When driving along Interstate 78 earlier this week somewhere in the middle of New Jersey, a car was broken down in the shoulder of the road. The man whose car was apparently out of order was sitting alongside his car in a stadium chair, reading a magazine. I wonder, if I should suffer an emotional breakdown of any degree at some point in the future, what tools and toys do I carry in my metaphorical trunk to see me through such a difficult time?
The first is relationships. I have built a trusting support network upon whom I can call when I am facing moments of difficulty. This network includes family, friends, and professionals. In addition to those people who are close to me, I have reached out and connected with many groups and organizations that share a similar perspective on mental illness and its treatment. Just knowing that other people have comparative experiences to mine, and that they are actively working toward healing and wholeness, gives me hope that not only I, but all of us can recover and live a full, vibrant life.
The second is responsibility. I have established a complex web of personal and professional obligations and responsibilities. There are a lot of people counting on me, and I think this level of accountability helps to keep me from veering too far off of the emotional wellness track. While I can at times feel pressured or overwhelmed, this is a preferable alternative to feeling as though I have no aim or purpose that is of value to the world.
The third is resilience. Several years ago, I heard the brilliant Nan Henderson speak at an education conference about the importance of resiliency in children and I admit that I had not before thought a whole lot about this particular dynamic. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, but it is far more complex than that. What is it that makes it more difficult for some of us, myself included, to recover from setbacks?
Nonattachment to outcomes, curiosity and openness to learning, and optimism, which are actually strengths for me, are all processes that contribute to my ability to be resilient. By developing these strengths through consistent practical application, I can cultivate a stronger ability to be resilient in moments of crisis.
While I feel emotionally strong most days, I am highly sensitive to my environment and I know that I am at risk of suffering a setback in my mental health. Even the most trivial of negative experiences can leave me reeling and feeling angry or depressed. And those feelings can stay with me for a long time, despite intentionally seeking resolution and using all of my tools and toys to the best of my ability.
The breakdowns I typically experience these days don’t usually stop me in my tracks, or leave me like the unfortunate man who sat beside his car along the highway. But they do slow me down quite a bit, and they take me down roads that I had not planned to explore. By building my toolbox and taking it with me through the full range of human experience, I can prevent these setbacks and bounce back more easily when they do occur.
Woman calling for help photo available from Shutterstock