What a time it is to be an American, to be a global citizen. As I write this, the snow is melting in the middle of March, a painful reminder of the perils of climate change while we self-quarantine due to Coronavirus/Covid-19. Groups at this office are now officially on hiatus and I anticipate most individual and couples/family appointments moving to the teletherapy option temporarily.
As social primates, human beings require connection with each other. How do we connect in the most healthy way now? Ironically, the best thing we can do for each other at this time is social distancing. It feels silly, it feels like overreacting, but the reality is that the health and safety measures recommended by scientists and trustworthy governmental authorities demonstrate appropriate anxiety. It is incumbent upon all of us to flatten the curve of this pandemic. If it looks like we overreacted later on, if things don't get as bad as we fear, that might just be the demonstrated evidence that the actions we took worked.
This strikes me as similar to the resistance we all feel to making a change in our lives with regard to the way we treat ourselves or in relationship with other people. It might feel like too much, or even impossible, to say no to someone or something in our lives that isn't working anymore. We might be accused of overreacting. But this very reaction might be the one that is required to make the change. Once we make what feels like a drastic change, things might not turn out as badly as we feared. This might be the demonstrated evidence that the seemingly extreme action we took worked. Frequently we have become too used to something that is harmful to us. We may need to temporarily or radically distance ourselves from business as usual to prevent further damage. We might be required to flatten the curve to heal.
It's hard on the Eve of the New Year not to feel some hope for the future. While we learn to increase our tolerance for what is, it's hard not to dream of what might be. So on the Eve of 2020 I dream of more acceptance for all the thoughts and feels we all have every day all day long. I dream of more strength for the hard lines we sometimes have to draw. I dream of people talking more openly to the people in their lives so we can all pursue the civilized human goal: How can I treat others and myself as well as I can while understanding that I will frequently fall far short of the mark? And that is good enough as long as I keep trying, keep working, keep going?
Okay, we are more than halfway through 2019. How are we doing? As we watch our country get riven apart? As we fear for the well-being of the planet? As we think about the people we love and what they want, what they need, what we want and need, what we might not yet be getting, all the ways we are failed and feel we fail? Mindfulness has been all over the mental health shop for a long time. So has acceptance. I admit to struggling with this idea in our traumatized world, as many things do not appear acceptable to me. But I am starting to think maybe there is a new goal that doesn't insist I accept unacceptable things: understanding that mental health looks like ever increasing tolerance for uncertainty. This kind of acceptance goes beyond social media therapy advice to "let it go and live our best lives." It's more like DBT's radical acceptance, where we go as far out as we can get, get really radical, until we are at the edge of the painful existential truth of human life: we don't really have any way to control what is going to happen. Terrible, beautiful, boring, fascinating things happen everyday, everywhere. So at a time when it's really hard to keep holding up, what if we say:
How much can I increase my tolerance for this reality, right now, working for change and growth always while learning to tolerate more and more the lack of control and certainty that is the hallmark of human existence?
Is change coming in 2019? While democracy is under attack and vulnerable populations are exposed to even more risk, there is a scintilla of change in the air. Could the spring really bring hope for a Green New Deal? Are people finally fed up with the top down bottom-line power structure on which planet plunderers deny health care to Living People? Are children and women and queer folk and people of color and those who are differently-abled finally getting more concrete support from white allies protected by privilege? Can we hold on as 2019 reveals what might develop when reality begins to appeal more than the lies of those who dominate others for their own gratification?
Let's face it, there's a lot of really terrible very real news every day these days. Each morning can feel like an invitation to self-attack. How are we supposed to take care of ourselves at a time when progress appears to be rolling backward? How are we supposed to have hope that health and integrity will out over the poison of systemic oppression? How can we not feel guilty about concentrating on our own mental health and relationships when so many people are suffering so much?
At a time of cataclysmic change, it is even more important that we work hard to take care of ourselves. We need every mind and voice we can get to fight the powerful forces that want to take us back to a time when only certain people could have the privilege to create the lives they want. I believe that deep and broad feelings are a rich resource that we all deserve to experience. I believe we can work toward personal health while we fight for systemic change.
It's been awhile since I have written, but I have been working hard behind the scenes with colleagues on ensuring full access to mental health care for all Oregonians. These days, focusing on the state level can be the most empowering way to work for our rights. I have been part of a group, the Oregon Independent Mental Health Providers (OIMHP) that has crafted a bill and lobbied the Oregon state legislature to enforce compliance with mental health parity laws. We have had parity laws on the books since 2005 but insurance companies have been able to get around those laws, squeezing providers which then closes down access for consumers. Parity laws say that insurers must treat mental health care the same way they treat physical health care. Our lobbyist has worked hard in Salem and now it looks like we may just pass our law, Senate Bill 860. Please take a look at the following powerful article by the president of the Oregon Senate, Peter Courtney. He is a passionate advocate for our bill so success for equality in mental health may be within reach...!
2017 has started off with a bang. So much to read, to do, to worry about, to recover from. The good news is that our brains really appreciate a challenge. The human brain sees novelty, change and hard work as the very best nutrition it can get. These activities stimulate neurons to fire and grow, they promote synaptic development that enriches our cortical structures. So while it may seem daunting right now to apply ourselves to change, our brains are poised to appreciate our efforts.
It can be easy to feel like what we are doing to support change in ourselves and in our society is just a drop in the bucket, never enough. But social activists promise that consistent small efforts are the only things that have ever led to social change. 5 minutes a day of activism, or one task a week, can help us feel like we are fighting the good fight for peace and equality.
On the brain level, our neural architecture is extraordinarily responsive. This means that one small change can lead to a cascade toward health. If you have ever felt a whole lot better by doing just one thing for yourself that you have been meaning to do, this is not an illusion! So if we let ourselves do just one thing, instead of shaming ourselves that it isn't enough, our brains will gobble up this change and it will lead to other changes in an organic way. Whether that means doing that bit of exercise you have been wanting to do, or cooking one healthy dish you like, or reaching out to a person in your life that you have meaning to contact, these changes will naturally increase incentive to follow through with other goals for self-care.
Brain empowerment can be making a change on the micro level that will lead to macro level changes for you and yours.
I want to say something hopeful to anyone who may read this post. I want to wish them a measure of joy and peace during the holidays, however they celebrate or get through. I know it's crucial that we see what is around us while taking the best care of ourselves and others that we can. I hope you have time to rest and reflect, relax and recuperate from 2016. I trust that 2017 will give us many chances to apply ourselves again in work and love.
Tracy Bryce Farmer LCSW PC
1020 SW Taylor, Suite 435, Portland, OR 97205 503-451-3267 email@example.com
1020 SW Taylor, Suite 435, Portland, OR 97205 503-451-3267 firstname.lastname@example.org