Back in my tech days, when I headed up application development at DirecTV, I had a big fancy office with a big fancy whiteboard. This is what it looked like:
People’s typical reaction was to say how depressing it was. But for me, it was the ultimate liberation. I did and do drive myself extremely hard, and seem to be married to a delusion that at some point I’ll finish. At which time I’ll be able to stop and take a breath.
I get all my Psych 101 reasons for being so driven, and being so wedded to this delusion. But as anyone with even an ounce of self-awareness knows, intellectual understanding is just the start of a journey towards change, not a conclusion. Nothing against anyone who’s figured out a magical way to poof away their issues in a sustainable way, but I have never experienced it nor witnessed it. Sure, maybe you bask in the glow of realization for a hot minute, but when the first piece of shit hits the first fan it finds, guess what? Poof goes the poof. (If you have figured out a shortcut, please include me in your friends and family round.)
Moving on from magic, in my experience, transformational, foundational change takes diligence, practice and vigilance. It’s hard fucking work. It can be exhausting. When you most need to do it, is when you’ll least want to. You’ll revert to your internal least common denominator when your life is tanking. Or, at least I tend to.
So, I’ve been least-common-demoninatoring a lot lately. I can’t say my life is tanking (I’m extremely cognizant of all the good I have), but it’s been a very challenging period of time. Lots of concurrent, foundational change. And, as life does, a whole bunch of messages have converged upon me, reminding me of that white board, and how I’m still operating as though I’ll finish somehow despite all experiential evidence. Me = hamster on wheel.
The good thing about BFFs is that they ever so gently call you on your BS. On National BFF day recently, mine got extra credit. I was describing to her that I just needed to finish what happens to be a massive, complicated and highly emotional task, so I could finally have it behind me and then take a second to breathe. She reminded me that there is always a __________ (fill in the blank) in my life that, once conquered, will open up enough space for me to __________ (fill in the blank with something else better than the first blank). And that, thus far, that M.O. has not proven to be a particularly effective one.
So, I decided to deal with it. Finally. Which sort of petrified me. At the core of my hamster-wheeling lives some stubborn, cellular-level anxiety. I mostly know where it comes from, but have put massive effort into managing it, versus just diving in to see what’s really there. Anyone who lives in constant PTSD-induced anxiety has figured out ways to cope with it. You may not know it. They may not know it. But they do it. My way is to overachieve, do superhuman amounts of things in a day, concurrently try to be the most giving and invisible human on earth. God forbid I take longer than a few hours to reply to an email (and I get a lot of emails), or simply say “No, I just don’t have the time” to an entrepreneur that wants to have a cup of coffee and pick my brain. I started to question why I run myself on fumes. Really question it. Not superficially – a la, do I give so much just for the love of helping others or for some self-serving purpose – but started to look for what was under the hood. What the core, constant, frenetic activity – my attempts at controlling outcomes – was masking.
So, I did this thing. Won’t say what. But I gave up control for a day. Completely. (For the gutter-dwellers, no, it wasn’t an S&M experiment.) I didn’t know what to expect, but was worried some massively submerged and repressed memories would surface and devastate me. But instead, this is what came to me:
If you let go of control, there’s peace
Not sure any piece of internal wisdom has or ever will affect me more than that sentence surfacing itself. There were no horrific memories, bad consequences, or price I had to pay for facing my fears. Instead I was granted this single sentence – the most beautiful, freeing, profound vantage point shift I’ve ever experienced. It’s like I turned around to finally take a look at what was there, and instead of a monster, I was granted a cute little puppy. Since that statement bubbled up inside of me, I have been living in a different state. I can mostly breathe. Literally. Deeply. I tried an experiment, and didn’t check emails for almost a week. Guess what? The world kept on spinning.
Now comes the hard part – I have to integrate this peace into my soul. It’s got to at least co-habitate with the hamster, if not re-home the hamster entirely. Each person will have their ‘things’ that ground them. Here’s what works for me:
· Breath – I’m staying very conscious of it. I think it’s a PTSD thing that causes shallow breathing. Just breathing very deeply helps enormously
· Music – I’m deeply affected by music. Like at a cellular level. I can feel it change me physiologically. I made a new playlist called ‘peace’, which is filled with songs that bring me back to just that
· Meditation – twice daily – resets my operating system without fail
· Somatic therapy – working with a therapist that specializes in PTSD/anxiety, focused on body consciousness to cope with that anxiety
· Dogs – self-explanatory
· Urgency – if I feel a sense of urgency – about anything – I stop myself and wait to act until that feeling is gone
· Find your tribe – it’s really hard to be a weirdo unless you are surrounded by other weirdos that swim in the same waters
‘You’ll Never Finish’ remains a guiding mantra in my life. It’s just taken on even more depth of meaning, complemented by the peace that comes from not even wanting to finish anymore. I just hope I can hang on to this.
Wish me luck.