I have a friend who has said more times than I can count over the past few years,
“I hate our timeline,” and every single day I feel that deep in my soul. The compounding events happenings in our world and our country are becoming terrifyingly common. We call for change at the local, national, and international levels and the lack of action that follows is embarrassing.
I was a freshman in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. I remember so clearly watching the news, seeing the outrage then – over 24 years ago. Everyone said, “This can’t happen again”, “There were warning signs with those individuals,” “we must be better,” and “we have to be better for our kids, we have to protect them”. Flash forward to the school shooting that was so very close to home for me – Sandy Hook. I remember the collective pain we all felt almost 11 years ago, over a decade after Columbine, and it feels like “this has to be it”. I couldn’t believe that this could be happening in my state, and I truly thought that would have been the moment for change because babies were gunned down in their elementary school classrooms. I thought that just maybe that would have been enough for people who have power to turn their hearts away from their self-interest and instead toward the lives that are being lost senselessly and repeatedly. But how naïve I was, if Columbine wasn’t enough, if Virginia Tech wasn’t enough, why would Sandy Hook have been enough?
This is not to discount all the shootings that have happened OUTSIDE of schools. My hometown of Manchester, CT was faced with its own mass shooting in 2010 when a man opened fire on his coworkers at Hartford Distributors. Where can we feel safe in this country? We are supposed to be the greatest country in the world, and we are failing one another. We have seen mass shootings in workplaces, schools, churches, grocery stores, Walmart stores, concerts, factories, and now restaurants and bowling alleys… the list goes on and on and will keep going on and on until we create real change. This is a true and complete failure and only shows what people find important behind closed doors even if they are saying something different out loud. The inaction of our country around these atrocities is the loudest thing that we all should be paying the most attention to in the coming day and weeks.
So what does this mean for me, and why am I, as a therapist writing something about this on my mental health blog? There are a few reasons why. Firstly, we are amidst another highly televised, most likely preventable mass shooting and I know for the next few days this is going to be a significant topic of conversation in my sessions. This shooting is also personally a more difficult event for me to process because it hits uncomfortable close as both my husband and I have family that call Lewiston home. Secondly, it’s the script that follows each of these events that makes it important for me to not be quiet. My ability to predict what will happen and will be said over the next few days should be alarming to you all too. And I am begging for this experience to prove me wrong.
We begin with outrage, fear, sadness, and for some reason disbelief (this keeps happening, how are people still pretending that they are surprised?). We hear, “This is horrible, how can this happen AGAIN”, or “How can this happen in my hometown, in my country.”
Then we get to the oh so important “thoughts and prayers,” that will last for a few days. We send this love to the victims, their family, their friends, and society and humanity. What people must realize though is these thoughts and prayers spoken out loud and posted on social media mean nothing. They are EMPTY without action. If you and your elected officials do nothing, those “thoughts and prayers” that you are posting online are a slap in the face to the victims.
After the meaningless and empty regurgitation of the same “thoughts and prayers,” the voices who speak up say “we have to do something about this, we can’t let this happen again.”
Every single time I think, this is going to be the time, this will be it, this will be the moment where we FINALLY say enough is enough.
Then, the person is identified or hopefully apprehended, sometimes he is killed by law enforcement or found dead by self-inflicted wounds. We collectively have some relief, we temporarily feel safer because that one individual is no longer out there, terrorizing us as we worry waiting to see what he does next. Finally, we can act. We can DO something. We do not need to focus on the manhunt. We can look to understand then create policies that can elicit change.
Unfortunately, I am always proven wrong. My hopes are shattered. We find out there were warning signs. There were ways this could have been prevented. The focus is directed away from common sense gun laws by those who don’t want them to something else that feels “easier” to blame so these politicians do not have to get their hands dirty or go against the groups that are padding their pockets. Often a history of mental health issues surfaces. And, of course, I love the idea of a focus on mental health treatment. We have some surface discussions about what can happen next to help the mental health crisis that our country is facing.
But then, as the news cycles change, the mental health piece gets lost. I can tell you as a mental health provider in this country, providing care only gets more difficult. Many insurance companies are fighting us tooth and nail about covering care. Some are even trying to reduce our reimbursement. If the conclusion of all these mass shootings is that mental health is at the root of the problem, why are we making it harder for providers to do their jobs? If we know there is a history of warning signs, why do we as mental health providers not have any power to do anything about these signs that we see? I am not allowed to force a client who is suicidal to go to the hospital, and I am not allowed to report a client that I think might be unsafe to society unless that person makes a direct threat to a specific person or group of people. Make it make sense!
There is also the hypocrisy of people stating they support police, but don’t support common sense guns laws. And the fact that people turn a blind eye to their own hypocrisy to focus on their own self-interests. Our country elects officials that refuse to do anything about this, while also claiming to care about their fellow man and fellow Americans. Their claim to be Christians truly makes me sick to my stomach and I feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. You cannot be pro-life while continuing to turn a blind eye to all this that is happening around you, that only makes you pro-birth.
I want you all to know though, that if you are feeling that same way I am feeling it means that you are human. If you are feeling sick, you are feeling hopeless, you are feeling overwhelming dread, its because you are human and YOU care about other people. It would be more alarming if you were not feeling these things while we are all sitting here together thinking about the lives that were lost and the families that will never be the same. If you are NOT feeling these things in some way, shape or form today, it is time for some reflection on what is important to you and why.
So, I challenge you all to really reflect on what you have power to do. Election day is less than 2 weeks away. Which side will you be on when it comes to life and death?
Today is World Arthritis Day, and it’s my first since being diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis this past year. As this day comes it has made me reflect a bit on my own journey and the journey of those with chronic pain and chronic illness and how these are connected to mental health as well.
Chronic pain has been described as a silent disability. Most people, if they look at me or at someone else with something like PsA or RA, would have no idea that something so painful is going on internally. When you look at me, you don’t necessarily see my pain because my joints aren’t all visibly swollen. When I walk, I try to mask the pain in my joints and adapt to a different gait because walking just around my house can feel like I’m walking on shards of glass. I make excuses for taking an escalator or elevator because sometimes my knees feel too stiff to think about stairs. Even my psoriasis (thank goodness) is in a place that is not visible to others. There are also so many symptoms involved in an illness like mine that people would never connect to a joint disorder. When I have told people that I am on this new journey, it has even been dismissed as “just arthritis” and I want to say to them yeah, I wish that was the case. Not only are my joints themselves painful, the tendons and ligaments around them are inflamed as well, which feels excruciating. I’m exhausted some days in a way that I cannot even begin to describe and beyond just a bad night’s sleep. I don’t sleep sometimes either, as either the pain keeps me awake or wakes me up, or insomnia just takes over. I get anxious when I travel wondering what sleeping in a bed other than my own might do to my functionality. I have brain fog, I get distracted, I get anxiety, and my mood can be affected too.
Living with something like this can create anxiety, social isolation, and even depression. I’m faced with decision fatigue as I work through deciding to participate in activities or not. I can injure myself or cause a flare easily by overdoing things which creates anxiety about making decisions – do I exercise because I know my body needs it and it will make me feel better, or do I listen to my body when it is telling me it needs a rest? All things I love – cooking, exercising, hiking, walking, crocheting, travelling – are affected in a way I could never have imagined. The tasks involved in taking care of myself, my home, my yard all feel so much bigger than they did before and I have to weigh out the pros and cons of every decision I make regarding every task I am faced with.
One of the most complicated parts of living with chronic pain is how it is dismissed in our world and how as a woman I am even more likely to be dismissed than a man presenting with the same symptoms to the same doctors. I was injured in a car accident when I was in high school and had to have two back surgeries which has led to significant chronic back issues. For years pain was attributed to this injury and doctors struggled to get beyond the saying of when you hear hoofbeats, think horses and not zebras. I would go to doctors explaining how I had pain in joints throughout my body for no reason and was told there was nothing that could be done. I even had a doctor who told me that my pain was just something I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life and that I would just have to “deal”. I was told to exercise more, lose weight, change my diet, meditate. It felt as though these doctors were treating my pain as somatization, and not listening to me. As a mental health professional, sitting in that room, I was appalled and as a human being I was devastated. I know pain, I know broken back in four places pain, and I was being dismissed.
Because of this dismissal by the professionals, I would dismiss my own pain too. I would pretend that my pain wasn’t as bas as it was. If the doctors thought my symptoms were somatic, why wouldn’t I? I would blame myself, I would push through pain, doing the things they would tell me would make things better, only to make it worse. I would get caught in a cycle that just kept feeding into itself, creating more pain, making me feel worse and worse about myself and who and what I was in the world.
It took me continuing to advocate for myself, to say that I was not okay once I finally admitted it to myself. It took me drawing connections between the different pain I had, the overwhelming fatigue, and the brain fog. It took my hairdresser finally telling me the psoriasis on my head was not okay and that I should see a dermatologist and then that female dermatologist hearing me and validating my pain and telling me I need to see my rheumatologist. It took my rheumatologist doing more bloodwork and seeing how bad my inflammation markers were.
I tell you this story not to get your sympathy or even your empathy. I tell you this story so that if you are experiencing or have experienced something similar that you know you are not alone. I tell you this story to hopefully help you find strength to keep advocating for yourself and to not allow dismissal to be your only answer.
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.