Self-Care Toolkit | A Survivor's Distress Guide

I talk a lot about plans in the About Me section of this site, but what happens when plans become seemingly buried by extenuating circumstances, struggle, strife or conflict? How do you turn stressful situations into life lessons versus tragedies? The beginning of this year has gotten off to a shaky start and with everything going on in the world it becomes increasingly easier to give in to a knee-jerk reaction of feeling pained, sick and tired. These are feelings we all face, some more than others. But when emergency strikes, not much different than a first-aid kit at the wake of an accident, you have to pay attention to your options. Guarding yourself with the necessary tools, both concrete and abstract may be the difference in an emotional breakdown and an emotional breakthrough. I have 10 things I want you to put in your Self-Care Toolkit; allow me to first share how my 2017 started and how the creation of this kit helped me.

At the end of 2016 I had a major complication from a wisdom tooth extraction resulting in a dry socket, infection and lock jaw which kept me down for several months. Little did I realize, it would be the prelude to bigger dental problems and a longer, more expensive dirt road riddled with jagged rocks of pain and over-medication at the dead-end of maxed out benefits. On January 3rd I had two root canals (side by side on my upper left). I thought the stigma and shame alone of needing such a procedure would break me, but I put on my big girl panties and got those taken care of. A week later, I found myself in constant pain. Looking to break the cycle of taking narcotics on a strict schedule, I went back to the endodontist. After x-rays and tests he uttered the cruelest joke  – “Your 13th and 14th tooth had a root canal party and your 12th got jealous... you need the roots of that tooth removed as well.” Completely out of patience and out of benefits (10 days into the new year and no more coverage for 2017, yeah, let that sink in). This problem check visit turned into an emergency 3rd root canal. Mouth swollen, heart-broken, I convinced myself after doctor consult that the worst was behind me.

February 3rd, the pain had not subsided. I pleaded for the endodontist to see me again. A test on my 15th tooth (the last on the upper left side) revealed the need for a 4th root canal. My God! At this point I’m ready to schedule an exorcism to get the devil out of my mouth and into the ground! It might be time for a punch card "3 root canals, get the 4th free!" -__- He explained that my mouth is healthy, but that he thinks I developed bruxism, which is a fancy way of telling me I grind my teeth at night. I also sleep on my left side which makes sense because all of my problems are on that side, with absolutely nothing wrong on the right. With tears streaming down my check, they gave me valium, local anesthesia to calm me, and a shot to numb me. 15 minutes later I could sense un-readiness and unfamiliar discourse between doctor and his assistant. Through a foggy haze I heard the doctor explain that although the tooth was infected he could not perform a root canal because the tooth is cracked completely, it will need to be removed. Although he empathized, his office doesn't perform extractions so I was doped up with nowhere to go for immediate relief.

February 10th, my dentist canceled on me due to a family emergency on the date I was to have the extraction done. I was set up for yet another emergency appointment, this time with an oral surgeon. This doctor told me I would have to be put to sleep because the angle of the tooth was too tough to get to. Pan camera to a broken Kelz – crying and visibly shaking while signing papers vowing to pay $1,081 for a procedure that was going to cost $350 at the dentist. The force it took to remove the tooth spurred my bone through my gums, and the next week I’d struggle with about a dime’s width of exposed bone inside of my mouth. Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. On the 19th I made the decision to call the after-hours line of the surgeon who repeatedly counseled that it would “heal on its own.”  I managed to rattle off a laundry list of reasons – much gathered from Google, why it needed to be cut, and NOW. At 7am the next morning, he clipped the bone back so the gums could heal. I wish I could tell you that this ordeal is over but I'm still in the thick of it. Balancing pain with day-to-day tasks, I am reminded that pain is temporary and my teeth are a microscopic representation of a struggle, a phase, a hurdle that will pass. 

Needless to say, I’ve had to institute my own version of emergency self-care and revive my psychological well-being. Have your moment - cry, kick, and/or scream, but after the tantrum pick up your pieces. This was my best way to deal, the Self-Care Toolkit was the manifestation of my coping mechanism, fully activated. The kit can help you combat anger (yes, Lord), hurt, and anxiousness. Keeping these items in your arsenal may even help prevent a panic attack. If you're weary with the weight of the world, it's time to put on your yellow hardhat - in your Self-Care Tool-Kit you’ll need the following:

  1. Scripture. In my recent experience I kept marinating on this epiphany - anxiousness is powerless in the presence of God's Word. Find a go-to scripture, print it out or put it in your phone. You could even memorize it, keep it close to your heart and when the time comes, use it to shed light in a dark place. 
  2. At least two phone numbers. Hearing my husband's voice on the other end of the line helps me feel calm. I'll even call and say something like "I know you're at work, and you probably can't talk, but just tell me it's going to be okay." Find that go-to person and have a second-responder in case you're #1 is unavailable.
  3. Words of affirmation. Dig deep for meaningful words that will pull you out of a bad mood and help you focus on what's important. It's almost inevitable to become disillusioned if your thought pattern is negative, so keep these words light and positive. Here's a few to memorize - "Pain is temporary." "You're okay." "You're doing the best you can with what you have." "God doesn't want us to be perfect, we were never meant to carry it all." 
  4. A list of fruitful activities. Answer this - what do you enjoy? What activities enrich your quality of life and what feeds (not harms) your mind, body and spirit? The essence of personal self-care requires us to engage in activities that make our hearts smile.  If you are not in a position to get to that activity in the present moment do your due diligence to schedule it, right then and there, for something to look forward to. 
  5. A person to pray FOR. This one is my favorite. Regardless of what you are going through, there is always someone else who needs your prayers for their benefit. God desires that even in times of pain we humble ourselves and light the world. Even if we don't exactly know what a person needs we can still pray over their life. The word says in Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Sometimes the sheer thought of helping another person can dig us out of our own temporary discomfort.
  6. A journal. Writing is therapeutic. Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper will lighten your load. I would suggest starting small and keeping one in your car for a 3 minute check-in. Use this time to write out your feelings. 
  7. A stick of gum. All be it simplistic, chewing gum in a destresser. According to O Magazine "chewing gum for just 20 minutes may thwart anxiety by reducing cortisol, a stress hormone." 
  8. A zone of privacy. Step outside, recollect your thoughts. Excuse yourself from conflict, walk away. Depending on your circumstance, you might even schedule a private getaway for you and you alone. A friend recently asked me if taking a trip alone was okay, I told them there is nothing wrong with temporary detachment. Sometimes we have to unplug to recharge. BUT, hear me on this one - the devil will try to isolate us to control our thoughts and make them not our own. God will separate you from chaos so that the only voice you hear is His. Pray for discernment to know the difference between the two. God wants one-on-one time with us. You can detach, but do not become idle with unhealthy thoughts. Connect to the word, pray and relax. 
  9. Make a playlist. 9 times out of 10 there's a song about what you're going through, maybe even a remix. I have a playlist on Spotify called Safe Haven which contains an eclectic arrangement of melodies with the likes of Solange, Jill Scott, Nora Jones, Brandy, Fred Hammond, Sade and other sweet soulful voices to talk me off the ledge. Click the link to follow this playlist. I encourage you to create one too! 
  10. A moment of mindfulness. This can be achieved in many ways but here's a tip - take a moment to notice the five senses - the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings around you. There is breath in your body, you are present and accounted for. You might notice the lights are on (this means bills have been paid), you hear quietness (you're safe), rubbing your hands together they probably feel warm (you are alive and have mobility), etc. This will help you realize that the world is a huge place, and you are a vital piece of the puzzle.  

There you have it, the contents of your toolkit are yours for the making and I challenge you to make it your own! I hope these tools will help you, and I pray blessings upon your path. Remember, the victory belongs to Jesus, but it also belongs to you if you tell Him what you need. He's waiting on all of us to turn our trials into testimonies. Each and every time I heard the dentist's drill, with mouth gaping open and tear-filled eyes I managed to open my toolkit to grab a few words of affirmation saying softly to myself "thank you Lord for building my testimony." On the verge of freaking out one day I practiced a moment of mindfulness by greeting a lady standing next to me in an elevator. To my surprise she replied "You have a beautiful smile!" She had no idea how badly I needed those words. My friends, these are just two examples of how the kit helped me, and it can help you too. Do not let your circumstance suffocate you beyond repair. If nothing else the Self-Care Toolkit can be your building blocks, chipping away the woes and developing the peace!