We all have them! I’m not talking about delusions or hallucinations, I’m just referring to our thoughts: our constant pre-occupation with our brain’s function to interpret and make sense of the world. This translates into a voice in our head that we listen to. For many of us this voice is the source of most of our struggles in mental health.
Take a moment and just listen to the voice inside of your head. What was it saying to you as you read this? Did it tell you: “Yeah, that’s right! I have that voice and it’s constantly talking to me. I can’t shut it off. It’s always telling me what I need to do, what is wrong with the world, what I need to be aware of, what is wrong with me, what is happening in the moment. It’s constant! It keeps me up at night with worries about the future or it reminds me of things that happened in the past. It’s so critical and negative. I want to shut it off sometimes but I can’t.”
Perhaps your voice said something different: “Well, that’s a load of crap! You’re just talking about thoughts. Of course we have thoughts! If we have a brain, we have thoughts. What’s wrong with thinking about things? It’s who I am.”
The problems we experience with that voice is not that it’s doing what it’s supposed to; namely interpret and make sense of our world. It’s that we believe that the voice is “who I am”. In other words, we struggle when we forget that our thoughts are not real.
Imagine if all our thoughts were actually true! That would mean my thought that the person who cut me off in traffic actually knew me and wanted to kill me! Of course I have no idea if that’s true, it was just a thought and I’m sure I’ll forget about it by tomorrow. But if I believed this thought was true, I would probably hide away and never go out driving again. There’s a homicidal maniac out there who wants to kill me!
We listen to our thoughts…. So that means that we are more than our thoughts. We have the capacity to choose which thoughts we listen to and which ones we ignore. Our brain is doing its job by informing, planning, interpreting, problem solving, creating etc. But it’s doing that for us! Just like our hearts beat and our lungs take in oxygen, our brains have a function to do all these things (and much more) and then talk to us. WE choose which thoughts we listen to and focus on.
Take a moment to just allow your thoughts to flow through you. Close your eyes and just listen for a couple of minutes and then come back.
There are millions of thoughts you could have had. Which thoughts did you focus on? It actually isn’t important which thoughts you focused on, it’s important that you recognize you made a choice. Just like when you go outside to take a picture. Where do you point the camera? The camera can only focus on one part of the world. You choose what you want to focus in on. Similarly, you can only focus in on a few thoughts at a time.
Recognizing that your thoughts are not real (and they are not you), that you choose which ones to listen to, and that this choice is conscious, allows you to create some space between you and your thoughts. Then and only then can you can start making choices to focus in on those thoughts that you prefer.
We hear a lot about the merits of feeling gratitude, especially at this time of year. There is something about New Years that calls for reflection and introspection so we may look back over the past year to acknowledge the privileged lives we lead: the people who love and care for us, the food we eat every day, our warm homes, our healthy bodies and even feeling safe. (more…)
Since giving a talk at UBCO on eating disorders, I have had a number of calls from people who want to know if they or someone they love have an eating disorder. Here is a quick overview that may help you to decide. These are only guidelines and if you or someone you love is concerned, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are many qualified professionals who can assess and provide direction for treatment for this very serious mental health issue. (more…)
February 2 – 9, 2014 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. An event was held at UBCO on Wednesday, February 5 where I was invited to sit on a panel of experts to entertain questions and increase awareness and understanding of this important and serious mental health issue. The questions were very good and show that many myths about eating disorders are currently being challenged. The following is a response to five of the more common myths about eating disorders: (more…)
We spend a lot of time, energy and money focusing on our physical health and needs. We try to eat right, exercise, go to the doctors and dentists, the physiotherapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers. We pay attention to our aches and pains, to the injuries and wounds. So why is it such a challenge to pay the same amount of time and energy to our emotional wellbeing?
One of the least understood mental health problems is also one of the most common: Depression. Many people suffering from the symptoms of depression contact me for help and counselling to understand what is happening to them. Different than feeling blue or sad, depression can be one of the most painful and debilitating illnesses that a person may ever face. With depression, every aspect of a person’s life may be affected: emotional, physical, social and spiritual. We know that depression is not something that a person can just snap out of; depression is an illness, not a weakness. (more…)
We all live with anxiety and stress. None of us are immune to the impact that changes in our environment, society, economy, culture and families have in our lives. Nor can we ignore the stress that comes from our own ever-increasing expectations about how to live and what we believe we must have in order to be happy: A house, car, husband/wife, children, good paying job, education, vacations every year, nice clothes, lots of friends and the list goes on. It is not the desire to meet these standards that causes stress; instead, it arises from our constant negative appraisal of ourselves that tells us we will fail. Fear is created from our imagination that is predicting the future. (more…)
Change. Such a simple word yet when acknowledged, often instills a gut-wrenching sense of impending doom. Change is a process. It references the unknown, the future, the ‘what happens next?’. One of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho wrote about change in his novel “The Devil and Miss Prym” this way:
When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back”.
Change is inevitable. We can either embrace the challenge or we can try to resist it. I’ve learned first hand that it is when we resist change that we experience the most pain and difficulty.
I can hardly recognize the life I was leading less than a decade ago. A single mother trying to make ends meet I was working long hours in a job that drained every ounce of my energy: physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was scared because I was very unhappy and wanted to leave but I had a young daughter, a mortgage to pay and worst of all my pride which convinced me I could handle anything that came my way.†I knew I was working in an unhealthy environment but the fear of the unknown seemed worse to me. I was afraid of failing, of letting my family down…but most of all, I was afraid of change.
I soon learned the most important life lesson for me: I could not control change… It was happening and I needed to accept it because resisting it was causing me a lot of pain.
So after many tears, sleepless nights and moments of utter panic, I finally quit my job. I had no idea what I was going to do but I had a lot of love on my side. I mustered up courage and I simply faced forward putting one foot in front of the other with blind faith that something good would someday come of this. I remember that this was when I started to breathe again.
When I wasn’t expending my time and energy trying to avoid and resist change, I was finally able to see the numerous options available to me. I had always wanted to pursue my doctorate degree but I thought that I was getting too old and that it would cost way too much. How could I possibly afford to go back to school for 4 or 5 more years? Well, I put one foot in front of the other, took many deep breaths and within a week of quitting my job I was filling out University applications. Here, the lesson was to not look at the big picture all at once…. it was way too scary. Breaking it down to one step at a time and making lists helped me to prioritize what was most important… like how to pay my mortgage and feed my child!
That was the beginning of a journey that has led to many wonderful opportunities in my life. I completed my PhD., became a sessional professor and raised my beautiful daughter who is now living out her own dreams as an independent young woman. I also met and married my wonderful husband and together we are embracing change once again as we settle down into our new lives in Kelowna.
I still experience anxiety and fear when I face change but I’ve learned to embrace the challenges and work through the feelings. It’s okay to feel sad, scared and frustrated… It helps to have someone to talk to, reassure you and believe in you.
This is why I chose “Time for Change” as my tagline for my new private practice in Kelowna. It is a universal and inevitable truth. I have lived it many times and learned to navigate and understand it. I want to share this insight, my knowledge and skills in the work I love and most importantly the work I choose to do.