Life is very interesting… in the end, some of your greatest pains, become your greatest strengths. Drew Barrymore
I’ve not posted for the past few weeks, due to a strained back muscle which made it hard to sit at my desk but that wasn’t the only reason. My usually overflowing pool of inspiration was empty, barren, devoid of a single drop of inspiration. Very unusual for me but there was a reason. It was the calm before the storm. This often happens just before “The big reveal”, a valuable lesson often hidden in a maelstrom.
This week’s lesson came courtesy of a couple of catch ups with wonderful friends whose company I enjoy and whom I greatly admire. I love listening to their stories of travel, of achievements at work and of their children and how they ride the ups and downs of life. Sounds pretty good you say, so where’s the problem? The problem was that once again, I felt awful because I felt I had little to share. Years of ongoing health issues disrupt careers, travel plans, adversely affect family life and as an unwanted bonus, can increase anxiety. Compared to most of my friends, I felt like a loser, especially when I allow my unconscious mind take hold of the reigns.
Those of you familiar with my posts are aware that I’m constantly doing an archeological dig in my mind. I hate feeling awful, inferior, shame, incompetent and it’s why I am constantly searching for hidden land mines in my mind and hoping I can disarm them before they blow up in my face. The little suckers are formed in childhood and so they are buried under tonnes of history and therefore hard to find.
So I wondered why I couldn’t allow myself to accept myself just as I am right now? And was my idea of who I am even accurate? Anyone who has suffered with long term physical health issues knows that it can turn your life upside down and yet, I continued to blame myself for getting sick in the first place. Ridiculous I know. I grew up with an anxious and constantly worried mother which deeply influenced my own thought processes. I know I got sick because of being overly worried and anxious and so I blamed myself, but I was unable to think any other way. So why couldn’t I just forgive my mother and myself, accept and just move on? Why couldn’t I find some compassion for us both?
Digging and delving into pain
Even though I’ve written about self-esteem before, like most sticky, messy beliefs, this one in particular, comes with many layers that need uncovering and healing. As long as there is pain and discomfort associated with a belief, there is still more digging to do.
With back pain as a great access point into a bit of self-pity and then into the self, I began to peel away the layers. I took a deep breath and said, “Ok, let’s go in boots and all. No holding back. Let’s feel the depth of this pain and see how far it goes. Let’s just wallow in it, completely cover ourselves in the muck and explore.
Here’s what I found. Firstly, I know that I feel inadequate around people who I believe are more intelligent than me and who seem to have their lives together. Despite hardships, which everyone faces, they seem to come out the other end wiser and just get on with their lives. I on the other hand, unknowingly suffered with anxiety since childhood and years of stress took their toll on my physical health which has never fully recovered.
So a) I felt like a loser because everyone else “seems” to cope with great difficulties but it doesn’t affect their health and then b) anxiety affected my memory and so because I struggle to remember a lot of information, I felt stupid. So as a result of getting sick I felt like a stupid loser. Great. Now that we’ve hit the cesspool at the bottom of this pit, where to now?
Well, I could either wallow in the muck and eventually drown, or find a way back up to the light. Not always easy, as my favourite Star Wars character, Yoda says, “Beware of the dark side. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…” Luke asks if the dark side is stronger. Yoda replies: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.” Despite the hurt, despite the pain, self-pity can be seductive. It gives us all the reasons in the universe to explain our failings, our lack of achievement. Easier to blame than heal.
Well, I’d had enough of pain, of self-pity and of seeing things from this distorted angle. The digging helped me realise that I’d created a ridiculous story based on false ideas. Firstly, I have completed post graduate study at university and before children, held a job that helped a great many people. My memory worked perfectly fine. Secondly, anyone who suffers with anxiety will know how debilitating it is both in mind and body. No one asks to be anxious. We sufferers will have inherited a genetic tendency from our parents, but importantly, many a happy child can become a hive of nerves if they are not raised with confident parents. Genetic tendencies will be amplified and once we are in fight or flight mode for long enough, we rewire our brains to be on red alert all the time.
Unearthing the truth
So, what my dig revealed was that I’d completely distorted my own perceptions of my life. What I thought was real, were warped truths. I’d turned a series of isolated events into the entire meaning of my existence. I blamed myself for something I lacked which could only come from my parents, a sense of self-worth and self-love. No blame here. My parents could not give me something they themselves didn’t have. And finally, anxiety can be running just under our radars, influencing all our decisions and behaviours, leaving us unaware until our lives start to derail and pain steps in. So when friends share their stories of adventures and good fortune, I’ll no longer feel sadness, envy or inadequate. Instead, I’ll share the joy in their achievements and also give thanks for mine. No matter how small they may seem, just getting through the day with the anxiety ball and chain around your ankle is sometimes the greatest accomplishment.
The skill in living a “good life” is in being able to identify the derailments as unconscious beliefs and that we have a blind train driver behind our locomotive. Rather than blame others, the weather or bad luck, if we can be brave enough to look closely, pain, sadness, depression are often signals alerting us that we may have to look within and only then, will we be able to steer our own lives down the right track.
If you know something isn’t working in your life, but you cannot see what is influencing your decisions, then seek out a counsellor or psychotherapist because we all need a little help sometimes. A fresh set of eyes can often help us see things differently and there is no greater gift than clarity, because it means that each insight brings us closer to our authentic selves.
Have you been able to use emotionally challenging events to grow in wisdom and understanding?