Isn’t it time for us to rethink and rebrand our approach to mental health and challenge?
When it started to become clear that our lives were about to change and our respective governments started issuing orders that led to an eventual lockdown, as a family caregiver, my internal radar system was already switched on and the words “here we go again” were in my head. Not that I, like anyone else, has ever experienced a global pandemic and subsequent quarantine but the nuances of this crisis felt familiar. As someone who has worked very hard to overcome adversity, I recognized the signs when they started to hit.
You see, this tectonic shift or altered reality we are all feeling, can in many ways be compared to the family caregiver experience and I feel it is important to shine a light on this issue. Not only because we can learn from how caregivers cope with their daily lives, but also because we are still woefully ill-equipped in the 21st Century to deal with any personal challenges that come our way.
This seems to be the way humans function. 90% of our thoughts are the same as the day before and we continue to live in the past until the alarm bells go off. Sadly most of us run away from coaching and therapy during these emergency periods because we are literally too stressed. We believe there is a predator around the corner and our outer world has become more real than our inner world. When the cortisol levels are flying high, our minds can only push us further in the direction of stress and we also know the stress hormone is addictive. This is why many of us end up on anti-depressants, sleeping pills, drugs and alcohol. It’s the only way for our systems to slow down.
Why when the literature and experts are so readily available, do we fear going beyond our muddy present, or even worse, continue to live in the past, especially when we know it really doesn’t have to be this way? Neuroscientists like Dr Lisa Feldman Barrett has conclusively proven in her Emotion Construct Theory that we don’t feel our emotions, we construct them out of previous experiences, our body chemistry and our environment. She writes, “You are not a reactive animal, wired to respond to events in the world. When it comes to your experience and perceptions, you are much more in the driver’s seat than you might think. You predict, construct, and act. You are an architect of your experience.”
Those are very empowering words to hear in May 2020 and even if you’re not ready to hear them, then we should at least look at grief psychotherapist experts like Francis Weller who points at the need to embrace both sides of the coin for our own personal wellbeing. ”We praise success and despise failure. We value strength and devalue weakness. Ascent and descent should vitalize each other: when you polarize them, you end up splitting off what is “good” from what is “bad.”
As a family caregiver of my daughter who is non-verbal and requires 24/7 care, there came a point after a couple of years of diving into “the problem” trying to solve it and only valuing strength, that miserable had become my new normal. It wasn’t what I ever imagined for myself and I felt locked in my reality wishing my life would go back to how it was. That’s because I was still applying the same coping mechanisms, habits and mindset to a changed reality and it wasn’t working anymore.
Does this sound familiar? How many people have you heard say they just want it to go back to “normal”. I didn’t realize the misery I was causing myself and they probably don’t either. It was only when I was lucky enough to attend a ten-day meditation retreat nearly a decade ago that I got my “aha” moment, and saw I could experience my thoughts in a completely different way and that I was, “the architect” of my experience.
I have spoken to many people over the last few months who say the subject of “care” has risen to the forefront, along with other caregiver emotions such as vulnerability, fear, paranoia, isolation… and as all of these feelings have ebbed and flowed, so have our stress levels and we aren’t sure where to point the finger and that’s because the place has to start with ourselves.
The time has come for us to realize that when a person is ready to move from a state of grief, mourning and victimization which are still holding them in the past, a new system needs to come in place to help a person embrace their future. Nobody said it was going to be easy but even worse, mental health is still stigmatized and while I am on the topic, when will the recognized stakeholders step up to help us change the antiquated mindset that has brought us to where we are today?
As an entrepreneur, I am frequently thinking about how technology can save the mental health of humanity? My conclusion…Without embracing the subject of challenge and our recognition of its potential to turn reality into something even greater, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice. That’s where we need to begin to pick up the pieces, think differently about personal responsibility, and the new habits we want to create for ourselves so that we can start to take advantage of this remarkable and challenging period in history.