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By Cristina Stanger, Self-Advocacy Liaison, WRFN
*This article was originally published in the Family Pulse Newsletter February 2022*
Over the past several years, I have spent a lot of my time and energy learning to identify how I am feeling. While this ability may come naturally to some, it does not for me. I can explain or define various words for emotions, but I cannot always notice different feelings I am experiencing or find words to express them in the moment. This is known as ‘alexithymia’ - which, if you break down the Greek root-words, means ‘a lack of words for one’s emotions.’ This is a psychological concept, rather than a psychological diagnosis. It can be experienced by people with any type of neurology, though it appears to be more prevalent among neurodivergent populations.
I have been able to make some gains in my ability to label the emotions I experience with effort, practice, and professional guidance. Then along comes the pandemic. With so much going on and so many different factors at play, I’m left with a lot of space for emotional confusion. But I keep trying, and I am learning to ‘check-in’ with myself more often, so I am more aware of what and how I am feeling. How I am feeling also seems to change more frequently, and more suddenly, during the pandemic - as I am sure many of you reading this can relate to. This is not an easy time.
After identifying my feeling(s), I try to next identify what I need. Again, during the pandemic, this proves even more challenging. Identifying what I need almost feels like a cruel joke - I need a large block of downtime free of children, I need to visit with my sister, I need a vaccine for my four-year-old. What I need often isn't possible right now. This is further complicated by a lot of unknowns. I get caught up cycling through endless possible outcomes, falling back to my instinctive (unhealthy) tendency to try and find the ‘right’ answer. Faced with hard choices, there often isn’t a clear solution.
But a mentor of mine taught me a new question to ask myself: What would best serve? This can be applied to either oneself, or one’s household. I have found this approach to be immensely helpful, and I’d like to share why. First, this question steers me away from the desire to find a clear right-or-wrong solution and directs me toward thinking about what solution simply makes the most sense for me right now. Which leads to the second benefit. This question helps account for the context of the given situation. And finally, while I am still acknowledging my needs to a certain degree, I am also drawing my attention to what is attainable. What would best serve? Seriously, I have contemplated getting ‘what would best serve?’ tattooed on my arm because I could use the constant reminder that perfect solutions don’t exist.
So, whether you find your feelings easily, or you need some resources (family, friend, professional) to coach you through, I hope you can find some meaning in there somewhere. And now I ask you, “What would best serve you, in your given context, in this given moment, with the options you have available?” I will ask myself the same thing.