What does it really mean to be emotionally healthy?

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I’ve been in and out of various forms of therapy since pre-adolescence. I’ve been doing it pretty consistently for the past seven years. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to reach a point of being emotionally healthy.

The PTSD has had deep and lasting impacts on both my brain structure and neurochemistry. Bipolar II Disorder means that my brain structure and neurochemistry were already atypical. Both impact emotional health and affect my capacity for instinctively choosing emotionally healthy behavior.

Ten months ago my faith community stood beside me and supported me in my mental health recovery journey. They chose to pay for me to go through trauma recovery therapy, so I could better deal with the myriad of intense psychological and emotional stressors in my life. Past trauma is something I’ve been minimizing, avoiding, and denying most of my life. Dusting it off, picking it up, looking it in the eye, and examining it is not even close to easy. What is easy is distancing and distracting myself, even as I try to face it.

Last week I had a Telehealth appointment, which turned into an audio only appointment because of my dying phone. Since there’s no unoccupied space in my apartment and the sanctuary of a vehicle no longer exists, I walked to a coffee shop that has a large, covered, outdoor seating area. It also happens to be the socially distanced gathering place for the neighborhood dog owners and their dogs to hang out. I sat as far away as I could so as to be heard by my therapist and not heard by the community of strangers. Fun times.

I was telling her what happened the night I dropped my phone. I had gone over to my friends’ house, where I had been living from March – November, to pick up Christmas gifts for my grandkids. While I was there, the woman who had been my first friend from a DBT group I had been part of in 2018/2019, absented herself and had no interaction with me. Her wife indicated that I could try to communicate with her, but I would probably be unsuccessful. The wife is now my primary friend.

I have a lot of sad and mad feelings about this relationship break. However, when I was discussing what happened that night with my therapist, my brain fixated on the broken phone, as if that was the source of my difficult emotions. I was completely aware that’s what I was doing, but couldn’t seem to stop it. So, I said out loud that my brain was wanting to focus more on the phone than the lost friendship.

We discussed that for a bit. We drilled down some and identified some roots in prior relationships with important women in my life, starting with my mother, that ended in rejection and abandonment. Still a lot to unpack there, but both my therapist and I recognize that I’m stretched to capacity to address more trauma at this point. With that agreement in place, the question becomes, “what direction do we go and what do we work on?”

Since I’ve made some significantly bad decisions in the past several months which were decidedly co-dependent, avoidant, and risky and the outcomes of these decisions have increased the emotional, physical, and financial stress on me, thus maxing out my capacity for doing the more in depth trauma work, I figure I need to work on making emotionally healthy choices when faced with situations where my trauma responses have been triggered. I think that’s the only way to clear the path for me to do the deeper work.

My therapist suggested that my lack of emotionally healthy response is more likely rooted in the fact that I’ve never been around emotionally healthy people making emotionally healthy choices and that, while it may be possible for me to come to an understanding of what it means to be emotionally healthy, I may continually deal with an inability to operate with that same understanding. To which I responded that is why I said learning the behavior that comes from being emotionally healthy can be learned, even when the emotions aren’t healthy.

I think of it like reverse engineering good emotional health. Learning to act “as if” I am an emotionally healthy person, might enable me to become an emotionally healthy person.

I think I just found my focus for this year.

2021, the year I become an emotionally healthy responder.