Anxiety, depression, mental health

Listening to the Right Voice

There is a voice in my head that has consumed my life for over 20 years, and it tells me a lot of crappy stuff. Maybe you can relate. Here’s a quick summary of what it has to say:

  • Making mistakes is a character flaw.
  • You don’t make enough money, and the amount of money you make determines your worth.
  • Your brother doesn’t call you because he is embarrassed by you. That’s also the reason why none of his friends knew you existed.
  • You keep attracting bad employers because you yourself are bad.
  • You need to be stern and serious and rigid. It’s not OK to be happy all the time — Being overly happy is ridiculous.

So that’s the voice that bullies and reprimands me. But there is another voice — One that I’ve tapped into over the last few years — that has a much kinder take on who I am, and what I have to offer the world.

It’s not so much in my head but in my heart, and it’s got a lot of kind and comforting things to say, such as:

  • Human beings were made to make mistakes. And you are human. So your mistakes are inevitable and natural, and not a character flaw.
  • You have enough money to feed, clothe, house, and create a savings account for yourself. If you want to make more of it, work on releasing your fears surrounding it. (PS: I’m reading a great book about that right now)
  • Your brother doesn’t call you because he is busy. And the reason he doesn’t talk about you with his friends is that he is so focused on his life that he doesn’t feel the need to share details about his family.
  • You are not bad. You are learning to release the need to be surrounded by negativity and aggression. And you’re doing a really good job of it.
  • It is safe to be happy, even if you were raised to believe otherwise.

So depending on the day, there are some seriously conflicting beliefs rumbling through me, which lends itself to a bit of confusion. Although logic would dictate that the second voice offers the most constructive conclusions, I am excessively familiar with the negative one. I’ve gotten up close and personal with it for over 20 years, and have built a sort of toxic trust with it — I’ve taught myself to believe what it tells me.

Choosing to accept the second voice — the one telling me things I’ve never known to be true— has been a challenge. Some days I have faith in the foreign assertions and graciously accept them. While on others, I just don’t have it in me, so I default to what I know.

I see a lot of folks out there claiming it’s as simple as swapping out a negative for a positive. Heck, I’ve been one of those people at one point or another, because I wanted so much for it to be true. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good thing to get in the habit of doing, but science proves it’s not so simple.

These are subconscious beliefs, and those suckers aren’t so easy to change, particularly after years of programming. On top of that is the physiological stress response to the negative thoughts we have(1). This stress response triggers the amygdala, which over time becomes more reactive to apparent threats, like our negative thoughts. This results in anxiety, even when there is no perceived threat.

And then the hippocampus — which assists in developing conscious and clear memories of what actually happened — get’s worn the F out by the repetitive stress response. This makes it harder to create new, positive memories because we are overloaded with the bad ones. So pretty soon our brains get overwhelmed with all the stress-inducing thoughts, and we end up in a state of chronic fear and anxiety — with no clarity on how the heck it all came to be.

Then we bash ourselves for how we feel. And others minimize our struggle, with dangerous statements like, “Just think something different,” or “What do you have to be stressed about? My life is harder than yours.”

It can be wildly difficult to shake heavily engrained beliefs. We have to work hard at eliciting a relaxation response (more on that in the coming weeks), in order to keep the stress from consuming our bodies and minds and creating dis-ease. We essentially have to re-train our brains, a process that takes a lot of time and a strong commitment.

And we do have to swap out negatives for positives, but with the understanding that it’s not going to be a one-off act: they will keep coming back to haunt us. And there may still be times when we wonder what voice is right: when we follow the crappy thoughts down the rabbit hole and have to pull ourselves back out. But we have to commit to the process, even when it seems easier to just let ourselves fall backward into the abyss.

Because one voice accepts — the other rejects.

One creates peace, while the other creates discontent.

One voice is love, while the other is hate.

Life to me these days is about figuring out which voice to listen to, and cultivating kind messages instead of hateful ones — about myself and others. It’s about choosing to love myself, by choosing to reject the voice that hurts me.

It’s about chipping away at the beliefs that tell me I am less than, and replacing the chips with ones that tell me I am more than.

It’s swapping out a less than (< )with a greater than (>), and realizing that when you choose to believe positive thoughts about yourself, the equation balances out like never before.

What does the voice in your head tell you? Something crappy? If so, I urge you to look for other beliefs — ones that support you achieving a state of wellness, rather than a state of discontent. Start chipping away at the crappy thoughts. I’ll be doing it with you.

(1) Rankin, Lissa, M.D. The Fear Cure, ed (2015).

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acupuncture, Anxiety, pain

Why I Use Acupuncture for Anxiety and Pain

The first time I tried acupuncture I was around 21.

I was living in Calgary, and doing a really good job of overdoing it in many categories: I was partying hard, working tons, doing a course at the local college, having a love affair with my 32-year-old dance teacher (lol), and dancing at Alberta Ballet up to 4 times a week.

At the time I was feeling a little lost about what I was going to do with my life. I knew I was a good dancer: it’s something that has always come very naturally to me. While I had dropped out of a performing arts program on the island during my high school years, in my early 20s in Calgary I got obsessed with it again.

I was good enough to get asked to be in a new dance company, and ended up filming a Bollywood music video in Vegas at one point with my boyfriend/dance teacher (21 and in Vegas? Fun times!) Outside of all that, I would dance at Alberta ballet as much as I could, and take classes at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks as well. My goal? To get some more notoriety for my skills by way of being accepted into the dance program at the University of Calgary.

I think at the time I was feeling an intense need to be validated for something. To be straight up with you, I am 100% positive that if I had gotten accepted into that program, I would have dropped out at some point. I was not ready to commit to anything. But I was craving approval, and this would have been a big, “Hey Andrea, you’re really great at something” kind of approval.

Long story short, I didn’t get accepted. And I was devastated at the time, as I’d put a lot of stock into it. But today, I completely understand why I received a rejection letter.

As gifted as I was, I lacked joy when I did it. My body moved in all the right ways, but my face said otherwise. I was afraid to let my guard down long enough to show I was happy when I danced. Looking hard was a protective shield I put up as a pre-teen, and I didn’t actually feel safe enough to let go of it until about 5 years ago (Side note: there are still days when the veil of protection creeps back up. My self-preservation and protection skills are fierce.)

But I took dance seriously. I trained hard, went to class steadily, and was always practicing at home and at work (jete’s through the dining room before the restaurant I worked at opened for the day was pretty normal for me.) And I wasn’t giving my body a break either, which is why I ended up with some seriously messed up calves.

Those calves of mine were in bad shape – there were knots all through them. I tried massage and active release therapy (that was extremely painful) and neither techniques made a difference, save for leaving bruises all over my legs.

Then I tried acupuncture, and while it didn’t get rid of the problem completely, it provided some relaxation and relief, and introduced me to the world of eastern medicine.

I found the whole process fascinating. I didn’t understand the principles behind it at the time (which in part involves getting stagnant energy moving through the body so it can function better as a whole) but I did enjoy the treatments and felt they made a difference. So I did as many sessions as my $5.90 an hour minimum wage plus tips job allowed for (yikes right?) and then left it at that. In the end, the pain subsided when I stopped overdoing the dance classes, which was a byproduct of starting university and not having the time to take classes anymore.

Fast forward to present day, as in a few weeks ago. Emotional melt down? Check. Terrible digestive issues? Check. Anxiety off the charts? Check. Insomnia? Check. 400 bucks in my health care benefits account that could be used for acupuncture? Check.

So I went for my first acupuncture appointment in a very long time, and it make a huge difference.

I fell asleep on the table 3 times, which is wild because sleep is an elusive beast to me. And my body was so relaxed – it was amazing. I felt like I got hit by a bus, but not in a bad way – I was just so relaxed that I was wondering how the hell I was going to get home by the end of it.

Long story short I made it home safe and sound, and when I did I called the clinic and made another appointment.

Here are a few things I learned about acupuncture  through my experience:

  1. One off appointments are fine, but if you’re looking to get energy flowing through your body and release stagnation that can result in physical pain, you need to go regularly. Twice a week is best, but once a week works too.
  2. You might get emotional because you’re releasing blocked energy and emotions in your body during the process. I had a pretty solid crying session during my last appointment but that’s nothing new for me as of late (read about that here.) And I’m not going to shame myself for it, even though it was uncomfortable at first, being that vulnerable in front of a stranger.
  3. You might get an area in your body that feels full once the needles are put in – for me, it was my shoulder on the first appointment, and my elbow the second. This is normal and nothing to be freaked out about (I say that after getting freaked out about it and then calming down after  the acupuncturist told me it’s totally normal.)
  4. You may experience a needle that doesn’t feel so great. If it hurts, you don’t have to sit there and suffer through it (I’m talking to my fellow people pleasers out there.) If you are uncomfortable, say so and the acupuncturist can adjust it.
  5. More needles do not always make it a better experience. My first appointment I was loaded with them, but my second I felt more comfortable with half the amount. Both appointments were equally beneficial. So if you’re prone to thinking more is better, like I often do, release that belief for the appointment. (Probably best to release that belief on a global scale but let’s just both go easy on ourselves and commit to working on that in the future, OK? :))

What struck me as another therapeutic aspect of acupuncture during my last appointment was the process of learning to trust. I am inherently untrusting, a learned belief of mine being that we cannot trust ourselves or other people. Because of this, getting the most out of alternative therapies and treatments has been difficult, because I feel vulnerable – this is one of my most feared feelings to feel, so much so that I committed most of my life up until recently working hard at avoiding it.

So this whole process of submitting to and accepting these appointments with a complete stranger, and handing over unearned trust in order to heal full circle has been challenging, and a form of therapy in and of itself. I’ve really had to let go and breathe through my fears – with every needle – and trust that my body and mind are safe.

To be honest, every appointment has its challenges when it comes to trust. I think in many ways my body and mind know how fear feels to such an extent that neither wants to be without it – to be without it is to accept the unknown, which is far scarier than the pain it has found comfort in over the years. So though challenging, acupuncture is also teaching me the gift of acceptance – accepting the present and that the purpose of it will come to light in due time, if I am willing to submit to it, wholly and fully.

So long story short, acupuncture is amazing.

I used to be so freaked out to spend money on stuff like this – I wouldn’t even use the benefits I had because I’d have to pay upfront, because it seemed too opulent. But I’m at this point where I don’t care how it looks anymore – I deserve to feel better. And I have to deal with the anxiety I feel or it may cause me some serious health issues down the road. I’m not willing to accept that being anxious and depressed is OK anymore, and I’m not going to bully myself and shame myself for what I’m going through either.

For me, taking pills doesn’t work. Believe me, there have been many days as of late where I’ve thought about heading to the doctor’s office and starting up a prescription for citalopram again. But 20 years of that route proved it doesn’t work for me. How am I going to deal with the stuff that is troubling me if I numb it all?

So for now, I’m all about acupuncture for body pain, anxiety, sleep issues, and even digestive issues.

If you’re feeling stuck right now, or ever for that matter, consider trying acupuncture for yourself. And if you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to reach out via email or in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Cheers to healing, in whatever form that comes.