Well this is it, a kind of wrap-up to the series. Thankyou for joining me on my journey. I hope you have found it valuable. Writing it has helped me realize both how far I have come and how far I still have to go! When I started this series, I wanted to make it practical and useful, not just abstract theory that you can mentally agree with but not know how to put into practice. So here in this final part, I wanted to focus on some really concrete things to put on your ‘to-do’ list!
This whole series has mainly addressed healing our minds, so here is a summary of the main steps plus a few other points I didn’t cover in the series.
Firstly decide you want to change. This is fundamental. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” When I was just ‘seeing how things go’, I made nowhere near as much progress as when I committed to action.
Find the truth coaches you need and repeat them several times a day for at least a month. Then keep repeating them and refining them until they become a part of who you are. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Start to take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Work out what you have contributed to your current state and identify what things you can change. Check your expectations. Grieve them if necessary and then re-frame them.
Learn the new skills and alternative responses you need such as assertiveness and negotiation. Take the courses, read the books, find a counselor, mentor or buddy and practice the skills.
Start to challenge your feelings. Begin a journal with the format I shared here. Commit the time on a daily or weekly basis whenever strong feelings come up. If you can’t do it straight away, just jot down a quick note of the incident (eg. Son refused to do chore X). In my experience, I have been able to re-create the feeling and self-talk several days after an incident just by re-reading the memory.
Do the opposite. This is a really fast way to implement change in your life and kick start your brain onto a new track. Start by thinking of just one thing you know you react badly to, or is not working for you, or that you are afraid of, and basically do the opposite! For example, I knew I had a problem with emotional coldness when the kids did something that upset me. I decided I would start hugging them while I was still angry. I had to force myself. There were screams of “NO!” inside my head but I did it, and walls started coming down.
You can’t ‘do’ a ‘don’t’. When you decide to change something, put it in positive terms – ‘I will do this’, rather than ‘I won’t do that anymore’. It doesn’t work to just say, “I won’t yell anymore,” because when you get mad, you can’t think straight and if you haven’t pre-prepared a response, you haven’t given yourself any alternatives. In the example above, note that I decided, “When I am mad at the kids I will give them a hug while I am still angry even if I don’t feel like it.”
Work out what your terms are. A pretend agreement is basically where someone says “yes” but means “no”. If you have a ‘passive-aggressive’ person in your life you’ll know all about them! But you can also have pretend agreements where you are doing something without your heart being in it, on a ‘have to’ basis. For a true power balance to exist, you have to ask yourself the question, “What would it take for me to be prepared to do that willingly?”
As a very simple example, I was getting frustrated about the rate at which roasted nuts were being consumed as they were an expensive grocery item and also because I was the one roasting them with coconut oil and sea salt whenever they ran out. I thought about it and decided that I would be prepared to roast a 1kg batch once a month. If they ran out before then, the family would just have to go without. I presented my terms to the family, they accepted them, and I don’t stress about nuts anymore.
Diet. It might sound strange, but changing my diet was instrumental in conquering my depression and the reason is simple – mental clarity. I actually thought I was eating fairly healthily, so it came as a surprise when I read in a yahoo group e-mail, “Is anyone else eating a paleo diet? I’ve lost weight, never feel hungry, am bouncing off the walls with energy…” Bouncing off the walls with energy? Man, did I need some of THAT! I felt like a zombie most days so I thought it was worth a shot!
Within a few weeks I was feeling better, the mental fog had lifted, and I stopped needing morning and afternoon tea. The weight loss was a pleasant bonus but it was the ‘alive again’ feeling that had me hooked. At last I could listen and respond to a question my kids asked whilst I was cooking dinner! I wasn’t craving little snacks all the time! If I had to have lunch an hour later than normal I didn’t become grumpy and snappy!
Find a diet that works for you. I’ve also heard good things about the GAPS and Heal Your Gut diets. For me, I LOVE paleo eating. Food has never tasted so good and I feel like I’m twenty again. I can look at a plate of cookies and shrug, “Meh.” I don’t really care about the nit-picking arguments about what our human ancestors actually ate – the results are what are important to me. My blood test results prove that I am in much better health, my iron stores are phenomenal. My gut no longer leaks. I had ZERO bleeding after the birth of my fourth child instead of a post-partum hemorrhage like with the other three. As an added bonus, my grocery spending has stabilized for the first time and with some clever shopping and prudent limitations on expensive items (like nuts!) I’m actually spending less on my family of six than I did when we were a family of four, despite using higher quality ingredients.
If you are curious, here are some resources to get you started:
It Starts With Food: Fantastic book written by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig which explains in a really easy to understand way the science behind the paleo diet.
Whole 30: Dallas and Melissa’s program for a 30-day trial of the paleo diet to see if it works for you. I didn’t know about it, so I transitioned more gradually but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend going in ‘boots and all’.
Everyday Paleo: Sarah Fragoso has easy and tasty recipes. She is a mum of three boys and so her meals are very family friendly. I have two of her cookbooks. Here is her website where you can find many of her recipes and her blog.
Well Fed 1 and 2: Melissa Joulwan’s recipes are incredibly tasty and range from very simple to exquisite dishes that would be at home in a fancy restaurant. I have both her recipe books. Here is her website where she posts many of her recipes and blogs.
NomNom Paleo: Another great recipe website from a family mum, Michelle Tam. She also has her recipe book as a very easy to use app, which is handy for travelling.
Know your colours and shape. By a curious series of events I ended up seeing an image consultant a few months after becoming depressed and it was definitely another step up out of my depression. I hated my body and I had a wardrobe full of clothes that I never wore. That consultation taught me which colours and styles of clothing suited me, and which didn’t. For the first time, I realized it wasn’t my body that was to blame – it was the clothes!
With the right styles and colours I could look great, and feel better too. I could make peace with my body, and even be thankful for the unique way I was made. And that helped me value myself and heal my self-worth.
As an added bonus, clothes shopping takes minimal time now, and I have a 95% hit rate without usually even having to try anything on (which is VERY handy when you have kids with you!). When shopping for tops for example, I do a quick skim for colours. If I spot one that is mine, I look at the neckline, length and sleeves and can pretty much tell instantly whether or not it will suit.
All the parts of us – mind, body, soul, spirit – are so interconnected that whatever we do in one area will have an effect on the others. The helpful practices that are particularly of the spirit’s domain however are pondering, forgiving and choosing.
Ponder. I got great value out of pondering my truth coaches. Why was it true? What did it really mean? What were the other implications? These times of pondering often yielded very valuable fruit, new insights, modifications to the truth coaches that made them ‘just right’ for me so they would sink in deeper, faster.
I also committed 5 minutes a day to a quiet time with God. I chose the 5 minutes after the kids had gone to bed because it was consistently available. It was the first thing I always did after I’d tucked them in for the night and everyone learned to respect that time because I would politely tell anyone who interrupted it, “I’m having my quiet time now.” If there was further insistence on having my attention, I would simply say, “You can tell me about it after my quiet time.” Soon, whenever anyone saw me kneeling by the bed, they would turn around and wouldn’t bother saying anything.
In those five minutes I would quiet my mind and try to focus on one thing. I would pour out the thing that was bothering me, that I couldn’t see a way through or around, or something that I couldn’t understand. Then I would listen. I am amazed at the insights that came during those times. A ‘third way’ I hadn’t seen before, or something seemingly unrelated that was what I truly needed, or a deep sense of the love God had for me and that he was with me.
Spiritual reading was also a valuable source of insights. Consoling the Heart of Jesus helped me immensely as I shared earlier.
Forgive. When we refuse to forgive, we give others control over our peace. As hard as it is sometimes, forgiving our family and friends (or whoever) for the hurt we have suffered is really important. Others have written a lot about this so I won’t go into great depth. We also need to forgive ourselves of course, and be really gentle on ourselves when we drop the ball on this journey! It WILL happen. A lot.
Another aspect of forgiveness that I had overlooked was letting go of my unrealistic expectations. It wasn’t until I had written down my expectations, looked at them objectively and decided that they really weren’t fair or possible that I COULD forgive all those who didn’t live up to them (including myself).
Forgiveness is not easy, especially when we believe that the other person deliberately hurt us. It becomes possible to forgive when we realize that the other person is fighting a battle of their own, with their own soul, and they often lose. Many times a hurt we have suffered is the result of someone trying and failing. We also hurt others when we try and fail too, and we can often recognize this, but when the injustice is done to us, we forget, because we want to believe they did it on purpose, in order to justify our anger. This is a common way of giving others control of your peace. Journaling helped me immensely with this.
Choose. This is the prime function of the spirit – to exercise the will for the good of the body, mind and soul. Only a healthy, free spirit can choose in the best interests of both itself, and just as importantly, others. Pondering and forgiveness enable the spirit to function as intended. Pondering nurtures the spirit and forgiveness frees it. Ultimately, it is the spirit that fights the battles with each moment-by-moment choice. In order to win the battle against the lies embedded in the mind I must choose to believe the truth, against my feelings. That is my part. Then the Holy Spirit does the supernatural work of changing my mind so that my beliefs and feelings align with the truth.
A spirit soaked in the truth can choose in true freedom. Now freedom is not the power to do whatever I like. Rather it is the ability to choose for myself the most beautiful thing to do. One of the most poignant examples I have seen of true freedom in action is during the climax of the Phantom of the Opera. The heroine, Christine, is presented with an impossible choice – to free herself and condemn the man she loves to death, or to condemn herself to life with the murderous Phantom. But what she does choose startles everyone, and frees them all:
Pitiful creature of darkness
What kind of life have you known?
God give me courage to show you
You are not alone…
‘True freedom is the ability to deliberately choose for myself, the very thing in which I have no choice’ (David Riddell) is a paradox well worth pondering.
Now to go and practice what I preach!
Some Questions to Get You started
What are my survival kits (perfectionism, anger etc) doing for me? But at what cost?
What feelings and thoughts come up when I do this? What feelings and thoughts come up when they do that?
What would it take to change my mind on being a perfectionist? A control freak?
What will it cost to feel like a failure… out of control… helpless… unimportant?
How did I contribute to the current situation?
What are my expectations? Are they realistic?
What are my terms for doing/agreeing to this or that?
Some additional resources I found valuable:
Living Wisdom School Manual and MP3, David Riddell. If you can’t attend a 2-week school, this is the next best thing. I worked through the manual and listened to the accompanying MP3 over the course of a year and the slower pace helped me to assimilate the information and put it into practice.
Telling Yourself the Truth and Telling Others the Truth, Backus and Chapian, both reinforced what I learned in the Living Wisdom School and provided additional ‘how-to’ tips. They help with being able to both see clearly and communicate truthfully.
Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg, gives a good framework for taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings and seeing the truth clearly. Being able to observe, without putting your own interpretation on things is a vital skill when healing your mind.
Parenting with Love and Logic, Cline and Fay. This book helped me to let go of the tight control I wanted to have on my children’s behavior and helped me transform my parenting, but a word of CAUTION! I’ve read LOTS of parenting books and I am now of the belief that with few exceptions, just about any parenting technique can be applied in love and compassion, with coldness and cruelty, or with clumsy ineffectiveness (often causing inadvertent harm). It is no different with the techniques in this book. I would recommend waiting until you have achieved significant ability to feel curious in the face of attack or criticism, and in taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings before trying anything in this book. Expect 6 months to a year to get to that point.