Free Therapy: Even My Coping Skills Are Tired

74 days of staying home so we can save some lives.


SEVENTY-FOUR DAYS.


I glanced at my calendar yesterday morning and clapped my hands with joy. 4:00 pm - Therapy on Zoom. I use my Employee Assistance Program for eight free counseling visits per calendar year. Yesterday was visit number eight. It came at the perfect time.


I write about therapy and taking care of my mental health because we have to reduce the stigma around getting counseling. Part of my freedom and well being comes from sitting down with someone and talking through things with a neutral third party who's trained in helping move people toward wholeness. As someone who's given their life to serving others, it's imperative that I ask people to help me.


I looked forward to yesterday's visit because I've been holding a lot. Some days, it feels light and manageable. Some days, it does not.


A colleague in a staff meeting yesterday said, "Jenny, you always seem so calm and positive. When I think of everything you're dealing with right now, I wonder how you do it." I smiled and said, "I go to therapy. That's how I deal with it all."


I logged onto Zoom in our upstairs guest room that used to be my office but is now the room with all the boxes. We load up our moving truck in 27 days. There are boxes everywhere. My therapist's video fires up and I notice she's calling from her office where we used to meet in person. I miss the comfortable couch, the artwork on the wall, the window where I'd stare when I didn't want to think anymore, and the living, breathing human who cares about me. I miss it all. But Zoom will have to do for now.


Taking a deep breath, I launch into stories, feelings, questions, and noticings. She listens intently. Laughing when I laugh. Sighing when I sigh. Nodding when I share something difficult. Staying quiet when a few tears fall.



We talked about powerlessness. This is one of the hardest emotions to feel. Most of us will do anything to escape this emotion. Many of us are powerless over decisions other people will make. We're powerless over the timing of a vaccine that may usher in a new normal. As pastors, we're powerless over when our faith communities can gather again and exactly how this will happen. Do we even want to gather in person if the gathering will be so limited that it's more painful than staying apart?


We talked about coping skills. I said, "even my coping skills are tired." What worked in week three might not cut it in week 10. In March and April, I had a list of things that helped me find a piece of solid ground to stand on amidst the chaos. I'm tired of that list. I've had to lean on it so many times, it's lost its power. We talked about not wanting to be formulaic in our coping skills. Transactional. "If I do yoga, take a walk, drink water, and meditate each day, I will be okay." This is another form of control. We talked about sitting with the truth that coping at 74 days is different than day 10. It's okay for the coping skills to change. Don't force it. Get curious about what might serve you in this season.


We talked about it being harder to exit quarantine then to start it. When we had to stay home, someone in authority told us and we listened. Most of us. For those prone to anxiety, there's comfort in someone making the decision for us. Part of me reveled in staying home because I was doing the "right" thing. That felt good. Now, we're watching friends in other states with different rules. As a former hot spot, our leaders are choosing conservative and slow re-opening measures. I support this. It's also difficult when guidelines vary and many gray areas appear. "Can we do this? Is that okay?" I'm finding ambiguity of transitioning from quarantine into a new normal to be exhausting in a way I wasn't prepared for.


We talked about shame. I have a voice hissing, "Shouldn't you have figured this out by now?" That's shame. It's not true. No one has figured this out. We have a some good days. We may let things slide. But every single human is affected by this global pandemic in some way. Others may look like they have it all together. They don't. I promise.


It's okay to feel how I feel. As a first-born, type A, recovering perfectionist, I struggle to accept the spectrum of feelings that rise in difficult seasons. I ignore anger, frustration, and sadness so I can manufacture peace, happiness, and feeling content. I chatted with a friend on the phone after the appointment and we took turns naming our anger at things in our lives. Naming it aloud eased some of the anger. It's okay to feel how we feel.


I don't like this! Speaking of easing anger, my therapist told a story of her young nephew sitting on the ground with his toys. One by one, he picked them up and threw them across the room. "I don't like this!" "I don't like this!" There's healing power in setting aside some quiet and allowing ourselves to feel the anger at our reality, our loss, and the uncertainty.


We talked about being tired. I'm tired. I don't like feeling tired in my being. I understand being physically tired. That's fine. But feeling exhausted in my soul? I hate that feeling. But it makes sense. I had to tell my church online that we're moving churches this summer. I had to figure out how to say goodbye to incredible people without really seeing them. I wrote a book about it. By the way, writing a book about saying goodbye doesn't erase the difficulty of saying the actual goodbye. It's hard.


We talked about the nature of pastoral transition. If I'm doing it well, I'm slowly letting go of one community and making space in my heart for the next one. This is happening. It doesn't feel good. It's bizarre to begin new relationships in a new city while still living in the former city. It's uncomfortable to feel new fire flickering to life for what God might do in the next community while also celebrating what happened in the current community. It's worshipping online with both church families on a Sunday morning and experiencing emotional whiplash. It's the good work of transition. And it's beautifully awkward. Especially during a pandemic.


We talked about powerlessness again. It's okay to feel this. To sit with it for longer than a few seconds. What does it feel like? What might I learn from it? What does it stir up in me? Instead of rushing to offload that feeling with busy work, food, Netflix, or picking a fight, what happens when I take a deep breath and sink into the truth that I am powerless?


I felt myself resist her comment that we're all powerless in some way. I rambled on about getting to choose our mindset or attitude. There's always something we can choose to do to gain a sense of groundedness in the midst of chaos. She smiled and listened. Yes, that's all true.


And.


I'm powerless. Maybe you are, too.


This is okay.


I wonder what healing and hope could materialize if I accept this truth. During a global pandemic, it's okay to feel powerless. May this bring surprising freedom.


Let's stop fighting reality so we can lean in and do the work.


There's your free therapy for today! Enjoy :)

 

 

© 2020 by Jenny Smith

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