Have you ever been injured and gone through physical therapy? Maybe it took several months, or longer, of doing routines that evolved based on your situation before you started to feel well enough to forget to do your routines. After a while, the ache might come back and you realize it’s been far-too(only a week, I swear)long since you did your “daily” exercises. No? Yeah, who does that?
Lately, I’ve been focused on understanding how I’ve healed from some of my earliest psychological/spiritual injuries. The journey has been long. Decades long. It’s centered on adjusting routines, doing dedicated exercises, focusing on self-care, and receiving a tremendous amount of support from a community of friends, therapists, doctors… You get the picture. Apparently, it takes a village not only to raise a child but to heal a full-grown adult from a traumatic childhood.
There’s nothing special about me. Not in any way different from the fact that there’s something uniquely special about each of us. So how did I land here in this space where I stopped seeing myself as broken and started to understand who I am and to love myself unreservedly? Well, amongst many other approaches, therapy. Lots of therapy. But therapy on its own is about as useful as going to see the physical therapist and then not doing the work that is yours to do. It may help with the acute stuff but the chronic pain will continue to linger.
In truth, the journey has evolved over time; it’s unlikely I could map it out accurately even if I tried. I’ve been lost most of the time and wandering in circles more than traveling linearly. Still, there have been certain ideas, tools, frameworks, exercises that have helped to get me from there <— to —> here. I’d like to start sharing the things that have been helpful. We will begin with a tool that has been my primary safety net for two decades: The Look Here file.
The Look Here file started as a checklist for me to be honest with myself about what stage of distress I was in so that I could get the help I needed. The document has evolved over the years and we’ll look at the checklist later. I want to start with what has ended up being the most critical part of the tool for me: The non-negotiables section.
It provided a way for me to keep my cats alive when I could not get out of bed due to depression, anxiety, PTSD… let’s say due to subprime mental health. When things were really challenging for me, the FIRST thing I had to do, no matter what, was work through my Look Here document each morning.
Section one: The non-negotiables.
## Non-negotiable. DO these.
1. Feed cats; make sure they have water.
2. Eat something. Anything. A cracker. Toast. Something
At first, that was it. That was enough. Over time, the section has grown:
## Non-negotiable. DO these. (Latest version)
1. Feed cats and make sure they have water.
2. Eat something that won’t hurt you.
3. Take a shower. Or a bath. But get in water.
4. Drink one cup of herbal tea or a glass of water
The list went from “keep the living things you’re responsible for alive” to “keep the living things you’re responsible for alive AND do something that might maybe be a little bit helpful.” Like any therapy regiment, it has adapted to meet my needs and abilities.
If I found myself in an acute situation again, I’d ramp this back down to answer the essential question: What MUST you do each day to keep things from getting much much worse?
The second part of the non-negotiables focuses on avoiding the activities that accelerate the downward spiral.
## Non-negotiable. DON’T DO these.
* Watch too many shows that aren’t rooted in reality.
* Pretend to be in a space where you are not. Lying about where you are.
* Go into denial. (DO look at what’s happening and see it as it is. Even if you choose not to address it fully.)
* Take pharmaceuticals as a way of zoning out
I honestly don’t know what was on the original list, although I would guess it revolved around self-harm. Thankfully, that hasn’t been an issue for a very long time. Otherwise, it would be at the top of the list. The trick is to answer this question: What are your go-to activities/behaviors to numb the pain and which of those actually make it harder to recover?
Those two lists are the core of my non-negotiables section. Although “simply” a list, it allows the me who knows what I need (and don’t need) to be there for myself when everything feels too overwhelming to navigate.
It’s imperative to keep this as basic as possible with respect to my current reality. If the section starts to overreach, or becomes judgmental or too motivational, the tool loses impact. I have to be honest with what I’m asking of myself during the tough times. Make it doable; make it helpful.
I’m throwing myself a life preserver so that I don’t drown; I’m not trying to train for the Olympic swim team.
Next installment, we’ll look at the next part of the “Look Here” tool, titled “Consider doing / How to Unstack Horses.” It focuses on optional activities that I’ve found helpful.
In the meantime, take good care of yourself.
Part of the Vade Mecum series
Disclaimer: If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting themself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by certified crisis response professionals.
My degree is in creative writing. I’m not a psychologist, therapist, guru, coach, or expert. These thoughts are thin filaments meant to share some things that help me through the hellish times. That’s it. Please make sure you have the support system you need to get you through wherever you are in your own journey.
Featured image by John Torcasio on Unsplash
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