A new perspective (I no longer need this heavy suitcase)

When I was becoming so well practiced with my five amazing memories, other thoughts started to occur to me, firstly although I knew that I was no longer flooding my mind with unhappy (and replacing it with happy), I still wasn’t actually ‘happy’. This led me to consider what had triggered such a negative mindset to begin with. Now I guess this is different for everyone, but essentially could likely be summed up with ‘sad stories that we couldn’t get past’. So I thought about my sad stories and tried to rationalise them, see them objectively, and for all intents and purposes, this is a really hard task!

If I have been holding onto to an unhappy memory for many years, then that sad story has become a familiarity, and mostly, we don’t like losing what we consider to be ‘ours’. Even applying fresh eyes to a situation can feel somehow traitorous to our sense of self. But at the same time, I recognised that feeling this level of sadness over something that I cannot change does not lead to happy! Events, I reasoned, can’t be changed, but maybe my thoughts about them can. So I proceeded. Cautiously.

Throughout my teenage years, I experienced anxiety, manifesting into the form of panic attacks. At the time these were scary, isolating and I felt that nothing, not even my own body, could be trusted. I lived in this state for a long time, and went through the usual channels of medication and therapy, but never seemed to make any genuine progress. This I can relay as a sad story. However looking at this as an adult, I can apply a whole new set of parameters. I experienced the anxiety because of the environment I was in, and I didn’t have the confidence or vocabulary to be able to express my needs. It wasn’t anxiety I was suffering from, it was repressed anger, rage at the situations that I was unable to control. And then perhaps the hardest bit of looking back on these memories. What have I gained from these experiences?

I am compassionate with those around me, and I understand that what a person is trying to express is not always the words that they say. Language can become muddy sometimes. I have also learned that to confidently express my needs is a truly empowering thing and I am utterly allowed to do that.

Sometimes it feels that a situation will just keep reoccurring until I work out what I can gain from it. Which feels quite frustrating for the most part, but if I can learn from things that have hurt me, maybe I can let them go. And that feels enlightening.

Do I experience anxiety as an adult? On occasion, absolutely, but as a weekly or monthly feature, absolutely not. For me, recognising and understanding the causes of my anxiety was the first stage, but then learning to let go of the memories that I held so dearly was quite another, a much more difficult challenge. We choose the weight that we want to carry with us.

Map Point. What am I carrying that is no longer serving me?

No more funeral thoughts

So with the realisation that my inner monologue was something less than happy, I embarked on a program of self-conditioning. This occurred to me whilst riding the top deck of the road based public transport (I had been busy visualising my own funeral) and I decided at that point, enough was most certainly enough (It was sad, there were canapés). So rather than judging and berating myself further for my negative talk, I would force myself to relive five entirely awesome memories. Now these have changed over time, but if ever I find myself in a negative headspace, these are my current go to happy memories

1) My daughter being born, specifically after the birth, when I got my one on one, alone bonding time with her, and the first words I spoke to her ‘Gas and air, it’s really good’. She was so tiny, curled around with her head on my shoulder.

2) Kissing my daughters dad (a now long since ex) in a quirksome funky little bar where he was performing. Our friends were all there, and I had to clamber over a big leather settee to get to him before he went on stage, so I was standing maybe a foot above him (on edge of said settee) and he was standing on the floor (logistics are important) and we kissed (proper kiss) and all of our friends cheered. Much smiley moment.

3)Sitting with my Mum when I was around four years old. After lunch, which for the sake of this memory is always tomato soup and a cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread, we would always snuggle up on an armchair together. We would then watch two shows, Pebble Mill at One and The Sullivans. I felt safe and warm and entirely loved.

4) Walking on the beach, through the shallow waves, watching the sunshine cascade over the water, seeing treasures (sand rounded glass), feeling the cold of the water and the texture of the melting sand on my feet.

5) Playing guitar and singing with my friend Robert. There is such a genuine joy in singing with another human, it doesn’t matter if our notes are off or one of us misses a chord (especially if there is a bar involved), it creates the most divine bubble. A space to lose yourself in.

It isn’t enough to just say the words, or imagine the pictures to them, this has to be an involved procedure. Imagining the sounds, the way you felt, how hot or cold it was, all the details that make this a memory that will genuinely make you smile and uplift you. Now at this stage of my life, I was putting myself down a good deal, and the effort, upon realising that I was being negative about myself to think of five amazing things was immense. I occasionally wonder if I literally scared my brain into not talking down to me, because the effort of thinking of five good things all the time was exhausting.. Or I was simply reminding myself of all these amazing things in my life, that I no longer had any reason to be unkind to me. I was amazing too.

Map Point. What are my five most amazing memories?

Looking at others to see me

Thinking about people in your life is mostly quite a hard task. It’s easy to group them by gender, or occupation or a myriad of other easy classifications, but to define the exact role that they play in your life is something quite different.

I used to have a friend called Louise, we were close friends for an exceptionally long time, very supportive of each other, but then after a relatively minor falling out, we stopped talking. And the strangest thing was – I did not miss her. It was only after not being around her did I realise how negative she could be sometimes, how critical. Her idea of funny was finding some way to demean me or to remind me of times in my life where I had made poor choices. I had lost my objectivity about the relationship, it relied solely on familiarity and ritual.

Let me explain, when we are in a relationship, any kind of relationship, it is incredibly difficult to see a person clearly, without all the nice things that they do fogging over their more negative traits. We all know the negative traits are there but it is easier, it is nicer if we just concentrate on the good bits. The days out. The unexpected gift. Their support for a new job. We are subjective in our view of them. Trying to take an objective viewpoint of our friends gives rise to two issues. 1) We disturb the familiarity of our lives and 2) What do these friends negative traits say about ourselves?

Using the people in our lives as a way to reflect ourselves can be an interesting task. It occurred to me, post-Louise, that I demeaned myself and spent hours contemplating past poor choices, thus she was only doing what I was far more proficient at. In feeling the weight that lifted after my friendship ended, and the relief that brought, if I stopped doing that to myself, would that increase tenfold? A hundredfold? More than that? And this was something that I wanted to explore further. How could I reach a place in my life where putting myself down didn’t come so naturally?

I guess there are myriad ways in which each of us put ourselves down or have negative ‘self-talk’. Through harsh experiences, through relationships, through our work and so many others. At some point, we have gently decided that we are not enough (whatever that is) and that we should berate ourselves for it.

Map Point. For what reasons do I put myself down?

The Five Closest People

A few years ago I came across a theory that seemed like it might be fun to try and apply to my life. The theory stated that we are the culmination of the five people that we spend the most time with. Okay, I thought, this sounds straightforward, I know who these people are! So I began

1) My daughter. I see her as a wonderful cadence of creativity, inspiration, adventure and laughter. I knew that she also had a hard time, not by not being able to state her wants, but she has a hard time is accepting things that were out of her control.

Hmm, I  thought, this could be slightly deeper than initially anticipated.. so I continued

2) My Mum. My Mum is a woman of intense fortitude, resilience and strength. She is compassionate, kind, resourceful and ever supportive. She also judges herself really harshly and doesn’t always state her wants clearly (this stating and getting was becoming something of a theme..) which can give her a tendency to criticise.

3) My friend Robert. Robert is exuberant, noisy, supportive, vain, is able to retain much knowledge but also is often entirely crippled by insecurity, anxiety and self-esteem issues. He hates asking for things but has a massive heart. He finds ‘unfunctional touch’ uncomfortable and doesn’t like my cat (likely related to the previous point).

4) My friend Maggie. Maggie owns her own house, has her own income and works in the creative sector. She mostly always seems to be somehow on edge and anticipates the very worst outcomes in many situations. She is kind, generous and talented.

5) My friend Kate. Kate is married (curiously the only one out of my ‘top five’ who is), has a dog (who I also get on well with) and is entirely beautiful. She is innovative with her children, she is courageous and her tenacity is almost unbelievable at times. I sometimes wonder where she gets all her energy from.

After some curious digesting of this information, it occurred to me that I was neither fully playing to my strengths or acknowledging my weaknesses. Everyone we encounter likely has something to offer us, even if only through their indifference. But the people who truly inspire us, or aggravate us or a host of other stronger emotions, these are the people we need to watch, these are the people through which we can learn most about ourselves.

My journey begins.