I don't have to.
These small, simple, and short statements have completely transformed my life. Ya know, along with the massive amount of self development that I have been doing over the past year...
When I made the decision to become a Life Coach, I knew that I would be facing some of my demons and working on my own issues as a byproduct of the research and learning that I would be doing to best serve my clients. What I didn't realize is that I would desire the change like never before - that my motivation for being my absolute best self would be lit like a midnight beach bonfire.
So lets get a little vulnerable: I have struggled with anxiety for just about as long as I can remember - my first real memory of anxiety is at the ripe old age of six (6). I'm pretty sure I had a panic attack - and the result was throwing up for hours; feeling like my feet weren't on the ground; like nothing was real and never would be again. When I was 19 I started really working on my anxiety after I wasn't able to go grocery shopping because I played the "what ifs" during the 10 min drive to the store. I parked, lived through my panic attack, and decided that enough was enough. I was going to conquer my Anxiety.
A few short months later I made the decision to move to Yosemite National Park BY MYSELF to live in a tent with a complete stranger (who might not even speak the same language as me) because I was DONE being afraid to live. And then I lived happily ever after...
Lol, in reality I learned how to manage my symptoms through exercise. A LOT of exercise - which was easy because, well it's Yosemite Valley. What else is there to do? (not much when you have no friends and can't drink at the bars...)
I learned a lot about myself during the year that I was living in what I call a "bubble." I learned I wasn't going to die if I went somewhere I wasn't able to control all scenarios - including the early morning encounter I had with a VERY big, and well known (read notorious) bear... I learned that I was able to make new friends - that people enjoyed my company. I reignited my love for nature and photography. I fell in love the with the feel of raw granite beneath my fingertips. When I left the valley and went back to my home town I felt healed and ready to take on the world again. And I did for a while.
That's not to say that I didn't have normal ups and downs, difficult decisions to make, tears and heart break, disappointment and surprises - I just knew that I would make it through - I knew I wasn't going to die because I was feeling uncomfortable. I was managing my symptoms through exercise, being with friends, and yes booze. In short I was distracting myself from the uncomfortable feelings of my anxiety.
Fast forward 12 years later - while pregnant with my first child, I experienced prenatal depression. Unfortunately no one noticed and told me I was "normal" and "strong." Nothing felt "normal" and even less so after my amazing child was born with a fire in her belly that just would not stop. Like at all. Particularly at night.
Things got worse when I became pregnant with my second child, except this time I was able to advocate for myself and was able to get help (in the form of therapy and medication). It was during this time that I made the decision to become a life coach - I knew I wanted to help other people find their voices and be able to make the best decisions for themselves - without fear getting in their way.
Things were still rough, but I knew in the back of my head that I would make it - if only I could stop all the external stimulus, quite the noise, find external peace, and be understood by those around me so they would be able to put me back together should I fall apart again. I continued distracting myself with things, and being irritated that no one was making it better for me.
Then I hired my own coach. Jacquelyn challenged me to look past what was right in front of me and deep inside to who I wanted to be, what I wanted to accomplish. At the same time I started really diving into the concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Otherwise known as ACT - because ACT is about acting - not thinking, not ruminating, not getting lost in - moving forward. Making changes that stick.
And ya'll ACT IS MY JAM. I, like many people, had tried the whole therapy thing and just didn’t feel like talking about my past was helping my future. I wanted to get better - not ruminate over all the things that got me where I was. I wanted skills and tools to put to use to change "who I was." ACT teaches the user how to consciously separate from your thoughts and observe them to determine if those thoughts are helpful or harmful. And while this sounds easy, it take a LOT of work. A lot of this work looks like being mindful: specifically of our thoughts.
But what does that look like?
When I start to notice a change in my physical state, i.e. increased heart rate, physically hot/sweaty, feeling antsy - I check in. What am I thinking about? What just happend? What is going on in my environment right NOW that is triggering an emotional and physiological response? Most often it's too loud (having young children will do that...), or its cluttered, or something didn't go just like I planned it. These are all things that I know trigger me to switch from being ok to not so ok. But with ACT, I have permission to step back and just watch; observe the situation and the feelings. I don't have to find the core thing that triggers it or immediately chant a positive montra to switch off the negative emotions/emotional response. I get to just be with it.
In sitting with the moment and being present (i.e. mindful) I allow compassion to sit with me. Compassion for myself and those around me. This time, space, and compassion provides the ability to think about the thinking: do i really want to be angry right now? Is this helping me finish my task/goal? The answer is almost always no.
A great example of this process: I was driving home from the store - it was about 108*F outside and I was driving my old beat up truck that does not have functioning air conditioning. This caused some physical irritation, but it was manageable. Then I managed to hit EVERY DAMN red light I could. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
I could feel the anger and frustration bubbling up to the surface...
But then I took one deep breath and said to myself: "is this really going to help Jenn? Do you really want to be angry right now?"
I could feel the separation happening between me and my emotions - they were drifting away, into the sweltering heat, as I released my breath: "I don't have to be."
I DONT HAVE TO. I made the choice to not become my emotional response.
I was Jenn, who was experiencing some frustration, not Jenn the Frustrated One.
Because I chose not to identify with those thoughts and emotions, I was able to choose calm irritation and continue on my way. Without distraction or a mantra - just me committing to being more than a thought or feeling.
I had done it. I stopped the cycle of neurological chemical flooding by deciding that I didn't have to be angry. I was stunned. I was amazed. And I went on to fail at it later that day.
However, I knew that it was there - that it was a possibility.
I found Hope.
Hope of happiness. Hope of peace. Hope of feeling like I am in the drivers seat of my life - no matter what is happening around me.
I want to share this Hope. Teach ya'll about the possibilities that are available to us ALL.
Is hope worth the work? Worth the vulnerability to ourselves and those around us? Is hope worth rocking the boat?
If you answered yes, let's get to work. Let's ACT. Now.