Better Box

By Sarah Angle

When I got divorced five years ago, I didn’t even know what the word “resilience” meant. I was a big blubbering mess. Still trying hard (and failing a lot) to parent a 3-year-old daughter, reshape my career, learn how to manage money and a household, and kill a cockroach with my own shoe, instead of asking my husband to do it.

I remember those days very well. The moments of extreme joy were punctuated by moments of fear, sadness and despair — like Amelia in my small kitchen icing cookies and dropping tiny handfuls of pastel-colored sprinkles on the table (and all over the floor) while wishing so much for another adult to just share the air in the room.
I wanted another adult to bring me a wet paper towel to clean up those glorious cookie crumbles.

I wanted another adult to ask me how I’m doing.

I wanted another adult to tell me, “It gets better.”

For all my education, support from my parents, and overall privilege, I wasn’t doing well.

In those moments and the year that followed, I was so immersed in my own pain and loneliness that I didn’t know what I really needed to feel better — besides the obvious more money and time.

My ex-husband and I had been high school sweethearts. I met him during an English class in high school; he was a tall, dark and handsome swimmer, who wore cut-off khakis, bright Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

We went to prom together. We went to college together. We got married and shared a life from 18 – 35. He was all I ever knew about love or relationships. The break was severe and cutting — like a piece of my soul had been surgically removed but nothing else inserted in its place.

And yet, I survived. Even thrived. But in those moments, those days, those weeks, that year — I couldn’t see the other side.

Right before the pandemic, I had the great pleasure of attending the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation’s Bring the Conversation to Light Luncheon. I vividly remember one of the speakers saying that people die by suicide because they can’t get past a moment in time.

A moment in time.

Divorce is a trauma. Miscarriage is a trauma. Losing a job is a trauma. The pandemic might be the greatest trauma of our generation.

Trauma is collective. It compounds, and if it’s left untreated, it gets worse, just like a sport’s injury when more pressure and physical activity are applied.

I began to understand this better while conducting focus group research with a colleague in the Department of Social Work at TCU. We were studying participants’ responses to the new Recognize & Rise website, an initiative started by the Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County to help people in Tarrant County recognize trauma and rise up from it, building resilience and coping methods along the way.

Sometimes, the hardest situations — like trauma — lead to the best ideas. I knew how badly I’d felt after experiencing my own forms of trauma over the past five years, and I’d heard the stories and experiences from students, friends and focus group participants about the impact of mental health challenges in their own lives.
Like most people, I was Zoomed out. I was tired of living life from a screen or behind a screened-in door. I wanted something I could touch, feel, do — now.

For me, the answer was Better Box. It’s a curated collection of evidence-informed products to help improve mental health in kids, young adults, and those beautiful souls in the helping professions like nurses and teachers. Better Box addresses social, physical and mental health with three products that work on those areas in our brain. (1) There are mini greeting cards in the box designed to increase social connection and inspire others. (2) There’s a lavender candle or lip balm to connect with our physical senses using the efficacy of lavender to lower stress and improve mood. (3) And there’s a journal to record daily gratitude, which cultivates well-being and provides hope.

I’ve wanted to start a social enterprise like this since I was in my 20s. I would have never dreamed it would have taken a divorce, single parenting, a broken engagement, contracting COVID-19, and a never-ending pandemic to give me that courage and conviction I needed to do it.

The resilience I couldn’t find or define five years ago has saved me today. And I hope that other people (kids and adults) can use Better Box as part of their lifelong journey to wellness. I know I do every day.

I’m still the same person I was when I was 35. I still want another adult in the room. I still want somebody to ask me how I’m doing. But today I know: It gets better. (And I know how to kill a cockroach with my own size 10 running shoe.)

Learn more about Better Box at yourbetterbox.org and @your_betterbox

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