7 Ways We Can Make It To Tomorrow
by Karen Streeter MA, LAPC-A
“I know I’m gonna fly when I make it to tomorrow”
I first met Andre Henry through a mutual friend at a concert of his. He sang from his heart that “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way”. That things the way they are with hatred and bigotry and oppression and poverty need to change. As I followed him on social media and read his posts, I learned another important fact about Andre: Andre, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other Black activists for social change, lives with depression.
You can hope for a better world, and still struggle with thoughts of wanting to die. You can encourage your friends to pursue their dreams and still struggle to get out of bed. You can be a strong advocate for anti-racism, and still struggle to love yourself, just as you are.
I’m a white cisgender woman. I travel through the world with an enormous amount of privilege. Depression and anxiety and other mental health challenges are disproportionately present in Black and Brown communities due to stigma and racial trauma and poverty and lack of access to care. And yet, depression and anxiety don't discriminate. Whether you live on Park Place or sleep on a park bench, you can still struggle with your mental health.
I know that I have. Yes, you read that right. I am a therapist who has struggled with depression and anxiety. These days, it is anxiety that I manage the most in the wake of a global pandemic. But I remember a time when I struggled with thoughts of suicide, and like Andre, decided that in spite of the thoughts, I was gonna fight and overcome, and make it to tomorrow. And like Andre, as a person and as a therapist, I want to share with all of you 7 ways I have found to make it to tomorrow.
1. Be unrelentingly stubborn about pursuing wellness, but you don’t have to go it alone I come from a loooong line of stubborn women and men in my family.
This has been both a barrier and a saving grace for me on my own mental health recovery journey. For example, there’s my Great Uncle Frank, on my dad’s side. Great Uncle Frank was on the 100th Floor on September 11th, 2001. And he was ushered into the stairwell to climb down the numerous flights of steps to safety without a working elevator.
Everyone around Great Uncle Frank was frozen with fear, and waiting for instructions from the firefighters, and crowding the stairwell. Great Uncle
Frank wasn’t having it. His New York stockbroker self pushed and pushed through the crowd of people and climbed all the way down the steps, and made it out of the tower mere seconds before it collapsed. On adrenaline he walked to his apartment through the chaos, before arriving home with the soot from the towers still in his hair, shaking, to the arm of his wife.
Like Great Uncle Frank, I am incredibly stubborn, and it has saved my life on multiple occasions, although in less dramatic ways. But like Great Uncle Frank, I have also had to learn that I also need to pursue wellness with friends that support me in order to calm my nervous system and give me the emotional fuel I need to move forward. Which brings me to the second way to make it to tomorrow…
2. Reach out to other people that get it.
I draw a lot of inspiration from 12 Step fellowships and their principles of spirituality and community. Many people are familiar with the notion of sponsorship - the idea of an accountability guide and partner in recovery from addiction. In part because of the stigma around mental health concerns, less people are naturally inclined to apply the idea of sponsorship to mental health recovery. But the clinical research is clear: we are most likely to engage in healthy change in our lives if we have people that understand us that support us. Starting with this current pandemic, I began a habit of checking in with friends that also live with mental health challenges, and this practice has revolutionized my life. I would like to invite you to join me on the path.
3. Find a way to move your body and be with your body.
So much of social media and media in general these days is dominated by ways to punish ourselves in the name of wellness. Exercise for many people has become a way to punish themselves for consuming calories and this approach to the body has led many into the storm of an eating disorder. But the research shows that while dieting doesn’t work, mindful eating and joyful movement are wonderful tools to nourish both our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Another body-based tool that has been shown to support mental health is a regular practice of mindfulness meditation. Sure, it may sound woo, but the neuroscience is clear - people who practice regular mindfulness meditation have brains on MRI scans that have thicker areas of the brain that are involved in emotional regulation. In other words, mindfulness meditation and mindfulness practices in general have been shown to strengthen our ability to regulate our emotions and to respond to the inevitable stresses that are in our lives in a healthy way.
Even just 5 minutes a day can help. My favorite apps for mindfulness are: https://www.traumaresourceinstitute.com/ichill & https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations.
4. Practice self-compassion, and seek affection in an embodied way even if you just hug yourself while looking in the mirror.
I am probably going to sound like one of those cheesy infomercials on TV that you watch late at night when you can’t sleep, but…. Do you want to lead a healthy and productive life? Do you want to increase your self-esteem? Do you want to break a bad habit or otherwise change for the better? Then self-compassion is the thing for you! :)
Seriously, though, a practice of self-compassion has been shown to motivate us towards change that lasts and has been shown in the research to have positive effects on our overall physical and mental health and wellbeing. Contrary to the dominant cultural narrative, self-criticism and willpower don’t lead to lasting change.
LIke Carl Rogers says: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change”.
5. Do something for your physical self, even if you just splash water on yourself and apply dry shampoo. It doesn’t have to be art, it just needs to get done.
If you decide to splash water on your face, try splashing cold water on your face. Or, you can borrow a tip from one of my clients: “I need to use my Emotional Support Peas”. Yes you read that right - let me explain. :)
All of us mammals have a reflex that makes our heart rate go down, our blood pressure go down and our sense of calm increase when we are in cold water. Something about cold temperature enables us to reach a state of zen. And I don’t know about you but I need more zen in my life on the daily during these difficult times. So even if it sounds silly, a bag of frozen peas or frozen veggies from your freezer applied on your face under your eyes just might help you through that next difficult emotional time. Or you can also splash cold water on your face.
In general, when we do something basic for our physical selves, we can get out of our heads and into our hearts. And this is often a great way to stop the ruminating thoughts that are common in depression and anxiety.
6. Do one thing every day on purpose.
So much of what we do as humans is to create meaning in our lives -so much so that there is an entire school of therapy known as existential psychotherapy that focuses on this important aspect of our humanity. One of the things that I have found so important in my own mental health journey is having purpose in my day - whether it is volunteering, or taking a walk, or simply holding open the door at the grocery for someone else who needs a hand.
We are people who need purpose in our lives. The good new is that you don’t have to wait for the angels to sing or a giant epiphany moment to find purpose - you can live into being a purposeful person, and one day discover that you indeed have a rich life that you can be proud of.
7. Reach out to a therapist, and don’t be afraid to consider medication if needed.
All of this can seem rather overwhelming and we are social creatures who need support to reach our goals. Sometimes we need the professional help of a therapist who is a trained listener and can give us the tools and support we need to make our lives better one step at a time. And sometimes therapy and medication together can be that powerful combination that gets us out of despair and into having a life again. If you need to speak with a therapist, I would like to encourage you to contact us at Safe Talk Space.
Check out our website at www.safetalkspace.com and give us a call today at (833) SAFETAL. We are here to help you to make it to tomorrow. For additional resourcses please visit https://www.consultantsandcounselors.org/
If you are experiencing a medical or psychological emergency, please call 911 and/or the crisis line at (800) 576-7764.