Life Reassessment: Checking In On Your Life For the New Year

So here you are in the new year. Congratulations by the way. Regardless of anything else, you made it to 2019. The new year is a great time to really look at where you are in your life. I’m a huge supporter of people reflecting over their lives and taking stock some time to time. In psychotherapy, the therapist and client look over the client’s life approximately every 6 months, not just to see where the client is at, but also to make sure that what they are working on in therapy is still helpful. Taking that idea outside of therapy: this is a great time in the year to see if what you’ve been doing and what you have going on right now is still working for you. Are your coping skills still helping you or are they getting in the way? Are there other things you could be doing to improve your life? What things are working for you and what do you have on lock? In this piece, I want to show people how to do their own life reassessments so they can start to really look at where they are and then make moves to live their life with more intention, purpose, and satisfaction. These are open-ended questions for a reason. Answering them with 1 or 2 words isn’t really gonna get you much out of this. Answer the questions like you are having a conversation with someone. That should help you answer with enough detail to really make the best use of these kinds of questions. This is the kind of effort that really could set your new year off right.

(Important reassessment tool: Mindfulness strategies. Finding the techniques that best fit their needs can go a long way in helping people gain more self-knowledge and become more self-aware. Deeper, clearer awareness is priceless in a world that purposely tries to create confusion. This post here will help you find the right mindfulness strategy for your needs.)

Self and Identity

This section focuses on who you are as a person. Your inner self. How you see yourself and how you want the world to see you. And what it means to be you. Many people kind of coast through life, not really actively or intentionally thinking about who they are beyond who and what society and the people around them say they should be. While you’re reading the mindfulness post, I also really suggest checking out my piece on socialization here as a helpful starting point to learning what socialization is and how it influences each part of our lives.   

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your gender and gender presentation/expression (gender presentation/expression is how your gender looks on the outside by way of your clothes, body language, etc.)?

  • Do you have any gender-related concerns?

  • What are some of your strengths?

  • What are some things you would like to improve about yourself?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow, and all the barriers/obstacles are gone and there was nothing holding you back, what would you want going on in your life? How could you get closer to that point in this life?

  • What are 3 things you could do tomorrow to get you towards where you want to be?

Family/Home Life

This section focuses on your family (biological relatives and chosen family) and your life once you close and lock your front door. For many, one’s family is their foundation. It is your first set of relationships and, for many, your most long-lasting. It’s a good idea to reflect on what family means to you and the kind of family you want for yourself. Think about what would create a safe and satisfying home life for you and the people you care about.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your average day outside of work/school?

  • How would you describe your home life?

  • Who would you consider to be your family today? In sessions with clients, I’ve had clients document each person’s name, who they are to them, and the quality of the relationship with each person to get a better sense of the client’s family. Feel free to do the same with yourself while answering this question.

Your People

This section focuses on your squad, your social circle, your social support system, and the other people around you. It’s important to take an intentional look at the people and the relationships in your life. The people around you have a huge effect on your mental health, stress levels, sense of happiness, life satisfaction, and your decision making. A solid support system lifts each other up and creates safer spaces for each other in an oppressive world. Humans (with some rare exceptions) generally are social. Mental health wellness depends on some level on the kinds of people we keep around us.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What social supports do you have in your life? Include: family, friends, sexual, romantic, etc. partners, professional/school contacts, any trusted medical and mental health providers, your religious community, any social groups you are a part of, etc.

  • What are the significant relationships in your life? What about each relationship makes it important to you? What do you love about each relationship? What parts could be improved? How would you go about telling them this?

School/Job/Career

This section focuses on the time you spend at school, at work, caregiving, doing volunteer/charity work, and any other kind of work you do in your life. Including any and all the work you do, legal or otherwise, paid or unpaid, on and off the books, etc. Especially in this capitalistic society, the kinds of work we do become more than a title, they become part of our identity. Any unhappiness, lack of satisfaction, conflict, etc. in this area of your life can feel even worse because it is so tied up with our sense of who we are and our ability to eat, pay bills, and provide for our loved ones. And if everything is going well, celebrate that and look to your future. What are ways you can grow and improve in your work?

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of student/worker are you?

  • How satisfied are you with where you are in this area of your life?

  • Any issues learning new information or managing your work load?
  • Any interpersonal issues with professors/bosses or fellow students/co-workers? If you are experiencing harassment at your workplace or school, check out my suggestions for documenting it and protecting your mental health in this piece here about deescalating conflict in White-dominated workplaces as a Black person.

  • How do you set and maintain firm boundaries at work/school?

  • Do you do any volunteer work? What kind of volunteer work would you be interested in?

  • Have you lost your job recently? Check out my piece here on making unemployment a time for personal growth and healing.

  • What are some new skills you want to learn? How else can you grow or add more love to the many kinds of work you do?

Health

This section focuses on your mental and physical health and overall wellness. In this “wake up and grind” kind of society, many people are constantly pushing themselves more and more without stopping to check in with their bodies and minds. This isn’t a solid longterm game plan and will get expensive eventually with the terrible healthcare we have in this country. Taking care of your body and mind as you go is working smart. Whether your goals include finishing school, paying your bills, and/or moving us closing to revolution and decolonization, it won’t be possible to achieve if you aren’t investing in yourself now.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How often do you go to a Dr for bloodwork and a checkup? When was your last appt?

  • How often do you get tested for sexually transmitted infections? When was your last appt?
  • How much do you sleep every night and what is the quality of your sleep (on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the best quality)?
  • What is your diet like? Take at the very least 5 days, maybe even a week or 2, and document what you eat everyday (as best as you can), and how you feel on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the highest. Are you happy with what you find? What would be your ideal eating habits?

  • Do you exercise? What does exercise look like for you? How long is each session? How many times a week?

  • Do you have a history of disordered eating, (including any binge eating and/or going without eating with the purpose of losing weight)? What techniques/strategies are you using to eat in a healthier way? Which techniques are working for you? Who do you call for support when under a lot of stress?

  • Are you prescribed medication? How often do you take it as prescribed?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt sad, down, hopeless, not feeling pleasure in most things, and/or not interested in things you used to like/love doing? How often have these feelings stopped you from doing what you needed to do and/or have influenced your decision-making? Do you know the signs and symptoms of depression? See my depression piece here for more info.

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt anxious, keyed up, on edge, irritable, worried uncontrollably, etc.? On a scale from 1-5, with 5 being high? It might be helpful for you to track these feelings throughout the week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or affected your behavior or your ability to do what you need to do?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt angry, in a rage, tense/agitated, irritable, etc.? Again, this is something that might be useful to keep track of for at least a week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or otherwise affected your behavior or your relationships with the people around you?

  • What is your pain level today? And how has it been for the past week? On a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the most painful. How often has pain stopped you from going about your day?

Sex and Sexuality

This section focuses on sexuality and sexual awareness. The stigma and socialization built around sex and sexuality makes this area complicated for many people. There’s always the social expectation and pressures for everyone to play certain specific roles and play by certain rules in mandatory cisgender heterosexuality. Everyone is pushed to be cisgender, allosexual, and heterosexual. Any difference from that: people who are transgender, non-binary, intersex, asexual, gay, bisexual, queer, etc. is punished, held back from participating in various parts of society, killed, etc. And the people who are actually cishet are still forced to play by certain strict gender and sexual expectations for life to keep their privileges…or face their own consequences. Finding your true allosexual or asexual self is so hard in a world that tells you that anything different from what’s expected either doesn’t exist or isn’t even human. To live as you are is revolutionary. To begin to learn yourself and to unlearn socialization is life-changing.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your sexual orientation?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with your current sexual activity?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with the quality of the sex you have?

  • If you have sex, do you experience any pain during sex?

  • If you have sex, have you experienced sexually compulsive behavior, meaning sexual behavior that is difficult to control and that has started to negatively affect other areas of your life like your health, your job, etc. (in ways that are not directly connected to the stigmatization of sexuality and/or bigotry)?

Substance Use

This section focuses on a very, very common coping skill for many people. Let’s be real and honest here. Drug use, legal or illegal, isn’t a problem by itself from a physical and mental point-of-view. Drug use only becomes a problem when your use starts to become chaotic and starts to negatively impact other areas of your life. If you want to learn a little more information about drugs, substance use, and how to know if it has become a problem for you, check out my Drugs 101 piece here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What substances (legal and/or illegal) do you use at this time in your life?

  • When did you first start using each substance?

  • When was the last time you used each substance?

  • How do you ingest each substance (swallowing/eating/chewing/drinking, smoking, vaporizing, inhaling/snorting, injecting, through the skin via a patch/liquid, etc.)? Is there a healthier/safer/less damaging to your body way you could try using instead?

  • How much do you use of each drug? And how often a week?

Spirituality

 This section focuses on the place that spirituality has in your life. One’s spiritual beliefs and/or religious/spiritual community serve as an important coping strategy, social support, and source of deep connection for so many people. Your spiritual beliefs, assuming you have any, should lift you up and give you a sense of meaningful purpose. It would be concerning if your beliefs or community was becoming a negatively stressful part of your life. Like any other area of your life, it is worth reflecting to make sure that you are getting what you need.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of spiritual beliefs do you hold?

  • How satisfied are you with this area of your life?

  • Are there any struggles you have in this area of your life?

  • Any interpersonal issues with other members of your spiritual community?

  • Are you interested in any other spiritualities/religions? What kind would you be interested in?

Self Care 

This section focuses on your relationship with yourself. Self care is a word that’s becoming very popular on social media and in progressive spaces, but many people are not exactly clear on what self care really means and what it actually looks like for them in the real world. That’s how you have people drinking lemon water, but only getting 4 hours of sleep every night, for example. Self care is all the ways you can take care of your mental and physical health. For a deeper explanation of what self care is and how it can help you grow, check out my post on self care here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • When and how do you find time for yourself?

  • How do you nurture, grow, and maintain your relationship with yourself?
  • How do you set boundaries with others and with yourself to take care of your mental and physical health? Check out my intro to setting boundaries piece here for more basic information on what boundaries are and how to set them. Here is a 2-Part series on how to set boundaries with family members as a way to protect your mental/physical health from toxic relationships with loved ones (Part 1 here) and as a way to make your closest relationships even stronger and more fulfilling (Part 2 here).

  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How do you relax?

Any time is a great time to take a fresh look at your life, but the start of a new year motivates a lot of people to take some time and reflect. I personally like to give myself space to check in on my life every 6 months. As y’all know by now, I am huge on self-awareness, self-reflection, and maintaining a healthy, solid relationship with yourself and those around you. Taking steps to live your life as intentionally as possible in a society that is constantly pushing you to check out and live only according to how we were all socialized is beyond a power move…it is life changing. Taking realistic and compassionate assessments your own needs and walking in the spirit of that truth is something I want for all of us.

Thanks for reading and thank you for reading for an entire year. It has been a pleasure to write for y’all. The next piece covers taking breaks between romantic relationships for personal growth.

One Year Anniversary: Do You Know What Today Is?

I officially started this website a year ago on January 1st 2018 as part of long-term career goals on my journey as a psychotherapist. From the moment I enrolled into that Applied Psychology graduate program, I dedicated every aspect of this part of my life to Black people, especially Black LGBTQAI people. I had been planning to go into psychology research and the academic world until I started hearing from different Black people online and IRL about the systemic difficulty finding culturally-competent, ethical, and empathic therapists who are also affordable and accessible. And that changed the direction of my life.

And now, this website is part of my ultimate goal to dedicate my psychotherapy career to finding many different ways to 1) Share free psychotherapy-based information to help people use these tools towards the goal of healing themselves and their communities, 2) Personally provide free psychotherapy to low-income Black people via my future private practice, 3) Provide future clinical supervision to upcoming Black LGBTQAI mental health counselors who need hours for their state license, and 4) Network with other Black mental health professionals to work together towards this common vision.

To everyone who has supported me in making this website happen this year, the very first year: Thank you so much. Your help was so deeply appreciated. I want to give special shout-outs to my brother Sam, my sister Crystal, and my editor/friend Kiya. Without the 3 of you, this website would have been almost impossible.

To everyone who has read any of my work on QueeringPsychology for the last year, thank you. Expect to see more and more of my work, written and otherwise, this new year and in the years to come.

Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home Part 2

So this piece is both 1)a part 2 to a 2-part series about setting boundaries around family and other people close to you in your life (Here’s a link to Part 1 here) and 2)a sequel to the intro to setting boundaries post I wrote in August (Intro piece here). Please take a chance to check those 2 out just to make sure we’re all on the same page about what boundaries are and how they can improve your personal and professional life generally. Part 1 focused on setting boundaries in regards to letting go of and/or limiting time around toxic people. This part 2 focuses on using boundaries as tools to build and make all the relationships in your life even stronger. Again, setting clear, firm boundaries is a way to take care of yourself. Strong boundaries are both a sign of and what happens when you start to truly know yourself. Building self awareness is key to setting boundaries. Boundaries are also about building community and your social support system. Having a solid set of people who you really trust and who’s really for you is key to having good mental health and life satisfaction. Especially for Black and brown people and ESPECIALLY for LGBTQAI people of color. Community (safe, strong, healthy community) is life.

Like I mentioned in the first part: strong, clear boundaries can be like emotional and psychological armor. Acting as protection and as a way to save your energy levels and your physical and mental health. Weak, vague boundaries are draining. Firm boundaries keep you going for longer, like fixing a leak in the gas tank so you can keep doing what you need to do. Boundaries aren’t always about separating yourself from or limiting time around things and people. They are also about building and nurturing families (blood and chosen) and other relationships/connections in your life. Boundaries are 1 huge part of the foundation of stable, healthy relationships whether we are talking about relationships with family, friends, coworkers/colleagues, romantic relationships, etc. They aren’t just things you set up when times are bad/rough though. Clear, strong boundaries on the regular protect the relationship like watering and caring for a plant and watching it grow. Healthy relationships don’t just grow on their own. People always say relationships take work without really describing the kind of work that needs to be done. Setting clear, strong boundaries and maintaining them together in each relationship is part of that work. Boundaries are about having compassion and respect for 1)your limits and the limits of other people, 2)everyone’s needs for stability and safety, and 3) each other’s wants and goals, etc. Life is hard. Being with the people close to you should be a peaceful break from all the nonsense, not a part of the stress.

Y’all remember my self care piece from earlier this year in March? In that piece, I’ll link it here, I talked about Spoon Theory and I added a quote from the creator of Spoon Theory, Christine Miserandino, as she explains the concept of Spoon Theory to a friend: “I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.” In this quote, she is aware of her limitations (how many spoons she has) so she sets boundaries to avoid draining time/energy AND to stay connected to people she chooses. Again, life is so hard, especially living in a bigoted society that wants you dead/disappeared. Every breath is revolutionary, but it is still draining. Part of self care is being kind to yourself and being aware of the energy you have and how you spend it. Boundaries help you turn your close relationships into mobile safe spaces. They allow you to be more able to open up and to have times in your life where you can really be yourself. Knowing what your limits are, clearly expressing them to people, and then having those limits respected can make spending time with the people closest to you even better.

On the other hand, having your boundaries constantly ignored and/or disrespected weakens and damages relationships after awhile on top of hurting your physical and mental health. There’s a reason so many people feel like they have no one they can really talk to or really trust/be real with. There’s a reason so many people feel like they have to front all the time. Or why there’s this running “joke” of tweeting about depression/suicidal feelings on the TL and then acting like they are “just tweets” when someone asks you about it privately. That’s a clear sign that so many people don’t have real support systems and don’t feel comfortable being real and/or vulnerable with the people around them. That’s how you can feel lonely surrounded by a crowd of people. Clear, firm, mutually respected boundaries between you and your people create an environment where all the fronts can be dropped at the door.

Let’s talk about some specific ways to nourish the relationships in your life through setting and maintaining clear, strong boundaries. All relationships take work. In this society, people are pressured to focus all their efforts and energies into romantic relationships and all the other kinds of relationships in our lives are just supposed to work themselves out somehow. Like I’ve mentioned before in the Part 4 of the parenting series here and in my piece on suicide (link here), it’s “very Western, very colonizer, to rely on a nuclear family (spouse and kids) for everything”. We have all been taught that romantic connections and the relationships we have with spouses are the ultimate relationships to search our whole lives for. That way of thinking is very limiting. When we only focus on 1 type of connection in our lives and that relationship ends or that person dies, what is left? Many of our elders are vulnerable and many people generally feel unfulfilled because this society teaches us to put all of our future plans, hopes, and dreams on 1 person. Some people won’t even go places and will pause whole areas of their lives so they can do it with a romantic partner. A lot of the time, that seems to lead to regrets and resentments for many people in the long run. I’ve noticed that people have stronger support systems and feel like more people truly got their back when they start to give the other kinds of relationships in their lives a similar kind of effort.

Some Basic Suggestions for Boundaries that Strengthen Connections:

Being honest and clear about your needs/wants
  • Even if that honesty feels awkward, etc. It might feel uncomfortable at first because you aren’t used to it, but it will get easier for everyone after awhile.

  • “I feel [xyz] right now and I need to [abc].”

  • “I need time to think about this, let me get back to you in an hour/tomorrow, etc” – Always give a specific time and keep that appt, being respectful of everyone’s time.
Checking in with loved ones

Check in with your homies in general (We good?)


  • Avoid surface level bs. This isn’t like the “How are you?” “I’m good. Chilling. Just trying to be like you” lie we all do. This is about asking and actually wanting to know the real answer. And being ready to really do something if there is something that needs to be handled in y’all’s relationship.

  • It’s better to check in as you go and get in the habit of asking each other “Yo, we good? In general, how we doing on your end?” Again, this kind of thing isn’t just for romantic relationships. Many of you and your homies would feel closer if you were able to talk about the little things you might be keeping inside over the years. Little things add up. Misunderstandings, crossed wires, other not exactly arguments, etc. all add up. Wouldn’t hurt to get it out there and always be on the same page

Or checking in after a disagreement

  • Avoid snark/sarcasm. If you are feeling some type of way, this isn’t the time for a check in. This is where knowing yourself and being accurately aware of your own emotions is key (Check out Mindfulness post here for some suggestions on how to be more attuned with yourself and your emotions. It’s hard to check in with another person and talk to them about what’s going on for you if you don’t know what to look for in yourself. So start there, within yourself.

  • After you take the time to get a clear understanding of your emotions, check in. And if you need to apologize, don’t focus on wanting the person forgive you. Focus on what you can do or not do to help the other person heal in their own time from what you did.

  • “I hear you want x and I’ll respect that.” If you start to slip back into old habits, checking in with yourself regularly will help you keep a handle on that for yourself. Checking in with people does not take the place of doing the work yourself to be self aware. Self awareness makes checking in with people easier.

Checking in as a chance to update old boundaries if necessary

  • People change and our situations in life change so boundaries will probably need to get updated from time to time. Listen to your mind/body and to the people in your lives to know when it’s time for an update.
Respecting physical and psychological limits
  • Ask if people want to be touched.

  • Ask if people want to talk right now and if they don’t, scheduling a time that works for the both of you and keeping to that time out of respect for each other.

  • Gain consent even from people who you have history with, you never know someone too much to seek out enthusiastic consent.


Learning how to set clear and firm boundaries is 1 of the most important skills one can learn in life. The benefits strong boundaries have on life satisfaction, personal happiness, and one’s mental health is amazing. And being able to not only use boundaries for your personal mental health and building your social support system, but also to use boundaries as tools to make all the relationships in your life even stronger/better is a serious pro-tip. Taking care of yourself, your loved ones, and your community all with the same skill.


Thanks for reading. The next post will be after the holidays on Sunday 1/13/19 about checking in with yourself  and reassessing your whole life for the new year.

Reader Request: Explaining Mental Health Status to Parents

This is a reader request (Thank you again, by the way). This post will cover 1)Doing some self-reflection to sort out what is making you want to talk to your parents about your mental health status, 2)Figuring out how safe the situation is for this, 3)Preparing for the talk, 4)Ways to go about having this kind of conversation with your parents, and 5)How to make your own safety plan in case things don’t go as well as you’d like. I want to make sure that whatever you decide to do, it is a decision that you thought all the way through, that was not made in a rush or impulsively, and that your safety and health is a priority.

#1: Self-Reflection  

What is making you want to tell your parents about your mental health status? This is a great time to reflect on what is motivating you to want to make this decision. It’s hard to figure out what to say if you don’t have a clear idea of what the end goal is here. Like writing an essay or making any persuasive argument, it’s always good to have your goal in mind from the very beginning. That will be your compass in navigating this whole thing. Are you telling your parents so they understand why you need money/financial assistance/health insurance (for medication, therapy, etc)? Or maybe because you need emotional support and/or to fit them into your social supports/safety planning? Or you want to tell them so you can set better boundaries with them? Whatever your reasons are and whatever your end goal is, you should hash that out 1st. Mindfulness techniques [101 post here] could be key here if you aren’t sure how to tap into yourself and figure out what your needs specifically are. Talk to your friends and other people you trust to get their perspective too if that will help you look at this situation from every angle possible.

#2: Assess the Situation 

How much do you rely on your parents? Are you a minor/dependent? Are they paying for your college or do you need them to fill out your FAFSA? Are you under their insurance? Do you live with them or rely on them for money? These kinds of things are what you are potentially risking if things don’t go exactly as you hope. This isn’t to scare you. This is to help you plan while looking at the pros and cons of each decision you make. The cons would be what you could be risking here by sharing your mental health status with your parents, who, depending on the situation, could have a lot of power over you. What are the realistic chances they will support you? How did they respond in similar situations in the past and what kind of support did they give you? How did you feel about the support they gave you back then? Do you have any worries that they might not support you or that they might try to harm you? My point here is to help you reflect on what they could probably do according to evidence based in what they have already said and done in their past…not what you hope they could do. 

#3: Prepping for the Talk 

Okay so you’re taking the time to do some self-reflection and you’re assessing your situation for risks and any safety concerns. Great. Now, it’s time to start getting ready for any response, including acceptance, rejection, gaslighting (A type of psychological abuse where someone manipulates another person until they start to question reality or their mental health. The word “gaslighting” was inspired by a 1938 play/1944 movie called “Gas Light”.), or silencing. Some things you can do to prepare for this talk (or any major talk) include:

  1. Safety planning: So what is the worst case scenario? No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios, but it’s important to plan for the worst (while hoping for the best). You’ve already assessed the situation and have a solid idea of the risks here. Now that you have that awareness, how can you protect yourself from those risks the best you can. Like wearing protective gear or like coming up with a Plan B in case things go left. In psychotherapy, therapists and clients work together on creating formal and informal safety plans whenever a client is in a risky situation. See my post on Suicide here for a more detailed description of a safety plan and for questions to get you started on creating your own plan. 

  2. Self Care. Self Care. Self Care. I don’t think y’all hearing me…SELF CARE. If you have not read my piece on self care here before this point, please time a couple mins to check it out. Definitely pay special attention to the reflection questions I asked in the 2nd half for help figuring out which self care strategies and habits work best for you. Self care is about being compassionate and loving to yourself in a harsh world. It is about taking the time to learn yourself and your needs and investing in yourself and in your future health. Not only is self care important for this talk, but it is key for your mental health and general life satisfaction.

  3. It’s also time to revisit the boundaries 101 piece here. I also suggest checking out Part 1 here of a 2-part boundaries 201 piece I wrote for the holidays: the setting boundaries with toxic loved ones. Just like self care, clear strong boundaries are so incredibly important for good whole body health and personal happiness. Like I’ve said before, learning how to set and maintain clear, firm boundaries is 1 of the most important skills to learn in life. Solid boundaries are armor/protection and they are permission/freedom to really be yourself with people in those relationships. Boundaries keep everyone on the same page, nurture the connection you have with them, and can bring you closer. Remember that you cannot control other people’s behavior, but you can control your behavior and, to different degrees, you can control what you tolerate in your life. Firm boundaries are an important part of self care and part of your safety plan. Regardless of how your parents react, your top priority is the protection of your mental health. And this is all easier said than done. It can be hard to set boundaries at home, especially when setting boundaries was never taught at home and/or your parents have fragile, vague boundaries themselves or even no boundaries at all. But this is worth it. Again, you are worth the effort.

  4. You could practice what you want to say and/or role-play with friends or any other trusted person in your life. This could be helpful to make sure that you are getting your point across in a clear, easy-to-understand way. In therapy, therapists and clients also role-play to help clients work through any anxiety they might feel leading up to a talk like this. Or practice by writing down everything you want to say in advance and reading it out loud and/or emailing it to a friend.

#4: The Conversation 

Ultimately, how you want to do this is up to you. No one knows your life like you do. You are an expert on your life and your situation. That’s why I put so much emphasis and went so hard on the importance of self-reflection, mindfulness, setting boundaries, talking/reflecting with people you trust, and self care earlier. Tapping into yourself and digging deeper is going show more revelations and pieces of wisdom than I think a lot of people would give themselves credit for. What I do want to cover here is some suggestions I have for when you are finally ready to have the first actual conversation with your parents about your mental health status:

When?

  • I’d suggest having a private conversation ideally when no one is in a rush to be somewhere else. You want as much of the focus and attention to be on you as possible.

  • If the person isn’t reasonably making time for you, that already says a lot about where their priorities are at (And if people tell you who they are…). That’s new information added to your situation right there. Assessing your situation is never a 1-time thing. Your plan, etc. can always be updated with any new information.

How?

  • You could write a letter/send an email or text. I personally prefer looking into someone’s eyes and seeing body language when having serious conversation, but I can definitely understand the necessity for other ways of communication, depending on the situation and your safety.

  • Another option is writing a letter/text/email as a kickstarter to the in-person conversation (“Read this when you get a chance. I wanna talk about it when we’re both free.”). Assuming the person reads it, this can be a great way to get your points across in an organized, lower pressure way with less chances of being interrupted.

  • Talk in person in private with talking points. Have an idea of what you want to say going into the conversation . This is where all that planning and possibly role-playing helps.

  • You don’t have to go it alone. Tell other people in your family who could help you have this conversation. Maybe, for whatever reason, this isn’t a 1-person job. That’s cool. Who are some allies you could get to help you break this down to your parents? I’m assuming these people were on your safety plan so maybe part of the support they could give you is help you speak to your parents in the moment. Try to find a balance between them helping you and them speaking for you. This is your conversation, not theirs. 

  • Talk in person with a medical/mental health provider in the room with you. The provider could help you explain the medical specifics if you personally have trouble with that. Or if your parents value and put a lot of trust in authority figures, you have someone like that in your corner. 

What?

  • Break down your symptoms in basic language and what it means for your everyday life. For example, “I’m dealing with this, that, and the third…and that is why you see me struggle with xyz or that’s why I’ve been doing abc”. The goal here is to help make your symptoms easier to explain, but also putting the focus on you, your health, and how they can support. 

  • Research and/or find supportive quotes from religious texts if you think your parents would be open to that.

  • Be specific about the kind of support you need from them. This is tied to knowing yourself and having clear communication and clear boundaries. If you don’t know what you really need, it’s hard to ask for help from others. 

The Blame Game: A quick note about blame. When dealing with shocking and/or upsetting news, it’s pretty common to cope with the situation by trying to find the first thing to blame.  Feeling out of control in the face of this new information, it’s very human to want to change the focus and energy on something else as a distraction and/or to feel more in control. Parents, the humans that they are, could react to the conversation by looking for someone or something to blame. Whether they chose to blame themselves, something you did or didn’t do, etc., it actually has nothing to do with you. It is how they’re deciding to cope with the update of your mental health status.  Putting it plainly: This is their mess. This isn’t you. This isn’t even for you. This is for THEIR comfort, not yours. The blame game distracts from the real focus of all this: your very real, life experiences and what you need from your parents here and now.

So, how are you feeling about all this? I know this is a lot to think about. I hope with this piece, you can begin to reflect on your situation and make informed decisions. By making time for self-reflection, taking a step back & looking at your situation closely, doing what you need to do to prep for the talk, including making a safety plan in case things aren’t ideal, setting firm boundaries, etc. you are making yourself and your health a high priority. Always weigh the pros and the cons. Study the benefits and the costs. Assess the risks. You are worth the effort.


Thanks for reading. The next piece will be Part 2 of the 2-Part Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home series in time for the holiday season, focusing on using boundaries as tools to build and make all the relationships in your life even stronger on Sunday 12/23/18.

Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home Part 1

If you haven’t read my piece on “How to Set Boundaries” here, you should. It’s basically an intro to this more complicated issue. Setting boundaries with draining/toxic/abusive relatives, friends, loved ones, etc. isn’t easy. Like I said in the intro piece, setting boundaries with loved ones can be hard, “especially if you are used to your boundaries being laughed at, ignored, pushed aside, or not even acknowledged (common in child emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, child neglect, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, etc.).” People in these situations learn to live with the fear that if they set boundaries, even really small ones (like needing alone time or a safe space), they will be punished for it. In the face of danger and/or fear, people mainly talk about fight and flight, but another common response is not resisting. The person begins to believe that no resistance = no pain. Boundaries are our protection and armor, but many people have grown used to going through life with little to no protection. Maybe you feel like there’s no point in having that armor up because nobody will respect it anyway. Maybe you feel like you’ve gotten this far, why do you need protection now? Again, give the intro to boundaries piece a read. Setting and maintaining firm boundaries is playing the long game with your physical and mental health and your life in general. And that all said, it’s one thing to know how to set boundaries, it’s a whole other beast to take this knowledge home. Learning new habits and breaking cycles is literally life changing work. Some of those dynamics in your family and with your friends/loved ones are YEARS in the making and feel hard to break/change after all this time. With this piece, I want to help y’all begin to apply the intro to boundaries information to your real-life, complicated situations. It’s time to start to taking your knowledge home and make some real life changes.

What Are Boundaries? –  Level 201

Aight so boom, when we talked about boundaries back in August, we covered the importance of boundaries as a way to take care of your physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Having clear, firm boundaries is a kind of self care strategy. Self care is often stereotyped as drinking tea and having spa days, but self care is actually paying attention to what your body and mind need and taking steps to meet those needs. Mindfulness techniques (Here’s the intro piece I wrote about mindfulness) are very helpful in connecting with yourself to really get a sense of what your true needs are. I also wrote a intro piece here about self care if you need a deeper explanation of what self care is. Clear, strong boundaries are a sign that someone really knows themselves and knows how to take care of themselves. It’s like working out and knowing just what your body needs to grow without damaging yourself. Or knowing that you can’t stay out late helping someone if it means cutting into your sleep when you have something important happening the next day. Again, it’s playing the long game with your physical and mental health. You can’t be at your best if you are constantly drained and burnt out. That’s not a healthy or satisfying life. Knowing yourself and knowing your own personal limitations is key. Also your personal boundaries will naturally change as you change as a person. Like a snake needing to shed old skin as it gets older. Likewise, it’s okay to need to and want to change boundaries as you change.

Like I’ve said in the intro to boundaries piece, boundaries are not about setting limits on other people’s behaviors. You can’t control other people. You can only change and control yourself. Boundaries are ultimately guidelines for yourself so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation. Basically, drawing lines in the sand like in old school cartoons. Setting a boundary can be as straightforward as: “If you want to come over, call/text me first” or “It offends/hurts me when you say that if you’re gonna keep doing this, I won’t be around you”. If people don’t make real efforts to respect your boundary, they don’t give a damn about you. So, at that point, where do you go from here? What can you do? I’d suggest separate yourself from people: block them, stop doing business with them, stop giving them money, etc. Setting boundaries requires a realistic awareness of yourself and compassion towards your own psychological/emotional needs. Let me repeat that last bit: Setting boundaries requires having COMPASSION for yourself. Just because you are used to being treated a certain way and that’s how it’s always been, doesn’t mean that’s how it should always be. Like I said before, people change and if your situation doesn’t work for you, it’s time for a change.

“Okay, But It’s Not That Simple”

Sometimes, it’s for real not that easy to cut someone off or to just leave them. There are times and situations where you legit have to be practical and/or think about your safety, unfortunately. And that’s real (and it’s not your fault). Just like with coming out as queer and/or trans, sometimes the situation requires really analyzing the situation. If you are worried about the potential consequences that could come from you setting boundaries with a particular person, pay attention to that intuition. Intuition saves lives and that gut feeling is probably accurate. Speaking of safety: Would trying to cut them off or leaving them have any effect on your safety or livelihood? Are you financially dependent on this person/people? Do you share custody of children? Do you live with them and rely on them to pay their half of the rent? That’s all real and needs to be taken into consideration. If you can’t just cut people off now (or for the foreseeable future while you figure something out), there are still things that can be done to limit your interaction with this person. There are still ways to protect your mental and physical health as much as possible. And this is still a part of the many ways to do self care.

It can feel impossible to set boundaries in these situations, but there are things someone can do even then. Remember, boundaries are not about controlling or changing other people’s behavior. Boundaries are guidelines for yourself. What are some ways you can practice self care by limiting the time/contact spent around draining and/or toxic people in your life? A former client of mine felt suffocated by everyone in her house because she was the main caretaker of everyone in the house (kids & adults) and each person was constantly draining her energy and time. She just wanted some time alone to herself to recharge. She had been trying to set direct boundaries herself with her relatives, but they would outright ignore her or act like they were going to change, but never did. She was burning out fast and crying tears of frustration in my office. We brainstormed possible solutions and we finally decided that I, her therapist, would prescribe mandatory alone time in the park at least 3x a week for an hour as medical treatment for “stress”. In this situation, the woman couldn’t just walk away from the situation or cut people off so we found a way for her to recharge and take time for herself.

Relatedly, who else can you rely on for support? Dealing with draining, toxic, and/or abusive people is not a 1-person job. In fact, toxic and/or abusive people love isolating people because they know people need support from loved ones/their community to break free. Who do you trust to have your back? What kind of community resources can you take advantage of? And I’m not just talking about domestic violence hotlines, etc. What are ways that you can build community and support systems outside of that draining and/or toxic environment? Free/low cost classes, workshops, interest groups, meet ups, etc. all provide opportunities to meet new like-minded people. It’s easy to get brainwashed into the toxic mindset that you don’t deserve to have firm, respected boundaries and that you deserve whatever toxic treatment you are receiving at home. Having friends outside of that circle will breathe some fresh air and new perspectives into your situation because they are not invested in keeping you thinking in the old way. Also taking these classes or going to these meet ups will also remind you that you have well-rounded interests, skills, and talents. You are more than what they say you are. Remembering that goes a long way for a lot of people. And taking even an hour break every week will do wonders for your mental health and will also help you start to think about what your life would look like in a future without all that toxic mess.

The Aftermath

There are many different ways you can feel after setting boundaries with a draining, toxic, and/or abusive loved one. People are complicated. You can feel lots of emotions at once or experience 1 emotion at at time and move from 1 emotion to another as you go through this process. You can feel guilt. Months or years of someone close to you saying and/or implying that you setting boundaries is rude or not even possible can really get into your head. Internalizing the idea that you are selfish for setting boundaries is real…but it’s also not true. That said, it can take a while to unlearn the lies. So feeling guilt post-setting boundaries is a possibility and so is relief. Having draining, toxic or abusive people in your life can be very tiring. One-sided relationships generally are. So lifting that burden off your shoulders can feel like the first breath of fresh air you’ve had in years. You could also worry about retaliation. Toxic people both tend to have vague, weak boundaries themselves and encourage (or enforce) poor boundaries in other people. Like I’ve mentioned before, poor boundaries allows people all kinds of access to you and toxic/abusive people feel entitled to that access. Setting boundaries threatens their level of access to you and they could act out, etc. Trust your instincts. If you are even a little concerned about what they could do, listen to yourself, and take some steps to protect yourself and possibly your valuables.

Finally, another emotion you could experience is nostalgia. Very few people are all bad all the time. Part of what makes it so hard to set limits or cut ties with toxic or abusive people are the memories of when life was good and when y’all were good together. You find yourself missing the person and/or the times and emotions you had with that person. It may hurt to leave them despite knowing that leaving would be good for you in the long run. That’s real. It’s ok to acknowledge those feelings. Don’t run from that feeling or try to push it away. Avoidance always makes people feel worse in the long run. Acknowledge it. Face it. Sit with it. This is where mindfulness techniques, venting to patient loved ones, and/or speaking with a therapist can help. You’re a human being. Your feelings are allowed to be complicated. In therapy, it’s called ambivalence and it’s very common. Coming to terms with your complicated feelings in healthy ways by yourself or with people you trust will go a long way in maintaining your mental health. And don’t let the toxic person’s mind games fool you: ending the relationship with them doesn’t mean you will go without love or support. Part of self care and being your own MVP is building connections with people who help you grow and limiting your time/energy with people who drain you.

Setting and maintaining clear, firm boundaries is definitely 1 of the most important things I feel I could teach someone. Solid boundaries really set the foundation for a satisfying life and for good mental and physical health. I, professionally and personally, cannot talk about them enough. Boundaries can seriously change the quality of someone’s life. Adding to that, it’s 1 thing to learn how to set boundaries, it’s a whole other thing to take these lessons home and apply them to the people closest to you. Especially when the people in question feel entitled to you. Learning to have the compassion for yourself that they have refused to show you is key. You’re worth the effort. You are worth the satisfaction and the clarity that comes with strong boundaries.

Thank you for reading. The next post to be published on Sunday 12/9/18 is a reader request: Explaining your mental health symptoms and/or diagnosis to your parents.

Grief

Loss is a part of life. Whether we’re talking about the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship with a partner or a friend, loss of a job you’ve had for years, etc., loss of some kind happens everyday. And with loss, comes grief. The purpose of this post is to demystify grief: I will be explaining what grief is, what it can look like, and the importance of mourning and mourning/grieving rituals as ways to hold onto the memories of beloved ones in a healthy way. In this piece, I will be mainly talking about grief after the death of a loved one, but again, there are many different kinds of losses one can experience. I hope this piece helps y’all start to make sense of what you have experienced.

What is grief?

Grief is the very common response to loss. Many people are familiar with the idea of the stages of grief, but I don’t like thinking of grief in that way. With the idea of set stages of grief, there is a risk of expecting people to fit into boxes that aren’t real for them.Grief looks different depending on each person. People are complicated. So the process of grieving is just as complicated. Everyone’s journey is their own and depends on life circumstances and the relationship you had with the deceased person. Trauma, issues with abandonment, other stressful things going on in your life, physical and mental health issues, etc. can add to and complicate the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are not the only emotions people feel while grieving. You could feel relief. You could be happy the person is no longer suffering. You could be glad on some level to be out of that job. You could be low-key grateful your partner is gone. Feeling emotions beyond those 5 doesn’t mean you are broken or an extra secret special messed up. Again, people are complicated. And while dealing with all these complicated feelings, it may feel like you are being swallowed up by an eternity of feelings. Regardless of how it can feel, grief is not forever. With time and active work towards healing, your often intense, painful feelings of grief will start to go away usually in about a year (in the case of death). I’m not saying you won’t miss your deceased loved one anymore. But you will be able to think about them and miss them without the feelings taking over your life. You could think about them without crying immediately, for example. That difference between actively mourning someone versus remembering someone fondly, etc.

The grieving process becomes a mental health issue when it starts to take over your life and you have been actively grieving for over a year. What do I mean by actively grieving? If 12 months have passed since your loss and your feelings are just as intense as the very first day, you may be experiencing what is known as “complicated grief”. Constantly thinking about the loss, feeling distress that is outside of what is usual for your society and/or culture, being unable to keep up with your commitments at work, school, with family, etc. like you used to, and passive and/or active suicidal ideation are all symptoms of complicated grief. Examples of passive suicidal ideation include wanting to go to sleep and not wake up, wishing you weren’t alive, or wishing you were dead. Examples of active suicidal ideation include thinking about ending your life, having the intention/desire to end your life, having the tools/method to do it, and/or having a specific plan (See my post on suicide here for more information explaining suicide).

Grief and Depression

Grief and depression can feel very cruel because they both can convince people that this is the way they are going to feel forever. They both change the way you see yourself and how you see the world while you’re in the middle of it. A huge difference between major depressive disorder and grief is the subject of the distressing feelings. A grieving person’s thoughts focus on the person who has died. On the other hand, depressive symptoms tend to focus on feelings of personal worthlessness. Basically, if a grieving person is feeling sad, it is most likely going to be related to a sense of loss, to missing the deceased, to wishing they could be with that person, etc. A depressed person’s sadness focuses only on themselves and any flaws (or “flaws”).

In my piece about depression here, I break down the symptoms of depression in more detail. To have clinical depression, someone must have at least a depressed mood most of the time, almost every day, or not able to feel pleasure/joy from things that used to make them happy. Depression is self-critical. A depressed person’s inner monologue/their self-talk/the majority of their thoughts (to be REALLY blunt) is mainly about how they feel they ain’t shit. Depressed thoughts are pessimistic and any related suicidal ideation is about wanting to escape their situation. Again, grief, though, focuses specifically on the loss. And a grieving person’s thoughts are mixed with the positive memories and emotions related to their dead loved one. Even the suicidal ideation that some grieving people experience is usually focused on wanting to be with their loved one, not escaping their misery as it would be with a depressed person.

Now to complicate things a little because life is complicated: Grief and a major depressive episode can happen at the same time. And the loss of a loved one can trigger depressive symptoms in people with a history of depression. Recent loss can kick up past emotions like fears of abandonment from past deaths and other kinds of losses. It’s important to be aware of yourself, especially if you have a history of depression, trauma, anxiety, etc.

Mourning

Mourning rituals and practices are an incredibly important part of healing. These rituals, both personal and public, allow people space and time to express emotions, process thoughts, and reflect on memories. Many cultures have their own mourning rituals and ceremonies in place as a part of community healing. In psychotherapy, therapists encourage clients to practice in their own culture’s mourning rituals and/or create their own personal rituals. These rituals allow for time to think, memorialize, feel feelings while also helping to contain the emotions and give them a proper place. These rituals are a way to set boundaries with yourself and your emotions so mourning doesn’t consume lots of your time and energy. If you need more information on how to set and maintain firm boundaries, I wrote a piece about that here. Learning to balance your thoughts of the deceased with your thoughts of the land of the living is important for the healing process and for your ability to continue to stay on top of bills, keep up the relationships with your living loved ones, etc. Many people feel trapped in their initial pain because they believe, on some level, if they don’t feel this pain, their loved one will be forgotten. And this isn’t true. You don’t need to be in pain to honor them. Your cultural and personal rituals are your special way of remembering them. They keep the memory of your loved one alive.

Some ideas for personal rituals and other ways to personalize your mourning process:

  • Creating physical or online memorials
  • Visiting the gravesite
  • Lighting candles alone or in a small ceremony and reflect on the deceased
  • Writing letters, poetry, or songs to the deceased
  • Going to grief counseling groups to commune with others going through similar situations
  • Having a dinner to celebrate the life of this person

As time passes, the sharp painful feelings of loss will start to fade. In therapy, checking in with clients is an important part of the healing process. I would have clients track their own emotions, their thoughts, etc. so we both can see how they change over time. Are their feelings of grief becoming less intense? Are they able to sleep as well as they used to? How much do their feelings of loss interrupt their day? Are they getting the support they need during this time? Check in with yourself. Try some mindfulness techniques (read more here) as self check-ins to see where you’re at, what you need, and how this changes as you heal. While checking in with yourself, see if there’s anything you can do via self care (my piece about the many types of self care here) to help yourself heal.

A REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: Certain times of the year like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. can still be hard emotionally for you even years later. This is very common. In my clinical work, clients and I have worked together to make a safety plan (Check out the suicide post linked above for a sample safety plan) to figure out how clients can get the help they need before any problems start. Like a fire drill. That way, when things pop off, there’s no need to panic. Safety plan for yourself in advance for the hard days. And these moments and days when the sadness and grief come back can happen, but they won’t be as debilitating or world-crushing as the day 1. Seek therapy if mourning gets in the way of functioning and/or it has been longer than a year and your feelings feel as intense as it did on the 1st day of loss. You may need some professional assistance with going through the healing process. And that’s okay.

Loss is inescapable. Whether it is loss of a relationship, loss of a loved one via death, etc., everyone is going to grieve something at some point. And though feelings of grief are painful, they are a part of life and important to feel. Un-dealt with grief can build up inside someone and then come out in other, less healthy ways. On the other end, intense feelings of grief that last over a year can get in the way of living one’s life to the fullest. With all things, finding a balance is key. Mourning a loss is an important part of life, especially the death of a loved one. You can love and miss people without those feelings taking over your life. Love never really goes away. That’s facts, but personal and/or cultural mourning rituals and grieving ceremonies help people set boundaries, use mindfulness techniques, and get their support system in order in healthy ways. Beloved people won’t be forgotten because we can keep them alive in our hearts through rituals and remembrance. And we can live our lives to the fullest in their memory.

Thanks for reading. The next piece will be part 1 of a 2-part series in time for the holiday season about setting boundaries specifically with toxic/abusive people in your life.

Suicide

Suicide is a touchy subject. It’s complex topic that many people have strong feelings and opinions about. At the same time, it is an issue that not many people are really educated on. Suicide makes many of us uncomfortable and in this society, whatever makes the majority uncomfortable gets pushed under the rug at best. However, the misinformation that many people have about suicide leads to those in need not receiving the kind of support necessary from their loved ones, from healthcare professionals, and from society at large. In this piece, I want to talk about suicide: what suicide is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention. I hope with this information, people are able to better support their loved ones and/or find the support they need while going through difficult times in their lives.

Suicide Is…?

Suicide is the act of ending one’s own life on purpose. As a psychotherapist, I know that people who are suicidal don’t necessarily want to die. They want an escape from their current situation. Many people tend to see someone killing themselves as the problem when actually suicide is usually a symptom of other problems. Something or some things else are going on in that person’s life. There are other issues adding stress to their lives, bringing them to what feels like a breaking point. And a person who is suicidal sees suicide as a definite way to escape from their pain.

Now, being at risk for committing suicide is different from having suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation aka thinking about dying or killing one’s self is actually very common. Most people have had times in their lives where they have thought about wanting to die in their sleep or wishing they were dead/not alive anymore, which are examples of passive suicidal ideation. Many people have also fantasized about jumping in front a train or car, etc. for a second as it’s about to past them. This urge/fantasy is usually short and most people never actually do it. It’s so common that therapists are not generally concerned with just thoughts of death. Thinking about their death by itself does not make someone at risk for committing suicide. Thoughts of committing suicide without a method, intent/desire to die, and a clear plan are usually on the low risk end. However, someone is in immediate risk of suicide if they have a way to kill themselves on standby, a specific plan of how they’re going to do it, and the intent/desire to do it. Otherwise, thoughts of suicide on their own are opportunities for conversations.

I believe in bodily autonomy. There are times, unfortunately, when someone’s problems are not resolvable for them. All the suicide prevention efforts (which I’ll get into next) could have been attempted and everyone could have put their all into it and, for whatever reason, it is not enough for someone to want to stay alive. I believe people ultimately have bodily autonomy and even if they want to end their lives, it’s their body and their life. At the end of the day, when everyone leaves and goes back home and/or goes to sleep, they have to be alone with their pain. I think it is selfish and torture to force someone to stay alive who doesn’t want to be. If every measure of suicide prevention available has been used and every bit of support in the person’s life has been accessed and the person still does not want to be alive, from a humanistic perspective, it is unethical to force them to live with their pain for someone else’s personal values. If you want someone to stay alive, then it’s time to put in some work.

Suicide Prevention in Treatment

Because I believe in bodily autonomy, it is my obligation as a mental health professional to 1)provide a safe space for people to process what they’re going through, 2)help them receive as much clarity on their situation as possible, 3)find and weigh other options to escape their situation, and 4)help them build a support system. All with the hope that with more resources and more options, the person will be able to resolve their situation in other ways, using other options. Ultimately, suicide prevention is addressing people’s stressors and problems. Again usually people struggling with suicide want freedom from suffering, not necessarily to die. It’s a common reaction to want to avoid talking about suicide out of fear of pushing the person “over the edge” or “giving them any ideas,” but that’s not how suicide risk even works. In mental health treatment, when dealing with someone who is suicidal, it’s time to get curious, ask open-ended questions, and not be afraid to go deep with a client. What symptoms is the person experiencing? What is going on in their lives and how can that be addressed? Who is around that can support them?

With these kinds of questions in mind, therapists usually encourage at-risk clients to use a safety plan. In treatment, therapists help clients brainstorm and create their own personal safety plan, which usually involves about 4 steps.

Step 1: Identifying the situation. What are some signs that let you know you’re starting to feel hopeless, sad, frustrated, etc? Do you feel it in your body? Do you feel tired all the time? Do you lose your appetite or eat more than usual? Or is it more in your head/thoughts? Do you get racing thoughts, for example? Mindfulness techniques [Here’s a piece I wrote about how to find the find one for you] are great ways to get a clearer idea of how you’re feeling if you aren’t sure.

Step 2: Self-soothing. What can you do for yourself to go back to how you were feeling before? What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation? How did you get through difficult times in the past? What stops, if anything, you from you using these coping skills now and how can you get around whatever is in your way?

Step 3: Who your people? (I said what I said). Being able to self-soothe is important, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people in this difficult time. Who can you ask for help? And what kind of help do you want from each person? Do you wanna vent? Do you need to leave home for a couple days? Do you need someone to make sure you eat? Do you need help going to the Dr? Do you need help with classes? Do you need money or transportation? Do you need help filling out paperwork? Do you need someone to babysit your kids for a couple days? If your social circle is fairly small, what social agencies are in your area that provide free or low cost services? A lot of community organizations can provide resources or referrals to free or low cost assistance that many people are not aware of.

Step 4: Emergency services: Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? What hospital would you want to go to in a worst case scenario? It’s better that you choose than to have a stranger choose for you. How would you get to the hospital if needed? Do you have any suicide hotlines handy (See the post on depression here for a brief list of hotlines at the end)?

I always suggest suicidal clients have multiple copies of their safety plan in different areas for emergencies. Keep copies in your bag, jacket pockets, wallet, car, in your room, at your partner’s place, in a few trusted friend’s homes. etc. Tell the people on your safety plan what their role is and what kind of support you need from them at those times.

How You Can Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

Let me start by saying that no amount of positive thinking and yoga is going to “fix” suicidal ideation and stop someone from wanting a permanent escape. It’s like trying to cure a tumor with just positive thinking and a vegan diet. Not gonna happen. You got to get at the root of the problem. What is making them want to escape from their lives in a permanent way? If you want to help people who are suicidal, listen to and support them in addressing the issues that led them to feeling this way. Go at their pace. Let them lead the discussion and ask them what kind of support you could give to them during this time. While also making sure to set firm boundaries for your own mental health. Here’s the piece I wrote here on how to set firm boundaries. Or if you can’t help fix the major issue(s), support them by listening to them when they ask AND do small things to make their life easier. What everyday struggles could you help them with? Laundry? Food? Do they need help with child care? Or do they need your company? The suicidal person has to wrestle with their main issues while trying to stay alive. Your support could go a long way in easing their burden and increasing their chances of survival.

Too many ppl use the hotlines as the first level of defense and I want to dispel that. The first level of defense should be community-based prevention. Meaning building up strong friendships, chosen families, community bonds, etc. to the point where it’s normal to sincerely check in on each other’s mental health and actually step in to help when needed. Yes, give people hotlines to call. Hotlines are good resources if you need to speak about something anonymously, if you literally don’t trust anyone else in your area, etc. Hotlines are incredibly important…and also is there anyone in their personal lives who can talk to them? Sometimes people don’t want to talk to a hotline. They want to know that someone in their personal life cares about their situation and supports their fight for survival. Check in on your friends and I’m not talking about hollow check-ins between acquaintances. The “You good, fam? I saw your TL…” and “Yeah, I’m good. Just tired and a little stressed from work/school, lol”. Not the polite, fake checking in. Most people don’t get real about checking in because they don’t believe the other person actually cares and/or wants to take on the extra burden of helping someone else. Let’s get real though. Who’s your crew? Them? Those folks? Protect them. What keeps a pair or a group strong is sincerely opening up to each other, checking in on one other, and supporting each other through life’s mess.

I talked about squads checking for each other in the 4th part of my parenting series here where I also briefly talked about how it’s “very Western, very colonizer, to rely on a nuclear family (spouse and kids) for everything”. And it honestly doesn’t work. And going the individualistic Western way of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is literally impossible. That phrase was originally meant to describe something impossible that no one should be expected to do. And look, capitalism twisted the original meaning to trick us into fighting towards an impossible goal. Draining us of our health and life to feed the machine. There are so many lonely people in this world under this system. We should be relying on each other too.

If someone is opening up to you and talking to you about their suicidal ideation, it is a huge sign of trust. More often than not, they just want to talk about/process their experiences without feeling like they have to protect other people’s feelings, comfort, etc. And they trust you to be that non-judgmental, not pushy person for them. If someone you know tells you they are suicidal, don’t make it about how sad you and others will be if they die. It’s cruel to emotionally blackmail people into staying alive if they are suffering. Psychological suffering is just as earth shattering and life changing as physical suffering. Guilting them makes their pain about you so now they have their personal hell AND your feelings to manage all at the same time, which can make their own symptoms even worse.

Suicide is not selfish. You don’t know people’s lives and people’s pain. If suicide offends everyone’s sensibilities and morality so much, it would be in everyone’s best interest to do their part to make life bearable for everyone. Many of the problems and stressors that make life so painful are made worse by and/or are ultimately caused by systemic oppression of all kinds. In this way, disability rights, racial oppression, misogyny, transgender rights, capitalism, etc. are all public health issues. That all said, again, there are situations that cannot be solved for some people and assuming all efforts were made towards prevention, that person’s bodily autonomy should be respected.

I want to make a separate note to highlight this point: Calling the cops is the very last option if someone is suicidal, especially for Black and Brown people. What are ways you can maintain safety before reaching a point where one might consider calling the police? If you can get the person into the hospital or other other forms of safety, without calling the cops and possibly further endangering a life, great.

Suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss and it’s even harder to actually be in a situation where life doesn’t appear to be worth living anymore. It feels like a losing battle and people can find themselves wishing for any kind of peace or escape. This is where support from chosen and/or biological families, friends, and ideally the community can come into play along with any necessary treatment. Coming together and addressing the actual problems going on in that person’s life instead of guilting them into living a life full of suffering without their consent. All this…while also coming to terms with the possibility that maybe all the words and support in the world might not be “enough” to prevent loved ones from making that final, permanent choice. And realizing, as I said before, that people ultimately have bodily autonomy. The sadness and loss experienced by people still living are real and legit, but those feelings are not more important than the deceased person’s pain. And finally, it’s not anyone’s “fault” for them doing what they felt needed to be done. I hope this was helpful in giving people some clarity on how to better support those in need and/or find the support they need themselves to make informed decisions.

Thanks for reading. The next piece on Sunday 11/11/18 will cover grief. I will be explaining what grief is, what it can look like, and the psychological importance of mourning and mourning/memorial rituals.