My name is Kayla Fulginiti and I am the Director of Programs for the Dear Jack Foundation. I am a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience working with adolescents and young adults but what seems more important at this moment is to share that I’m also a mom, a wife, a daughter, a coworker, and a friend. I was supposed to write about National Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week, which took place April 6th – 10th, but I felt that there were some other things I could share rather than spout off a bunch of statistics – which I’m still happy to do at another time! Given the state of our country amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on us, I decided to change my topic to the very simple idea of granting permission.
I’ve had the incredible privilege to walk beside AYA cancer patients during their journey and share in their amazing celebrations and their devastating heartbreaks. One of the most basic concepts we learn early in school as clinicians is to meet the client where they are. Wherever they may be – angry, hopeful, sad, confused, excited, joyful, or scared – it has never been my job to “change their minds” or “fix them.” Rather, I join them in that space and allow them to feel exactly how they feel and act as a safe place or vessel for them to put that feeling.
As I peruse social media or the internet these days (as one often does while their 4-year-old asks for his 10th snack of the day), I have seen so many articles and posts about how to take advantage of this time we’re being given. Start a new hobby! Create a new business! Train for a marathon! Teach your toddler the quadratic equation! I don’t know about anyone else, but this makes me feel intense anxiety that I’m not “doing enough” during this time we have. Just today, I stood looking in the mirror and became overwhelmed that this will end at some point and what will I have to “show” for it. And while this could be incredibly motivating to stay busy and the best coping strategy for some, I want to acknowledge those of us that don’t cope in this way. I’m here to meet you in the feelings of uncertainty, perhaps with both of us wearing an outfit that’s four days old.
We all have the right to cope with stress, trauma, anxiety, or the unknown in our own way (as long as it’s safe and not hurting anyone) and without the added pressure from others to do it “right.” I also believe that there are some basics that lend themselves well to all coping types and encourage the idea of moving forward – an action that in times of such uncertainty may just be the best we can do at that given moment. Each time we wake up, get out of bed, eat something, choose what show to watch, set out crayons for our kids, or walk the dog, we are actively participating in the day and moving forward. We are doing something. Don’t compare what your choice of “movement” is to someone else’s.
Today, my choice was to wash my hair. I made the conscious choice to do it knowing it would make me feel better. My best friend’s choice was to go mountain biking. Also a conscious choice to do it knowing it would make her feel better. Very different, but each of them purposeful and important to the individual that made that choice. Big or small, our days are broken up into bits of time and constant decision making, some we’re well aware of (what’s for dinner tonight?) while others might not be (should I just keep another episode of “Paw Patrol” on so that I can have a moment to myself?). All of these choices help us to continue to move forward. Just keep swimming, right?
Also, we can’t have a post about coping or self-care without talking about trying to get enough sleep and eating well. Both are things that any coping style can benefit from. During this time, in particular, it can be difficult to have a fridge stocked with healthy eating options but try to throw a few selections in your Instacart order or grab some the next time you’re in a store and have them on hand. I’m all about the cookies, cakes, and ice cream too, but try to practice balance rather than all one or the other. The pressure to eat healthy or change our diets at this moment might be too much to handle on our plates (food, plates, get it?), but coming from a place of intentional balance could be doable.
Sleep can also be tricky if you are feeling stressed or anxious (who isn’t?!?), but there are some incredible apps out there that may help with winding down and refocusing at night, including Headspace and Calm. These to-do’s might both seem obvious but are still worth reiterating as even these can be done in a way that is effective and individual to the person. Eating carrots and spinach might be the best choice for one person while eating carrot cake and spinach (maybe separately?) might be the best choice for another.
So, to those of us that stay in pajamas all day, dive further into the depths of Netflix than we care to admit, cook chicken nuggets for all three meals (chicken and waffles is a breakfast food!), or don’t participate in the game night Zoom calls – I’m here to say that you are also doing okay. I write this today to grant you the permission to feel however you want to feel in this minute, in this day, in this experience. There is no “right” way to survive something that most of us have not had to experience or plan for. And that’s just it – we’re all somewhere along the spectrum of surviving to thriving. Perhaps we even move along it depending on the week, the day, or the minute. Take a deep breath, grant yourself permission, and know that we’re all doing it right even though we might all be doing it different.
Kayla Fulginiti, LCSW
Director of Programs for the Dear Jack Foundation