Thus far I have only posted about practical changes I’m making to help prevent anxiety being triggered, but really what has been most important in getting myself even this far in my recovery has been to challenge my way of thinking. It’s so much harder to write about because I have found it really difficult to do. The way I think has never really shown up as a problem until now. I think this might be because I live in a world that celebrates and rewards it, and maybe that’s why so many other ladies find themselves in the same position as me when they become a Mother.
In anycase, the main reason I got myself in such a state was because I was completely unaware of how my thinking was affecting me. Yes, there were external influences contributing to the anxiety, and a few health issues too, but as soon as I became aware of my reaction to those things, it was like magic. All those stressors were still there, but I realised I had the choice to step back and not let them overcome me.
I already knew what mindfulness was, but I guess maybe because my thinking never really caused me issues previously, I never really saw a need to consciously practice it. I also wonder if before Baby A came along a little bit of mindfulness was happening naturally, whereas now it seems like I have to make time for it a little bit. I also have to admit that I developed the attitude that mindfulness was a bit of a fad with all the kind of commercial things available – I’m not really drawn to colouring in books… 😁
I really love that experience of becoming aware of a concept and then realising it’s everywhere, and your mind just starts soaking it all up. It’s kind of like when you are learning a new language, and you become aware of the meaning of a particular word, and then it seems like it’s suddenly everywhere. It most likely was always there before, but it’s just that you’ve switched on the awareness of it in your mind. For me, that experience comes along with a really satisfying feeling.
But, becoming aware of unhelpful thoughts was also a grieving process. I spent my whole life being quite proud and satisfied with the belief that I am a ‘thinker’. I was clever and intelligent and successful at school and in anything I did because I was a ‘thinker’. It felt like a powerful thing. It was part of my identity.
I realise now that the reason I clung to that identity was probably part of a self-protection mechanism against circumstances growing up (I’ll go into this later if it comes up, I haven’t found dwelling on it that helpful, but it is interesting to reflect occasionally), but what really helped me move through this was realising how much more powerful having the ability to separate myself from the thoughts and this identity I had attached to them was.
It became clear that it didn’t really matter how well I was practising mindfulness, just the act of being aware and bring mindful is all it is. It is challenging, and I find that my internal dialogue seems to still persist, but how much more helpful it is for me to just be there and watch it go past, especially when it is those really unhelpful thoughts.
Yesterday I found myself getting quite cross, I knew I was tired, and I had to do something tedious which I REALLY was just not in the mood for. This was at the request of my husband, but really there wasn’t much choice in the matter. Reflecting on what happened just really gives me this great sense of contentment. I know what could have happened, I could have been all caught up in being annoyed and complained and blamed my husband. But how much more sense it made to just make it into a challenging mindfulness exercise. I just immersed myself in the task and let all those thoughts and feelings wash over without engaging until they went away. Then the task didn’t seem so bad, and I remembered a funny story I really wanted to tell my husband about. I also knew my husband already felt bad about the request and I didn’t want to contribute to that! 🙂
These little ‘wins’ against unhelpful thoughts really give me a sense of control, for lack of a better word, which I think was missing when I was having the panic attacks. I think it’s also part of the reason the practical changes I’m making have been so attractive – they easily become mindfulness exercises.
This big change has been the inspiration for the title of my blog – is such a great reminder for me to disengage from all those thoughts and ‘just be’. So important, especially when you are a Mama!