When pain means gain

dry-3

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.

dog digging a hole
Image: eat sleepwalk.com

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.

train.jpg

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?

 

What’s your meaning of success?

wind

“Sometimes, in order to move forward, you need to stop moving, be still, and feel for the wind. Then allow it to blow you in the right direction.” Silvana Nagl

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad to have many beautiful friends, all steaming ahead in their respective careers. They are producing wonderful websites, podcasts, luscious logos, growing practices and an ever growing army of followers and clients. And then there’s me.  You see I too had tried to hitch a ride on the “you can have anything”, affirmation-manifestation train with my own practice, but each time we left the station, the train broke down. Being a slow learner, I kept pushing, despite my body hinting that I should stop.

I thought I wanted that highly visible kind of success, but the harder I tried, the more the brakes were put on. Perhaps I was heading in the wrong direction?

Occasionally I would listen to my body, rest, feel a bit better and then I’d go, full steam ahead again, trying to design a new logo, wasting precious hours on my website and all the while, ignoring that niggling, subterranean voice that says, “something’s not right here lady”. Like anyone who feels their self-worth is measured by their work, I ignored it, and ignored it, until, down came the curtains to my much anticipated return to the stage, yet again.  For someone who has ‘wisdom’ in her business name, I was pretty good at ignoring my own intuitive guidance and ‘wisdom’.

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The crunch came last week, when my body crashed and I was again forced back to bed. I was angry, sad, frustrated, confused. Why was it, that just as I seemed close to taking my business to another level I was waylaid again? Well, I wasn’t checking in to see which direction the wind was blowing.  Clearly, I was constantly running against the wind and I didn’t realise that the mini tornadoes called health issues, were trying to turn me around, and point me in a different direction. Slow learner I know!

Doing the work I’m known for and good at, this time, I booked in for an appointment with myself, the wise counsellor, and not the ego maniac. I took myself deep into the murky depths to look at what was going on. What I found wasn’t pretty, but I knew from experience that I could make it nice again. What I found was the perfectionist trait, again, dangling in the dark cavern of my mind, but attached to this thought was my old nemesis, the self-worth monster. Despite years of coaxing and trying to appease this insatiable beast, and its perfectionist side-kick, they remained wedged between old, rock-hard beliefs and thoughts, fighting many attempts at eviction.

cave

The way I, and my clients find these blocks is through awareness. Are you able to be still long enough to observe your own thoughts, watch your own behaviours? These provide much needed clues and a pathway to transforming ugly monsters into soft fluffy toys.  My  “aha” moment came during the seemingly innocuous activity of sewing. Yep sewing. It’s one of those activities that requires focus, is almost meditative and usually doesn’t allow for distractions.  Last year I attended a beginners sewing class and instantly fell in love with the process of creation and playing with funky fabrics. I rushed out, bought a sewing machine, yards of adorable material but then was stopped in my tracks again. The problem was, the fabrics were too beautiful. “What?” I hear you ask. Yep, tragic right? As a perfectionist, I didn’t want to learn to sew using beautiful fabrics, nor could I work with old cheap and cheesy Christmas fabric either. Now these fabrics are simple cottons, not silk or organza, but they have pretty designs on them and I didn’t want to waste them. Yep, I grew up with a scarcity mentality and this kills creativity. Of course, there is the possibility that I wouldn’t mess things up and make something lovely, but I only thought of the possibility of failure and loss, not ‘success’. Eeek! Some serious work needs to be done here.

fabrics

So what does perfectionism, sewing and fabrics have to do with running a business? Everything! You see I’m a good counsellor and I help people, but I don’t need wicked websites and extraordinary e-books, or punchy podcasts to be a ‘success’. Tackling my monster, I’ve learnt to be ok with doing ‘my thing’, ‘my way’.  When I stopped long enough, I noticed that the weather vane directed me towards helping people from community agencies like those who help victims of domestic violence, and providing phone support, rather than working form a clinic. And I realise that it has to be this way because I also need to honour and feed my creative side, to sink my face into a bundle of beautiful cotton material and whiz up a gift for a friend, or for a sick child. Running a busy practice is all consuming and while I love my work, I am also more than my work. Of course my writing, sewing and soon to add fabric design doesn’t pay the bills, so in terms of the materialist view of success, it’s an outright failure. But measured in terms of personal value, satisfaction and joy, the success that comes from pursuing heartfelt interests, is off the scale.

 

weathervane

 

Can you find a place in your life where you can let go of the flagpole and fly with the wind?

 

When indecision chooses for you

Image courtesy: Wayne Hastings.com
Image courtesy: Wayne Hastings.com

This morning, as I prepared to go to my usually joy filled sewing class, I felt something was amiss. For two days I’d been brooding over a sense of loss that comes with missed opportunities, particularly those that result from years of mysteriously undiagnosed chronic poor health. But I’d been feeling better and looking for the next shinny signal that would herald the start of a new path, career and life. But, sadly, I’d found myself going in circles again about which shinny path to take. What I didn’t realise was that this, like all difficulties may actually be conspiring to create a clearer lens through which to look through. No matter, a few hours of sewing usually cleared the head, but not today. Even my favourite hobby had turned into an agonising challenge.  My usually patient teacher lost her calm as I brought another challenging project to her table. The class was unusually full and I had no other project to go on with. I felt tears well up with little purpose other than to make me feel even worse. I apologised to the class, saying that my brain had been hijacked by some mysterious and capricious force and I hightailed it out of my favourite place.

Image courtesy: mnwallpaper.com
Image courtesy: mnwallpaper.com

I drove through tear stained eyes, feeling the depths of my self pity, knowing that my middle class suburban life did not justify the tears, and yet I felt lost and alone. My desperate texts to the two friends who I rely on for wise counsel were mysteriously ‘Not Delivered’ adding to my isolation.  The all knowing, all seeing, wise mentor and teacher that I desperately sought, was still missing, despite numerous prayers asking for her to magically appear.  I realised, reluctantly, that I had to figure this out alone.  Not easy for someone who has never trusted herself and always relied on other people to make the “right” decision and choose the “perfect” direction.

Image courtesy: danverspublicschool.org
Image courtesy: danverspublicschool.org

Of course we are never alone, and guidance can appear magically via a spontaneous comment from a friend, a song on the radio, or an email as it was for me today.  My brooding was caused by confusion about where to direct my attention. My usual ‘scarcity mind’ told me I had to choose a path accurately, this time, as time always seemed to be running out. I’ve always loved writing but felt inadequate. I’m also a counsellor but again, felt that my toolbox never seemed full enough. Sewing and design light me up, but again, there are always courses that need to be attended. What to do? Well I swung a pendulum.  Yep, to some of you it sounds loopy but for me, it works like a charm. Mine happens to be an amethyst and as I asked about various possibilities, it directed me towards writing and to leave the rest for now. I ignored it (yes I have a trust issue too) and went to sewing instead and well, I’ve already mentioned how well that went. Not!

Image courtesy: flowwithjoy.com
Image courtesy: flowwithjoy.com

When my texts for help failed, I checked my emails, only because I had no idea what else I should be doing, and just like magic, there was my guidance. First there was the eerily accurate astrological reading that was telling me it was time to bury those outdated feelings that made me feel like I was worth even less than I imagined. Then another blog appeared, from a brilliant wordsmith name Jess, with the heading: “Can’t decide which idea to pursue? Here’s how to choose.”  I’m not kidding, that was the title. But it gets even better. I’d not written for months because of my “inadequacy disease” that continually strangled any attempts at producing work. I’d no idea how to move forward, but Jess’ blog offered ideas on how to unblock creativity, and other brilliant tips to help me move from less than, to, just do it!  I felt a mountain shift and not just because I realised I didn’t have to choose between a rock and a hard place, I just had to choose one, and then, if I didn’t like it, I could choose the other. Who would have thought it could be as simple as that? As Jess says, it’s better to have some less than perfect material to work with and learn how to improve it, than to have nothing at all, which so far, was all I was producing. Nothing.

Image courtesy: quotes gram.com
Image courtesy: quotes gram.com

So Mr Inadequacy Disease, you bum, get out of my way, because today’s post is not about end results, is not about being the best, the most pretty or witty tale, it’s all about the art of creating, creating “some thing”, which is better than “no thing”.

(P.S. In case I needed further proof, the first image on this blog of the child and telescope was found on another blog titled, “Having trouble getting creative?”. Not anymore, I say, and thanks Universe for the additional thumbs up! 🙂 )