We are creatures of cycles and rhythms. We organise our lives into seasons, anniversaries or random dates and we celebrate, commiserate or go full-on turtle depending on the memory or trigger.
Triggers tend to be associated with a negative or bad reaction but really it is our interpretation of such. A birthday of someone you love is joyful but if it is someone who has wronged you then you might experience anger or sadness.
Recently I have needed ‘turtle’ time. Seven years ago I became disabled when a surgeon pushed a surgical screw into my L5 nerve root during an operation to stabilise my twisty tilty pelvis. I tend to not have negative associations with dates but this is memorable because I left hospital 5 nights after the surgery on Halloween. I went home excited about change and recovery on the perfect day - witchy new year and all that.
Something wasn’t quite right but it is hard to know what is okay and what isn’t after any surgery. At the time I had no idea it was the beginning of the difficulties that would lead to the disabilities that I have to manage all the time. It became clear that something was seriously amiss despite the standard medical ‘fobbing off’* but the keen eye of a radiologist spotted the surgeon’s error.
I played the what ifs and whys a lot in the beginning. Why didn’t I moan more? What if I had insisted something was wrong and kept on. Why did I underplay issues? Why did I pretend things were better than they were?
As a therapist I do know that the replaying of the ‘whys’, ‘should haves’ and ‘why didn’t I’ is rarely productive but it is something we do and going into turtle-mode can be a good way to heal, change the response, let go or do whatever else is best.
Most people know the feeling of wanting to snuggle down and shut out the world and there are therapists and indeed non-therapists who think this is a bad thing.
However, it is not bad and sometimes it is absolutely the best thing to do.
It is not anyone else’s business if you need to take five, take ten, take a day, or whatever. It is entirely up to you. You might regard it as wallowing and that is also okay. Give yourself permission.
My turtling took a little longer this time because I was also in the midst of a horrible flare. Anyone who has an ongoing health conditions or disability is familiar with flares. They can be tiring, painful and do not necessarily follow the same pattern each time. There may be some correlation between the emotional state or not as we can’t always blame everything on our emotions. Some things are just as they are.
The Turtle Technique is often taught to children as a way to recognise emotions and unwind themselves. If people are depressed they might want to stay enveloped in a metaphorical shell and help is required for them to cope.
For the short term-get-a-grip-recover-yourself (my turtling) it is usually the best thing.
Acknowledge emotion/s - my response: frustration, rage and grief.
Ask if things are helped by holding onto the feelings - my response: only while working through them.
What would be better - acceptance, being in the moment and working with what is present. I know my limitations and am getting better at asking for help.
It doesn’t help to hold on to negativity nor is it useful to pretend feelings and emotions do not exist by trying to ignore reality.
As I was writing this I thought about times when we are encouraged to step away, take stock, relax, have a sabbatical, retreat, and wondered if holidays are, in fact, extreme wallows.
*‘fobbing off ~ also known as, “There there, Dear,” “Early days,” ‘See how you go,” “You are welcome to get in touch,” (but please don’t) etc. Ah, the platitudes we have come to expect.
You are the boss of you and if you need to turtle do so in any way that pleases you.