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Shifting Gears: Part 3
I’m no longer a child, and my external regulation can’t come from my parents anymore. And believe me, I’ve thought of trying to get declared mentally unfit so that one of them can take me in again and keep me from being self-destructive, but maybe there’s a way that allows me to keep my autonomy as well as get what I need to be healthy and productive. My grand revelation at the gym today is that it all starts with internal validation. That’s when the external regulation has a chance to spark the light in us, so that we can take the wheel and slay the day. Those positive thinkers possibly do it automatically, but for us, it’s something that’s a bridge to use our tools that allow us to get the results we need to change our thinking.
Validation in this case stems from acceptance and compassion, which I’m sure you’ve come across if you’ve dabbled in DBT. Wow, what a genius I am. But the way it became meaningful to me was when I realized that my schedules and plans and budgets and commitments won’t do anything if I’m living on a cloud. Whether that’s self-loathing or procrastinatory “positive thinking” that I’ll get it done tomorrow. I need to deal in reality, and honestly think about what it is that’s holding me back, and what might give me a spark, and what I can handle, and what the consequences would be of action and inaction. Maybe try some self-talk such as, “Man, as soon as I thought about making that phone call to the CRA, I got really anxious. My heart started racing and I started getting sweaty palms.” Or, if you’re not quite that self-aware, like me until recently, maybe it’s as simple as, “I don’t want to call the CRA.” Avoiding things like, “I should call them, if I don’t I’m going to be in trouble, there I go putting it off like I always do.” All we are doing is noticing where we are at. If you can go into some details about those feelings and the situation, even better. Maybe something like, “The CRA sent me an email two weeks ago, and I still haven’t responded.” No judgment, just something that any observer could notice.
Then I’ll lay out the options and figure out the cost of each, and whether I can handle it. Not just in that moment, because of course I’ll go through periods where I take on everything I’ve been procrastinating on in a flurry of activity. But the cost is great. I tear up my mental and emotional muscles and then require a lot of rest. By being honest about what my actions will truly cost based on my actual emotional capabilities.
For example, I had to decide whether I was going to go to church after the gym or go home and make a gourmet dinner. Technically, I COULD go. I wanted to go, because I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to be someone who went on a regular basis to build up report with the teams I’m on. I wanted to be someone who could go from activity to activity without problems and then fall into bed, fall asleep instantly, and then get up the next day and do it all again, flawlessly. This seemingly simple choice of what to do with my evening sent me into a spiral of normative shaming. But, because I was in a position to be philosophical about my condition, I was able to go meta and get curious. Think Ant-man going quantum, but on an existential level.
So instead, I thought about what it might cost me the next day if I exerted myself socially that night. I’d already had quite a long day of running around, and it was hard enough motivating myself to go to the gym. I wish I was someone who could just try harder and do it anyway when I get these internal red flags. But I reminded myself that ignoring the overdraft warning on my emotional bank account was a very bad idea that never actually led to me to conquering my deficiencies. I knew that there would be times when I might need to dip into my reserves for important reasons. For example, if I’m at work or looking after my son. But I’m going to try and build myself up when I can, and take a rest when I feel those warning lights come on and I have the option to dial it back. Really just taking it day by day. By validating instead of judging, I can start not only increasing my emotional reserves, but my emotional capacity. At least I hope so.
Because yes, I had several breakdowns, including an addiction relapse that may not have been as terrible as some, but still a massive signal that this internal turmoil hasn’t been getting enough validation. I’ve noticed that I’ve been impatient with my son and avoiding everybody. Every small thing sends me into a spiral, whether good or bad. So I could ignore my fatigue and just keep on keeping on, or when I can, take the time to care for whatever emotional scrapes and bruises I’ve accumulated that day. Not only do I actually heal and get stronger, but I can prevent some of the injuries in the first place. I’ll still always have to be careful, and I’ll probably still always have a lower tolerance than “normal” people, but unlike normies who never have to think about these things, reflecting on my strategies might help me to surpass even them.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13