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Day 133 of the 150 day micro-journaling experiment

Blue sky with rainbow kite. Text reads: The Dailies with Elisa. Facebook.com/groups/thedailies Your daily dose for radical resilience. Mindset, health perspective

I started The Dailies in a dark PTSD cave. Anxiety attacks regularly sent me running to huddle in my closet with uncontrollable full body tremors that lasted for hours. This went on for months. Previously I had only experienced episodic PTSD while in a vehicle, for obvious reasons if you know the story.

At the point suicidal thoughts crept in, I dug down deep to wage war on my own mental health crisis. I didn’t talk about it. Talking about mental health isn’t something we do. Pull up your bootstraps and be happy dammit. Isn’t that it? People praise my positivity and resilience. I teach it to others. Sharing my struggles would invite shame, knocking me off an artificial and imagined pedestal. Poor mental health is wrongly viewed as a failure of character. Now I only run to the closet to get dressed, but hopefully sharing my experience will help someone else. If it’s only one person, that is enough. I can live with that.

In 2014, I woke from a coma in a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), on a ventilator. Next to the hospital bed, a machine blinked with an array of constantly changing numbers. I fixated on that machine obsessively, trying to will the numbers into stabilizing. Only my eyes and right hand could communicate, through a ‘thumbs up’ or light squeeze. Lying there was inexpressibly terrifying. But I was not alone, as hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 patients have had to face. Family stood by my side giving constant reassurance and encouragement, advocating on my behalf every step of the way. Machines carried blood and medicines, but family was the lifeline. Covid-19 patients don’t have that luxury. They suffer and die alone.With deep understanding, my stomach knots just typing those words.

I spent seven weeks in that SICU, with surgery after surgery. Waking up confused, intubated, with arms and legs strapped to the bed like medieval torture. I fought valiantly against the restraints to the point that the nerves in my right hand stopped working for many months. So many intubations were done while I was in the SICU they determined it would be better to perform a tracheotomy. Breathing through a hole in my neck. Fighting for air. It was a month before the doctors could say with any confidence I would stay alive. My body knows at a cellular level what it feels like to fight for life. 

Too many people take life for granted because they don’t know how easily literally everything you know can be ripped away.

 

With the pandemic, constant talk of ventilators exploded those memories in my head like a bomb going off. Dismissive and angry attitudes about public health measures filter through those tortured memories. Day after day after day my brain has screamed in response to the threat. In the early months of the pandemic, I drank too much trying to numb the fight or flight response. People minimizing the seriousness of the virus and devaluing the lives of vulnerable people feels like a personal attack. I know it’s not, but my body isn’t convinced. I have felt disposable. “If you don’t feel safe, just stay home.“ Mass agoraphobia and segregation is an acceptable option for some. That story feels historically familiar. Heartbreak, anger, anxiety, fear, and deep loneliness washed over me. Just as it has for millions of other people who feel the same way for all of their own good reasons. This isn’t just my story.

When I hit rock bottom, sometime in August, I created TheDailies as an experiment to see if commitment to a prescribed set of daily practices would have a significant impact on mental health. It definitely has for me. Intentional daily focus on sleep, food, movement, meditation, gratitude, grace, focus, spiritual reading, and prayer sounds like a lot. But what is your mental health worth?

I spoke with my doctors. Adding a small antidepressant helped. EMDR therapy with a trauma specialist who spent 25 years working with military veterans is processing the vicious memories. So I am not saying journaling is the end-all-be-all to mental health. Pull out all the tools in the tool-belt. Turns out, The Dailies is like a resilience tools organizer. For me, it has been transformative.

On Day 39, everything began to change when the small voice of the future broke through the noise.

 

Day 150, January 4th, the last day of my experiment, also happens to be the first day of classes for my new Masters of Divinity program. On that last day, I will take the first step on the road to becoming a board certified chaplain. Coincidence? I don’t think so. 

All this to say – if you are struggling, take heart and take action. When we pour everything we’ve got into reforming how we function in the world, our world changes. We can’t see new opportunities and ways of being while shrouded in our old ideas of who we are and where we fit. We have to clear our vision to see the gifts of 2020. One thing I learned from 2014 that applies to all of us in 2020, there is no “getting back to”; there is only moving forward. I am genuinely grateful for the mental suffering I experienced this year because it led me to where I am now, better equipped to move forward and meet others in their pain with empathy. Where is 2020 leading you?

My prayer at the end of today’s Morning Mindset journal entry….

Adonai Elohim, you are my rock, my foundation, my strong walls, and sheltering roof. In you I reside, protected from the storms of the world that incite anger, fear, division, selfishness, and every manner of ways that we hurt each other so efficiently. Hold me in the comfort of your house, which is no physical building but the condition of my soul. May I be kind. May I be happy. May I be at peace. And may I share these good fruits with others as an act of hospitality and service. Like Habitat for Humanity for people’s hearts in need of shelter. Wherever possible, may I meet the physical needs of those without enough. We have been given more than enough in every way. Expand our hearts to make room for the needs of others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you or someone you know needs Mental Health First Aid, please get help. Reach out to me or one of these five mental health resources. There is no need to be alone. Wishing you wellness in every way.

  1. The National Suicide Prevention Line. This hotline provides free, confidential support 24/7 to people in distress across the United States. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for support.
  2. The SAMHSA Helpline. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential information service that provides treatment and support referrals 24/7 to people facing mental illness and addictions. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for support.
  3. Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support via text message 24/7 to those in crisis situations. Text HOME to 741741 for support.
  4. The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project provides free, confidential support 24/7 to LGBTQ youth via a helpline, text and online instant messaging system. Call 1-866-488-7386 for support.
  5. The Veterans Crisis Line. The Veterans Crisis line provides free, confidential support 24/7 to veterans, all service members and their family and friends in times of need. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255 for support.
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