While sitting in the hot tub, trying to relax, this young man came in with an older gentleman and a young woman. His hesitation and examination of the water, along with a slow forward movement, as if saying “Can I trust this?” caught my attention. Why was we being so careful? He eventually sat in the water with the young woman next to him and the older gentleman on the other side. I looked at him more intently and his body and eye movements made me realize that he might have a neurological disability.
After a few anxious minutes of looking around, he reached out and touched the hand of the young woman who sat next to him. She returned his touch and his face suddenly relaxed and with look of “O.k… it is safe to be here!” It seems that every time he felt anxious, he reached out to touch her and she returned each touch, each time. It was like watching a touch exchange.
I watched them leave the hot tub together and they all went off swimming in the pool. He is a great swimmer. Later on, I connected with the young lady in the sauna and we had an interesting chat. The young man was her brother and the older man was their dad. It turned out that he was a normal young man with a great career in information technology who suddenly started hearing voices in his head. At first the family did not make much out of it but it did not take long for them to realize that something was wrong. He is now being treated at one of the hospitals while they are working towards finding permanent long-term care for him. He is diagnosed with schizophrenia. She told me how this experience has changed all of their lives, including the fact that she chose to move from another city to support her parents and her brother as they all came to grips with this new development in their lives. The touch exchange which I saw between them, is his safety net for reassurance. She told me that when he is uncertain, he reaches out to touch her or her parents, when they are around.
Mental illness affects more people than we realize. It is challenging for families to keep it all together and to continue to live a “normal” life. As I write this blog, I am sending blessings to the many people I know who are struggling, trying to find balance as they deal with a loved one who is suffering with mental illness. Sometimes, we have to deal with our partners, or children or parents. Mental illness quickly isolates families and friends – it is tough to understand; it is expensive to get proper care; it is still stigmatized and it is exhausting to cope with.
On my way home, I asked myself this question: “Who do you connect to when you need re-assurance or someone to reduce your anxiety?” My answers were a lot less than I realized. My partner, a couple of great friends and my sister. Still, I can’t completely release all of my anxieties on those few people so I have developed coping strategies with journaling, writing, walking, prayers and meditation.
Who do you turn to in your moments of pain, depression, anxiety, frustration, poor judgment?
When our daily unreleased stresses accumulate over a long period of time, we slowly adopt new ways of living and being present in the world. Sometimes, we resort to isolation or we avoid living an active life or we simply lose sight of our purpose and deny ourselves joy in our lives. Sometimes, alcohol, drugs, sex, love addictions take over as escape routes.
TuneIn to recognize your anxieties. StepUp and do something about those anxieties because the world needs YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY to touch the soul of humanity.
p.s: The beautiful dog above is that of my friend Ellen, who passed away two years ago. This dog was her “touch exchange.” It was a privilege for me to watch how Lulu comforted Ellen in her fight with breast cancer, even just sitting at Ellen’s feet while she went through her treatments. Ellen, on the other hand, loved Lulu and they become grounding forces for each other.