My psychologist suggested I should watch the movie ‘Inside Out’ because she said it’s pretty much written about me and my life. Interesting…
Anyway, it’s finally release on DVD so I sat down today with the family and watched it.
I loved the different feelings in her mind and the way they interact with her baby self, her child self and her older self. It’s a brilliant concept. I love how I can use this movie to talk to my son about his feelings (and maybe to my husband too).
But maybe I need to watch the movie again before I fully understand what the psychologist meant.
I know it has something to do with growing up. We often talk about how, prior to this year, I was still living a ‘child’s life’. Things had gone very smoothly in all aspects of my life, and even when things did go badly (homesickness, or when my dog died) I didn’t have the weight of responsibility that comes with being a grown up and also a parent.
This year, things haven’t gone well. But what we often talk about in our sessions is how I have finally experienced true life. The one with ups and downs and stress and sadness. Just like Riley in ‘Inside Out’ where she needed things to go badly before she would be able to start living a real, whole and grounded life.
And that’s what I’m seeing over and over. This year has given me the opportunity to see life from a different perspective.
OK, so I shouldn’t bad mouth the internet too much (especially here as that would be highly hypocritical) but I just have to point out how hard it is to be pregnant and worried AND be exposed to online advertising that’s based on my user profile.
I had some bleeding. It’s not major enough to call it a full miscarriage but things aren’t looking good. Today I googled a couple of things to hopefully ease my concerns (of course, they didn’t) but even worse, I’m now being bombarded with advertising for fertility clinics, pregnancy tests and baby advice… the internet is just constantly reminding me how badly I want this but also how unlikely it is to happen.
The advertisers are preying on the vulnerable and it’s not fair.
Today I started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, a book that talks about why we need to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable to lead more rewarding lives. It’s been given to me as homework from my psychologist.
In one of the early chapters it talks about how our modern lives revolve around the perception that we don’t have enough. Our initial thoughts when we wake up are that we haven’t had enough sleep, and our last thought before bed is that we didn’t have enough time to achieve everything we wanted to do that day.
This really resonates with me. I’m a self-confessed over-achiever and perfectionist who always tries to improve her life (unnecessarily, I’m sure). I’m intrigued by this ‘not enough concept and I’m keen to recognise when I use it throughout my day.
Just in the last hour, I’ve thought:
I didn’t help enough with the child today
I wasn’t grateful enough for everything my husband’s been doing
I didn’t achieve enough today
I wasn’t healthy enough for the growing baby inside me
I didn’t exercise enough
I didn’t give the dog enough attention
This is a pretty long list for just the last hour and these are some pretty terrible thoughts when written out like that. These are all the thoughts that Russ Harris in The Happiness Trap classed as unhelpful. These are all the thoughts that I should acknowledge then send on their way. But did I do that? No. The last few days have been particularly stressful and I quickly fell into my old ways.
Brené Brown states that the opposite of ‘not enough’ isn’t abundance. The opposite of ‘not enough’ is simply ‘enough’. In my list above, who is the judge of whether ‘enough’ is ‘not enough’? Me, and only me. No one else commented today that I didn’t do enough of the things above.
I’ve recently been having a big think about my values and how these relate to goals. Previously, I wouldn’t have thought about separating values and goals, but The Happiness Trap made me think differently about things.
Let’s take work as an example. Before I realised I needed to get my balance back, I was pretty sure that I wanted to manage high profile projects and get a promotion. Those were my goals and I thought they were also my values.
But recently I’ve been questioning this. Why do I want to manage high profile projects/get a promotion? I guess I wanted people to look up to me and to respect me. I wanted to show to others that I could do a good job. I wanted to get to the end of my life and look back and go ‘I delivered that awesome thing at work’.
Honestly, though, are they things that I actually value? They’re all based on others’ perception of me, rather than true meaning and personal satisfaction.
So what do I value at work? What aspects to I truly enjoy and get satisfaction from?
I enjoy helping and mentoring others. I enjoy doing a task really well. I enjoy having a to-do list and getting through it each day. I enjoy being organised. I enjoy socialising and laughing and hearing about the lives of others.
Additionally, I enjoy leaving work at a set time. I enjoy being home each night for my family and I enjoy having space on the weekends where I’m not thinking about work. I enjoy my privacy and completely separating work from home.
Yesterday I was driving into town for my yoga class and I was stopped at the traffic lights. My mind began to wander and I remembered that I needed to buy a dress for a friend’s wedding. So I picked up my phone and began Googling images.
I have to admit I do this quite a lot. Sitting at the traffic lights is boring, right? A perfect opportunity to do some quick texting or Facebooking or tweeting, right?
HONK! Someone beeped their horn. I looked up thinking the lights had changed, but they were still red. Then I saw that hanging out of the window of the car next to me was a man, gesturing madly at me to put down my phone.
My initial reaction was ‘how dare he tell me what to do!’ but he was so passionate that I put my phone down and looked straight ahead.
Maybe his sister had been killed texting and driving. Maybe his child had been killed by someone who was texting and driving. Maybe his marriage had ended in divorce because his wife could never down the phone.
Or maybe he just understood the importance of mindfulness.
All of these thoughts went through my mind while I was still at the traffic lights. The man in the car next to me was right: I wasn’t living in the moment. I was trying to multitask and I was doing neither task well. Maybe he beeped his horn because he cared about my physical health, or maybe it was for my mental health.
Or maybe he was just a jerk.
It didn’t matter. He’d made me think differently about how I could more enjoy my drive to yoga.
The lights turned green. As I drove off I waved to the man and mouthed the word ‘Thank you’.
I finished reading The Happiness Trap today. The last section was all about values and goals.
I realised that health is something I value highly, because without health it’s hard to live by any other of the values I might have (relationships, creativity, learning).
So the book asked me to set some goals, including an immediate goal that would help me work toward my values today. I decided that I would go for a walk as part of my long-term plan to introduce regular exercise into my week.
That was it: one walk. Could be around the block, could be further. I didn’t specify.
But alas! That little voice in my head was doing everything to stop me.
It’s too hot. It’s literally 32 degrees outside.
How about you go for a swim instead and forget about the walk?
Everyone’s due home from work and school soon. You can’t go out now!
What does it matter if you miss the walk today? No one’s going to know…
And this is exactly what the book warned me would happen. That pesky voice.
So I thanked my mind for sharing these wonderful insights with me, then put my shoes on and walked right out that door.
It was something quite minor that triggered it. It was so minor I almost missed it. I was looking at group exercise options for the following day and saw that a group offered a ‘Mums and bubs’ class.
I instantly felt anxious and stressed. I couldn’t manage simple tasks. I started pacing around the house and complaining to my husband that things really weren’t going well. Then I burst into tears.
You see, I’ve had two miscarriages this year. It’s very rare that I have moments of ‘that should be me’ when I look at mothers with newborn babies, so this one really took me by surprise. I so desperately wanted to be able to go to a ‘Mums and bubs’ class… and it had nothing to do with exercise.
My husband told me to breathe. He told me again. It wasn’t until I was sobbing in the shower that I realised I needed to lift myself out of it.
I took one deep breath, then followed it with a breathing exercise I’d learned from The Happiness Trap.
The idea is to take 12 deep breaths, and work through some areas of focus while you’re doing it: 3 breaths for breathing, 3 breaths for thoughts, 3 breaths for feelings and 3 breaths for connecting with you environment.
I closed my eyes and focused on slow breathing for the first 3 breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. As slowly and deeply as I could.
I then listened to my thoughts: ‘Without a baby you’re worthless’, ‘Everyone else has a baby’, ‘Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you turned up to that class without a baby?’ – none of these thoughts were helpful so I acknowledged them and sent them on their way, thanking my mind for such a contribution.
I then focused on my feelings. My chest was tight, my head was throbbing, my face was tense. I didn’t try to stop the feelings, I just let them be (I found this particularly interesting, because it’s the first time ever I’ve thought about the physical sensations of sadness).
I then opened my eyes an connected with the world around me. I felt the water falling down my body, I heard the sounds of it running down the drain. I smelled the soap and tasted the water. I continued to breathe.
And you know what? 12 breaths was all it took to stop me from crying and bring me back to reality. My husband looked in at me and asked ‘Are you OK now?’. And I could honestly answer ‘Yes’.
This week I was all about social health. I was feeling good so I thought I’d get out there and catch up with friends and work colleagues.
I had social events booked for every day this week. Lunches, morning teas, afternoon walks, early morning exercise sessions, social swims at home… my schedule was looking very healthy indeed.
Except that I, myself, was far from healthy.
My lunch with work colleagues went well, but it was draining. I constantly switched between ‘put on a happy face’ and ‘pour my heart out’. Both states were exhausting. The pretending to be happy was hard because I had to check myself continuously and think about every word that came out of my mouth. The honest expression of feelings was easier at the time but I was repeating stories I’d already said to my psychologist, my mother and my husband so it brought up old feelings that I thought I’d put to bed.
And that night it was as if I’d stretched a muscle and was feeling delayed pain: I had stretched my social health muscle and now I was suffering from it.
It needed rest. I needed to put that muscle up on a chair with some ice. So I cancelled my social plans today and spent the day in bed.
Today I decided to practice a mindfulness exercise while eating my lunch.
I’ve been encouraged by a number of people to live in the moment. Experience the here and now. Forget about the past and forget about the future for at least a few moments a day.
The writer in me found this all very interesting. A common critique I get about my stories is that I don’t engage the five senses – that I should introduce elements of smell, taste, touch and sound and stop relying on images and sights. Interesting that my mind has the same problem as my writing.
So I heated up my pizza and sat in front of a blank white wall. I focused on the pizza and only the pizza, and my five senses.
Needless to say I didn’t have any mind-blowing epiphanies while looking at my thin-crust vegetarian, but I did notice:
the way the pizza slice contracts then slowly expands when I take a bite
how I could close my eyes and know whether I was about to eat baby spinach, tomato or corn solely through my sense of smell
that the sound of chewing comes from both the friction of my teeth on pizza and of the pizza being crushed
that the chilli on the pizza first hit the back of my mouth, and only after the first three bites
how crunchy crust feels good to break with my teeth, whereas soft crust feels better when swirled around in my mouth
I had a few thoughts creep in while I did this practice, but I was able to acknowledge them and send them on their way before they consumed my thoughts.
I didn’t really feel like doing gardening. I’ve been sick with a cold and feeling in a bit of a slump following a busy weekend. But the hedges needed trimming so I grabbed the garden shears and gloves and headed out into the yard.
And it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
It was good for:
My mental health – our old house didn’t have any hedges, so I had to learn a new skill. At first it was difficult and slow going, but at the end I was trimming like a pro.
My physical health – it was hard work cutting, sweeping and carrying buckets of branches to the bin.
My social health – I got to spend some much-needed time chatting to my dog about life, and he loved the company.
My environmental health – the finished product looks fantastic and when I look out the back now I feel satisfied for a job well done.
It gave me confidence that I can do it again and a real sense of satisfaction.
And to think I was going to spend the day on the lounge.