I Broke My Favorite Mug
Technically I broke a glass. Which careened into the mug in the sink, and broke that.
I didn't drop the glass by accident or anything like that. I threw a baby bottle at the sink with unwarranted ferocity. THAT hit the glass, that flew into the sink, and collided with my favorite mug.
I left the house anyway (to go to my in-laws, they're in my bubble and I basically have nowhere safe to bring an almost three year old and a nine month old, so that's where I go when I really need to get out of the house now).
When I came back, I discovered that my anger had compounded, and the interest was not only a broken glass with large shards I had to pluck out of the sink, but a destroyed ceramic item.
I wasn't angry at the end of the day, just exhausted, so I nodded to myself and plucked all the broken pieces out and threw them in the trash. Of course I broke multiple items. When you're trying to bottle up your rage, and your fear, and your exhaustion, it's going to come out sometimes in the form of a flying plastic bottle. Because you're tired. Because you're trying to hold it together.
I'm a ruminator (bear with me, this totally connects to broken crockery).
Rumination has two variants. It can be the act of thinking deeply about something (picture the thinking man in a chair, chin in hand), but in my case, I get variant number two: chewing the cud.
Animals like cows and deer eat, and some of that food gets swallowed into a special stomach pouch, and later they regurgitate it and chew it again. I'm not a scientist, this is just a rough sketch for you.
So you can ruminate on the meaning of life, or you can ruminate on how angry you are that once you had a second child, you didn't just have to deal with the expected complications of an expanding family. You got a pandemic! And a husband who disappeared into the bowels of a hospital every day (he's a nurse) during said pandemic, and then a husband who got deployed right after that (still in the damn pandemic), so you're basically losing your shit groundhog day style while you cling to the life raft of "I'm the only adult in the house, so I have to keep going because the other humans cohabitating with me can't wipe their own butts."
I'm a hard-core cud-chewing ruminator. I will get in a bad spiral of negative thoughts and I'll think 'em and rethink 'em and rethink the rethinking until I'm all worked up and angry (or wooo sad and depressed!) Basically it's a Spiral of Awful, and I can do it anytime, anywhere, and my ability to deny myself sleep at night as I twist and turn in the morass that is my mind is truly something to behold.
Obviously this is bad. Obviously it is a five star example of what John Milton meant when he said, "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven."
And I did NOT forget that Milton made Sin a female character and she was uber nasty...didn't he dictate Paradise Lost to one of his daughters because he was blind? What is it with guys and their denigration of females and the female body even as they wholeheartedly rely upon both?
So yeah. I may currently be able to ruminate over FACTS (yes, my husband is serving in the Middle East, leaving me with two kids, a dog, a full time job, and a world-wide pandemic), but veracity is not the issue here. The issue is that I get stuck, my brain gets caught in a rut, and I am thinking myself into feeling even worse about these things.
Sometimes I don't even ruminate over cold hard facts, but over feelings, over what did she mean when she said that, over I think this is what is going to happen in the future, over I'm worried about this thing happening.
That's why I really enjoyed reading Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life. A library grab, since I sometimes read Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I'm getting all my library books digitally nowadays, I thought I would get a quick read on making easier decisions.
Yes and no. Anne Bogel went deeper than that, and bless her. She's the type of writer where you feel like you're chatting, she mines her own life for examples, and while it's incredibly approachable, it didn't feel dumbed down. I'm going to generalize and say this is a book for women who, for whatever reason (an unholy marriage of biology and background) overthink the hell out of EVERYTHING.
Indecision, worry, perfectionism, considering every single choice available to you, ruminating yourself into a dark hole...she has some tips and tricks for them all.
Can I write that any one tip I saw was the tip that enabled me to cut back on my negative rumination? Nah. I think sometimes the prescription for what ails you is awareness more than anything else.
Ms. Bogel makes the point about the neural pathways we all create - the more you think in a certain way, the more likely you are to continue to think in that way. I think negatively, therefore I am negative, because I keep thinking negatively about something. Because that is what I have trained my brain to do. It can drive a car on autopilot, without paying conscious attention. So it can also ruminate without me realizing that's what I'm doing. Ever drive to a frequent destination, and you don't remember how you got there but you're in the parking lot? That's rumination for me. I don't even realize that I'm the one making myself feel this awful. I just think I feel this awful because that's the feeling I have.
I wouldn't say the book turned me into a Pollyanna. I do however think there is a lot to be said for catching yourself in the act. I still had a couple of hours to get through before bedtime this Sunday. As I cleared out my sink, I could feel the heavy gray lead weight descend onto my shoulders.
I am alone. I am lonely. I don't want to do this by myself.
Spiral, spiral, spiral.
I looked at the clock, calculated how much time I had left in the day before the kiddos could be wrestled into their sleeping accommodations and I could lay my own tired ass down. I felt even more tired.
The difference, dear reader, was in catching myself as I was doing it.
Instead of continuing to think the same thoughts for the next two hours and 45 minutes, I started blasting some Christmas music. I picked up the baby and swayed to the beat while I sang (and I'm a horrible singer) to some of my favorites. I decided that THEY were not going to get me down! I was going to enjoy my kids (please don't cry, please don't whine), we were going to eat peanut butter saltines for dinner with grapes (true story, no fucks left to give y'all!) and there would be some goddamn joy in the house.
I don't recall defiance as one of Anne Bogel's techniques, but I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend it. When the enemy is your own thoughts, it can be helpful to set up a straw man to hit back against. I decided that THEY could go fuck themselves. THEY were going to be disappointed. I wouldn't give THEM the satisfaction.
There's no THEY here in my house. Unless you count the thoughts swirling in my own head.
I once named my friend's anxieties Sheila. That bitch Sheila, to be exact. My friend was going through a tough time and I was like anytime you think something super anxious you just tell that bitch Sheila to shut up. That's not you, that's Sheila. She can shut her mouth.
Maybe it sounds silly, to personify your thoughts. I guess I'll leave you with this thought: if you don't like how you feel when you think a certain way, and it's you thinking it, what happens? It's so easy to blame yourself. Why can't you stop? Why are you this way? What is wrong with you?
Ain't nothing wrong with you, lady. It's all Sheila. I never liked her. Tell her to sit down and shut up. Survive the tough moments. Catch yourself when you're overthinking. Let's waste less mental energy on things that we can't control, or that don't matter.
I read a short piece from someone who described visiting a therapist when she was depressed. The gist of the story was she didn't have a lot to say that day. And the therapist said, well, what thing are you struggling with right now? What are you having a hard time with?
And she admitted, it was the dishes.
She couldn't stand the dirty pile in the sink, but she couldn't muster the energy to scrape them all off, then run the dishwasher. If she didn't scrape them, they would still have some food stuck on.
The therapist said, "Run the dishwasher twice."
She writes (much better than I am doing, I wish I could find it), about how this freed her up, just a little bit. She was in a really bad place, but she didn't have to follow a set of rules that was stopping her from surviving. She had to run that dishwasher three times. Later she took a shower laying on the floor of the shower. She had to do what she had to do until she could get herself in a better place mentally, where scraping a dish clean did not feel like an insurmountable task.
I don't want to say that overthinking is the same thing as depression, because I don't want to in any way sound like I think you can just trick yourself into not being depressed anymore, in the way I am advocating that you should try to trick yourself out of overthinking yourself into a black hole.
What I think is important about this woman's story is how you don't have to do things a certain way if you are incapable at that moment. That you need to find the loopholes sometimes.
Overthinking sucks, and it can make you feel bad. It can make a bad thing far worse. It can use up your mental energy in a way that does not improve or enrich your life. It's worth trying different ideas to see what works for you. That you can probably (sometimes) stop negative cycles you find yourself trapped in. That you might have to get a little creative.
I've actually heard of setting aside time on your calendar for worry, then every time you start to worry, you say no, I can't worry until 3pm. Then you set a timer and you worry the HELL out of your worries. Ding ding and you can't worry again until the next day at 3pm. Some people report this is very calming to them, knowing they will be worrying later, so they don't have to now.
Or maybe just name a bitch Sheila.