Social Media Culture & Harm Reduction

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-6-2020

With great technology comes great… not responsibility unfortunately. More like a large amount of people playing around with advanced technological gadgets and learning to develop a whole new set of social skills.  The social skills of the virtual world are not be confused with the social skills we learn from our home environment and/ or our peers in school.  No, this is something entirely different. One can also argue that it is deeper than just an ‘addiction’, rather a new culture: Social Media culture. A land with less rules, access to any/ all people from different walks of life, different areas around the globe. In addition, access to an incredibly large amount of information, validity to be determined…

     To respect my goal for this blog, I will continue to dive deeper into this social media culture– The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. What are we collectively gathering and doing? Staying in touch, interacting, creating our own personal style and image through pictures and words, self-advocacy & other people advocacy, researching, judging, formulating new thoughts and opinions, creating jobs, exploiting others, preying on others, self-medicating boredom/ loneliness/grievances and/ or mental health conditions.  I can guarantee I’m missing some things from my list, because there appears to be no limits to how far humanity can go with this highly innovated social culture.  

As a social worker, I am realistic when it comes to people. People will absolutely continue to do things that are fun, helpful and entertaining to them. Social media is not going away. Neither the incredible things we get from it nor the horrendous things that stem from it. It stays, because humanity is no longer interested in a life without it, it’s cemented in. So instead of hyper focusing on abstinence, a method proven to have failed in both the efforts to reduce teen pregnancies and illicit drug use, let’s educate ourselves. Let’s talk about this new social media culture: the good, the bad and the ugly. My focus for the sake of our mental health, is to discuss where social media hurts us the most, and what we can do about it.

Expectation/ Reality Mismatch – Yes, most people have cell phones and social media. No this does not give us the right to expect that our peers, friends, coworkers answer our phone calls, texts, instant messenger’s, snap chats and or DM’s etc. All individuals still have a right to privacy and solitude if they so choose. On the other end, if someone find’s themselves highly anxious/ stressed due to constant demands from their family/ peers via the virtual world, they must take accountability for the sake of their mental health and implement some boundaries. Fortunately, boundaries are easy to make via the social media world vs a job or household setting. The phone device literally allows us to alter it accordingly! We have the power to shut off our phones in most cases. It isn’t “the chance of an emergency” that keeps us tied to our phones 24/7. Rather, it’s a heightened sense of obligation, responsibility and guilt. Unless someone is in the military, a doctor on call, or an emergency responder they are not the ones to be called in an emergency anyways. Many people may choose to obligate us or expect that we “are on call 24/7 since we have a phone”, but that does not change the simple fact that we have our freedom of will and can choose to not be on call 24/7 for friends, family and coworkers. The world can bleed us dry if we let it.

False sense of Reality – Unfortunately, we have a lot more to compare ourselves to in this virtual culture. There’s the woman with the hourglass figure and perfectly shaped large ass, and not a blemish in sight. There’s the guy with the incredible abs with all the time in the world to work out. There’s the mom who got abs just five days after she popped out her tenth baby. There’s the person who reported to have worked 80 hours a week but never looks tired and his apartment is always clean. There’s that incredibly perfect family with the perfect home and they are always smiling… wow, how are they always so happy? These “perfectionistic” social media posters can often jab at the insecurities of others. This is to be expected, we cannot change how “perfect” other’s want to appear online. We can’t even blame them! In most cases people in the above category may want to project positivity into the world. Or maybe, some of them do not want to show their vulnerabilities. Some may also feel insecure and in it for the likes/ comments and validation. Whatever the case, no one is perfect, no matter how perfect they appear online. Also remember that we do not post/ record ourselves all day everyday… the average person is not a Kardashian. Sometimes people project a false sense of reality, remembering this fact can help us alleviate some shame. If we are doing our best and trying to be good people, in most cases, that is enough.

Mind manipulation – We all get mind manipulated at some point. It happens to the best of us and sometimes it comes from a source we could have never imagined. I am not here to discuss any views or beliefs I have. I’m here to remind us all, how vulnerable we truly are when we are online absorbing information. Whether we are five years old or 100 years old, we can be manipulated, easily. Filtering is necessary, and so is knowing that no matter how hard we try; we cannot filter everything out. Be on alert and cleanse when possible. Know that some people simply use social media to exploit or alter the views and/ or actions of others for a gain. Think about how often we may simply read a headline and upon reading it already have an emotional reaction even before we read the article? Think about how easily one can “push another’s buttons” in a virtual argument. Think about the key board warriors and the trolls who’s sense of purpose involves being a ‘cyberbully’ and crushing another person’s self-esteem/ confidence. Filtering and critical thinking skills is a must.

Miscommunication – “What did this person mean by this text?  Why did they send it with an explanation point and in all caps? Are they mad? Are they yelling at me? I hate texting, call me instead. That person hates phone calls, so I guess we will never talk. Why did this person like 20 of my pictures at 3 am in the morning? She didn’t DM me back but then I see her on Facebook posting!  Wow she must be ignoring me on purpose. I’m friends with them, but I saw a picture that they were hanging out without me! Why wasn’t I invited?” It’s silly, it’s juvenile, yet we are all guilty of it.  The virtual social culture enhances miscommunication. Many report frustration and anxiety over the abundance of communication outlets. Many more are confused as they try to decipher a person’s social media behaviors in their own mind with their own perceptions. We must find our way through this miscommunication, learn to clear up our confusion. In some cases, we may find that our virtual world does not fit in with another person’s virtual world. Maybe when the organic connection is severed, there is no connection left. Sometimes we grieve a loss of friendship when we switch to a strictly social media culture.

Flakiness/ Letdowns- It has been researched and proven that people have become more flaky and fearful of commitment due to social media. We would assume that since we have all the connections possible to reach out to each other, that it would be opposite. We texted each other five days in a row with the same plans of meeting up on Friday, then Friday comes, and now my friend won’t answer and does not seem interested in hanging out. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the popularity contests still exist in the social media culture. Maybe my home gathering/ party sounds fun to my friend… 2 weeks ago. However, in that two-week timeframe they learn about 10 other parties that sound a lot more appealing/ fun. Maybe that day comes and said friend would prefer to rest and is more exhausted than they could have predicted. Then, because of the convenience of clicking buttons, it is that much easier to cancel via instant messenger. It’s okay because “we aren’t standing up our friends”, we are simply cancelling or changing plans with a few clicks. There is absolutely such a thing as being a poor friend in social media culture. If we are repetitive in our flakiness and letdowns, we will slowly but surely grow more isolated and agoraphobic, as a nation.

Distraction/ Procrastination- Why in the world… with all the advanced communication networks, online shopping, Grubhubs and Seamless and Uber eats and more… we seem to be losing out on time? Rushing like we never had before. It feels as if there is never enough time in the day. The social media culture is highly addicting, and if we are not careful it can waste A LOT of our time. I’m talking waking up and Facebooking and IGing until 12 pm. I’m talking clicking our ways into destroying our time that was originally allotted for chores. When humans get sucked into something fun, addicting and better than what they have around them in the flesh, this is what tends to happen. Sometimes priorities change because of it. Unfortunately, there are some people that have gone as far as prioritizing their online game above their infant’s life which led to nutritional neglect/ death. This can sometimes become, a very serious issue. Again, social media isn’t going away and again, we cannot expect abstinence from it anymore than we can expect abstinence from fast food, coffee, alcohol, shopping, TV, gambling, crack and so on. Harm reduction is going to be the key here, balance is also going to be the key. Not everyone will become an addict and primarily, what most of us need in our lives is balance. Balance our social media culture with our organic life culture. Find whatever dosage we may be allotted to use so that we may thrive in our new lifestyles; virtual socializing as a PART of it. Key word, part. Not all.

Holistic Healing in Nature

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-4-2020

“And what is going to happen when it is all said and done…everything is gone now, and you forgot yourself?” -EaE

My experience in nature has dissipated over the years as I continue to reside in NYC. We must be careful, because before we know it, we may lose touch with nature all together. As this ‘Technological Revolution’ continues to advance/ progress and the 9-5 indoor work environment becomes more common, nature takes a back seat to what ‘we must do’ in order to survive in the modern workforce. I find myself getting more eye pain, more headaches, more sicknesses, more sluggish/ fatigued and more of a depressed hypersomniac than ever before.

     Lucky for me I met a man 2 years ago (currently my fiancé) that has brought me back to an old love that I had completely forgotten about: nature walking. Most of my nature experiences involved living in the Mojave Desert and walking and/ or jogging up in the Mesa of Yucca Valley, CA exploring the peaceful mountainous terrain. I did not realize it at the time, but those walks/ runs probably saved me. I used to take for granted the beautiful Joshua Tree, an incredibly rare tree that has been filmed in quite a few movies and music videos. I was lucky enough to live with these trees, but my negative/ depressed teenage mind could not grasp my luck.  Fast forward to present day, I have followed my fiancé’s path in forest hiking. I must admit it has humbled me in a way that I had not anticipated, the Eastern ROCKY ASS Mountains have hurt me mentally and physically, but are also forcing me to become stronger and more tranquil/ at peace with my present situation.

     If you, like me, have lost touch with nature I encourage you to get back in touch. As cliché as it sounds it is the most natural and holistic healing a human can partake in. What is more natural and human than walking up a mountain, gathering/ chopping wood, building a fire and cooking on top of the fire? Sleeping under the stars with many calming, yet scary, unidentified animal sounds? My greatest challenge was learning to be in the moment, my mind kept going over what ‘I need to do’ when I get back to ‘normal’ stressful unhealthy life. My mind kept crying over the pain and forgetting to explore my surroundings. I continue reminding myself to soak in the scene because before I know it, it is back to an office that gives me claustrophobia, a stressful job that does not allow time for self-care, fluorescent lights and computer screens that cause consistent headaches, and never-ending deadlines and productivity standards that produce shame in even the hardest of workers.  

     Nature, you almost kill me. However, like with many challenges, I find myself tormented but intrigued enough to keep going back for more. The reason it is so hard and torturous is because we have lost practice of living in our natural habitats. Before we know it, what becomes natural is everything that is not supposed to be natural: Dusty offices, sedentary days, 6 hours plus with screen time, fatigue and in turn a lack of hobbies. Ironically, the more sedentary we are, the more tired we become. A vicious cycle of sitting around, draining our minds, and exhaustion from the two leading to more sitting around, and draining our minds. As many probably know, this is not a wholesome or balanced life. From my short life experiences with nature so far, these are my findings.

Desert:  The sunny arid heat. Incredibly powerful and scorching in a way that kept me on my toes. A sun so powerful that it dried sweat the moment it came out of my body, leaving me unable to detect how dehydrated I really was. Killing my relatives that traveled from Ohio, so eager to explore yet so not adapted to the heat, the bright sun, and the bright sand that reflected sunlight. The myth was that there was no wildlife in the desert, but my walks proved otherwise: snakes, lizards, owls, vultures, coyotes, bobcats, tortoises, cotton tail’s, jack rabbits, scorpions, tarantulas, roadrunners and more. It is such a harsh environment, many of my neighbors chose to isolate indoors with their swamp coolers running while I scraped up weeds with the Hula ho, raked sand and scooped up the dog shit. (outdoor chores assigned by the parents) I allowed my skin to soak in the sun while wearing my tanning lotion, singing along with my cassette Walkman. (Remember those?!) That was my adversity, yard work chores for hours in the middle of 100-120-degree days. Walks and runs for hours middays to evening timeframes (I ran cross country and weekends were not meant for time off). My fun was dirt clod wars with my older brother. Yes, this meant wearing crappy clothes and throwing dirt clods at each other, literally. My peace/ serenity was the sunset’s: colors of orange, yellow, purple, blue shades as the sun fell behind the desert mountains. This is when the weather felt PERFECT. There is no weather quite like the desert when the sun goes down and the breeze hits right.  Lastly, the stars. The type of stars that a city person could never even imagine or dream of. Every night if we sat out long enough, we could see multiple shooting stars, identify the big/ little dipper, northern star and so on. The desert brings confidence, patience and perseverance. Even in scorched land we can maintain a semblance of life.

Ocean: I had always dreamed of living on the beach and got the opportunity at the age of 24 when I first lived in NYC in the Rockaway Beach area of Queens. In the first week of living there I fell on my knees in the sand, stared at the water and could not believe my life. A place so beautiful, peaceful, calming and soothing and yet, we spend our days indoors frying our brains with screens instead. I cried. The world is so much bigger than us and staring out into an ‘endless’ ocean reminded me of this. Try going to the ocean when it is a bit cold out, those days where no one is there except you. The days when the sky is grey and the waves are strong, and we may get reminded of how short life is, and how much time we waste. Walk alongside the beach, run alongside it. Collect the seashells, feel the water on the toes. Dig the feet into the sand, bury the body into the sand, swim into the ocean even though it is scary and cold. I swear a crab pinched my toe and kept me terrified and phobic for a good six months, but I sucked it up and went back in eventually. Saltwater punching me in the face with a trick follow up wave. This always left me coughing with sea salt pouring out of my mouth and nose, but I learned to go back in for more. My father used to call me a mermaid when he saw me swim. I was not a fast swimmer, but a calm one. Powerful water teaches us to remain calm and go with the wave’s vs resist them. We must move with the current and know that we will never be as powerful as a great body of water. The ocean teaches us calmness, serenity and letting go of what is out of our control. Sometimes in life, we must ride with the waves.

Forest: So deceitfully beautiful and calm, but so torturous to walk and climb through. As stated above the forest has been my present-day challenge, I underestimated its power. My mind get’s panicked, my feet go raw, my confidence destroyed. I trip, fall, slip, give up, go back and try for more. But all I see is nature, not a man-made thing in sight. All I breath in is fresh air, no more city fumes clogging my lungs. I run into the occasional animal before they turn and run to hide/ blend with their habitat: deer, wild turkeys, birds, chipmunks. I challenge myself to chop a few pieces of wood, and then humbly return the hatchet back to my fiancé when my fragile wrists burnout. My part of helping with the fire is searching for white bark, birch and twigs. Tents? Forget about it! Thank you, childhood and military, because I can pitch up a tent fast and roll up a sleeping bag tightly no problem. At some point I always go off by myself. I go where my eyes take me. Whatever looks appealing we must go to, follow our guts and see what we want to see. There are no boundaries, arrows, strict rules, or obvious paths. Instead we go with instinct and intuition on a forest exploration walk. What catches my interest is where I go, I stop, look, let it sink in and find a new visually appealing ‘marker’ to walk toward. Then, in the evenings, it is time to light the fire. Sit near the fire, let the heat hit your face. Stare into the fire, look at the flames naturally do what they do. Be as lazy as you deserve to be at this point, for you have had a long day of hiking, building, gathering, chopping and so on. The forest teaches us peace, strength and endurance. We get to where we are going but only if we have it in us to accept the hard journey forward.

My challenge to everyone: Get your ass back into a true nature setting when timing allows and let me know your feelings/ thoughts. Happy Healing!

Unsolicited Advice

Elisa A Escalante/ LMSW/ 5-1-2020

“Of course you are an expert in your own eyes, you have gotten this far and survived. But try to keep in mind, that the person across from you, that you feel is so blind… survived a different set of circumstances. They have lived a separate life.” -EaE

‘The average person gives awful advice’. This is yet another common line I tell clients and friends. Many people express being pulled and jerked with a large amount of unsolicited advice. Many get confused as half of their family and peers tell them to go left, while the other half might just steer them to go right. Why do many people offer unsolicited advice? Why do many people give awful advice and how can we let it roll off our shoulders so that it does not cloud our judgement and raise our blood pressure?

People often love to hear themselves talk about things they think they know. Sure enough if I express that I’m “in a bind” regarding any topic, the listener will identify something in their memory bank that is “just like” what I’m going through. Then they will excitedly have the “perfect” solution as they have “been there”. What does advice giving do for someone? They can look at the topic and ‘relate’ it with a memory from their life, making it about them. They can Increase their confidence by feeling that they have an answer for someone in need. Having an answer for something instills a sense of control and comfort.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution for everything all the time. The average person gives pretty awful advice because they neglect that fact. How many times have we been in a situation where there was no clear answer right away? However, everyone and their mother and cousin twice removed kept giving us that same empty and useless advice.

“You have depression? Just be positive!”

“You have issues with weight? Just eat less and exercise more.”

“You don’t get along with your husband / wife? Just get a divorce.”

“You can’t decide between two jobs? Take the one that pays more.”

“You have an addiction? Just stop using drugs”

“You don’t make enough money? Just go to college and then you will get a degree and make more.”

“If I were you, I would do ___________”

The other reason why many people give awful advice? They are expressing what ‘they would do’ in the other persons shoes. However, they will NEVER be, in the other persons shoes. Quite honestly if the solution to our issues were that easy, I would be out of the job. Mental health therapy would be nonexistent and humanity would thrive in a world full of perfectionist robotic humans that always do the ‘obvious’ and ‘sensical’ thing.

We all have a logical side to us that wants to be calculated and careful, but then we have a pleasure seeking side that is in constant conflict. As we make our choices it is quite normal to even start asking for advice… proceed carefully! Many people express that after they ask multiple people for advice they feel even more confused afterwards.

Many people have differing opinions, views, values, perceptions and so on. There is an endless supply of tips you may receive from a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds. What can help filter out the awful advice from the descent advice?

⁃ Apply your question to a person that is proficient in the topic you have a question about. For example, if you have a question about real estate, it makes more sense to ask someone you know in real estate. I wouldn’t ask my cousin who has never moved out of her mothers house about when and how I should go about homeownership!

⁃ Take note of the people in your life that tend to vomit out the mouth with solutions and answers ALL… THE… TIME. Don’t listen to those ones! It may not be wisdom they possess, rather arrogance.

⁃ If you believe you know the answer to something already, down to your gut and core… refrain from soliciting advice! You would be surprised how often people get talked out of what is good for them because of third party doubts, insecurities, anxiety and/ or envy.

It is still true that there is no one that will look out for us the way we look out for ourselves. It is important to be mindful in our journeys and choose our mentors wisely. Along the way, when there are those that insist on giving unsolicited and awful advice, it is quite easy to smile and nod.

FunctionallyMental Q&A Blog # 1

Elisa A Escalante / LMSW/ 4-29-2020

Q- Could you discuss athletics and mental health? Especially at the Olympic level.

A- A wonderful question and concern. It’s important to discuss the immense amount of pressure an athlete endures as well as the fact that they are pushing themselves through harsh mental and physical feats. Also, it is not uncommon for mentally ill people to be attracted to sports since it is a well-known coping mechanism/ outlet. This isn’t to say every athlete is mentally ill, and not all mentally ill people want to work out! However, it is possible that someone become addicted to working out. It is possible that some are using their fitness activity to try and ‘erase’ or ‘reverse’ their mental illness. It is also possible, that a healthy minded person was pushed/ pressured so bad in the athletic realm, that their mental health suffered in turn. Human’s need exercise, but as many know by now, to be an athlete means to exercise in an excessive manner that is not actually ‘natural’ for the average person. This isn’t a judgement on my end, more so something I’ve learned through clinical and personal experience. I’ve been physically fit since the age of 15: Cross country, track and field, aerobics, weightlifting, belly dance, CrossFit, powerlifting and now Mixed martial arts. Participating in sports is what held me together through major depression for the past 15 years. Even though sports can help counter mental illness, it can also exacerbate it if it is not used properly. You know how we always say, ‘there is such a thing as using too much of anything.’ Same goes with exercise and social pressures. Athletes are pushing themselves beyond what most humans can take, and then they are suffering through the evil magnifying glass that society creates to project insecurities onto them. Athletes, like celebrities and politicians form together as the countries top 3 “Scapegoats”. Then to think, I’ve only ever been an amateur athlete and competitor and I’ve experienced immense anxiety, fear and crying spells over it; then I try to imagine what it must be like at an Olympic level?! I simply can’t. The Olympics comes once every 4 years and there is no real pay or incentive to want to go for it. Economically speaking, it is absolutely an impractical decision to want to become an Olympian. Yet, there are these incredible humans pushing past all their adversities, possible mental health issue’s and off the wall life distractions and experiences, and they are GOING for it. They go for it for themselves but also knowing a part of the job is to entertain us. They are our entertainment, and we pay for them and cherish them, why do we pressure and hate on them too? It’s a part of a psychological game we play when we seek joy in watching other’s under immense pressure and when we enjoy being that person in that adrenaline junky state. Even I can’t explain it deeply enough, even I enjoy watching two people get into a cage and beat each other up! I also enjoy training in grappling and striking sports. If we want to know more about mental health linked to athletics, think deeper about why we do sports, why we love sports and why we sometimes get addicted to sports.

Q- What should I do if my friend is suicidal?

A- First and foremost, it is important to recognize that with great relationships, comes great responsibility. Or rather, ‘a heightened sense of responsibility’. Remember, even if someone confides to you that they feel suicidal, it does not suddenly make you a therapist, cop, judge, jury, expert of any kind. You are still their family member, coworker, and/ or friend. Act accordingly. Listen. More listening, less talking. If you are afraid you might “say the wrong thing”, don’t say anything. Just listen and be the comfort that you are and offer help. Help should most likely be you gently persuading them to seek professional help. The second question then becomes “But what if they refuse to get help and keep talking about killing themselves?” When the warning signs become obvious and scary, and a person still refuses treatment, that’s when it’s time to call 911. What can they do? Cops can do a welfare check and escort the person to emergency psychiatric services for a suicide assessment/ welfare check & possible hospital admittance. Many are scared to do this because they fear causing their friends or family members to be angry or lose trust. However, many would agree that this risk might just be worth it in order to help your suicidal family member or friend get the help they need and work toward a more stable mental state. This is absolutely all that is in our control. Be careful not to lose sight of freedom of will. Every person I have ever talked to has someone that they care about that needs help but won’t get help. This is very common and ultimately everyone’s mental health is their own responsibility. People tend to take long periods of time in contemplation as they decide on whether they want to continue their sufferings as is. But again, in the case of a suicidal crisis, there is always 911.

Q- Why do generational gaps cause so much friction, especially now a days

A- As easy as it can be to put a person in the category of their generational era and label and stereotype them accordingly, it’s best that we mind our bias and perception of others. Are their themes? Absolutely. As of current there are ways in which we have similarities amongst our peers but we as individuals may also find ourselves relating to people of other eras. Why is the friction and tension on the rise? Perhaps because it is more noticeable and easier to talk about than ever before. Technological advances have made it possible for humans to argue across a wide variety of platforms. We now have more research studies, more knowledge and education than ever before. Unfortunately, as abundant as information is, it’s also very difficult to decipher through. Even with ‘evidenced based research’, people may still interpret what they read differently. I for one, love to study up on generational values and norms. It’s important to know that if someone has specific values and norms, there is a reason for it. We are in large part, a product of our environments: community, household, peers. If you find yourself constantly disagreeing with those of a different era, it may be because you were raised during a different timeframe than them. Humans must adapt and change to what is surrounding them, hence a child that has been raised through a depression may differ drastically from a child that was raised during a booming economy. A child raised during a time trauma silencing was encouraged vs children being encouraged to speak on trauma and mental illness may differ drastically. A generation that tends to leave home at the average age of 18 will differ from a generation that lives at home on average until they are 25. Children growing up in a society that is struggling with war conflicts differ from children being raised during peacetime.

I will be doing anonymous Q&A blogs quarterly. Let me know if you would ever like to contribute a question related to mental health or social issues

My Slice of “The BIG Apple” Pie

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-26-2020

     “In NEW YOOOOOOOORRRRKKK!  Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are MADE Of! There’s nothing you can’t DO!!!”  Okay I will admit I screamed these lyrics singing along with Alicia Keys quite a bit when I arrived in New York city. I also recalled my many times watching reruns of ‘Friends’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Sex and the City’ as if that were somehow supposed to prep me for the big move.  I was to live in Rockaway Beach and attend NYU Silver School of social work. I was young (just 24 at the time), I was done with the military and I was ready to live a stimulating, exciting life vs the monotony and excruciating boredom that I was subjected to living in small towns in the states of Arizona, Texas and California throughout the course of my childhood.  Many were surprised as they thought that the Air force would have given me the opportunity to spice things up. No such luck there, I was stationed in Texas for six years, my one and only big trip was an all-expense paid vacation to Afghanistan, but I will save that for another blog post.

     The culture shock was extreme, and I found myself getting many slices of “BIG apple Humble Pie!” Now, I could go into an endless series of paragraphs, but I felt that maybe it would be more fun to compile a list of in-depth culture/ mental/ emotional shocks as well as embarrassing anecdotes:

  1. People in NYC literally just… say exactly what they are thinking– Yes, I got made fun of quite a bit for my shyness, awkwardness and my lack of ability to take a joke or even understand the blunt humor that comes with living in a city. Some people looked at me like I had two heads due to the fact that I would not laugh after they ‘insulted’ me, rather I would walk away and avoid the confrontation as my southern roots had taught me. A line I was known to say early on in my move: “Oh my goodness why would you curse out a friend like that??” I have since learned that making fun of friends and cursing them out is often associated with caring and many of the ‘insults’ are considered terms of endearment.  (5.5 years later I crack jokes on my friends and fiancé nonstop!)
  2. New Yorkers are the politest assholes you will ever meet- If you have lived in a rural or suburb area for most of your life, chances are you either heard about New Yorkers or came across them. The reputation is that they are rude assholes. On the contrary, I would say I have come to learn that they have a different moral code and different set of values vs someone from a small town or rural area. Values and morals get shaped by where we live, and in the inner city you must learn to be polite and respect people’s space. They are literally living on top of each other. So, in turn what you will often see are polite people who try their best not to ‘cross’ someone else, but if they get crossed or taken advantage of you can rest assured they WILL let it be known and often with a loud/ blunt tone so that they can get their voice heard and have their needs tended to. Unfortunately, when I was new to the city people often mistook my slow southern inattentiveness with being ‘rude’, complacent or not giving a shit about others. In my defense, I was not used to competing with people when it came to space, pace, resources etc.
  3. The lifestyle is so fast paced it will run up your blood pressure and wear down your shoes- From the beginning of your day to the very end it feels like being an energizer bunny, but without the energy. There will be long commutes in trains and/ or buses, packed into public transport like being in a can of sardines. Most likely there will be a look, a bump, a person mad or screaming about personal space. This is just the commute, before the school and/ or workday has even started. My cheap Walmart and Payless shoes were not surviving the long walks to and from the train either. I had to step it up on the shoe and coat game and get quality items that could endure the fast pace and the COLD weather. Some people laughed at me and told me I dressed like a Russian all year round with my puffer coats and snow boots. I also get sick 3 times a winter now, even six winters in! I equate this with high stress, lower immunity due to stress, frequent weather changes and so many people.
  4. It is somehow, even MORE expensive than they tell you- Financially speaking I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I understood that rent would be high. What I did not understand was high taxes, high car insurance, my car getting ticketed for any and every reason imaginable: parking in a bus lane (oops!), running red lights (I beg to differ… okay maybe), speeding (barely), overdue state inspection, not moving the car for street sweeping, 5 popped tires in the first 1.5 years due to raggedy rundown roads and Tolls, tolls, tolls! Depending on where you live (I have lived in 5 apartments so far between Rockaway Beach and Brooklyn) you may not have the option for laundry so that becomes an added expense. I also had no idea NYU would raise the tuition every… single… year. Every restaurant you go to will be pricier vs your suburb/ rural counterparts, every movie you go to will be pricier too.
  5. Everyone else in the world will start to believe you live ‘lavishly’-  To follow up on the above paragraph, the irony is that although I suffered blowing through my savings and racking up a ton of debt, everyone else in the country accuses New Yorkers of living lavishly in their city lifestyles. Quite the contrary, I have come to realize that NYC is so expensive, you must learn to make hard choices, become more frugal, cut back, sacrifice outings, sacrifice space and learn to be more of a minimalist. Between my five moves, I have ditched more and more items.  I have less than half the amount of clothes I used to, less shoes (closet space is a luxury), I RARELY go out to eat, the old apartment buildings force you to deal with critters you may have never seen before and the neighbors will always kindly remind you how much of an asshole you are and they are.  
  6. Never tell people you have a car and… do not have a car! –  What do people in NYC really love? A nice, sweet, southern pushover girl that has a car and has no clue how tell people no. I gave way too many rides to too many people.  And trust me, they do not all offer to pay the tolls or gas. They are often so sick and tired of taking public transportation a ride in a car is an absolute luxury. Especially if they are not paying 50-80 dollars for a taxi or Uber! If Paragraph number 4 did not teach you enough about my car expenses, let this one! A car is not worth it! Unfortunately, I had to have one. I had switched over to the Air Force reserves and had to go do weekend military drills once a month in Massachusetts, I needed my car. And now? My fiancé needs a car as he owns a contracting businesses/ requires a trunk to carry tools. However, if you are not in a situation like that, a car is not worth it! Mine costs us roughly 750 a month. (And that is not including those tickets!)
  7. Live in the borough you work in! – There are many reason’s I have lived in 5 different apartments in my first 5.5 years of living in NYC, I am not going to get into that right now, but one huge thing I decided was I needed to live in the borough I work in. Why? Time is precious. My first few years in NYC consisted of me spending close to 3 hours a day on commuting alone! Many will justify this by saying the borough they live in is ‘cheaper’ therefore it is worth it. Listen, time is money too. If possible, shorten your commute as much as you can so that you free up time for a side job, or for your own personal sanity/ self-care!
  8. Okay, the food really is better- I recall all the times I was stationed in TX and someone from the upper east region of the country would get stationed in my ‘hometown’ and talk trash about how much ‘Texas food sucks’. I would get defensive back then, ‘like what, why?’ Who doesn’t like fried shit that’s been soaked in fat?! Hands down and hats off to you NYC, the food here is amazing, much better quality overall. If it weren’t for you NYC, I would have never experienced authentic Latin food or Halal! However, I miss my BBQ and Tex-Mex!
  9. This city alone smokes more weed than perhaps the entire state of California- I mean, it’s the neighbors, it’s your friends, it’s your lovers, it’s your in laws, it’s grandma and grandpa, it’s the clients, it’s the people on the streets around every block you turn. This entire city smells like weed and rotten cheeseburgers. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not legal yet. In many cases Cali people are smoking for fun/ freedom. In NYC, they are smoking due to ‘stress’ and not wanting to ‘blow the fuck up on someone’.
  10. The city has PTSD- As a mental health therapist that has specialized in trauma for most of my career, I have officially diagnosed NYC with Post traumatic Stress disorder. So many people, tensions are high, exposure to community violence or witnessing violent acts is practically inevitable, many people are forced to pack families into small households which creates a higher risk of domestic violence. Chances are if you are anywhere from poverty stricken to middle class, New York city is going to traumatize you to some extent. The rich seem to be a bit more immune to this exposure, as they live in those areas you see on Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City. That lifestyle is a rarity reserved for the rich and famous. The shows/ movies certainly do not give people a realistic idea of what the Big Apple life is like. Despite all of this, the city is safer than ever before. (Ask anyone that has grown up in NYC through the 80’s and 90’s). You will not necessarily get robbed or “shanked” as many of my southern friends/ family members were concerned would happen to me.

I hope everyone enjoys my Slice of the Big Apple Pie!  I have Colorado on my radar next!  (Maybe in a few years 😉)


Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-24-2020

“Until you can appreciate other people’s opinions and perceptions, then you cannot say that you truly appreciate diversity in the human race.” -EaE

          My formal education taught me to never use the term “crazy” as it is highly stigmatizing and does not represent an official diagnosis. I formally apologize, I just needed a catchy title. I have been avoiding writing on Covid-19, though I did start my blog in the midst of this pandemic/ national quarantine. I find myself, like many other times in my life, riding the waves and trying to keep the peace amongst the depressed, anxious and angry. I’ve been accused of being “too calm”, “not taking it seriously enough”, “too anxious”, “making myself sick” etc.  I like everyone else, will be taking it day by day, week by week.

     I am an essential employee, so I am tasked with the responsibility of continuing to deliver clinical care (via telehealth) to clients during this difficult time… in NYC of all places! Regardless of how close to home something hits or not, my empathy will always be there. I empathize toward those that have compromised immune systems and are quarantined until further notice. I empathize with those that are dying or have passed, with those that have lost a loved one. I empathize with the millions upon millions that have lost their jobs. I empathize with my fellow essential employees that are working harder than ever before with no extra pay or incentives. I empathize with the parents trying to balance everything in their life as well as their child’s education/ academic successes. I empathize for those that are in domestic violent relationships and struggling more than ever to survive.

     Who am I ashamed of? Quite honestly anyone who is trying to exploit this opportunity for their own personal gain and taking advantage of the fear of other’s, you know who you are. I am also ashamed of anyone who has harmed another human being that did not deserve to be harmed, again you know who you are.

     My clients and friends come to me with many questions, a common one being why is everyone acting so…… erratic?  “So Crazy?” Why don’t people follow rules? Why are people so terrified? Why is this such a big deal? Why don’t people see this as a big deal?! So many different opinions, perspectives, ‘evidences’ being written and thrown out at lightning speed. In my thirty years I have never seen my nation so “silently crippled” by what they are seeing on their screens. I would put a virus in with the term of “invisible wounds” that we also use to refer to mental illnesses and chronic pain conditions.  Unseen yet, it can most certainly do tremendous and chronic damage and perhaps even kill. 

     My impression so far, this isn’t too far off from what I’ve seen when working as a mental health technician in a war zone. What we are seeing is anger, frustration, depression and perhaps fear of the unknown as well as a known danger/ killer.  We are seeing many people whose lives have changed at a rapid pace and have been forced to lose their support systems and coping mechanisms. Accompanied with millions and millions of people’s defense mechanisms coming out. (Please when you get the opportunity to, thank a war Veteran, you are all now one step closer to understanding a part of what we went through in a war zone. Except our cyber connections are not quite as smooth when we are in another country!)

Some Psychological Defense mechanism examples during Corona:

Denial: This isn’t happening, nothing has changed. Everything is the same, live your life as usual and pretend this doesn’t exist.

Deflection: But what about obesity, and the flu? And car accidents and all the other things that kill many people? This isn’t the only dangerous thing there is.

Projection: This person isn’t doing what they should be doing, they are going to kill us. What’s wrong with you? Wear your masks and do what you need to do, otherwise you will kill. 

Humor: Whelp, if I die, I die! Everyone looks crazy and hilarious wearing their protective gear as if that is going to save them.

Anticipation: We will die, we most likely are going to die. We must do everything humanly possible to prevent death at all costs. This is going to happen so we must buy X,Y,Z and what if that happens too?! Let’s prep! 

Fantasy: This is all in God’s plan, this was meant to happen and there are many good things coming out of it, mother nature has spoken. I hope the world keeps changing for the better.

Rationalization: Well, I am young, healthy, I’m taking precautions and doing my best, I will most likely live. My friend just got the virus and he lived through it; many people are surviving.

Sublimation: I’m going to take precaution and play the part and appear to be cautious, we really should follow the rules. Always listen to the professionals and stop questioning it with paranoia.  

Regression: I will quarantine and play it safe; I will not do much except for what is necessary. I will abandon work, productivity, coping mechanisms and everything of joy for the sake of staying alive. 

     My follow up answer is NO.  One defense mechanism isn’t necessarily better than another. These are strange times therefore our psychological defenses are at an all time high, and we use what we are often conditioned to use. We use things that have worked for us in the past. We use defenses that we were taught by parents, peers and so on. NO, you are not wrong for using any one of these. You are not wrong for your feelings.  You are not actually “crazy” for having a normal reaction to an extremely hard situation. My only kind reminder is to be mindful of your defense’s and how they may impact others. Be mindful of your defenses and how they may impact yourself. Be mindful that through hard times, it is great to strive toward finding support and being a support for others. Be mindful that we need empathy now, more than ever.

     Sometimes our defense mechanisms, perceptions, opinions etc. are not going to sit well with another person. Sometimes we must pick our battles, sometimes we must step away from the screens and search for joy again in a time that’s so hard. Do not expect that you can change someone’s hard wired psychological defense mechanism anymore than they can change yours. Everyone is coping in a different way regardless of whether it is “best for them in the long run”. Sometimes we try so hard to help or educate others that we hurt/ lose them in the process instead. Sometimes we fight so hard to “correct” everyone else’s actions that we lose a part of our sanity instead.

     This is all that I will end up writing about this pandemic.  For I am not a doctor, a viral expert, a politician, or a news reporter.  I am a therapist. Take care everyone. And please check on me too!  I have lost a client to this virus and fear losing another that is in the hospital as we speak.

Getting Rich is the “Cure”

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-19-2020

“It could have killed me, and it would have been okay, because in that moment I lived for me. In that moment, I felt a deep and terrifying passion. There is no place I would rather be… than in that moment. So, shoot me, and kill me, and let my last memory be, in that moment when I was happy” -EaE

     I hope that everyone gets to that point when they question the ‘method to their madness’. Those compulsions that take us to scary levels because we want to be ‘okay’ or ‘normal’ or ‘cloud 9’ happy so badly, we may just literally die for it. We drive and drive all day every day to take, to have, to succeed, to feel pleasure and to get high off what? Fame? Power? Money? Love? Adrenaline? Take your pick and choose your poison because it is most certainly a wild ride. Why don’t we search for peace in the way that we search for quick money or fame? Why don’t we treat the ones we love as best as possible if love is a vital component to our social/ physical/ mental wellbeing? Why are we searching for happiness in all the wrong places? If anyone wants to know what the list of five above all have in common, it is that they are all addictive, especially if we use it to fill voids and distract us from painful memories. Just to be clear, love is not a bad thing to be open to, but it can be dangerous if we desperately search for it with no standards in regard to what we will not put up with in a partner. All the above, can be dangerous if we become addicted and lose sight on what truly makes us at peace.

     Let us hyper focus on our flaws right about now but let us also look at it with the utmost unconditional self-acceptance. What has the world subjected us to? What did they (our society) condition us to believe we want most? Did we get it? Are we trying to fill voids now to make up for things we never got to have? Comparison can often be evil. In fact, I tell most people that the only useful thing about comparison’s is for the sake of sports, otherwise we use it to torment our souls. When comparing ourselves to others we often focus on a) justifying our actions b) self-pitying because we do not have what another person has c)  magnifying our struggle above someone else’s d) minimizing our pain due to another person’s pain being perceivably greater than ours.  We should compare as little as possible as the journey of our own wellbeing will be more than enough to focus on throughout the course of life.

     I have been a ‘therapist’ since I was six years old, I often explain that the mental health profession chose me, not the other way around. I learned a long time ago through many kids/ teens sharing their deepest/ darkest secrets that life is “never what it seems”. Every person we see that perceivably lives “the good life” has a struggle we know nothing about. Take that ‘girl next door’ type with the good grades who smiles every day and helps others and one day we may see her dead from a drug overdose years later. Take who we thought was the happiest of all, and we see the headlines of them having successfully committed suicide mean while they “functioned” and made others laugh. All in all, when we accept that humanity is on a spectrum of mental, social, and spiritual battles it can serve two purposes. 1-We can stop with thinking we are in this all alone and 2- we can empathize more greatly with others.

     Our society has standards, but the standards are not designed for happiness, they are designed for productivity and consumerism. Working to “own it all” will not make us happy. Working to have the big shiny things that everyone else has will not do it. Fighting to conform to the “rules” society places on us so that we may fit into this system will obviously, not make us happy. Yet often, we take the bait. I have been equally guilty! I am going to share a list of common lines that will most definitely set any of us up for disappointment:

  • I need to be (married/ have kids) by ___ years old
  • I need to have ­_____­ amount of money
  • I should have done _____ by now
  • I need to have ____ amount of likes or follows
  • I need a big house, great car, and everything else I want right away
  • My fitness goal is to look just like ______________
  • I need to lose ____ lb.’s by _____ or else I’m ________
  • I failed if I (got a divorce, did not finish school, got fired etc.)
  • I must not fail, if I fail at this, I might as well stop trying

     Almost every client, family member and friend I have ever had has used a line from the above list or something similar. The bottom line is, do not let the thousands of societal expectations trap you in a mindset of failure and the chronic feelings of shame. We get so immensely pressured into following a specific path that we lose sight of what we want. I can promise off my 11 years in the mental health field, that every person someone thinks that they want to be like, has their struggles too. You want to be married already with kids? Guess what? There are miserable married parents all over the country. You want to be rich? There are also miserable rich people. You want to look just like that professional athlete? Do you know their story and what it took for them to get there? Also are you willing to sacrifice everything else for that body? What do you really want? You! You without the expectations from everyone else, put a pin in their expectations and solely focus on you for a bit.

     Many counter arguments include the fact that money may not buy happiness or be a “cure” per say but will certainly make life easier. Maybe cushier, maybe easier, but rich, famous celebrities (often a triple threat of money, fame, and power) are not necessarily happy. Again, money, fame and power are not happy. People around the world question why celebrities are killing themselves. Guess what? Those perceivably happy things that we are all pushing ourselves for and dreaming to get did not cure the many famous people that have killed themselves either by accidental overdose or a suicidal plan. It does not cure the many famous people that are struggling with their mental health as we speak.

     To switch the perspective, think about why someone may push themselves the way they do. Why do the greatest most famous artists of all time play instruments and/ or sing to the point of having no life beyond it? Why did the greatest athletes of all-time train to the point of bodily sacrifice and no social life? Why do drug abusers continue abusing drug’s even when their body degrades and erodes from the inside out? Why does anyone get addicted to anything?

     I am no expert, although I am a licensed therapist, I am still no expert! However, I have found that some of the happiest people are not necessarily the rich, famous, powerful or the ones with the best, most potent drugs. The happiest people seem to be the ones that are the most “balanced” in life. I strongly believe that achieving balance is one of the most crucial things a human can journey toward. Let us look at all the realms in which we may want to achieve balance:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Social
  • Spiritual (Not necessarily religion)
  • Financial
  • Professional

    Whatever country you are in, what has it taught you to hyper focus on? I would venture to guess that many Americans have been taught to put most of their energy into the professional and financial realms to a point it cost them their physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. In turn, if we constantly neglect our mental and physical illnesses, it may cost us our professional development and our finances will suffer. Unfortunately, I have seen many people with severely damaged mental, physical, and social health, an extremely stressful high paced job, debt and “no end in sight”. They all want to quit their jobs at that point and cannot do it. Now freedom is no longer an option, as they became trapped and consumed in that “ideal” life they were brain washed to want.

     In conclusion, we should not destroy our lives by following the rigidity of a standard set by people that truly DO NOT CARE ABOUT US, they care about the money we give them. We must take care of ourselves first. Sometimes that means NOT destroying our mental and social health so that we may have all the “things” we are “supposed” to have at a “certain age” that people decided to make up based off of their own opinions that were formed by the powers above them looking to exploit them for their money and all that they are worth. We will often find ourselves compulsively hunting after the famous five: Fame, Power, Money, Love, Adrenaline. No shame, it is not our fault, it has been embedded in many of us. However, raising our own self-awareness and having the ability to step back, self-reflect and redefine what happiness means to us can make all the difference in the world. One beautiful thing that social work and anthropological studies teaches us is that ‘nothing is universal’. Meaning there are way less rules than we think. Many people all over the world have found their incredible version of happiness, lifestyle, family, love, riches, memories and much more. Find yours while practicing as much balance as possible and have no shame in it!

NUMB: When being “Strong” is the only option you have

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-14-2020

“When pain and sadness is forbidden in a society, it causes us to isolate ourselves and live in that pain alone.”  -EaE

On Monday April 13th, my office manager confirmed to me what I already knew, that my client was found dead in his home.  I acknowledged with a work appropriate response, spent the day at work with my work appropriate behaviors and attitude.  Truth be told, I had to numb weeks ago when said client would not return my calls.  When the phone dial went from ringing, to then going straight to voicemail days later.  When I remembered said client was suffering from respiratory issue’s earlier in the year and is past the age of 80.  When I tried calling next of kin and nothing came through, when I dialed 911 multiple times and could not get a thing.  I had to tell my mind: “He is dead, there is nothing you can do but wait and hear it confirmed later”. 

     It eerily reminded me of many other times I used a similar psychological numbing response.  Like many other people, this is not out of choice, but what we feel is out of necessity especially when faced with traumatic grievances.  In High School, when I found out someone extremely close to me (a relative) almost successfully committed suicide.  I went on like life was normal, no one could know, it was no one’s business.  In the military year 2010, learning my mother died via voicemail, but being in the middle of my duty day, therefore I closed my cell phone and went back to work as if nothing happened.  It would be months before any coworkers found out.  When deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, hearing the bombs making contact all around me, feeling the shaking in my guts.  I could sense the danger, therefore I “was still alive and okay”. Intellectualizing a dangerous situation so that my mind can stay “in control”.  Numbing when finding out about the soldier under our care at the Combat stress clinic that shot himself only several hours after I was tasked to reschedule him.  Numbing myself when emotions are too scary or perceived as “too burdensome” for the situation. 

     Anyone with similar experiences of chronically using the defense mechanism of numbing and intellectualizing will often get fed the lines of “You’re so strong!”  “You’re absolutely fine, you are doing well”.  In some cases, we may feel very strong, in some cases we may feel odd.  “Why am I not crying the way everyone else cries when death happens?”  “Why do I not fear what everyone else fears?”  Make no mistake this isn’t strength, and it is not a character flaw, rather it is our mind’s preferred defense mechanisms.  If someone has perfected these defense mechanisms, it is most likely because they have had to “be strong” while everyone else and/ or everything around them was falling apart. 

     A deployed military member must “be strong” for the country they are fighting for.  A healthcare or mental health care professional must “be strong” for their clients.  A protector child must “be strong” and rescue their parent or sibling from abuse.  An abused child must be “empty of emotions” as to not provoke their abuser.  A breadwinner must “be strong” and provide for the family.  A parent must “always be strong” for the kids.  Many are pressured to speak up and ask for help.  However, if people are “unwell” the responsibility is often solely put on them.  “Practice self-care so you do not burnout” is the classic line.  Unfortunately, this can cause a shame response, as “burnout” means “we did not do enough to take care of ourselves”.  Make changes and try again!  Truth be told, many people are at a loss when it comes to proper self-care.  It isn’t a requirement in our education system and many households have different perceptions on what is “good for them”.

      Numbing serves its purpose when surviving our environment requires us to halt all other biological and psychological responses of: fight, fly, freeze.  Also, when our environment requires us to halt many emotions to include fear, stress, anxiety, depression, trauma trigger symptoms and so on.  Numbing is also a systematically pressured and welcomed response.  Family pressure’s, occupational pressures, societal pressures are just a few examples.  Numbing allows us to go about our days appearing to be “normal” and “functional” all the while our minds are ripping apart inside of our skulls with internal conflict.  Traumatic news might just make us want to breakdown and cry, but our minds are not ready to go there yet.  There’s an abuser that has forbid us of those emotions, or there’s another mouth to feed, or another person to save, another mission to accomplish, another employer up our asses with productivity demands.  Therefore, the only option is to “Feel No more” and go about the day like any other day.

     I have learned enough about myself to know that I will numb the moment tragedy hits.  Childhood trauma, military trauma and becoming a social worker have conditioned this response.   However, with that insight in mind, I do have the power to allow myself emotional release without shame.  In a society where we are groomed to produce/consume, lack self-care, pressured to appear “normal”, and expected not to “whine”, the only option is to feel and grieve in the times that are “deemed appropriate”.  Such as when we are alone or with a close loved one that has proven before they will not judge us.  In our pillows at night when no one is watching. (Yes, I did this in bootcamp several times and I’m Woman enough to admit it!  Just NOT in front of the Drill sergeant! Never ever!) Or the classic line of “You take it to the grave with you”.  Trauma and grief do have a way of silencing a nation, a family, and in turn: the individual. 

     My chronic doses of grief do, as a matter of fact, come in waves.  Numb, feel, numb and feel again.  On average I have cried about my mother’s death once a year to every other year.  I cry about the client that we lost to suicide 1 time a year.  Many people in similar situations have expressed that their grief too, comes in strange and unpredictable waves. My only hope stems from the fact that times are changing, people are changing, and perspectives are changing.  Celebrities can talk about mental illness out loud; they also have many spectators reaching out and empathizing. I hear the average person talking about mental health now, I never heard much about it in my childhood.  They always said, “Mental health, well that’s for the crazy people!” 

     Our ancestors before us grew up stigmatizing uncomfortable emotion’s and equating it with “insanity”.  Maya Angelou wrote (in my opinion) the most incredible and heart wrenching words in relation to trauma silencing/ numbing: “There is no greater Agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.  She herself, was a survivor of horrendous childhood trauma that she eventually shared.  Even as I write and speak of it, I know that half of this world may still label emotional expression as “weak”, and then encourage the numbing/ silence instead.   It seems like the “right” thing to do, just putting it “behind” us.  I’m here to kindly remind you, that the strongest people truly do suffer in silence.   A living, breathing human being will never be immune to emotional pain.  My hope is that anyone who is trapped in a maladaptive environment or system can find their way out, can search for resources, can find an advocate or mentor, maybe find a helpful provider, a trusted ear and/ or a healthy coping strategy.  It is absolutely okay, to not always be okay.

“Getting Fat was the BEST thing that ever happened to me”

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-7-2020

“We do not become free by ‘fixing ourselves’.  We become free when we accept that we cannot be perfect, and it is okay.  We do enough, simply by trying, every day.”  -EaE

     Obviously, the title may be a tad misleading, getting overweight was not the best thing for my “physical health”.  As a matter of fact, there were several inconveniences to gaining weight at the rapid pace that I did in 2019 (forty pounds in roughly 10-month time span).  These inconveniences included extreme and excruciating pain/ fatigue during workouts, enhanced body image difficulties/ stressors, and a brand-new set of whining tendencies that I had never had in the past.  In addition, many daily inconveniences such as more huffing and puffing upstairs, difficulty in tying my shoes and the devastating mental battle of whether I need to go up a clothes size-also adding that additional financial stressor.  However, the mental freedom that I had gained over the course of this time combined with the new survival program of “not giving a fuck” was well worth it.  This new attitude/ strange form of empowerment became deeply embedded in my ever-growing mind. 

     Why did I need this so bad?  For the same reason many “perfectionists” with eating disorders need it.  We grow up pressured/ pushed into a completely obsessive, and unhealthy drive to push our bodies to fit an “ideal body type” that is often unachievable.  These disorders are not a coincidence, they are often societally driven.  Now take the demands of society and combine it with childhood adversities/ traumas such as abandonment, neglect, abuse, bullying, poverty, medical conditions, loss and so on.  It’s a recipe for disaster, even more so when the support system is next to nonexistent.  Sometimes, when children do not get the responses they need/ seek outward, they turn inward.  They also, like adults, desperately search for that thing around them that can give them comfort.  What was that comfort for me?  Food. 

     Food becomes comfort in many people’s lives, as a colleague of mine had once mentioned “Food is proven to make us feel good.  We know, if we absolutely love that Big Mac and it satisfies us 100% of the time, we are going to go back to McDonalds on our worst day and get that Big Mac to feel better again.”  My hunger was not a coincidence… or purely due to my “Mexican side” as many of my relatives and friends had suggested.  My hunger was a result of childhood traumas and a desperate need to self-medicate associated feelings of fear, loneliness and excruciatingly painful boredom.  Eating was amazing, eating was addicting and eating… led me to become a “thick” or “big boned” child.  By age 14, my father and stepmother were nervous for mine and my brother’s future.  The culture and habits were already embedded.  Our ‘TexMex’ family was taught to eat a lot, eat often and our gene pool did not support this diet!  I was just under 5 feet which didn’t help matters. Underneath all that, the emotional eating habits we had picked up that we never talked about. 

     What’s a solution?  Yard work! Chores! Sports!  My father combined his military bootcamp fitness skills with my stepmother’s “raise the kids to tend to the farm” values into one powerful force with one major goal in mind: “These kids will not be lazy and doomed to a life of obesity.”  “But are we going to talk more about the diet…?”   “No, as long as you can burn the food off everything is fine”.  Sounded full proof, especially because I still carried a strong food addiction.  I hated Cross country; I lost all the time.  I hated sports, I hated people staring at me, I hated competition.  I was judged often, destined to be “a loser”.  Unfortunately, during this crucial stage of development in my teen years, my mental health plummeted and took a turn for the worst.  In my mind, “I was failing at everything.”  I will never forget my cross-country coach looking me dead in the eye and telling me: “If you do not learn how to calm yourself down you will be dead by the time you are 30!”  I shut up and let that sink in, but not enough.  (Ironically, I just turned 30 on the date of 09/12/2019!  I’m so proud I made it.)

     Now, fast forward a bit.  I would describe my military career (starting 12 days after High school graduation) as an endless series of desperate attempts to achieve that “perfectionism”.  I “must” achieve a “perfect body” and “perfect level of fitness”.  As many can probably guess, the military can absolutely exacerbate eating disordered symptoms and behaviors.  During my Air force career, I averaged 5-6 workouts a week: average workout being 90 minutes.  Yet, The BMI chart consistently labeled me as obese.  I was always told at my mandated military physicals that I was showing “pre diabetic” numbers based on my height and weight, but I felt energetic and healthy.  Most of my physical fitness examinations I scored in the 90s out of 100%.  Pushups were especially a source of pride for me, as I worked myself to maxing out at 54 pushups a minute: beating many of my male counterparts.  I recall a time another female airman scored higher than me simply because she had a smaller waist.  I out push upped her, tied with sit ups, ran faster, yet she was more “fit” due to a smaller waist.  After this incident, I sucked in my waist even more (a habit I had developed since age 11), at the time I had to be under a 29.5” waist to max points!

     The never-ending battle that I had from ages 11 to 29 was to “Not get fat”!  I worked to no ends to keep up with this struggle.  Restricting, binging, excessive exercise & laxatives (both forms of purging), rinse, wash, repeat.  Unfortunately, during this timeframe, it never occurred to me that “perhaps society is wrong”.  Instead I felt I was wrong, because I was difficult to mold to that “perfect form”.  Also, food continued to be one of my only outlets, I lacked self-care skills and the ability to even ask for help.  I credit that 1- to being raised as a child in the south, we only speak when we are spoken to.  And 2- The military raised me next.  In the military the mission is a priority, and self-care gets in the way of the mission. An additional factor is that the boyfriend at the time (now an ex) consistently reinforced a negative body image, as he obsessively engaged in his own body building routines, strict diet and constantly nagged at me to conform.  I hid my binge episodes from him as much as possible, I snuck food, I had my hiding spots.  Sometimes I even stole his food!  It was a bad time for me to say the least.  “You have to choose, either food or me.”  That was the comment that ultimately destroyed the relationship.  I hung onto it, resented the words, was torn up by the words, and three painful years later, finally loved myself enough to called it at quits. 

      What was the breakthrough that ultimately led to my change?  1- I finally found my dream fitness activity:  Martial arts.  A fitness activity where I can focus on the functionality of my body vs appearance.  Appearances no longer matter when you are learning self-defense and molding your body into a fighting machine.  And 2- Again, I got fat.  I did not plan it; I certainly did not do it on purpose.  It was multiple factors in late 2018- 2019 that led to my weight gain: Work stress, commuting, toxic living environments, less gym time, a new relationship, inheriting stepchildren, moving twice, binge eating due to stress and so on.  With the heavy combination of factors, I finally broke.  I finally gave in and let it be what it was.  Ultimately, I had bigger cares in the world than my numbers!  Waist size, scale weight and pant size were no longer a priority. 

     So, what did being overweight do for me?  It taught me that it wasn’t the end of the world.  I finally stopped fighting because it happened anyways.  That awful and horrendous thing that I had been fighting exhaustingly to avoid my entire life had finally happened.  I got fat.  I survived being fat.  I was truly embarrassed at the beginning of it, but what happens after that initial embarrassment, is that you must accept it and sit with it for a bit (literally because fat doesn’t just melt off a Mexican girls hips!).  I went on to continue living life, I was forced to put the body image crap to the side, because life moves on regardless of whether or not you look “perfect”.  It was valuable for me to be free of that fear, the “worst” had happened and yet it was okay.  I also read self-help books, started therapy and I even give myself therapy sometimes.  Despite my fears I continued to push myself and go to martial arts.  Martial arts techniques continue to improve regardless of your body type. 

     Slowly but surely 15 pounds have now melted off in the past 8 months.  I’m in no rush, I am simply living the most balanced life I can now.  I no longer have a scale at home, I no longer forbid foods from myself, I no longer change outfits 4 times out of fear, I no longer obsessively stare in the mirror or compare myself to the models, I no longer have to eat an entire family sized bag of chips because I can put it away now and eat more later if I’m still hungry.  No hiding food, no more working out up to 16 hours a week while also having a full-time job and kids to spend time with.  Luckily, I have an incredible fiancé of whom shares in my passion of food with me, I can be myself.  In summary, no shame. 

     I know the most common debate on this topic: “We should not condone obesity”.  Truthfully, I do not.  I’ve been overweight and it was unhealthy, and I felt unwell.  On the flip side, I have also been extremely “fit”, yet my mind was unhealthy.  Society looks at a body and decides right then and there if that person is “right” or “wrong”.  There’s more to the story, I was ill with many body types.  I was ill from 115 lbs. to 172 lbs.; I was ill every step of the way.  My body image, my cravings, my perfectionism haunted me on the daily.  No one would have ever guessed that I had struggled in the way I did, to the extent that I did with such a “good” body once upon a time.  Our bodies do not tell our story.  There are “good” bodies with ill minds, and “bad” bodies with flourishing minds.  A healthy mind is MORE important than a perfect body, and I will stand by that. 

“In Most Cases, people do not give a Shit”

Elisa Escalante/ LMSW/ 4-2-2020

“Most people do not possess the capability of listening with unconditional acceptance” -EaE

     Searching, screaming and looking for a way to communicate those issue’s you have been suffering through all alone.  Why is it so hard?  Why are your griefs and complaints often met with judgement, criticism, and conversation enders?  Why does it feel like most people do not give a shit?  The answer is that most people do not give a shit.  That is the harsh truth that you, I and everyone does not want to believe, but so often it is the case. 

     Let’s explore why… it isn’t necessarily “antisocial” tendencies or “narcissism” in our peers and family members.  These are terms for mental “disorders” that society is increasingly throwing around while not actually knowing the official meanings and diagnostic criteria.  Truthfully, we throw them around because they are easy, and easy is comfortable.  Slap the label on someone and that can help justify why “they have wronged you and you are right”.  One simplification that can help, is remembering that if “Uncle Bob” does not want to listen to you talk about your depression/ anxiety, it’s probably because it is a very uncomfortable topic for him and/ or… he does not give a shit. 

     This does not mean that we should give up hope, this does not mean that we deserve to be unheard.  What we need, is to remember that all of this is a potential barrier and silencer, and it never stops.  The constant judgement and deflection we face when talking on emotional pain is the primary cause of us shutting down.  Do not hope that you will be heard and empathized with, for you will be disappointed repeatedly.  Only hope that you can learn to risk the vulnerability of emotional expression because you recognize that there is more to it than just being heard.  It is about practicing your own outlet.  Talk, get it off your chest, do not assume the listener will be open and expressive.  Do not dare wish for it.  Sometimes it is safe to assume otherwise.

    Now, where was I?  Yes. many people do not give a shit.  Humans have a natural selfishness to them; we should not blame them, as we belong to humanity as well. We all tend to have some of the same selfish tendencies.  To put ourselves first is sanity, after all. Some people may want to hide from the emotional talk because they fear their own empathy, they fear breaking down too.  Or they fear you breaking down in front of them, for they will then be tasked with the burden of having to “comfort you”.  Listening is one of the hardest skills to pick up, many cannot do it the proper way. 

     Do you want to test what people value the most?  It’s as simple as a few clicks of a button these days.  Go through social media, notice how few people show attention to the mental health stuff vs how many views/ likes there will be on the latest “ideal beauty fad body”.  Generally speaking, the more hot bods in a picture, the more cherished as evidenced by likes/ follows/ comments. 

     People may not give a shit about all the important things, the things of substance, value, and the things of genuine concern in this world.  Some may prefer distraction, deflection, denial and isolation.  It is okay, for we all have our defense mechanisms.  We are all guilty of partaking in these defense mechanisms as well.  It is hard for most people to care about things above and beyond themselves.  Think about what we are asking for after all.  A more empathic world, a place where humans want to talk and interact about emotions they were trained to suppress/ deflect.  That is intimidating!

     So why engage in emotional expression even when knowing the world may not give a shit about your problems?  First off, what are you trying to communicate?  Why is it important to be heard about a specific topic?  Has the emotional issue’s been building up and festering?  Have you been judged for said topic in the past?  No matter the reason, engaging in emotional expression is for you.  It is about you, not necessarily about the reaction of the receiver.  Quite honestly, most of the times I have admitted to a family member, friend or acquaintance about at least 1 of my 4 mental health conditions, it was typically met with unpleasant reactions.  Examples include strange staring, silence, judgmental punchlines, denial, deflective statements and/ or laughter. 

     As hard as it can be to engage in the vulnerability and risk of emotional expression, the positive result is what it can teach us.  It teaches us, most importantly, who we can and cannot trust in regard to sharing.  It gives us a gauge of who is open to listening vs those that we may only want to have the “silly distracting humor” convos with.  There is value in this knowledge, and it is next to impossible to morph that deflective friend/ family member of yours into a compassionate and empathetic human being. 

     Now, let’s talk about “Freedom of will”.  I ask every client to talk about what this expression means.  Freedom of will, means that we have the freedom to do and say as we please, and to not do what we do not want to do.  Truly appreciating freedom of will, also means respecting that every individual in your life has their freedom of will too.  You have the freedom of will to practice discussing your issues at your own liberty whenever you want, and the person on the receiving end has the freedom of will to not give a shit and/ or insult you.  You then, have the freedom of will to make boundaries with them, or curse them out, or block them off, or just realize they are not emotionally expressive or educated.  We have the freedom of will to express ourselves just as much as other’s have the freedom of will to hide their mental health issues with every fiber in their being. 

     Everyone asks me “Elisa, how do you do it?  How can you be a therapist?  Isn’t it hard to give advice and be ignored?  Isn’t it hard to always see people messing up their lives?”  My answer always starts with the above paragraph’s concept.  I absolutely could never have been a therapist if I did not learn to respect and value freedom of will.  It takes the pressure off and reminds me that my clients, like myself and everyone else, have that freedom of will to decide how badly they want to make changes in their life, and what they are willing to do/ risk to make these life changes.  I am a healing agent, but I have no true say or will over another person’s life, as they do not have power over mine.

     So, people may not give a shit, but we don’t need them to.  What we need, more than anything is to continue practicing our freedom of will, freedom of emotional expression, and the “unconditional other people acceptance” of knowing we may not get what we need on the receiving end, but it’s okay.  It should never disrupt the process of emotional sharing; a million people’s ruthless opinions will NEVER change one simple fact: It is healthier to express and share than it is to hide under the pressure and burden of silence.  They have the freedom of will to not give a shit about our feelings, as we have the freedom of will to continue sharing despite the harsh reactions.  After all, we didn’t get this far in our lives by living in an empathetic world.  People that are already sharing in emotional expressions out loud are extremely brave, and what we teach the world above all, is that it is okay to do so.  Let nothing silence it!