Advice on living with Mental Health Challenges – Lived Experience – Part 2

This article has been submitted to us by Deb Roberts, Director Self Care in Education, Founder of Yogabean and a Career Money Life Certified Supplier.

I fear time. I often fear that I’m not utilizing time in a worthwhile way but why? It’s overthinking at its best and often to the point of catastrophizing. It’s so judgmental to measure time as somehow worthy. Time just IS…what you do with it is always
relative and subjective and it bears remembering that.

Some will value one way of spending time while another has a completely different way of spending it. Who or what is to say is worthy of time? Who is right to judge? Is it being with family…cooking…cleaning or other task needing done? Someone sitting quietly under a tree for the day not bothering anyone else is a way to spend time. Working diligently and producing work output such as proposals, tenders, manuscripts or board papers is another way. Spending time with loved ones and even strangers is also  appealing to some. Doing physical exercise with others or alone is a way. Travel is yet another way. Sometimes it’s the combination in a timeframe such as a day, month or year that creates contentment or fulfillment. Phases of life impact this too.

If I’m not doing something for the greater good, I tend to feel less than worthy and without purpose. I love my kids and have a healthy relationship with them but I’ve always needed more than being a mum even though it’s my greatest contribution to this world.

Yet I yearn to impact even one other soul or many souls with whatever I do and it has a bearing on my self-worth. Its just a part of me but it is a dilemma for me and one that is
habitually a painful one. Acceptance of who I am is part of the way through though extremely challenging and I’m working my way through it ever so slightly and slowly!
I can remember my mother in law dying of cancer. I was very close to her and she to me.
I was working as an academic at the time and felt the pressure that comes with being an academic which is publishing!

While my mother in law had less than a month to live, I had inner pressure to write a paper (that never got published!) but the use of time was interpreted as ‘needing’ to get that done and seemingly more important at the time. This compulsive urge to produce something took over the reality that my mother in law had a limited time left on this
earth and the value of time I had left with her. I still can remember the inner fight I had with myself to sit at my desk while I could have spent more time with her that day.
Yet to this moment, I continue to have a compulsion to share ideas, debate hard issues and try to make the world a more fulfilling place to be by listening, talking to others or telling my story or contributing to something greater than myself.

I have 3 sons who I treasure. I have a kind and caring husband. I have a sister and parents who love me. I’ve created and led my own business that was purposeful
and sold it successfully at a time when I had had enough of administration and management. I still have friends from when I was 5 years old and many
friends that I’ve had for years and new friends too. I have an education including post graduate qualifications. I have a fulfilling family life.

So why so much daily fear over use of time and so much self-judgment, self-sabotage and self-measurement?Lisa Feldman in a Ted Talk uses an image to reaffirm her theory that our emotions are ‘built’ as opposed to ‘built in’ and emotions are not programed from birth…this is based on decades of research and is encouraging because it means our
emotional interpretation is malleable and compelling. She shows a black and white image and asks us to see what image we see in it – I see none.

Then she shows us another image with those blotches but coloured in a way that our brain can see the form of a snake. Then when we see the original one again, we ‘predict’ the image more easily which she uses as a way to say that our brain is made up of billions of neurons that fire in a certain way and built up not built in.

She uses the term ‘prediction’ that our brain has to interpret emotion from sensations in our body. Where we may feel something in our bodies indicating something we find
exciting or enticing can equally be interpreted as nervousness and with trepidation in another scenario.

The place I feel fear is in my chest/heart and sometimes gut space mostly when I’m tuned in. I feel it constantly. It is unbearable at times while other times simmers away slowly but deliberately. I feel unloveable at times which is simply a myth. My brain replays images and movies of imminent failure even though there are rare times if any that I’ve actually failed. Impending doom or cloud cover is what I fear even though there is light underneath the clouds that always disperses doom. This may come from something called a ‘negative bias’ that is evolutionarily programmed into us for good reason.

Feldman also says we can be the architect of our experiences which is comforting because we have some semblance of control. Is a thought or feeling first and how does this play out? It is said that we have a thought and that it takes about 30 seconds to run through us and we feel something. Then we either reinforce that thought or feeling and so it goes on from there or we can pause and take a breath and amend our thought even slightly and eventually (maybe) feel a little different.

Ever since I can remember, my mornings are like groundhog day. I often wake up in fear of ‘the day’ instead of greeting the day with vigour. I’m reminded that few people wake up full of beans and excitement but I sure do envy the ones that do. If I have a lot on for the day there is a mixture of dread and excitement and if there isn’t much on for the day I usually just feel dread. It is the combination of fear and doubt with a low level of energy and it’s a deadly combo. Why is this so?

I can blame my upbringing or life experience to date but again it’s not one dimensional. It’s a lot of factors. My family life growing up had a mother who was a pollyanna who saw only the best in things and a dad who saw the next storm coming and was often seeing the doom and gloom in most things or at best a worry wort. What a combination! Regardless, I felt and feel intense distress and feel physically impacted especially in the chest and gut.

Feldman talks about transforming emotional suffering to mere physical discomfort which is a tall order but has a point to possibly reduce the suffering. Maybe it doesn’t have to lead to the next wave of distress and that the butterflies felt can fly in formation as she says.

Responsibility is another factor that we have to take for ourselves but in a non judgmental, non sabotaging, non measuring way because it backfires and causes more distress. Being aware of this can remind us of the sun behind the clouds and let the sun actually shine some of its light out.

You can read the 1st part of Deb’s journey, “Finding the light: a journey of self-acceptance, self-discovery and community awareness”, here.

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