Mindfulness Challenge – Week 2

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Or ‘In which Taylor Swift unexpectedly overtook Theory of a Deadman in my most played list.’

You know those days where the universe conspires to make sure you learn a lesson.  Well Monday, the first day of the second week of my challenge was like that. I needed to learn and I needed to learn fast of end up failing before I started.

Week 2 – Forgive their mistakes – big or small.

In her article ‘7 Things Mindful People Do Differently and How To Get Started’ Elisha Goldstien talks about the challenges in practicing a mindful life and the importance of recognising that we will stumble.  The hindrances of life that get in the way of living mindfully can become opportunities to learn.  In these times it is important to recognise what you need in the moment and find your fastest route to begin again.
One of the things I struggle with is being hypercritical of myself.  If I make a mistake I dwell on it, no matter the size of the mistake.  I have conversations in my head about problems that haven’t arisen or judgements that haven’t been made because of my mistake.  Like I said last week, I have issues starting things in case they aren’t good enough, I don’t give myself the chance to make mistakes.
In short – very bad with mistakes. Much issues.
I can remember being in therapy one time and mentioning that I felt like I failed at everything I tried.  I felt I would never achieve anything or succeed at anything I tried.  At the time I was in therapy because I had taken on the small community services organisation I worked for and ended up on work cover having had a break down.  Their treatment of me had been nothing short of bullying.  I ended up affecting change in their policy but couldn’t face going back in there ever again.

My therapist said to me “Tell me about the things you have failed at.”  I couldn’t think of anything.  I took the question home to think over more. “What had I actually failed at?”  Contemplating this at home made me realise that although I had not failed at anything on a large scale, every set back, every rejection and every small mistake was blown up in my mind to feel like large scale failure.

With this in mind I decided it wasn’t just forgiveness for stumbling when practicing mindfulness that I would benefit from.  I was going to go the whole way.  All mistakes were to be forgiven.  I would start judging myself by the standards I judge others by.

Go big or go home!

My Experience

Waking up Monday morning I tried to be grateful for the yellow tinged sunshine streaming through my window.  I’m not a morning person but I managed to enjoy the warmth on my face while I fought back the irritation of the bright horror in my eyes.  I felt the snugly, warmth of the soft mink blanket under me and wiggled my toes just to enjoy the sensation.  Getting up I went through my normal Monday morning routine, of showering and dressing.  Well the showering part was routine.  The dressing part – not so much.

I had spent the weekend ill and my family had done all the housework for me while I rested.  I went down to the pile of clean clothes and grabbed my uniform out… scratch that… I grabbed my black pants that were covered in a curious white coating and searched for my shirt.  I discovered my shirt in a pile of slightly damp washing that had not gone though the dryer.  No uniform.

I favour jeans and ponchos when I’m not at work.  I looked at my wardrobe and chose the only pair of pants that weren’t denim or sporting shabby chic rips.  As soon as I put them on I took them off again.   My husband looked at me curiously and asked what was going on.  I explained my uniform situation and showed him the stains I had just found all over my favourite olive pants.  With no other options I grabbed my black denim jeans, put on a black tank top and zipped up my work cardigan.

This was one of those moments, the ones that cause me to have conversations to explain myself in my head before I have to explain myself.  The ones that trigger the unhealthy thought patterns I had notices so much last week.  This is where Taylor Swift enters the picture.

I usually rock out to Theory of  a Deadman, Nickelback and Daughtry on the way to work.  Today I grabbed my trusty Samsung and found Shake It Off by Taylor Swift.  Turning the stereo up to max I pushed the self judgement for my failure to be able to dress myself appropriately for the day and sang particularly badly to Mamma Swift, making it my mantra.  Every time I thought about what people might say about my lack of uniform I shook it off and sang.  Half an hour of shaking and singing all the way to work.

Only 3 minutes early instead of my usual minimum of 10?  Shake it off.

Curiously no one complained about my uniform.  In fact, one co-worker complimented me on my nice jeans.  Any other day I would have spent the entire time until I could find a way to give my excuse for my attire stressing about it.  And now I found out that no one cared.  Huh.

The rest of the day passed in the same way.  Any time there was a problem, shake it off.  I came home feeling a little exhausted from the effort of practicing my new skill, but exhilarated with the results.   My daughter was waiting on the couch doing her homework when I walked in.  I asked about her day as always and she looked sad.  It turns out that her friend’s mother had banned her from speaking to him ever again.  The reason?  He has been struggling with suicidality and my daughter has been supporting him.  His mother had decided that because my other daughter and I suffer from anxiety that our family was bad for him and any contact with us would make him worse.

For me it is a challenge to share this fact about me with anyone, but I am a staunch believer that shaming people for mental health issues is ignorant.  The only way to fight ignorance is with truth and a refusal to back down from what’s right.  So I never hide from the fact I have an anxiety disorder.  If people judge me that is more about them than me and they are the type of people I don’t need in my life.  My first reaction (after a sweary rant about what an idiot she is for cutting her son off from his support networks while he is needing help) was that of guilt.  I had negatively impacted my daughter’s life by being honest with this woman.  It had seemed like a safe place to share as she is studying to be a psychologist but obviously I had been wrong.  I walked away and had a small moment.  Then, pulling myself up by the proverbial bootstraps, I thought about what I needed in this moment.

I needed to recognise that her judgement was about her.  She has training in mental health and even with this insight she was afraid my anxiety germs would get sprinkled all over her son.  I needed to recognise that even though I thought she was wrong, she was a mother trying to protect her son.  I needed to recognise that this was not my failure, someone else had made this decision and the fault could not be laid at my feet.  And I needed to recognise that it is okay to feel hurt for both my daughter and myself.  Accepting all these things made it much easier to allow myself to feel sad for my girl and not need to for myself as it wasn’t about me.  To let guilt and blame pass me by.

I can’t say it didn’t creep back in to my mind but – you guessed it – I shook it off.

The rest of the week presented small challenges, I shook them off.  By Friday I was getting better at recognising what was worth worrying about and what wasn’t.  I even got the courage to ask my boss for training in the job I was doing as I had never received any and I felt confident that not instinctively knowing anything about the science I was writing about was not a failure on my behalf.

What I Learned

I learned that knowing something isn’t the same as living it.  Knowing what I need to do in moments of perceived failure isn’t the same as doing it.  It is remarkably liberating to live a life free of self judgement  but it is difficult to sustain that judgement free moment.  It is a constant battle to shake it off.  But the more I practiced the skill, the easier it was to come back to when I started to view  my foibles negatively.

By the end of my week I was coming home feeling more refreshed.  Although the same initial thought processes, including those unhealthy thought patterns I identified last week, are there I am able to catch them quicker and divert my thoughts to healthier, more productive things.  Or just to mindful thinking and loving the moment I am in.

I learned I am actually less of a screw up than I thought I was.  No one else sees what I see when I forget to write something down, drop something or can’t remember a process we discussed two months ago.

I learned this is going to take time, but I’m excited to continue practicing this skill to relive a great deal of the anxiety I live with day to day.  This was one of the weeks I thought I might snap and kill someone from the effort of forgiving myself and the introspection it would take to recognise I have serious issues around this.  Who knows, maybe adding in a third life change will be just the right amount of change to trigger a metaphorical blood bath. It feels like a lot to take on already and it has only been 2 changes to my thinking.

Next up I will be Showing Gratitude for Good Moments – and Grace for Bad Ones.  I haven’t looked in to this yet, but it sounds like my attitude of curiosity and self forgiveness are going to come in handy for the coming week.

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