I’ve been struggling with obsessive thoughts lately. And the more energy I give them, the worse it gets. I keep tricking myself into thinking that putting more energy into them will help me figure them out and get passed them, and yet I end up even further down the rabbit hole.
Being trapped in unconscious thinking -where we don’t realize it’s just thoughts – and then being caught in the thought trap of “working it out by more thinking” – is a rotten place to be. It is a vicious cycle. If we think of a calm mind as a blue sky, this cycle is like a tornado in that sky. The more I feed it, the larger and more destructive it becomes.
When I can remember that all I need to do is stop adding to its fury by thinking more and more about it, then I can get a better perspective and I’m able to sit in the blue sky – even when the tornado is still around. The sky is vast – the farther away I get, I get out of the tornado’s path, and the blue sky is again visible.
All of my obsessive thinking lately has revolved around a specific phobia -emetophobia. I have struggled with it for years (i.e. as long as I can remember – hello panicking preschooler memories). Currently I’m still functioning on my daily responsibilities – but I’m obsessively researching online, worrying and obsessing over upcoming travel, and my mind is constantly playing out all the scenarios in my life (including on tv) that I have felt sick, witnessed sickness, etc, etc. This disturbing reel even plays when I’m sleeping, along with new dream-created scenes.
I’ve had times over the years where I’ve tried to address this phobia head on – even as far as exposure therapy. What I have found over and over again however is that the more focus I have on it – the worse it gets. The more I’m obsessed, the more I’m impacted to downright debilitated, the more I act out of fear, the smaller my life and mind becomes. The only times I’m able to say this phobia hasn’t been a big issue is when I am focusing on living my values, acting intentionally on what I want (not basing my decisions out of fear and avoidance), practicing seeing thoughts as thoughts, and dropping the rope. Understanding that the monsters and thoughts and fears can be there, that I don’t have to do anything, and that I can just continue to do what is best for me.
Well, I caught myself playing tug of war again.
It’s frustrating when you realize you’ve been playing tug of war again. Our minds are so good at convincing us that its worthwhile, that we should be doing it. That this time is different for x, y, z reasons. It justifies its destructive actions, and we believe it. It’s hard to deny as I can see the truth in it. There is truth there – I do get motion sick and I am travelling soon. However, all of the thoughts about being motion sick and how terrifying it is and how afraid I am and how desperate I am to avoid it at all costs – those are just thoughts. That is my thinking. And from afar I can see that it is all of that stuff that I’m truly reacting to. It’s my fear thinking. It’s how scary I’ve made it out to be that it is so gripping that my heart is racing just writing about it now. And though I may look like I’m spending my time valuably looking up ways to avoid motion sickness on my upcoming travels- it keeps my mind on the subject and builds the monster up. It’s like it’s no longer even a game of tug of war, I’m laying face first into the dirt having already lost, and yet continuing to hang on and let the monster drag me wherever it wants.
It’s hard to get out because when you’re in it, it seems like the answer is elusive or absolutely going to be complicated. It’s at this point I start wondering whether I need to try something to tackle my phobia so I can get my life back (which is where I go down another rabbit hole of looking for solutions to emetophobia -which again, makes the monster even bigger and intensifies my panic). And then I remember the wisdom in what I already know – the practices and perspectives that have given me strength, comfort, and ultimately the freedom to live the life I want to live.
Seeing thoughts as thoughts -not me, not real, and not something I have to do anything about. As scary or lovely as they are, I can let them be.
Practicing observing those thoughts and feelings, and letting them go without attaching (and coming back when I realize I did get attached). The more we practice this in general, the more able we are to use it with the really hard thoughts that come up. I can see how the situation I’m in now could be simply a result of needing more ongoing practice with this. My plan now, with a trip only five days away, is to spend a lot of time doing observer-stance meditations, practicing labelling (defusion strategy), and listening and reading things that reinforce the perspectives of thoughts as thoughts, and all of the wonderful ACT principles.
Focusing on my values, my strengths, my deeper wants and needs, and being committed to living my life – not avoiding fear.