Who knew that mental health first aid was as simple an inspirational wall hanging?
Survival – Simplified.
Surviving – and “thriving” – through any setback, obstacle or ”detour” in life can be that simple. I learned that from over ten years of “detours” in and out of hospitals, where every road sign said “uncertain path ahead.”
Now I like to share what helped me through my stressful traumas with college students – because college isn’t surgery, but it can sure be stressful.
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The latest stop on my “detour” was Russell Sage College this week.
Hardcore Survival Skills
After my show, I like to talk about the four “hardcore” survival skills that helped me through this huge detour in my life. They were not quick fix solutions, a treatment plan, talking to a stranger in a tiny room, or a prescription from one of my many doctors. These were skills I learned as I went. I call it “self-service therapy.”
So doctors sent me home, asked me to check in periodically, and when my wounds had healed enough from the previous handful of surgeries, they’d try to reconstruct my digestive system.
Creating a Survival Strategy
Look at this like any other unexpected “detour” in life – and believe me, this was very unexpected at 18 years old! But so is a flat tire, a lost job, a breakup, or a breakdown. We all need to learn how to cope with things in life we don't expect.
So when I speak at colleges, I like to share the four essential “hard core” survival skills that honestly saved my life.
Four Simple Words
These four words might be easily confused with inspirational wall hangings you see in home decor stores, or whimsical words in bubble letters on the cover of gifted journals you’ll find at the bookstore.
But that’s what makes these “survival skills” so great – they are basic, long-term mindsets that anyone can foster. Which means we are all capable of surviving and “thriving” through any detour in life!
Four Survival Skills for Any Detour in Life
When you know what you’re grateful for, you know what you’re about. Try keeping a daily gratitude list. When you see what’s makes you feel grateful, you’ll see what is important to you, and in turn, what your values are. Your values act like arrows telling you what direction you need to take on your detour. When you know what your values are, you know what moves you – literally.
The reason why we have trouble knowing where to go on a detour, is that detour shakes up everything we thought we knew. We lose our trust in our world and in our selves. Make a gratitude list as a daily practice, and you’ll see your value start to emerge. Once anchored in your values, you’ll know intuitively which way to go on your detour.
Hope is a job. It has to be actively created in difficult times, and it may be very hard to find. Sometimes, we need to lie to ourselves to create hope. It's a fabrication, a willing suspension of disbelief, and a willingness to trust in something that isn't there. As hard as this may be sometimes, without hope, we have nothing to hang onto.
And if we don't hang on, how will we ever know if things can get better?
Through creativity, we can create a safe container to be present with our experiences that we may still coming to terms with. Creative expression engages us in a conversation with emotions that may be too painful, frightening or overwhelming for words.
You certainly don’t need to be an artist to make art – you just need an open heart and a mind willing to take a backseat. You can paint, sing, write, doodle, and it doesn’t have to be good. Don't think about what you are trying to express or what your “art” is supposed to mean. Creativity allows us to interact with another part of our consciousness – and the more we get to know ourselves, all of ourselves, the stronger of an identity we build. A strong sense of identity is the greatest compass on a “detour.”
Through sharing our stories, we become empowered, inspired and more comfortable with our life circumstances, as well as with who we are. Telling our stories helps us process it – just like you learn something better yourself when you have to teach someone else. Through our shared experience, we gain confidence and become travel-partners on our detours. And traveling is always less scary when we're not alone.
Even if you’re not ready to share your story, read a book. Hear the stories of others –courageous, adventure stories! We learn by example, so when that difficult detour surprises you, you’ll be able to pull those heroic stories out of your back pocket and follow your own hero’s journey.
That is why I turned Gutless & Grateful, the story of my life (in musical theatre form) into a mental health advocacy program. Sharing our stories starts the conversation for others, and brings out the experiences that unite us all.
Making Choices when life takes a Detour
So what do you do when a detour shakes up everything you know? How do you make the “right” choice on your detour?
A choice is right because you’ve made it. Trust that with these “hardcore” survival mindsets, you are capable of traveling that detour. Use that hardcore “creativity” skill to look at your detour as an opportunity to form a new, richer identity.
Long-term mindsets come with baby steps:
- Find what makes you grateful
- Be willing to fabricate hope when you can’t find it
- Get creative and express yourself
- Swap some stories
There are no bells and whistles attached to my four “magic” survival skills.
The only magic is that I’m here to tell you about it today.
So next time you’re shopping for gifted journals with inspirational covers, or wall hangings with pretty quotes, remember…those four simple words – my survival mindsets – might be the simple thoughts that can save your life.
All artwork was created by Amy on her detour. Watch Amy's TEDx talk on April 16th, learn about her speaking, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the #LoveMyDetour movement, and see where she’ll be next.