#81 americorps by the numbers
August 21, 2020 brought an end to something that has been incredibly significant and important to me. It was the completion date for my second year of AmeriCorps service in the United Against Opioid Abuse campaign. This is a bittersweet time of reflection considering how far our community has come in the past two years! Along with many partners in the community, we have created the United Council on Opioids (UCO), garnered community support and engaged many community members in creating awareness of and solutions for the complexities of the substance use crisis.
It is easy to talk about the numbers: $1, 412,400 is the amount of grant funding brought into White County to address substance use issues and the QRT. 7500 resource cards were printed with contact information for those needing services and support. 3400 hours were served in AmeriCorps service over the past two years. Seven hundred seventeen people attended the fifty three UCO meetings. There have also been: 508 UCO Facebook posts, 500 hours professional development and training, 500 treatment brochures printed, 322 meetings attended, including 51 Zoom meetings since April, 149 followers and likes for the UCO Facebook page, 81 This is for You, Chad weekly columns, 22 PowerPoints and presentations to various groups, four anti-stigma/awareness billboard campaigns. Three has a triple play: Three Community assessments, three seminars for employers on Substance Use and the Workplace, and three nationally known speakers (Justin Beattey of the Indiana Peer Recovery Support Services, Justin Phillips of Lifeline Recovery, and Mike Thibideau of Indiana Wellness Recovery). Two years of AmeriCorps service and one final article that didn’t require red-pen edits from White County United Way executive director, Nikie Jenkinson, who had the foresight and courage to bring the AmeriCorps program to White County.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. They don’t communicate the accomplishments of the UCO—the increased community awareness and understanding of substance misuse, the decrease of stigma for those who struggle with addiction, the amount of increased collaboration and communication between agencies, and the changed level and kinds of conversation around this topic. The numbers don’t reflect the individuals who have engaged not only in conversation but the hard work of creating goals and accomplishing them to improve our community.
Nowhere in the numbers are the challenges we have overcome and those that still remain: funding, building recovery capital and services, increasing treatment options, overcoming transportation barriers, and keeping up the momentum (especially during COVID.)
The numbers also do not reflect my personal growth in this process. This has been a wonderfully enriching experience for me personally. I have developed scores of new relationships and deep friendships. I have learned about substances, treatment, recovery, leadership, and especially the power of collaboration—people working together to create a better community. One of the most surprising aspects of this journey has been uncovering the writer deep inside me. This column has been a source of joy and satisfaction. I have learned to research, write, rewrite, unwrite, be edited by a gifted friend, and to honor the Oxford comma. I have been touched by the response of the community and the comments you have made to me on the articles. And so, dear reader, I will close my final column. Thank you for sharing in this journey, being willing to learn and grow with me. Be kind to those who are struggling and do what you can to give them hope that substance use is not the end of their story. Recovery is possible. God bless.
#80 collaboration, part two
Last time we discussed collaboration and its power in accomplishing goals and projects for our community. Recently, Ann Voelz, IU student in psychology and summer intern for the White County United Way, discussed collaboration and pro-social/altruistic behavior with White County United Way Junior Board.
As we discussed last week, collaboration is working together for a common cause or purpose. Taking you back to sociology and psychology classes, prosocial behavior is performing an act that helps someone else. Altruistic behavior is helping someone even when it hurts you or has no benefit for you.
There are various theories of why people help others. One is the social exchange theory which can be summed up, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” By helping someone, you put them in your debt, and they owe you. Princess Diana summed this up by saying, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you,” which is very similar to the idea of paying it forward. “I will help you, but I expect to paid back sometime in the future by you or someone else.” Another theory is the idea of empathy-altruism when you help someone with no expectations of being paid back or receiving anything in return.
In her presentation Ann mentioned that people in large groups are less likely to help an individual. Research has shown that the larger the crowd of observers or bystanders, the less likely individuals are to help. They might think that if no one else is reacting, it must not be a problem, or in a group they feel less personal responsibility to act.
Ann presented the idea that there five things that need to happen to cause a person to offer assistance. An individual must:
One of our first jobs was to make the community aware that substance use is a problem in our community. Through presentations, social media, and billboard campaigns, we have worked to increase awareness of substance use, and create a sense of urgency as we present statistics and stories of those ensnared in addiction. The next step was to help people realize that even though they may not have a personal connection to someone mis-using substances, their involvement would benefit the community at large by increasing resources to help achieve and maintain recovery, and helping former users become healthy, productive citizens. Research shows that if someone has a personal connection to the problem (which one in four families does), they are more likely to help. We have found that to be true for our work in the United Council on Opioids, as many of our taskforce members have experienced the difficulties of substance use personally or through a loved one.
Once people realize there is a problem and solving it would benefit the community, the next job is showing them how their skill set, expertise, resources and knowledge could contribute to the solution. The challenge is that people are less likely to volunteer in a large meeting and especially in a virtual meeting.
And the final step is assisting them in plugging into the work. When people believe their actions will make an impact on others, make progress towards a valued goal, change the community for the better, they are more likely to help.
If you are interested in joining our work to increase awareness, access to services, and helping those in recovery, please contact our United Way director at email@example.com. Whatever cause is close to your heart, get involved in community efforts and benefit our community. Working together, we make a difference.
#79 Collaboration, part one
In recent days we have heard a lot about collaboration. Scientists, physicians, and researchers are collaborating to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Together they can learn more and learn faster than working on their own.
Musicians are collaborating (referred to as “Collab” by the hip crowd!) Even cultural dinosaurs like me remember musical collaborations such as “We are the World,” “Farm Aid,” and the Coca Cola campaign “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”
I have learned about the power of collaboration during my terms as an AmeriCorps member. In the past, I have limited myself to only attempting that which I could complete on my own. I avoided many tasks, overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge or experience, not knowing how to even begin. Of course, I could find information on the internet, Googling how-to videos, muddling through, but even armed with my newly acquired knowledge, I balked at the complexity of the task. To quote a line from Gone with the Wind, “I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies!” But an important insight from my AmeriCorps work is that I don’t have to! When I work in collaboration with others, I bring what I know, others bring their knowledge and experience, and together we can accomplish great things for our community.
Collaboration occurs when a group of people come together and share their expertise to achieve a common goal or purpose. Everyone brings strengths, skill sets, connections, and knowledge to the table. There is power in teamwork, networking and connections. None of us is as smart/strong/effective as all of us. Collaboration puts the United Way mantra to #LiveUnited into action. Collaboration makes it possible to achieve so much more than one person alone, sharing resources, information, and responsibility to make the work less overwhelming, and more effective.
There are many benefits to collaboration. Collaboration brings people together for a common purpose, breaking down barriers and increasing connections. Collaboration increases problem solving by including a variety of perspectives. Collaboration opens up new avenues of communication, as well as opportunities to learn from each other. When tasks are large and complex, working together allows the work to be divided, sharing the burden, and seeing the problem/task more clearly. Collaboration increases sustainability and decreases burnout.
In February of 2019, when the United Council on Opioids (UCO) began, I had no idea what we might be able to accomplish. The goals were lofty: to increase awareness and reduce the stigma of substance use, reduce the number of substance use deaths, and increase opportunities for treatment and recovery. The obstacles and complexity of the issue seemed insurmountable. But working together, the taskforce members brought ideas, enthusiasm, connections, resources, and information that move the work forward. The UCO is accomplishing its goals. The conversation and attitudes around substance use are changing. Our community is gaining an understanding of substance use and need for services to help our family members and friends recover from this this complex disease.
As we continue to collaborate, deepening our connections, and expanding our communication, we will continue to increase momentum and move forward, not just on this issue, but on all important issues in our community.
Last week we discussed Mental Health America, one of the local agencies providing mental health support and education for our community. This week we will look at National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI) which has been serving the Lafayette area for over 32 years. NAMI’s purpose is to provide education, support, and advocacy for those living with mental illness and their families and loved ones, striving to end the stigma and raise awareness about mental illness, showing individuals and their loved ones how to live successfully with the symptoms of mental illness.
Sheri Moore, Executive Director, and Joy Mabbit, Program Director are excited to be engaged with individuals and agencies in White County and offer community outreach, support groups, training services, and a HelpLine.
NAMI’s Community Outreach services endeavor to increase awareness and support for those with symptoms of mental illness and their families.
Ending the Silence is a fifty minute in-school presentation designed to teach middle and high school students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, how to recognize the early warning signs, and the importance of acknowledging those warning signs.
In Our Own Voice speakers share compelling and personal testimonies of living with and overcoming the challenges posed by mental illness. By broadening people’s knowledge of mental illness, this presentation replaces misunderstanding, fear and judgment with insight, awareness and acceptance.
FaithNet provides information about resources to educate clergy and congregations on mental health issues to create stronger support systems and welcoming, empathetic faith communities for people living with serious mental illness.
Family & Friends is a free 90-minute or four-hour seminar that informs people who have loved ones with a mental health condition how to best support them. It’s also an opportunity to meet other people in similar situations and gain community support.
Stigma Free Company equips companies with the tools, resources, assets and information they need to promote mental health awareness in the workplace.
In addition, NAMI facilitates Support Groups to engage and encourage individuals with serious mental illness and their families and loved ones.
The Connection Support group provides a structured atmosphere for individuals to bring their problems and obtain support from their peers. Meetings are led by NAMI-trained individuals who are in recovery themselves. They understand the daily challenges and can offer encouragement and support. These classes are held in Lafayette, Monticello and Tippecanoe County Community Corrections.The Family Support Group supports the one in five families affected by severe mental illnesses. Trained facilitators who have experienced mental illness in their own families guide other families through the process of understanding and coping with mental illness.
NAMI Peer to Peer Class is an eight-week class for adults with mental health conditions. The course is designed to encourage growth, healing and recovery among participants.
NAMI Family-to-Family Class is an eight-week class for families, significant others and friends of people with mental health conditions. Designated as an evidence-based program by SAMHSA, it facilitates a better understanding of mental health conditions to increase coping skills and empower participants to become advocates for their family members.
In conjunction with MHA and other agencies, NAMI offers an intensive five-day Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement officers to learn how to identify and de-escalate a mental illness crisis, which has been shown to significantly reduce jail commitments and prosecutions.
NAMI offers a free HelpLine: 1-800-950-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. HelpLine volunteers answer questions, offer support and provide practical next steps in dealing with mental illness needs and concerns.
The NAMI website offers an online resource directory related to mental illness, FAQ’s, connections to Warm Lines and much more. For more information, please visit https://www.nami-wci.org/ or call (765) 423-6939.
#77 mental health america
With no end to the CoVid Crisis in sight, more and more sources are indicating the increased need for mental health and substance use services. I am happy to report that several agencies in the area are meeting the challenge of this critical need. Today we will discuss the services of Mental Health America (MHA). Next week we will look at National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI). Both agencies work to educate and support people involved with mental health issues and their families.
Recently I had a Conversation with Erin Perdue, Director of Engagement and Education for Mental Health America (MHA) Wabash Valley Region, about their services to people in our area. She offered this insight, ‘In suicide prevention training we learn just how important listening can be. Listening is the power tool that can help when someone is feeling down, blue, bad, or having thoughts of suicide. When you check in on your friends, as we ebb and flow in and out of social distancing or isolation, just ask how they are doing and then devote your time to just sit with them and listen. Let them talk. Let them tell their story. Often times, when someone can vent or talk out their worries or troubles, they will feel much better. You offering a listening ear can be a calming salve to their fears and depression. You can then be sure to share the Crisis Line number for those times when you aren’t available.’
Mental Health America is dedicated to eradicating the stigma of mental illness and advocating for the rights of those facing mental health challenges, providing public mental health educational programs, information and referrals, and support groups, to those confronting mental health challenges and their loved ones.
MHA provides a variety of services to support those struggling with mental health and substance use issues. They operate the MHA Crisis Center Hotline, Mental Health Navigators, support groups, training and education services, and online mental health screening assessments.
According to Erin, as people emerge from isolation, the MHA 24/7 Crisis Hotline (765-742-0244) is a valuable resource. Individuals can call or text this 24/7 hotline for assistance with any crisis including thoughts of suicide. Compassionate, trained volunteers will listen, support, and connect callers to resources and emergency service, if needed. Erin suggests putting the number into your phone to have it easily accessible.
Another important service offered by MHA is the Mental Health Navigator. If you suspect you or a loved one may have a mental health issue and aren’t sure where to start, the MHA Mental Health navigator can guide you through the process. During the appointment, the navigator will do a brief assessment to determine the level of need, connect the client to the appropriate services, help schedule an appointment, and assist in working through insurance/payment issues. The navigator can also stay connected to the client to offer support and encouragement through the process. Navigators are not therapists, but guides who walk alongside their clients until they can meet with a clinician.
MHA also offers support groups related to bipolar, depression and anxiety, survivors of sexual assault, parents of children with ADD, and suicide survivors. Currently these groups are meeting via Zoom.
If you are interested in volunteering for the Crisis Hotline, information on online training is now available through the MHA website. To learn more about all these services, please visit MHAWV.ORG, email email@example.com, or call 765-742-1800.
Next time we will discuss NAMI services.
After all the heaviness of the last few columns, here is a lighthearted glimpse of the long running sitcom of my life which my dear husband lovingly refers to as “Life with Lucy.”
One of my responsibilities as the AmeriCorps United Against Opioid Abuse local coordinator is to update the United Council on Opioids (UCO) Facebook page. During CoVid, our goal has been to maintain a daily dose of positive, encouraging messages to lift the spirits of everyone who LIKES the UCO page as well as keep them aware of events that promote recovery, treatment and prevention of substance use in our region.
During this process, I have been reminded why the longsuffering technology support staff at Twin Lakes referred to me as the “Black Hands of Technology Death.” At one point, as I recall, all four of the technology staff had rotated through my office shaking their heads in wonderment and dismay at whatever my current technology foible happened to be. God bless them! They never said a disparaging word (to me), and valiantly persevered until whatever chaos I had inadvertently created this time, was resolved.
With this in mind, I warned my boss of my past technology failures when she gave me this new assignment. She naively waved away my lack of success and gave me a five-minute training on scheduling posts on Facebook. And off I went.
Part of the challenge for my current task is finding appropriate, non-offensive, family friendly memes to share. Being a middle-aged cultural dinosaur, did not help this process. My very kind, more hip than me, boss, gently instructed me on some current slang, people and situations that might be offensive to many, even if the picture was hilarious. Along the way, I learned that any acronym using the letter F is most likely NOT acceptable. Even now, I marvel at the combinations!
Another misstep involved scheduling and ensuring a new post appeared every day on the correct page. There are important details involved in not posting a week’s worth of posts in one day.
A side benefit was that scrolling through the endless Facebook posts of others, looking for materials to share, was considered a good use of my shelter at home CoVid quarantine schedule.
And then came Zoom! After co-hosting a Zoom call with Indiana Youth Institute earlier this spring, the hosts graciously showed me some Zoom tips on break out rooms, screen sharing, polls, assigning someone to man the chat box in the background, etc. Through the school of hard knocks, I quickly learned that most embarrassing technological snafus* could be solved with a thirty second Google search AFTER the meeting was over. I am happy to report that I am currently able to appear fairly Zoom competent. Happily, I can utilize a virtual background to hide my incredibly messy home office and use the mute button at appropriate times to avoid embarrassment for myself and family members. As a colleague bemoaned at a recent Zoom meeting, “Once we get good at this, we won’t be Zooming anymore.” Here is hoping that is true!
*OOPS! There’s that F again!
To join the fun, please LIKE the UCO Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UCOwhitecounty or join one of our United Council on Opioids task force groups. It is good clean fun and worth your time.
#75 human trafficking, part three
July 30 has been declared World Day Against Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations. This is the last of a three-part series looking at Human Trafficking. In the past two articles we have looked at what human trafficking is and common myths and misconceptions related to trafficking. Today we will examine what can one individual do to prevent human trafficking.
Awareness is always the first step in prevention efforts. Being aware of who is vulnerable, traffickers’ recruiting methods, and ways to provide protective factors can be an effective method of prevention.
Youth, in general, are particularly vulnerable, especially those experiencing family violence, recent relocation, homelessness, a need to be loved, poverty, and/or drug use. Traffickers prey on desperation, targeting those in need or those who lack strong support systems. They look for disadvantaged youth, and then provide shelter, food and clothing; through these necessities, traffickers develop a strong, trusting, “loving” relationship with the victim. Traffickers may introduce their victims to drugs to create an additional dependency on the trafficker. Once the victim believes the trafficker is the only one they can trust and rely on, the demands for labor or services begin, often with phrases like, “after all I have done for you, can’t you just help out this once…” Once the victim complies, their cooperation is used to shame and humiliate them into further service and prevent them from leaving.
Online, traffickers use similar strategies to develop a relationship over time with the individual through a grooming process. Teenage girls are frequent targets. It may start out innocently enough. “You are so pretty.” “You should be a model.” “Send me a picture of yourself. I know someone who can help you get started.” “Meet me someplace so we can talk about it.” In four or five texts, the trafficker has maneuvered the individual into a dangerous situation, but youth may not recognize the red flags. Or perhaps the target feels uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do but may be hesitant to talk to anyone because they are afraid or embarrassed to admit what is happening. Teenage girls are often lured by older men who pretend, at first, to have fallen in love with them.
As we have discussed before, the involvement of a supportive, nurturing adult in the life of a child or youth is a powerful prevention strategy against many of the perils facing our youth. When interviewed after escaping trafficking, many trafficked youth indicated that if there had been one supportive, trusted, nonjudgmental adult in their life, they believe they would not have been as vulnerable and could have avoided being trafficked. Becoming involved in a child’s life as a teacher, friend, or mentor is a powerful prevention strategy.
Parents’ involvement is another crucial protective factor. Parents may notice subtle changes in their child that can be early warnings that something is amiss. Be aware of who your child is hanging out with. If their friend group changes, ask questions. Teach your child safe online behaviors. Be aware of their online activities. Reassure them that if something happens causing them to feel uncomfortable, they can talk to you and you will listen without judgement. Help them set up protective privacy settings on their devices and develop an exit plan if others make them uncomfortable or are sharing personal information about them. Teach them about safe, appropriate sharing practices for their pictures and personal information. Teach them to NEVER do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable online.
For those who prefer anonymity, the CyberTipline: 800-843-5678 is a 24-hour hotline providing information on how to deal with online issues and connects with agencies who can intervene.
Trafficking can happen here. Being aware of the problem and knowing how to protect our loved ones makes a difference.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked or notice suspicious activity, call the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans hot line: 888-373-7888, the ICE tipline: 866-347-2423, or text HELP to BeFree (233733). For more information on human trafficking go to humantraffickinghotline.org
#74 human trafficking, part two
Last time we began our discussion on human trafficking and its frequency. There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding this issue. (These are compiled from a variety of sources: www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign; www.acf.hhs.gov; unitedway.org; https://blog.theexodusroad.com)
Many people believe that the majority of human trafficking is enacted by strangers. In reality, only nine percent of trafficking is perpetrated by a stranger. Half of victims are trafficked by an immediate family member or family friend, twenty-seven percent by a boyfriend, and fourteen percent by their employer. Ninety percent of trafficked persons had a relationship with their trafficker before being trafficked. Family members who were trafficked themselves often traffic other family members, viewing trafficking as normal.
Many traffickers groom their victims for a period of time before coercing them into trafficking. They use what is missing in a person’s life to recruit them. They offer false job offers, empty promises to take care of them, or necessities like shelter, food, and clothing. This makes it difficult for the victim to recognize or resist the coercion because of all the trafficker has done for them.
There is a misconception that all trafficking is related to the sex trade. But the International Labor Organization estimates that in 2012, there were more than four times as many children trafficked for forced labor than for sex. Trafficking is referred to as modern day slavery. Although the sex industry does use trafficking to recruit, many other legitimate and illegitimate industries utilize trafficking to obtain workers. These include restaurants, health and beauty, hospitality, construction, forestry, domestic work, and agriculture. Even major worldwide industries may partner with companies that utilizing trafficking. The website Knowthechain.org ranks corporations on their policies on trafficking and other social issues.
Hollywood has popularized the notion that trafficked individuals are locked in basements in third world countries. Although traffickers may use confinement to hold their victims, most traffickers use psychological means such as intimidation, humiliation, defrauding, manipulating, or threatening victims to coerce them to continue. Many victims are afraid to seek help fearing retribution to themselves or family members.
Another misconception is that trafficking must involve transporting victims across state or national borders. Trafficking can occur without the victim leaving their neighborhood or home. Human smuggling, however, is defined as moving a person across a country’s border without that person’s consent in violation of immigration laws. But an individual doesn’t need to be smuggled to be a victim of trafficking.
Another myth about trafficking is that all traffickers are men. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, seventy-two percent of convicted traffickers are men. The females comprising the other twenty-eight percent were often victims themselves and viewed trafficking as an escape from being trafficked themselves.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked or notice suspicious activity, call the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans hot line: 888-373-7888, the ICE tipline: 866-347-2423, or text HELP to BeFree (233733).
Next time we will discuss what an individual can do to stop trafficking.
#73 human trafficking, part one
As we think about summer celebrations and days of remembrance such as Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, there are lesser known days of remembrance that do not garner as much attention. One of these is July 30, the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons declared by the United Nations.
The reader may wonder how trafficking relates to the substance use issues normally addressed in this column. Substance misuse is to connected to Human Trafficking on several levels. Thirty-six percent of trafficked youth were trafficked by family members, often to obtain drugs or money for drugs. Traffickers may also give their victims drugs to make them more compliant. People involved in substance misuse are also more vulnerable to being trafficked.
U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into labor, services, or commercial sex acts against their will. The most frequent definition of trafficking requires there must be an action, means and purpose. The action of trafficking includes recruiting, harboring, transporting, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting a person. The means could be through force, fraud or coercion. The purpose of trafficking could be for labor, services, or commercial sex conduct.
According to the July 2020 issue of Trauma Times, a publication of Indiana State Dept of Health, human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world, generating roughly $150.2 billion worldwide. The US State Department estimates that twenty-seven million people worldwide are victims of some form of human trafficking, but because trafficking is an illegal underground issue; it is incredibly complex and underreported.
The Polaris Project (Polarisproject.org) states that more than 10,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in the United States in 2018. Eighty three percent of trafficking victims in the United States are US citizens.
This may seem like a faraway problem that doesn’t happen locally. The Indiana 2016 Attorney General’s Report on Human Trafficking indicates that there were 170 trafficked youth in Indiana in that year alone. Indiana is considered a hub for trafficking because of our central location and ease of access through interstate highways. Indianapolis hosts major sporting events such as Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, NCAA championship games and even the Super Bowl in 2012, which create opportunities for trafficking. During Super Bowl XLVI, authorities initiated 168 human trafficking investigations.
In a recent presentation to the Indiana Youth Institute, Morgan Donatelli-Bow from Indiana Youth Services Association stated that Human Trafficking has been reported in every county in Indiana.
Trafficking is affecting our country, state and county in ways you might not suspect. Next time we will discuss myths and misconceptions surrounding human trafficking.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked or notice suspicious activity, call the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans hot line: 888-373-7888, the ICE tip line: 866-347-2423, or text HELP to BeFree (233733).
Last week, we discussed Anticipatory Grief in response to CoVid, a terminal medical diagnosis, or having a family member involved in substance use. It is grieving for what is not yet lost, a kind of rehearsal or progressive letting go in preparation for an unknown future.
How do we cope with, or prepare for a future that is constantly shifting and changing? One of the ways people cope with anticipatory grief is to become hypervigilant, having a heightened sense of alertness, constantly looking for potential threats. We may find ourselves anticipating the worst when someone coughs or sneezes in a public place or a loved one is running late.
Others describe it as an impending sense of doom, dwelling on the worst possible outcome. Staying in this mindset, quickly overwhelms and paralyzes into inaction and despair.
We may find ourselves numb and avoiding interactions with others, distancing ourselves from the situation and others. Responding to simple questions like “How are you?” may leave us overwhelmed. We may feel shame or embarrassment that we are not handling the situation as we think we should. This conspiracy of silence keeps us isolated and alone, often perpetuating the hopelessness and uncertainty.
Others may find that self-medicating with food, sleep, substances or activities provides a distraction from the situation.
None of these strategies are helpful in the long term. What are some healthier ways to deal with the uncertainty?
A good first step may be accepting the fact that we are not in control of the situation. Often we have very little control of our circumstances or other people. But there is one thing we can control: our thinking and attitude. A wise friend once told me: “You can’t control the thoughts that pop into your head, but you don’t have to invite them to sit down and have a cup of coffee.”
This sounds so simple, but is extremely difficult to do. We must first notice or identify our negative thoughts, really listening to the self-talk that is going on inside our heads. Phrases like “they always” or “she never” can be key words to listen for. Assuming we know someone else’s thoughts or motivations or making sweeping overgeneralizations are also a red flags. Once we notice these thoughts, we need to challenge then with examples that prove them not true. For example, “Jane never helps me,” can be countered with, “Last week, Jane offered to go to grocery for me, and I told her no. I wonder if she would be willing to pick up a gallon of milk for me when she is at the store.” OR “No one cares if I live or die,” might be challenged with “I haven’t heard from anyone today, but Sam called me yesterday. Frank sent me several texts on Monday. My neighbor left some garden produce on my porch. People do care about me.”
Getting outside can be extremely helpful. Going for a brief walk or sitting in the sun can be powerful in helping reset our attitudes and thinking.
Connecting with others through phone calls or even texts can help, if face to face visits are not possible. Surrounding ourselves with people who are happy and positive definitely impacts our mood.
Being patient and kind to ourselves and those around us: this is uncharted territory for all of us and we all cope in different ways.
Noting the triggers that cause anxiety or fear: if consuming too much media increases stress or anxiety, try limiting exposure. Make it a goal to be aware, but not consumed by the constant barrage of news and social media.
Helping someone else is a sure way to improve our outlook. We will make their day better and ours as well.
Take care of basic needs such as healthy nutrition, and adequate sleep and hydration. Engage in activities that bring joy and peace. Breathe.
If we find ourselves continually struggling with the uncertainty, checking in with our health care provider may provide necessary guidance and support.
We can only control what we can control, and finding that distinction is key.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.