Who Am I Today?
I heard a great line the other day while listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast.
"Act the way you want to feel."
It got me thinking about how I've applied this technique of intention to my days the past year and what massive change for the better it's brought me. It's a skill I vaguely knew about for the better part of my life, labelling it "Mind over matter", but I didn't fully explore it until I had no choice but to.
Because although the mind is a powerful creature, if you neglect it, it will fight back. I learned that the hard way.
This month marked an anniversary for me. Nope. It wasn't X years since I released Y book. It wasn't something wondrous like achieving some massive milestone in my career.
First and foremost, it was my husband's birthday. Secondly, it was my one year anniversary of going into hospital with no idea why my damn heart wouldn't slow down.
It pisses me off that his special day will now always hold that secondary meaning, but that's a conversation for another day (or more likely my therapist when I get back to see her).
The immediate months that followed are a place hubs and I agree we never want to revisit. I literally turned my husband grey. Yep. If the constant early starts and long weeks hadn't worn him down, my breakdown almost took him with me.
Ultimately, the journey was a litany of ill-decisions and misinformation. The way I was treated by the health system made me worse, and one day I vow to figure out how to make change so that nobody else has to ever experience such an array of errors that quite literally could have cost somebody their life.
But there's something else that comes out of such a hell of a experience. When you enter a depression that low, you also discover a whole new side to things that you blissfully lived in ignorance of up until that point.
In order to fix the mess you're in, you have to do the one thing you want to least - look closely at who you are. Dudes. That shit was hard. But I promise there's an upside to this story ... bear with me.
First, I need to give you a brief painting of where my headspace went (this will get deep). I've touched on this lightly in previous posts and threads on social media but I've kept the nitty gritty close to my chest for a reason.
Because it hurts. It hurts and it's scary. And up until now, I wasn't ready to give it much light.
I went into hospital with severe anxiety. After ten days on the heart ward with no solid answers as to whether there was anything wrong with me, that escalated to full-blown panic disorder. The nifty thing I've learnt about panic disorder is that like a parasite it needs something to attach to and feed off.
At first, I worried that I might die.
Then I worried my heart would give out.
Once I finally nixed that, I moved on to worrying that the antidepressants I was prescribed a month later would make my anxiety worse. [Spoiler alert - they did, until I was given a modified dose of another type].
And then came the penultimate fixation. One lovely sunny day, while feeling massively light-headed and lethargic, and with my blood pressure finally returning to normal after being low on the previous meds, I made the mistake of reading the pamphlet that came with the ADs to see if lethargy was an expected side-effect. What I read gave my attention starved panic disorder something entirely new to hold on to. I can't remember the exact wording, but it goes along the lines of the medication causing suicidal thoughts in the first month or so of settling in.
Full cycle back to my initial fear: I don't want to die. Tack on to that the fear that I might be the biggest risk to my health. Pop it in the oven and let bake for a week, and end up with a woman who's terrified of her own company, being alone, and her damn house - because, well, fuck, why not?
To paint you a picture, at my worst I would wake with my heart racing as though I was at a brisk walk, go through a panic attack while making the kids breakfast, get them off to school and spend twenty minutes psyching myself up for each part of the day, have mad lists of things to do so that I kept distracted, clock-watching until somebody came home to be with me, attending my kids' swimming lessons and spending the entire time in a sweat wondering if I would top myself and what might push me to do it, driving home to then sit in the car while I had another panic attack about going inside, because if I go into my house and be alone I'm surely going to die because ALL the ridiculous reasons, and then finally at the end of the day after dinner etc I would crash into bed, have my heart spike to a running rate while I panicked about if tomorrow would be my last day on earth, and then after an hour or more of tossing and turning I'd finally fall asleep to have vivid nightmares and wake several times in the night.
Let me pause here to say that if you're still reading, thank you. This stuff is hard to read, and it's hard to talk about, but I want to illustrate my point with HD quality clarity.
Fast forward a year later to today.
Sure, sometimes those icky intrusive thoughts like to rear their head, but what I recognise now is my fears trying to sabotage my progress. You see, the ego doesn't like change. If your subconscious recognises a shift in your habits and routines, then it gets to work trying to rope you back in to what is comfortable.
Negative thoughts about self. Procrastination. Excuses. Lethargy. Any kind of self-sabotaging behaviour is straight out of the primal fight or flight's fear toolbox.
This past week? They've been rampant. But through it all I've recognised how kickass things are and I've been happy. And unlike a year ago, I can have a "meh" day and not get into a mess about it because "Oh my, God. I'm going backward. I'm going to end up super-depressed again. I can't pull myself out of that a second time."
Bullshit. I could do it again, because I did it to start with. Difference is, I won't have to.
Because I know how to look after myself now. I recognise unhealthy behaviours when they creep in, not when they finally overwhelm me. I give myself time to take care of the machine, and I don't feel guilty about it. At. All.
Most importantly, I know they're just thoughts. And like the meditation app I use says, it's crazy to think we give something we can't see, touch, or feel, so much weight.
Still, we can't escape those imaginary fuckers. Your thoughts are with you wherever you go, which is why it's so important to make sure they're good ones. And even on the bad days, make sure they have a positive spin.
Create your own toolbox to counteract fear's. Pop in things like a regular bedtime, plenty of water, daily gratitude, meditation [don't knock it until you've tried it], exercise, down time to do something you love, getting outdoors, time with friends, having a bath when you need to relax, eating well ... all that stuff you know you should do, but figure you'll be better at one day.
Guess what? Yeah. TODAY is that day.
And if you have a day where you fall into old habits, well then fuck me, you're human! Congratulations. What matters is that you give yourself grace, leave it in the past where it belongs, and try again tomorrow.
I want you to know that great change is possible - however slow you pace it. I'm living proof of that. And one day I'll figure out what it is I can give back to ensure more people let go of limiting thoughts and behaviours. The journey of self-awareness is a frightening one. You discover things about yourself you'd rather continue to deny. You have to cry a few tears in order to forgive yourself for the shitty things you do/have done. And you need to be prepared to be horrified at how badly you used to treat yourself and think it was okay.
Every day is a new chapter, and every day has its own challenges.
But the key is to wake up with intention. Wake up knowing what it is you are here to do.
And be fucking happy about it.
It's easy to find the negatives in the day. It's a learned skill to default to the positives. No matter how shitty your day is, what you're facing, or where you are in your journey on this earth, I can guarantee there is something to be grateful for in every day.
Start small. Build bigger. Create change.
If I can do this, so can you.
Let me ask one more time, who will you be today?