Not Enough Poop
We all know the thing that should eventually happen after we eat, right? Poop! Because what goes in, must come out; otherwise problems start to occur. This process holds true for each and every living organism on earth. It also applies to our mental health, now more than ever. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more emotional constipation, emotional diarrhea, and emotional sepsis than we know how to handle. Many of us are not pooping, not nearly enough. But it is my hope to demystify how therapy in general—but specifically, trauma-centered drama therapy—can help our personal and collective need to poop.
[Image description: A photo of a lightbox that reads “POOP!” in black lettering on a white background. The lightbox is balanced on top of a dusty vertical pipe that is painted hot pink, along with the walls and wood panels too.]
Wellness in a Nutshell
In some ways, wellness is just so simple. There are three basic steps for good mental health. Emotional “food” needs to:
Enter our system
Hang out for long enough for us to absorb its nutrients
Exit our system
Illness, on the flipside, can be understood as the result of disrupting these steps. That can happen by not having emotional “food” to eat. That can also happen by eating emotional “food” that is toxic and then digesting its poisons. In ideal circumstances, what happens next is that we poop out the “food poisoning” and become even more resilient. But when the poisons are never able to leave our system, we are left with trauma.
Amidst this global crisis, here are a few questions to ask yourself as a way to assess your overall mental health:
- Do I have enough emotional food right now, such as hugs, genuine empathy, or life purpose? If not, does anybody know that I’m starving?
- What emotional food have I been providing myself? What have I been able to receive or exchange with others?
- How much discrimination, abuse, conflict, violence, or manipulation am I forced to eat on a daily basis? Has the amount increased or decreased since the “shelter-in-place” mandate?
- When do I crave emotional food that I know is toxic to my system? Am I used to malnourishment or getting “food poisoning” because of my personal or collective history?
- Can I only digest emotional food on an intellectual level? What happens when I try to feel my feelings?
- Am I emotionally pooping on a regular basis? When was the last time I laughed, cried, screamed, prayed, threw a tantrum, or cursed up a storm?
- What do I do with my emotional poop? Do I flush it down the toilet or do I throw it at others?
[Image description: A photo of a lightbox that reads “POOP!” in black lettering on a white background. The lightbox is mounted on top of a sprinkler head in front of trees and plants with vibrant colors which resemble a tropical jungle.]
Modern day therapy has transformed into a practice of addressing both wellness and illness. That, of course, was not always the case. There used to be a sole focus on the ways we were crazy, broken, or worth shunning; hence the lingering cultural stigma around mental illness. But I am here to debunk the outdated myths that dissuade people from pursuing mental health services. We all need to eat and to digest. We all need to poop. And when there are problems in doing so, we all deserve help.
Given the devastating impact of the new coronavirus, we are eating way more grief, helplessness, panic, injustice, dread, and boredom than usual. But where is the corresponding poop? Where, I ask! I mean, it has to go somewhere. As I mentioned before, what goes in, must come out. How I wish wellness was that simple. Pooping gets complicated by the fact that opportunities to poop safely have never been equally distributed in our society. Some individuals and groups are permitted to poop unabashedly, even in public. Others would be fired, harassed, incarcerated, deported, or institutionalized for doing the exact same thing.
Most of us want to resist, avoid, or even deny our unresolved trauma. It was bitter to taste, difficult to chew, and even more disgusting to swallow when it originally happened. Who would want to revisit that again? Yet, I would argue, having the trauma stay in our system is worse. Remember the emotional sepsis I was talking about? How about the emotional diarrhea and emotional constipation? Many of us were never taught basic mental health literacy skills, that is, how to digest toxic emotional food in healthy ways.
If you can access therapy, I do encourage it. You should not have to live with rock hard poop in your gut or explosive squirts in your underwear. Allow me to share some goals that you might be interested in working on with a mental health professional:
Distinguishing between nutritious vs. toxic emotional food, especially when they get served together in the same meal
- Releasing negative internalized messages that make it hard to poop with ease or confidence
- Stopping the habit of cleaning up poop that really belongs to someone else
- Pooping alongside fellow poopers for cultural or intergenerational solidarity
Drama Therapy Demystified
If a silly metaphor about poop made it easier for you to address a serious issue, like COVID-19, then I am thrilled. That means that you have tasted the power of play, which is my secret sauce as a drama therapist for healing trauma. To me, play is this endlessly adaptive, almost magical, multipurpose tool that always seems to bring out the best in people, including myself. It gives us the flexible “oomph” to go to the places in our personal and collective psyches that are most needing care.
Pooping out trauma is easier said than done though. That is why I recommend venturing beyond traditional talk therapy, if that piques your interest. Drama therapy is a specialized form of play, which does wonders for pooping problems, especially when paired with trauma-centered psychotherapy. Play and trauma are not words you commonly hear in the same sentence. But the combination is highly effective. Just check out these stats from the Post Traumatic Stress Center located in New Haven, Connecticut—their average drop-out rate for clients who are in verbal-only therapy treatment is 15%, whereas it is only 4% for clients who are also using drama therapy.
If you are located in the Bay Area, feel welcome to reach out to me. I help clients with pooping out their trauma. Honestly, I never thought that I would market myself this way. But hey, in tumultuous times like these, I am not squandering any chance to use humor and imagination. I say, leave no playful stone unturned. The more that we can put the “play in plague,” the better. On that note, here are a few examples of how I creatively poop.
- By going outside and taking fun photos, like the ones you’ve seen throughout this article. Juxtaposing silly and serious things really helps regulate our nervous systems. When in survival mode, our defenses become rigid and our thinking turns binary. We cannot hold more than one reality at the same time. In other words, we cannot play.
- By drawing cartoons and telling corny jokes, like this one about whether to stay home or go to the hospital. Doodling can be an age-accessible way to broach important conversations with kiddos, as well as adults, especially those for whom a momentary chuckle is the only pause they have away from all the stress of daily life. [Image description: A cartoon that features green rolling hills, a dirt road, and blue sky. There is a speech bubble at the top that reads, “Why did the cookie and the banana go to the doctor?” A chocolate chip cookie is walking along one road with a sad face and a thought bubble overhead that reads, “I feel crummy.” A banana is walking on another road with a worried face and a thought bubble overhead that reads, “I am not peeling well.” Between them is a sign that reads, “Home” in one direction and “Hospital” in the opposing direction. Far off in the distance, there is also a strawberry that is walking towards the crossroads.]
By performing songs with and for my community, like this one called “Dear COVID-19.” For me, this song was the epitome of a good poop. Prior to it, I had been consuming an excessive amount of news about the coronavirus outbreak. But this song gave me a creative reason to slow down, digest my feelings, and come back into wellness. For Hamilton fans, this video is a must-see! I have included the lyrics below, in case you want to sing along and release some of your own unprocessed poop.
Dear Covid 19, what to say to you?
You take our lives.
You’ve garnered so much fame.
When you came into the world, you spread.
And it broke my heart.
I’m quarantining every day for you.
Shelter in place was never quite my style.
So I stockpile.
You knock me out, I make more art.
Is it okay to fall apart?
You will come of age in our split nation.
We’ll fear and fight with you
We’re not alright with you.
If we bail out all the dirty corporations,
We’ll never learn from you.
We’ll give the world to you.
And you’ll blow us all away.
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away
Oh Covid, your effects we can’t outrun, no one.
We are all one.
Mine is not the life I’m crying for.
There is so much more to fight for now.
Covid, your time has just begun.
We fall apart.
And we thought we were so smart.
No toilet paper around.
No sanitizer is found.
I swear that I’ll stand in lines for you.
I’ll pray and lie wide awake
About the dolphins and lakes.
Are they more safe and sound since you?
You have come of age in our split nation.
We fear and fight with you.
We’re not alright with you.
If we bail out all the dirty corporations,
We’ll never learn from you.
We’ll give our world to you.
And you’ll blow us all away
Someday, one day.
But I don’t want you to blow us all away.
No thanks. Let’s change.
See your local mental health practitioner today!
About the Author
Jacqueline Victor (Jaq) is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In their own words, “Learning works best when we use our whole selves—and it works even better when it is fun.”Learn more & book an appointment today