I’m usually that person who blogs on theology, culture, news, politics and current affairs through the lens of Christianity. I do it because I’m neck-deep in the grapple over what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and I’m just not able to trust that the type of faith/theology we’ve inherited from generations of dogma, changing cultural norms and retranslated translations of the Bible is the legit picture of Christ! Because let’s face it, the ever-searching light of truth is highlighting the dirty underbelly of Institutional Religion right now. Millennials are leaving Church in droves even though they aren’t necessarily quitting their belief in God. My queer brothers, sisters, and others are taking hold of their moment in history to say, “Hey church, you don’t have the market corner on God. We are beloved, too!” It’s beautiful. It’s uplifting. It’s challenging, life-giving and hard. So I’m taking a break from my norm to ask you a question: What’s your number?
The number in question is something called the “Subjective Units of Distress” scale. I just wanted to take a minute to share it because when it was introduced to me, it was a game-changer. We talk about self-care. We talk about mindfulness. We talk about how we need to look after ourselves when we are engaged in a fight – be it for mental health, physical health, social justice, equality or anything worth fighting for. But for the longest time, no one taught me how to recognize the moment when I need it.
For those of you who need a little framework to recognise your threshold for distress and your need for a little “you time”, I bring you the SUD scale.
The SUD scale (as it is called in psych circles) is a measurement out of 100 as to where you feel like you are sitting at any given moment in terms of ease and distress. Here’s an example of how it might work:
0 – If you were any more relaxed you would be asleep in a deep, dreamless, completely-at-ease sleep on a private resort in the tropics. Blissed out. Completely.
10 – No anxiety about anything. If you thought really really hard you *might* be able to find something to worry about, but there’s really nothing unpleasant rattling around in your brain.
20 – You might feel a little unpleasant, but not quite realize what it’s about unless you really took time to think hard and listen to your brain and body.
30 – Okay, you are mildly upset or annoyed. You notice it now. You can ignore it if you choose though.
40 – You are upset. You can’t ignore it, but you can handle it without too much trouble.
50 – You are uncomfortable and upset. Your feelings are still manageable but it takes some effort to do that.
60 – Okay. You have to do something about the way you feel, because it isn’t good. It takes a little more effort to manage your distress though.
70 – Yep. Starting to freak, feeling some big and unmanageable feelings around the corner. You can maintain control but its hard.
80 – The freak out has well and truly begun.
90 – Feeling desperate, extremely anxious and like you are losing control. You feel very, very bad.
100 – “Feels unbearably bad, beside yourself, out of control as in a nervous breakdown, overwhelmed, at the end of your rope. You may feel so upset that you don’t want to talk because you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly understand your agitation.” (This last one was taken from Wiki because I really can’t explain it better.)
It’s called a subjective scale because it’s different for everyone. But the rule of thumb for me is this: stay under 50 if you can. If you are over a 50, then it is a time for self-care and calming down. It is not a time to start or continue big conversations that might bring distress, or to keep fighting a battle that makes you feel scared, scarred or vulnerable. There is a place for risk and leaving your comfort zone. There is a time for repairing your armor and bringing yourself back to a place of mental clarity and emotional ease and readiness.
What it feels like is different for everyone. Some people are quite in touch with how they feel in terms of ease vs distress. For others, its an art learned over time. I’ve had to do a little bit of work in understanding how I work. I’m far better at recognising acute distress than I am at recognising chronic or underlying distress. But hey, I’m a work in progress like all of us. I’ve learned to look for things like quickened pulse or respiratory rate, or the taste of metal in my mouth (adrenaline) when it comes to acute stress (or the sudden, daily stressors we all experience). I’ve learned to look for things like being unable to shift from my to-do list when it comes to recognising chronic distress. My husband is far better at calling me on this than I am.
It’s different for everyone. And self-care after a long hard day is different to self-care during a long hard fight.
I’m a mother to two pre-schoolers. Oh. Em. Gee. There are days my husband walks in the door, gets mobbed by kids, and I tell him “I’m going out to the trampoline to say swearwords by myself and no one is following me or I’m going to go nuclear.” That is what I call an acute 85. Its short term. But good grief, I need a wine, a hot bath and some quiet.
Chronic 50-90’s are so hard. Because sometimes you don’t know what’s bothering you, and the self-care required is different.
I seem to be spending a lot of time these days connecting with warriors. Warriors might not look like they used to: they don’t have blood on their face, and weapons in their hands. They aren’t in physical trenches firing at a tangible enemy. They are armed with care, and compassion, and vulnerability, and an inability to give up on the good, noble, desirable things that matter to them and the ones they love. But oh that takes its toll. There have been times in my life when I have been so engaged in fighting for the good that I haven’t felt safe in my own home (like that one time someone stole my underwear, built an altar and sacrificed a bird on it in my front yard. The bird had its mouth tied shut. The cop that took the report swore. That was totally weird. But not the most distress-inducing time I’ve been “blessed” to have on record!). There have been times for so many people I’ve listened to, when they haven’t felt safe stepping outside their home either. My warrior friends have had to fend off attackers that visit them in dreams, text messages, media reports and so much more. They are no less real and no less distressing.
Chronic distress is when we don’t know this or recognise it, we might even think we are coping but we feel in our bodies the results of it. We are tired. We don’t sleep well. Our immune system tanks because our fight-or-flight mechanisms are constantly firing. We aren’t meant to live our whole lives like this. But how can we put it right unless we know how to recognise our threshold for “enough.”
Hey friend, what’s your number? Ask yourself this question as many times a day as you like. Ask it when you are feeling great, so you can celebrate it. Ask it when you don’t know and think about the answer. But whatever you do, ask yourself knowing you are worthy of safety, care, and a bubble bath when you need one.
Hope that helps! Look after yourself. Because you are precious, beloved and on this planet for a good reason.