Winter weather, changing seasons, holidays, politics… what doesn’t create flux and a little chaos in our lives right now? It’s important to remember, whatever is cluttering our minds presently can also have an effect on our bodies. The gastrointestinal tract is especially susceptible to our stress levels and actually plays a role in our mental health.
I grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish home. My mother suffered from mental illness and my father dealt with it by being out of the house all day. As the oldest in a large family, I took responsibility of my parents and siblings from a very young age. I tried to protect my siblings from the discomfort I felt. I thought I was happy. I liked being in control. In hindsight, I was anxious, sad, scared, and controlling. I used food for comfort, being overweight most of my life. I married young, possibly, as an escape from my parents’ home, or just because it was culturally the right next thing to do. Within a short period of time our family grew. I continued behaving in the way that was familiar to me, keeping everyone safe, controlling, rescuing and enabling. My anxiety escalated. I isolated. I thought I was in control.
I am often asked about how one can get adolescent boys to buy into yoga. Good question. First, regardless if it’s yoga or if it’s adolescent boys specifically, the answer is the same: Meet them where they are.
I have worked as a wilderness therapist for over 18 years. I have seen wilderness therapy grow from a “boot camp” model, primarily working with conduct disorder types of problems, to a clinically sophisticated model that incorporates individualized approaches for clients with a myriad of problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse/dependence, history of trauma, emotional dysregulation, social difficulties, academic failure, school avoidance, and others.
One of the greatest privileges to working in the wilderness is to be free from all the distractions that bombard our sensory input systems in the “front-country”. The front- country’s distractions are full of cars, signs, ads, songs, people, stores, food, houses, buildings, technology, entertainment, appointments, roads…you get the idea. While on the other hand, the back-country (wilderness, the field) is full of…sky, weather, trees, plants, animals, bugs, live earth, and other things that we haven’t put the human-manufactured stamp on. The front-country is ripe with all the stimulation that implies human constructs, control, and expectations. While the back-country provides liberation from these constructs and allows you to just be, inviting you to get closer to who you truly are.
Last winter signified my first winter working in wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a year-round operation. We function in rain, snow, sunshine, fall, winter, spring, summer, and all of the holidays in between. Some clients find themselves in the midst of their programs at Evoke during special and significant holidays. Similarly, field staff find themselves working some of these holidays. Last year, my shift was scheduled to work Thanksgiving. The days surrounding Thanksgiving rarely went above freezing temperatures. I had mixed emotions about working in the field during a holiday that I normally spend with my family and close friends. Sad and nostalgic, I decided to not have any expectations and embrace whatever this holiday did or did not look like this particular year.
The “3 Circles Exercise” illustrates a communication tool that can be used with any relationship, whether it is between parent and child, partners, friends, or coworkers. It is a template that can aid in clarifying boundaries, mediating conflictual relationships, and managing codependence. In the illustration, there are three different circles, “My Circle,” the “Relationship Circle,” and the “Other’s Circle.” And in each, there are specific responsibilities.
I walked out of the theatre after seeing the play Wilderness with all of the feelings that I had felt when I was a teenager in a wilderness therapy program fresh on my mind again. I was 13 when I went to the wilderness. I got “gooned,” or transported to the program straight from Juvenile Hall. I knew it was coming because my dad owned the program and I had gotten myself into enough trouble. I knew when they dropped me off out there in the middle of nowhere that it would be a long journey. I didn’t know, however, all that I would learn and the person that I would become by the time I left.
Yearly Outside Magazine creates a list of The 100 Best Places to Work focusing on finding companies that make employee health and happiness a point of pride. This year Evoke at Entrada was awarded the 23rd spot (46th in 2015) specifically highlighting our support for field instructors through strong staff to client ratios, professional development opportunities, and financial contributions including 401k after a year in the field, commitment bonuses, and raises in 2016. As a company we strive to recognize and reward the field staff for the challenging work they do and to aid in preventing burnout in the field.
Sad, empty, alone, low, miserable, overwhelmed, cold, tired, worthless, hurt, insignificant — these are just a few of the words used to describe the “black cloud” that affects people experiencing depression. When teens or young adults arrive at Evoke, they usually have little insight into the symptoms that affect them. As we dig deeper with family members, a more far-reaching list of symptoms usually includes: isolation, loss of interest in school or hobbies, loss of friends, inattention, impulsivity, threats or attempts of suicide, personal dissatisfaction, empty feelings, little connection to or awareness of self, and feelings of anxiety and shame. Parents report, “He gets home from school, goes to his room, shuts the door and never comes out,” and “She used to love playing sports, she was always out with friends, and now she spends afternoons and weekends sleeping”. They talk about weight gain or loss — “She never eats, and when she does it’s only junk food”. They talk about fights that quickly escalate — “When he is around, we are constantly yelling at each other”. They express worry, frustration, disconnection, and confusion.