I have a really hard time with the “good vibes only” message. As a therapist, something that I stress to my clients on an almost daily basis is that there is no such thing as a good emotion versus a bad emotion and by trying to cancel out emotions that do not feel good, you are preventing yourself from feeling feelings that are real. All emotions are real and normal, and they all serve some sort of purpose for us in our lives. The wide breadth and range of the emotions that we experience is part of what makes the human experience so beautiful. If we are trying to only find the “good vibes” and remain in happiness, excitement, and contentment, and therefore not allow ourselves to feel the depth of sadness or grief, or the intensity of our anger and frustration, we are denying ourselves the necessary experience of emotional responses to the world around us. Without fully feeling the lows, we cannot even fully understand and experience the highs. Additionally, I stress to my clients that facing, accepting, and feeling the feelings that are more uncomfortable and vulnerable shows greater strength than trying to live in a world with only sunshine, rainbows, and smiles. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know it is important for us to be able to push through the feelings that do not feel as great, but in order to do so in a healthy way, we have to do just that. We have to push through. There is no detour or shortcut for our emotions. We must feel them in order to move forward.
In trying to achieve a “good vibes only” persona or project it onto others through conversations and social media posts, you may be denying yourself and others a safe place to feel everything that they are feeling and may be preventing them from feeling safe enough to be vulnerable. Additionally, you may be preventing yourself and others from having a deeper emotional relationship if you are trying to prevent the “negative” feelings from being part of your interactions. Also, if you are projecting a message of the fact that success can happen by just shifting your emotions to a positive thought process, and that by just thinking positively you will manifest everything you want, you are not honoring the experiences that people have that may affect their ability to move forward and may not be recognizing how your own privilege may create blinders to their struggles and history. Again, you may be creating a situation in which those around you may not feel safe being vulnerable and may be judging themselves for not being able to just forget the hard and difficult things they are faced with.
If we are projecting the message that people should only experience good vibes (and that it is even possible to control the very natural emotional response system that our brains and bodies possess), we are not allowing ourselves and others to feel okay with the real human experience of emotions. Bad things happen and if we are trying to only see the good things in our lives and avoiding the bad ones, we are also avoiding the natural responses that we have. When our brains respond to stressors or triggers in a way that does not feel good to us (e.g. with sadness, anxiety, anger, or fear), it is telling us and maybe even warning us about trouble or threats. We fight with family and friends, we go through stressful days at work, we lose important people throughout our journeys and we do not feel good about it. Our uncomfortable emotional response to these events is telling us about how we should respond to it, and possibly that these things may be things we should want to avoid moving forward. I cannot tell you how often I have said to clients in sessions that I would be more worried if they were not sad when they got bad news, or found out about the passing of a loved one and that they become visibly relieved that they are told that the emotions are normal and real. Sometimes being given permission to be sad, angry, and anxious is exactly the thing missing from their lives. Emotions are a basic part of our instinctual response to stimuli around us. When we try to deny that response, we are throwing off the entire functionality of how the machine of our body and brains work and those emotions that we are pretending are not real are going to find their way out some way, and often in unhealthy ways including negative self-talk, bad habits, and isolation. When we try to push the “good vibes” only message to our friends and family, we are telling them that they “shouldn’t” feel what they are feeling and that if only they could just make themselves happy, everything will be perfect. When working with families and couples, there is nothing more triggering within a relationship than when someone is told that they “shouldn’t” feel a certain way, even if they are being told that with all good intentions.
So, repeat after me. It is completely okay to not be okay. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that things are not always okay. Obviously mental illness, stress, and bad things always happen. As I said above, all of these experiences are part of the human experience. There is no one in this world who has never gone through bad things and who has not felt the intensity of all of the emotions that can be felt. Some clients believe that others have gone through significantly tougher experiences throughout their lives and I notice that everyone is constantly comparing their pain and experiences to others in their sessions. I always remind them that there is no hierarchy of pain and that whatever pain they are experiencing is theirs to own and proudly wear both as an accomplishment of resilience, and as a way in which they define how they navigate through their world. And, as we have been living through 2020, that is no exception. So many of my clients have been experiencing the chaos of this year in different ways and have had different ways in which a global pandemic, social injustice and unrest, significant political divisiveness, and so much more have affected them personally in different ways. That being said, so many of them are having the same emotional response to what is going on in our world and explore their experience of anxiety, sadness, worry, fear, stress, grief, depression, and so much more. And while these emotional responses are not new to 2020, the intensity of them is different. I cannot remember a time in which I have had so many clients presenting with similar emotions and the same emotional weight on their shoulders. As a therapist, 2020 has been a difficult year in that I cannot always help clients to challenge thoughts about their triggers because many of their triggers are in fact rational, normal, and completely understandable. We are living through history right now and understanding the magnitude of that will hopefully help us to also understand that all of the emotional responses that we are having are normal and understandable and so I stress this to my clients, that what we all are feeling is normal. I help them to realize that what they are going through in their personal lives is heavy and would be heavy even without all of what 2020 has given us. When you combine our own personal struggles with all of 2020 and everything that is happening this year at a national and global level, our threshold has been broken, and our cups of what we can hold are overflowing. Let’s own it. Let’s admit that we are not okay and figure out ways to try to get through it. Whether that is directing our energy into activism or into self-care or something completely different. We cannot take away the triggers, we cannot pretend that the world around us does not feel like it is falling apart at times, but we can try to take control of what we can control, and try to make peace with our feelings and recognize that in feeling all the feelings, we are human and empathetic. Instead of trying to challenge those feelings that are considered bad, let's accept the idea of “all vibes” and that it is completely okay to not be okay.
The Affordable Care Act has been a hot button topic since it was originally implemented. You are either for it or you are against it and your feelings about it may be intense. Unfortunately, most of those opinions are not typically founded upon a direct knowledge of the role that it can play in the lives of Americans across our country. I have sat with friends and family and heard them say that people working minimum wage jobs do not deserve to have health insurance based on their background or education levels and that their employers should not have to foot the bill for minimum wage workers to have healthcare coverage stating that, in essence, someone needs to be at the bottom of the ladder and those people at the bottom are not deserving of the privilege of affordable healthcare coverage. I have also heard those same people degrade these same Americans for seeking out insurance coverage through Medicaid, calling it a handout, even if these same people are paying the same taxes that everyone else is paying. When I hear these messages, my mind spins contemplating how people I love and respect, can have such little respect for lives of their fellow humans. How do we ever break the cycle of the “haves” remaining the only “haves” and the “have nots” always having not if we only maintain a system in which those with privilege are allowed access to affordable healthcare, especially affordable mental healthcare? Maybe that is what these people are actually hoping for, but in my mind, I hope and pray that this is not the case. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that the original implementation of the ACA was not perfect or always smooth but the promise of all people being able to have access to affordable healthcare, and for me specifically affordable mental healthcare, felt like such a possibility for larger changes down the road.
I can tell you as a therapist, when the ACA was initially implemented it really gave me hope for my clients. At the time of it going into effect, I had been working in the mental health field for over 7 years and had seen the way our healthcare system was really failing those who were truly most in need. I saw clients with serious mental illness have to debate between getting a job and being able to continue to have health insurance because their employers did not offer health insurance for them, or if they did it was so expensive they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills if they were to enroll. How frustrating it was to sit with clients, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, and hear about how the healthcare system and the government that they were paying taxes to, was failing them. Some clients would come to therapy, begin medications with their prescriber, and then finally stabilize to the point of being able to work. Once they started working, they would make too much money for Medicaid and be dropped but also not have access to affordable healthcare at their job. This would mean they would lose their insurance, decompensate, and lose their jobs and the cycle would begin again. I would see single mothers, working full time jobs, struggling to make ends meet, but also not being able to take overtime hours because if they made too much money, they would lose their health insurance. I have sat with clients who have medical debt, which is one of the most common and daunting categories of debt, that feels so insurmountable that their anxiety about debt takes precedent in sessions over other stressors in their lives that we should be focusing our time on. I sit with clients as they worry that if they get a necessary medical procedure, it may prevent them from being able to pay their mortgage. I have had clients that thoughtfully mull over the pros and cons of using the health insurance that they pay into for their therapy sessions because they worry about how going to therapy will lead to a mental health diagnosis and that whatever diagnosis they are given will forever be a red letter on their medical file as a pre-existing condition, a pre-existing condition that could mean healthcare coverage would be impossible if certain aspects of the ACA are taken away. Then, as the therapist, sitting with the necessity to make an appropriate diagnosis for a client, knowing that by doing so, I may be affecting important aspects of the client’s future only because they decided to seek out help. A prime example of this is the rape victim being revictimized by the healthcare system by being strong enough to get help. So many broken aspects of the system that is meant to fix us, inside and out.
I am sure that many of you, unless you have been directly impacted by it, cannot wrap your head around the way in which offering people affordable health insurance can change things and can open doors to things that they never thought were possible. And, if you have made it this far into this post, I hope you have some willingness to hear me out a bit more. I thought that it may be helpful for me to share my own story of the ACA and the impact that it has had on my life personally. My story begins a lot longer ago than you may have anticipated – in the summer of 1999. When I was 15 years old, I was the passenger in a pretty horrendous car wreck. Without getting into too many of the gory details, I broke my back in multiple places, underwent surgery, and also went to mental health treatment in response to the trauma I withstood. It was a horrific time in my life that made me who I am today and inspired me to be the therapist that has created this platform to explore so many of these topics that are dominating the mental health space we are currently existing in.
From that accident and my physical and emotional injuries, I was left with 2 possible pre-existing conditions. None of this was my fault, none of this had to do with decisions I made, but here I was with physical and emotional scars that I still have today. These pre-existing conditions have led to continued medical treatments including additional surgery, therapies, treatments, and at times, medication. Until the ACA was implemented, I was trapped in a system of being underpaid and burnt out because I needed health insurance. I was in a relationship with my now husband at the time, but we were not yet married. And if you have been on this blog journey with me, being independent and self-sufficient was important for me. Without the ACA, I would never have been able to pursue my dream of being on my own with my own therapy practice. I remember the years between me striking out on my own, and when I got married, feeling such worries and anxieties about what would happen to me if the ACA was repealed, and how I would be able to continue to do the fulfilling work I was doing as a therapist and still have medical coverage if my pre-existing conditions prevented me from having access to insurance on my own. I share all of this because having a face to the ACA, a face of someone who has been doing it right, may help to humanize what it can do for people in our country. I am so thankful for the opportunity to start my own practice and I know that I would never be where and who I am today without feeling secure in my health insurance coverage in order to make the jump into private practice.
As I said in my last post, many people may be critical of my decision to become a little political in these posts. When I think back to last January, when I decided to begin this blogging journey, I had a very long list of therapeutic topics I was ready to write about. But then, 2020 happened, and everything that was no longer is. What I do on a daily basis has been centered around politics in a way that it has never been before, I feel an obligation to be a voice for the human side of the theoretical topics that are the hot topics in our world. I am unsure if any minds were changed through this post, but hopefully I have offered some additional enlightenment and maybe opened your minds to the possibility of different ways of looking at things. To be honest, this post may be a bit more for me, and to help me to process all of the thoughts that are going through my head and heart through this crazy time. Regardless, I want to thank you for reading and joining me on this journey.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.