"Taking care of ourselves regularly and filling up our own tanks through following up with counselors, attending appointments regularly, doing hobbies, positive relationships, etc. will prevent your tank from being empty and running out of gas." - Robin Helget
This month, Resolve clinicians have focused on providing four main points in Suicide Prevention. Suicide takes the lives of too many people, and we are often are unsure of how to provide support, know what signs to look for, or how to take action when needed. After taking action, making a call, joining a group or starting to see a counselor or psychiatrist, it's important to follow-up. Whether you have sought services for yourself or for someone else, follow-up to see how that person or how you are taking care of yourself on daily basis to prevent further crises.
With that, think about how well you take care of your car.
Do you take it to the get the oil changed every few thousand miles? Do you rotate the tires to ensure a smoother ride? Do you clean the inside at times and make sure to take in the trash? Do you do what you can to prevent any major issues from happening?
Do you regularly fill up on gas and not wait until you’ve completely run out to fill it back up?
I would imagine you likely answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, and that’s fantastic that you take good care of your car. However, I would also imagine that some of us take better care of our cars than we do ourselves.
If we took as good of care of ourselves as we do our automobiles, how would our lives be different? Preventative, maintenance and follow-up care for our mental health is just as, if not more, important as taking care of our vehicles.
Changing the oil: Every 5-10k miles, you likely need an oil change in your car. If we applied this to our lives, this looks like a regularly scheduled appointment every week, every few weeks or every month or so depending on your needs or treatment plan. It is helpful to take a good look at how we are doing mentally on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to include digging deep into your childhood, but rather taking a look at the different pieces of your life and seeing how well they are integrating, functioning and serving you, as well as identifying changes, alternative approaches and other ways of thinking that could help make your life run more smoothly.
Rotating the tires: We all know we may run into some bumps in the road. If our vehicle is equipped to manage and handle it, then the bump may not cause a complete tire blow-out or derailment. However, if we wait until we have a tire blowout to make sure we have a spare in our vehicle or a jack, we may be in a bit of a pickle. Seeing a counselor regularly can ensure that you have the tools needed in case you do reach a bump in the road that causes a blowout. Something that could have been a complete disaster is now manageable because you have the tools and skills needed to change the tire.
Cleanliness: I once heard that the insides of our cars are a reflection of our lives. If the inside of our cars are messy and disorganized than there is a good chance that our lives are as well. When our space is clean and organized, our mind can be too, or vice versa. Sometimes our minds become more cluttered than we anticipated. Talking through the clutter with a professional can be helpful before the clutter completely takes over your life (or your car). Learning ways to put the pieces in place and dealing with the stress that a cluttered mind can cause can prevent a crisis and again give you tools to maintain healthy habits and thinking.
Maintenance: When we take our cars in for check-ups, the mechanic will often tell us things that need replaced or fixed in order to prevent something from getting worse. Most of the time, we will follow their advice so that it will prevent something like the Check Engine light from coming on because when that happens, we know it won’t necessarily be an easy or cheap fix. Our lives and mental health are the same. We don’t want to wait until a crisis or the Check Engine light is on in our minds or lives before we get help; however, many of us do. What many don’t know is that the most effective work in our lives and mental health can be done when we are not in crisis. When our lives don’t feel like they are in shambles, we can focus on the hiccups and stressors that would lead us into crisis if they continued. When in crisis, or when the Check Engine light is on, our main focus is to fix that specific problem; however, it doesn’t address or solve any of the issues that made the light come on in the first place.
Gas: Think of the gas tank in your car as an energy tank for yourself. Do you wait until your tank is completely empty before you put more gas in it? Probably not. If we apply this to ourselves, we have to find things in our life that are putting energy in our tank versus things that are taking energy out. If we continue to give away all of our energy (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual) to others, we will be empty with no energy left to exert or nothing else left to give. Taking care of ourselves regularly and filling up our own tanks through following up with counselors, attending appointments regularly, doing hobbies, positive relationships, etc. will prevent your tank from being empty and running out of gas.
All-in-all, how do you take care of your car? What can you do to start taking care of yourself in the same way so that crises are fewer and preventative care becomes a more attainable, doable, routined pattern that ensures a functioning vehicle and functioning you?
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT