Minding the mind.
My oh my… what a difference a couple of weeks make. Not long ago I was despairing about chaos in my life beyond my control, and financial woes. I’m no wealthier, am still in the midst of the very challenging task of bringing order to chaos, but I am now feeling as close to healthy as I have felt in months, which is beneficial to me being able to take care of my responsibilities effectively. Am enjoying organising, stabilising, and generally getting on top of things. And it’s all come about (as it always does) because of a shift in mindset, a little gratitude, compassion, and the acknowledgement of a well-worn pattern of behaviour… a behaviour that I know I will conquer.
Like many people who experience anxiety or depression, I have a tendency to worry and think myself sick (literally) from time to time. Thoughts are immensely, creatively powerful, and I am keenly aware of the full power of my own. My tendency to manifest my nightmares is an exhausting and painful habit I (thankfully) don’t do as often as I did at other times in my life. When I do it, though, there are telltale signs: I become very introverted and detached, as if withdrawing into a shell for protection… the protection of myself, and of others from myself. I don’t speak up, or speak very quietly. I can’t sleep, eat less and become indifferent to my appearance (i.e. “dress down”, and avoid all makeup. A shallow indicator, I know… but an indicator nonetheless).
Over the weekend, after reflecting on my year so far, I realised I have been displaying all of these signs over the last five months.
I have lost weight (when I should be gaining weight), have had consistent trouble sleeping, and have been reluctant to speak up, share my work or voice my opinions (anywhere besides this blog). A general “can’t be effed” attitude towards too much socialising (normally there’s no such thing), and frequent daydreams of escaping the planet have unfortunately dominated this recent period of my life.
Of course, all these behaviours are the tangible results of specific thoughts… the inner dialogue I referred to in a previous post as “The Evil Twin”. I refer to it in this manner partly to remind myself that the voice is not me, not who I am. Moreover, at times it does actually feel like another person screaming abuse at me (charming, eh?). And it is a liar, and a destroyer, that manifests when I am not channelling and releasing the dark energy of anger, frustration and pain adequately and safely.
There is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Central to it is the idea that simply observing your critical thoughts without judging them is a more effective way to tame the voice within than putting massive pressure on yourself to change or ignore the voice. Basically it is centred on MINDFULNESS, which, at its centre, is about paying attention to the present moment through your senses.
Inspired by the concept, over the past couple of weeks I’ve switched up my tactics in the battle for control over my headspace with Evil Twin. She isn’t the type to go quietly without a fight. Evicting her will take time, months even… she is, after all, a formidable and experienced opponent. Direct confrontation has failed, time and time again. Strangely, allowing her to barge in, unleash a tirade and slip out of my consciousness while I tune into my breathing, my senses, seems to be working. The control her words have over me diminishes, and I feel the distance between us growing. As I tune into my physical self, the sound of her fades.
It’s bloody wonderful.
As is this: Once terrified, I now feel empathy for her. I recognise that she lashes out because she often holds everything in. She can’t – won’t – unleash her fury on others and, in the absence of another, healthy, avenue, she takes all the accumulated stresses out on me. She forgets that there is an alternative to holding it in or taking it out on me… letting it go. Through acceptance, self-expression, meditation, hell, even boxing (fun!)… letting it all go.
I was blessed to receive a very moving and long personal letter of appreciation once from a woman, signed “A fellow listless public servant”, who read this article I wrote for The Big Issue last year, that described, among other things, the first time I learned the incredible power of letting go. In the article, I tried to be honest, too, about the fact that sometimes, even when we learn lessons in life, we need to be reminded of those lessons when life’s difficulties test us again. The beautiful thing about our interconnectedness is that sometimes we can deliver those reminders, those messages, to each other, without even knowing it.
I still receive what I regard as “blessings” like this from time to time – people, often strangers, who seem to come into my life at the right moment and place and deliver, unknowingly, exactly the encouragement or advice I need at that time. Apart from this, I also have the beautiful words of Inderdeep (who wrote the article I responded too) and “A fellow listless public servant” to counsel me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I regard them like books in my own personal, self constructed “bible”.
I’d like to share here just a few words from “A fellow listless public servant”. They are her words, and I am eternally grateful to her for writing them:
“Letting go is, I think, one of the hardest things human beings ever do. To simply accept what one cannot change with grace and dignity is much more difficult than it appears on the surface. But, as Pauline so accurately pointed out, letting go is the key to freeing yourself from self-doubt. Only in this way can you learn to accept yourself and your life for what they are, and to never, ever be afraid or ashamed of being yourself.”
Wherever you are… I hope you are treating you well. My respect and gratitude.