If you didn’t already know, I’m a big fan of psychotherapy. Call it going to a therapist, a counselor, or a shrink. I don’t care about the name; the benefits are what matter.
It’s been awhile since we realized our family needed help finding our way back from a very painful year in 2016. We have since had a lot of therapy — sometimes individually, sometimes together. I’d estimate I have personally attended 17,500 therapy sessions, if I combine my own sessions with the ones I’ve attended with one of my kids, or with my husband. (Actually, that’s probably an exaggeration.)
But the dozens upon dozens of sessions have taught me so much — and they have ultimately led me to try to support others. Help them listen to the wisdom of their bodies. Help them understand the trauma the nervous system navigates on a regular basis. Help them make their wellness a priority.
Think of the last time you’ve found yourself…
- raising your voice in an argument with a coworker
- driving away from a close call or near-miss accident
- watching a violent video clip on the news
- receiving rude treatment from a stranger at the store
- witnessing a racist or otherwise hurtful confrontation
- hearing troubling news about a loved one
- being startled by a sound or buzz coming from your phone
- reading a hurtful or upsetting comment on social media
Trauma is part of our daily lives — and it’s often much more subtle than a sudden death, natural disaster, or house fire. Those experiences are objectively traumatic, of course. But small things add up, too. And no matter how small or big, our nervous systems process it all.
Having worked in school public relations, I have felt the small things adding up. Planning for unthinkable crises, softening the blow of shocking news, witnessing otherwise-invisible poverty, feeling the exposure of managing high-profile social media accounts. I’ve felt those small things add to the small things that are simply part of everyday life. And I’ve felt the extra weight on top of all that, from the loss of loved ones (three losses in four months — four losses if you count our sweet old dog), and it’s a lot.
Really, it’s too much.
A day not too long ago, I was transferring my favorite local honey — pouring it from the large quart jar a friend delivers, to the small honey bear that sits on my counter. I knew from experience that if I poured too much, or too quickly, I’d have a mess on my hands. After all, honey can only pass through that skinny outlet so quickly.
And I realized: Our nervous system is like that funnel. In fact, scientists tell us that the human body is hard-wired to release a trauma response naturally, using such reflexive responses as tears, goosebumps, spontaneous deep breaths, shaking/tingling, or brief changes in temperature to regulate.
On any given day, one tiny traumatic moment — a few drops of honey — flows through the funnel easily, perhaps even unnoticed. The messy trouble comes when the trauma is either too large, too compounded, or comes too quickly, for our nervous system to process it.
I learned in therapy that anytime we find ourselves saying …
“too much” … “too soon” … “too fast” … or “not enough” for too long
…we need to pay attention. Our nervous system is overwhelmed, and it needs time to release. And as my therapist likes to say,
You get there faster by going slowly.
The things I’m learning from therapy could never be contained in one blog post. There will be more to come.
But to my school PR friends, not to mention all the moms and dads out there: As you navigate the overwhelm of back to school, I hope you’ll pay attention to your funnel. If it’s full to the brim, it will take time (and patience) to empty. If it’s overflowing into a mess, I feel you. Healing is possible, and a great therapist (or counselor, or shrink) can help.
I’m definitely not a therapist, in real life or online. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my therapist, Candy Smith, and her practice of Somatic Experiencing, a neurobiological approach to treating psychological distress and the many ways it affects our bodies, lives, and wellness. The compassionate work of Candy and another area SE practitioner has helped me heal, and helped my family heal.
(I share because of how profoundly SE has influenced my sense of wellness, as well as my relationships with family and friends. I receive no monetary benefit from sharing, and I don’t even think Candy is taking new clients at the time I’m writing this.)
If you are struggling, no longer feel like yourself, find yourself agitated or anxious for no apparent reason, or otherwise don’t feel like life can be lived fully, please find a SE practitioner near you or consider other options for professional, trauma-informed support. Healing takes courage and patience, but it is possible — and it is entirely worth it.