As a counselor, one might expect that I would support facing emotions head-on. Acknowledge and confront feelings. Tackle problems right away. Talk about what’s on your mind. Don’t deny or run away from discomfort. Deal. Some of these ideas have surfaced throughout my blogging, yes, but I’m also suggesting another strategy today as we cope with life’s stressors.
For over a year now, I have discovered that sometimes we can practice patience and do the opposite of all of the above. This strategy applies to parents and children, and it works. Although no problem or person will ever be the same, there is a coping strategy that has saved me for the past year and I like to share things that work.
Are you ready for it!? Shelf it.
Yes, what has saved me from anxiety and depression is simply shelving my problems and not seeing them every day! At first, I didn’t recognize that this was what I had done after Brody’s brain tumor diagnosis and recovery because at first, I couldn’t run from this new reality. It was everywhere all the time. Literally. I remember it like it was yesterday and can picture the disarray and chaos of our house showered with cards and gifts. Easter decor cluttered the rooms, and it took me awhile (or longer than normal) to sort through the stuff.
But, slowly but surely, in spring of 2015, I began organizing all the prayer clothes, cards, good luck tokens, and hospitals mementos. That’s ‘stuff’ you just don’t throw away. I knew I would need it again…..and again….and again. So, every important note and magical token went into a plastic bin labeled “brain tumor” where it was intentionally placed on a shelf in our cluttered office closet, not out of reach but out of everyday sight.
Inside are his glasses that he wore for only 3 short weeks, the many homemade prayer clothes and guardian angel tokens, and the kind, encouraging words from friends and strangers. And, I don’t look at it often. It’s there, and at first, it looked a little eery and strange, glancing up every once in a while to see those words that seem so serious on a plastic bin. But, it also was comforting to know we didn’t need those things every day but they’d be there when we do, waiting for when we need the support and help again.
It’s been going on 6 months now since his last MRI (hallelujah!!). This is the record for longest length of time since his last check-up. His next check-up is on October 18, just a few weeks shy of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation race. And, I know it’s about time to crack that lid again. Every time, those heartfelt items brings us the same peace and comfort that they always have. Every time I touch them, it’s a heavy feeling but also reminder that I am not alone.
Yes, I do literally thank God every day for his health. But, I don’t carry those powerful, scary memories with me every day. Shelving those has helped me in so many ways. I think it’s helped Brody in so many ways. We sometimes think and talk about his brain tumor but we also don’t dwell on this being the center of our life. That problem is something we don’t want to take center stage so we literally and metaphorically, shelf it sometimes.
With other people’s problems, I can see this strategy working too. When a girl comes to see me about a friendship problem, yes, we talk about it. Then, we often wait a week to see if it’s still a problem before doing anything else. (problem usually miraculously solved!). If we are having a hard week with our kids and you feel like this new, challenging phase will never end, shelf it. See if it’s still there a week or two later. If you’re angry with your spouse, feel it, yes, and then shelf it. See if it’s still an issue a couple of days later. If any of these problems are still there after a pause, you may have to crack the lid and start sorting through the ‘stuff’. And, it may bring up some unexpected or difficult feelings. But, I’m suggesting that you don’t always run straight to digging through all the bin. Sometimes, we just need a break to discover that this problem might not be something that will take over your life and become center stage. Decide if it’s stuff you want and need cluttering your life or if it can be shelved and brought out only when needed.
There have been days when I have randomly browsed the bin, but it’s become less and less frequent. In fact, it’s been months. Get a bin, even if it’s metaphorically, and choose to put some ‘stuff’ in it. Decide what needs to be taking over your brain space every day and if the ‘stuff’ isn’t helping you or even if it’s just confusing you, shelf it for a few. See if a few minutes, a few days, or a few months without ‘it’ will bring you some perspective.