Good afternoon from another day in Quarantineville. You know. The one that looks just like yesterday. Like eating oatmeal every day as a kid when what you really want are those crazy, forbidden colorful Fruit Loops.
I just got back from a long-awaited visit with two of my adult children after not seeing them since December. This isn’t a missive about social distancing or mask-wearing You probably have had enough servings of that to last a lifetime.
Do you ever anticipate something so much that it’s almost impossible for it to be enough? The build-is so great and you want everything to be perfect. I have found that the fastest way to put a damper on all the fun vibes is by building up exacting and impossible standards.
As my view on health has expanded beyond the calorie in and calories out equation I learned in my twenties, I see how much the stories I tell myself impact both my physical and mental health. My human brain loves to tell stories. It loves the same beginning, middle, and end. My brain is not always a truth-teller but without some cross-examination, it will lead to unhappy and negative conclusions.
It goes like this:
Observation brain: On Friday as we headed out, we put our dogs in the car to make the trip, and Olive (the one in the picture below) takes up residence in my husband’s lap. Rather than fall asleep in the back seat, she hovers in the front seat.
Story brain: Our dogs are spoiled and this method of transportation is unsafe. We probably made a mistake by bringing them.
More evidence gathering: I feel anxious and uptight. I always tend to think things are going to be easier. Anxiety takes root. Self-criticism about all the ways I make mistakes blossoms. My fantasy drive where we listen to podcasts while the dog’s slumber is shattered.
Observation: Somewhere in the course of the weekend, my daughter shows me a birthday gift made by my ex sister in law. It’s an adorable picture made from pieces of sea glass her grandmother collected long ago.
Story brain: My kids are steeped in memories of my ex-husband’s family. This is a mountain too steep for me to climb. The handmade herb garden that I gave her will probably be left to wilt with no ceremonial placement.
More evidence gathering: Nothing sentimental of me is anywhere to be found of me or my family in her home. I’m the silent and invisible one. There’s no way I can compete with this legacy. I begin to gather more data about how unimportant I am.
Do you see how this works? If you tell yourself before you arrive at an event that no one there likes you, you will see nothing but proof of your hypothesis. Every look and every glance cements the idea that you are not welcome. You are most definitely detested and forgotten. But if you enter that exact same room with the expectation that you are wanted, then you are accepted and included. Even if there’s some random comment, you believe it wasn’t personal and you are indeed loved.
I think we are led to believe that only negative, miserable people have these moments and days. The reality is that we all do. The trick for me is to know that my mind is the teller of the stories. I am the observer. I am the person who brings the miserable casserole to the party but I don’t have to eat it. When I see my observing mind, I catch myself. I give myself a mental hug and say to myself “Gosh, I’m sorry you felt that way.” But what can you choose to feel in this moment?
If I take a deep breath, I can reframe my story and replace it with a narrative that is more true and fitting. My dogs are a bit needy but they are wildly loving and animated. I might not be in the artwork in my daughter’s home but there are other corners of her heart to fill. With every choice I make to reframe, I cut off the feeding tube to my negativity and I can create powerful new narratives.
How about you? Do you recognize when you are gathering evidence for your negative story? Send me a note that I will read over my boring bowl of oatmeal!
Yours in health, Mary