Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” – Fred Rogers

It’s a perfect life we have, isn’t it? I mean, I see the photos of your vacations, your great bodies, and enviable cooking skills all over social media. How am I supposed to admit that I’m not like you? What a huge blow to the ego to not have the perfect family, to not feel amazingly happy all the time, to not be able to travel to exotic places.

The feelings begin to grow in many people, as they feel they aren’t measuring up. “Don’t talk about it!” they say. Stuff those feelings down and put on a happy face. The problem is, the feelings are part of being human. And if Mr. Rogers is right, by mentioning them, they become more manageable, less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. Wouldn’t you like to feel a little relief in your own life today?

Several years ago, I took medication to help with depression and anxiety. The problem (for me and many others) was I would feel great on medication and believe I no longer needed it. I would stop taking it, and quickly realize my feelings of normalcy were much greater when I was taking it that I seemed to be able to feel great.

I’ve spent a lot of years and hard work finding alternative plans to deal with the feelings that come out of nowhere, and for the most part I’ve been pretty successful. I’ll not rule out a return to medication one day, if I believe it is necessary, but for now I’m able to enjoy life without drugs. For many of us, being able to settle down for a few minutes (or a few hours) makes a big difference. For many others, there is no settling of the brain, and they need to not be ignored.

If you grew up in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s (even the 1960s and 1970s), there was little attention given to feelings. In fact, the way people with feelings were handled was to be placed into mental institutions. Girls who became pregnant without being married were sent to homes for unwed mothers, and people who struggled with their feelings were sent to hospitals for mentally ill people. That was the way society dealt with uncomfortable topics and people.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a push for mental health centers, which left serious mental illness unattended, as hospitals for those individuals began to disappear. There is a clear correlation between the ending of psychiatric hospitals and the beginning of the homeless situation, the mass murders, and incarceration of people who need help with mental health. With proper assistance, many people can come back to function normally in society, and without that kind of intense help, they cannot.

It seems no one really wants to talk about what we could be doing to help people function, though — one more uncomfortable topic in a universe of discomfort.

Why am I pressing the topic? Because between veterans, victims and the mental impact of the fallout from “the virus,” we are dealing with a lot of life issues, and the more we pretend it’s no big deal, the bigger deal it becomes.

Where hospitals that provided help for those with mental illness (much more normal than we want to admit) were once easy to find, they’ve almost disappeared. The ones that do exist are not just expensive ($30,000 a month), but also rarely covered by insurance. While at first I found this all discouraging, I suddenly realized that today in 2020, we have one big difference from “back then” — people are willing to talk more. Mr. Rogers realized this, and young adults today seem to be teaching the rest of us that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to imbalances in our minds or in our lives, and that talking about things is an important first step to healing.

Speaking to Rachel Aredia, LCPC, who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I asked how she helps clients deal with the anxiety and depression that seem to overwhelm a person’s life. She offered these suggestions that you and I can put into practice right now to make life a little more bearable:

1. Take deep breaths or use a grounding technique such as the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique by naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, and 1 thing you can taste (having a drink or piece of gum is handy for this). The point of the grounding technique is to take your focus elsewhere for roughly one minute and bring you to a calmer space.

2. When in the calmer space, ask yourself what is in your control, realistic, and healthy in regards to the topic that has upset you. After coming up with some ideas of what is in your control focus there and put it into motion.

3. Confide in someone you trust, whether a therapist, friend, family member, (or even a journal); talking to someone in your support system can help to bring a sense of calm and understanding.

With research showing that of the 11.4 million people suffering with severe mental illness (a large chunk of those people are either homeless, in jail or struggling to hold it together needlessly), we have a lot of work to do to help people get the help they need in the form of medication and counseling.

If the research is correct that more than $190 billion is lost each year because of our inappropriate response to mental illness, then it is probably time to take some deep breaths and offer people the help they really need to be able to function. Removing the stigma is a great first step; removing the barriers to living life well should be next for each of us to live more manageable and even joyful lives.

Check with your insurance company for telehealth counseling options available at a reduced price or as a free option during this time of COVID-19. Many options are available today, especially for those individuals afraid to walk through the office doors.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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