A couple weeks ago some broccoli fell on my head at Whole Foods. Not one bunch, but like all the bunches rolled off the shelf in a torrential downpour of broccoli. I could feel everyone stop and turn around, and the guy next to me graciously broke the ice saying, ‘Whoa. Are you okay? That broccoli tried to take you out.’
I was laughing so hard while I scrambled to put it all back that I could hardly respond. The guy looked relieved to see I wasn’t crying. I mean, it was a lot of broccoli.
When I walked away I thought: I cannot believe I did not throw a shit fit. I actually don’t even care! If this had happened a couple years ago, I very well may have flipped a nut and lost it. Instead I felt happy, able to laugh at myself.
To me this is progress.
Within days of my stroke, I began to learn about the disabling power of negativity. Initially it happened in a pretty bizarre way when I tried watching reality TV: my brain just shut down. I know I keep saying it, but it was such a defining moment. That garbage made my already aching brain throb in my skull. At first I thought it was the chaos, because mentally I could handle approximately zero chaos, but it was more than that. What I didn’t realize at the time is I was having a physical reaction to the sheer emptiness of the lifestyles being portrayed on TV.
Why hadn’t I noticed it before?
Wanting to fill the few waking hours I had each day with something I loved, I switched to trying to read books. Not sure what I was thinking when I picked up Carole Radziwill’s book What Remains – where she talks about the death of her husband – but quickly realized my brain could not process hearing about death. Stuff like that had never bothered me before. I liked real, true stories of struggle and courage and overcoming, but apparently the rawness was too much.
Both of those things – the reality tv and the book about death – left me feeling depressed. I could actually feel the weight in my brain when I tried to mentally consume either of them. It was palpable.
Over the next month I was able to conclude that my brain, in its stripped down, vulnerable condition, was letting me know how much influence negativity had on it. Am I saying negativity gave me a stroke? No. But I am saying that mentally taking in negative things – whether I considered them to be negative or not – certainly contributed. My friend Annie suggested I read a book called As A Man Thinketh in order to start retraining my mind. Every night before bed I tried to read just a page or two and let it sink in deep. Almost immediately I noticed the difference in the way my brain reacted. It was calm, relaxed and able to take in the information. It did not resist like it had with the the other stuff, instead it seemed to open up. I was relieved.
I realize I might sound like a self-help whackadoodle, but what I’m telling you is the truth. I lived it, continue to live it and am a different person today for having begun to practice it in my life.
So getting back to what I originally said I’d do, a few posts on how to get out of the hole.
Here goes: I started clawing my way out of the hole, not even aware I was in there, when I:
a. realized what I was taking into my brain was making me depressed/sad (and hurting my already hurt brain), and
b. began to replace old thought content with new.
It doesn’t sound too difficult, but if I hadn’t gotten sick I honestly don’t know if I ever would have clued into it. Crappy thought patterns are tough to break, and it’s an ongoing battle for me. You have to stand guard to identify them in the first place, and then you have to be willing to do the work to eliminate them.
If you’re out there feeling stuck, my best advice to you (because some people have asked) would be to think about what you’re filling your thought life with. Realize you control that, and take the initiative to change it. Remove some of the habitual things you watch, read or do and replace them with a book or movie (this is a great one) on happiness or positive thinking. Start putting good stuff in your brains, you deserve it. It may not be the total solution, but it’s a good beginning.
As an FYI: I still want to be able to take in stories of struggle. I’m working on it. I went to see The Fault In Our Stars on Sunday and have been pretty destroyed since, but still able to see the beauty.
Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.