I went visiting teaching with Becca on Friday morning and the lesson really got me thinking some deep thoughts. The lesson was about being self-reliant. We talked about how often the most critical aspects of being self-reliant go beyond physical or temporal preparedness. More than having food storage or being financially responsible, when trials come it is critical to be emotionally and spiritually self-reliant. We have to prepare ourselves to be able to cope with hardship.
I have so many thoughts on this concept. A couple days ago I had a good visit with Zoe, one of the Nate women. We ended up talking about our histories and it got me thinking a lot about how differently people deal with potentially crippling life experiences. There's a lot of crap in the world today. Some of it is inflicted upon us and some of it is due to our own choices. Some make bad choices as a result of their traumatic experiences or poor environment. But the bottom line is that as we become adults, WE are responsible for how our life turns out. We all have an excuse for our behaviors, someone or something to blame our shortcomings on. But ultimately, no matter what we've gone through as children or hardships we've faced as adults, we have to make the choice to rise above our past and become healthier and happier human beings.
When I think of spiritual and emotional self-reliance, I think of having the coping mechanisms to continue functioning at a somewhat normal level when facing hardships. Being able to do the things that need to be done each day to keep yourself, your home and your family healthy and safe. We have to be willing to recognize when we just can't seem to handle things, when we just can't "deal" with life, and we have to do something about it. There are so many different answers, so many different tools for dealing with trauma, disappointment, apathy, guilt, fear, etc. But we have to be willing to explore those tools to become self-reliant.
Depression is a part of life for me. I have accepted that and committed myself to being wise about managing it. One of my tools is medication. Proper and consistent use of an anti-depressant is essential for me. But meds aren't for everyone. So what other tools are there for coping and being emotionally self-reliant?
I credit a lot of my emotional well-being to an intuitive and wonderful counselor who I saw for 8 months in 2000-2001. I had seen a handful of counselors over the years, but Alison was the first one to help me really recognize the root of the unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors I had developed over the years. I went in to see her about one thing, and because of her training, and her sensitivity to the Spirit, she was able to steer me in a different direction and help me realize that my problems had real solutions if I was willing to pursue answers. It was not an easy process. But it changed my life. I learned not only the "why" of my behaviors, but the "how" when it came to permanently altering them. Because of Alison's help, I am now confident that trials and hardship won't break me. Life being life (i.e. HARD) won't completely cripple me. And a truth that I've recognized over the years is that if you've had a long, long struggle with depression, it takes someone special, not just any person who's willing to listen, but someone trained and practiced to be able to teach you how to become emotionally whole.
OK, so not everyone is off the deep end like me. For many people (and for depressed people like me, too) there are many great tools to staying emotionally healthy. Exercise is one. Not only are there the obvious physical benefits, but on the days I exercise I just feel better because if nothing else gets done the whole day, I at least accomplished that. Solitude is another. Taking private time to meditate and just breathe is so essential. I was reading on my cousin's blog last night about how she loved having time to herself because as a mother you feel like there's constantly someone wanting something from you. It's nice to give to yourself every so often. One tool I rely on is having good friends to confide in, to blow off steam with, and just relax with. I've been trying harder to be more social instead of feeling like I can't go anywhere until my house is clean. It really lifts me up to get out of the house for an hour or two. I come home with more energy and willingness to tackle the tasks waiting for me.
To me, emotional self-reliance is a prerequisite to being spiritually self-reliant. If you don't feel good emotionally, there's just no desire and no energy to seek after spiritual things. When I am feeling downtrodden, rather than turning to the scriptures or uplifting music, I would rather just hide and sleep. But when I am emotionally healthy I have a desire to fill myself with spiritually uplifting things.
Since writing this post, a good friend of mine has experienced a true tragedy in her family. On Saturday morning her 15-month-old son drowned in the bathtub. He is alive, but unconscious and on a ventilator. His mother performed CPR as soon as she found him and the ambulance arrived probably within 10 minutes of when he began drowning, but he was in full cardiac arrest when they arrived at the hospital. They were able to restart his heart, but it is unclear whether he will survive and if so, how much brain damage he has sustained. He has been heavily sedated, but they have seen some neurological activity with eye movement and being able to move all four limbs when stimulated.
Though I have shed many tears over my dear friend's situation, I simply cannot fathom the gut-wrenching heartache she and her husband are going through. There has been a whole army of people praying and fasting for little Bronson and his family, and I would invite you to participate. What has struck me is the faith and hope Sara and her husband Matt have shown. They know their family is eternal, they have their testimonies of the gospel and especially the Atonement to uphold them. Seeing this has really hammered home this concept of being emotionally and spiritually self-reliant.
I read a quote in my Young Women lesson on Sunday that, although it was about forming good habits, I thought was precisely the reason that Sara and Matt will be able to cope with their tragedy:
Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves, though the thought must precede the action. Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful, commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice. (Elder Delbert L. Stapley, Conference Report, October 1974)
There has been a lifetime of effort in building up their spirits and their emotional health to prepare Sara and Matt for this, the most difficult test of their lives. They have strived to teach their sons (4 boys) the gospel and the eternal nature of their family. Sara has always been a doer, one who's much more prone to get up and tackle something full force than allow herself to wallow in self-pity. I dare say that no challenge in her life has come remotely close to what she is facing now, but she has exercised her emotional and spiritual muscles all these years and it has prepared her for the road ahead. In the same situation, I might say, "Well I have no choice BUT to survive." But there is a difference between surviving in the literal sense and being able to endure a tragedy without it completely breaking you. Regardless of the outcome, I believe Sara and Matt will ultimately triumph over tragedy.
Please join me in offering prayers for Bronson and the rest of the Staker family. And take some time today to evaluate where you are emotionally and spiritually. Do you have the faith and the strength to cope with hardship? Are you self-reliant enough for your spirit to survive tragedy? If you find your answer less than you want it to be, I urge you to do whatever it takes to be the very best you. The Lord will help you.