Upon the Tide

Upon the Tide

I used the image of riding the tide in therapy not long ago and since then the idea has been bouncing around in my head. I was working with a couple and one of the big issues in the family was the presence of a chronic illness in one of their members (one of the children). The nature of this particular illness is that there are unpredictable better and worse hours/days/weeks/months. Without question the functionality, the processes, and the overall atmosphere around this family changed along with these ups and downs. I said to them at one point, “This illness is the tide upon which your family sails.”

Since saying this, I have been really focusing on something I already understood but needed to spend some time with and that is the importance of context. Many of the issues I deal with in therapy are in and of themselves essentially normal, par for the course life events and that’s what I hear. “I don’t know why this is so hard for me. I know so many people who have it worse and yet, here I am the one in therapy.”

Two things about that statement. First, it doesn’t matter what others are going through or how they are handling it. Besides, to assume you know the what and how with others is almost always faulty to begin with. Second, and to the point of this blog post, everything happens in a particular and unique context and the context always influences the experience.

Take marital strife for example. Many couples have big disagreements and some very serious conflicts. But what about the couple who is also going through financial stress? What about having a new baby at home or an elderly parent with growing physical needs/demands? What about layering in a job that has become more demanding of time and travel? What about finding out that your kid has a rare chronic illness? What about one of the couple having a family of origin that taught to never talk about serious problems and the other spouse raised in a house that was loud and open about almost everything? What if the couple just moved to a new city and is distanced from support people? Suddenly, an otherwise typical issue becomes something that is huge and potentially overwhelming. The tide is high and the storm surge is real.

What are the factors in your life which influence the tide? When you are going through any serious life/mental health event, do yourself a favor and recognize that there are so many things that are in play at the same time. You are not on a desert island and the thing that is most immediately troubling you is not all that you have to manage. The good news is that when you step back a little and begin to consider the larger context, you might also see some of those things that you can improve on with a little attention and thereby perhaps lower the overall swell of the tide a bit. Trust me when I say that a little improvement can often make just enough difference to keep things afloat.