Jamie Getz, LCMHC
I took notes during a “Zoom” staff meeting on Tuesday and turned my notes into a blog by the end of the week. A lot resonated with me and I felt compelled to share. Most of what we discussed about memories and the topic was introduced, not by another one of our therapists ( who work with the metrics and memories as a part of their professions), but by our Office Administrator, a wonderful woman of Faith and great insight, and also one who is connected to each of us and aware of the dangers of compassion fatigue and decreased self-care for mental health providers in the midst of a pandemic that is currently sweeping across our world and through our very nation, home by home, office by office, market by market, changing what everyone thought was their “normal”. This is a time of heightened anxiety for all of us, the caretakers, and the cared-for; This viral infection isn’t selective.
Memories emerged as our topic when we were invited to bring an object of value to the meeting. I was going to bring the “perfect” thing. A thing of not only great value, but also worth gold in memory, experience, or tradition. I was going to bring something near-magical, with Christ-like depth and symbolic of my very purpose in this world. And then I ran late. My phone call went five minutes over and my coffee was disappointedly cold and I had no lunch for the “Lunch meeting”, so off to the coffee pot I ran, to splash some hot to mix with the cold before leaping into my desk chair, connecting to Zoom and silently saying Grace over my now luke-warm-at best- cup of Joe, a.k.a. “Lunch”. I didn’t have the “perfect” thing to share. I didn’t think I had anything at all to share.
Though it was a rough start, the meeting went really well.
Turns out that the coffee mug I had chosen for the day read “Fighter” and the Lord and those closest to me know about the storms I have recently endured and the battles that I am working through now; ones that God has already won. The coffee mug was a gift from a friend who has been beside me during the building of something big, something that impacts many and will continue to. A neat place that was values-based and kid-centric, a place unique to our original vision and revolutionary purpose. When It was abruptly taken from me, she was right there. As she had been for the rise, she was there for the devastating fall. Once inanimate on the shelf of a store, it had become part of my story. It had become one of my anti-anxiety agents- one reminder that with God, I was stronger than the storm.
Memories are quite intricate and powerful things. They are certainly God-crafted, His name written all over them. We have a brain and body designed to lock in memories to keep us safe, terrifying memories to provoke protection and fear; to activate our fight, flight, or freeze behavior to allow us to defeat, run, or hide from our enemies. We have powerful pleasant memories, to help us recall peace, contentment, closeness, or fun; to remind us and pull us from the depths of our sadness into a memory of a time when it wasn’t too dark to see.
I have lots to share about our brains- the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, amygdala, semantic memory encoding, and so on, to describe the intricacies of our human design, but that would bore you and you would stop reading. Instead, I will tell you that all of our best-inscribed memories are linked to big emotions and meaning-packed experiences, with a large dose of sensory stimulation dumped in. When I speak of the senses, I am speaking of touch, sight, hearing, tasting, and smelling – the latter, the olfactory sense, being the strongest tie to memories, for better or worse.
Take for example fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. For most, they remind us of our childhood and times in the kitchen with our Moms or Grandmothers. The smell is interlaced with happiness and comfort, joy, and childlike sweet rewards.
But the smell of smoke coming from a car is something totally different. For me, it brings back memories of car trouble, urgency, helplessness, auto mechanics, late arrivals, and expensive disruption to my routine and schedule. For others, worrisome memories are tied to the smell of cats because they have a feline allergy, or a certain cologne, worn by an assailant from a traumatic time of abuse and fear, or even stark, sterile smells from a stay in the hospital laced with memories of illness and invasive tests, beeping, uncertainty, and daunting medical equipment.
Because we all have a story, we all have experiences and we all have memories. Memories are our internal coping mechanisms and a gift from God to allow us to confidently navigate rough waters and shelter ourselves from impending disaster. Memories can ramp up or calm anxiety.
During our staff meeting-the one to which I arrived late with my “Fighter” mug in hand, we shared objects that represented memories. We shared memories of deceased loved ones and hats, jewelry, and advice from those who passed. We shared items symbolic of times we ran from and times we ran to. We shared journals that carry thoughts from then and thoughts from now and souvenirs from trips and events that brought a closeness to our loved ones and nature. We all shared the connections to the objects we treasured and in turn became more connected to one other.
When times are hard, reach for an object that comforts you or shift your senses to draw upon safe and comforting memories. In the first therapy session I host with a client, I urge those who suffer from anxiety and depression to create a “toolbox” to carry with them before our next meeting. In the “box” I ask them to add:
- An object that holds value, is treasured and is linked to a memory
- A cotton ball (in a plastic snack bag) or small object scented with a smell that ignites a pleasant memory of a person or an experience
- A few photos of times that were fun, peaceful, or rewarding
- A few pieces of candy or a small snack – a taste that sparks a memory
- A piece of fabric or another texture or fidget to hold that is calming (or a distraction)
- A note with a Bible verse that lifts their spirits and encourages them
- In addition to the “box”, I urge my clients to create a playlist of their favorite worship songs or hymns.
One client told me that she had a small cosmetic bag that had 1. A concert ticket stub, 2. A cotton ball with vanilla on it to remind her of her birthday cakes as a child, 3. Photos of her college graduation, 4. Two pieces of licorice (road trip candy as she called it), and 5. A tiny piece of silky like the edging of her childhood blanket. 6. An index card with three verses and, in her phone, she had a playlist of her favorite hymns and Christian music from childhood until present. She had connected to the beat and lyrics for each track. When I think of the pleasure that lyrics bring, I am reminded that Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad (Proverbs 12:25)
It is true that sometimes when we experience upset, panic, and sadness, it feels too strong to manage and get rid or “snap out” of, but with a small arsenal of memories and sensory stimulators to evoke wanted memories, we can often gain the upper hand and switch our brains from anxiety-ridden to remembering.
In the Bible, these treasures or markers are called ebenezers and were described in the Bible as symbols of God’s help through seemingly unbearable times of defeat. In 1 Samuel, 12 it is written that Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
Scripture addresses our anxiety and encourages us to pray and remember that fear is not truth and that grateful hearts pray more and worry less. Psalms 56:3 directs you to put your trust in the Lord when you are afraid. The Bible states that you are not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6-7).
The most important thing to remember is that you are loved, you are His, and you have a purpose.
If you think that a clinician at Agape could be helpful and you would like to make an appointment, visit us online or call (910) 251-7899. *If you are experiencing an emergency or feel unsafe, call 9-1-1 immediately