Mindfulness Challenge – Week 7

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Or ‘in which things came and went.  And in the case of my pay cheque – mostly went.’

Hello, greetings and welcome to the last week of my mindfulness challenge.

In case you have just arrived here, I’ll fill you in on what I’m doing one last time.  Over the course of seven weeks (with a few off in the middle for unexpected and potentially fatal female contracted man-flu) I have been implementing principles from Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s article Seven things Mindful People do Differently – and How to Get Started into my life one by one.  I am hoping that in living more mindfully I will be able to help limit the debilitating effects of my anxiety disorder in my life.  I would like to work my way back to the naturally energetic and outgoing person I am inside.  So far it has been rather fantastic in that each of the small changes I implemented has had a large impact on my life.

This week is about the beauty of the ebb and flow of our ever-changing lives.

Accept – and appreciate – that things come and go

Things come and go.  It is an immutable law of life, albeit one that is not always easy to accept.  I accept that I run the risk of a coconut to the head on a tropical island because of the laws of gravity.   I accept that I will fall down the stairs when I am in a hurry because of the laws of Murphy.  I accept that I will lose loved ones because of the laws of nature.  But I certainly don’t appreciate any of those things.

However, if I reframe the situation, I can appreciate things while I have them even knowing they will leave me eventually.  I think this is more the point really.  There is nothing to appreciate in knowing the next time I see my favourite uncle it will more than likely be the last.  But I can appreciate the hell out of all the time we have had together.

My experience

Sadly, that is a thing I have had to come to terms with in the last few weeks.  Someone I love will be leaving us soon.  But what it has helped me realise is that I need to make more of an effort with all the people on the periphery of my life.

I know they are all on the periphery of my life because I keep them there.   My inclination of the past eight years has been to keep to myself, to enjoy the company of my husband and children with a few friends thrown in for good measure.  I get overwhelmed by too much going on and too many people around me.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy their company, I just feel a phenomenal sense of relief in cancelling plans. Almost like a reprieve from the firing squad.

I know that makes it sound like I don’t love people.  But I do, everyone I have kept in my life is extremely precious to me.  I used to be extremely social, but as my anxiety disorder has become more persistent, social situations have become a veritable nightmare.  Even one on one with family can be daunting and overwhelming.  Weird, huh?  Not really.  Not when you realise that the people I was close with became targets to either harass or use at one point in my life.

So, taking hold of the idea that I need to appreciate all the moments I have left with the people in my life, I have started messaging people.  Many out of the blue.  And you know what?  Nothing bad happened.  The voice in my head to screams that people won’t want to speak to me, or I’ll make a fool of myself, or I’ll be found or put people in the firing line, or I’m committing to something I don’t have the energy for or a myriad of other reasons not to speak to people was wrong.  As it almost always is.   It has been quite lovely to reconnect with people I haven’t spoken to in ages and feel a part of a larger community of friends again.  I have spent so much time hiding away either because I have been too anxious to have relationships or, as it was the case in the first few years of my separation, to keep myself and my friends safe.  It is early days of my foray back into close relationships, but I’m determined to keep it up.

The other thing I’ve applied this ebb and flow principle to is irritations and anxieties.  I had already done enough work in therapy to understand that the anxiety I feel is not permanent and I just have to make it through to the other end.  I’ve endured 26-hour panic attacks without losing my shit just by breathing through it and convincing myself the physical symptoms of the attack will leave of their own accord eventually.  It isn’t easy, but knowing there is light at the end of the panic tunnel helps to endure the darkness.

This week I’ve taken that coping strategy one step further and I’m looking at minor irritations or situations that cause anxiety in my life as temporary.  When they are viewed as fugacious I can appreciate that they will be over soon rather than stressing or getting irritated at the situation itself. It’s a much nicer way to live, I can tell you.  Chainsaw noise at 8 am on a Saturday? Tailgated in traffic?  Work for days on an article that gets binned by someone being an asshat? Let it go, this moment won’t last and will have no permanent impact on my life after it is over.  It alleviates a great deal of stress knowing what to worry about and what to let go.

What I learned

I think if we’ve learned anything from the unhealthy thought patterns I identified at the beginning of this endeavour, it is that I have trouble letting things go.  Conversations and scenarios get replayed over and over giving them the outcome and voice I wish I’d had originally.  It doesn’t happen as often, but it can be easy to get lost down that rabbit hole if I don’t consciously drag myself out.  After only a week of reframing situations to see them as temporary and being mindful to appreciate people and things while I have them, I can see the benefits of living this way.  It has given me a newfound appreciation for the things around me which in turn leaves less room to focus on the anxieties wrapped up in unrelated things.

I certainly can’t say that letting things go is easier.  But appreciating them while I have them and not dwelling on the day to day irritations is in the forefront of my mind, giving me a sunnier, more positive disposition.

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