Monday, August 8, 2011

Emotional Turmoil, Part One: Self-Preservation

Don’t let us motivational speakers fool you, not for one minute. We’re not superheroes; we’re human. That being said, you should know that we actually do have challenges in our lives. Everything is not smooth every day. Occurrences are happening all the time, some of them very uncomfortable; but we have a job to do, and that is to encourage all of you. A good portion of the time, that encouragement takes place in person, sometimes on the phone. And while it is not our job to put on airs and pretend to be perfect, what’s important is that when we are in front of you, you don’t see our world falling apart, so to speak. Job = professionalism (at least it should), and having a meltdown on stage, in the middle of a workshop or in-person encouragement session, or over the phone, does not qualify as professional. Yes, a good and honest motivational speaker should be using his or her own personal examples of how he or she overcame XYZ obstacles; without personal stories and victories, people would be less than inclined to take our advice. But freaking out in front of people we’re supposed to be encouraging, when an occurrence is fresh and in motion, is generally the last thing we want to have happen. There have been several times that I was on the mic, pre- or mid-meltdown, and pulled out every bit of my professionalism to get my job done without incident, and then was relieved to be able to let my guard down in the car on the way home.

My motivational-speaking subject is self-love and self-reflection. I’m a constant work in progress, checking myself daily, whether I want to or not, trying to make sure that I’m treating myself right and putting my situations in the proper perspective. It’s not easy all the time. In fact, sometimes I find myself wanting to send myself to my own room because I’ve fallen off the self-love/reflection meter a bit. But then I remember that I’m human, and it’s okay, as long as I make sure to pick myself up, dust myself off really well, and get back on the meter—as high as possible—as soon as I can. More importantly, I remember that in order for me to be an effective motivator, I have to work through my own occurrences successfully so that I can be ready to encourage people who are in the same situation. Part of being a well-rounded speaker in your realm is to have an array of experiences with which to use as encouragement fodder. The subject of self-love is probably the biggest and most important subject there is, because contrary to popular belief, you can’t really lead a successful life without it.

Last night, I found myself dealing with a recurrent occurrence, and in my moment of oversensitivity, I allowed it to break me down. I mean way down…swimming-in-tears down. Now, I’m no crybaby, but I am a firm believer in a good cry every now and then; for me, it helps alleviate a certain amount of stress. And I have them sometimes. But boy, when I do, they are very serious, probably because I don’t do it that often. I’ve gotten pretty good at “sucking it up” during times when I know I just really need to calm down and refocus my energies. Then, there are the times when my system overloads; I’ve sucked up one too many frustrating, hurtful, or disappointing moments, and the dam bursts heavily. And I let it flow. At that point, I know there’s no need in trying to run from what’s happening. The important thing is what I do after it’s over. This is where the self-love comes in, and where the fodder enters the picture.

I know from countless firsthand experiences that wallowing is the absolute worst move you can make after a breakdown. It does nothing but crush all your self-esteem and exacerbate any feelings of hopelessness you may already have. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve allowed myself to “lie down and die,” thinking that if I could just go to sleep for a while, I could get away from the pain, maybe dream up a great solution in the process of my wallow-nap. No such luck. I would wake up just as depressed or even more, realizing that the problem had not packed up and bounced while I snored and drooled for 3 or 4 hours. Not only was the problem still there, but I also I felt crappy about myself on a really deep level for some reason, every single time. I was never sure what that was about, but I soon learned.

Many years ago, in one of the countless self-help books that I’ve read (I apologize that I can’t name it right now), I came across the idea that instead of allowing ourselves to curl up in a ball and wither away at the hands of our problems, the first thing we should do is show ourselves some kind of love. The moments right after a breakdown are so crucial. They’re the precursor for either our overall victory or failure in the situation. Once the tears and tantrum end, it’s what we do next that will make or break us. I can tell you that as an ex-first-class wallower, that will break you. Going to sleep, getting drunk or high, going out and beating someone up to “let off some steam,” or doing anything other than turning your attention to yourself in a loving, caring way, will always lead you to a shoddier place emotionally. The reason is that you have completely abandoned yourself at your worst time. Going to sleep right after a breakdown may not seem like a bad idea, and it’s actually not bad. I mean, sleep is necessary, and it’s not destructive like the other options, right? No, but what it is, is an easy way to avoid looking at your life and dealing with your pain; and in times of crisis, that is the first thing we should do if we want to bring the issue to a close as soon as possible: deal with it—no drugs, alcohol, violence, or convenient escape mechanisms.

You know how when a friend calls you up in a panic and wants you to help them with a problem? You usually do it without hesitation, because you care about that person. You take time out to focus on their issue, show them that you care, dig in and come up with some encouraging words, find a [hopefully healthy] way to make them feel better, if you can. That’s the same thing we should be doing with ourselves in our own time of need. You don’t skip out on your friends when they’re down, so why would you do that to yourself? In times of emotional turmoil, the best counteraction is to find a way to do something loving for yourself, to take care of your life. Typically, after a meltdown, the first thing we forego is our “normal routine.” For example, maybe the dishes won’t get done; the laundry won’t get folded; your teeth may not get brushed and flossed that night; you may skip your exercise routine; if you’re in school, you might not get that homework done; maybe you’ll postpone that prayer session you had planned; or you had cooking a healthy 3-course meal on your agenda, but now you’ll just opt for some greasy fast food. Whatever it is that we normally do when we’re okay, those things are usually the first to go by the wayside when we’re distraught. It’s just too much. We’re too broken down. We’ll do it later, after we ruminate for 18 more hours on the issue at hand. The reality is, it’s how you care for yourself in moments of crisis that show how deep your love for yourself really is. After a breakdown is precisely the time to put extra focus on taking care of your life, even in the smallest way. I don’t care if you just go take out the trash, clip your fingernails, dust the shelves, or go walk around the block once; do any healthy thing that you know will make you feel better or feel good about yourself, even relax you. Any move you can make towards showing yourself that you care about yourself, and even your immediate surroundings, is a great start. You may not think it’s worth much at the time, but I can’t stress enough how showing yourself love and care when you feel bad will boost your self-esteem, and, dare I say, allow you to feel a glimmer of hope about getting through your situation. I can’t begin to explain how it works; it just does. Being your own friend and motivator first, changes things; it gives you incredible strength and resilience. It says, “I love myself enough to not let myself sink into the abyss of hell.” It helps preserve your sanity.

After my hissy fit, of course, I wanted to crawl under my bed and stay there for a week. But I knew better. Since it was nighttime, and there were things I needed to take care of before bed, I knew that those needed to be my first love-myself moves. After calming down and drying my eyes, I sat for a bit, tooling around on the Internet. I was still hurting, which is normal, but I wasn’t about to let myself fall off the meter. So, I got up, went and washed my face and brushed my teeth; then, once that was done and I started feeling better about myself, I got busy washing my dinner dishes in the sink, straightening up my couch area in the living room, and tidying up in the bedroom. These things are not major…when all is right in my world. When all is not, I want no part of the routine. I just wanna scrap everything and mope. But once again, by pushing myself to tend to my well-being, I saw the amazing results of caring for myself when it was hardest to do. My spirits rose; I began to have hope that the situation would get better soon (while in tantrum mode, I had pretty much lost all hope); and the best thing that happened was that I got the idea for this blog post, which instantly excited me because all that hoopla did was lead me right back to doing what I love: writing and motivating. Fodder. Boom. Case closed.

So here I am, at 4:23 a.m., eyes puffy and tired, but happily doing my job. Does my issue still exist? Yep. Do I wanna lie down and die over it? Nope. So guess what, people? I WIN. I loved myself through yet another trying moment, and that’s what it’s all about. Remember: wallowing is reactive; self-care is proactive.

Now…I can go to sleep.

From my book Building Faith and Character Through Life Challenges. For more info and to order, click here.

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