In Case of Emergency

Using self-care as a flotation device.

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In some ways I’m very lucky. God, the universe, life circumstances … I don’t know what did it, but my brain was switched sometime at birth to “carry on.” To fight my way through when things get kind of dark. I turn inward instead of doing drugs or forming some other self-harming habit. I could very easily go down that path. It’s in my genetics. I have family members who have struggled with those things. Luckily, I haven’t.

Somehow I always manage to find something to cling to. Fantasy. Sleep. Lately, self-care. It’s not a happy process all the time, but it’s better than the alternative.

I recently mentioned that I’ve been seeing a therapist and that it appears I’ve experienced some trauma in my life. As a result, I developed what my therapist calls maladaptive schemas. They’re in the subconscious. Basically they’re emotions as a result of something in your past that just hang out in the back of your brain.

What sucks about them is that you are unaware of them. Some thing — a smell, a song, a place, the tone of voice someone uses — triggers this subconscious memory. That memory, or the emotion behind it, then fills your head. Or it can. Apparently it has been for me and I didn’t even realize it.

As I said in a previous post, we all have some level of trauma. Those negative feelings you get where you think you can’t do something or be something or you’re defective in some way … those are probably maladaptive schemas. Some times they’re just nagging little things. Sometimes they’re more than that and they start to impact your life choices — what career you follow, whether you go out or not. You can lose interest in the things you once loved.

Lately, I’m seeing how these subconscious emotions have had an impact on me. And it sucks. Big time sucks. I’ve been quite down lately. Lethargic. Unmotivated. Lost. Confused. I told my therapist this weekend (I use a mental health app called Talkspace) that I’m upset because I’m realizing that maybe I didn’t live the life I was supposed to have.

I’m at the midway point in my life, at the very least, and I’m not sure this is the life I was supposed to have. What would my life be like if I had not had these subconscious feelings altering my thoughts and decisions? I had visions of a much different life when I was younger. The whole idea started messing with my head.

The last few years have been kind of rough, to be honest. That’s how I got into self-care to start. I’ve been anxious, suffering through a few panic attacks on my way to work, depressed, angry. It all frigging sucked. Then I realized that I got there, to that place of total suckage, because of these subconscious feelings that were developed when I was a kid.

The thought put me in a tailspin. I’ve been coming to the realization over a few weeks. This weekend, it hit me and knocked me over the edge of the boat. I’m floating in this sea of unknowing. Floundering, perhaps, a little. This isn’t what my life is supposed to be.

So I’m not feeling like going to work. I’m not feeling much of anything but sadness. But I’m using my self-care routine, my daily rituals as a flotation device right now. It’s better than drugs or alcohol. It’s something to hold onto that in the end is helpful rather than harmful. At first it doesn’t provide instant gratification. It’s not a quick fix. But you get there eventually.

So I’m holding on, and I’m going to hold onto it for dear life. Because I carry on. That switch in my brain always sends out this signal that says, “It will get better. Something better is out there. There is a reason you’re here.”

Thank God for that signal. It gets faint sometimes. I’m not talking suicidal, but just the giving up on life thing. Giving up hope. For some, though, I can see how that signal could disappear. I hope for those people they learn how to use self-care. Whatever form it takes can literally save your life. I’m going to do more research on this. Read more about it. I’ll share things as I come across them that may be useful.

Today, I forced myself to get up and do yoga. It’s a routine that is helping me through this. I worked out at lunch as I have for the past year. It’s similar to dealing with the death of a family member. You know how you go back to work to occupy yourself, to busy yourself? It’s the same thing but, in my opinion, better for you. Work has stress. Yoga, meditation, exercise, eating right — in the end they all contribute to your recovery, healing, and overall well being.

So, if you have thoughts that have stopped you from following a dream or that have kept you in a job you don’t enjoy any more, maybe talk to a therapist. Trust me. Maybe this isn’t the life you’re supposed to be living. It’s a painful realization, especially when you’re not so  young any more but, believe it or not, it is a good one to have.

I may be hanging onto my flotation device right now, but the waters are calming. The sky is clearing. Maybe there’s a new life out there waiting for me to join it and the only way I’m going to make it is to hold on to that lifesaver.

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