The Story So Far

Leaves On A River

I’ve been maintaining radio silence these last few days because I have not been doing very well.

I have been unwell with some flu-ish bug and I have been unable to silence a million thoughts all trying to be heard at once. For days and days. It has been exhausting.

By acknowledging my problems and trying to think about and understand them I have unwittingly opened a floodgate of sorts.

I’ve written in a notebook ever facet of how I feel and every factor I think may have played a part in it. In an effort to learn why I think the way I do and how I formed the pathways in my brain I’ve ruthlessly examined every flaw and behaviour with a scrutiny so clinical it’s almost cruel.

Examining what I thought to be relevant things broke a seal that let out a million other things. Every moment I can recall being embarrassed, every missed opportunity, unkind word – spoken or heard, every bad decision and mistake waiting for it’s turn in the spotlight of my mind.

The tide was overwhelming. I tried to plug the hole and was left with stress and panic. Quietly sobbing, not able to rest due to the noise in my own head.

I made a really big mistake in my enthusiasm to ‘rewire my brain’. I’ve been reading and learning about self-compassion (will put a link in the comments) and I managed to play a trick on myself that negated everything I had learned.

When you learn about self-compassion you think about how the things you tell yourself when you are being self-critical or judgemental are very unkind. The examples often given are thoughts like “I am no good” – “I am worthless” or “No-one likes me”, things of this nature. I don’t feel like that. I don’t feel worthless or bad or un-liked so I assumed I wasn’t being unkind to myself.

Self-compassion urges you to treat yourself like you would treat a good friend. If a good friend was asking for help I would not have questioned them every waking moment, interrogated every thought and motive for validity and not given them a moments rest. Yet I did this to myself thinking I was being clinical and looking at an end game of solving my problems.

I want to be unbroken so I can be a good husband, a good friend, a good son, a useful employee, a good sibling. I feel like the ‘outed’ (Hi, my names is James and I have generalised anxiety disorder) broken version of me is failing in all of those things in which I most, with my very core, wish to succeed.

This is pretty unkind of me. I would not accuse anyone else of these failings if roles were reversed. I am now aware of the trick of my brain, I have yet to learn how to be kind to myself in this regard but I at least know it should be on the agenda.

I’ve spoken before about the storm of thoughts and how it can work as a tool sometimes. Well turning it inwards has amplified it so much it is affecting my ability to function.

At my psychologist today I talked through my week’s work in self analysis, explained some things I think I had missed before to help her get a sense of me and told her how distressing the thoughts are. She helped me understand much of what I wrote above about not practising kindness towards myself. She was surprised at what I had put myself through in a week and told me to pause the forensic self analysis for now.

As is always the way time seemed to run out so we concentrated on a mindfulness tool to ease the thoughts and to be able to rest and relax with the promise that we would deal with the tricks of the brain and kindness next time.

We started an exercise that begins with concentrating on breathing. I felt myself relax. Suddenly a thought slipped through. A question I wanted to ask but hadn’t. I remembered something about work. I opened my eyes and noticed the clock. One by one thought after thought invaded and as I tried to hold them back I was struck with the sudden visualisation of a tidal wave about to engulf me.

I choked back tears of frustration as I blurted out “I can’t make it be quiet’. I looked up fearing I would see annoyance or worse pity. I saw understanding and kindness. We talked about what went wrong and she decided to dedicate the next session to honing this technique and making it work.

By way of homework she directed me to some audio that you can use to guide you in this method. A voice encourages you to breath deeply. Emptying your lungs completely and letting them refill on their own. In your mind you picture a stream. For me it gently babbled shallow over pebbles, sunlight dancing on the surface. Along the stream floats leaves. Any thought you have you place on the leaf and allow it float away. When a thought catches you and distracts you as soon as your realise you acknowledge it and place it on a leaf.

“Booo hisss” I hear you cry and I may have done so too if I hadn’t been so desperate for relief.

The first thought to interrupt my stream was of work. My office floated away. Unfinished jobs around the house floated away. A space ship from a game I want to play this week stole my attention for a moment before being sent on it’s leafy way.

The voice urged thoughts such as “this is stupid” or “this isn’t working” to be placed on leaves. I smiled because it was working. I felt the anxiety meter in my mind dropping back from the redline it had been at for days as thought after thought after thought floated by. 15 minuted later the audio ended and I didn’t feel bad.

It is a relief my friends I can tell you. I felt as if I was getting closer to being unable to work or function. I was beginning to withdraw due to lack of perceived progress and a fear I would lose you all.

I’m still broken, I am exhausted but I have my stream and my leaves and I think I can be kinder to myself.

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