Motivation Monday: The Power Of A Good Word
We all have days when we didn't sleep well, we don't focus as well, we don't feel quite like ourselves. On those days, we often spend way too much time looking for a boost - looking for encouragement or empowerment, looking for a reason to believe that if we can make it through the moment we're in, then maybe the moment to come will be better than the one just passed.
Sometimes for me, those day happen more often than they don't. Living with the chronic anxiety and depression that are the gifts of my PTSD means that I'm often struggling with one symptom or the other - and on the bad days I'm battling both. It doesn't help that human life is such a fluid thing, so greatly influenced by the varying factors of things like:
- what's on tv today
- what's playing on the radio
- who have I been hanging out with
- what influences dominate my daily life
- how well am I taking care of myself
- are my kids behaving themselves
- am I sick or in pain
And there are lots of other factors too, many of which include intrusive thoughts and memories from the past, because it turns out leaving things in the past isn't always as easy as we want to believe it is. But for those of us willing to take the time to search, a spark of inspiration can light a flame of hope that turns into the passionate fire of joy. It isn't always easy to hold onto - especially for me - but it can be done with just a little nurturing.
I was sick recently and the frustration of being sick, the misery of not being able to sleep well, and the distance between where I live and where my doctor's office is, eventually led me to an emergency room visit. The triage worker went through the usual spiel:
- where do you live?
- where do you work?
- is this the right phone number?
- who do we contact in case of emergency?
- do you have a living will or power of attorney?
and then they got into the deeper questions they're required to ask everyone - questions that most people answer with lies, partly because that's easier and partly because they believe the risk of honesty isn't worth taking:
- does anyone hurt you or threaten to hurt you at home?
- do you have suicidal thoughts or feelings?
Honesty is funny for me - partly because it's just a part of who I am, and partly because especially in situations like that, people don't really expect honesty. It's like when people ask you how you're doing lately, but they're already moving on before the question is even finished and it's clear that all they want in answer is the customary, "fine."
When my answer to "do you have suicidal thoughts or feelings?" was a bold and half-self-deprecating, "all the time, but I'm not going to do anything about them," his fingers totally froze over the keys of the computer he was using. I saw his pinky finger dart out and tap the backspace a few times, and smiled just a little despite how miserable I was feeling. He caught me smiling and arched his eyebrows, waiting.
"I just wanted to give an honest answer," I said. "I have PTSD and PMDD, so suicidal thoughts are sort of a way of life for me. But so is motherhood, and I'm a single mom - I'm all my kids have. Suicide is a thought all the time, a nagging idea in the back of my mind." I saw his eyebrows go a little higher, and he started to look just a little unsure of what he should do with me, so I said calmly, "But it's not a risk in any way because I'm never going to do anything about it. Still, you might need to know, depending on whether or not I leave here with prescriptions that might be contra-indicated for patients with depression."
He frowned a little as he thought over what I said, nodded, and said, "Well, that's thorough. We don't get that a lot."
I couldn't help wondering - if more people were more honest with themselves about their feelings, and more conscious about how they deal with those feelings, then maybe questions like "do you have suicidal thoughts or feelings" wouldn't have to be a regular part of the triage process. At least, maybe not for a patient with an upper respiratory infection coupled with a wicked pulled neck muscle from sleeping on their face in a desperate effort not to choke to death on snot during the night.
Anyway, we chatted a bit as he did the rest of the intake stuff, and he asked, "if you're depressed enough for suicide to be on your mind as often as you say it is, how do you know you're not at risk of doing anything?"
So I shared with him what works for me: The power of a good word.
When I'm depressed or just feeling down, I usually need to walk myself through several steps in order to get myself together. Sometimes I take those steps in the morning and then I'm fine for the rest of the day. Other times, I have to repeat these steps over and over from hour to hour, or even from minute to minute.
- Recognize and admit what I'm feeling. This sometimes takes a while, since most of my negative feelings (sadness, illness, fatigue, fear, etc) tend to manifest as irritability and annoyance. So I have to take time to look behind the annoyance to really see what's there.
- Examine my feelings to see if I can figure out where they came from. If behind the irritable frustration/anger, I'm actually dealing with hurt or sadness (or whatever else), I'll examine it as closely as possible in the moment - almost like taking a Rubik's cube in my hands and turning it over, trying to figure out how to match squares.
- Choose and employ a coping mechanism. Sometimes this means finding a way to avoid someone I'm hurt by or uncomfortable with, especially if it's a person I don't feel safe enough to express myself with. Often, I'll sit down and literally write a letter to the person I'm feeling things over, whether it's anger or hurt or sadness or whatever - I like that this gives me the freedom to say whatever I want to say, and I also like that since I always burn or otherwise destroy the letters, I can speak freely in them without fear of consequence. Sometimes I need to practice my favorite grounding technique; other times I need to employ some self care to lift my own spirits.
- Reevaluate, and move forward. If I'm better, then I move on. If not, I try a different coping skill. If I'm worse ... I'll reach out to a friend who has understood and supported me in the past.
There are days when I literally go through the entire day cycling through these steps. There are days when these steps don't work, and I end up calling my therapist for an extra appointment. On the bad days, the days when all the CBT in the world doesn't feel like it can help me, I call for an emergency phone session - not because my therapist is constantly accessible, but because she makes a point of being available to care for her clients. (Not all therapists offer this kind of accessibility, and not all patients are as able to cry out for help when they need it. Thankfully, with resources like those offered on BetterHelp.com, anyone seeking to improve their mental wellness can easily find a local therapist perfect for their needs.)
On the average everyday though, when I'm just trying to get through a stressful afternoon of momming or when I've got writing to do and no inspiration to do it with, I use music to lift my mood, or I'll spend some time looking for motivational or inspiring quotes and affirmations that encourage and empower me. I like that I can open Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and almost always find someone or something to relate to. I like that even on my dark days, there's always someone else in the world who gets it, someone who has just the perfect quote or song, someone who already expressed the thing I'm feeling in a way that I couldn't.
Often, I share the quotes and lyrics that inspire me on my own social media accounts too, so if you haven't followed me on social media and you sometimes find yourself searching for inspiration there, check me out at any of the links included in this post. You can also find a more extensive list of links here.
I'd love to know what techniques work for you, too. Do you have a favorite quote, song, or bible verse (etc.) that helps you when you're in an emotional slump? If you do, leave it in the comments below - maybe it'll be something I'll find inspiring too, or maybe it'll be something someone else will find helpful.
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NOTE: This post is a partnership with BetterHelp.com, in conjunction with my love of their site and content combined with their love of giving people a better, more personalized way of accessing quality mental healthcare. All thoughts, opinions, and ideas expressed in this post are my own - and as you know, I would never recommend any site, service or product I didn't authentically love.