Happy first day of autumn. I absolutely love this time of year. The leaves are just beginning to pop (did anybody see today’s Google “Doodle?” Very cute), the air is crisp but not necessarily cold, and the sky has been just the most brilliant blue (I’m starting to come out of my haze and be able to enjoy something so “simple” yet gorgeous). I’ve always loved autumn: In college (in Florida) my Mom would send me fresh leaves in an envelope. I got married in October, my favorite month. And as much as I love tank tops and skirts, there’s something about a cozy sweater (without the winter coat) that I just adore. Think pumpkin spice lattes, fireplaces, and cozying up at home with a good bowl of chili and the new fall lineup. (Can anybody say “Scandal?” “Homeland?” and “The Big Bang Theory?” Oh, and “The Good Wife”). Not to mention that, as much as I try to live in-the-moment, I do absolutely love Thanksgiving as well.
As much as I love this change of seasons, not every day here in my world has felt sunny lately. Remember those “dark days” that I’ve been mentioning? Well, as ugly as they are, I can say that I am learning some valuable lessons in the pain. And as difficult as being a social worker can be (especially when you’re dealing with something like cancer yourself), I’ve actually found that helping people has given my life meaning in a way that I never imagined. When you need help yourself, you truly see the value in helping others.
Ask for help. Ask and you shall receive. Open yourself up to the vulnerability that it takes to say “I need you,” or “I need help.” It’s scary, but the beauty of putting yourself out there is that you find somebody—a spouse, parent, friend, therapist- to sit with you and help you sort out your sometimes confusing emotions, validate your feelings, and then offer up some guidance on where to go from there. Sometimes you need to just sit with the pain and grieve, and other times you need the space to be able to figure out how to move forward. The truth about not asking for help? You suffer in silence, needlessly, and sometimes the pain is too overwhelming to cope with by yourself. I can now see as a social worker and a human being how suffering in silence often makes people feel alone and hopeless. We’re human, and we need each other.
Lesson # 2:
Cry. It may sound silly, but I’ve found that after holding my tears in for long periods of time (whether that’s healthy or not), a good cry is sometimes so completely therapeutic. I wouldn’t suggest holding anything in, but when you do cry, give yourself permission to weep, sob, and even scream into a pillow if you need to. You may just find that release as cathartic as a hug, a therapy session, or road rage (which I wouldn’t recommend either, but we’ve all been there. Angry at the world? We think that we’ll feel better if we take it out on somebody who we’ll never have to see again).
Lesson # 3:
Create boundaries. Shut out the negativity. Tell people, “I just can’t do this with you right now.” Surround yourself only with those who lift you up. It may sound hokey, it may sound difficult, it may sound like common sense, but the bottom line is that we all know people who walk around with a black cloud over their head. And getting caught up in somebody else’s negativity can only make you feel worse. So if you need to shut your door at work, do so. Don’t respond to an email from somebody who is complaining (and I’m not talking about a friend reaching out to vent, we all do that, I’m talking about somebody in your life whose only purpose is to whine), or say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to get into that right now.” Creating some healthy boundaries gives you the space that you need to be able to focus on the positivity of whatever it is that you’re trying to focus on, instead of what the other person just wants to gripe about, which is usually just whatever issue they happen to be focusing on that day.
Lesson # 4:
Compartmentalize. Otherwise known as, denial. Your friend and mine. Great tip from my therapist: Give yourself a set amount of time every day (or every other day, or whatever feels right to you), to think about whatever is bothering you, and then when that time is up, try to let go (easier said that done, I know), and do something else or think of something else. I have been known to resort to all kinds of games in my head, just to not think about the fact that I have cancer (how many Presidents can I name? How many towns in Massachusetts start with the letter “M?” How many actresses have the same first name and last name initial? Amy Adams, Janet Jackson, Keira Knightley. Seriously. Whatever it takes. I get creative). There are times when you need to think about your anxiety, and times when you need to try and put a lid on it and maybe go meditate, call a friend, or cook something new in the kitchen (I find that trying a new recipe leaves little time for my mind to wander because I’m usually so busy trying not to burn something!).
And if all else fails, drink.
Kidding! I wanted to pass on what I’ve learned from going through some difficult times, but the truth is, sometimes we don’t feel like talking, have no tears left, and wouldn’t know a healthy boundary if it bit us in the behind because we’re too emotionally exhausted to even have the energy to recognize a boundary, let alone be able to put one up. On those days, just let yourself be wherever you are, and know that somehow, someway, you’ll find your way back again. That’s what I’m counting on.