It is amazing how easily individuals that know me can see right through the mask I put on in the morning. I wake up with a giant smile and go through life as if I am the happiest person in the world. Most of time, I am really that happy but at the end of the day, I am still just a regular girl living in a really messed up world.
If people really knew how messed up the world we live in is, they would be amazed at the stories I have and the experiences I have personally and professionally gone through. I don’t share them to often because when I do it tends to trigger individuals or traumatize them at times but the word “filter” does not exist when you get me talking about my life and work experiences. I have worked with the homeless population ages 15-26, victims of high crime, foster care, CPS kids, and sex trafficking victims. I have had clients hurt themselves in every way and have spent countless days and nights in emergency rooms for different reasons with them. Then there are my personal life experiences which includes trauma from growing up in a domestic violence household with an alcoholic father.
So how to I control these emotions? And why is it easy for me to repress my feelings as if it is a normal process? Reality check: it’s not easy but I have learned to condition myself to deal with secondary and personal trauma which scares me at times. I lost my father two years ago and the memories of the series of events leading to his death scars me to this day. I was there through it all; from being called on Halloween night and finding out my father was in a concussion in the ICU, then spending about three weeks in the hospital with him, through having to make the decision with my siblings to put him into hospice. The doctor had told us he had at least three months but he lasted a mere three days in hospice before passing. The day after my father passed away, as I was finishing up with the funeral home arrangements with my sister, my mother called me. My grandfather had fallen and hit his head and was in the ICU in Mexico. After I made the arrangements for my father, I drove to Mexico with my mother to spend time with my grandfather. My grandfather was a second father to me, and after losing my own, I wanted to be there. He passed away a week later.
Within two weeks, I had lost both my father figures; yet I did not feel emotional in any way. I became so worried about everyone else, my family in Mexico that this was affecting and my siblings in Arizona, that I repressed all my emotions and hid them away. I went into “caregiver mode” which is not surprising because this is pretty much in the DNA of any one in social services. After my grandfather’s ceremony, I made it back to Arizona for my father’s viewing. I had everything in control; my siblings were not doing well but they did not have to worry about anything. But like a switch, I went from in complete control of my emotions to an on pour of feelings coming out of my eye balls.
It took one look from my teary-eyed uncle, and with simple acknowledgement, he said, “You are such a strong girl”. That simple phrase did it; I completely lost it. I lost it to the point that I sat on the bench by my siblings, and I could not control my tears. I knew deep inside that I was not the façade of the strong girl I had put on; I merely just did a good job at putting a poker face to take care of everyone around me except myself.
Even after this experience, I continue to repress my feelings and emotions and have a difficult time sharing them with anyone. A month ago, my mother got into a car accident, and through the whole process, I felt no emotion. I went back into crises mode and made sure that everything was alright for everyone. That night, once things were calm and everyone was taken of, I sat and thought to myself, “What is wrong with me?” It scared me to think that I could be so emotionless and at this point, no longer felt what I feel are “normal” emotions for someone in my situation to feel. I don’t panic or show my emotions, and I am terrified that this is my natural state and how I will always be. At what point did I get so comfortable at hiding my emotions that I stop being human?
Using my superpower of being an analytical thinker, I began strategizing privately on what I could do to show my emotions more which turns out has a lot to do with my self-care. This is what I came up with:
- Be more honest with those around me.
- Take more time for myself.
- Exercise regularly. (I run five miles a day at the gym at the least)
- Read and educate yourself. (Books I am currently reading: Emotional intelligence, Social Intelligence, and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
- Be more aware of how I truly feel before I go into crises mode. (This is hard due to my line of work.)
- Know my emotional limits.
- Learn to process my feelings. (Turns out it is okay for me to scream, cry, or simply vent my feelings with friends)
At the end of the day, it is important to understand your emotions and know your limits. It’s important to me that I remind myself that I am human, and its okay to have these emotions and not default to crises mode. I must be able to understand when my work gets to me and it turns into secondary trauma. I am fortunate enough that I am self-aware to work on my emotional health and continue educating myself on how to ensure that it does not affect me in the long run. Some individuals are not so fortunate; some repress feelings leading individuals into dark places of deep depression.
Seek help if this is occurring by talking to your doctor or calling a crises line.
Links to Help