This post is written by Heather Brewer, the Manager of Mental Health Services at our Kildaire Farm Campus.
It’s 8:30pm, and the phone rings. On the other end I hear, “Ms. Heather, I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t be here with them anymore. Get me out of here!” For the next 30 minutes, I sit with one of our girls as she cries out with frustration at being disconnected from her friends during quarantine. While there is nothing I can physically do to change the situation, my hope is that she would understand that we are all in this together, with the same rules to keep us protected from COVID-19. I validate her feelings without trying to give her some silver lining. We end by making a plan to connect the next day.
The next day, my daily devotion from Proverbs 31 Ministries reads, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV). It ended with this prayer: “Dear God, please help me to offer heartfelt encouragement to others no matter what I may be facing. Help me to trust that as I refresh others, I will be refreshed. In Jesus’ Name, Amen”. If I’m to be completely transparent, the thought that crossed my mind was, “I honestly do not have it in me to be encouraging. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I should probably refrain from speaking so I don’t have a slip of the tongue.”
That same day, I received a text from the parent of the young lady from the night before asking to talk. Again, tears are coming from the other side of the phone as I hear a parent in desperation seeking to have some glimmer of hope that someone, somewhere will do something to help. As we begin to talk, she shares the struggles of what was already a boulder on her shoulders prior to COVID-19 to now having Mt. Everest on top of her shoulders; she’s a caretaker, sole provider, parent-turned-school teacher, emotional support to her teenagers struggling for connection and hope (just a few of the many roles she plays), all while working multiple jobs and getting two hours of sleep. We make a plan together and I remind her that we are all working on giving ourselves grace; my hope was that she, too, would extend herself grace and kindness in this time.
A few hours later, I received a call from the other parent to let me know the family has made a connection with their frustrated teenage daughter by taking a walk together so they could talk through their feelings. Just hearing that this family found a way to work together, even after such a difficult evening the night before, gave me hope that maybe, just maybe we will be able to walk through this difficult time and come out with something positive.
Throughout the rest of the day, I hear of the many ways our families are currently searching for hope, peace, and comfort: From loved ones dying, to being removed from their home due to a lack of safety, to being hospitalized for overdosing on substances; the list goes on and on. While these situations are not a new phenomenon for those whom we have the privilege of serving every day, it just seems even more exhausting and defeating to hear those tears come through the phone and feel helpless because you cannot be with them in person to provide support. The best I feel I can do is be that calm, supportive, and empathetic voice on the other end of the phone. For some reason, that just doesn’t feel like enough.
At the end of the day, my day was about connection. On some level, we all want to be able to connect with others, even if it’s difficult, because we all need to feel supported, encouraged, and understood. I thought back to the daily scripture that I so loosely glossed over this morning. While I knew that I would have opportunities to connect with others, I had no expectation I would be able to provide words of encouragement because I was not feeling encouraged, even though I have an amazing support system of family, friends, and CORRAL team. But that wasn’t God’s plan for me today. Instead, I was blessed with multiple opportunities to validate how hard life is, tell two parents how well they are actually doing to create safety even though it is so difficult, and tell a friend that I absolutely understand what it’s like to lose someone who means so much.
As a society, we seem so focused on quick fixes and moving on to the next thing in life without taking time to be present and acknowledge where we are at during any given moment. How often do we really take time to connect to ourselves? To figure out those feelings that we might possibly share if we felt safe enough with someone? I often find that when I ask someone to identify their feelings, in particular young people, the responses I get are angry, mad, sad, or happy, and of course, “I don’t know.”
What takes time to uncover are those underlying emotions of feelings like abandonment, disappointment, loneliness, shame, or guilt that are buried deep inside of us. I will have to say that I’ve been so blessed and honored during COVID-19 to have the ability to be creative with my time so that we can be here to support our families and each other to allow space for vulnerability. I’ve been truly awe-struck at the resilience and adaptability our girls are showing, as they keep showing up day after day to provide encouraging words to each other. I’ve listened as our families are stepping up for each other and working together in ways we haven’t seen. I’ve seen a community come together to show love and kindness. While I do hope we return to some sense of “normalcy” soon, I hope we take the positives that have come out of a time where there is so much devastation surrounding us and realize that we can do hard things!
As we observe Mental Health Awareness Month, my hope is that you find ways to be encouraging to yourself and to others so that you, too, can be refreshed. It may sound difficult when you feel discouraged, but I challenge you to look for opportunities throughout your day to see where you could encourage yourself or someone. Take some time to write down whom you will encounter this week, even if it’s yourself! In addition to encouraging others, I challenge you to practice validating someone’s feelings and empathizing with them instead of moving quickly into problem solving or just saying “you’ll be fine.”
- Invite a friend or family member to our next Mindfulness Series session on Wed. 5/20 at 6:30pm EST. It will be focused on emotional identification and self-care. Register ahead of time here.
- Watch this short video from Brene Brown on Empathy vs. Sympathy.
- If you feel you are in emotional distress and need to talk with someone, you can always reach out to the 24 hour Suicide Hotline, 800-273-8255 or visit their website to access a live chat and receive free and confidential support.