Life is messy. There will always be challenges. At some point in life, anyone can become emotionally void, feeling there is no place to draw love, kindness, empathy or any number of other emotions that it takes to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
I have reflected lately on the impact a spinal cord injury has on emotional well-being. Let me explain. My daily care regime takes much more time than the average person. Just dressing can potentially take 30 - 45 minutes, depending on my outfit and my level of strength. After showering, dressing, and getting out the door, more often than not, I feel like I am already physically exhausted. Things like driving my son to school, grocery shopping, after school sports activities, work, preparing dinner, and cleaning our home are my responsibilities, despite my endurance.
Repeating these same responsibilities day after day, can make me feel emotional tired. I believe any working parent can relate. Let me dig a little deeper to explain how spinal cord injury makes emotional exhaustion more likely.
I am independent. However, just a little help makes a huge difference in my life. It wasn't until I discovered two wonderful church friends, who could step in my life – one day a week – to offer a little help. These precious friends show up at my door willing to help with anything that I may need. They are non-judgmental and always uplifting. They may fold a few clothes, do a load of laundry, change the linens or just laugh with me. Why is this important? Because prior their help, I found my days just looked the same. Day after day. I felt like I never could get out from underneath a long list of “To Do’s”. I also found myself feeling very resentful to family members who did not see my struggles. Social media, I must add, did not help. I found myself looking at friends photos and comparing my life to their picture perfect life (which of course is not their 'true' life. Somehow I forget that social media often glamorizes the journey).
Why does the injury make things more complex? Just imagine that long list of “To Do’s” and in addition to a bad night of nerve pain or the daily occurrence of muscle spasms. Factor in fluctuating blood pressure (mostly low blood pressure that contributes to lack of energy) or the common urinary tract infection. That's where this injury impacts me physically and yes, emotionally. There's nothing more frustrating than wanting to be productive and staring down these issues. Retreating back to bed, being forced to give into the secondary complications of SCI is my reality. On these particular days, where the only remedy is to give into the injury, I am prone to emotional bankruptcy. The key is to immediately recognize that I must refocus on something positive. Something I can still accomplish, even if it's from the bed or recliner.
Here are the things I have come up with so my mind will stay out of the negative trap.
1) Read My Bible. I have already highlighted positive scripture that I can quickly refer to. The book of Psalm is a great chapter to read during emotional struggles.
2) Journal. I'm very authentic in my journal entries. This is my way of getting frustrations out. It's an outlet for venting; Much better than being angry and miserable.
3) Online Selling. I have a thrift box of treasures I have acquired (on my good days). When I'm physically weak, I can list my treasures online while resting. It's an activity that makes me feel like I'm contributing to the financial well-being of my family. (Pictured below are a few of my thrift treasures. Some of them I keep.)
4) Blog. Now, some days if I'm emotionally exhausted, this task is not one to tackle. But if my physical capability is the only issue, then blogging allows me to shift my focus on creative work (this will keep me from sliding into the emotional pitfall).
5) Card Ministry. One of the best ways to get myself out of emotional exhaustion is to put my focus on someone in need. I have a prayer list. I can pick up this list and read the problems others are facing. I quickly realize that I'm not alone. After I pray for each person, I then write a prayer card with an uplifting message. This is something I can do while resting.
How do you know if you are emotionally bankrupt? Here are a few symptoms I have experienced.
1) Oversleeping. If I find myself seeking more sleep, I have to pause and reflect to make sure I'm not using sleep as an escape.
2) Irritability. If I feel easily frustrated or provoked sometimes I need a 'timeout'.
3) Discouragement. When I'm emotionally, depleted I often feel hopeless. Things seem to feel overwhelming and I feel discouraged.
4) Anxiousness. I think my injury already makes me feel worried. The 'what ifs’ plague me, if I allow them to. Emotional exhaustion adds to these feelings.
Injured or not, if you take stock of your current lifestyle and find you’re in need of an emotional recharged what should you do?
1) Rest when needed.
2) Refresh with time alone with God.
3) Refocus on the positive things in your life, not the circumstances. One of my favorite things to tell myself is: “Count your blessings one by one.” My second motto comes from the military training manual on Resilience. They teach “Hunt the good stuff”. This basically means to find one good thing in every day.
4) Reach out to someone you can trust and ask for a little help.
5) Renew your mind. Take every thought captive.
As a 40-year survivor of spinal cord injury, I have come to recognize the importance of celebrating what I have done well. This sustains me on the rough days. The strength I have repeatedly drawn from will serve me well again.
Finally, I suggest you seek out emotionally satisfying relationships. Look for friends who will nurture you. Relationships should be a two-way street, find people that are willing to give back as much as they take. When you do, your emotional bank won’t be so depleted.
Stay healthy and happy my friends. Life Rolls on.
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The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution. BMD/BMDA/0717/0508