The Rabbit Hole of Tug of War

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. 

Getting stuff out of being in a place you maybe shouldn’t be.

I went to a motorcycle riding academy this weekend on a race track. I’m pretty much as new as a rider as you can be. And I’m on a tiny bike. 

The first day I got very caught up and wrecked by all the “You shouldn’t be here” “You don’t belong here” input. And not only did that tank any confidence I had, it made me feel so beneath everyone else and like I was in the way and an inconvenience (at best) for being there. 

The academy was not what I expected. I thought they would be going over basics of maneuvering your motorcycle; the proper way to brake and shift, perhaps some emergency procedures to get out of harm’s way if there’s debris or an accident in front of you. I expected to be taught more and learn more skills. I never came to this course to learn how to race, I came for the “learn to better control your motorcycle on the street” part, so that was a disappointment to me. 

On top of that, people in my riding group (the SLOW group) were often complaining of having to go too slow (because of me) and it was embarrassing and frustrating. There was nowhere else for me to go (whereas they could have gone up a group) and it made riding that much more stressful because I was constantly worried about holding others up and having to hear the negativity. As much as I try to work on being comfortable when people are upset by me, it still feels extremely uncomfortable and yucky, and not the kind of hard emotional work I can balance with a motorcycle between my knees. 

After my first ride around the track I almost called it quits. I was terrified. Some of the corners were terrifying and my lack of skills and experience were evident, and I was quite afraid and sure I wouldn’t be able to keep myself safe. I was fighting back tears, and not all that successfully. 

I left the first day feeling sick and convinced I wouldn’t go back. 

A shift happened when I looked at the whole picture. I saw the responsibility that belonged to others, and stopped putting it all on myself. Before signing up for this, I had asked all the questions – I told them how new I was to riding and they said it would be good for me – and I even persisted and asked “is there too slow for the track?” And was told NO! So, if that were their answers before taking my money, then that’s what I’m going with. It’s not my fault if I’m where I shouldn’t be – that part is on them. And due to my lack of skill (and lack of acquiring any more) I decided that I will go as slow as I need to to keep myself safe and try to learn things I can apply to my everyday riding while doing it. I stopped worrying about the people behind me, and the comments in our post-ride discussions. I might have been in the wrong place because of misinformation from others, but it was now my responsibility to get something out of that not-quite-right place I was in. 

Which got me looking for what I can take away. I asked questions that were probably so novice others were rolling their eyes. I asked for feedback. I asked for more instruction. I did learn my lines better the second day; however, lines are for racing – not the road – so as happy as I was to be doing better on the track, it still didn’t feel like enough. So I kept searching and trying things – using my front brake smoothly, timing my shifting, and leaning my bike/weight. I think the biggest takeaway is that I will have more confidence in leaning my bike more on the road now that I know I can do it without falling. 

The even bigger lesson though – that I have found comes up over and over – is to be able to accept when a situation isn’t what you wanted or needed, and to bring yourself to a place where you still get something out of it. To feel all the feelings associated with that; the disappointment, the anger, the frustration, the sadness – to be able to hold those without owning it all (as I was on day 1 when others were expressing their feelings towards my lack of speed and skill), or without being so focused on blaming others that you can’t receive anything from them or have any good experiences (like I would have done if I decided to just be mad at the organizers/teachers and not be friendly or ask them questions or for feedback, or to have simply left being resentful).

I am proud for going back on day 2. I am proud that I was able to hold the entire experience and not leave feeling like it was a waste or with my confidence tanked. And, bonus for leaving with all of my bones in place and my bike intact 😉 .