STORYTELLING, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

I Hear You, Panic Attack, I’m Listening

Panic attacks.

I get them when I’m triggered.

I get them at 3 am in the morning.

I get them at 5 am in the morning.

I get them when I have to wake up to start my day.

I get them after reading an email.

They scare me and they demoralize me. They bring me to my knees.

My panic attacks can feel like a thousand chaotic voices.

This isn’t good.

That isn’t done.

You aren’t good enough.

What a failure.

When they start, I end up with waves of fear from my futile attempts to ward off the attacks.

I try silencing the voices.

I recoil in terror from all their accusations and predictions of doom and gloom.

My brain vibrates from the yelling and the shrinking, the pointing and the defending.

* * * * *

I’m learning to thank them, yes, appreciate their intention to protect me from — well — danger.

Danger from harm to the core of who I am.

Somehow, I ended up with a blinding fear of criticism about my judgment and decision-making abilities.

I have had to change my attitude of fear of criticism about my past unchangeable decisions.

* * * * *

Now I try to to tell myself:

  • I accept the past
  • I did the best that I could with what I had
  • There are consequences to all decisions
  • The only thing I can do is think about moving forward
  • My new decisions might still not be ideal
  • In the future I will be dealing with the consequences of my choices today
  • A knee-jerk reaction will be counterproductive
  • What’s the one baby step I can take right now that at least moves me in the right direction?

Okay panic attacks.

I’m ready for you.

I’m ready to listen to your warnings.

But I’m going to respond in a calm way to let you know that I can only do my best, that I did my best in the past, and that hounding me about what a terrible person I am is not going to make my life better. It’s making my present and future worse.

But I thank you for trying to protect me.

I thank you for trying to teach me.

So — now that I’ve heard you, I need you to be quiet so that I can figure out what next step to take.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Learning from Overwhelm

The past month has been incredibly challenging as the feeling of overwhelming stress crashed upon me. There were physical manifestations and mental lows.

Many of my friends seem to suffer from this especially during the fall. The days get shorter, the temperature chillier, and for those of us who do not love winter, the season of mush and sleet looms drearily ahead. Aches and pains get worse, fatigue sets in, and the day after a night where sleep is allusive, mini despair and spiraling start: I am tired. Why am I always tired? I didn’t get {such and such} done. I should have gotten it done. Why didn’t {so and so} do it? They don’t care about me. My back is sore. I want to nap. I really shouldn’t nap. I should doing {this and that}. Oh look at how together that person looks. I’m such a loser. I can’t make my life work. And so on.

The slide is a steep ride right down to: I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like where this is going. If I get any more anxious or depressed, I’m going to end up at that horrible moment at the (mental) cliff, the precipice, that line I really, really don’t want to cross.

So we try all sorts of things:

  • meditation (can’t because brain is chaotically in madness and won’t quiet down)
  • distraction (helps a bit, but is only temporary)
  • eating (helps a lot, but also temporary and has side effects that have to be undone at a later date)
  • yelling (sort of a distraction and valve to let off steam, but temporary too and hurts relationships)

The only way past it is through it. I hear that a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. So many things just start sounding like clichés and sound bites. But today, I had an ah ha moment. Through it means feeling it, not running away from it. Through it means listening to it, not ignoring it. Through it means experiencing it to learn from it.

Okay then. I asked myself: What does my stress tell me? What are my feelings trying to tell me?

Emotions are what we feel after we compare our Expectations with the Reality. If the outcome is good, we feel positive. If the outcome is bad, we sad or mad.

Then I wondered: WHY do I think my emotions are trying to tell me something? And who is it exactly that is using my emotions to talk to me? Is it their language?

My theory: My body is host to so many ecosystems that make it possible for me to function. And when I feel overwhelmed, it is because what I want to get done is more than what is possible to get done with the systems in place and the resources needed. So the systems start shutting down or slowing down to rest. And the systems that haven’t done so start to bear the burden even more and then they start to shut down or slow down. As different ones respond at different times, different feelings emerge – they are the symptoms of what is happening.

My conscious mind is governed by thoughts that I try to control. And it will say things like: Suck it up. Don’t be such a baby. Just do it. You can do this. Don’t be lazy. You can’t afford to stop.

My subconscious mind is the one who is listening to the systems and making sense of it all. It knows when it’s time to stop, secure and start. It can sense when a system is breaking down. It can see when a system is slowing down.

If I listen carefully when I’m overwhelmed, I think I hear:

  • Rest and retreat
  • Recover and repair
  • Reflect and remember
  • Restart

It certainly feels a bit counterintuitive to slow down when everything in my conscious mind is screaming DO MORE! GET IT DONE! HURRY UP! But, when I do, I realize that my subconscious has been working on a solution that may be more creative, efficient or enjoyable. Or it’s trying to warn me of potential roadblocks ahead that need to be considered.

In any case, I’m learning not to panic now when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning to just stop and let the chaos run its course, come apart and then come together again. It’s very hard and I’ve only tried this a couple of times, but inevitably after I emerge from the overwhelm with some energy or headspace to productively handle something that has been bothering me.

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Fail to Succeed

The voices in our heads can be horribly mean: “You are failing as a mother.  You not a good wife.  You are a lousy daughter.  You are a bad friend. You are a bad manager.  That was a dumb thing to do.  You sounded stupid in that last meeting.  You didn’t complete your work AND you’re going to be late to the parent-teacher meeting. You have bad judgment, you make bad decisions. Your house is a disaster. Your health sucks.  You are too fat. You don’t make enough money. Your kids are badly behaved and it’s all your fault. Your cardio needs improvement. You have no grit.  You can’t do anything well!  You are a complete disaster!”  The spiral can happen pretty quickly and it’s a brutal if the other side of our brains don’t step up quickly enough to combat those bullies.  Lack of sleep and high expectations are not a good combination (am I right, new moms?)…

On the other hand, the celebration of success is entrenched in everything that we do, every Olympics, every career promotion, every project, every election…  What we don’t see is how hard those winners worked, how often they failed and how difficult it was for them to motivate themselves beyond the last fall or broken bone.

So how do we adjust our thoughts when we are bullying ourselves just at a time when we need to be encouraging ourselves to keep going?  Apparently the secret is to accept that failure is an integral process of succeeding.  Let’s hear from a few famous people, you know… famous for their many successes:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“I don’t believe I have special talents, I have persistence … After the first failure, second failure, third failure, I kept trying.” – Carol Rubbia

“There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?” – Frank Sinatra

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –  Thomas A. Edison

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” –  Winston Churchill

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

Failure has to be BUILT in to the process!  It is actually a part of learning, improving, growing, developing… it is on the path to the success.  Success doesn’t happen without failure! If we stopped riding our bikes as soon as we fell off because we defined ourselves as a failure… then we fail to learn how to ride a bike.  If we define the falling off as a failure to get the balance right, then get back on, figure out how to adjust the balance… then we learn how to ride a bike. If we said “I’m not good at math” because we got some answers wrong, then we will be bad at math.  If we define getting the answer wrong as failure to get that answer right, but then asked about how to get it right and figured out where we went wrong… well, then we will learn how to get better at math!

So I hope you join me as we get back on the horse, get back on the bike and get up after each fall. Never say die.  Just do it. Try and try again.  I’ll be back!  We start where we start!

Like my pretzels… after a few tries, they are looking a LOT better than they did when I started out!