“Just a flesh wound!” I love this bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The Black Knight denies his arms are cut off. He never admits he’s hurt after his legs are cut off. The scene ends as King Arthur continues his quest leaving the Black Knight on the ground. The Black Knight shouts insults and threats as King Arthur disappears down the trail.
I’ve watched this scene a few times but something really struck me recently as I reflected on it.
This bit in the movie is a reflection on how we can ignore the physical, mental, and emotional injuries we experience.
I have been the Black Knight!
I’ve said it myself, “Just a flesh wound” in a terrible English accent. It’s appropriate to say when I bump into the wall (unfortunately it’s happened) or trip and skin my knee. It's not appropriate when there is deep injury and damage.
We can be the Black Knight about mental and emotionally injuries as well.
The small mental and emotional injuries could be a bad review at work, a criticism from a loved one, or not passing a test. Life is filled with small hurts.
The bigger injuries include traumatic experiences like a loss of a loved one, a car accident, the loss of a job, or mental and emotional abuse.
Secondary or vicarious trauma is another realm of emotional and mental strain we don’t talk about much. I believe all of us experience vicarious traumas sometime in our lives. This can occur when we are helping, supporting, and responding to other people. Some people are exposed more than others like first responders, frontline workers, and people who work in helping professions.
Here’s the kicker for me - other people can see us better than we can at times. I shared in my blog I Knocked Myself Out – Not in a Good Way about my meltdown/burnout. Two years of helping people, listening to difficult stories, and providing support brought me to my knees. I wasn’t attending to my mental and emotional health.
That meltdown could’ve been avoided but I didn’t know anything different at the time.
Someone in my life saw it coming though. My dear friend and roommate at the time was there for me when it happened. She held me in her arms and softly said, “I wondered when this was going to happen.” She was and still is incredibly observant and insightful but I bet the signs that I wasn’t OK weren't hard to miss.
As I reflect back on that time, I realize how deeply not OK I was and how I talked myself into believing I was fine.
If I had known what to look out for, I would’ve seen the following
Feelings of overwhelm
Never feeling fully rested
Unwelcome thoughts about the people I was helping
Negative coping skills, both personally and professionally (for me this was over-exercising and drinking a bottle of wine after work)
Increasingly pessimistic worldview
Loss of work-related motivation
Reduced longevity in the field
Additional signs of secondary or vicarious trauma include (not an exhaustive list):
Avoiding traumatic disclosures from clients, leading to subpar clinical services
Hyper-arousal to your safety and the safety of loved ones
Avoiding physical intimacy
Distancing from spiritual beliefs
We are all different. We aren’t going to experience all the signs. And to be clear, just because you experience mood swings doesn’t automatically mean you are dealing with vicarious trauma.
If there are other signs and you feel deep down something just isn’t right, it’s time to pay attention to you and explore what you need to feel better.
What do we do about it?
The very first thing I recommend is finding outside support.
A professional mental healthcare provider who understands vicarious trauma can send you in the right direction.
But when you recognize something is off in the moment you still have tools and practices.
One practice is to slow down for a minute, breathe, and acknowledge that something inside of you may be hurting. You don’t have to know what it is. In fact, that can be a trap better to avoid.
Intentionally remembering a traumatic experience or letting your mind focus on the why can lead you in the opposite direction of healing. Think of it like a well-used path. The more you walk on it the more established it becomes. Our thinking patterns can deepen the trauma when we stay on that path.
Instead of intentionally remembering or diving into why you feel the way you do, just allow yourself to feel.
I’ll share an example of when I used this...
I was driving around the other day, taking care of my errands. I felt a little off but I wasn’t sure what was going on. I kept thinking, what is going on with me? What is up with me?.... My mind trying to figure an emotional problem. Then I relaxed and let myself feel. The tears showed up, I felt sad. I let it be there. I let myself be sad. And you know what happened next? The sadness lifted by 50%. I was still feeling sad and I realized it was because I was missing my best friend who recently passed away. I acknowledged what I was feeling, said I love you to her and me, and was able to continue on with my day.
This all happened within a 10-minute time span. Full disclosure, I’ve been practicing.
Staying with emotion, allowing it to flow, and being present with ourselves isn’t easy. We aren’t trained for that in almost any area of life I can think of. School? No. Work? No. Family dynamic? Probably not.
(Attention. Don’t flow onto other people. This is personal work for our individual systems. The intention is to settle ourselves. It’s a gift we give ourselves and others when we support personal emotional and mental healing.)
I’m so grateful to all of the instructors, teachers, and wise people who brought this practice into my awareness. It’s changed my life.
The list below includes all the ways I know I'm feeling better.
Resilience, meaning I can bounce back from a difficult emotions faster than before
Increased compassion and kindness
I sleep better (bonus!)
Increased joy in my life
Improved relationships at home and work
I have healthy personal and professional boundaries
I’ve prioritized my wellness routine to maintain my physical health
Healthier coping techniques (I read, journal, connect with a friend, or exercise instead of drinking a bottle of wine)
I have more patience for the world around me
I can be angry about injustices but I don’t spiral into a rage (resilient)
There’s more but I’ll stop there.
Isn’t this amazing? I think so.
Feeling mentally and emotionally healthy isn’t a destination. It’s a practice supported by healthy routines and rituals throughout the day. Just like brushing our teeth, we have to do it every day.
The month of May is mental health awareness month. I’m so excited about this!
To celebrate and support raising awareness about mental health, I’m offering a May mental health package. Contact me here to let me know you are interested.
Be well my friends.
P.S. Yoga for Stress and Anxiety is still available online every Monday at 5:30pm Mountain time. Sign up HERE. I’d love to see you!
P.S.S. I’m offering my May Mental Health Awareness Package. Cultivate resilience, increase patience, and improve relationships in six weeks. Purchase the package in the month of May and receive a 10% discount.