Monday Musings…How to Eat an Elephant

The sweat is pouring down your face. Your heart is beating out of your chest. Your thoughts are racing a mile a minute. Panic is setting in. There’s way too much on your plate. You doubt whether you are actually up for these mounting challenges. Not able to catch a breath before the next demand is made. Increasing pressure! Expectations coming from every angle. The water in the pot of emotion has gone from a slow simmer to a not-so gentle boil. Sitting all alone in your own head, you want to scream but….silence is your only friend.

I heard these statements this week on two separate occasions from two very different people – a young college student and a middle aged law enforcer. Both were speaking publicly and honestly about their struggles. I wouldn’t have expected either of them to have been so real and to take that risk of letting us into their headspace. But they did. And so they normalized for us what mental health is all about.

In order for us to be mentally healthy, we must have four pillars supporting our headspace (as defined by the World Health Organization and mentioned in a previous post on July 4, 2016), namely: realizing our abilities, working productively, coping with the normal stressors of life, and contributing to community. When these pillars are strong and intact, all is well in our world. But when one of the pillars starts to wobble, unless we have some tools to stabilize it, it won’t take very long before the other three columns start to crumble. In the dark ages, we would call this having a nervous breakdown – and there is certainly some wisdom in naming it that.

So what are the stabilizing tools that we all need? Simply put: a knife and a fork. That’s the only way you will be able to eat an elephant!

This was the metaphoric answer that both men gave as they spoke about their experiences. How ironic was that? Their headspace was swirling in the same way, though their specific stressors were quite different, and yet their solution was identical! What a valuable truth for us to learn!

We all have an elephant in our life - the cumulative effect of situational stressors and battles within rolled into one large, monumental grey blob. Withdrawal, avoidance, suppressing emotions…these won’t ever solve the problems and certainly won’t strengthen the pillars of our mental health.

No matter what humungous issue(s) is looming before us, there is a way to conquer it. Take a fork, dig into the flesh of it and hold on; grab a knife and start carving away at the issue, breaking it into manageable pieces; then open up, chew, and…swallow. It may not taste very good and we might be tempted to hide it in our cheeks and make a pit stop to spit it out when no one is watching. But face it we must, whether that is adjusting to the many challenges of college life, or battling back from post-traumatic stress.

So I don’t know about you, but it’s dinner time for me!

This week’s song is a classic from Firewall, called “Just Remember I Love You”. It was the young college student’s father, with his ‘super power of intuition’, who gave him the wise elephant advice and helped him keep sight of his goals. As the lyrics of this song profess, we all need someone on the sidelines who will love and support us as we consume our personal elephant. The law enforcer felt like he had to devour that elephant on his own much of the time, but after receiving his standing ovation, he felt the super power of his comrades who had been eating the same meal in silence, but now openly proclaimed their support for him.

Thank you gentlemen for your bravery and for educating us on the importance of tackling stress one bite at a time.

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