I was sixteen when I first got my driver’s license, and as a driver, one of the earliest things I learned how to do is to park. That’s because knowing where and how to park your car is essential to coming back to your car where you left it, in one piece, and in a drivable condition – ready to go on to your next destination.
I was taught rules about which way to angle my tires when I parked on a hill – one way for when I had a curb to butt up against and a different way for when there was a soft shoulder.
I was taught rules about how much space I should leave between myself and other vehicles.
I was taught how to tell if a place was a fire route or otherwise designated as a no parking space.
And someone even attempted to teach me how to parallel park, although that lesson clearly didn’t stick very well!
But the more life I live, the more I realize that we should probably also be teaching our teens about how and when and for how long it is safe to ‘park’ ourselves in life.
A couple of weeks ago we spent some time talking about when life cracks and breaks. And what I’ve noticed is that when we face these kinds of obstacles – job loss, dream loss, rejection, relationship losses, transitions, health challenges or whatever other setbacks come along – we can often find ourselves ‘parking’ and getting stuck in the hardest moments of these difficulties.
To be clear – when I talk about ‘parking’ today what I mean is stopping and staying in one emotional space for a while – intentionally or unintentionally – especially (but not limited to) when life gets hard.
While wanting to ‘park’ is completely reasonable – and in fact vitally important to our safety and wellbeing at times – I thought we should talk a little bit more about what makes a safe ‘parking spot’ and what doesn’t – and how to ‘park’ in such a way as to make sure you that you can drive away when the time is done.
Before we get into how to ‘park’ it is very important to realize that there are some ‘no parking zones’ out there. If you are feeling suicidal, or feeling the need to self-harm, please do not park here! Reach out, connect to someone you feel safe with. Talk to a crisis counsellor, a trustworthy family member or friend, contact an organization such as I Am Alive or the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, or go to your nearest walk-in centre, doctor’s office or emergency room. Please talk to someone today.
When we ‘park’ it can be useful to realize that we usually park on a ‘hill’ – there is something about this situation that makes us feel like we’re careening downhill too fast, or struggling to make it uphill that initially causes us to think about pulling over to park. Because of that, it’s important to ‘angle our wheels’ appropriately so that we don’t accidentally roll downhill. So here are some ti’s for ‘parking on a hill’
- Always choose a trusted buddy as a ‘chock’ for your wheels. Let them know what’s going on. Ask them to check in with you regularly and be honest with them about where you’re at in your process. You don’t have to tell them everything, but just enough to help keep you safe emotionally and physically during this process.
- If you can, find some great views to look at while you’re parked. Carving out time to spend in nature, being creative or enjoying great art can all help pass the time and get you ready to get back on the road. Dabble your feet in the water, spend a day doing something physical outside, cook some delicious food – the options are endless – but when we get intentional about what we do while we’re parked we’ll be far more able to get moving when it’s time to go.
- It can help to choose a metered spot. When we give ourselves a fixed amount of time to sit with and honour our grief, but approach this time with the knowledge that although the process can’t be rushed we will begin to work our steps at a certain, pre-determined point in time it can really help. The alternative is that we can end up getting stuck in ‘shock’ or ‘anger’ or ‘depression’ and find it difficult to move on to the next stage. Realizing that at some point our parking time is going to run out can be helpful to getting us to start the process of dealing with whatever has cracked or broken in our life.
When your meter is empty and it’s time to move on there are a couple of things that can help get you moving again:
- Consider having someone join you for the ride. This can be a friend, family member or mental health professional, but since we got to the point of needing to park in the first place for a reason, sometimes it’s good to realize that there are things we might need to work through before we try to move on – otherwise we’ll just find ourselves parked again the next time there’s an incline. Sometimes we need to delve deep into complex issues, such as trauma or intergenerational patterns of behaviour, but sometimes we just need a chance to develop the tools in our toolbox a little bit better. Either way, it can be helpful to have an outside perspective to help us get moving.
- Divide the next stage of the road trip up into small, manageable steps. It can be overwhelming to try to drive 600 km in a day. It can be just as overwhelming to set ourselves a goal like ‘forgive all of the people in this friend group who have been mistreating me’ or ‘go back to school and finally finish the degree I’ve been putting off for fifteen years’. But if we divide the task up into smaller, bite-sized steps, it can help us to begin the process of slowly moving forward: ‘read a great book about forgiveness‘ for example, or ‘research my program’s admission requirements’.
- Find a way to stay accountable. Especially if you’ve been parked for a while, it can take time to get comfortable with moving again. It can be much easier to start moving if we find a way to keep ourselves honest about the progress we’re making. For some people, putting a date on a calendar is all they need – that’s enough to get them started. But for some of us we need more support than that, so telling our partner or a colleague at work or a trusted friend (whoever is appropriate, depending on the step you’re going to take) what you are going to do and by when, and asking them to check up on you can be helpful. But remember, it’s still your responsibility to do the work – not theirs!
As hard as it can be to get ourselves out of park safely (just think of the last time you tried to get out of the grocery store parking lot!) it is so valuable to do this work. Because when we start to get moving again, we discover a hope and a possibility that we may have forgotten was even an option. And that’s just the sort of fuel we need to keep us moving forward on our journey!