This blog is going to be pretty darn honest and vulnerable, which I’ve never really done before. But there’s something I read and experienced last night that I really want to share with y’all so here goes….
I’ve always struggled with self-confidence issues and insecurity and at times I can experience some pretty deep lows. I tend to believe that negative thoughts are hard truths and I can be downright fatalistic about shit. I’ve made light before of the fact that I get social anxiety sometimes and that I think I can be really awkward in a lot of situations. Usually I can laugh at this, but sometimes it really irritates the shit out of myself. Since I’ve moved to New Zealand, I’ve found a lot of the things I struggle with, which I thought were mellowing with age, have taken a sharper edge once again. Something about newness and a different culture and leaving a support network that had been crafted from years of living in the same city, with family very close by.
Life down here has been good for the most part, but it has also been a struggle and I believe a lot of the thought patterns I’ve allowed myself to have for years have put a lot of pressure on Tom and on our relationship. Are we going to break up? No. Are things shitty between us? Not usually. Can our relationship be better? Yup. Can I make myself better? Abso-fucking-lutely.
So…I decided to seek out counselling. I started calling around and what I discovered is that the hourly rates for therapy are waaaaay beyond what I feel comfortable paying for. I found one woman who only charged $70/hr so I called her with high hopes. Unfortunately her English was terrible and our conversation was stilted at best.
I was beginning to give up hope when I made one last phone call. Unlike the other therapists I had briefly spoken to, the woman on the phone began to ask me questions about why I was seeking counselling. When I told her a little bit about Tom she said, “I used to be in the military….the navy. And years ago I was actually the wellness coordinator at Whenuapai [Tom’s air force] base.” She was silent for a minute and then said, “Listen Leah, I’m on sabbatical right now and I’m not actually practicing. My husband and I are currently away on holiday but I’d really like to help you. And I don’t want money to be the reason why I can’t. So, first off, there’s a book that I’d like you to buy and read which I think you’ll find highly beneficial. You’ll have to forgive me for my old lady brain, but I can’t remember the title. When we get off the phone, I’ll look it up online and send it to you. And then when I get back from holiday I’ll contact you and see how you’re doing.”
About five minutes after getting off the phone she messaged me the name of the book which I immediately downloaded onto my Kindle and began reading. Last Tuesday, while sitting in morning traffic, I got a text message which said, “Hi Leah! Just wanted to check in and see how you are doing. Have you been reading that book?” I told her the honest truth which was that I HAD read the introduction and found it interesting but that I was reading a really engrossing fantasy book which I found hard to tear myself away from. “Thanks for your forthrightness!” she texted, and then she sent me the name of a few fantasy authors she loved. “I probably shouldn’t be giving you more fantasy books to read before you read this other book but I just love those authors! Read that book Leah! I’m home from holiday and we can meet for coffee if you want one day soon and have a chat about things. I’m not going to charge you for meeting over coffee.” So last Friday, at 10:30 in the morning, I drove over to her beautiful house in Greenhithe and we talked in her kitchen while she made us coffee. And then for an hour we sat in her living room and pretty much just had a therapy session. She told me she isn’t currently practicing, and that she doesn’t have insurance to legally practice, but that she really felt the desire to help me because I seem to really want to help myself. I had read a lot more of that book by that point so we talked a bit about different points it made, she listened to me prattle on about some of the ways I view life and myself, and she gave me lots of insight and tools which I can use in my daily life. And then she said, “My husband and I just bought that camper van you saw in the driveway and we’ve been going off on road trips a lot. But we don’t have another planned until April. So if you’d like to meet over coffee again before the 4th of April I’d be happy to meet with you.”
After an hour and a half at her house everything just kind of naturally wrapped up. We stood on her front porch for about 10 minutes talking about fantasy books and then she proudly gave me a tour of her camper van (I love looking inside camper vans!!) and that gorgeous monstrosity was probably nicer than my house.
I was so freaking touched by this woman’s kindness and her desire to help me, free of charge. This world has some real gems among the roughage and it’s such a beautiful thing when you randomly happen upon one. I sent her a big pot of yellow daisies to say thank you.
So…the book she recommended to me is called “The Happiness Trap” and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s not a self-help book. Self-help books are dumb. This is…I don’t know what it is…but it’s a damn good book, I’ll tell ya that. It tells of something called ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) which is rapidly growing in popularity due to it’s basis in science and thorough research of the cognitive functions of the brain.
And last night while reading it the author asked me to try a very simple exercise and when I did it I found the effect to be so profound and eye-opening that it brought tears to my eyes.
I’d like to share this exercise with you and I really hope you’ll take 60 seconds to actually try it.
This portion of the book was talking about “fusion”. How we all can have negative thoughts which we come to believe are reality, are truths, are commands, and these thoughts can feel downright threatening. The author of the book says that it is futile to try to get rid of these negative thoughts because usually they just come back again and again. What you need to learn how to do is “diffuse” these thoughts.
Anyway…here is the exercise.
Step 1: Bring to mind an upsetting thought you have which takes the form of “I am [ ].” Try to pick a thought which is recurring and that you find particularly bothersome or upsetting. I chose the thought, “I am awkward.” Now close your eye and focus on that thought over and over as much as you can for 10 seconds.
Step 2: Take that thought and now add this phrase in front of it: “I’m having the thought that…..”. Play your same original thought but this time with the phrase attached. Close your eyes and think to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I am [ ].” for 10 seconds. Notice what begins to happen.
Step 3: Now do this one more time, but this time make the phrase slightly longer, “I notice that I’m having the thought that [ ].” With your eyes closed, think this thought for 10 seconds. Notice what happens.
Did you do it?
When I did it last night, when I added those extra words to the thought “I am awkward”, suddenly I began to feel distanced from that thought. It became less negative and less threatening. It stopped being something I saw as a truth about myself. Suddenly it became nothing more than words passing through my head. Not something upsetting, not even something I needed to get rid of, just a simple thought.
And I found it to be so profound, learning how to change the effects of a negative thought, learning how to take its power away, that it brought tears to my eyes.
I hope you’ll try it.
Peace out, y’all.