Hi Hello, Here it goes!
Swinging back to the beastly nature of anxiety, it can plague us subconsciously. We can wake up anxious with no set reason for the awkward sensation. We can be tasked to being productive members of society all the while crawling out of our skin due to a possible outcome, regardless of its slim probability of coming to fruition. Anxiety can topic hop, meaning it can shift from one concern to another. Just because the situation seemingly driving the nervousness has passed does not mean the anxiety lays itself to rest.
Anxiety chains us to the future without room for the present.
No wonder children’s mental health books color anxiety to be an icky-looking monster. We all wish it were as easy as drawing it out and crumpling it up, never to be seen again.
Our logical minds reiterate worrying will not change the outcome.
We have little to no control on how our experiences play out. Sure, we can plan for roughly 10-30 different outcomes, however most of the actual outcomes are unrelated to our thoughtful blueprints. Perhaps that’s the beef we have with being human. We were left out of the metaphorical contract of who gets the power. Good grief, we are kind of obsessed with it after all.
Imagine a world where power was appropriately delegated to fit in our narratives.
Those who worked hard would reap benefits.
Those who dreamed big would achieve big goals.
Money would be no issue.
Weather would be controlled by properly trained meteorologist wizards.
Sound a bit like a fairy tale?
We lack control and we resent that about reality. I cannot blame us, building resiliency is no easy feat to the onslaught of experiences outside of our power or control. This resentment projects itself into the form of anxiety, a narrative that dictates if we hyper focus on the outcome hard enough or long enough, maybe, just maybe, it’ll give us the sensation of power.
I’m sorry folks. No Hogwarts for us in this reality.
Meet yourself where you are. Validate the underlying purpose of your anxiety. When I say validate, I mean outwardly identify how your anxiety is trying to serve you. In many cases, this anxiety is trying to serve as a cloak of protection away from circumstances that could cause pain. We typically have experienced a version of pain before, and we would do almost anything to secure our well-being. Even if it means sabotaging the well-being of our mindset.
Ask yourself if your thought process is geared toward problem solving or rumination. Are you reacting or responding to your environment? Are you triggered by something that is haunting you from the past?
Anxiety generates in the form of energy within our bodies. Ask yourself how you can release this energy through safe outlets. Whether it be through running, walking, gardening, painting, scribbling, etc. It is within your power to find an outlet that works for you.
I see you, my anxious friends.
I am proud of how you lean on your resilience.
The term “anxiety” can bring up a vast array of mental images. Perhaps a vision of a cartoon character with bulging eyes darting from side to side with beads of sweat cascading from their oversized forehead. Or maybe you resonate with the term within your own experiences which can jog your memory to the time you were perched atop of the doctors table, the sterile paper crinkling beneath your sweaty palms. Once the doctor entered the room, you are convinced they can hear the pounding of your racing heart.
Anxiety is a beast. This is how I paint it in a narrative light within the therapy room.
This uncomfortable emotion has no limits to circumstances it can weasel itself into. Google “phobias” and there is an endless list chalk full of anxiety-provoking situations that many have probably not thought of up until this moment. I can almost guarantee you every single human existing has come face to face with anxiety before, even if only for a fleeting moment.
Not to geek out on you, but anxiety is a predominate reason to why we exist today. If it were not for the sensation of nervousness, our ancestors would have probably tried to pet the Saber Tooth tiger instead of run from it and would definitely not have deflected the mammoth’s massive trunks trying to pound them as they attempted to salvage a sustainable meal. Anxiety is tied to something called our parasympathetic nervous system. Lightly put, this integral system is responsible not only for the functions of digestion or the ability to slow our heart rates down after a burst of adrenaline, but it’s the pause button to our ingrained “fight or flight” response.
Now, the hardwiring for humans is systemically flawed when we consider the biofeedback components of the “fight or flight” response. Sure, it served us well hundreds of years ago, but it doesn’t do much to benefit us present day. If anything, this primitive hardwiring, more or less, keeps some of us stuck in an anxious reel despite our logical minds screaming “hey, cut it out!”.
We could get into the age-old debate of “nature vs nurture” at this point of the tangent. However, for the sake of your attention span, anxiety is an emotional experience that impacts a large portion of humans gracing the Earth today. In fact, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the USA today, impacting roughly 40 million adults. When is Anxiety qualified to fit within a DSM diagnosis? Broadly, when Anxiety symptoms interfere with one’s ability to function for at least 6 months.
I’ll leave you on this cliffhanger.
Give you time to marinate in these anxiety fun facts.
Tickle that maladapted “fight or flight” response for a bit.
Stay tuned to the wrap around that will capture ways of attending to those anxious woes.
As May swirls all around me, I am reminded of the nature of this profession. May brings with it awareness, but it seems this increased focus on the topic of Mental Health predictably vanishes with the shift into June. Yet, here I am, left with the ever-revolving tumultuous nature of our society’s mental-wellness. As if the party was had, and I’m left with the rubble of a good time.
All metaphors aside, I grapple with the fulfillment of my job at times.
The unpredictability of the cacophony of challenges wears on me.
The grief of loss that rages within me unrelated to the therapy room complicates the task of compartmentalizing other’s woes from my own.
Serving as a therapist and bearing witness to other’s pain is a cumbersome task without the obstacles of my own human experiences. When my life challenges color my world grey, it takes an extra hoist of willpower to cultivate safe spaces and mask the quiet sadness that lay just behind my eyes.
I never know what I will encounter in my workday. Sometimes, this can be exciting, especially to a newly minted therapist. However, this past year has dulled the novelty of varying narratives. The day could bring humble wins toward the pursuit of healing, or it can generate internal battles, thoughts of self-harm, feelings of worthlessness, or experiences of injustice. All desperate for someone somewhere to validate their truths and to recognize their voices. I’ve come to find out, the pursuit of growth and healing is one of the most cumbersome and exhausting journeys we can take.
I have found comfort in the longer-lit days when I depart from my office at 7pm with the sun still gracing my horizon. This makes the darkness of the second-hand trauma and empathy burnout seem less daunting. It’s challenging to remember the good when your days are surrounded by narratives full of pain, overwhelm, and loneliness just to name a few.
People are suffering.
Take a walk in my shoes, and you'd bear witness to overwhelming uncertainty, uneasiness, grief, trauma, depression, anxiety, and conflict woven into every facet of the workday. For hours, my cozy office holds space for brokenness, monstrosities, hopelessness, and cumbrous obstacles. At times, overextending myself due to the sheer demand of those craving a safe space. A place to process. To catch their breath.
I sit in a room with peoples’ horribly heavy “Stuff” day after day. Giving 110% of myself, encumbered by exuding empathy and unconditional positive regard, despite what is wreaking havoc within my own heart.
Your girl is exhausted.
There are some highlights. Don’t get me wrong.
Us therapists live for the giggles, the silly stories, and the moments of triumph.
Pride fills our whole bodies when a client shares a moment of success, of empowerment, or of shifts in experience that allow for light and freedom.
I love my job.
But my job is hard.
Please forgive me if I seem hollow. If there is a distant or distracted look in my eyes. Sometimes it takes a hot minute for me to be able to press the pause button on processing what swirled around in the therapy room. Please know, I so badly want to hold space for those I hold near, however my soul is dragging her feet. She craves a safe place to land herself, for she has borne witness to so much.
I am a therapist.
But I am so much more than that.
People find themselves perched on the comfy grey couch in my office for numerous reasons. Whether therapy be their idea or their families, it can take time for clients to relax into the ebb and flow of the therapeutic process the tranquil space invites. Despite the comfort the therapy room embodies, the internal storm battering the humans before me is a whole other ballgame.
Thematically, I’ve noticed a narrative that many perspectives, including my own, have been adopting. Let’s title this internal storyline as “I’m too much”.
From the outside, it is relatively simple to identify the unhelpful thought patterns that ensue with this particular narrative. However, internally, it’s difficult to decipher up from down. We align our experiences with accents of being a burden, being too messy to be enough, and overall not having what it takes to reach our ideal fulfillment quota.
This has me thinking.
How much is too much? How do we form the narratives that we are “too much” or “not enough”? Who do we see ourselves as? Goldilocks?
Perhaps this internal plotline is tied to the generational trauma of experiencing shame for our humanness. If we really sit with our historical timeline, our humanness is something we’ve picked at meticulously. The Egyptians spent too much time preserving their dead, men shamed for expressing emotions, and women have been laboriously lectured about being too much for wanting more equality.
Phrases such as “smile for me”, “men don’t cry”, and “get over it” keep us stuck in the quicksand of “you are too human”.
The list of these targeted qualities of individual authenticity is endless.
What if I were to tell you that you had the choice of re-writing this suffocating narrative? What if after all this time devoted to outrunning the labels of burden, you were actually most aligned with the bowl of porridge that was “just right”?
Because you are just right.
Feeling deeply and authentically comes with the territory of humanness. If it weren’t for our experiences of emotion, we would hardly make it out of infanthood. Emotionality is the mother-tongue of our collective whole. Universally, our nonverbals convey similar messages. Smiles communicate needs being met and connection. Furrowed brows communicate unmet needs and misunderstandings. Tears communicate pain. If it weren’t for our abilities to feel deeply, we would cease to exist.
There is no such thing as being too human. Your feelings are just as valid as a songbird’s melody. Your experiences are as real as the changing of seasons, and the flowing patterns of fauna that rely on the seasonal shifts. The generations that were silenced by the insecurities of those in power have subconsciously passed down their survival techniques, and I give them my thanks. Our ancestors did the best they could with the tools they had. However, their survival tools do not serve us anymore, and for that I am grateful.
This month highlights the necessity to approach mental health as we do physical health. It is intimidating that the brain is the one organ we still see as a mystery. Humans don’t like unknowns. It brings out the survivalist in us. Yet, here I am, wanting to shed kindness and compassion on the unknown complexities of our thoughtful perplexities, verses cowering in fear which leads to undermining the very core of what makes us human. Sure, our autonomy creates the outer exterior of being a person, however it’s really the inner experiences of our minds that color what it means to be human.
I challenge you to dip deep into your courage and embrace the uniqueness of you. Just as Zebras don’t feel shame for their individual pattern of stripes, we can break out of our generational patterns of shame tied to our own individuality. Lead by example, and those who matter will fall in step with you. It takes guts to be a leader in advocacy. Feel deeply, my friends. Validate your experiences. Cry, laugh, and connect authentically.
You are, and never will be a burden to those who matter.
Cheers to May.
Where the warmth of the sun begins to whisper the promises of the approaching summer haze. When most of our nation’s students stressfully sit for those dreaded final exams and parents scramble to finalize their children’s summer schedules. When we bear witness to Mental Health Awareness Month. Break out your green, y’all.
While the bulk of my profession centers around mental health awareness, I appreciate any excuse to increase the focal point on emotional well-being. In all honesty, it is one of the most neglected forms of health. Our current societal systems keep us stuck in the neglectful chokeholds our mentality suffers from. “Sick days” are dedicated to the times your nose leaks and your fevers spike. Most bosses smirk at the thought of someone claiming one of their precious personal days for something other than physically life concerning.
“Self care! Self care!” our world proclaims.
To be matter of fact, that is all quite lame.
Self-care goes far beyond bubble baths, chocolate, and long walks at dusk.
Self-nurturement is sitting with it. All of it. The emotional experiences that are the consequence of being human. Constructing invisible boundaries that keep our emotionality safe and our mentality secure. Learning how to say no without the influence of guilt. Carving out time dedicated soulfully to what lights our fulfillment on fire. Hitting the pause button when tragedy strikes defined by our own realities and holding space for the discomfort of the sorrow that wreaks havoc on our shattered hearts.
Self-care is perhaps one of the bravest and most uncomfortable forms of self-love we can sit with. This notion mimics the alterations of many Disney storylines. Something difficult to sit with has transformed into something heartwarming and fluffy. I won’t ruin it for you but go take a peek at the original Pinocchio or Cinderella stories. There is little to no “sparkle” within the narratives. It seems society took a look at the truth of self-care and did it’s best to shift away from the hard stuff. Instead, they added more bubbles, more exercises, and more “frills” until the discomfort was drowned out by the pretty.
But here’s the thing.
Self-care isn’t supposed to be pretty and wrapped up in a perfect bow. It’s meant to be messy, uncomfortable, and downright awful at times. Sorry to burst all the pretty bubbles.
We raise awareness for mental health to cultivate realistic conversations about what it takes to truthfully care for ourselves when life gets hairy. Fairytales are great escapes, but that’s all they are good for. Life will get hard and messy, and we will have to rise up and sit with the hard stuff. This is how we show ourselves the love and compassion each and every one of us deserve.
Sit with it folks.
All of it.
It’s not there to break you. Resist the urge to run from the discomfort. Bubble baths cannot dissolve our need for emotional processing. Chocolate cannot satiate the hunger for authenticity or connection. Walks at dusk cannot erase the pain from loss our hearts long to explore and make meaning from.
This is how we truly heal.