Relapse or Just a Reminder

For those of us who have experienced the pain of emotional distress at a particular point in life any return of those feelings can leave us extremely agitated and upset. I have recently completed reading Lance Armstrong’s book, “Its not about the bike.” In it he chronicles his journey through cancer and the following fear about the potential for its return.

For those who have experienced emotional distress in the past the potential for a return of feelings is significant, unlike cancers the pressures and stressors of life fluctuate and are a significant factors in the return of unwelcome negative emotions. Unlike physical illness the emotional sliding scale between wellness and illness is very gradual and very blurred. For those who have suffered depression in the past there remains a 50% possibility of some relapse in the future. However it is important to remember that the return of old feelings does not necessarily mean full relapse.

Previous experiences of emotional distress provide an education in how to deal with issues as they arise in the future. No one who has journeyed through the dark woods of depression or despair is unshaped by the experience, neither are they without the hard won tools to use in the face of future pain should it arise. This is important to remember since an over reaction to a reminder of past pain can be a catalyst to future problems. For many people, the relief of overcoming emotional distress is followed by the desire to live a distress free life. Sadly life is not distress free and a mode comb of emotional pain is guaranteed, how we respond to this pain must be a moderate and accepting one, not a fearful and desperate attempt to flee.

There is a big difference between blip and relapse. The presentation of the symptoms of emotional distress gives us the opportunity to put our tools into practice, but remember that they may be a bit rusty! I recently spent five consecutive nights awake with our daughter whist she battled with a bad cough and my wife and I constantly lost sleep. For my wife this experience is a painful one, but not something that causes her great alarm, but for myself the feelings of mental exhaustion where a reminder of feelings of depression that I battled five years ago.

My immediate reaction to the feelings of ‘jet lag’ was to become anxious and self scanning, disconnecting my feelings from my experiences. Obviously the exhausted mind is quick to overlook the obvious impact of sleep deprivation and see the emotional distress as an indication of impending relapse. It is at this point we really need to kick in with the tools that we have developed in the past such as making rational appraisals of the situation and offering gentle self-care and understanding. It is essential to remember that emotional distress is a fact of life for everyone but that the escalation of this distress is greatly in our hands. If you have been reminded of a negative feeling recently, use it a reminder to survey your gains and put in to practice old tools. Sometimes the emotional stop-light come onto the dashboard of our hearts and we need to use it as a reminder to look under the bonnet. Have we forgotten to carefully manage our stressors or invest in our emotional wellbeing? Have new pressures sneaked into our lives unnoticed but previously relaxing activities slipped out? Try and allow a reminder of distress to be a reminder of your coping abilities not a sign that you are sliding down a slope into relapse. Wherever you do, remember that Jesus loves you and is present with you even in the hardest of times. He will strengthen and restore you.

Will Van Der Hart, 01/03/2010