I believe our passion for suicide-safer living is closely tied to the lyrics in John Denver’s Calypso, “to work in the service of life and living …”. COVID-19 has given us an unexpected twist in suicide prevention. We now have to give unparalleled attention to ourselves. This story is about the twist that brings self-care – service to our own life and living – to the forefront. I have always thought of the LivingWorks’ helping processes (TALK, PAL, PaTH) as having four (4) interconnected parts: the process itself, the person it serves, the caregiver using it, and you, the person, whose life motivated you in the first place to become a suicide intervention trainer and suicide-safer living helper.
The significance of loss is foundational in suicide prevention. COVID-19, with its necessary and unprecedented lockdowns and self-isolations, has created enormous pandemic loss, and like suicide, these losses know no boundaries. We have all lost (had to put aside) deeply held validators about helping others and have experienced the marginalization (partial to almost total lockdown) of our skills to be helpers and trainers. In many ways, we have lost or been cut off from all or most of the interconnected parts of face-to-face helping. In that sense, we have experienced sudden and unprecedented losses:
1. Unable to help others in the service of life and living.
2. Stopped from serving the lives of others with helping skills through your training and/or helping professions.
3. Prevented from applying what we have learned in helping with third, safe-for-now choices, safe connections to other resources, and recovery and growth.
We are forced, so to speak, back to the one remaining part … our own lives, and what supported and/or motivated each of us to become someone committed to “work in the service of life and living”. This kind of work is as important as it has always been, likely more so. However, for the moment (and we don’t know for how long), our callings in life are turned inward to ourselves. Being able to rise above one’s self in the service of others, now to a great extent, must be focused on our selfs. Self-care and the ability to rise above self, takes on an entirely new twist in being able to serve ourselves, while staying prepared and ready to help others. It’s a necessary prerequisite for taking in and following the many genuine tips that are being shared to help us with self-care during the pandemic. Almost all of the tips speak, in one way or another speak to four core things in our lives: the validators we believe in, the people close to us (neighbors to family members) who matter to us, and the community resources and services we have faithfully counted on (health, education, welfare, shelter, recreation, faith, travel, etc.). “We are all in it together” has demanded unprecedented responses from everyone—governments, charities, employers, neighborhoods, families, and each of us individually.
This month’s story is more about how you might work with the adaptations you’ve already made and/or the self-care tips you have been integrating in your own living. And, how you might locate them in supporting the core areas of your life: validators that now have to be applied to yourself, you —your mental, emotional, personal well-being, novel and creative ways to stay connected to loved ones and others close to you, accessing and using (and advocating for) larger system supports and benefits.
To get a baseline sense of your current situation, the day-to-day and the stressful, you might try something like this: Make a numerical count of many things (or, say up to 5 in each of the 4 areas) that matter to you: You (your - health, mental health, faith/spiritual, nutrition, exercise …parts); your validators (the number of core beliefs, customs, norms … that guide you in life); the number (or just the number of groups that matter) of close friends and family, relatives, neighbors, associates that matter to you; and the number of key resources such as workplace, health services, grocery outlets, education, etc. List and/or count those that quickly come to your mind. Add more if they surface. Make a note of the total number. It might sound complicated. Maybe using the equation seems strange. Give it a try.
Apply the number, say, for example, 5 in each area (total of 20) to the following equation:
(N2 – N)/2 = R. E.g. 20x20 -20/2 =190
This tells you what is likely the minimum number of interconnection relationships between the 20 things that you counted. Are you surprised? This gives you an idea of the overall day-to-day interconnections that you deal with and adapt to in your life. Some more in the forefront; some more in the background, but there.
Now count the things/experiences that have been lost or limited, are seriously stressed or are fast becoming serious stresses; things that are stressing you out, and pressing on your overall resilience strengths. Make a note of the number, say, as an example 12 (3 in each area), maybe more. Apply the equation again: 12x12-12/2 = 66 stressful interconnections, some seriously stressful, some getting close to a “last straw” breaking point. Subtract 66 from 190 = 124.
The example gives a rough idea of how many different interconnections (e.g. 124) that you deal with from day-to-day, and how many (e.g. 66) you are having some kind of stressful time with under all the pandemic public health requirements: hand washing, stay home, social distancing, using social media connections, and that constant public message that “together we will get through this”.
How do you feel (the feeling impact) of now having knowledge of the two different numbers?
Hint: At an earlier time (before the pandemic restrictions), when this was applied in a helping situation with a similar total count and a smaller stressful count, the person instantly responded with, “No wonder I wake up in the morning with a headache!” They instantly honored their self in recognizing they had a right to their headache and at the same time realized how many day-to-day things they were handling quite well against the focused number that were stressing them out. A whole new appreciation of themselves opened up as they turned their positive feeling attention to ways of addressing the stressful interconnections within the context of all that they were dealing with quite well.
Having been forced by pandemic restrictions to focus on ourselves, it may now be easier to apply the many self-care tips we’ve received or apply our own adaptations to one or more of the 4 areas. In finding a way to positively change even one of the loss/limited experiences, your interconnection stresses are likely to decrease by more than double.
Thank you for this tangible explanation for the stress I think we all feel and can relate to. By putting a number on it you have empowered each of us to take small steps to improving our circumstances and reducing our stress. Pandemic or social political unrest, we all need a path forward. This is greatly appreciated!