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’m lucky to have a lot of people around that care for me greatly. They all say nice things, ask how I’m going, make all the right noises when I tell them how hard it’s been.
But nothing really beats sharing your story with someone who’s been through the same thing.
I ran into a friend yesterday at a school fair. When I first told her about my miscarriages and depression, she opened up and told me about hers. I connected with her instantly. She was always someone I admired in general but to hear that she’d been through the same thing and survived gave me hope and inspiration.
At the school fair, we didn’t even have to get into detail for both of us to understand:
My friend said, ‘It’s so good to see you. How are you?’ (this is not just general chit-chat, she’s asking about something specific without needing to say it, and she genuinely cares)
‘I’m going really well. Focusing on myself was a really good decision.’ (I’m not putting on a brave face at all)
‘That’s great. Wonderful.’ (my friend knows I’m not putting on a brave face, so things must actually be going well and she is genuinely happy about it)
‘See you later.’ (and we mean it)
I ran into others at the fair and had very similar conversations, but they just weren’t as meaningful as this one.
I’d been avoiding seeing a specialist for a complaint I’ve had for 2 years now. But getting my balance back also involves looking after my health, so I forced myself to go see the doctor.
I’ll spare you with the details of the complaint, but the specialist sent me away with homework: daily exercises and instructions to fill out a food diary. I’ve been committed to doing both, something that I’m not sure would have happened if I hadn’t decided that 30 days ago I would make my health a priority.
The food diary has been an interesting exercise. It really made me think about what I eat (and if we’re going to be completely honest, I probably ate better for the days I was keeping the diary). I had a lot of assumptions about my diet that turned out to be untrue. Especially around how much water I drink (“Of course, I drink 2 litres per day!”) and how much fibre I get (“For sure, I only ever eat brown bread!”).
The daily targeted exercises are already showing results too, just a few days in.
I must be feeling better. I am actually looking forward to a social event.
Yep, you heard it. Looking forward to it. Feeling good about leaving the house and talking to people. About sharing the ups and downs of the past few months. About being a friendly person that others want to be around.
Tomorrow we’re going to a Halloween party. I’ve been busily sewing a costume for my son (using my new creative space) and tonight I made a Halloween potato bake using sweet potato as little jack-o-lanterns. I’m feeling very ‘American housewife’ and it feels good.
Up until now, social events have been difficult and exhausting. If I’ve attended any, it’s been out of guilt and obligation more than the joy of it. It’s been all about that ‘should’ word that my psychologist told me to avoid. But sometimes it’s something that has to happen when you have depression, merely to get through day to day life.
But this one feels different. I’m interested to see if I feel exhausted by the end of the day, or if my enjoyment impacts my energy levels too. Then again, I may drop again tomorrow and find it all one big struggle.
But at least I’ll be turning up with a costumed child and an awesome potato bake.
To get my balance back, I wanted to focus on my physical health, not just my mental/emotional health. I’m a strong believer that the physical is connected to the mental (and vice-versa).
I knew my changes needed to be subtle. Because I’m trying for a baby, high intensity exercise and crazy diets are not the way to go (and I don’t want to lose any weight, especially not quickly). So I decided to increase my activity through things like yoga, swimming and walking and to cut out any of the high fat/sugar/salt/preservatives that I found would make me feel terrible the next day.
But what I’ve stumbled across is that this type of ‘focus on physical health’ is very difficult to measure. It’s almost impossible to see results other than how I feel, which could be related to any number of things I’m doing to get my balance back right now.
I feel good, but is that because of what I’m eating? I’m enjoying walking, but is that just because I’m not stressed or rushed like I used to be?
Today I cooked a piece of rainbow trout and ate it with a salad and some sour dough. It was fantastic. I took the dog for a walk and felt energised afterwards.
Moods and feelings are difficult to measure. So maybe measuring is something that I need to let go. Stop the analysing and stop the goal-setting and stop the feeling of guilt when I don’t achieve. I think this is something that needs to be explored further.
I spent most of my life trying to avoid getting pregnant. All up, I’ve spent about 12 months trying to get pregnant. Two recent miscarriages and then yesterday I got the news that yes, I’m pregnant again.
I want another baby, I really do. But the instant I saw that second line appear on the pregnancy test, I didn’t get a wave of excitement or happiness or joy… I felt dread.
Here we go again.
‘Try not to worry about it, that’s the worse thing you can do.’
These are the voices in my head.
But how can I not worry? How can I not think about the terrible year I’ve had with anxiety and depression and my life spiralling to a place that I never want to go back to? How can I not be afraid of that place?
Those close to me understand. They didn’t congratulate me. They just gave me a hug.
But all the others who don’t know my history also don’t realise the harm they’re doing. At the moment it’s just medical staff and doctors (‘Congratulations! Great news!’ or even ‘I’ll cross my fingers for you’) but the more time that passes the more people will comment. It’s the way of society. A pregnancy is always a good thing, right?
People are just being nice. They think that crossing their fingers will give me the hope I need.
But I know that hope doesn’t help. I hoped the last time and that didn’t help. In fact it only made the fall worse.
This is not the way I should be feeling at the news of something I want so badly, but unfortunately that’s just the way it is.
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’.
Living with a toddler, we do a lot of singing. But one song that’s been bothering me lately is ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’.
Are we teaching our children that:
You can only join in if you’re happy.
If you’re not actually happy, you should pretend to be happy just so you can clap along.
Happiness is the ‘normal’ state and anything else is bad.
I’ve been sharing my emotional journey with my toddler and find that he’s very receptive and empathetic about what’s going on. When he’s sad he cries, when Mummy’s sad she cries. There’s really no other way to think about it. He gives me cuddles and spends time with me when I’m sad, just like I do with him. When he falls over and scrapes his knee, his goal isn’t to ‘get happy’, it’s to talk about what hurts and feel comfort. Then usually a side effect of that is that he can stand up and go back to what he was doing.
I wouldn’t say he ever really ‘gets happy’ in the moments after falling over.
At a very young age we are conditioning our children to try to ‘be happy’ and stop the other emotions they might be feeling. I know this has had implications in my adult life with me forever seeking perfection and being quite uncomfortable with emotions such as sadness, fear or anger. We can’t continue this way with future generations.
So I’d like to propose new lyrics to the song:
If you’re happy sometimes clap your hands.
If you’re sad sometimes clap your hands.
If you’re happy or sad or afraid or mad,
It’s OK to feel like that, clap your hands.
At least this is what I’ll be singing in my household.
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.