By James Blake
It was late one evening, and my wife and I had had a pretty rough day. She had been in physical pain all day, and we hadn’t much money left to last until payday. We were hungry, broke, exhausted and ready for a break. As we were driving, our tire blew, and it was the final straw. Our spare was already flat. We felt hopeless and didn’t know what to do. Perhaps that’s the definition of a crisis.
For me, a crisis is any event that feels hopeless when it comes to “handling it”—and/or when there’s danger or trouble present. It’s easy to get swept away by the initial emotional reaction of panic—AKA “crisis mode.” Too often, and like most people, I find myself focusing on the problem, rather than the solution. Adrenaline kicks in, and fight-or-flight mode narrows our focus.
But there are some ways to focus on dealing with a crisis, whatever it may be.
As someone who has had a fair share of emotional, financial and other logistical issues in my personal life, I have figured out a few ways to keep calm, and work through a crisis situation.
First, I have to remember to recognize and accept that I am in crisis mode.
Naming it helps me create some distance from it, so that I can begin to intervene with some of the coping mechanisms I’ve realized work for me.
Second, and immediately thereafter, I make the decision to breathe slowly and deeply, no matter how panicked, depressed, or helpless I feel.
Involuntary breath—what you do in your sleep—is necessary for living, but when we make a concerted effort to inhale and exhale, it calms us at the cellular level: more oxygen to our cells helps stabilize circulation, blood pressure and heart rate. This, in turn, sends more blood and oxygen to the brain, and allows the brain to function better so we can make more intelligent decisions. To return to my anecdote: after my wife and I first realized that we had slipped swiftly into crisis mode, we sat silently and did some mindful breathing. Then, we put our heads together to make phone calls and social media posts to find help. No longer were we focusing on the problem. The solution was in the works.
Third, no matter the crisis, it’s almost always the best idea to reach out for help.
Calling a friend, turning to a family member, or phoning into a helpline are good ways to reach out. Like a lot of transgender individuals I deal with intense anxiety, which makes difficult times that come up inevitably in life even more difficult. So, when I’ve had trouble coping, needed pointers or just a listening ear, I have contacted a helpline. The four listed below I’ve either tried or heard good reports about from other folks in my community.
1) The Trans Lifeline: U.S.1-877-565-8860 Canada: 1-877-330-6366
From personal experience, these folks were great. I’ve called a few times for advice, resources and crisis intervention. Now, they operate solely with volunteers and generally have staff available from 1pm-1am Eastern Standard Time. If you don’t get someone immediately, keep trying. I have called before and not gotten an answer, but called thirty minutes later and did. Also, side note, they aren’t mandated reporters, meaning anything you tell them stays confidential and they only call first responders if the caller specifically asks them too. It’s a safe and non-judgemental environment in which to vent and get heart-felt support from peers in the transgender community.
2) Crisis Text Line: Text “GO” to 741741.
I have used this service twice before. Once, someone wasn’t immediately available, but got back with me within ten minutes. The next time, they got back to me immediately. I chatted about pressing emotional concerns and they were able to help me feel better by providing expert advice and also by simply reminding me that they heard me and recognized my feelings as valid. Personally, I find it really hard to talk to people I know about heavy emotional issues and was comforted that strangers were willing to hear me so attentively.
3) The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
The Trevor Project representatives provide crisis intervention and work to prevent suicides in the LGBT youth community.
4) National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
This organization helps people in a crisis, considering suicide, those needing resources or needing mental health assistance.
Using all available resources can feel effortful when you’re in crisis mode, but once you reach out to an external support system, be it an individual, a community or one of these helplines, there is an immediate benefit. The helplines are able to search local resources to assist further with the troubles that come along in life. They’ve lead me in the right direction to be able to visit a local church, a community center, and to a local charity when I needed extra money to help get my nursing license renewal paid for.
Fourth, after successfully coming through a crisis and sometimes in the middle of one, I have to take a break for self-care. Whether it’s taking a walk to see different scenery, going to the shopping mall to look at colorful clothes and smell pleasant smells, or sitting down to a new art project to feel creative and useful, I always like to do something that feels restorative to me—self-care being the only goal in mind.
Self-care is important, not indulgent—it’s our way of letting ourselves feel the love we are more often able to give more readily to others. If these don’t interest you, try activities that make you happy, you’re the best expert at what is going to make you feel better. Perhaps it’s accompanying your kids to the park, spending time with a pet, or listening to favorite music. The options are endless, and highly personal. For more ideas, try visiting TED.com for some possible ideas and resources.
We all have stressful moments in our busy lives, but it’s important to remember that our reactions to such circumstances are the only things we can control in this life. And we can intervene when crisis strikes to take care of ourselves as our top priority—even if it means stepping outside of ourselves to ask for help.
James is a father, husband, writer, former nurse and an LGBTQ member, advocate and activist. He is dedicated to spreading awareness of LGBTQ issues, educating against discrimination, and working to stop the cycles of violence and oppression. Through his blog Two Trans One Van, he hopes to share his accounts from his life, in order to bring encouragement to our community members, to show solidarity to those that are facing adversity and to demonstrate the power of determination. He volunteers as a moderator for a support group for transgender folks over thirty and spends his free time with his wife Katherine and their two children.