Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Feeling much calmer of late. I have stopped waking at 4am and laying awake for hours unable to return to sleep. Things are quieter in my head and I am able to get more done during the day and don’t feel exhausted by day’s end. The brain frenzy has slowed – thankfully.
It feels as though I’ve been in a foot race and the operation date is the finish line but that isn’t right, the surgery is more of a starting point.
Every job I have held in the past decade has been project and deadline focussed; where all effort is directed toward meeting those hard lines in the sand. I think without meaning to, I have approached the surgery like that. My to-do list has been getting longer and longer with each passing day, adding to my sense of urgency, and overall stress level.
About a week ago though I had a moment of clarity. I tuned in to myself, my thoughts and my body and realised I was distressed, and not just about the surgery but everything; I was losing ground to this panic and causing myself to become overwhelmed. I did what I do in those moments when I realise I am on auto-pilot, I stopped and I took a slow, deep breath, and again, and again until I was fully focussed on the body sensations associated with breathing, allowing all else to fall away in that moment. As I stood in my kitchen, feeling as though I was stealing a moment of stillness in the middle of a raging storm, I had a moment of especially clear thinking. One of those moments when it’s as though a very sensible and protective part of my mind demanded to be heard.
In this moment between one breath and the next I remembered something important and in remembering allowed myself to see the potential bad effect my crazy rush to the finish line was having on me. The thing I remembered was how if my nervous system is put under great emotional and physical duress, I can start having seizures.
Years ago, I went into my second spinal surgery severely distressed and depressed and on the day I was discharged from hospital, had my first seizure shortly after arriving home; and continued to have them for the next two years until I was (with the right help), able to bring them under control. The type of seizure I was having are called Non-epileptic Attacks* and that period of my life was especially challenging.
This recent moment of clear thinking made me stop and reflect upon the way I was racing through my life toward the surgery deadline. I realised that I was not doing the right things for my mind or body and that I need to manage those things causing me distress and use every trick I have to be at peace within myself.
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
For a couple of weeks now, my mind has been in both ‘freak-out’ and ‘project deadline’ mode. These default settings in my brain can be powerful and hard to break free of. Flipping back and forth between worry and rumination and the whip cracking of my perfectionist aspect, it’s no wonder I have been tired. But, there it was, the moment that shifted my reality by reminding me that I have been here before, different circumstances but similar enough that I can apply all I have learnt. I just need to dig deep and bring all my internal resources to bear.
My moment of clarity allowed me to understand that going into this operation, on the brain itself, with my nervous system completely agitated, and feeling intense fear, is a recipe for complications, including seizures. This was quickly followed by the knowledge that I can approach this differently and I do not have to be a slave to the more primitive parts of my brain. I can make real changes each day that will ultimately calm my mind and spirit and reduce the level of stress hormones coursing through my body.
I begin by trying to do one nice thing for myself each day, something I enjoy – to date, I have done things like a long walk at dusk listening to the birds and watching the changing colours of the MacDonnell Ranges, having a packet of favourite biscuits in the pantry and savouring a couple with a cup of tea or having pastries for breakfast, booking tickets to a show I really want to see, stealing cuddles and kisses with hubby and so on.
I then added some self compassion in the form of challenging unhelpful mental chatter – it’s ok if I don’t feel like exercising today, I can do some tomorrow; it’s understandable that I am craving chocolate coated ice-creams and no I don’t think it matters that I have put on a couple of kilos. You get the idea.
This moment, seemingly out of nowhere has enabled me to reset in some way, to recognise that looking after Jason and myself is my only real priority right now. Yes, there are important tasks I want to attend to so I go back over my growing to-do list and begin culling, assessing each job thoroughly, prioritising. I have a friend here whom will be relived to know I took clearing the gutters off the list!
I share this so I can remember what I need to and because I think it is easy for others to think that someone like me who has endured and overcome a lot of pain and difficulty, is different somehow, doesn’t fall prey to being overwhelmed. I do – frequently but just as the quote at the top of this post says, we have a choice in how we move forward.
*Non-epileptic attacks (NEAs) are not caused by changes in the brain, which can be picked up with a brain scan or by a neurological disease or disorder. It is better to think about them as a mechanism, which the brain uses to “shut down” when it is overloaded. During NEAs parts of the brain stop working together properly. NEAs happen for different reasons in different people. NEAs can be linked to emotions or stress, but the causes are not always obvious. Most NEAs are an unconscious mechanism, which the brain uses to protect itself against overwhelming distress.