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For many of us, the idea of befriending our anxiety would be akin to befriending the quicksand that we feel ourselves sinking into. How can we ever learn to accept and appreciate something like anxiety when all it has ever done is make us feel miserable and out of control?
In my opinion, the first step towards befriending anxiety begins with understanding it. Have you ever wondered why human beings experience anxiety? While anxiety does have a bad reputation it is also a universal human experience that is hardwired into our DNA. Whether we like it or not, our anxiety has a purpose.
Anxiety, at its core, is a biological alarm system designed to notify us of a perceived threat. When we are extremely anxious our brain descends into fight or flight mode. As a part of instinctual survival, when we perceive a threat our best possible options are to fight the danger or to run away from it as fast as possible.
This would all be perfectly fine if human beings were still living in an era where survival was literally dependent on your ability to fight or run. In the modern era however, we are more likely to experience threats like midterm exams or uncomfortable conversations with coworkers. Anxiety has evolved over millennia so that it can be triggered by emotional and existential threats as well as threats of physical danger.
This may seem like a malfunction of evolution, an obsolete system of alarm that is now causing chaos and havoc in our modern lives. However, I believe that anxiety has adapted to the new modern standards of survival and at its best functions to keep us in alignment with our values and beliefs.
This theory of anxiety operates under the assumption that there are at least three unique types of anxiety:
1. Existential Anxiety- This is the anxiety associated with being alive. Our fear of death, our questioning of reality and why things happen. This type of anxiety plays an essential role in our pursuit of meaning in life because without questions we would never seek answers.
2. Motivational/Moral Anxiety- This anxiety identifies when we are behaving in a way that is inconsistent with our values. If being truthful is important to us, this anxiety will arise when we tell a lie. The theory of conscience could be attributed to this type of anxiety as it is foundational the development of our moral code and idealized sense of self.
3. Neurotic Anxiety- This is the type of anxiety that gets the most attention. Neurotic anxiety is attributed to anxiety disorders. This anxiety can develop due to several factors: genetic predispositions, imbalances in brain chemistry, trauma, etc. Unlike the two previous types of anxiety, the anxiety is purely symptomatic and indicates that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
Understanding which type of anxiety we are experiencing means that we can respond to them appropriately. Each of the three types expresses a specific and essential need to resolve the anxious feelings and grow from the experience.
- The essential need for Existential Anxiety is to pursue answers and meaning.
- The essential need for Motivational/Moral Anxiety is to change either our values or our behaviors until they are in alignment.
- The essential need for Neurotic Anxiety is to address the underlying causes and to develop healthy coping strategies.
The key to befriending our anxiety lies in our ability to respond to these essential needs. When we give our anxiety what it is asking for we accomplish more than an end to anxious feelings. We grow closer to our idealized selves, we mature and develop resiliency each time we come out on the other side.
To be able to identify which type of anxiety we are experiencing we must learn to listen to what it is telling us. Awareness will follow a willingness to view our anxiety as the messenger rather than the enemy.
Imagine anxiety as the check engine light on a car. If we ignore the light, cover it up, or continue driving we risk causing even more danger to our vehicle. The same is true of our anxiety, if all of our effort is placed on turning off the feeling without discovering the cause, we not only deny ourselves the opportunity for growth, but we risk causing ourselves more damage in the long run.
My hope is that you would be willing to give your anxiety a voice. Allow it the opportunity to express its needs so that you can respond in kind.
The path to friendship can be difficult, but well worth the effort.
The alarm goes off, you roll out of bed, with your eyes barely open you brush your teeth, start your shower. BLINK! You grab your coffee and head to your car. BLINK! Your in your cubicle checking emails. BLINK! Your on your way home.
You're in the drop off lane, kiss your kids goodbye. BLINK! In the checkout line at the supermarket. BLINK! Making dinner and getting homework done. Another day goes by and BLINK! Another goes by.
This is what we refer to as “Auto Pilot.” You move from one activity to the next not fully being present or experiencing it. This is the opposite of mindfulness. Have you taken that coffee to go, instead of enjoying the sweetness of the drink? Have you planned a vacation for your family just to rush through activity to activity to make use of every minute? Do you tell your friends and family that you don’t have time for yourself with all that you have going on? Have you sat in silence and stillness? You may be so busy and distracted while reading this that you think “hurry up and get to the point.” My point is Have you H.E.R.D? Healed, Encountered, Relaxed and Destressed? If your answer to any of those words is No! Keep reading, this blog is for you.
Khesed Wellness are partnering with Promise Ranch to bring this amazing oppurtunity to you. Both Khesed Wellness and Promise Ranch are passionate about helping those in their community and see a need for people to have to opportunity to de stress through the medium of amazing four legged beauties (horses). This is a one of a kind opportunity that is not available anywhere else but with Khesed Wellness and Promise Ranch.
As adults in our fast pace world we are often left rushing from work to soccer practice, to family and friend obligations, to doctors appointments. We eat in our car, we hire people to do things we don’t have the time for. We hear the phrases, “Time is money.” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” In a society where more is ALWAYS better and putting yourself as a priority is so selfish; where and how are we to find inner peace? I mean come on, the inside of our heads looks like a NASCAR race track or Grand Central Station. What if you were able to trade that NASCAR Track or Grand Central Station for this….
What if you could start the Healing from our fast paced, never stop world? What if you could have an Encounter with something outside of yourself? What if you could Relax and get a road map of how to De-stress yourself? Would you jump at the opportunity to reset your mindset? Well JUMP, that opportunity is here. Have You H.E.R.D?, is a workshop created to help busy people find inner peace in a unique and different setting.
This workshop will be an opportunity to learn more about stress and its effects on us. We will work as a small group with the horses and come to understand what true relaxation means. Each person will get the opportunity to create their own tool box of mindfulness and de stressing activities they will take with them. In a nutshell this workshop is a chance to hit the pause button on two Sunday afternoons and put ourselves first. As I frequently say to moms, those who care for others as part of their career, “It’s not me first!, It’s me too!” It’s important to take scheduled time for ourselves to have that space to hear our inner selves that is often drowned out by facebook, to do lists and our busy world. Let this time be one of retreat for you.
The Nuts and Bolts:
When: Saturday, January 21st
Where: Promise Ranch 6230 E. Highway 86, Franktown, CO 80116
No horse experience is necessary. Due to working with live animals we have only 10 spots available and will be filled on first come first serve basis. This workshop is for persons 18 and older.
Disclaimer from Khesed Wellness:
The following blog post contains a real depiction of one woman's suicide attempt and recovery. This essay may cause some people to feel uncomfortable or triggered. We encourage you to remain mindful of your feelings and reactions and practice self care if you choose to continue reading. The narrative is filled with wisdom that the writer gained from her real life experiences as she recovered from her suicide attempt and sought help. As a team, we at Khesed are dedicated to breaking down the walls of stigma and are grateful to this writer for joining us in this important work by sharing her story. Whether you battle with thoughts of suicide or your experience of mental health is quite different from the experience reflected in this story, we encourage you to take heart in knowing that there is support available for those that are suffering. We are here to talk and listen, whatever your story might be. Contact Us.
From Hell to Happiness. One girl's Guide to Surviving Suicide.
By Elizabeth Heckmann
The struggle to treat mental illness can be a lifelong battle and it requires a fully committed team of friends, family, and doctors. When a childhood friend, who works for Khesed Wellness, approached me about writing a blog post for Suicide Prevention month, I was honored. I have become familiar with Khesed and their purpose and practices and have found their mission to be truly altruistic. Khesed, which means reciprocated kindness, provides mental health support in an easily accessible and affordable way.
Mental health can be swept under the rug as taboo; as a symbol of weakness; as fake. Or played off as a joke. It is this kind of behavior that emboldens the depression and anxiety. This only stokes the flames of the voices inside your head. But with gentle care, truth, empathy, and kindness, you can begin chiseling through the walls of mental illness until finally, the light of day begins seeping through the cracks, driving out the madness. Khesed Wellness provides patients with the guidance to strive for peace of mind and the chisel to work your way there.
I was broken. I was unstable, teetering on the fault line as it widened with my anxiety, devastation, and total loss of control. I had been tricked by what I thought was a new true love; a physical love, emotional love, intellectual love, pure love. Broken by an old love who couldn’t put down the hooch, I decided to drive to Wyoming to follow this new passionate love. But I was spurned mid heartbeat. I thought he loved me enough to choose me instead of the other girl. I chose him; he turned his back on me, shredding my heart as he disappeared from my life. And then I was triggered. My finger had been waiting restlessly on the trigger for months just waiting for an excuse and this boy was it. The fall into the suicidal cavern of my mind was quick; no effort to cling to the here and now. I switched, flipped, fell, broke, and disappeared in a matter of minutes.
Through the tsunami of tears streaking my face and my shrieks of despair, I managed to pull over to the side of the road. Logic was silenced and that evil presence eternally weighing on my back took over every bit of my being. Right before I began frantically prying lids off of my three psychiatric med bottles as well as a bottle of Aleve and pouring the pills down my throat, I opened the glove compartment and grabbed a brown paper napkin and a pen. “I’m f---ing over it!” I scrawled on the napkin I left on the seat.
Then, I opened the door and popped the trunk. Consciousness was quickly dissolving but I managed to stumble to the trunk and open a quart of motor oil. I gulped the thick, black, foul oil down and then chased it with huge swallows of bright blue antifreeze. As I was disappearing into the poisons, I made one last ditch effort at eternally ending the humiliation and forsakenness that had been triggered from deep down, by attempting to slit my left wrist with the saw in my Swiss Army Knife. Slicing deeper and deeper into my flesh and muscle, my blood dripped onto my jeans.
My head loosely rolled down so that my chin rested against my chest, my mouth falling open, vomit trailing down the corners of my mouth. Someone had opened the door and reached into my car, wrapping their arms around my torso and legs. As the arms started to pull me out of the driver’s seat, my feet limply followed.
Through the growing haze of death, I saw small blades of green grass mixed in with gravel on the pavement of the side of the interstate. I noticed the tips of my cowgirl boots were covered in vomit. The arms lifted me with power. They were attached to a police officer. My head rolled back on my limp neck as the sheriff carried my dead weight as if I were a fresh corpse.
It was the sheriff of Converse County, Sheriff Clint Becker, who found me and pulled me out of the car as I was dying. Sheriff Becker only found me because I had answered my best friend, Nicole’s phone call and after her hearing me losing the fight for life as my speech became increasingly slurred, she got in her car and charged northward to Wyoming. In between calling me every 5 minutes, Nicole called 911 until an operator was able to dispatch a cop to look for me. They tracked my cell phone and found me.
I was then handed off to EMS and rushed to Wyoming Medical Center where I was stabilized in the ER and then admitted to the PCU. If it hadn’t been for Nicole’s perseverance and persistence in finding me and Clint’s quick response, I would have died on that wretched stretch of road.
When I finally regained consciousness, I found myself in a hospital bed with IVs placed in both of my forearms and a peripherally inserted central catheter in my neck used for dialysis. I was put on dialysis for one week. My urine was streaked with a rainbow residue leftover from the oil, which made me laugh. Despite my tormented state only days before, I was alive and happy.
After I was medically cleared, I was then admitted to Centennial Peaks psych hospital for one week. I enraged a fellow patient because after she did her laundry in the same washer that I had just used to wash the motor oil infused vomit out of my favorite Colorado State University hoodie, her clothes were tainted by the lingering film of motor oil.
While at CP, I participated in Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on four sets of behavior skills: emotional regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. The DBT helped me to withstand the emotional trauma long enough until I went home and continued therapy with my psychologist and psychiatrist.
A key component to surviving the hell of mental illness is having a guide. As I have grown with my diagnosis, I have come to find a sense of self in the archetype of the Greek goddess Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Taken captive by Hades, the god of the Underworld, as his unwilling bride, she fought her new life. Upon Persephone’s rescue by her mother Demeter, the goddess of the earth, Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate and before she left with her mother, Persephone ate six seeds, which sentenced her to spend six weeks out of every year in the Underworld, serving as the queen. Every year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter and mythology tells us that this is where winter comes from. Eventually, Persephone learns to love her role as Queen of the Underworld and becomes a guide for those lost in the darkness.
I see myself as a modern-day Persephone. I have been to the darkest corners of hell; I have spent time in the blackness, enough time to know exactly how to help those also suffering from a mental illness, also trapped in the depths of the Underworld. Everyone fighting their way through the Underworld for their sanity, for the strength to last just one more day, for the ability to find their beauty and worth needs a guide; that’s where people such as the trained, compassionate, and empathetic team of practitioners at Khesed prove to be vital in helping the mentally ill to manage their illness and live the best life they can. This in turn greatly benefits the community.
September is National Suicide Prevention month, but for some, fighting suicide is a battle they will face for years. That’s why suicide prevention deserves more serious and respectful attention by the masses. As someone who has faced what could be the moment of no return and who has clawed my way back from that place, I can say it would never have been possible without professional therapy and it brings me such relief to know that Khesed Wellness serves as a safe place for healing and exploration.
Having worked with many patients struggling with their own mental illness, throughout my seven years a Certified Nurse Aid, I have seen people at their lowest, but with the surge of kindness and attention they received from friends, family, beef burritos from Taco Bell supplied by doting mothers, and a team of healthcare givers, patients found reasons to smile. It was like the peace and beauty of a frosted forest after a wicked blizzard. The storm is unfathomably unforgiving, but as light and love manifest, the storm weans.
The more we understand mental illness, the more effectively we can fight it. Reciprocated kindness can be taught and even applied to the self. Being kind to oneself is the first step in the battle for mental health. It can be a long, arduous fight, but with this enveloping kindness there is light, love, trust, strength, camaraderie, and healing. A lyric from the Third Eye Blind song Jumper always sparks inspiration for me: “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend/you could cut ties with all the lies that you’ve been living in…” Let go of the lies people tell you, let go of the lies you tell yourself and fight for yourself. Use your resources, use Khesed, use your heart. You’re worth the fight. Believe me.
Tyler, my youngest nephew, and me.
I studied art in college. The art history professor at our little liberal arts school had enough personality to fill the redesigned 1950’s gym that was our art building. He was loud, proud, and British. He was also endearing.
When I built enough rapport to playfully slug his shoulder while at the Chicago Art Institute my senior, because he deserved it for some playfully arrogant statement he made, I felt on top of the world. He smiled, received my slug, and continued on with some brilliant description of the painting in front of us.
I loved his class. Except it was right after lunch. We called it “art in the dark,” because rarely did anyone make it through class without snoozing from the dim lights and a full belly.
I remember the day we talked about Michelangelo--the maverick, the genius, the renaissance man. In his eloquent and blunt way, with his British accent of course, he told us about how Michelangelo would sit and stare at a block of stone for hours. Literally a whole work day.
Can you imagine that today? He would have projects funded by the Pope and what did Michelangelo do? He stared. One day he was asked about this bizarre practice and his response was: “I’m looking forward David.” Then slowly but surely he found him.
And boy, did he find David in all his lusciously carved glory.
I got to the “how” of Khesed by staring at the mental health canvas in my mind, looking for Khesed. The biggest roadblock to people seeking mental health and wellness support? Accessibility and affordability of services. The is true for most everyone, not just the poor.
Every human deserves quality healthcare and that includes behavioral health. By eliminating the greatest roadblock, accessibility which includes affordability, kindness can spread.
The curves and nuances of our business model slowly took form:
Generosity from those who believe in our mission.
The Khesed Subsidy Program™ considering the whole person, not just rapport of finances. This program we are supporting with research and accountability.
Partnerships with business, churches, organizations, and clinicians who believe in social impact. They believe in it so much that they want to use to transform their community with Khesed.
Our free initial consultation focused on getting clients directly connected to help within one business week, even if they do not work with us.
Staff support and collaboration structured to help us live out Khesed in how we relate to each other…
Each example above was like an additional paint stroke, texture, and hue that eventually created Khesed.
Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, who I deeply respect as a literary mentor, wrote about delinquents as truth-tellers in his business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing. He wrote, “If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing."
I found solace in this quote when forming Khesed.
I often hear from people, when I tell them the two-sentence synopsis of Khesed, “I never heard of a model like this. I have heard of benevolence funds, sliding scales, but not a whole package like this to eliminate inaccessibility to care, and the way you spread because of generous organizations within the community...and it’s a wellness center?! I love the integration of care.”
“Me too,” I say with a smile.
“How does it work?!” They ask, intrigued but their eyes also often speak to their skepticism. “Surely it’s too good to be true,” they say.
So, I tell them about different strokes I made on the Khesed canvas.
Of course it sounds more eloquent that the grind of time, frustration, drafts, standing back, getting lost in the forest of reflection, conversations, sketches, more annoyance with need for accessibility of care, watching how people still seek refuge in their communities. Seeing empty parking lots at churches during the week, and all the other life-giving and difficult experiences that influenced each stroke.
Each stroke slowly but surely built the living and breathing organism of Khesed Wellness. And! We just celebrated celebrated our first year as an organization. How great is that?!
Everything we do is about spreading kindness. That includes kindness internally and externally. We have a stellar Board of Directors leading our organization. Our unbelievable clinical and wellness team have hearts of kindness, not-to-mention amazing skill-sets as therapists and practitioners.
Our nation is overdue for a solution based in kindness, reciprocity, and longevity. We’re here, that’s our how.
Context first and then we will talk principle.
First, I intentionally chose one of the most guttural-and-difficult-to-pronounce-in-English words for the name of this organization for a reason. The word is that important. In fact, it was that important to the Ancient Hebrews where this word originated.
Khesed means loving kindness. To better capture the translation, it can mean reciprocating kindness. Khesed isn’t just a good feeling of loving kindness, it’s a lifestyle. Kindness is a generous quality, and when we get it, we want more. We also seem to want to produce more.
Growing up in Southern California I spent my childhood along shorelines. I love laying on my stomach just where the water last licks the sand and rushes back into the deep. If you lay still enough, long enough, with your belly on the sand and your chin laying on your hands, you start to see a whole world unfold. It’s amazing how that happens when we slow down.
Then, if you let your eyes dance a bit in-and-out of focus, like we do in those rare moments of rest, you start to see glimmers. The sand suddenly has layers of color and texture. Then, you see the gold flecks dancing among the rest of the bland-colored bits of sand.
Reciprocating kindness is like the specks of gold in the sand of our lives.
My love for watching the ocean quickly grew toward my love for watching people, and soon, talking with people as they wade through their depths. The therapy room felt as sacred as the layers of sand beneath my bare feet, watching the water dancing back-and-forth with the deep blue.
Kindness is what allows the gold of therapy to shine. The kindness of safe space to process. Space where the only motivation for the therapist is the client’s well-being. Space to be fully human.
At it’s best, the therapy room is one of the kindest places on Earth. I don’t mean kindness that always feels good. I mean kindness that calls forth the client’s well-being; holding space for the twists and turns of the process.
Which is why it felt like such a whiplash every time I stepped out of the therapy room, and entered the chaotic nature of the mental health industry. It took about a week after grad school, immersing myself in this profession, to realize:
Most people can’t afford counseling.
Most people don’t get help for weeks because clinicians are overloaded and underpaid.
Most people don’t have sufficient insurance coverage for treatment.
Most people don’t know where to access help.
Most people can’t find a counselor that stays in the industry for long.
Most people aren’t able to find much help at all.
That feels drab doesn’t it? It frustrating, ridiculous, even unkind.
Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” according to Google. The mental health industry doesn’t feel very friendly, generous, or considerate. Which makes me sad, because I think this industry is filled with generous therapists ready to help.
So I began asking myself, “How does kindness start?”
It starts with believing in generosity. There is an abundance of kindness waiting to pour from us and sprout across our world. Abundance is an oasis that feels like a mirage to most people.
Imagine that time you needed help and someone said call this person they can help. And then you called that person and they said, “I can see you tomorrow.” And you found a way to make it work with your schedule, maybe reached between your seats to find cash for payment, if it was involved, because you were that thirsty for help.
Then you met that person and there was something about their presence that drew you in. Help didn’t turn out to be what you thought, you didn’t feel fixed, but you felt drawn in. They were present with you, believed in you beyond your performance, they saw you. They drew you in and they made you want to spread what you got in that space. You felt as if you found treasure.
The ocean, the therapy room, this kind of story and many more like it, led me to dream:
What if everyone has an abundance of kindness waiting to be tapped, wanting to help those who feel tapped out?
What if a mental health and wellness center’s mission was to provide affordable and accessible care, because the lack of affordable and accessible care feels most unkind when in the depths of life?
What if mental health and wellness practitioners were given a place to thrive in an environment that felt kind in-and-out of the therapy room?
What if businesses, temples, churches, and organizations (who have plenty of unused space) had a way to use space as a mental health and wellness center, making a tangible social impact in their community?
Basically, I kept layering kindness until it was a sustainable business model.
As I considered the different parts of a business model—how to keep the lights on, how to create a healthy work culture, how to engage our clientele, how to be a life-giving addition to a burnout industry—all of it, I knew it needed to be kind from beginning to end.
It’s amazing how an abstract word from an ancient tribe can transcend into a Colorado nonprofit believing that reciprocating kindness can transform mental health and wellness in our nation. And I believe we will.
A couple of weeks ago our team took a one day retreat. I talked with our counselors about creating an ethos of kindness in our organization. I think most assume their workplace will be kind but few experience it. Choosing a business model of kindness is actually terrifying and the hardest kind of work. Why?
It requires our whole selves to show up and believe in kindness, everyday.
In a world that leans on frameworks, forecasts, and fears, we choose kindness. In the unknown, we choose kindness. In the hurt, we choose to respond in a way that creates more authentic kindness.
In an industry that doesn’t feel kind, we believe kindness will change its’ trajectory. Above all, kindness is what brings us together when we feel divided in our relationships, in our world, and even within ourselves.
Everything Khesed does has the goal of manifesting more kindness in our world. It gives light to fractures. Or as my dear friend Kristin, who also happens to be on our board, quoted to me this week from the great Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Kindness reminds us of light in our darkness.
Khesed Wellness exists because we believe in a lifestyle of spreading kindness. It’s the only way I know how to see light in such a dark world. I believe people are always drawn to light, even when they’re running from it.
Khesed exists because we believe that experiencing kindness can transform how we see the world, and even ourselves, especially as we ebb-and-flow with life.
Heather Nelson, MA, LPC, NCC