Emotional Interpretation & Guidance

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 12-28-2022

In many cases, I do find that I need to go ‘back to the basics’ with clients. Or, teach them something new, something they should have known but never knew. The common perception many societies have is that there are ‘good emotions’, and ‘bad emotions’. The good ones you can showcase and be proud of, the bad ones you must hide, bottle up, escape from, get rid of and/ or deny completely, even to yourself. Why do we teach each other to do this? Mostly because the quote on quote ‘bad emotions’; shame, guilt, grief, sadness, anger, desperation, hysterics, shock etc are both uncomfortable for the individual, and uncomfortable for their friend/ family member/ or partner to witness. So in turn, we resort to deflection and bad teachings on how to manage these emotions.

IF we treat an emotion like a physical wound, we would interpret the damage and find the treatment for it. This starts with recognizing that each emotion actually has a purpose. Yes, even the uncomfortable ones.

The purpose(s) of:

Anxiety- This emotion often tells us that our environment is over stimulating or threatening and we must go elsewhere. This emotion can also tell us that we have a deep problem that we need to resolve and find solutions for, otherwise relaxation is impossible. This emotion can come up when we are doing something new and we do not feel confident in our abilities to handle it just yet.

Anger- Anger tells us the threat around us is significant enough that we may need to fight it, either verbally or physically. Anger tells us when someone or something is a threat to our peace/ equilibrium. Anger gives us the ability to create space & boundaries when/ if we decide to use it productively.

Sadness- This emotion often tells us that we need to hunt for endorphins and joy. We may need a change of scenery, we may need to task switch, we may need to move our body or get more sunlight. We may need a random adventure. We may need to get away from emotional vampires that are sucking our energy.

Shame- Shame tells us that we may have regret and/ or guilt. This is an emotion that can humble us and guide us to do better in our future. This emotion can lead us to lessons learned, and without it, could imply a sociopathic mind.

Shock- Shock means the situation feels like it is too much to handle. And in turn, we may need to get to safety quickly. We also likely need a grace period to handle this emotion and allow it to settle, it will take some time. After shock and other emotions wear off, there is also typically a learning experience in the aftermath

Rage- Rage is an accumulation of betrayal, hurt and anger built up over a period of time. Rage can cause compulsions to act before thinking. If used effectively, we recognize that rage is telling us that we need some major life changes, to include many of the people we surround ourselves with.

Grief- Grief is sometimes described as the absence of those we loved. Since grief is one of the most complex emotions of all, I describe it more by telling clients what it IS NOT. Grief has no timelines, grief has no real rules, the ‘stages of grief’ can come in any order and some stages never happen. Grief has no magical pill or treatment plan. Grief IS both painful and normal. Post grief behaviors are a large variety and range, and often judged, but rarely should be judged.

Interpret, then act accordingly

After we begin to interpret emotions in a healthy way, we can then act accordingly. I will show you unhealthy examples of how to interpret and handle emotions vs some healthier examples. Again, the emotions are not inherantly bad, it’s what we do with them or refuse to do with them.

Sadness Unhealthy example: A person hates the feeling of sadness and hates for people to know they are sad so much that they act happy always, use humor even when hurtful to others, and abuse a drug regularly to escape sadness.

Sadness healthy example: A person feels sad and starts to go for a walk, takes the time to stretch outside under the sunlight, then goes inside and watches a funny show or does some reading or journaling.

Anger unhealthy example: A person channels their anger into arguments, and if someone does not agree with them, they argue more. They are also throwing things when it does not go their way.

Anger healthy example: A person starts to feel anger and practices deep breathing, time outs from the anger trigger source, and resorts to a physical activity that can help channel their anger into something productive that helps their body and get’s them away from the anger trigger.

Grief unhealthy example: After they lose someone, they shut everyone out while also pretending nothing happened in their life. They get into an obsessive ritual to distract themselves from the sadness that accompanies their loss.

Grief healthy example: They allow whatever emotions come up, they share it with trusted friends or family, they take some time off from work or other projects, they also continue to practice their own personal self care and give themselves a grace period.

Anxiety unhealthy example: They stop taking risks, or they procrastinate completely when the feeling is too overwhelming. They get increasingly irritable and overstimulated without practicing boundaries, and may go into full blown isolation or agoraphobia.

Anxiety healthy example: They problem solve, they work out plans B’s through Z’s of what to do ‘if the worse case scenerio happens’, they practice small goal setting and completing objectives toward those goals to boost their confidence and alleviate their personal uncertainties, insecurities and concerns.

Does it ever go away?

Sometimes emotions can get so extreme if our biology, psychology or social environment get’s haywired, hijacked or toxic. And sometimes emotions linger for an extended period of time; more than we would like. Sometimes we get full blown mental health disorders, yes. The question is often: ‘Do these things ever go away?’ Can emotions ever go away? absolutely not, again, they have purpose therefore we must welcome them with purpose. Is it normal to wish them away? Of course! Are we setting ourselves up for dissapointment if we keep trying to will them away? Yes. I advise people, after trust is gained, to stop ‘cure hunting’, and start interpreting and learning emotional & symptom maintenance. Our energy is better off being spent on something practical, not something that is techically impossible. I can try to wish I will never experience depression again, but I know that is not realistic. I will likely have another depressive flair up, another anxiety attack, another loss w/ grief, another shame episode, another rage episode etc etc before I die.

The Red Flags I Ignored

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 12-08-2022

“Walking away is so underrated. You need to be able to protect your energy.” -EaE

We talk about red flags all of the time, sometimes people do mention legitimate red flags. Some people call everything a red flag. There is a part of this that is up to interpretation and perception. Also, there is also an excuse for just about every red flag we see, which could lead us to defend a person’s behaviors; very tempting if we are ‘in love’ with them. Did I ignore red flags before? Absolutely, you could even call me the queen of ignoring red flags. Many people tried to shame me after toxic friendships and relationships. “You are a therapist, you should know better”. On the contrary. Therapists see and hnear the worst of the worst, so our vision of what is ‘bad’ can become skewed. Plus we are trained to foster empathy and find reasons behind all madness that we see. Guess what? Many people take advantage of a therapists heart and empathy. Overall, I want to warn everyone about red flags. Men, women and/ or They’s. Pay attention! One of the main reason’s we may ignore red flags is due to our own personal insecurities and blind spots. You will read this through some of my foolish experiences.

He always pressured me to lose weight– If someone is pressuring you to lose weight, it’s simply not going to work out. Don’t even bother. Yes sure you can go ahead and try to destroy your body to please someone else, but you are going to find you are in a never ending losing battle. This went as far as me being punished for when I gained weight (withholding intimacy) and then being very rewarded if I lost weight as a ‘positive reinforcement’. The best part? When I lost so much weight to a point he was almost finally satsified… but then he didn’t like that I lost my womenly features and suggested I get butt and boob implants. I was restricting to 900-1000 calories a day just to get treated like this.

He lied about everything– I dated a pathological liar. The lies included but were not limited to: “I have a 10K savings bond” while he was jobless, “I quit the job” even when he got fired. “I served in the military”, eventually he admitted he didn’t after I called him out on his lack of military knowledge. “My baby Mom’s chased me away”, even though he chose to leave every situation. After the relationship ended I was informed by multiple friends that he claimed “he paid for everything when we dated”, and that I can assure you is the BIGGEST lie yet. I paid for at least 4/5’s of our shared expenses I would estimate. This included his portion of rent when he could not handle it, baby clothes, daipers and formula for his child, all expenses on my car which he used more than I did. I also funded his start up Repair business. A tip about how to spot a liar: If they have to think too hard for answers to simple questions about their life, they are searching to keep up with their lies. Truth is easy to remember.

They rushed me during intimacy– This issue has happened more than once. Sadly but not surprisingly. If anyone is rushing you during sex or getting mad at your inability to get pleased by them, don’t feel guilty! This is a THEM problem. Obviously they are unskilled and egotistical about it. A descent person that cares will slow down and figure it out with you. A selfish person will be perfectly content with achieving their ‘O’ and then leaving you in the dust. No exceptions!

She always needed money, alcohol or a favor– Have you ever had a friend that constantly required favors? Once upon a time maybe it was a collaborative friendship and slowly but surely turns into a situation where they need you for everything and your needs are put on the back burner? I found myself in this situation recently. Honestly it was the hardest break up of my life even though it was not intimate, but platonic. It was the time invested that made it so hard to leave. But I found myself either angry, anxious or sad around this person. Angry with being used and treated poorly while being used, anxious about ‘what’s the next favor going to be?’ and sad because there was no more joy in the time together. And FYI; funding someone’s alcohol habit is called Enabling!

She got drunk and hugged all over my boyfriend– One of my old close friends (at the time) loved spending more time with my BF (now an ex) than her own boyfriend. I was suspicious for a good while but I really tried to give both my BF and BFF the benefit of the doubt at the time. Surely they were too ‘good of people’ to hurt me like that right? Wrong. My first true hint was her getting wasted at his Bday and hugging all over him and telling him ‘I love you’ right in front of my face. Loyalty is so rare, don’t ever believe you are entitled to it. Don’t assume other’s have the same amount of loyalty as you do. This was a huge lesson of learning I was with the wrong crowd, and it would take many more years of bad crowds before I gave up. Sadly, right now I have no crowd. But the good thing is I have a clean slate, and I am being picky about who I let in.

He had a wife but they were ‘seperated’– Anytime someone tells you they are still married but ‘seperated’, just forget about it. This is such an old school lie and yet we all keep falling for it. Adam Levine’s mistress supposedly fell for it. The truth of the matter is, whether they are happily married or miserably married, they are still attached. Live in situations or ‘pending divorce paperwork’, either way, it’s so much damn baggage. And you as the ‘side person’ will get dragged through the mud and discarded the moment they decide “we are going to try to work this out after all!” And, even if they do divorce, they are fresh off of a messy legal break up. They will likely project their anguish onto you.

They ghosted and came back, and ghosted and came back– I believe everyone knows my stance on this by now. Whether it be ghosting or ghost teleporting, these are people that are not capable of having responsible adult conversations. Ghosting is often a sign of attachment avoidance, or someone that is trying to ‘groom and train’ you to be what they need you to be. So if they only want sex from you one time a month with no convo, they are trying to train you to be okay with that. If they decide to prioritize other people and put you on the back burner, but then go back to you when nothing else worked out, that could also explain a ghost teleport. Whatever the reason, if you want to be someone’s priority, you are not when you are being ghosted. I used to have severe attachment anxiety; ghosting triggered me, left me insecure and wondering ‘what did I do wrong?’ Last year when I was doing the dating app, I had a very strict ‘no second chances’ rule on Ghosters. It truly weeds out the mind games!

They tried to tell me what to do upon meeting me- If someone is already trying to tell you what to do, how to behave, or what to think early on, that’s a definite sign to run. This person wants control. Healthy relationships cannot be fostered if one person is unhappy with how the other person is. Just let them know “I don’t think we are each other’s type” and move on. Trying to become a chameleon and force yourself to shift personalities to appease someone is not worth it. Forget how HOT they are or whatever, looks fade. You could be headed toward a world of hurt.

Cliche & Wrong

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 12-1-2022

Some sayings and expressions are just NOT helpful to our situation. It’s those types of things people say over and over again because it’s ‘supposed to help’ but it never does, and the more you hear it the more you realize how far off some people are in terms of life experience and mental health. It isn’t that advice never applies, it’s that certain advice only works for certain people, or perhaps its just not helpful to anyone at all. Let’s go over some of those overused lines that are unhelpful, triggering or outdated.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger– This is typically used when we are going through hardships whether it be mentally or physically difficult obstacles. Not everything that’s hard is beneficial, and not everything that is beneficial is necessarily taxing on us. For example, I would not tell someone that just got molested by a neighbor of family member a line like this. I would not want to imply that their sexual assault has ‘made them stronger’. Can you imagine?? I wouldn’t want to tell someone with a chronic pain condition like MS or fibromyalgia this either. Because the truth be told is that they are suffering more than I am. (As I do not have a chronic pain condition) That really sucks for them. And it’s wearing them down, not making them stronger. This line is often simplistic and it lacks empathy.

You know what you signed up for– This line is NEVER true. You don’t know what you sign up for until after you sign up for it and you actually get real life experience doing said activity. Whether it be enlisting in the military, enrolling in a degree plan in college, applying for a specific job, making the choice to start a family; children. This is often a line people use to imply that someone ‘should stop complaining’. Everything that we do can get hard sometimes, it’s human nature to want an emotional outlet. Sometimes this includes venting. If you are not a good listener, just say so.

Other people have it worse– Since when does the knowledge of ‘other people have it worse’ ever help alleviate someones in the moment suffering? It does not, it will never. Stress and suffering is not up to perception, it’s a feeling that an individual experiences in their own being. You cannot cancel it out with words, or even facts. Often, it is fleeting, like all other emotions. But this line has never helped any suffering being in the history of humanity. It’s a fact of life some people have it worse, and some people have it better. It’s irrelevant to a person’s suffering in their unique moment of suffering. They may need solutions, or validation, or time, or pursuit of joy. But, they do not need this cliche line.

They’re just doing it for attention– Here’s an important fact of life to remember, we humans are NOT mind readers. We will not know whether someone is ‘doing it for attention & manipulation alone’ or if it’s what we call ‘ a true cry for help’. But guess what? It really should not matter regardless. Maybe someone is suffering and doing something for attention. And? Don’t you think maybe we need to pay attention then? If they are making cries for help? Here’s the important take away, if you can give them the attention they do require, please do. If you cannot and you’re just going to invalidate them and make them feel worse, then don’t bother talking to them and refer them to someone that actually cares and is willing to listen.

You can do anything you set your mind to– This line is both unrealistic and sets many people up for failure. This line reaks of expectation management issues. Manifesting a dream is only step one, it takes a lot of behavioral modification and work in order to see something through. Even then, there are no guarantees. We need to talk about failure just as much as we talk about accomplishing our dreams. Why? Well failure is actually more common than accomplishments. Lessons. Mistakes. Dreams slipping away… and grief because maybe things did not go as planned (They rarely do). What happens to a kid or young adult that does not do everything they set their mind and intentions to do? They may see themselves as a failure vs a normal human that is making mistakes and learning through the process of elimination.

Be Strong– ‘Be strong’ is not advice. If someone is having difficulty coping, they need coping outlets. Not one liners. Also, some situations really do suck and only time can help take care of it. Some emotions and symptoms take a while to pass; hours to days. Some people even have horrible months or years. It’s what’s happening inside us and what is happening to us. We’re complex. Mental illness does not mean ‘weak’, and being fortunate enough to be mentally healthy does not equate to ‘strength’. It’s quite opposite. Sufferers of physical and mental ailments are typically ‘stronger’, they are suffering through more day to day, and they are still here.

My Life is GREAT, and I’m Depressed

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 11-25-2022

“I find myself grieving everything before it’s gone, because I just know, that it will not last forever.” -EaE

There is a part of mental illness that is purely biological. And also, a part of mental illness that exists due to long sustaining injuries that have hit our brain, and failed to let up regardless of all attempts at healing. It’s the very nature of how someone can have ‘everything’ they ever thought they wanted/ needed, and still suffer from depression and/ or various other mental illnesses. How a person can be rich and famous, but then commit suicide. How a person can be in a safe home, safe community and surrounded by safe people, but still experience panic attacks. How a person can block out everyone that hurt them, but still have simmering rage that leads to anger outbursts.

I DO have a great life right now. And not because I always had a great life, but because I learned how to build a great life for myself through persistence, trial & error and a LOTTTTT of pain in my past. I have a great life, but I have major depression. I wake up sad and irritable almost every day. But now, I no longer question why. I already know. On one hand, mental illness runs on both sides of my family, and two, I sustained mental wounds from a very early age. It really does start with traumatic grief. I lost significant people at a young age, I underwent trauma young too. My brain decided a long time ago, that a part of it no longer wants to be here. But I also have a part of my brain that learned to be a fighter from a young age; this saves me day to day.

Mental Illness leads to Guilt

Mental illness already sucks, but one key thing I’ve noticed with the majority of clients I have worked with, is they are suffering for two main reasons. 1- The mental condition they have with all of the symptoms it entails and 2- The guilt they feel about not being able to ‘control’ their illness or find a ‘cure’. How their family persistently get’s upset that they are ‘not enough to snap them out of their depression’. How all the superficial things like gifts, adventures, excitement cannot give their brain the necessary fireworks/ endorphins to sustain happiness for very long. All of this proves over time that we can work to build a seemibly ‘perfect’ life, but we cannot ‘fix a broken brain’. Also, healing is not about what we can accomplish or attain. Healing, like mental wounds, is also invisible and very hard to decipher or gauge.

Healing Requires ‘Toxic’ Withdrawal symptoms

Since I have been focused more on healing now than any other time in my life (roughly almost 2 years) I have noticed and tuned into something very key. If we go from a toxic life, to a very peaceful and calm one, we will experience withdrawal side effects. Much like an addict that is trying to quit their drug of choice. Think about it, a toxic life leads people to go from extreme highs to extreme lows, and cycling through this over and over. A calm life is far from that lifestyle. A calm life is steady, peaceful, predictable. Your healing, on eggshells, waiting for the next high or low, but, it does not come. Why? You decided you wanted peace. You decided no more toxic intimate partners, no more toxic friendships, no more toxic choices that put you through episodes of panic. This is it. You are healing, TRUST IT.

Stop Making up Rules about how you are supposed to feel

With all of this being said, remember that ‘There is NO such thing is How you’re SUPPOSED to feel’ on any given day, and about any given situation. Those rules are all fabricated. If someone tells you ‘cheer up, it’s the Holidays’, they arent’ making any sense. If a stable home & having marriage and kids definitely equated to happiness, then why are divorces on the rise? We can’t buy our way out of depression. We cannot pay our way into permanent happiness. Stop trying, and stop making up rules about how you are supposed to feel, and hopefully then you can stop feeling guilty about an illness that is not always in your control. Being born was not a choice that you got to make for yourself, nor who birthed you, nor who influenced you. As an adult, we do get to start making our own decisions, but will we make the right ones? That’s anyone guess. We are still, after all, often guided by old survival programs.

The Pursuit of Healthiness

The pursuit of happiness is said to be overated these days. I say, pursuit healthy. What’s good for you? Your body, mind and spirit. Feed yourself the things that are known and proven to nurture your body, mind and spirit. Maybe it’s being single for a while vs being with, yet another, toxic intimate partner. Maybe it’s choosing that job that pays a little less because ultimately it will stress you out way less. Maybe it’s taking a step away from social media because you have been way too overstimulated and you need your mind to have some peace and quiet. Maybe, it’s deciding one baby is enough, you don’t need a surplus just because society said so. Maybe, it’s going on that trip to that destination you have been dying to see, but no one wanted to go with you so you decided to say ‘fuck it, i’m going anyways’. There comes a point where hopefully we step away from those fabric human made rules and we get on board with letting our intuition guide us toward a life that is more suitable for our health and our mood.

The Art of Doing Less

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 11-9-2022

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

Example A- He was an older adult male, in his early sixties. He already had been diagnosed with a heart arythmia, and he was getting regular panic attacks. Despite both the heart condition and anxiety hinting and begging him to slow down, he continued to cave and dive into his work addiction and compulsions. He loaded himself up with projects and a continued upward trajectory of a stressful and anxiety provoking daily life. It also did not help that the military indoctrinated him into a self sacrificing ‘The mission comes first at all costs mentality’.

Example B- She had traits of OCD. Everything had to be in it’s proper place, everything had to be clean ALL THE TIME, or else her body went into panic mode. Then, she had a newborn, and despite her best efforts, nothing stayed clean, regardless of how hard she tried. Everyday she panicked and dealt with increased irritability as she tried to outclean her child and spouse when he came back from work. Then commenced, more marital strain.

Example C- Her kids were finally grown, her nest was empty. She also recently retired. Lonliness, a lost sense of purpose, identity crisis all on the rise. Who the hell was she now? She felt empty and lost without all that distracted her before.

Example D- 2 Jobs, two kids, two different marriages all back to back. Stress, anger and resentment were building up. He was doing everything, he was always trying his best to exhaustion, and yet, he was ‘always falling short’. The harder he tried, the more his family butted heads with him. The more he gave advice and reasonable instructions, the more they did the opposite. Everyone drifted a part. Then he found himself doing almost everything on his own, there was no more teamwork in his family.

Before I address thoughts and behaviors with people that are prone to OCD, anxiety, perfectionsim, work addiction and/ or burnout, I start by painting a scenerio to help me explore their emotions. The scenerio: “So Imagine I walk into your home, and let’s say I eat and leave the dishes in the sink. Then I move to your clothing drawer and I start taking the clothes out and throwing them on your furniture. And what If I leave some clutter on your coffee table and don’t throw it away? How will you feel? And, what are you going to do?

Naturally the common answers I hear are things like “I would punch you”, or “I would yell”, or “I would have to clean it right away”, “You are no longer allowed in my house…” etc etc. So everything often adds up to the fact that I can easily control their emotions and behaviors. My next question is “Why?” (I can ‘why’ people to death by the way.) “Why must the dishes be done immediately?” “Why can’t there be a wrapper on the table?” “Why can’t the laundry not be folded this time around?” “Why must you do everything right away even when you’re exhausted?” “Why clean up after that person if they made the mess?”

Now we dive into thoughts that were often ingrained due to survival programming and some common values & principles. Common answers include anxious and obligatory thought patterns that start with statements like “Have to”, “I must”, “I should”, “I need to”, “I don’t have a choice”. And common values/ principles may include growing up in a home where everything was expected to be clean & orderly otherwise there was severe punishment. Or growing up in a world where expectations were plentiful, and the human need of ‘time off’, and ‘breaks’ was not up for discussion. And lastly, there is also the concept of avoidance. A full plate or workload can distract us from…. X,y,Z. “When I clean or dive heavily into a project, I’m finally not obsessing or ruminating over x,y,z.”

The ART OF DOING LESS is 4-fold. Which is why telling someone to simply ‘slow down, and take a break’, is NOT going to cut it. First, we address the behavior, then we address the cognitive piece, then we must address those that are panicked or angry as they learn to get conditioned to the new ‘us’; they are only conditioned & accustomed to the old ‘us’. Lasty, we must accept our new identity, as we have changed.

Behavioral: The behavioral aspect is actually the simplest part. Doing less can look like taking a day off. It can look like study breaks every 30 minutes. It can look like stepping away from your work desk and walking outside for a breather. It can look like hiding from your family in the bathroom and taking a longer than usual shower. But what happens? Less is done, and then commences our thought patterns.

Cognitive: The anxious & obligatory thoughts commence. ‘Should/ must’ thought patterns. Also, aggravation if no one else is helping… as usual. Aggravation at yourself if you ‘are not doing what you are supposed to’. Panic, or at the very least, discomfort sets into the mind and body. Then comes, the compulsion to get up and do what you always do. You cave, you don’t allow yourself rest. You clean up after the house slob, yet again. Your body is tired, yet you continue to push. You might even be half assing this project, because you do not have it in you to do it 100%. I challenge patients to sit in these thoughts and compulsions for a bit, to do the ever so popular thought reframing/ logging interventions. Counter everything in your belief system. Are the thoughts helpful or not? Are the actions going to be the best for you and everyone else or not? Are you avoiding your thoughts with harmful action? Are you enabling others by stepping up, yet again? Do you get some sense of accomplishment from being the ‘I Do everything’ person all the time?

Conditioning: Overtime, if people continue behaviorally doing less, and challenging their mind to ease their compulsions to go back to the norm, there are two types of conditioning taking place simultaneously. Self conditioning, and Other-people conditioning. Change takes time, change must be reinforced until it feels like habit. Other-people conditioning is very tricky too. Some people highly benefitted from your anxiety, OCD, and heigtened sense of obligation. They might even resent your newer ‘healthy’ changes. Ultimately, if they refuse to allow themselves to condition to the new you, it could be time to let them go. While others may show resistence, but ultimately adapt. These adaptations can actuallly be quite positive, but in disguise. The lazy room mate or child can then stop being enabled and learn to clean up after themselves. The lazy coworker can finally get things delegated to them and learn to be a team player.

Identity: So the change has taken place, it is now a new habit, people have adapted, and so have you… to some extent. but who are you now? How does it feel? To no longer be the ‘cleaner & organizer?’ Or the ‘Mr or Mrs. Fix it all the time”. How does it feel to let go and stop trying to help people help themselves, and watch them as they fall flat on their faces? How is it? Sitting in only a ‘semi clean’ place vs “hospital clean’? Who are you now? Can you embrace being more ‘human’? Human in the sense that perfection is no longer something you must attain. Maybe even grief due to the fact that you miss that old you.. those old habits. Those old ingrained survival programs? Those old compliments people gave you because your demise led to their luxurious lazy lifestyle….

Let it all set in. Embrace it, even the discomfort. Don’t run, don’t hide, don’t deny it. Don’t kid yourself, you were not happy with it. If you were completely happy with it, why are you at the end of this article trying to learn to slow down? The ART of doing less is, in fact, 4 Fold. Good luck to those that needed to read this.

BOO!!! (Trigger ⚠️ Warning)

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 10/31/2022

For Halloween I am going to talk to you about some of the scariest moments of my life. I’m hoping that this can serve as both an outlet for myself as well as some teaching moments for anyone that can relate. Some of these traumas are going to be serious and triggering, but I can assure you that I am absolutely more ‘okay’ than I have been in a long time. Life get’s scary, but I am happy that it get’s balanced out with joy. We are lucky that scary and suffering are fleeting. But, trauma does live with us forever, we must manage it daily. The road to recovery is not someting to take lightly.

MY SCARY Moments:

My Mother used to leave me alone with strangers: My mother was addicted to both Alcohol and Methamphetamine. For years, my memories of her were often long drawn out comas where myself and my older brother had to ‘fend for ourselves’. We fed ourselves, we sought out neighbors that had food. We were very much alone. Cosurvivors. In the three years of our mother having custody, we collectively remember at least 12 different homes. She only stuck around when it was a boyfriends home, but she did not always supervise. Without going into too many details, we (My brother and I) were exposed to traumatizing things. I was physically abused by one of my mother’s boyfriends, I also witnessed molestation. I saw porn too young, I saw people getting intimate in the same room… again, I was way too young. There are accounts from some of my family members on my mothers side where they were afraid for me; they saw me with many daiper rashes, & head lice. I did not receive formal education until I was six and I was behind on reading. My teeth were so rotted by the time I was rescued and brought to my grandmothers, that I required 5 caps… on my baby teeth. I have been terrified of the dentist ever since.

My Brother Attempted Suicide: Yes, the same brother that endured neglect and abandonment & abuse with me developed mental health issues. He reported our bio mother hit him a lot, she never did hit me. This could make all the difference. My rage was implosive vs explosive. I feared my brother for years, his anger got the best of him and he took quite a bit out on me. But I also learned to be a fighter very early on. Unfortunately some of our fights escalated to some very toxic levels. We both had suicidal gestures in our preteen to teen years. We both threatened suicide toward each other. But nothing compares to the scare of almost losing him, when he almost did end his life as a young adult; with alcohol and pills. I am so damn proud of him for making it through everything. Now he is in a happy marriage and has a job he enjoys. He also gave me a beautiful niece and nephew.

I Endured Bootcamp: Bootcamp was stressful and scary! But oddly enough it’s quite comical to think about now. I left my hometown eager to ‘never return’, only to be crying on my first night of bootcamp and thinking to myself ‘maybe my parents weren’t so bad after alll…..’ (My Dad and stepmother). I really had a disdain for my parents at the time, but they taught me to endure everything I had ahead of me. Growing up in a bootcamp type of household can absolutely prepare you for Bootcamp. My father was a marine after all. Bootcamp involves sleep deprivation, starvation, a gas chamber (tear gas), shooting guns, getting verbally abused every single day, getting physically tested to your limits. I remember being put on my face so much during 120 degree weather on asphalt, my hand skin started to burn and peel off. I was threatened to be ‘fired’ from the Air Force and shipped home. (That’s just a mental game they play, but it feels so real in the moment) My whole life flashed before my eyes as I feared the ‘failure’ of returning home with nothing accomplished. But, I DID get through it.

I deployed to a Combat Zone; Afghanistan: My Dad told me many times that Bootcamp has to be HARD, because they are preparing you for WAR. He was right. War is scary. The intrusive memory of walking off of a C-130 with my Ruck sack and stepping onto Afghanistan soil is permanently etched into my memory. What can I say other than we never forget war? I won’t forget my base getting bombed, I won’t forget my combat stress team and I losing a patient to suicide, I won’t forget indirect fire from enemy combatants. I won’t forget seeing the man on a stretcher that died from a mortar attack. I won’t forget when Afghan locals stared at me eerily (while also armed), as they had never seen females with uncovered faces until they worked on a U.S. Military base. I won’t forget dozens and dozens of helicopter rides over combat soil, with the anxiety of knowing Helos get shot down all the time; just 1 week before my first travel, a marine was shot in the neck while midst Helo ride. It was six straight months of off the wall scary things, but we don’t talk about it.

I was a Social worker in Brooklyn during the COVID Pandemic: I was able to go into the pandemic calmly, a war zone prepares you for everything. But my hopelessness and helplessness feelings were exacerbated for the next year or so. I also remember a lot of anger. First off, in NYC, you are going to get COVID. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was destined to get it, and I did. Twice. Taking care of patients through the pandemic; that was the real nightmare. Imagine countless hours, anywhere from 6-8 hours a day of listening to people while their mental and physical health deteriorates freak out and talk about Covid and Trump. All day, everyday, for 1.5 years. In your ear, on the phone, while construction and Demo are going on all around you. I started developing severe migraines. One of my patients died, pnemenia or covid? Or perhaps both. I developed covid symptoms and took time off, I never did get tested. Why not? The hospitals in NYC were so overpacked, I refused to be a part of that problem, since I was young ish and healthy. Also, being a social worker meant helping people through the terror of facing job loss, financial crisis, homelessness and a rise in domestic violence.

I survived Domestic Violence: My Ex fiancé (I’m ashamed to even call him that) took me through the worst three years of my life. I would say 80 percent of that relationship was misery. From experiencing an extreme amount of verbal abuse (he name called, blamed, manipulated), to constantly feeling confused due to his compulsion to pathologically lie. Anyone that has lived with a pathological liar can attest to this: they make you feel insane. You question your reality, also because they will gaslight you on the regular. He had very creative ways to use me, he found my vulnerabilities and exploited them to his advantage. Such as triggering my savior complex. He was even physically abusive a few times (shoved me to the ground, threw things at me). He decided to end the relationship with a beautiful cherry on top: left me for our Martial arts Trng partner (who was also ten years younger than us). He wanted me to stay in NYC & still be in a “casual relationship with him”, I took off back to CA and blocked him. Best decision I ever made.

I experienced a Drug Induced Psychotic Episode: I wont say when, or the exact name of what I took. (As not to incriminate myself) But I will discuss what happened because it’s important to educate the public; I have taken several different drugs to self medicate. And most of the time, nothing awful happened. But, when you take something in a time of mental crisis, that is when you are likely to go too far. I experienced a psychotic break that many refer to as “ego death”. I lost my orientation to who I was, where I was, what time era I was in and more. There was both hallucinations and delusions. I also experienced intrusive suicidal thought, while also fearing death; it was back-and-forth between the two. I am definitely abstinent from this particular substance. No matter what you plan on trying, please please please discuss with a Doctor! (I’ve also sought out substance abuse treatment and I’m not afraid to admit it)

My fantasies of Confrontation

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 10-24-2022

As a former fawner, pushover, and savior complexed individual, I had many revenge fantasies. Not in a scary way, more so fantasies related to “what I should have told that rude person”. We all have done it, some more than others. And then you have regrets, because you wish once more, that you were not, in fact a doormat. You wish you could be sharp in the moment, maybe even witty. Some of us freeze, and we aren’t capable of standing up for ourselves. Or at least, it takes a long time to learn it how to.

This is most common with children that were meant to be “seen and not heard”. Maybe they were verbally abused or severely punished when they tried to express themselves. Or this could also happen to people that suffered from heavy abuse in intimate relationships; where you can’t anger your abuser… or worse abuse happens.

Either way, the fantasies come. You dream of a world where you can be “that stronger person” capable of shutting an asshole down. This blog is about those fantasies.

To the Person (or people) that:

Called me “fake” and naive when I was in the Air Force

You called me “fake” because I was “too nice”. For you, kindness and realness do not exist in the same world, clearly. Which is quite sad because you were probably projecting your bad attitude onto me. You called me naive for… what? Because I didn’t speak up? Because I didn’t express myself much at all and therefore, seemed, innocent? That was a ton of assumptions, and you’re quite ignorant for never looking deeper. It would have been easier to just ask me questions. Then maybe you would have figured out I come from trauma and abuse, I was robbed of innocence and the ability to trust. It led me to walk on eggshells around strangers. That wasn’t ‘fake’, that was “fawning”. That was me trying “not to rock the boat” yet again. And in turn, it happened anyways. Because people aren’t satisfied regardless.

Body shamed me throughout a 9 year relationship

You said I “ate too much like I was a grown man/ body builder.” And that I wasn’t supposed to eat as much as you since I’m “smaller”. You told me it’s either “you or food and I need to make my decision”. You shamed me when you found out what I put in my body. You viewed it as your choice instead of mine. You didn’t deserve me for nine years. Truthfully you had me at my “hottest” years and you never appreciated it. My self esteem just got worse from there. You were a waste of my time. Honestly if you were that vain, you should have been honest from the beginning. Why hold someone hostage and hurt them emotionally through it? You need a reality check. And fast forward five years later, I can’t help but notice you have a gut! That’s called karma.

Dumped me via text message, 5 days after taking my virginity-

If I had known you were going to be a ghost, I would have never let that happen. I chose you of all people to share that precious milestone with under false pretenses. This makes you a liar. I didn’t expect marriage, or forever. But damn that was grimy. And the fact that the day before you sent that text I had my suspicions… I asked you while looking in your eyes: “do you want to break up now” and you looked back at me and said “no”. Then the very next day sent the break up essay through a text, that’s cowardly. I don’t regret any of the harsh things I texted back. I hope you didn’t keep doing that to more girls. I hope the rest of your military career was shit, truthfully.

Called me “lucky” or said “must be nice” while consecutively demeaning my accomplishments-

You know what’s not nice or lucky? Sleep deprivation, no fun time, no parties, no social life. Studying for hours on end, working, while volunteering, while suppressing major depression. Going home to binge eating and crying outbursts, and then repeating the hard work the next day, and acting okay, because you aren’t allowed to “fall apart”. Falling apart is a luxury reserved for people that have freedom and support.

Called me lazy while I worked, schooled, did chores and helped you with your kids-

Was I stepmom of the year? No. I never wanted to be one, but the fact that I still parented better than you did is quite sad. Here’s the facts; you are obviously a gaslighter. Through and though. You projected all your insecurities onto me and had me feeling worthless. You called me lazy because you were lazy. You called me stupid because you were stupid. You acted like I did “nothing right” because you couldn’t do anything right. What really differentiates us besides the fact that I have integrity and you don’t? The fact that I’m not a quitter. You are a coward that uses everyone and everything, and then runs from everything when it gets hard. Jobs, relationships, adult responsibilities and even your own kids. You’re a true narcissist, and I don’t use that word lightly.

Had me feeling like a bad friend despite the fact that I did so very much for you-

I funded your needs when you had nothing. I funded your addiction when you were going through withdrawal, I helped you escape when you felt suffocated. I funded you when you needed legal help. I wasn’t there as much as you wanted, it’s called the military. Again, I didn’t have the luxury of freedom, or time on my side. But it always seemed the more I gave, the more you wanted. And it got quite dangerous and disturbing. You Watching me, trying to track me, possess me (angry when I had a friendship with anyone else), making me feel guilty if I needed a day off; from being your ATM and your personal unpaid therapist. A friendship with too many conditions is not a true friendship, that’s called using people. You lack accountability. And in the end, it’s over because you fail to help yourself, but expect everyone else to do so.

Mental health Internet “Experts” Part 3

It’s been a while but the online mental health advice never stops!

Let’s get right to it!

This is a harmful way of conditioning people to be a pushover or a doormat. Should we really say “ok” to everything? Okay to physical or mental abuse? Okay to being used for our money? Okay to compromising on our boundaries or Non-negotiables? Okay to workplace harassment or maltreatment? Sometimes, moving on is impossible without assertive confrontation and change.
Forget our past? Then how do we learn from our mistakes? Memory has a purpose, perhaps we shouldn’t let it go to waste. Always be positive? What if we’re grieving? Should we force a smile through a trauma or a funeral?
Again, this concept of don’t think or feel and to “keep it moving” makes no sense. We forget that pausing and reflecting has a purpose. This all depends on what the “bad yesterday” was. It could be a lesson. If we don’t learn from those lessons we are doomed to repeat more bad days.
None of these tips are bad. But the advice in totality is bad. Humans are creatures of habit and conditioning. If any person tried to make all these changes at once, they’re bound to spiral into a depression binge after. Goals start small and are better off realistic, feasible and most importantly, sustainable over a long period of time.
What if the negative thought is something that needs to be worked through? Like “I’m so miserable… I need to change”. Forcing positive thoughts will not lead you to creating the objectives and goals that are necessary for a change that can help you in the long run.
Hard times with the opportunity to find ways out can lead to increased resilience. But traumatic times, with no support and a sense of helplessness will cause PTSD. Some trauma does not lead to beautiful transformation unfortunately, sometimes it leads to a chronic mental health condition. Much like the men from this show in the meme! Peaky Blinders.
Or maybe they just don’t want their heart to be ripped out and crushed into a million pieces. Aren’t we supposed to not get with the same type of person over and over again? Also, a genuine person shouldn’t be worried about being held accountable, especially if their intentions in a relationship are pure.

Shit covered Rainbows

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 10-12-2022

“I may not get the rainbows and butterflies and fairy tales, but at least I’ll be able to know that I lived in that honest brutal reality that most people are afraid of.”

        I had a patient that often talked about the ‘screen saver’ of his life. This was a metaphor for what he viewed as what other’s saw of him, from the outside looking in. The screen saver on a computer is often very beautiful and appealing to the eyes. But ‘when you click on the mouse and it vanishes’, he added, ‘you then see all of the documents scattered on the screen monitor and it’s a big fat mess’. He told me that for decades, this was what his life was like. He was a Deacon, he had a wife and kids, and what everyone presumed was a perfect happy family. The reality? His wife had narcissistic traits along with complex PTSD and chronic medical conditions. He expressed she treated him as an ATM machine and withheld sex for years. (Sex was a reward reserved only for if he gave her money or acts of service) She was overprotective of their ‘spoiled kids’, he was not ‘allowed’ to correct their bad behaviors, if he did, he was labeled as ‘mean’. In turn, her differing parenting style caused the kids to cling to her (The cool/ ‘good’ parent) and hate him. The kids grew more spoiled. He did not make enough money to leave the household, despite fantasies to often pick up and run. He was depressed, sex deprived, misunderstood, and often broke due to their ever-increasing demands of his wallet. But he stayed… year after year after year.

     This situation is NOT unique or rare. Honestly, maybe I’m a bit jaded, because for me, all I ever hear is ‘miserably ever after stories’ due to working in mental health. But perhaps, these strained/ discorded family situations are 50/50. Same with friendship stories, same with career stories. The deeper question is, why do we sit in shit, and try to cover it up with rainbows and pretend to be okay? Especially, when it is evident to both others and sometimes ourselves, that we are NOT okay or happy, with anything that’s going on.

     Some people believe that ‘manifesting positivity’ will make everything ‘okay’ again. Like we can ‘will away’ our bad feelings/ responses toward toxic situations: Abusive spouses/ shitty bosses/ toxic family members/ Trauma & grief situations. Or maybe, we can ‘positive ourselves to death’ to the point of being happy in horrible situations. Or maybe, our fake positivity can rub off on our evil abusers, and they will in turn learn to accept us and reward us as we are. But, NO. NO NO NO NO NO, we cannot, and we never have been able to, and we never will be able to. A very harmful thing when it comes to most of us humans, our hopes and fantasies can sometimes lead to our demise. There is always a time to take off those rose-colored glasses and get yourself grounded back into reality.

        I’ve lived a ‘double life’ before. It was not for me. Why did I choose to live it? At the time I felt immense guilt. Like I needed to put another person’s needs above my own. And therefore, I was not living as my authentic self, and I was accepting a life that was NOT for me. Sometimes we fear letting other people down. Sometimes our egos are overinflated, and they cause us to gravitate toward a world that pleases our social circle more than it pleases our individuality. I personally don’t know how people do it for long, keeping up with an exhausting ‘act’, while they brew inside. Sneaking around to live their true selves, while their fake self is what is displayed and projected for the world to see and believe. (The only people that get a pass are people in the LGBTQ circle, because honestly, they fear for their lives and it’s understandable some of them have to hide from Bigots) Married people having affairs for decades, second families, lying and pretending to be this picture-perfect example of monogamy. People staying in careers they hate for decades, making everyone around them miserable, while deep down fantasizing of their dream jobs/ escapes, but never pulling the plug. Friendships that stand the ‘test of time’, but both parties cannot stand each other. Frenemies vs friends.

        If we want to optimize our mental health, it truly starts with knowing yourself, and knowing what you NEED. You will never get the opportunity to do this if you are living your life based on acting, pleasing, self-obligating, or self-sacrificing. You will never be able to do this if you are okay with ‘good enough for now’, or ‘I’ll live through it’ type of mentality while you are suffering every single day. This does not mean, sit, or play around, or goof off because it’s fun either. Why not? Because that too, is a form of suffering. (Nothingness & no sense of purpose or identity) This means deep self-exploration, this mean’s doing the hard work of tuning into your … gasp…. ‘Useless annoying emotions’. There are messages you may be ignoring from your inner therapist. Do you want to live in a true rainbow or shit? Nothing is ever perfect, suffering is guarantee just as much as happiness is. But, there are certainly lifestyles that are NOT suited for you, and certain lifestyles that will flow very naturally for you.

       So, what happened to the patient with the screen saver life? He did receive couples counseling off and on for many years, which proved to be useless. Because it takes two, and only he wanted real change, the wife was content with the shit covered rainbow marriage. They sent off their oldest child to college, they flunked their first semester with his GI Bill… what a sad waste. He did push his kid to switch to a more appropriate major, which they did reluctantly and started to do better; but with little gratitude for the fact that it was ‘free college’ for them, off the sacrifices of their combat Vet father. The patient also finally switched professions and found a career path that they loved, and the joy of leaving the house more often and getting away from the wife was helpful. Did they ever divorce? I have no clue. I ended up taking off and pursuing my rainbow: Back to SoCal!

        My Shit covered rainbows included: A mundane/ boring relationship, an abusive relationship, a long-term abusive friendship, a career as a trauma therapist (I was good, but the triggers were overbearing) Living in NYC! (Enough said there) Trying my best to hit those twenty years of Air force service toward retirement. I fell short and hit ten years, and honorably separated. When it’s over it’s over. I tried starving myself for a good couple of years back in the day, I looked ‘hot’ and received TONS of compliments, but I couldn’t hear them over the relentless growling of my stomach. I pursued an MMA career once upon a time…. (Who was I kidding?? I absolutely despise being a spectacle on a stage for people to gawk at). But, it’s like my old social work colleague used to always tell me: “It’s just as important to find out what you don’t want to do, as it is to find out what you do like”. That line makes more sense the older I get. Enjoy the journey! And please try to wipe that SHIT off your rainbow! 😊

FriYay Gratitude

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 09/30/2022

Anyone that has major depression can relate; Gratitude feels impossible. Our brain is lacking seretonin, and therefore we lack energy and motivation, and therefore we may not hunt for endorphins as we are supposed to. If we pay attention to the biopsychosical model, there is even more to it than that. Even our thoughts count. Depression involves the Bio- our brain chemicals, the Psychological- our thoughts, and the Social- Our environment: toxic or peaceful?? Then on top of that; stigma. It’s quite interesting how people perceive mental health. Some people want to believe their mental illness is “Purely a chemical imbalance” and no other factors contribute. Then on the other end of the spectrum, some people refuse to believe they have any type of chemical imbalance, and insist they can ‘Fight their way out of mental illness, if they just try and fight hard enough…it WILL get cured’.

I truly digress… this blog is not about depression, it’s about managing my depressive thoughts and practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a very helpful part of daily practice that can tame our depressive thoughts, but I will admit; it takes a very long time to get to this point. People with major depression have a lot of inner and outter work to do, and it cannot be rushed. Now that my life has calmed a bit in the past year, I am in this place where I can practice daily gratitude.

My FriYay Gratitudes:

Weekends are Life savers: Though they tend to go by so fast, I have been making sure that I use some of my weekend time to decompress. On one hand, many Americans compulsively use weekends to play ‘catch up’, I was no exception. But now I must INSIST, I deserve some decompression time and I will make it happen. Walks, TV, music, writing outlets, lounge outside on the hammock, long showers or bubble baths, clear my head of responsibilities. I have a Monday through Friday type of career, always have, and always will. Hoepfully, even if you do not have that type of schedule, you find a job that does give you at least a couple days off a week! Serving in the military allowed me to appreciate days off even more, they were not guarantee while I was serving, especially when deployed.

I have a Job that Pays descent and is NOT awful: What’s worse than having a job that sucks and really stresses you out? A job that sucks, is stressful and also doesn’t pay you what you are worth. but I am finally in a job that pays me my worth, has a mix of some stressful days but also some relaxed days. Can I really ask for anything better? Now, it took me 14 years of professional development to get to this point, but I am happy I learned more about myself through my work journey. I am so greatful that I stumbled upon this career opportunity in which I knew very little about (behavioral health consulting for a primary care clinic) and I fit right in.

I’m in a safe relationship… Finally!: My past relationships were complicated to say the least. And in the interest of my own personal accountabiltiy, I would say the main issue right off the bat was not understanding myself well enough to know what was even good for me. This all changed after surviving narcissistic abuse (2018-2020). I took a good chunk of time to do inner work, (and casual dating to practice more boundaries). Feeling safe in a relationship is imperative, but if you’re a survivor of abuse, it may throw you off at first. A part of finding someone that is safe for you, is creating both non negotiables and boundaries that remain consistent. And despite popular belief, the single most IMPORTANT aspect to finding an intimate partner is: Making sure they actually do, in fact, CARE about you. This does NOT get proven with what is said or promised, but rather, with consistent actions they make toward building a loving relationship over time. ❤

The weather where I live is NOT making me ill: NYC was making me ill, not just mentally but physically. I recall getting sick 3 times every Winter, between Jan & March. And not short bouts either, sickness that put me on my ass for days. That all changed the moment I got back to the desert in SoCal, honestly, my body felt comfortable immediately. I did have to readjust to extreme heat, but since I grew up in this environment, it was way easier to adjust. It amazes me how little people pay attention to environmental factors, and that is the bread and butter of social work. If your environment is toxic toward you, you will never be at your optimal mental health. I am grateful to be in a slow/ steady and calm environment, with a low population & ‘great’ weather for my body.

I can now, finally give myself breaks without feeling ashamed: The issue with any person that feels the need to either overcompensate or avoid by overpacking their work / hobby schedules is that they cannot slow down. If they try to slow down, they are immediately haunted with anxious and/ or shame thought patterns. “I’m not doing enough, “I’m being lazy”, “I have to”, “I should”, “I must”, “I need to”. To successfully break the thought patterns, we must use daily thought reframing. I am finally ‘guilt free’ when it comes to taking breaks. Humans need rest and recovery, it’s a part of life, plain and simple.

I’m in close proximity to family again: Even when I’m exhausted and dreading social encounters, I can honestly say I never regret it afterwards, especially with my immediate family. I spent 13 years away from my hometown due to my military and college careers as well as my first civilian career. It’s been time to catch up and it’s been warming. There’s something about talking with those that have known you the longest and seen you through a lifetime of journeys.

What is your Friyay Gratitudes? Feel free to comment below!