Challenging our Thoughts
Isn’t it interesting how we dip into different pools of thought depending on what mood we’re in? I couldn’t be more aware nor feel more qualified on this based on the fact I have a mood disorder. If we feel low our brain somehow accesses thoughts and memories that indulge our sadness and make us feel lonely and unsociable. On the flip side when we feel good our mind throws out nothing but happy, uplifting thoughts and we feel motivated to achieve things. Ultimately, our moods impacts our thoughts and our thoughts dictate our emotions. It is an inevitable cycle that can lift us up or pull us down.
I am struggling with my health at the moment with ongoing medication changes and I’ve kind of forgotten what ‘normal’ life is like. As a result I keep regressing back to years ago before I was ill, when I felt a healthy, successful young woman. My thoughts are understandably making me sad and I keep feeling a huge sense of loss. It’s weird because the same set of thoughts always crop up when I’m down. It’s as though they lie in the darkness until my mood dips and then a hand reaches out and grasps them – keen to push me down further. We all ruminate over the past with our coulda, woulda, shoulda’s. We are all guilty of beating ourselves up.
Our thoughts aren’t kind to us at times but this is where we can do some work to push back. We all have a pool of ‘critical’ thoughts keen to judge us harshly and they can overpower us when we feel at our weakest but there is hope. They are thoughts at the end of the day and we can face them, have a conversation with them, rationalise them and quieten them. I’m always working at this and I do have some success. I’m not going to lie it’s hard but if it takes effort to fend off those sad memories and judgemental thoughts I’m going to do my best. Lightening the weight of those thoughts can make a difficult day feel a little better and that’s good enough for me right now.
My ‘sad’ pool of thoughts I keep wading back into take me back to eight years ago when I was twenty-six and perceptually had it all. I was working as a Senior Account Manager in a Branding and Design agency and I was two weeks away from my promotion to Account Director. The day I walked out of that door I never returned. I spent the next year in and out of the Priory psychiatric hospital and from then on my illness took over my life. Back then I owned my own flat, had a great social life and felt good down to a hardcore gym routine. Everything was there for the taking and in my eyes, I lost it all. I had to leave my home town, move back in with the family in a city I didn’t care for and face numerous hospital admissions with ongoing professional psychiatric care. My life ended as I knew it.
At least that’s what my brain tells me when I’m low.
It immediately cuts out the last eight years and even though it’s been a struggle I have achieved so many things. Right now I can’t feel the feeling of pride and success because my mood is low and I can’t muster it up. However, I can challenge my thoughts and remind myself that the facts have been skewed and not entirely correct. I have shifted my perception of previous events and forgotten many parts of the actual story.
So here are the missing facts:
I didn’t like my job for a long time. I wanted to feel like ‘somebody’ and felt bored at times. I wanted to leave but didn’t have any confidence in myself.
I was over exercising and restricting my food not to mention purging and throwing diet supplements down my neck. Due to my extreme sadness I developed an eating disorder that robbed me of weight, sleep and sanity.
I was in love with a man who didn’t love me back and I became desperate for his attention. The contact grew less and less and I was devastated.
I didn’t understand the person I was. I didn’t have emotional resilience and absorbed sadness and pain like a sponge without no release.
I analysed my past, struggled to accept it and felt a failure for my future. I had no idea how to live in the present.
Can we see how challenging thoughts is necessary? My thoughts trick me but the whole story is in our heads, we just need to take a moment to remember the bigger picture. Life wasn’t perfect pre-diagnosis, in fact, it was bloody hard. Challenging my sad thought pool and being compassionate to my memories makes me feel better and reduces my sense of loss.
I also need to remind myself of my achievements. I’m an advocate in mental health volunteering for national charities, lecturing at Universities, writing for magazines and blogging, partaking national media campaigns, sharing my experience to thousands of people.
One friend said last week, don’t you realise what an inspiration you are? In all honestly I don’t think that way. I think for someone to be an inspiration over their life struggles we must remember that it doesn’t always feel inspiring to live the life in order to talk about it. However, she had a point. My brain had accessed that detrimental darkness of negativity instead of remembering the positives. She helped me lift that dark cloud and made me feel empowered that I can face those troublesome thoughts, have a conversation with them, challenge them and replace them with a happier reality.
It’s a little brain exercise but it does work. I do it all the time and it definitely helps.
Support resources if you are struggling with your mental health or suspect someone is:
First port of call is speaking to your GP and don’t be afraid to ask for talking therapy. For more information use the following websites – there is lots of support out there I promise!
Self-compassion recommended author:
The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything
Here is a fantastic carers package if you are supporting someone with mental health problems: