Like the majority of the world’s individuals, much of my life is lived on auto-pilot, saving my cognitive function for the “important” stuff. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to think about the process of tying my shoes or doing the dishes. I just want to do them and think about something else. Not necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve just spent seven days in Paradise. Sand so fine it’s like flour and so white I needed shades. The water is clear, shading from a gorgeous aquamarine to deep blue, almost black depending on the depth. Coconut palms, hibiscus hedges, and sun. Cerulean skies with wisps of white floating aimlessly hither, thither, and yon. A place to slip into neutral, forget about time, and just be.
Which worked out quite nicely until day 4.
I am doing the Couch-to-5K program (App store or http://www.active.com) and had two more runs to finish the program, so I decided that running in the exotic atmosphere of Paradise would be a great way to celebrate going from my sofa on Jan 2 to a 5K run in February.
On my final workout of the program, I was just past the halfway mark and thinking on how I was going to commemorate achieving this goal (jewellery came to mind) when a fellow tourist we’d met earlier in the week on an excursion, jauntily waved at me as he sped by. Instantly, all my warm fuzzy feelings about what I was doing evaporated. I’d just been passed like I was standing still by a 70 year old. Before I could really take hold of myself, my thoughts spiralled out-of-control into a cesspool of performance-driven anguish, and I went straight from there to jail. Do not pass GO! Do not collect $200.*
I am a (mostly) reformed performance-oriented, goal-driven workaholic. I still set goals for myself, I still value performance, but I’ve also, over the years, learned how to be flexible, merciful, and self-compassionate. But I was stunned that day, running down the road after that rapidly disappearing old man, to find that the self-critical, poisonous thinking that had controlled so much of my younger life was that close to the surface. I started thinking about what I’ve learned over the years.
1. Comparison is the poison of life. The fall from the Cliffs of Insanity* into the Sea of Despair is a big one and happens in an instant. In reality, I know nothing about that man except that he is in his early 70s and works in China. I do know about me. I have Multiple Sclerosis. In 2000 I spent most of the year using a wheelchair. I’ve been a virtual couch potato for 17 years. I just started jogging in January. What’s to compare? But I did. And it killed my joy in what I ~ me ~ had achieved.
2. Therapy works. The techniques I teach my clients are valid and helpful. Mindfulness, positive self-talk, re-centering, self-compassion ~ they all create space, a moment in time ~ when I can choose to disconnect from the old habit of self-criticism and reconnect with reality, not going for a swim in the mucky and disgusting sludge of ‘Poor Me Pond.’ I was reminded of my need to take care of my own mental health, and in this internal process, my trust in the effectiveness of therapy was reaffirmed.
3. Toxic moments need not ruin the day. It is possible to recover and go on to enjoy the rest of the day. Ruminating on moments of distress and discomfort only prolong the feelings of emotional angst, and by forcing myself to reconnect with reality, the emotions subsided, the sun came out again, and I started thinking once more about how to celebrate running 5kms.
The techniques I’ve so often taught my clients had to be resurrected, dusted off, and applied. Auto-pilot had to be switched off, and I needed to choose the mindfulness that had delivered me years ago from those destructive thought habits, but when I did, equilibrium was restored, and I finished the run.
5.19kms. I ‘graduated’ from the Couch-to-5K program …into the 5K-to-10K program. (I did say I was “mostly reformed”)
*A Monopoly reference
*Princess Bride ~ quite possibly the best movie, ever.
Category: Mental Wellness, TherapyTags: advice, celebrating, China, comparison, compassionate, Couch to 5K, Dr. Susannah, health, Holidays, mental health, Monopoly, Multiple Sclerosis, Paradise, poisonous, Princess Bride, reformed, running, Slough of Despond, toxic, workaholic