It is the darndest thing. When you have a mind that, for whatever perverse reason, would rather see you suffer than be at peace. It looks for things to worry about. It looks for things that will hurt you. And, if it cannot find them readily, it will invent them. And my God is it good at that!
I have such a mind.
As I wrote in my last post, some good things have happened for me of late. They had been a long time in coming. Prior to their arrival, I was battling hard to keep on top of the anxiety monsters that were growling and growing in my stomach. Though winning most rounds in this bare-knuckle fight, some days it was a very close run thing. There were many days I had to talk myself down from a full-blown panic attack.
Then these good things came along all of a sudden. And my anxiety got really confused, and not a little angry. And ever since, it has been trying its damnedest to find new things to trouble me with. It is really frustrated that, having been so busy, bathing luxuriously in a rich vein of stress, suddenly it had no friends, and no havoc to wreak.
I have been noticing it mooching about in my head. Sulking, and occasionally kicking stuff in a fit of pique. It doesn’t like not being needed, and is determined to find a way to manifest some mayhem. I feel it trying to latch on to any old thing and make it into a mountain where only a mole hill existed. Because I am now blessed with the power of mindfulness, I am able to observe this happening in real-time, and can have a little word in its shell-like – telling it to get a grip or get out.
This was not always the case however – and noticing this stroppy, emotional creature stomping about – reminds me of a time when I had little, to no control over what the creatures in my mind were able to get away with.
Many years ago I used to be all consumed by my work. When I finished work for the day, my mind did not. I would be sitting there with my husband, and he would be talking to me, but I wouldn’t have heard a thing. He described it as my “Work Fugue”. A bit like trying to have a two-way conversation with a zombie . Not that much fun. What I didn’t know at the time (because I hadn’t yet been gifted with the tools to notice) was that my mind was busy analysing events and inventing scenarios. Creating stories that would hurt or damage me – taking factual things that had happened and turning them into aggressive, mean, toxic little gremlins that would bite at my sanity and try their best to destroy any peace of mind I might find (and this was short in supply back in those days).
One day I met my husband from work and we went for a glass of wine together. He asked me how my day had been (no doubt tentatively, as this question had exploded in his face before). I told him that actually I had quite a good day – a colleague had said a really positive thing about me, and that had made me feel good about myself. He smiled, somewhat nervously (he was no fool) and asked me to tell him about it.
And so I did. I recounted to him the events of the day and what my colleague had said to me, and then I expanded upon it, and then I started to think about it a bit, and then I thought …
“Hold on a minute – what if she actually meant this?”
“You know what, I think that she said that because of this other thing that happened that she wasn’t happy about”
“I bet she didn’t mean that at all, and was just trying to cover up that negative thing that other person had said about me”
“Actually, I think she was trying to undermine me by …”
My husband listened to me patiently, his face starting to fall as my mouth kept moving, and then he looked at me and he said …
“Can you hear yourself?
“Do you see what you have just done?”
“Is this what you do to yourself every day?”
“You just took a really positive thing and talked yourself into it being entirely negative.”
“You have got to stop that! No wonder you are unhappy”
“You really don’t deserve to be doing that to yourself”.
“You’ve got to find a way to stop!”
We both sat there in shock. I had never, in all my days, noticed myself doing this. He had just watched it play out right in front of his eyes – and he was absolutely horrified. And he was right. I did this all the time, every day, and what was even more tragic (I suddenly realised) I had been doing this my entire life. Talking down to myself, creating negativity where none existed, inventing blame and poisonous darts to jab myself with. Dear Lord, what cruel and unusual punishment was this?!
For days and weeks after that night, I would try as best I could to justify (to myself and to him) the rationale behind my thinking. “It could be the case?” “There is the potential that I am reading between the lines and seeing the truth behind these events?” “They could have meant that?” “Honest?”
But the more I tried to justify it, the more ludicrous it seemed, the more I thought …
“Perhaps he has a point?”.
And, because I was now actively thinking about what I was thinking about, I started to notice the pattern as it was unfolding. I used to liken it to suddenly noticing the creep of an evil, poisonous ivy. I would think a thought, and then I would start to feel dark, nasty little tendrils reaching out in my mind, trying to find some negative thing to latch onto, some surface it could gain purchase on, attach its vicious little fronds and steadily creep through my brain until all oxygen available to any healthy greenery was exhausted.
Now that I could feel this tentative creeping and wicked uncurling as it began, it gave me an opportunity. Now, when I would say a thing or think a thing, and those little fingers of nastiness started reaching out for somewhere to grab onto, I would visualise myself taking the sharpest knife and hacking them off before they had a chance to take hold. Quickly it would try again, and just as quickly I would thrash at it, destroying its plans.
Occasionally, if I was concentrating on something else, the ivy would have made significant headway in sprouting and smothering and spreading its evil ideas before I had noticed. But eventually I would become aware of its insidious growth, and I would have at it – like a Self-Care Ninja – determined to protect my fragile self from its clutches.
This battle was no walk in the park. I had to be vigilant. The ivy had not had anyone to tackle it in all the years I could remember, and suddenly it was being challenged in its own backyard. It did not take kindly to this. But over the course of many months I got pretty good at spotting it and stopping it in its tracks. And, perhaps after a year, I was a masterful knife-wielder. The ivy was weakened and knew it was no longer welcome.
I do not exaggerate when I say that this realisation changed my life. It was long years before I would be formally introduced to mindfulness practice. But my husband, in his wisdom, started me on a path to self-discovery and self-care which has only expanded since. I will be forever grateful to him for having spotted and then challenged this vicious, destructive self-talk I had going on in my head. The things we do to ourselves?!
I don’t know how it started. What twisted, dark, cruel seeds were planted in my mind that led me to harm myself in this way. But never again will this evil ivy wreak such havoc. I have my mental Samurai sword now, and you better believe I’m gonna use it!
Copyright 2017 · Words Only · Forty and Everything After