I am great in a crisis. Down to the wire is my jam. I can make things happen fast when I need to. For instance… someone is hypothetically coming to drop by my house in 15 minutes. I can whip my kitchen and living area into makeshift shape so fast you would think I was Samantha from Bewitched with a magical nose twitch. I can prove it. Just do NOT ask for a tour or to see any bedrooms.
I can claim that my procrastination comes from my calendar being maxed out by work, volunteering, kid’s activities, etc. but if I am being honest I was a procrastinator before I had just cause. It is one of the most frustrating things about me for many people who love me…I am sure of it.
This part of my personality, the part that is always right on time to 180 seconds late for 99.9% of the meetings and/or events I attend, struggled with the concept of self-care in a preventative manner. Deep breathing was always a go to coping skill in an anxious moment, but taking the time to mindfully breathe in the moments of my day that were filled with joy, peace, excitement, etc. was a less natural process for me to adapt to. I have a habit of cramming my day full. I know what you are thinking and YES, I have dug deep and self-examined to determine if busyness is a form of numbing for me…but I conclude that (more times than not) I just really like to carpe the shit out of each day. I like to do “all the things” and live to tell about it. (That is not to say that I have not been known to use distraction with a list of responsibilities as a way to avoid the tough stuff, I definitely am guilty of running away from struggles.)
Because of these realities of my personality and lifestyle, accepting and implementing preventative self-care has been an invaluable for me. I am perpetually “fine” until I am not. I have a high threshold for stress, but most of the time the straw that breaks my back is seemingly anticlimactic. To prevent these moments of losing it is crucial that I schedule self-care into my day to day activities. For me personally, self-care looks like:
Updating my planner
Updating our family budget (not fun, but necessary)
Getting ahead of my housework (also not fun, but necessary)
And of course, God willing…a massage, pedicure, or yummy dinner out that I do not have to prepare every once in a while.
These are the concrete, tangible activities that I go to for reprieve and peace. These moments provide opportunity to fill my cup, charge my batteries, fuel my engine; I think you get the idea. However, there is also a mindset to acknowledge here. What mindset is indicative of someone who is resilient to stress and crises? Brené Brown has a lot to say about resilience, specifically related to shame. Her book, Rising Strong™, is all about getting up after you fall flat on your face. She says that people who understand their values, are willing to be vulnerable, offer one another and themselves compassion and empathy, and who make an effort to recognize their emotional reactions to life events and process them in a way that allows rumbling and introspection rather that remaining in an emotionally triggered vacuum are more resilient. If you have not been living under a rock, then you have heard about the self-care sensation sweeping the nation, Girl Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis. Hollis discusses real life hurdles, overcoming them and persistently pursuing your dreams. Her mindset is contagious and she is creating a movement of empowered women who want to be better at being authentic and confident…and who want to remember their worthiness. Hollis says:
“know this one great truth: you are in control of your own life. You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by. Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it too. Stop accepting less than you deserve. Stop buying things you can’t afford to impress people you don’t even really like. Stop eating your feelings instead of working through them. Stop buying your kids’ love with food, or toys, or friendship because it’s easier than parenting. Stop abusing your body and your mind. Stop! Just get off the never-ending track.”
Like many moments in her book, this truth might be hard to swallow. However, there are times that a temporary crisis can turn into a lifelong battle as a result of our mindset and misguided coping skills. Recognizing and EMBRACING the power that we have over our own life is crucial. We will undoubtedly face grief, crisis, stress, heartbreak, trauma and other unexpected and hard realities; however, we are more likely to be resilient in the face of these realities if we take care of our minds, bodies and souls on a regular basis. Making ourselves a priority in the manageable moments, helps us to survive the moments that feel insurmountable. There will be moments that wreck our souls and deplete our resources; this is the dark part of the human experience. Those moments may not be avoidable, but knowing ourselves well enough to recognize our needs in the darkest of moments can lead to healing.
“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
We cannot allow the overwhelming, difficult, devastating moments define our entire identity. However, the value of embracing our entire truth, our entire story (even the stuff we wish we could deny) gives us power. When we talk about the parts of our lives that are difficult, we are less likely to be consumed and fall victim to them. When we stop trying to achieve perfection and recognize that we WILL fall short and we DO NEED help, we are going to have the ability to experience increased joy and increased connection with one another.
Crisis often translates into feelings of shame, resentment, failing, not being enough, etc. We have to decide to not be victimized by our struggles. We must learn ourselves, recognize our individual needs, know when we are emotionally hooked/triggered, develop a set of go to coping skills and choose to take the reins when life seems to take us for a ride. The dark days our inevitable, life is a constant struggle. Our time here on this Earth is an opportunity to grow in our faith, cultivate connections and rise above the pain and to choose to embrace joy and peace. Rather than allowing anxiety and fear of what you do not know control your existence, prepare for the tough stuff by fostering resiliency today and each day. Develop your self-care regimen and pursue a mindset of empowerment and resilience. Susan Grimm says:
“Even in the grimmest of circumstances, a shift in perspective can create startling change.”
Our mindset, our perspective can lead us to chase after darkness or confidently turn towards the light. I will be over here looking for the sun friends.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…Theodore Roosevelt
In the month of June, I had the privilege of attending the Daring Way™ Training in Minneapolis. The Daring Way™ is curriculum based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. Brené Brown has published various books covering the topics of shame, vulnerability, resilience, courage, worthiness, owning our story and so much more. I have been a fan girl for quite some time. Not only do I enjoy and respect her research, I can relate to her story and voice. She is incredibly authentic about her struggles and background and she does not take herself too seriously. No question…she knows what she is talking about and her grounded theory method leads to many feeling like she is talking directly to them as they read and listen to her thoughts. Yet, she consistently presents as a human being, a flawed yet beautiful and impactful human being. (As I gush about her, you can see what I mean by fan girl.) For years I have wanted to attend this sought after training and, luckily, with the work that I am doing at Wise Health System, I was able to attend this year. My organization sent me because they recognize the value of this work and the impact it can have on our employees and the community.
I arrived in Minneapolis on a Sunday afternoon right as the Pride Parade was wrapping up. I immediately felt the vibrancy and warmth of this city. I checked into my huge hotel room at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Minneapolis (got quickly excited about not having to clean for 4 days and the idea of 8 hours of sleep without interruption.) My nights typically involve wrangling my 3 beautifully energetic, adventurous and messy children and then sharing the bed with all of them and their unique and unassuming sleeping positions.
That night I had the chance to catch up with a dear friend, Torie, who is wrapping up her law degree and doing important work in child protection. She told me about her love for the city, her dreams for her career and I felt like I got to know the woman she has become. I already loved this trip before my bucket list training even began.
Day One of The Daring Way™: I wake up and only have to worry about getting myself ready!!! Wowza. When I drank my first cup of coffee for the day…it was HOT! So far, so good. I catch my scheduled ride to the training and have the pleasure of meeting an incredible primary care physician from Canada named Melanie. The driver pulled away not knowing that he was leaving another lady waiting on transportation behind but we quickly circled the block and came back to get her. I am so glad that we met in this moment because she became an important fixture in my Minneapolis experience, and I am hopeful, that we will continue to explore this work and life together moving forward.
This training requires an application and pre-work process. I earned my way here and did the work to hold a seat with these impressive folks. Despite my excitement and preparation for this experience, as I hear members of my small group tell their stories and what brought them to this training…I have flooding thoughts of imposter syndrome. I am wondering if I have the chops to be here and I am praying that I have meaningful thoughts to share throughout this time. The beauty of this curriculum focusing on shame, vulnerability, and living brave is that we all eventually discussed our fears and identified that multiple people in that room were feeling the exact same way. We cover values, relationships, trust, vulnerability, empathy and self-compassion during the activities and conversations of Day 1. This curriculum pushes you to face fears and own the thought processes that keep you from living an authentic life. You gain insight and courage to truly allow yourself to enter “the arena.” Exploring this with the women in my group, led by an incredible facilitator was a gift. Reeling from excitement and inspiration, 5 of us went to dinner at a great rooftop restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. Three Canadians, a magical gal from San Fran, and I enjoyed conversation about human rights, politics, advocacy and dreams. Building these relationships and debriefing the content of our training was arguably as beneficial as the training itself. I hope to always have the chance to touch base with these women and witness the amazing work they will do.
Day Two of Daring Way™: This was by far, from an emotionally challenging perspective, the toughest day of training. Shame was central to our conversations. I felt closer to each of the women in our group as we worked through tough topics and offered vulnerability, authenticity and empathy to one another. I was physically and emotionally whipped after 8 hours of shame education and processing, so I opted to spend my time that evening at the free happy hour and ordered an (essentially) free meal because I chose to go the green route and re-use my towels throughout my trip. (I received 2 $5 vouchers in turn for making an environmentally friendly choice – I have taken free meals for less honorable reasons.) Again, I was surrounded by colleagues who were also receiving this refining and thought-provoking training. We talked about parenting, magic, our specialties and, again, our dreams surrounding our practice and individual communities. I relished in this interaction and exchange. Relationships are so valuable to me and most of my favorite people in life have come to me during these types of experiences.
Day Three of Daring Way™: We got to enter the Rising Strong™ curriculum on the final day of training. Throughout the Daring Way™, “participants are invited to examine the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are holding them back and identify the new choices and practices that will move them toward more authentic and wholehearted living. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills and developing daily practices that transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.” When we Dare Greatly, we will fall. In Rising Strong™ participants learn “what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of struggle gives us the power to write a daring new ending. Struggle can be our greatest call to courage and the clearest path to a wholehearted life.” We only partially delved into this material as we learned about expectations and next steps moving forward: four weeks of online training + six months of case consultation prior to becoming an officially Certified Daring Way Facilitator (CDWF.)
I said my goodbyes to my newly developed friendships, small group and my wonderful facilitator (who has an emphasis on mindfulness in her own practice which could NOT have been more perfect.) As I headed back to Texas, I was flooded with excitement to get back to my family, but also with inspiration and ideas about integrating this meaningful material into my practice, organization, blog, relationships and life in general. My heart was (and still is) full of gratitude. The value of exploring these topics is difficult to express briefly. This work is life changing and the reality that I will be able to bring this work into my practice is ridonkulously amazing.
I continued with the four weeks of online training and am now getting set up with a case consultant to develop a relationship with and learn from over the next six months. I plan to offer groups, workshops, retreats, intensives and individual counseling utilizing this curriculum. My personal growth from this training is evidenced by my ability to realign with my core values, honor my boundaries, walk in authenticity and live brave. I cannot wait to share this with my clients and community. The practice of mindfulness is relevant to this work and discussed in both Daring Way™ and Rising Strong™. Let me know if you are interested in getting plugged in to an upcoming group, workshop, or retreat! You can also look for Daring Way™ opportunities near you here: The Daring Way
Check out my creative project on Shame versus Authenticity!
The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. Mark Twain
I sometimes find myself toting a “badge of honor” surrounding my busYness. You know what I mean right?? “Well I have so many things to do and I have taken on so much responsibility, my time is incredibly valuable because I must be the busiest person ever. I have 3 kids, 1 full time job, 3 side gigs, I sit on multiple boards and committees, but what else can I do for you?” I squeeze too much into my days and find myself running right on time or 5 minutes late to every meeting, commitment, birthday party, etc. This behavior and lifestyle is fueled by years of well-defined perfectionism and people pleasing. I feel pulled to say YES to all the things. All. The. Things. Taking on more than I can handle is not something I should hang my hat on. Learning to achieve balance in my life is a more valuable endeavor. Thank you Jesus that I discovered the beauty of balance and the power in the pause before I ran myself ragged.
In my journey with mindfulness, self-awareness, and (in lots of ways) awakening…I have learned a few things. One is that I enjoy an active lifestyle. I like going, moving and being productive. I like adventure. I like to get my kiddos out of the house. I enjoy the community-centered mindset of getting plugged in and making an impact. For me, self-care is about achieving a balance of saying NO when I really need to, but also saying YES when I want to and making sure that I do “all the things” in a way that promotes well-being for me and my family. Something that has been life-changing for me is the beauty of the pause. Taking pause in moments when I feel overwhelmed, when I am triggered or feel a rush of frustration, right before I have a scheduled session with a client, moments before I speak before a room full of people, when I finally sit down to nurse my sweet Maya, when my kids ask me to play with them, when I take a walk to recharge my batteries. At times, simply taking pause before I commit to or refuse to take on a new task makes all the difference. These (and many more moments) are enhanced or improved by my willingness to practice taking pause. This pause provides a moment to check in with myself, to provide a level of control regarding my brain’s instantaneous capacity to finish the story or create worst case scenarios and it allows me to soak in the beauty and gratitude of each moment. Kristin Armstrong says:
It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.
That is a perfect way to describe what I have found in my own pause practice. Drawing my attention to my breath. Checking in with my body to learn more about why I am feeling the way I am feeling. Am I truly overwhelmed and anxious, or did I just drink one too many cups of coffee? (oops, often that is EXACTLY the reason) Soaking in my surroundings. Shifting my perspective to move forward in a mindset of awareness, gratitude and openness. What I love is that pause/rest/awareness often produces new beginnings and motivation. It is not about ceasing activity forever, it is about taking the time to be genuinely mindful in our actions and responses. I remember when my sister was first encouraging me to implement meditation into my daily, self-care routine I would think about how I did not have time to stop for that long. There was no way that I could just not be productive for long enough to create a meditative space. I did not understand the ways that mindfulness and meditation can be wrapped into our daily activities. I also had this ridiculous idea in my mind that I had to be forever chill and perpetually relaxed to be successful at mindfulness. Mindfulness is a coping skill. Mindfulness is a way of life that transforms the perspective with which we view ourselves, our surroundings and our purpose. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with productivity, in fact, it enhances performance and focus.
I wanted to talk about some of the methods that I have used to implement pause into my day to day life:
The STOP Method: I have referenced this activity more than once in my blog, because it is effective and simple. This one minute breathing space is a guided thought activity that is perfect for a shift in perspective or to relax when you are feeling triggered:
S: STOP what you are doing. Close your eyes. Put your work down or your task away for this moment in time.
T: TAKE a deep breath. Draw your attention inward and focus on controlling your breathing pattern. I enjoy tactical breathing in this space. Inhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4, Exhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4. Put this on repeat until you feel that you have been able to clear your mind and focus fully on your breath.
O: Observe your surrounds, your thoughts, your feelings. Are you seated? What does the support of the chair feel like? Are you hot, cold, relaxed, tense, etc.? Think about your 5 senses. What do you hear, smell, feel, etc.? If specific thoughts and feelings are present, take a moment to non-judgmentally acknowledge them. Simply having the ability to define your current emotional state of being is empowering.
P: Proceed into the next moments with an increased level of positivity, awareness and openness.
This method can be used in various ways throughout your day. When you first wake up, rather than grabbing your phone to check notifications, take a moment to check in with yourself and get oriented to your immediate environment. When you are in the shower, take pause to experience the cleansing and relaxing task at hand. As you are sitting at your desk and you find yourself in a state of distraction, practice the STOP Method to regain focus.
Mindful Eating: In the world of numbing, food is my go to drug of choice. If I am stressed, sad, frustrated or bored, I am much more likely to make bad nutritional choices. Taking pause before I ask for another bowl of chips and salsa, drawing my attention inward as I open the fridge at 10:00 at night, or checking in to see if that bowl of ice cream is meeting a nutritional need vs. an emotional need has created a level of control with my food intake than anything else. Taking pause allows you to check your intentions and motivations. Being mindful of my choices rather than acting in reactive or impulsive ways helps me to honor my values and personal goals. Mindful eating can also enhance the way that we experience flavors and textures of our food. Slowing down to experience meals is a great way to practice mindfulness.
YOGA: On days where I am feeling especially overwhelmed, yoga allows me to create space for mind and body relaxation. It certainly requires the ability to remove distractions as you commit to the practice. This practice has taught me me to build increased awareness of my body and the places where tension and stress might hide. The concepts taught in yoga practice can be utilized in many facets of life and interaction. In my role as Employee Assistance Program Manager at Wise Health System, I have developed a program in partnership with our fitness facility that offers employees a Yin Yoga class during their lunch breaks twice weekly. The goal is to not only provide them will rejuvenation in those 2 hours of yoga practice each week, but also to help them learn how to separate, pause and practice self-care in the midst of stress and demanding work loads.
Personal Time-Out: Oh the good old “time out.” As a parent, I certainly use this one with my children. This gives them time to breathe, calm down, think about and discuss their behavior with me or their Daddy. I have found that I could use a time-out almost as often as my 6 year old. I facilitate Parent Café’s with the Wise Coalition for Healthy Children which is a great community initiative sponsored by Cook Children’s Hospital. We utilize Nurturing Parenting curriculum and in the Stress Management presentation we hand out magnetic timers. We recommend that parents use these for their own emotional regulation as much as for timing the time-out punishment when their children make poor choices. Taking pause in moments of conflict, stress and discipline can transform the way that we react to triggers. Whether it is with your spouse, children, co-workers or anyone else try to implement a pause when you are feeling triggered. Rather than allowing fear, anger, embarrassment and disappointment regulate your emotions…take a breath, try to rationally connect the dots in your brain and step away if you need to. Commit to returning to resolve the conflict, but sometimes taking 5 minutes to shift your perspective can be a gift to yourself and to the people in your life.
With the simple addition of these pause practices; we can be more in tune with and in control of our emotional reactions to life. This practice is full of struggle in the beginning, but just like a new workout routine or rehabilitation for an injured muscle… your body and mind will become more capable of taking effective pause and the process will become natural with practice and dedication.
Where have you learned to take pause in your life? How has slowing down to enhance awareness changed your experiences? I would love to hear from you and how mindfulness is transforming you and your relationships.
Greetings friends! It has been a little bit since I last made a post. Lots of life has happened. Lots of mishaps…lots of mindfulness. The stories will come, I promise but today I wanted to approach the topic of forgiveness. I am currently in the middle of training to become a Certified Daring Way Facilitator. This means I will be certified to utilize the curriculum of Dr. Brene Brown in my individual and group therapy, in workshops, etc. I have a difficult time expressing in written word how thrilled I am about this experience and the ability to formally implement her work on vulnerability, shame, resilience, bravery, and so much more into my clinical practice. In today’s online class, we are Rumbling in our Rising Strong process. In brief summary (for full understanding I recommend you read Rising Strong,) when we show up, be seen and live brave we are going to have face down moments. We will fall. We will hurt. We will be brokenhearted. There is so much beauty in our ability to rise following our fall. This week’s content focuses on the portion of our struggle that faces grief, forgiveness, anxiety and criticism. In MY facedown moment there was certainly grief and certainly forgiveness. The curriculum uses a quote by Joe Reynolds, “In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face the pain. You simply have to hurt.” Something has to die: a relationship, a dream, a belief, a home, etc. In my case, a relationship changed. It did not end, but the old version of this relationship was built of poor boundaries and over-sharing…on my part. The previous version had to die for forgiveness to truly happen. A new, healthier relationship was renewed, but grieving my concept of this friendship as I thought it had been was necessary to genuinely forgive and, essentially, hit reset. I was not cognitively aware of this process as it was occurring. I knew it sucked. I knew it felt lonely and sad, until it felt peaceful and constructive. I did not call this grief and forgiveness as I lived it…but that is exactly what was happening.
I know what it feels like to hold on to hurt and refuse to forgive. It is heavy and burdensome. The pressure of holding onto the pain holds you captive. You cannot move too far from your comfort zone for fear of releasing the pressure of resentment, grudge holding and anger. Anger feels like control. It feels like power. But the hard truth is that when we hold on to the pain and anger, we are only condemning ourselves to feeling tied to the pain; playing the role of the victim. It is not powerful to express our hurt, grief and heartbreak in revenge seeking hatred. It is actually an act of numbing and offloading hurt. We avoid facing the true pain of loss which is necessary in the process of forgiving. We miss out on the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat when our thoughts and actions are driven by our inability or unwillingness to forgive others.
This week’s work led to me to pick up The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. I have discussed the South African word Ubuntu when discussing the interconnectedness of humanity. This word simply describes the concept that we all rely on one another, what is good for one human benefits all of humanity. This book discusses how good for our body, soul and humanity forgiveness is. We are inherently good and pursuing forgiveness is something we do to restore our inner peace and willingness to live a wholehearted life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes:
Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor. When we forgive the person who harmed us, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. Forgiveness, in other words, is the best form of self-interest. This is true both spiritually and scientifically.
There is a great deal of research that supports the science behind forgiveness and physical benefits. Various studies have findings that demonstrate a link between forgiveness and a reduction in depression, anger, insomnia, reduced blood pressure, pain, headaches, etc. People who hold on to anger and resentment or more likely to suffer from these ailments, the willingness to forgive can be motivated by self-interest. Just the decision to live for you in the present moment feels like freedom from the chains of past hurts.
Tutu says, “To forgive is also to release yourself from whatever trauma and hardship you have experienced and reclaim your life as your own.” And, sometimes, maybe the person you need to forgive is you. If you are carrying pain, anger and resentment, my hope and prayer for you is that you find the courage to face the hurt head on and achieve healing in your life.
This reclamation and freedom is not only healing but provides the opportunity for deepening connections. While we may have to forgive and release some perpetrators of pain, some people just do not get to hold space in our world. We will find though that through forgiveness we can achieve new levels of connection with those we love. We, as humans, require connection to thrive. We are built for community and our hunger for connection seems to grow as we experience the isolation and ridiculous standards of personal persona in today’s culture.*
This weekend I watched Moana with my children for the 2700th. I love the music and beauty of this movie, but the story embedded in the narrative about overcoming trauma speaks to me each and every time I watch this movie. Te Fiti is a Goddess that breathes life into the islands, until her heart is stolen by a demi-God and she is overcome with darkness. Throughout the movie, the viewer believes that a terrible monster of fire and fury, Te Ka, is another villain seeking the heart of Te Fiti. What we learn at the end is that Te Ka is actually the angry and broken version of Te Fiti. The trauma of having her heart taken from her brought about darkness and pain. Through empathy and forgiveness, Te Fiti is able to breathe life and beauty again. Her heart is restored. This scene is breathtaking and I encourage you to watch this movie with this perspective in mind. This is the most tangible and relatable example I can think of to paint a picture of the power of forgiveness.
Holding on to pain for fear of exposing what lies underneath our heartbreak is devastating to your mind, heart and body. There is a beautiful 21 day guided meditation developed by the Chopra Center entitled “Free to Love.”
This guided meditation is one path that can guide you to forgiving, releasing and restoring your capacity for connection. Read Rising Strong or look for a Rising Strong course near you. I will be leading a workshop in the near future about the Rising Strong process, let me know if you are interested in attending…this work is powerful.
Over the last hard hitting and heavy week, I have discussed, pondered, lost sleep, and discussed some more the concept of surviving in times that feels so hard and so dark. I have tried to wrap my mind around the desperation and brokenness that people must feel before they submit themselves to a story that ends in suicide. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, need for control, or possibly just the INFP in me that wants to find a path towards healing for those broken and isolated souls. I find myself fixated on gaining understanding surrounding the proliferating rate of suicide in our world today. Perhaps the concept of preventing continued suicide is beyond my capacity and reach; however, I firmly and passionately believe that initiating a conversation might be THE answer to just one person’s plight towards healing.
Did you know the rate of suicide increased 25% from 1999-2016? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide was double the rate of homicide in 2016. A New York Times article from 2016 says:
“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. . .
The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.”
Personally, I think there is no coincidence that our consumption of all things internet, social media, etc. rampantly increased at about the same time. I created my Facebook in 2004. About when did you create your social media platform for identity, communication, and entertainment? I was not nearly as obsessed with social media until it was at my fingertips each moment of the day, how many hours a day to you spend mindlessly scrolling, comparing, judging, etc? Let me briefly step off of my soap box to say that I use social media to promote my blog, my side business, to share memories with friends and family…I value the ease and simplicity of communication within this format; however, it cannot be our only source of socialization. Our desire to be constantly connected, I argue, has led to a lack of genuine human connection. I talk about this more in my post Constantly Connected. Despite our ability to be “constantly connected,’ isolation and social isolation seem to be on the rise.
Quick fact about suicide rates, the states with the historically highest suicide rates are Montana and Alaska. Social isolation in Montana is a problem. Due to geographical realities and cultural norms, people are disconnected from one another. While I recognize that social isolation is not a problem for every community in these states, I cannot deny the reality that rural communities (typically) provide increased opportunity for isolation.
The fascinating reality of our world today however, is that we can be in a room with 700 people in a city buzzing with activity and have our minds and hearts elsewhere. We are rarely mindfully present in the space we exist. We are engaged in multiple conversations over various platforms at any given moment. We no longer have to be literally isolated by our geography to exist in a state of isolation.
A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”
We are replacing our previous inclination to engage in community in our cities and neighborhoods with online interaction. When we go to dinner or to a party with friends, we spend a fair chunk of time staring at our phones. Our comfort in communicating with a keyboard is exceeding our ability to have face to face, meaningful dialogue fueled with nonverbal communication and all the delightful feels that cannot be adequately expressed without eye contact. I love my emojis people, but there is not an emoji or GIF that can fully impress the depth of love, the elation of joy, or the desperation of grief. We need human connection. We need vulnerable interactions to truly understand love, joy, grief, and every other exquisite emotion that makes up our human experience.
Not only does our infatuation with social media lead to less face to face interaction, it creates a breeding ground for comparison. The comparison trap leads to either feelings of inadequacy or judgment. I am either not good enough or at least I am doing better than that guy. If you follow my blog at all, you know I love Brene Brown – a shame researcher. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Humans are built for and called to community. We are meant for connection. However, we find ourselves avoiding genuine connection, getting lost in the trap of comparison and wondering why we feel overcome with shame and loneliness.
I am not attempting to solicit support for a ban on social media. As I stated previously, I think our digital connection and access to social media equips us with resourcefulness and allows a different type of engagement. However, I think we MUST recognize the value of human connection and find a balance in our lives that leads to feelings of connectedness. I am also not making a claim that digital connection is the sole cause of isolation and suicide in our world today. However, recognizing the shift in culture, the decline in face to face interaction, and the crumbling of community as we once knew it is relevant in this conversation.
As a mental health professional I recognize that mental illness can be a terminal diagnosis. Despite lifelong battles, medication regimen adjustments, years of therapy…some people do not survive. But what if a willingness and opportunity to connect boosted the brain functionality of even a small percentage of those that are at risk for completing suicide, would reaching out make it worth it? Would promoting a conversation about the beauty of human connection be valuable? I think so.
Make an effort to engage in raw, vulnerable, and real interaction with someone today. Rather than comment on a post or stalk their profile, reach out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently. Plan to spend valuable time in person. Plan to be genuinely present and mindful during your time with loved ones.
Check on your people. I love the post circulating that encourages us to “check on our strong friends,” we know that suffering does not discriminate. If you know someone that struggles with shame, comparison, loneliness, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety or any other human experience that is hard to overcome alone…reach out. Help them recognize their worthiness. If you are struggling with those realities, release your fears and step into a moment that provides connection. This world is way easier to survive if we are in this together.
These are great resources for suicide awareness and prevention. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, know that there are so many places to turn for support. We are increasingly capable of overcoming the pain of mental illness with support. Talking about this stuff is hard, but I will leave you with the quote I keep on my email signature. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown. Fostering human connection in our lives might just help us survive.