How many times do you check in with yourself to see how you’re doing emotionally? If that sounds crazy to you then the answer is… not enough. Most of us don’t think it’s necessary to take emotional inventory because, for some strange reason, we think we’re aware of how we’re feeling but this isn’t always the case. Let me give you an example of what I mean by explaining what happened to me.
In 2002 my mother passed away. Although she dealt with some health issues her death was sudden. In my family, the women are pretty strong, and by strong I mean we stifle our feelings in order to get done what needs to get done. So immediately I went into assist mode. Whatever my grandmother needed I was there to accomplish. Together we cleaned out her apartment, made funeral arrangements, picked out my mother’s clothes for the funeral, arranged the pictures, and created the obituary for the funeral program. I did this all while caring for children at home, and feeling alone as my husband was clear across the world in South Korea on military assignment, an assignment that lasted almost 2 years!
Because I instantly sprang into action to be there for my family, I hadn’t even thought about stopping to assess my own feelings and I didn’t think I needed to. This was my mother so of course, I knew I would be sad. But once all of the dust settled and I had tended to my family’s emotional needs, I had a break down that I didn’t expect. This breakdown wasn’t a burst into tears. It was more like a numbness, and completely unaware that it was happening, I pummeled into a deep state of depression with ease. For weeks I was spending every day locked in my home, only getting out of bed to care for the children entrusted to me in my daycare. At this point, I truly just went through the motions, only leaving my recliner when absolutely necessary.
It wasn’t until months had passed that I realized something was wrong with me. I already knew I was sad about losing my mother but what I didn’t realize was I hadn’t taken the time to properly mourn her death. Sure, I had cried here and there but I don’t think I processed everything that had happened. Once I realized this, I began to read the bible and pray more, yet I still came up feeling empty. I reached out to family but no one was either able or ready to assist. That is when I knew I needed the help of a professional therapist to get me through what I was going through. Doing this allowed me to take inventory of what I was experiencing emotionally and once I did, I was able to move forward and heal.
I told you this story because I think we all have situations where we may stifle our emotions to go on with our days and activities. It doesn’t even have to be something as traumatic as losing a loved one. The point I’m trying to make is, there is no “right” way to deal with traumatic experiences. We all cope with trauma in different ways. The way I handled my mother’s passing was different than how I handled my father’s or how I coped with my grandmother’s. One trauma is different from another so naturally there’s not going to be a one size fits all solution from person to person. I don’t have all the answers but here’s what I think would help. Instead of trying to push past what you’re feeling, the healthy, self-aware thing to do would be to take an inventory of how you’re feeling. I know that dealing with emotional things head-on can serve as a challenge. It can be physically and mentally draining, but the fallout of not dealing with them is much worse. So in those moments, take some time to make a mental checklist of what’s going on. Ask yourself these questions:
- What happened?
- How am I feeling about what happened?
- Am I being honest with myself about how I feel or am I being defensive in order to protect myself?
- Have I prayed about this?
- Do I see a solution to this problem?
- What is the worst outcome of this situation?
- Have I done everything I could do truthfully and honestly for myself and for the other people involved?
These are just a few questions you can ask yourself while trying to move forward. Once you feel like you can answer these honestly, ask yourself if you need to take some time off for the sake of your mental health. This doesn’t have to be days or weeks. It can be a day or two. Take whatever time you need in order to put things into perspective. And if you feel like these aren’t things you can do on your own, you can always seek help from loved ones you trust or seek professional help through therapy. Sometimes the hardest step is acknowledging that there are some emotional things you need to deal with and being able to even take that first step puts you way ahead of the game!