By Tabi Upton
I like to pride myself on keeping my cool in small crisis situations. While working at summer camp one summer during my college years, I was brought in to calm down rambunctious teenagers after their counselor had fainted mid-lecture and lay unconscious in the middle of the cabin. I lightly chided the children for their hyperactivity and then spoke to my fellow worker as if she were simply taking a nap. “Girl, what are you doing down there?” We helped her sit up and she slowly came to. The girls settled down, and life resumed its normal pace.
I’ve often gotten up in the middle of the night to answer mental health crisis calls. I’ve learned to modulate my voice to soothe people in moments of irrational anger or agitation. Applying this knowledge and experience to one’s own personal moments of stress, however, is not nearly as easy.
Life has a way of humbling us. Things can be moving along swimmingly, and then suddenly crumble before your eyes. Take for instance my recent move. It was carefully planned out. I would close on a Friday before a three-day weekend and move within the hour. I would then spend the next couple days cleaning my old apartment, then return to unpack throughout the extra day.
Instead, my new place wasn’t quite ready, so the closing was extended. After being assured that this was all quite normal, I was graciously checked into a hotel after storing all my worldly possessions. This was good, since the water company had accidentally turned off my water already (discovered just as I was stepping into the shower before work, of course.) The phone company had incorrectly entered my transfer date for a month in advance, rather than a week, so I would be without phone service for at least two weeks. I found out I would have to forego a significant chunk of my pay to take care of business I hadn’t realized I’d agreed to over a year before, and my part-time gig was ending. Several other tangled complications followed.
No deep breathing techniques or soft welcoming voice was able to keep me from wanting my mommy. Mentally exhausted, I spent my extra day eating cookies and slurping ice cream while watching hours and hours of Home and Garden Television from bed. I learned how to landscape a backyard with deer-resistant plants, camouflage obnoxious red floors, and what houses cost in Denver. I was escaping.
As the week petered on, I mused about having grace under fire. I thought about the many stressors in life much worse than my own (but I do know why moving is up near the top) and realized that half my battle was simply in keeping perspective. After all, I was surrounded by gracious people who called just to keep me company, generously offer help, or simply say an encouraging word. I actually made a point to take walks some mornings, and even took in some deep cleansing breaths before my work week began. I looked toward the near future when most of my woes would work themselves out, and saw that that light at the end of the tunnel was shining brighter and brighter. And why shouldn’t it? Even life’s most nerve-wracking moments must come to an end.
Tabi Upton, MA, is a therapist at New Beginnings and Johnson Mental Health Centers. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.