As Chicago rolls into March, so too does the promise of Spring and warmer, sunnier days ahead. Yet as with any transition, it is not always easy to break away from the Winter blues. Some folks are bracing themselves for a new season without a loved one. Others are battling through depression, anxiety, and a myriad of health scares. In the current culture and climate of sensationalist bad news, it can be so hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Society often equates strength with stoicism and courage with “silently soldiering on.” It is certainly and understandably easier to isolate when it’s fifty degrees below zero or snowing incessantly. I commend our clients and the many good folks seeking therapeutic services, particularly during this difficult time. I believe strongly in the power of community and the healing that is possible not only with loving support, but also by the empowerment of perspective.
I’ve had the privilege to work with individuals, couples, families and groups from all walks of life. I’m inspired daily in my career seeing my clients build resilience in overcoming physical and emotional challenges. My background is in gerontology and end-of-life care, but I also work extensively with youngsters. I find that utilizing analogies and stories can be quite helpful in developing a positive perspective. Here are just a few of those to bring with you into the new season.
You’re Not Alone
This one is a client favorite:
A man is walking alone. He stumbles and falls, finding himself in a deep pit. Startled and hurt, he calls out for help.
First, a doctor approaches. “Doc, can you help me?” the man asks. The doctor writes a prescription and passes it down. “This should help with the pain. I’ll come by tomorrow to see if you’re feeling any better.”
Next, a priest walks up. “Father, can you help me?” the man asks. “Of course, my son,” the clergyperson says. He leads the man in prayer, and they recite a few comforting psalms. “I’ll be back to check on you,” he says.
Time passes, and darkness approaches. The man feels scared and lonely. Then he sees a stranger, who pauses and sits beside this deep hole.
“Can you please help me?” the man asks. “Sure!” the stranger responds with enthusiasm. He leaps to his feet and then down into the hole. “Why’d you do that?” the man asks. “Aren’t you hurt? Won’t we both be stuck now?”
The stranger smiles kindly, offering his hand. “I’ve been down here before, my friend. I know the way out. Come with me. It’s going to be alright.”
Even in the darkest of moments, know that there is always someone who loves you. Somebody who gets it. And someone who can help.
If Only We All Played Baseball
Many folks struggle with self-image and self-esteem. The negative voice inside of us can be loud and overbearing at times. “I didn’t do good enough.” “I should have done better.” Sometimes, we set the bar so impossibly high that no matter what we do, we feel as if we’ve failed.
Here in Chicago, whether you love the Cubbies or the White Sox, all have endured long droughts without a championship or even a playoff appearance. But game after game, year after year, the seats are filled with loyal and cheering fans. We never give up on our teams. Why give up on ourselves?
Some of the kids I see love Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, Jose Abreu and Chris Sale (who may have traded his white socks for red ones but is still hugely popular). And some of these same kids are very tough on themselves, whether it’s their academic performance or feeling that they fall short in social circles. So I explain to them how success is measured on the baseball diamond.
Anthony Rizzo finished 2018 with an excellent stat sheet, hitting for an average of .283. In the baseball world, if you hit consistently over .300, you’re likely on the rise to a hall of fame career and permanent stardom. But then I explain how batting average is calculated: number of hits divided by number of at-bats. If you bat ten times and get three hits, that is what earns you a .300 batting average. Therefore, even at the pinnacle of this sport, the most amazing players out there succeed about thirty percent of the time. The flipside – two-thirds of the time, they fail!
On the pitching side, if a player earns 10-15 wins in a season, they’re also on their way to quite a storied career. Yet starting pitchers work anywhere from 35-40 games in a season, putting even the best at a success rate of well less than half.
I myself have waited in hour-long lines for the privilege of shaking such a player’s hand, getting an autograph or posing for a photo. If we can be so forgiving of a complete stranger, then we can also learn positive self-talk and to further recognize our own strengths and triumphs.
Out of Fuel
When driving south on nearby Interstate 55, there are long stretches of road where food and fuel services are few and far between. You may pass 100 miles of farmland without so much as a McDonald’s. If fully fueled and stocked with snacks, you probably wouldn’t notice the hours and miles ticking by.
But have you ever been near empty or gotten a flat tire far from help and home? The road is still the same, as is the car, the driver, and your passengers. But your perspective is completely changed. I myself have white-knuckled some barren stretches of road, wondering how I will possibly make it when running on fumes.
Like cars, we run out of gas or battery power. Sometimes we could use an oil change, a paint job, or a tire rotation. This does not reflect poorly on your “make and model.” You wouldn’t angrily return your vehicle to the dealership every time you were low on fuel. If only we treated ourselves as well as we treated our cars.
The Laundry Dryer
This last one is particularly popular with kids.
I will ask them: How does a dripping wet sock or blanket magically become hot, dry, and at times electrically charged? We’ve all pulled on a nice woolen sweater in a dark room and seen a fireworks display of little static shocks. How could clothes become electrically charged?
The simple answer: They go around in circles, millions of times, faster and faster along the way. And this generates energy, heat, and even electricity.
Anxiety, depression, and the accompanying negative self-talk have a way of cycling through us. If left unchecked, we are left to feel burned out and/or hypervigilant, ready to burst at a moment’s notice.
I encourage creative outlets. You can watch a funny movie, take a walk, curl up with a good book (and ideally a puppy or kitty), or have a night out with friends and family. It can be quite healing! Rather than stigmatizing counseling and support services, we need to encourage our loved ones to reach out in dark moments and to find healthy means of letting off steam.
Let Spring be a reminder that each day, hour, minute, and second provide us with a fresh start. Know that you are not alone, nor do you have to be alone. Even as we muscle through the inevitable March/April snowstorm, we resilient Chicagoans have a bright future ahead. Hang in there, everyone!