narrate your life to yourself. living with shitfulness

The past couple of years have been kind of a hard slog, emotionally speaking.

via pinterest

Mostly it's got to do with the aftermath of my husband's cycling accident. For those who don't know, he was hit by a car three years ago and developed a chronic pain condition from the head trauma. Head pain. 24-7. For three years. And counting. Anyway, I don't want to get into the details just now. But you catch the drift. Emotionally Hard Slog.

Let's say that for the first half of this period, I was suitably jolted by the experience we were living. The shitfulness of the situation (and I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it was and still is SHITE) had gotten the better of me. I had a mini break down. And landed in a psychologist's office.

This psychologist, let's call her... Perfect Penny (because she never has a hair out of place, believe you me) gave me the Single Best Life Trick I've ever come across. A #lifetrick that's helped me live with the shitfulness, wade through the shitfulness and not drown in it with the weight of my own emotional baggage. Because, well, let's face it, that's all you can really do when faced with these kinds of situations.

Here's how Perfect Penny put it, annotated by me a little:

When you're living through a crap situation, it's not about trying to be 'okay' with it, it's about not adding extra layers of crud to the crap. And the only way to do that is to learn to not focus on the torturous thoughts and emotions that throttle you like a giant crashing wave that drags you under, churning you listlessly in the asphyxiating turbulence. 
Thoughts are just thoughts. Emotions are just emotions. They come and go like crashing waves on a shoreline. You can't choose what thoughts and emotions crash onto your psyche. It's what you do with them, that's where you have Choice. You can choose to let them rule your actions and hurtle you into despair or rage or muteness (or whatever you do when things go wrong) or you can choose to keep being the person you want to be.

So, how does one learn to not focus on the torturous thoughts and emotions that throttle you like a giant crashing wave, I hear you ask?

Here's how, and it's not a new trick, in fact it's an ancient practice that has been taught by some cultures for centuries: mindfulness. Or as I like to call it, Narrate Your Life to Yourself. As in:
"right now, I'm typing these words. I'm sitting on a black office chair in purple tights and a flannel pyjama top, the TV is on in the background, it's dark outside, I can hear the hum of the computer. I'm sitting with my legs crossed, the fluff of my ugg boots is nice and soft - so I'm a bit of a bogan, so what! - I have the taste of lemon balm tea in my mouth, etc etc."

I like to do it in when I'm travelling, either driving my car or riding my bike. We all have a tendency to drift off something shocking when driving, so this is probably a good thing to try when driving even if life is going swell, don't you think?
"I'm passing a 60km/hr sign, I just passed a street called Bay St, I'm driving over a bump, there's a cyclist in pink tights riding along, the wheel feels smooth in my hands, I just passed a guy walking a cute dog."

I practise this every day. It's this, at first awkward and perhaps seemingly pointless exposé into the minute details of the present moment that creates distance between you and your inner chatter, allowing you to choose what you want to do with your thoughts and emotions when they come crashing.

I liken it to going on holiday, or taking a time-out - you often return with greater clarity, the emotions seem less raw and abrasive.

The more you practise bringing yourself into the moment, the more freedom from the shackles of your thoughts and emotions you experience and the better you get at Choosing. Practise this every day and your Choice muscle gets stronger.

At the time, when the waves do come, it doesn't feel like you have a choice, I give you that. But the more I practise mindfulness, the more I'm reminded that it is. It is a choice. Thoughts are just thoughts. Emotions are just emotions. They come and go like waves crashing onto a shore. The choice of what to do with them is ours.

And there is freedom and comfort in that knowledge, there is.


17 comments:

  1. Shitfulness. Yuck. I totally agree with you, recognising thoughts and emotions as passing and creating space around them definitely does allow you to choose your reactions abit more...have you read the book The Happiness Trap? It's really helped me with this practice. Thanks Maria, I hope that 'this, too, shall pass' for you both.

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  2. Thank you Maria, for sharing your thoughts about and experiences with this issue. It will definitely help me during these moments that I have.
    Greetings from Germany,
    Johanna
    PS: I have never commented before, but please know that I am a "silent" reader since March or April and have already been inspired by you to make some changes to my life a few times. Keep going, yours is my favourite eco/organic/change the world/keep it simple-blog :)

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    1. Thanks Johanna, lovely of you to comment all the way from Germany... keep it coming!

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  3. This exercise sounds very similar to the 'mindfulness' which I've practiced with my yoga class. Really brings you back into the moment so you can't get carried away by your thoughts and emotions. Thanks for sharing it. I don't often get bogged down by things, but my partner does a lot. So this should be useful for him.

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  4. Hey Maria, I too have never commented on your blog but have been a silent reader since way back in 2011 (although I did tag you once on instagram making your ahh-maaa-zing hazelnut fudge). I have been super inspired by all your posts on natural beauty. I think we often forget to thank the bloggers who inspire us, especially the ones we read regularly.

    So thank you for sharing such beautiful insight into how to navigate shitfulness and for all the great info you share with your readers. I truly hope things get better soon for you and your hubby.

    City (Felicity) x

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  5. Hi Maria. Yet another silent reader coming out to say thankyou so much for this post. You have a beautiful way of cutting to the chase and touching what is real for so many of us.So human.and willing to be vulnerable,9as you have written about in the past.) Therein lies the great strength. And you seek to learn how to improve your situation and share your learnings with others. Thankyou. Lots of light and love being sent your way. You are a gem..

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    1. Thank you Glenda, your comment's made my day.

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  6. Oh man, I can totally relate to living with shitfulness - my 38yo husband was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour 3 months ago and then sustained a brain injury during surgery to remove it. He can no longer read or write or even say the names of our 2 young children. Derailed lives, anyone? All to say, I am totally going to use this technique. Thank you for posting it.
    Rebecca

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    1. Thank you for sharing Rebecca, I sincerely hope this technique does bring you some relief. Wishing you much strength x Maria

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  7. THANK YOU to all your lovely comments today, brightened up my day indeed.

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  8. Just another comment to say thank you for this. I used to use this technique all the time, though with one main difference: I do it all in a different language. I've been studying Dutch for a very long time (I'm a typical American who has some Spanish and nothing else) and one day found that when I'm stressed, mentally describing the room I'm in, the objects around me, and what I'm doing, in a language I don't have a complete hold on, was extremely calming.

    Thank you for sharing this Maria - I don't know if you know this but seeing your human side is wonderful, since sometimes you really seem perfect! Whenever I tell my best friend about yet another thing I'm trying that I read on econest (waking up at my perfect time, making my own shampoo, etc.) she says "well that Maria, she is just perfect." (Yes, we sometimes discuss you like you're a friend of ours). I really hope that things improve for your husband and you as well, supporting him though this. Thanks for an inspirational Friday afternoon!

    Eva

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  9. Thank you for this post, I have tried mindfulness in the passed but the way you explained it and the examples you gave just make more sense. I will use your technique for sure. All the best. Sarah

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  10. As a mother and mother-in-law I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing. An inspiring read and this sharing has something for all of us. V.

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  11. Wow this was good, I saw a clinical psychologist today who said to practice mindfulness to cope with my husbands cancer, I am so glad it worked for you. I love your blog but don't comment, sorry. Hope things get better for you.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Justine (late reply but better late than never I guess). I too hope things get better for you. x

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