What is your Relationship Status?

In an effort to revitalize, I took a break from the most time consuming medium for me, my presence on social media. I felt that with my slow and begrudging return, I would have an honest look at the things I uncovered for myself in an effort for you, too, to explore your relationship with this newish phenomenon. My goal here, as I will try to do with all my goals moving forward, to be as clear and laser accurate as I can. I hope not to come off as self-centered (inasmuch as an article about my personal experience can devoid me that charge) and that you may find you are able to locate some lost island of understanding for yourself.

Or, maybe you are good where you’re at and want to follow along in a process of meditation and examination and can adapt it for your purposes. Whatever your flavor, here it goes:

So, I’ve been gone for longer than I said I would. I completely disengaged from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It was a case of burn out. As a helper, as many of you readers are, you might relate to this – the idea that you are both doing 20 percent more than you are capable of while simultaneously believing it wasn’t enough.

This was an interesting exercise for me, though not my first foray into social media disappearances. But, given my education and experience, I felt better equipped to perform and introspective examination of what it means to be connected in the way I was.

First – the guilt. This sweet, little, nugget of emotion was the most persistent throughout this process. My sense of responsibility toward each and every reader that I had amassed over the few years, washed over my “helper” lobe in my brain. This, I knew, was a sign of the immense enmeshment that social media and I had. Like an out of balance relationship. I continuously felt the need to reach out – make sure everyone was good. In the therapy world, we would label this as “my shit” to deal with. I had become a rescuer – embodying the very traits I used for good in my fire career and, now, therapy one… except these were hell bent on ensuring that I put everything else as second. The impact was not unnoticed – each time I was distracted when those around me would try to talk, or grew irritable when trying desperately to write for multiple publications at once, or frustrated when some would reach out and I was unable to connect at the level and time commitment they wanted. The pile kept growing, and I was actively avoiding solving any of it.

Second – Exhaustion. This is an interesting experience, because most of the time I know when I am tired. A week into it, I realized (on top of how I would check my phone INCESSANTLY, despite knowing there would be no notification waiting for me) that I had grown exhausted of living a very narrow and often emotionally drying world. When I waded the waters of mental wellness in the cultures where open discussion often teeters only on the worst cases, it becomes hard to extricate oneself without a sense of the abovementioned guilt. I continuously had folks I felt connected to as they had reached out in moments of vulnerability, of loss, of confusion, of absolute frustration. And, I had severed that tie. The ego that becomes wrapped in a bow with my actual ability to effect change with the real world impact I may or may not have had, played a major role in this. I felt like I was constantly trying to keep up, to a race that only I knew I was in; as if, in some magical way, my sense of purpose would wash with the waves of 100 percent success within the field. Even in the wars waged within mental wellness on the civilian side, ones that continue to rage strong, haven’t winked at such a success rate. This idea was wholly fabricated by me, one that I played to my detriment.

Third – Reliance. Knowing that I signaled to myself that with each article, quip, shot at the status quo, like, rebuttal, straight forward challenge, I grew reliant on the vehicle itself. It’s a wonder how I never before saw that the shake of the phone was clearly the same anticipatory response with what used to happen with my Minitor. I, as we do, waited in excited anxiety for that random time when the pager would go off and something “big” would be on the other end. And, just as when I was in service, I always responded as if it was the real thing. I created a sense in which this was active service. Of course, in my cognitive distorted process ignored that there was always down time, or time the pager was off. But, not here. Not while people hurt. Not when I felt true to my message. As often as it was uncomfortable, I never shot an arrow I didn’t 100 percent believe in. But, this heavy reliance on needing that connection was a telling sign that for as much as I felt this need, there was an equal and opposing realism that what I really needed was to break this relationship.

Fourth – I forgot my own message. In almost every talk I give to departments, therapy for individuals or groups, etc. I explain the mechanism for which stress impacts on the individual. I frame this in a (very broad) explanation that seems to be on many folks minds – why do some develop struggles and others don’t? But, I was ignoring the tenant that I preach upon my small pulpit. Not checking in with self to recognize the emotional impact that involvement in this was having. Indeed, I often felt the clear signs, but I told myself a different tale. This tale was one of ignorance, of ego, of self-aggrandizing. And, I told this tale to myself at my own peril. It was an honest two or three weeks, before the initial impact of breaking free really hit. And, only then did I recognize that I had failed to check in with myself. To see where I had slipped into full rescuer mode and to recognize where such a process and outlook, is never sustainable.

Fifth – the fear. At coming back! Who would have thought? And, this isn’t some earthshattering keep you up at night fear. Nonetheless, I began to understand the true time commitment that I was unfairly giving to this online presence and not to those things that actually matter – namely, almost categorically, everything in my personal life. I found clarity and relaxation for god sakes. And, therefore I had a healthy, balanced and informed concern for where this slippery slope may lead if unchecked. So, my ascent back onto the horse has been a slower, calculated, and precise an exercise. In some cases, my leg lay lame behind me dragging, a sign that a large portion of my brain was accepting and inviting the downtime. But, and as I said on my way out, I believe that the messages that I send are wholly different and often in complete contrast to the messages en masse. And, there needs to be this challenge to the status. As I have said elsewhere our intentions are true, but our aim is not.

My new rules for engagement –

I think one of my biggest takeaways, and this is likely more aimed at those that are helpers for the services, is creating rules for engagement. Without these, without a clearly defined boundary, we can flounder into feelings of guilt for not doing enough, or exhaustion or resentment for constantly giving everything we have without rest. Create a list of rules that are reasonable within the cause you are putting forth and stick to it. Hell or high water. I tell people ad nauseam and yet forgot myself – boundaries are essential in the way that they are as equally difficult to stick to. Break them for no reason, or suffer the ailments that follow.  

Create a standard you can reasonably reach.
Get comfortable with “good enough”.
Distract, but don’t avoid (your situations or positions).
Engage what you love, let little take away from that.
Create office hours – outside of that, put that shit down.
Recharge, at all costs.
Challenge yourself to move through the things that pain you.
Disconnect and meditate on your relationships.
Have fun – even when the thing in front of you is supposed to be serious.
Stretch yourself, but in short, measured ways.
Get a dog (ok, this may not be sound advice for everyone).

My philosophy remains the same. I’m happy to be back at it, pushing and proding (sometimes kicking and screaming).

Let’s put our boots on, we got work to do.