I remember when I was growing up, my dad would read the local newspaper in the morning with his cup of tea, and a plate of runny eggs and toast. In the evenings, he came home by 6pm and would watch the CBS evening news and help us with our math homework. On some nights when he had dinner meetings, he would come home with leftovers for the next day. But then he started traveling more globally as we grew up, and he would only be back home in a handful of days.
And when my dad was home, he was completely disconnected. There was no way for work to get in touch with him. Apart from the occasional moments when the landline would ring with his boss on the other end.
As an immigrant, my father struggled to build a great life for my mom, my brother and I. And yet at the same time, he had one enormous luxury I am not sure I will ever truly have. The luxury of disconnecting from work when at home.
Because once my first shift ends, my second shift begins. I happily threw work life balance out the window, and readily accepted work life integration. Believing this was the more modern, progressive solution. Except that work continues to slowly seep into my home life, long after Ihave shut off my laptop.
"I hate to bother you so let me just text you. Or do you want to FaceTime? How about Blue Jeans or Zoom or Skype? Just make sure you select both audio and video."
"I can call you if that's easier- is that your work cell or personal cell? And then I'll email you to recap what we discussed."
And as I try to sneak in the video chat, text, or call, or that one last email… one more, and then one more… my husband is screaming, we are out of wipes! And where is my son's gym shirt? Still in the washer. (Why does the school only provide one for the whole year?) My daughter has a meltdown because she can't find the rock she picked on her way from school. My son somehow finds the Ipad and is watching Captain Underpants… again…as I hear farting sounds mixed with laughter, all while I also try to examine if this bread is really expired? I think I can still use this for school lunches.
Then it starts all over again, with the 5am wake up from my daughter who has made it into our bed and kicks me in the face. I am exhausted just from typing it all for you to read. But when did being exhausted become a badge of honor?
Because if you are not exhausted then you really aren't working hard. And somehow "working smart" and "not working hard" sound like you have gamed the system and taken short cuts to climb that corporate ladder. Surviving not thriving is my way of signaling that I am 'Super Woman'. I am pushing through it all, and I am too cool, too busy, to do yoga or meditate or take a lunch break. Or do a walking meeting. And no, I don't own a fit bit.
And when someone says "I am thriving, not surviving" my brain short circuits for a second. There are people who are thriving? While living in a dual career household with children?
And so on this World Mental Health Day, I am on my own journey to disconnect. I am trying hard. I am trying hard to recharge my brain. I am trying hard to just have moments of just being. And doing nothing.
I don't pick up my phone anymore at 3am to start reading, responding to emails, or watching Netflix. I don't book myself in meetings solid from morning, noon and night. I don't apologize for watching '90 Day Fiance', 'The Other Way', 'Married at First Sight' or other reality shows hidden on my DVR. I don't skip lunch anymore. I don't drag myself into work or log on when I am sick- I take a sick day. Technically you are not supposed to work when you are sick, I think.
I still say yes to being available during my second shift. I still check my phone too often- mostly for my work email. I still worry about not responding to people fast enough- and what they might think of me. I still email on the weekends- I try hard not to on Sunday nights. I still think about that email I forgot to send in the shower. I still dislike yoga. And I fall asleep when I meditate. Sometimes my mind is too full of "to-Do" lists to practice "mindfulness."
But I am still on my journey to disconnect. It's a work in progress, that's why it's called a 'journey'.
So as you think of your own mental health journey, please don't treat yourself like an Uber app. Please don't treat others like an Uber app. Stop acting like you are an Uber app. Because guess what? You are not.
Our obsession with being always on, always available, always responsive has consequences. If my Uber App crashes, I just turn my phone off and then back on and Voila! My Uber app is back up and running. Magically reset. Ready to connect me with 8 nearby drivers, ready to take me anywhere I need to go, any time, day or night.
But when I crash. When WE crash. It's usually not as easy as hitting that one reset button.
I am still chasing that luxury of disconnection. Maybe I should start by adding a plate of runny eggs and toast to my morning routine or at the very least a cup of tea. Hmm. Do we even have a local newspaper? Maybe Apple News will suffice.
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For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."