and pick up the pace. If you are tired again, slow the pace down again and do not shame yourself for it. This is what humans are and what humans will do. Humans get tired, our momentum will slow down sometimes. Humans are also resilient and capable of speeding up.

     Now as far as life goals and picking up momentum in daily activitiesWhat is your pace? How will you get back on the metaphorical Jacobs ladder? Or, if you are on the ladder, what has been stopping you from picking up the pace? What contributes to you falling off it? Do you use activities for constructive purposes and in constructive ways? Or do you find that you are self-destructive, even with perceivably healthy activities? If you keep jumping and sprinting on the ladder and then falling off, are you able to grab and walk up the ladder instead? If you want so badly to speed up the pace but find that you cannot will yourself to do it, is it an issue of motivation, an issue of self-care, or an issue of expectations you hold on yourself that are perhaps unreasonable?


One of the never-ending quests many people will find themselves in is the quest for balance. Just when we believe we may have found it; life circumstances can change. Medical conditions, mental health issues, having kids, as well as harder/ longer work demands, financial strain etc. I acknowledge and sympathize with the fact that when we are drained due to depression and other life factors it is the hardest thing in the world, to get up and get our momentum back. However, I truly believe that one of the most important things a person can do when they are at the lowest of lows is keep a hold of the ladder, and pace up it slow. Not for societal demands/ expectations, not for torture, but for our own self-care. It is not about what we do on the best of days, it is about what we do on the worst days. That is what will define what kind of future may lie ahead of us. There will be life circumstances that cause us to cling onto the ladder with one hand only, while struggling with all of our might to get the other hand clasped on the rung. There will be periods of time when we are walking up so slow, we wonder “What the hell is the point of this?” The answer is, we will find out later.

Cry Baby

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 06-04-2020

“You can look at all external factors of a person’s life, and believe that you understand them, or know their pain. But you won’t. Suffering is an internal, emotional bleeding. By the time it is truly seen, it may be too late.”

I used to hate myself for being the “cry baby” of my family. The cry baby anytime someone said anything remotely hurtful to where I had to suck in tears all day and let it out at the end of a school or work shift. I hated how quickly the tears surfaced behind my eyeballs the moment any external trigger, whether it be an individual person or unfortunate life event, happened to hit me the wrong way. As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons I enlisted in the military was to “deal” with this issue. If I cannot toughen up on my own, perhaps the military can do it for me. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and it took me a long time to realize why. Despite what our societal and military teachings tell us, we do not actually “toughen up” when horrific events and extreme discipline happen to us. Rather, we learn to suppress pain even more. The accumulated build up of anger may cause rage, the accumulated buildup of anxiety may cause agoraphobia. Then, the accumulated buildup of depression may cause… crying spells.

     If we cannot process, address, and heal our mental pain, we will bleed it instead. Emotions are never wrong, but they can often get misplaced due to the demanding nature of life. Accompany that with a deep-seated fear/ stigma of emotional expression, people often have a hard time placing where their triggers are coming from. Most people have admitted to having anger, anxiety and crying outbursts that appear to have “come out of nowhere”. However, if we think deep and hard about our personal histories, we may realize that there were life events that justified our sadness and grief. Can we give ourselves permission to cry and to grieve? Can we give our loved ones that permission and validation? Our coworkers, our peers?

     I can honestly say that I have been torn through life. I am a crier and I have had so much to cry about, but I also had this military and martial arts background. I, like many, have been torn between facing trauma and pain, but requiring a presence of apathy, or courage and strength. Crying was a luxury, reserved for the bedroom when no one was watching. Even if I secretly wanted the outlet in public, it would have been a direct insult to the people of my helping profession, military work unit and anyone that is threatened by the reminder that yes, sadness does exist in this world. I had absolutely put this theory to the test in the past many times, and my grievances were often met with deflective and invalidating statements, even from other mental health professionals sadly. My clients have put it to the test as well with their friends and loved ones, to be met with similar responses.

     Scientifically speaking, crying is an outlet/ release that can help humans feel better, but societally speaking it seems to be viewed as a “negative emotion”. No one wants sadness, but it exists. No one wants to deal with trauma, grief and depression and everything that comes with it, but it is an inevitable part of our suffering. If we train ourselves to block off these crucial emotional outlets such as crying or ‘venting’, we lose touch with ourselves. If we are not aware of how sad something can make us, we lose sight of when/ where to implement healthy boundaries. It is very possible that a human being may continuously expose themselves to high amounts of suffering but have no clue the amount of damage it may be causing.

     As stressful as our occupations may be (work, parenting, school), they do serve as a form of avoidance. Meaning, if we are engaged with a busy activity for long periods of time and at a high pace, we are not feeling. Humans tend to want to gear more toward productivity and false positivity, they believe it is the way to happiness. Then they cry and/ or drug the pain away later when no one is watching. A part of what makes mental illness so hard is the unbearable feeling of loneliness people experience when there is no one in their world talking to them about it. It can feel extremely scary when people start to believe that “they are the only one” that is engaging in crying spells, mental breakdowns, fleeting suicidal thoughts and an overall hardship with living daily life. We should remember that in most cases, people deflect and invalidate our pain not because they are ‘stronger’ than us, but because they are terrified of being vulnerable. Vulnerability shows strength, a strength many of us cannot seem to muster.

     Overall, the world needs more answers, we need to talk about this. The cry babies need to know they are not actually ‘babies.’ Since I could not cry at the appropriate and opportune times to do so, my crying came out in loneliness, during binge cycles, during sappy Romcoms and sad movies, during a strenuous workout or competition. My cry outs come in the form of my journaling, blogging, social media posts as well as my nightmares. Some may read this and think ‘wow that sounds like a sensitive and weak person that cannot handle life’.  However, anyone that knew me through my teens and twenties would have never guessed that this is who I was behind closed doors. The perception was that “I always had my shit together and everything seemed to come so easy”. Unfortunately, from a young age, I hated waking up and facing the day ahead of me, and still do. I saw the world in a negative light, and still do. I saw in the flesh, the tragedy of what war can bring, and I still see it. I fight it on the daily, I help my clients fight their battles on the daily. Self-healing and self-care are beautiful processes if we are ever fortunate enough to learn them.

     This applies to every human in the world, we absolutely do not know what our coworkers, friends and family members are suffering through unless we open the dialogue. It is terrifying but we do need to ask the real questions sometimes. Do not hide behind conversations about candles and towels, dig deep. Do not change the subject the moment someone introduces the topic of mental pain, it exists. For the sake of ourselves and others we must dig deeper if we want to support each other through mental battles. Do not believe that perception is reality. Do not believe that difficult and complex emotions have easy solutions and answers. A person that smiles everyday could be the next suicide victim.

The Fuel of Expectation

Elisa A Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-30-2020

“You didn’t choose an easy goal, therefore you cannot expect an easy path”

It is absolutely imperative to identify, adjust, manage, and monitor our expectations. What do expectations stem from, and what do they mean for us? An expectation is about being taught what we deserve, or rather what we have “earned”, even though we have done nothing for it. With these expectations, comes anticipation. Then, with a build up of anticipation we will arrive at either one of two things: either gratification or extreme disappointment.

Of course, some expectations are more reasonable than others. Expectations come in all shapes and sizes and can be deeply influenced by our cultural & societal backgrounds, community and households. Examples of healthy expectations may include something like this:

⁃ I expect that people do NOT harm me or violate my body.

⁃ I expect to be properly compensated for the hard work I did on this job.

⁃ I expect the product I buy to work.

The expectations above are examples of expectations that foster boundaries and self care. If the expectations are violated, the next step is to self advocate to have these reasonable expectations met.

Below are examples of expectations that are often unreasonable and can lead to major disappointment:

⁃ This person (intimate partner) must take care of me and tend to my financial and emotional needs.

⁃ I expect to have a high paying job, car, home, spouse and kids by the age of 25.

⁃ I expect this person to do this job the same way and at the same pace that I would do it.

The above expectations are high risk and may foster extreme disappointment, resentment and/ or shame. Why are they high risk? Primarily due to the fact that they require another human being doing something we want. We have no control over what someone may or may not want to do for us. The other issue is rigid timelines in an ever changing society/ economy. If we have an expectation that may stem from the generation before us (such as home/ stability/ kids) but we live in a vastly different/ higher cost of living economy, expectations may need to be altered or changed.

Another thing to pay attention to is key anticipatory words/ phrases that tend to be the set up of most unreasonable or unmanaged expectations. These key words/ phrases include:

⁃ They must

⁃ They should

⁃ I should be

⁃ You have to

⁃ They need to

⁃ I deserve

⁃ But they promised

Anticipatory phrases often need to be reflected on and challenged before going any further. Such as:

⁃ “but why should they?”

⁃ “Why do I deserve this particular thing?”

⁃ “Why do they have to and I don’t have to?”

⁃ “Why do they need to?”

Expectation is the balloon, anticipation is the helium or air filling up the balloon. Then a third party person and/ or outcome might end up being the pointy object that bursts the ballon and causes emotional dysregulation. Emotions include shock, frustration, anger, resentment, depression, anxiety and so on.

If we find ourselves constantly getting disappointed and hurt by our external environment to include our friends, family members, peers and what feels like random awful life outcomes, it may not actually be a coincidence. Truly it’s one of two things, if not both. We may be surrounded by a toxic environment with toxic people, or we may have an expectation management issue.

A rather toxic series of expectations involve expecting from another person, something that we are not willing to do ourselves. There is an entitlement aspect to these. Examples include:

⁃ All house chores

⁃ All child rearing

⁃ All gainful employment

⁃ All financial responsibility

– All listening

I have seen many households suffer from the above list, as dynamics shift and people are left constantly arguing about who should do what. What is fair? What is a reasonable expectation in our household and what expectations are unreasonable and therefore met with backlash? High and mismanaged expectations can cause wars between intimate partners and family members. Relationships are like verbal contracts. If the contract no longer works and builds resentment, it’s time to redo the contract or shred it completely depending on the level of toxicity.

Why is this important to work on? Primarily because it CAN be worked on and changed, and it can reduce unnecessary stress and altercations. The next challenge for anyone hoping to identify and manage their expectations would be to pluck out those anticipatory phrases and expectations and dissect when/ why it became ingrained in their mind. The key to understanding our unmanageable expectations is to understand ourselves as well as our influences that have taught us what we deserve and should expect from the people and the world around us.

It is NEVER a ‘happy’ Memorial Day

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-23-2020

“It is a dark, painful and torturous path to take. And we do not do it for reward, we do it because it’s right.” -EaE

What do veterans and military members think about when Memorial Day comes up? Typically, it is not about a day off, a celebration or a sale. They may smile to save face, they may go to the BBQ’s, but their mind may not be celebrating, rather mourning. One of the most painful things about traumatic grief is how often it is invalidated or swept under the rug, as if there is no such thing as painful loss because we “signed up for this”. Or perhaps military members and veterans are perceived to be ‘so strong’ for the hardships they have endured that maybe ‘they do not feel pain or mourn’ like the rest of the population…? I am here to tell you that is wrong, and the veteran that smiles through everything post deployment and post military service are not always happy or okay. It could potentially be the opposite.

     What is going through our minds when Memorial Day weekend comes up? Below are a few possibilities.

We are Remembering and/ or Mourning:

  • Losing coworkers/ comrades in military service and war. Sometimes by combat related means and sometimes due to suicide.
  • Almost dying (for those that almost did die during missions)
  • Losing clients (healthcare/ mental health care military workers)
  • Remembering traumatic events and close calls
  • Remembering hearing about death/ loss nearby, by other troops on near by missions.  
  • Mourning our own career’s and what we miss about the camaraderie of service
  • Missing our military identities
  • How disconnected we feel from other’s
  • The war/ mission itself (believe it or not some want to go back to war for the familiarity or trauma bonding)

     Memorial Day is not about celebration, but about remembrance and solemnly honoring those that have died sacrificing themselves to service the country. Many veterans have served and ‘made it out alive’, however, it would be reasonable to assume that many of them have lost at least one person if not more. Some of them may never want to talk about it. Some veterans may numb out and ‘not feel’ anything when this weekend comes up, perhaps it is too much to process. While others will hide so that their emotions are not witnessed by others.

     We may have signed up knowing that deploying and losing others was a risk, but no one understood how heavy the loss would feel. The other factor to consider is that single episodes of traumatic grief is often met with sympathy and compassion. Such as the loss of one individual stateside that is important to us. However, the country has a funny way of trying to celebrate large scale traumas. Such as 9/11 with a museum and money generated off the horrific loss of others, as well as an entire ‘holiday’ weekend for those that have died fighting for their countries. I equate this to a fear of feeling and vulnerability. No one wants to think about or feel trauma on that grand of scale, but it is necessary to acknowledge when tragedy has happened. It is necessary to acknowledge when there are living/ breathing people still suffering from those tragedies.

     I have absolute confidence that most of our civilian counterparts have no clue how deep this weekend may hit some military members and veterans. Also, many get it mixed up with Veterans day weekend, which is celebratory. It is not on purpose; it is just something to be addressed and an incredible learning opportunity for many. Currently only 1% of the population is serving in the military and only 8% of us are veterans. We do not have a lot of people, a community of those that can give empathy is valuable/ crucial for our healing. Instead of thinking about how we may ‘celebrate’ memorial day weekend, hopefully we can think about how we may remember and honor those that we have lost due to military and/ or war trauma and the horrific aftermath of chronic “invisible” wounds.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared” – Lois Lowry