Creating an Emotional First Aid Box

It’s Easter weekend. Instead of creating an Easter basket with just chocolate, why not consider making a self-care kit that you can use all year?

I want to start off by saying that I did not create this idea. I have tried unsuccessfully to find the source of the idea, but it seems to be a kind of counselor self-care thing that has been floating around for so long that no one knows where it originated.

That being said, an emotional first aid box is such a valuable tool to keep around–whether you’re looking for something to ground you from a trigger, help manage panic attacks, counter the effects of stress, or just bring yourself joy throughout the day.

Emotional first-aid kits can be as simple or as creative as you want them to be. Start out by picking a container.

Since I like to craft, I tend to go for a plain wooden box that I can then decorate; however, if you’re not into that, consider a bag or a jewelry box.

The one pictured here is one I created for a previous job. I used calming ocean colors and a seashell to remind me of the treasures that come from adversity and the beauty of “going deep” with emotional work.

Once you have the container you want to use, you can choose to fill it with items.

Senses

In the original way I heard the emotional first-aid box explained, it was recommended that the box contain at least two things for every sense that is soothing or grounding. Hence, I started off putting in things like tea and chocolate, bells, worry stones, and pictures I liked.


Symbols

However, as my box has evolved more to fit my personality, I found myself seeking to add symbols as well as sensations—including something to remind me of spiritual truths that were important to me or quotes from books that were meaningful.


I find that the senses are great for basic grounding when you feel like  you’re about to jump out of your skin but the items with symbolic or sentimental meaning are better for the long haul. They were the things that I turned to when I felt burnt out and needed a reminder of what I was trying to accomplish in life. They kept my fire and passion burning.

Nurture

More recently with my internship, I’ve found myself adding items to the box that are more literally self-nourishing. Things like granola bars, aspirin, Arnica cream, or lip balm.


A rice pillow has become my favorite item lately. It’s easy to sew if you have a sewing machine…or even simpler is just taking a sock and filling it partially with rice. Throw in some lavender and tie it off—voila! There is probably nothing better than laying a warm rice pillow on your eyes or neck for fifteen minutes.

Toys

Although toys can be a sense item or a symbolic item that could be added in, I mention them separately because so many adults deny themselves the right to play with toys. Toys are fucking amazing, and it is a crying shame that we as a society think that people should stop playing with them after a certain age. When I’m telling someone about the self-care box, I practically order them to include toys.


Make it what you want

The best thing about this kit is that there is no end to the personalization of it. Make it what you want and what you need!

P.S. If anyone knows where this idea originated, please let me know because I am super interested in it!

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The Magic of the Masked Raccoon

I’ve been exploring a relationship with a new spirit animal lately. Raccoon came to me shortly after my friend died, and it seemed to be the perfect expression of how I had grown as a result of her presence in my life.

Raccoon is known for being a curious creature with a lot of personality, but the aspect of it that has stood out to me has been its famous mask.

I’ve been obsessed with masks and all of their nuance.

On the surface, the most common association with a mask is hiding, perhaps deceit. I won’t deny that masks have their shadow side which can easily come to mind; however, masks carry so much more magic than that.

Masks create mystery. Some of the most dynamic roles I can think of in movies involve people whose faces can’t even be seen. As a result, their actions have to convey something mesmerizing–e.g. the phantom of the opera’s voice or V’s alliteration.

Similarly, masquerade balls are fun because of the excitement of the unknown—the sense of being attracted and drawn to people and having encounters with people in a capacity that leaves you guessing who they are at the end of the night. Masks deny us the basics of facial recognition and the non-verbal feedback of expressions, forcing us to pay attention to other clues.

But masks also create unity. In V for Vendetta, the mask of Guy Fawkes becomes a symbol of the power of a people who refuse to be controlled any longer. The anonymity of the masks removes the impediment of fear, allowing them to come together for their shared purpose.

Masks empower. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne makes a comment that Batman’s mask was meant to inspire the people of Gotham—it’s not about who is behind the mask because the point is that anyone could be behind the mask. Of course, we don’t often get to see the benefits of empowerment with a mask in real society, but it’s a present enough truth to make an appearance in most of our hero stories: From Zorro to Spider Man.

Masks also help to embody. Halloween is fun because it allows me to try on a character or archetype—to put on the energy of that person or creature for a bit, to feel it within myself. When I put on a costume, I connect with something deep within me that relates to the energy of that costume, bringing out that part of myself to which I may not otherwise have access.

Perhaps most importantly though, masks help to express. One of the greatest lessons I cherish in my grief is the idea that every day is a day for dress up and costume. Every day, we get up, look in our closets, and choose what mask to put on for that day.

Sometimes it’s the mask of professionalism.

Sometimes the mask of flirtation.

Or practicality.

But every day, we choose to portray or hide different aspects of ourselves.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we each have different faces in different situations or around different people. We are complex beings with many facets and layers to our personality.

The question raccoon asks is, “Are you doing it authentically?”

 

We Can’t Always Sparkle

I’m trying to get better about being transparent with others even when I’m feeling like I’ve lost my shine. I’ve been practicing in small ways:

  • Admitting I’m sad instead of pretending to be tired.
  • Revealing that my partner and I had a fight earlier instead of giving some vague reference to stress.
  • Disclosing a relevant but vulnerable detail in an interview instead of finding a way around the question.
  • Telling someone I’m not coming to something because of anxiety instead of pretending I have homework.

For the most part, it hasn’t gone badly, but it’s been hard. I have to actively fight against the habit of downplaying or evading what I’m really experiencing. There are so many stories I’ve learned around struggling.

About how you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in front of others.

About how showing you’re vulnerable is dangerous.

They’re bullshit, I know. But knowing they’re bullshit doesn’t make them easier to unlearn. I still can’t bring myself to be transparent in some of the situations that I probably need to most, but I try to view the little steps as victories leading towards bigger moments of transparency.

It’s a skill, not a switch.

It requires a strong sense of self and the ability to validate my own feelings even if others respond less than ideally.

Because others will eventually respond less than ideally. As a society, we’re not great with handling emotions. People get pretty damn uncomfortable—and in their discomfort, they can say some awful things.

But being transparent isn’t about getting the exact validation I hope to get (though that is nice), but about freeing myself of the burden of fake smiles. It’s exhausting keeping up an appearance for others.

Being transparent also requires a strong sense of it being comfortable with my own imperfection. Showing what I consider my weaknesses to others is a terrifying act. Even the simple phrase, “I’m struggling” can feel like an heroic feat to say.

The first time I told someone my partner and I had fought, I felt as though I might as well have admitted that we were getting a divorce. There was this sense that if I spoke about it, I was showing that our marriage was flawed and that we were flawed…which somehow meant that everything was destroyed.

I can’t quite tell how much of the backlash is tied into my upbringing vs. societal rules. Certainly in the cult it was unwise to reveal weakness, admit flaws, or be too open about what was going on in life, but I can’t exactly say mainstream society is free of that either.

The good news is that I’m learning that it’s possible to be strong in my sense of self and that I’m capable of showing my flaws to others without the world ending. It’s deepened friendships and increased my connection to others. For all the catastrophe I thought would happen with transparency, I’ve mostly only seen an increase in the mutuality of my relationships and the relief of being able to be authentic even when it feels like crap.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Confuse Respecting a Culture with Using It

Western society is beginning to move from the colonialist attitude that European values and ideas are better than indigenous or traditional values and ideas. It’s a slow move. Much of academia is still dominated by the dominant, with marginalized voices struggling to be heard. However, slowly there are those who are bringing to the forefront different cultural views and practices.

I’m taking a distance class right now (not taught by my current school) on traditional modes of healing amongst certain cultures (loosely termed shamanism). At first, I was excited about the possibility of learning about other cultures and approaches, but I have found myself squirming with the same discomfort that I have if I encounter a class that automatically dismisses “native” practices as illegitimate. My reaction concerned me since this class is far from critical or disrespectful.

Initially, when feeling my discomfort, I immediately checked on my own biases to see if latent racism needed to be confronted. I was surprised to realize I was feeling something incredibly familiar but not what I expected—indoctrinated.

My discomfort in this class was stemming from the nigh-on worshipful tone towards the faith healings we were talking about. It wasn’t an anthropological approach, where we merely learned that this is what some cultures believe about illness and healing, with a goal of understanding but not adopting. Nor was it a counseling class where we learned alternative modalities for working with clients who may have different cultural backgrounds or needs. It was a class about personal experience and opinion with teachers who exhibited an unquestioning admiration and acceptance for all things indigenous.

There was no question as to whether it was true, healthy, safe, etc.

Even as I write that last sentence, there is a part of me that wonders if that is such a bad attitude. I don’t necessarily see it as my place to question someone else’s culture. However, I’d argue that it’s a subtle form of racism and colonialism to glorify traditional practices beyond reason.

The point of multiculturalism is to show that there are multiple worldviews and ways of approaching things…and then to show how they can all have value and how we should be willing to listen and learn from one another as well as to respect one another.

I don’t think it’s true multiculturalism to blindly accept a different cultural practice as perfect and effective. It feels more like a form of collection—cultural appropriation (though I rarely use that word because I have strong questions about its application).

More so than that, unquestioning acceptance and over-glorification serves to continue to erase the experience of those within the culture. It assumes everyone from that culture has the same experience or that they do not face relational, ecological, or physical difficulties as we do.

It doesn’t question whether people are being abused or controlled or deceived. It removes that right of a people to have struggles and areas of needed growth, turning them into less than human symbols and archetypes that promise us the healing that we desire within our own culture and denies them their right to change.

What happens, then, when our cultural archetype of supernatural native healing has a human problem? When they can’t magically heal cancer as we would like to believe? When a medicine man abuses his position of power over another person and we, as the ones worshipping the culture, are faced with the failure of the culture to live up to our expectations?

Then it makes for an easy return to the previous assumption that native people are full of shit and superstition because they obviously weren’t able to prove the magical abilities we expected of them; therefore, easier to go back to our Westernized ideas of the world and once again degrade and suppress other worldviews.

In the end, unquestioning admiration and worship of a culture is not respect. It’s another form of using that culture.