Letting Go: Connecting to the Self after Trauma and Loss

I would like to say that learning to love myself was an easy feat for me. It hasn’t been.

The idea of loving oneself sounds easy, but it’s so much more than a thought or feeling. To love oneself, is to embody love and to act accordingly.

The last decade or so has been an onslaught of heartache, disillusionment, and loss. Those I expected love from often fell short of reciprocating it in the way I needed. I gave an immense amount of time, energy, and attention to these individuals and consequently they occupied much of the “space” in my life.

I guess I thought if they loved me and showed their love through action and words, it would be proof that I was lovable and worthy of receiving love. Perhaps, there was a time when I even felt that in order for me to love myself, I must be loved by others. This belief has been shattered, along with many of the dreams that I had for my life. But, that’s ok because this needed to occur for growth and maturity, despite how painful it was at the time.

The absence of love was actually an opportunity, an unexpected open door. In the first few years of this time of growth, grief, and pain; I grew despondent, depressed, and even angry. I expected more from my family, my lover, and even some of my friends. I expected my workplace to be fair and for the world to be softer, gentler, and kind. I was naive and young and my innocence was beginning to fade. I was learning that life was hard and I often felt very alone.

I’ve written pages processing certain losses in my life. Many times, I became stuck on these losses and refused to go near the open door that seemed so warm and inviting, bursting with life. Instead, I stayed, staring at the wreckage. Time stood still. I grew sad, embittered, and fretful. I remained paralyzed in this place of constant fear, worry, and doubt for years. I was anxious, exhausted, and even bewildered, at times. People disappointed me. Most in my life that I knew intimately, had even been dishonest to me in one way or another, perhaps to protect themselves, or even, they felt, to protect me.

The last 4-5 years I set my intention of healing. I had been so sick from the lack of connection in my life, that I was in chronic pain and my anxiety level was through the roof. I had continual stomach issues and my neck and jaw often hurt due to the tension. I was holding a lot of pain inside. Perhaps, I felt I was protecting myself from “breaking”. There were times I felt that if I allowed myself to “feel” the pain, it would certainly overcome me, perhaps I wouldn’t survive it. I was terrified of sitting still and so I was moving constantly, becoming increasingly exhausted and alienated.

I eventually lost employment. Time marched on and out of a desire to feel physically better, I began to do certain things to connect to myself: meditation, singing, being in nature, etc. It was becoming increasingly evident that the greatest loss I had endured was the loss of myself. The years of struggle when I wasn’t loving myself, had left me feeling desperate and often in physical distress. I knew I had to change, but was clueless as to how.

I do feel now that I am resurfacing. Yet, I know that in order for healing to continue to occur, I have to continue to love myself by taking the actions that reinforce and strengthen the growing relationship with myself.

I feel that the things I have craved from others are actually reflections, often times exaggerated even, of what is missing within myself. I get angry and upset at others who are also “sick” and unable to connect and experience intimacy. Some of these people are family members, now permanently disabled from chronic and severe substance abuse. Stepping back, I realize that placing my energy and time in the emotional investment of people where a return is impossible (especially at the moment) is my own way of denying myself the intimacy I deserve. Oh snap! I thought to myself. Could I be engaging in the same actions they are, just in a different way? It is hard to let go of the “dream” of having a family that I can connect to, and yet, at the same time this world is full of people. Aren’t I worthy of finding my “tribe”?

It’s time to salvage what I can with those who at least try with me and invest in those who are in my life. I’ve decided to focus on the goals listed below moving forward. It’s funny that I’ve said some of these before, but I guess it takes time for things to sink in and be truly motivated to change. I am reminded again that I have asked others to change their behavior, but haven’t been consistent in changing mine. I know I’ve been impatient at times and in my grief regarding losing my family, even raged, becoming ugly. This isn’t who I truly am. Perhaps, I can extend compassion and forgiveness to others as I am learning to do so for myself. Old habits are easy and comfortable, and change takes time. I do feel it is coming and am encouraged despite relapsing into old “ways”. I believe in the old adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again”. I need to keep trying.

Here are some of my goals:

  1. Meditate at least once daily.
  2. Connect to my higher power, asking for help to “let go” of what I cannot control.
  3. Be mindful, practice mindfulness when taking my dog for walks and while eating a meal.
  4. Reframe the past, including many of the good memories.
  5. When upset, self soothe, use grounding techniques.
  6. Be intentional with how I spend my time and energy.
  7. Ask these questions when a difficult situations arise: Is it mine to handle? Can I realistically do anything to solve this problem? If not, disengage quickly and get involved in an endeavor that is either self soothing or one that redirects my mind.
  8. When negative thoughts surface, challenge them. Don’t believe every thought that comes into my head!
  9. Breathe.
  10. Use my acupuncture mat daily.

So, these are the things I hope to focus on in the coming weeks. Love more, forgive more, and be “lighter”.

On an even more personal note, our family experienced the death of a dear loved one, my sister-n-law, Lisa. She was truly a kind, caring, empathetic, and generous soul. She was a main support to me and was always there to lend an ear during troubled times or give sound advice. I can hear her telling me to “let go”, life is short, and to love from a distance. She knew of my struggles and was always supportive. I will miss her greatly and it is my desire to honor her life by becoming a better person. She will be greatly missed.

Life is often about perspective. I’d like to change mine, one day at a time. Love and light to everyone. Thanks for reading!

Unapologetically ME

I am ready to walk away from the wreckage that has suffocated and trapped me, like a caged songbird, unable to sing and soar, for so long.

I’m tired of being unhappy and devalued. Living in the shadows of a sociopath that has so much power and influence, my voice has often been muted. My actions are continually misunderstood and I’ve endured years of scapegoating, gaslighting, and character smearing. All because some are unwilling to acknowledge the truth and want to continue living in denial and dysfunction. I grow weary of defending what I know to be true and am often alienated because I confront behavior that I know to be reckless and dangerous, even. Admittedly, I’ve sometimes lost my dignity standing up for those who are truly vulnerable in the family system. Nothing feels worse, to me, than watching people you love who are drowning and having members of your family block you from being able to help them. The helplessness I have felt lead to my own hardening and rage.

Today is a new day. I forgive those who have hurt me and my loved ones and I release any hold they ever had on me. I forgive myself for begging for their love, attention, and time; living in an undignified position for so long.

Healing is not a linear process and I will not be surprised if I continue to slip every now and again. But, I do feel there has been change and growth. My ability to recognize and confront gaslighting when it occurs so that it doesn’t keep me “spinning”, has greatly improved. I also am beginning to “rage” less and express my anger more appropriately. For someone who was not allowed to express anger growing up, these steps are progress for me. As a child, and even well into my adult years, I feared expressing anger and repressed it. I felt and believed that “bucking the system” and expressing anger would place my life at risk. And so, I was denied the expression of it. When I finally began to use my voice, I often raged. There were times I even “blacked out” briefly when raging, not knowing how I got from point A to point B. I hold a lot of anger which is often sadness under the surface. I have an immense amount of grieving to do for what I’ve lost in this lifetime. But, for now…. one day at a time, right? And, I am experiencing many more moments of joy now that I have released some of the pain that I was carrying for so long.

I do have many regrets. I wish I had departed years earlier. I wish I had not tried so hard. I wish I had not moved my life, losing money and resources, to try and support relationships and help loved ones who did not value me. I regret the times I lashed out in anger, but more so regret the effort and energy I expended trying to help those struggling that went unnoticed and unappreciated. It’s not that I needed that much from them, but I sacrificed a lot for so little. And ultimately, all I truly wanted was connection in the end.

There are things I do not regret saying or doing.

I will never regret the times I stood up for the vulnerable children and the disabled adults living in the home. I won’t regret the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve learned to value and love myself and have gained a greater appreciation for my capacity to love and to forgive.

I will never regret confronting the dishonesty, gaslighting, emotional abuse, discarding, and stonewalling that I endured. I realize now that I stayed too long and continued to “rage”. I even grew embittered and jaded for awhile. At times, I admit that I became abusive myself. I do not excuse or justify my own mistakes or abuse. I take full accountability for them and wish I would have done better. I was learning how to let go while still holding on and fighting for those I loved. I knew I was losing the fight as nothing changed in the end. I know it got messy and even ugly, at times. I wish I could have just let people go without raging. Still, I do not regret the times I was able to retain my dignity and stand up for myself.

I am still not the greatest at getting my needs met in relationships. I have always gravitated towards those that use me or who are unhealthy. I can see now looking back how sick I was and that much of how I coped was ineffective. That being said, so many of my relationships have been hopeless. I was drawn to those unwilling to connect and I can see this more than likely developed from a lifetime of always longing, but never being satiated, full, or feeling safe when it came to intimacy and connection. I spent my entire life desiring visibility and connection, only to continue demanding it from those who were unwilling to provide it in the way I needed. There were always excuses and justifications as to why connection wasn’t realized. Often, I was blamed for wanting too much. This caused a lot of self loathing, anxiety, and insecurity. It took time for me to believe that I actually wasn’t getting my needs met and it wasn’t my fault. I was not asking for too much, nor was I ever “too much”. It took years of analyzing the behavior of my loved ones to garner the proof I needed to finally understand that those around me were truly struggling and sick in their own way. I spent years trying to convince them to get help to no avail.

The most difficult lesson in all of this was realizing that I had to let go of the dream of ever having a family that was close-knit. I don’t feel a part of my family. They don’t know who I am anymore and they often deny my pain and struggle related to the dysfunction, neglect, and abuse. It has become too hard for our two very different perceptions of the past and present to sit in the same space. I have tried for too many years and I am exhausted, sad, and even in chronic pain from the continual conflict and grief. I know what I have to do and I am taking the steps to do it.

I honestly think I am at the apex of acceptance. I can see looking back that I was unwilling to fully accept the reality that I wasn’t going to have what I wanted in this lifetime.

I wanted a close-knit family.

Because, I was unable to have children, I wanted to be a part of my sister’s grandchildren’s lives.

I wanted my nieces and nephews to heal from their upbringing and be healthy.

I wanted my marriage to work out. When it didn’t, I wanted my second significant relationship to work out.

I wanted to completely recover from the mental health struggles I live with, and instead, I now have additional diagnoses and am living on disability.

I wanted to date again and find true love. I simply want to love someone and be loved in return.

I wanted to have success in my career. I became to sick a few years ago and had to get onto disability so that I could take the time to recover as well as have a continuity of care. I am still struggling to get all my medical needs met (particularly with the pandemic).

I wanted to have a home one day and financial stability. This looks unlikely, but who knows?

And so, some of the above may not ever be realized. I am determined to start small.

Forgive myself. Forgive others.

Live in the present.

Enjoy what simple pleasures the day offers.

Stretch and sing more.

Do more of what makes me happy and joyful.

Set realistic goals and celebrate achieving them.

I am no longer in a race against others, nor will I compare myself to their successes or struggles.

I am me. I am ok. I am enough. And, most importantly, I am healing.

It is hard work. It is a process. And, the journey along the way is more precious and profound than any destination point a long the way.

I’ll be posting from time to time these moments of JOY. That is what I want my focus to be on in the end.

I accept what I have lost, but will do my best to no longer dwell on it, losing more precious time.

The following are pics from a little trip I took to Boulder City, NV and Hoover Dam. This area, along with a few others, are places I am considering moving to in time. Life is taking another turn. This time, I want my eyes to be wide open and my heart less heavy!

Thanks for reading!

A Heavy Burden to Bear: When Lack of Access to Affordable and Quality Healthcare Compounds Complex Trauma

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With the current focus on mental health issues relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I feel this is an opportune time to have an honest and frank discussion regarding access to affordable and quality mental healthcare services in America. Those of us who have been struggling for years living with a mental illness, are all too familiar with the challenges of finding the help that we need to not only reach stability, but maintain it. Often the services and programs to support recovery are difficult to access and some are virtually non-existent or not affordable. Most of us with lived experience have managed to piecemeal our recovery efforts over time to sustain our recovery, but we are also aware that services and programs fall short to meet the needs of many and, as a result, some unfortunately do not ever recover.

One of the main triggers for my depression is the lack of concern for those living among us who are struggling with a mental illness and/or addiction issues that often leads to incarceration, disability, or homelessness. I am particularly sensitive to these issues because of my own life long struggle with mental illness. It is also distressing for me to see those living with addiction issues who experience homelessness or incarceration because I have loved ones who struggle with addiction and I am empathetic towards the issues surrounding the disease.

For the past two years, I have been living in Los Angeles and the level of homelessness here in the city is at epidemic proportions. It is disturbing, to me, to see so many living on the streets in such dismal and dire circumstances. While not all who are homeless struggle with issues of mental illness or addiction, many of them do. As a consumer of mental health services for nearly three decades, I know first hand how difficult treatment can be to access and how, often times, the quality of treatment is poor. Services rarely include the continuity of care that leads to and enables long term recovery. Too many people are slipping through the cracks and it becomes nearly impossible for these individuals to remain in recovery when society lacks the infrastructure needed to support those rebuilding their lives. Most who have never experienced accessing mental health services firsthand are unaware of how deeply fractured the system is and make judgments without having the lived experiences of attempting to do so. As an educated individual who is able to advocate for myself, I have often been appalled by the way I have been mistreated, and even defeated, at times, by the lack of services available that would support and facilitate my recovery.

Many services and programs are often laden with structural and attitudinal barriers that even the most skilled, experienced, and educated individual would have difficulty navigating. My hope in sharing my story is to demonstrate the complex interplay between the individual struggling and the programs and services that are sometimes unavailable or of poor quality. Many times people seeking help are dealing with not only the symptoms of their illness, but also the consequences of struggling for too long in a system that lacks the wrap around services to truly help them. They also may be experiencing shame and frustration from having people in their lives who lack the awareness of how difficult it is to access help, make the false assumption that they are “just not trying hard enough”. Many who do not suffer have the wrong impression that help is easily accessible and they unknowingly invalidate the individual struggling. Using my own struggle, I hope to bring awareness of how one individual over the course of many years might experience several damaging experiences and this can lead, over time, to mistrust and a hesitancy to reach out. I am fortunate to have a good therapist at the moment who validates my complex history which is unfortunately littered with many incidents where I “hit a wall” when attempting to access help. I hope the following resonates with some of those struggling and sheds light on how challenging it can be, at times, to access quality care. The difficulty of accessing quality medical care, the services and programs needed to enable recovery, and the protections meant to prevent disability discrimination can create a challenging and difficult road for an individual who is struggling to recover from a mental illness or addiction. Below, I discuss examples from my own life to help contextualize each of these struggles in hopes to spread awareness and cultivate empathy for those doing their best to access the needed treatment and services to heal.

Lack of access to quality medical care and treatment. This can present itself in a variety of ways. Here are some actual incidents that have occurred to me personally that not only were damaging, but caused a relapse in my symptoms of anxiety and depression. Beginning with the most severe and damaging incident causing a distrust in the system, to the least offensive causing a delay in access to care, the following are my own personal experiences as a an educated individual attempting to access quality care for the disorders I live with: Bipolar 1, PTSD, Somatic OCD, and ADHD.

  • Denied access to an inpatient care facility for crisis stabilization: I was once forced to leave inpatient care prematurely after only one day of receiving treatment. I had waited roughly 36 hours in the emergency room department to be assessed by a social worker and was later admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit. Once admitted, I was able to sleep a few hours. I made the error of requesting to leave after feeling mistreated by one of the staff there. I immediately changed my mind and communicated my wishes to the staff as I knew deep down I needed the help and more than likely needed my medications adjusted. I also was waiting to receive a test that was ordered due to having breathing difficulties from a recent respiratory infection. The doctor there decided to discharge me, even though I was openly requesting help for the suicidal ideation that I was still experiencing. They forced me to leave treatment stating that if I did not leave, I would be ushered out of the inpatient unit by the hospital security. I was discharged with no medication change and the test that was ordered for my breathing difficulty was also not completed. This incident was probably the most damaging experience I have endured during all of my years of treatment for my mental health disorder. It not only placed me at increased vulnerability for a suicide attempt, but the hospital placed my physical health in jeopardy by not completing a test to determine why I was visibly having breathing issues.The incident was traumatizing and has made me not want to ever seek inpatient services again. I also felt powerless to do anything about the incident because I did not feel I would be believed. Other than to write a poor review of my experience on their Facebook page, I have taken no other actions and have moved my life forward.
  • Medical providers who have been unwilling to support workplace accommodations. I have had therapists or psychiatric providers who were unwilling to provide documentation to support my request of setting up accommodations in the workplace. This was particularly damaging because the delay caused by having to find a provider that would assist me in this way, lead to employers doubting that I had a disability that required accommodations. This also caused significant stress for me which only exacerbated my symptoms. Some providers are unwilling to assist in letters regarding unemployment claims or accommodations requests. This leaves the individual struggling with no real pathway to gain accommodations in the workplace unless one decides to change providers and this can take a lot of time.
  • Inability to afford or being waitlisted for needed healthcare services. I cannot count the amount of treatment opportunities (particularly recommended DBT classes) that were thwarted by lack of insurance or long waitlists. Many times I was willing and waiting for treatment to become available and the waitlist was either too long or it was too costly without my insurance providing payment.
  • Certain services that would be helpful are not covered by insurance companies. I was told over and over that residential care would be the most beneficial for me. And yet, my insurance through my workplace did not pay for this type of treatment. Plus, it would have been nearly impossible to get the time off of work required to complete the program. The cost was “out of reach” for me.
  • Denied access to needed treatment due to having to rely on Medicaid which often does not cover speciality care. While waiting on Medicare to “kick in” after being approved for disability insurance (SSDI), I was denied multiple needed treatments by Medicaid which caused my condition to worsen and my symptoms were exacerbated as a result. The process of waiting to receive access to quality care for both my physical and mental health for 2 years was a dehumanizing experience where I truly felt invisible and devalued. I was even suffering with a new medical condition that affected my swallowing whereby I had lost nearly 80 pounds in 6 months and I was denied multiple referrals to a gastroenterology specialty clinic. It was a terrifying experience to lose so much weight and not get the help I needed and it actually thwarted my initial plans to attempt working part-time. I was too sick and unable to get the care I needed through Medicaid. With Medicare in place now, I get the care I need and am grateful.

Lack of access to services/programs that facilitate recovery. Many of the program from housing, disability insurance, vocational rehabilitation, etc. are often inaccessible due to long waitlists or other factors. Below are some of my personal experiences trying to access these services and programs.

  • Being waitlisted for vocational rehabilitation services. When I lost employment due to being denied accommodations in the workplace, I immediately signed up for vocational rehabilitation services in the state of WA. I was approved for services, but waitlisted for nearly 3 years. By the time my name came up to be served, I had already moved out of the state with a friend in order to prevent homelessness. I consider myself lucky that I have people who have supported me when needed. Being in a state of vulnerability where I could not access the services to help me return to work, has made me more empathetic to those who do not have a “lifeline” and end up homeless.
  • The long wait time to be approved for social security disability benefits leaves the disabled more vulnerable to homelessness and loss of needed medical treatment. Waiting for disability insurance (SSDI) to be approved, was yet another dehumanizing experience that included many roadblocks that appear to be “set up” to deter people from gaining benefits. With determination and grit, I was able to get my benefits awarded in a little over a year. However, I know many more who wait 2 and 3 years and lose everything in the process while waiting.
  • Programs, like section 8 that helps low income adults afford housing, have long waitlists and are often difficult to access. I have attempted to learn about housing opportunities here in Los Angeles so that I can be independent again and begin working a part-time job. I was told by the Department of Mental Health and another social agency that in order to receive section 8 here in Los Angeles, I would need to be experiencing homelessness. I have placed a few more calls to request about other programs for low income individuals who are dependent on their disability insurance as their only means of income, but they have been very slow to get back to me. I realize I have to be persistent, but again not everyone struggling has my education level or access to the stability I have in housing to make contact in a consistent manner. They might not have access to reliable internet or a phone. Not everyone who is struggling is well enough to voice their needs and remain consistent in pursuing services.

Lack of protection when there is a denial of rights or services. Often when an individual living with a mental illness experiences discrimination in the workplace, a denial of treatment, or another abuse, it is too easy to discredit the individual as often the above can be difficult to “prove”. Many times people who struggle experience poor treatment or other damaging incidents, but they are unaware of their rights or even if they are aware, it is common due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness for a lawyer to decline representation to provide a remedy.

  • Workplace disability discrimination is more common than one might think and victims often are unaware of their rights or have difficulty gaining representation. I have experienced multiple incidents of workplace discrimination in the form of denied accommodations and even the refusal to engage in interactive discourse to facilitate the process of getting accommodations set up. This has lead to job loss, loss of housing, loss of health insurance, and ultimately a disruption in continuity of care. The entity where one can file a complaint of discrimination, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), is often very slow to act. It took a year for them to investigate a claim of discrimination that I reported and I was already in another place of employment when the investigation began. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the civil rights law that protects those living with a disability from discrimination in the workplace, however, it’s language is often not specific enough to provide true consequences for those engaging in discriminatory practices. More often than not, places of employment are able to escape the consequences of discrimination and this leaves the employee extremely vulnerable, having to pick up the pieces and move forward. Many people who experience discrimination in the workplace are fearful to defend themselves as they may need a descent reference or might wish to avoid other negative consequences of doing so.
  • There is little protection for those who experience mistreatment from a mental healthcare provider. One can file a grievance and I have, but I have never had anyone follow up with me. Lawyers are very hesitant to get involved because the stigma lends many to believe that those living with a mental illness may not be credible, particularly when in an inpatient setting. Obviously, reaching out to report can be re-traumatizing for the victim in and of itself, especially when the victim is not “believed”.

Many of my examples are more than likely relatable to so many living with a mental illness. And believe it or not, I have many more stories that I could share. These experiences compound upon one another, and, over time, truly “break” a person. It becomes harder to trust the system and more difficult to trust medical providers enough to open up again and risk being vulnerable in order to receive help.

Living through so many tough experiences, I feel compelled to speak out regarding these issues. Many times, people lack the compassion towards those struggling because they only are viewing the one incident that is being shown to them at a particular time. Life is complex and too often I see people minimizing an individual’s struggle because they are simplifying their experience by looking at only one incident. Living with a mental illness often comes with many layers of struggle from living with the stressors of income instability, job and relationship losses, and dealing with the shame that stigma causes for those struggling. All of this is in addition to managing the symptoms of their illness. More often than not, when someone is requesting help, they have been “kicked around” a bit in the system, told “No” a lot, and are truly trying. It is truly hard out there.

This begs the question: “Why do so many not care? Where is our humanity?” I view our world as the interplay between us, the environment, and the systems we create to support a healthy relationship between the two. When we have many homeless living on our streets, we have to ask ourselves, how healthy is our society? Perhaps, those struggling with mental illness are more aware of these issues because some are faced with these risks and this makes them more attuned to the struggle. It is just a thought. My experiences over time have truly cultivated empathy. It hurts to see so many living on the streets. I personally know how hard it is to access the few services that exist to help people and I’m aware that the care is not always of stellar quality. I am acutely aware that had I not had a support system in place, I, too, may be at risk for homelessness.

I also am aware that many who struggle with issues of addiction were raised in families where their parents struggled in similar ways. The system failed to serve them as children and now they are adults mirroring what they have learned. Our society often devalues those who are currently incapable of contributing. And yet, the infrastructure simply isn’t there to help people to contribute. I am educated, persistent, and able to advocate for my needs and it was still impossible, at times, for me to receive the help I needed. As a result, I ended up relapsing and now I even have other physical illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraines, that I feel are a culmination of living with an illness for so long and never “catching a break”.

I know in my heart that we have enough resources, talent, and creativity to address the problems of mental health issues and addiction that are now both at epidemic proportions. I feel if I want to see change in my community that I have a personal responsibility to act and to voice my concerns. Perhaps, in doing so people will become more aware of the challenges in addressing these issues, as they are complex and multi-layered. Isn’t it time to truly tackle mental healthcare in a creative way that not only changes lives, but changes our community and world? I would wager a guess that most people who do not see the value in serious mental healthcare reform would feel that it is too costly. In reality, the cost of the programs and services created to help families and individuals in need would be more than paid for by the decrease in rates of incarceration, disability insurance, and other medical costs incurred by individuals requiring repeated care due to relapse, etc. Investing in those who are struggling and early intervention/prevention will provide for less dependence overall.

Many times I can hear in people’s tired voices, who indicate that they are depressed, that they don’t know how to put their struggle into words. That is is “too much”. I hope by articulating my struggle I have shaved off a bit of the “iceberg’ so to speak that keeps so many of us immobile. It is too much and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to receive the treatment and services we need to help us truly recover. Society has a responsibility to meet us half way. No one is an island and the more we work collectively to address these systemic issues, the healthier our entire society will be. Our wealth, power, and sense of community is only as strong as our most vulnerable members living within it. How we treat those struggling is the difference between a decaying society and one that is flourishing, truly “rich”, and healthy.

I have hope in humanity. We are resilient and innovative. I hope by sharing my own complicated struggles that some become aware of the different issues impacting many of us who are still paddling at the surface, treading water. Give us a hand, pull us to shore. Be willing to listen. Many of us are willing to share, work, and engage with you. The struggle of so many has been weighing heavy on my heart this year and this is hopefully just the beginning of my own role as an advocate.

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The Political Divide and How it is Impacting My Mental Health

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This past year has been truly difficult for me. Election years in America seem nearly intolerable anymore, with hate and division sewn on both sides that have often left me feeling hopeless and “small”. Many times I feel as though people are talking over one another, belittling others, and even engaging in bullying behavior. Admittedly, I have, at times, engaged in these fruitless pursuits. But, many more times than not, I end up deleting my post or comments entirely, especially if it gains traction. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the energy to argue as I often wind up feeling defeated and even downright depressed.

This last year has been particularly hard for me. The rhetoric, tension, and dysfunction displayed on social media, parallels the narcissistic abuse I have been disengaging from in my own life. As many others, my leisure options have been somewhat limited due to the restrictions placed on our city to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Boredom sets in and I become restless, seeking stimulation on-line. The division and animosity felt on both sides leads me to retreating again and again, with a greater commitment each time to not “engage” anymore. But, I would be amiss to not share some of the observations I’ve made and what I’ve learned by disengaging.

Ultimately, and even oddly, this year has mirrored so much of what is occurring in my own personal life. I was diagnosed a few years ago with PTSD and this year has triggered my trauma while at the same time, providing the space and time to address it. The year 2020 has seemingly pushed me to my breaking point and forced me to deal with some of the harder emotions I had tried in the past to “stuff” and ignore. It’s been more challenging to distract myself when I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. As challenging as it has been for me to maintain stability in my mental health, I feel I’ve grown immensely during this time and have actually relied even more so on different and new ways to cope.

Here are some of the ways the political division and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted my mental health and the ways in which I am coping.

  • Becoming more aware of how stress is impacting my physical and emotional health. This year has allowed me to practice the skill of being more mindful and present. As a result of many businesses being shuttered, and having “less on my plate”, I have been able to slow down a bit and take notice of how stress is impacting my body. Being on social media with others during a time of less distraction, has allowed me to understand how unresolved conflict and the outward expression of it, causes an exacerbation of my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began making the connection between the unhealthy relationships in my life and the impact they were having on my health. This has taught me to disengage more, not just on-line, but also with those in my life who are unhealthy for me.
  • Acknowledging when to disengage and practice self care. This last year has been difficult to witness. I can remember watching the first presidential debate and cringing. I couldn’t bring myself to actually “look” at the TV. The constant interruptions and “talking over one another” put me on edge and I found myself staring at the floor, almost feeling like I was the one being berated and criticized. I had to turn off the TV after a few minutes, because it was actually unsettling, and even triggering, to me in the end. Watching the debates kinda reminded me of the calm before the storm in my own life. The times I allowed too much from others, then later found myself swept up in emotion, raging. The constant on-line bickering also felt like a personal assault to me. I realized how toxic the on-line environment was and became more aware of certain negative patterns in my own life. This lead me to the process of disengaging and spending more time practicing self-care. This has allowed me to more quickly recognize my triggers and disengage earlier.
  • Acknowledging when relationships are truly hopeless, letting go, and redirecting my time and energy to worthwhile pursuits. The political divide, I feel, has mirrored, in ways, my own personal struggled with those in my life who often are not interested in compromise, yet still hold some level of power or influence in the lives of those I love. As a person who lives on disability insurance, I do not hold a lot of power in society, and voices like mine can often easily be muted or “drowned out”. The limited scope of power, both in my personal life and politically, has taught me to set stronger boundaries in order to protect and preserve my energy so that I can make a difference where I realistically can. Setting boundaries with myself and others and engaging in self-care, and not feeling guilty for doing so, has been a lesson I have learned during this time. Certain relationships are hopeless. Much like the futile attempts on-line to change someone’s political opinion, I have learned to just “let go” instead.

Election years are tough anymore. And this past one, coupled with a global pandemic, provided the space, time, and conflict to usher in a few “life lessons”. Even though it has been tough, I am grateful for what I have learned. I spent more time getting to know myself and was able to grow emotionally and spiritually during a time of turmoil. Life can be difficult and even painful, at times. With 2020 behind me, I feel like I have a few more tools in my toolbox as far as knowing how to disengage, set better boundaries for myself, and invest in endeavors that provide personal growth and contentment.

What lessons did 2020 teach you? Did you find yourself able to make some changes in your life that helped you, big or small? I definitely feel the the past year was a turning point. I’ve turned more towards myself and this has helped me to manage and cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Here’s to hoping this year brings even more light and and self-love to everyone’s journey of healing!