My husband and I were chatting the other night over dinner about a peculiarity we share. When we were younger, school was a natural alignment to time, such as when we were in certain grades or the year we graduated. I’m fairly certain this alignment to memories to what occurred when was somewhat clear, yet there is no promise to that. It seems the majority of my memories “pre-COVID” are a jumbled conglomeration of more innocent times filled with handshakes, hugs, and far less Lysol.
When I examine time post-COVID, the clarity is uncanny. I can distinguish memories easily, as can my husband. Whether it be attributed to the short-term or stress, it's irrelevant. It seems we are stuck with the reality that this virus is not fizzling out anytime soon.
For those who are unsure, Adjustment Disorder is a very real diagnosis. It is when there is a development of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor that has a clinical impact and impairment on one’s ability to function within 3 months of the stressor.
Folks, we are roughly eighteen months into a hellish nightmare with no break in sight. Opinions aside, I am back to counseling with a mask on and maintaining as much social distance as appropriate. Parents sit on my couch with death grips on tissues as they process the feat of sending their children back to school yet feeling as if they are sending them into warzones. Hospitals are overflowing once again, medical professionals are seeing double, shortages of goods haunt us within most every facet of our lives. The unknowns keep us up at night, fear grips our subconscious as COVID continues to place our loved ones within hospital walls we are unable to step foot in. Unpredictability is enmeshed within our worlds and it’s showing.
It’s difficult to adjust and flex to the demands of regularly-programmed life when there is a constant stressor of a pandemic looming over our heads. We notice our zones of tolerance are shrinking, our impulsiveness to cope in unhealthy, yet numbing manners increase, and we teeter on the edge of crippling burnout on the daily. What’s-his-face is screaming at so-and-so, and the blame game is circulating like wildfire.
As a nation, I would diagnose us with Adjustment Disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. F43.25. Clinical recommendation of consistent therapy is encouraged.
Too bad access to beneficial mental health support and/or care is near to none at the present moment.
In case anyone is wondering what career to choose, we need mental health therapists desperately. The demands for therapy have quadrupled over the past eighteen months. Go figure.
So what do we do? The most exhausted question of the therapy room recently.
We keep going.
Validate the slew of emotions that may wreak havoc on your heart. Cultivate boundaries and build them up high around your own self care and investment in grounding yourself in the present. Recalibrate the universe by small acts of kindness and shared smiles. Recognize the uniqueness of your perspective. Invest in sleep. Take your vitamins.
Don’t undermine the resiliency you muster every single day.
You deserve a sticker.
Have you ever seen the movie Up? You’d remember if you did, it hits you right in the feels. An iconic character throughout the film was a bubbly talking Labrador, Doug. Doug provided a plethora of comedic relief, and one of the scenes that stuck with me was when he was enthusiastically engaged in dialogue with someone until he caught eye of a critter, in which he abruptly proclaims mid-sentence “SQUIRREL!”.
Despite our best efforts, we have a lot in common with this goofy pup.
We exist in a world fueled by minimization and are perpetually distracted by irrelevant knick-knacks.
Think about it.
We giggle when kiddos faceplant and pop up to exclaim “I’m OK!”
Our workplaces pressure us to “man up” when we are under the weather or face emotional tragedy.
We fire off excuses to provide cushion for those who let us down or experiences that time and time again evoke disappointment.
“Yeah, she forgot my birthday, but she has a lot going on at work so it’s OK”
“He yelled at me for burning the chicken, but he had a hard day and was stuck in traffic on the way home.”
Switch gears to knick-knacks and we all have a little Doug in us. Us humans go on quests for dopamine through perusing things irrelevant to actual fulfillment. This can take many forms particular to the soul we are referring to. If we feel uncomfortable emotions, we lean on Amazon, booze, adopting cats, and taking a hit off of a vape. Instead of being taught how to ride the wave of emotionality in its authentic form, we are victims of more instant gratification through the “shiny” and convenient.
“I could reach out to a therapist to help me process my grief of losing my mother… or I could go to Target to take my mind off things.”
*Insert friendly reminder here*
One’s headspace is far more comfortable the more we validate our own experiences. Minimizing our emotions and perspectives is one of the hardest and most prevalent habits to break. The dismissal- saturated narrative of our realities fuels the cultivation of unhelpful thought patterns. These can include coming down with a case of the “shoulda coulda wouldas”, black or white thinking, or mind-reading just to name a few. It’s apart of healthy boundaries to vocalize when one’s boundaries have been breached and feelings have been hurt. Fun fact, feelings serve a purpose, as obnoxious as they may be. Anger signifies when there is an unmet need, sadness highlights the significance of something to us, and nervousness highlights when our bodies believe increase arousal is key to survival.
I recently coined the phrase “Don’t overlook your joy in the pursuit of your happiness”.
While we cannot outrun the “Doug” in us, let’s all aim to “SQUIRREL” at the things in our life that fuel our joy. We are all perpetually seeking our fantasied “final happiness destinations” in one fashion or another. Yet, many of us (including myself) overlook the joy right in front of us along the journey of life. What if we “squirreled” at the dazzle of the smile of someone we love? Or we pause to appreciate the amazement in a child’s eyes dancing in the light of fireworks? Or backtrack to admire the radiance of a deep-red flower along the sidewalk on our ways to our cars in the mornings before work?
Tune into the awareness of how minimization and the preoccupation of irrelevant knick-knacks within your day-to-day. Your soul will thank you.
Truth be told, there is nothing ‘idle’ about me. I feel most at home in my body when I’m on the go, embracing the fluidity I have been blessed with. What’s even better is when I’m able to move in harmony with another, my favorite being a horse. My mind seems to follow my body’s lead in congruence, reliably mulling over one thing or another. Chipping away at a goal, even if the goal must be creatively dreamt up. I am pretty certain my spirit animal is the Energizer Bunny. The beat of my metaphorical drum sounding its predictable melody day after day.
It was so much easier to feel at home in my mind and body before my world got turned on its head.
My paths to busy were smooth from years of trekking. My mindfully preoccupying outlets were secure and oh-so-comfortable. I practically purred from contentment.
I had the security of a textbook, the support of superior supervising professionals, and the joy of my horse I felt soulfully connected to.
The noise of my contentment drowned out the fact time was marching forward. Subtle, and then all at once, I was met with the consequence of growing up.
I’m left looking around my world, lost in the aftermath of a chapter of a good time.
Clutching a halter with no horse to catch, entering a barn with no whinny to welcome.
The letters following my name signal my expertise, however lonely it may be.
Grief has become a heavy brick I tote around during my days. I have mastered the art of neatly tucking it away as I pull on my ‘therapist-mask’ to disguise the sadness pooled behind my eyes. I admit, I leave this mask on after I exit the therapy room on days the brick is too rough to sit with. It creates distance not only from myself, but from my longing for the mane I so desperately want to bury my face in.
Yet, despite this brick, I have also begun to feel joy again. At first, it came out of nowhere; the laughter bubbled up from my chest, clearing out the cobwebs as it sounded from my soul. The reason was just as equally ridiculous. I was watching a short clip of people parkouring onto foam, yelling from the top of their lungs. Something in me clicked into place, as if a cogwheel within my heart became unstuck. For whatever reason, something about the ridiculousness of these men flinging themselves off of high places to land dramatically in a pile of foam was deeply relatable. A perfect example of what it has felt like to move through this past year. Suddenly, I was peeling with laughter, the sound startling all occupants of my home. For those few moments my soul leaned into joy and I relished in the lightness. As if I had rubbed the fog off a cloudy mirror and caught a glimpse of the girl who had gone into hibernation the moment she kissed her beloved horse goodbye.
Since then, I’ve been mindful about my body and mind’s propensity for both. During my days, I take note of the heaviness of my evolving grief, and yet the beginnings of other sensations like passion and enjoyment. Feelings I had all but given up on. Feelings I soulfully believed were buried alongside Sadie. I traveled through life for a long time believing she was the keeper of my happy.
While Sadie took such good care of my heart, it’s time for me to take back ownership. It was never Sadie’s burden to bear the responsibility of my joy, and I realize this now. She blessed me with innumerable gifts, and the ability to grow up with the guarantee of my happy being tangible out in the world was one of them. No matter the obstacle, she was there. No problem could outweigh the promise and security I knew from the love of that creature. It’s the kind of fierce love that knows no limits, even after one soul is gone. I feel her all around me, and I feel her in the preservation of my joy.
Sometimes sadness can bear an overpowering brunt on us. Anger can flow through our veins and ignite us with rage. But I want to recognize that these times are guaranteed temporary. Our range of emotion and the rhythm of the ocean have something in common in that is they flow. Emotions and the ocean waters are never stagnant. There is a promise in our abilities to feel more than one emotion at any given time. Just as we can be brimming with sorrow, we can also peel with laughter than warms our bones and hurts our cheeks. We can feel deeply, and many things at a time, and this is a good thing. This is our ticket to healing.
Lean into the space where the comfortable and uncomfortable exist.
This is authenticity in its rawest form.