Updated: Apr 30
Recently, I've found myself in multiple settings in which someone was asking me what to do to manage the emotional upheaval people are experiencing. In my head, I am always thinking, "Put on your shoes."
Unfortunately, that means very little to most people. When I moved to Austin, I was a teen going off to college, but I was also dealing with complex PTSD and had no idea. To me that was something that soldiers experienced. Still, whether I was prepared or not, my brain decided to protect me and suppress memories of an abusive stepfather. I had this awareness of lost time, but until I came in contact with a trigger, it was just something hazy in the background. When I did come in contact with a trigger, I would have a rush of memories and a full panic attack. I started keeping a journal and writing down everything I could remember and everything I was doing before it happened. I wanted to avoid places that would trigger me unless I was ready with my journal to receive what came next.
Documenting triggers helped, but I started having trouble getting moving everyday. I couldn't focus on school work. One morning, I specifically put on workout clothes to go to the library, and this was before athleisure wear was cool. The bounce to my tennis shoes kept me moving. I got a hot coffee drink, found a chair next to a window, and started my first research paper in college for honors psychology on memory and trauma. It was the first of three thirty-page papers, and for each one, I used the same method: the right sneakers, the right chair, the right drink, and the right pen... and pizza or Chinese food later. I took a horrible situation to a methodical place, and it started with shoes.
When my son was born, tragedy struck again when I had a traumatic delivery, and Logan had a stroke. I'd tried to do everything right, but it didn't matter. Life shut down in my house, and while the balloons were deflating and the flowers were dying, waiting for him to be healthy enough to leave the NICU, I found myself in a familiar place. I had this failure to get into action and would find myself staring at a wall. One day, I threw out the dead plants and deflated balloons. I put on stretchy pants and sneakers and sat at my computer looking at PubMed. My husband asked where I was going, but I wasn't going anywhere. I just needed to put on my shoes.
Sneakers on my feet and mug in hand, I started reviewing old notes on neuroplasticity. It wasn't the buzzword-"all neuroplasticity is great" kind of reading. When your brain has a lack of input from an area, other things will start taking up residence there. I was worried if in early development, the lack of usage of his right side would cause abnormal sensory development. There were very few answers to be had. Shoes became a little more difficult to make happen. I started leaving them out. I made getting up and getting moving as easy as possible for myself, and life went on. Full disclosure, I did mismatch my shoes one day.
One gift in life is nothing lasts forever. If you don't die, things will improve at some point. Most people don't find "at some point" helpful. A couple years ago, if I were being forthcoming when people asked how to manage stress, I'd probably say good old fashioned repression was the way to go. 😂 It comes back to bite you, though. Sooner or later, you have to process things or you'll find yourself out of line with the highest, truest version of yourself.
So instead, to anyone struggling to launch, I say, first, find your shoes.
Second, process-- find a journal, voice recorder or laptop and either write or say your answers to these questions:
What you are grieving?
What self-limiting beliefs are you telling yourself? What are the lies you're telling yourself in those beliefs?
Now, what is the truth?
In one of multiple speech therapy manuals I bought to work with Logan beyond his normal sessions, it says "It is a happy talent to know how to play."-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
What you learn in those manuals is that the first way to teach a nonverbal child how to play is deconstruction. You show them how fun it is to knock over a stack of blocks to get them excited about rebuilding. There's a lesson there, too. The last step on this page out of my I'm-not-a-therapist-book is to learn to play.
Our lives are turned upside down right now, and for some more so than others. Grief dissolves qi. Fear descends qi. Neither are helpful when you need to get up.
But, if we can engage those emotions of deconstruction and perhaps obliteration, maybe we can find our shoes and learn to play.
In other words, acknowledge that grief, that fear, and move from metal to water to wood. Let the inspiration of wood send you straight into the joy of fire and earthly intention. These are natural cycles. To that end, all of the things I mentioned from shoes to beverages to pens are classic loop-breakers for INTJ's. Work with your natural way of meeting the world. I also suggest hot showers and flavorful food. In the next article, I'll write about Myers Briggs loops and activities to break them.
Until next time, you are not alone, and I'm thinking of you! ❤️ 🙏
Also, a friendly reminder, I'm not a therapist, but remember we have partnerships with local counseling partners who are!