The demon in my head
I have a voice in my head and she’s a real bitch.
She’s a demon and she is very busy, chattering and chipping away at my confidence. She beats me up from the inside, keeps me dwelling on past events, or makes me anxious about what lies ahead.
She calls me fat and lazy and unworthy of pretty much anything other people deserve.
The negativity crept in slowly and has been building throughout my adult life. We all have a voice in our head. But what starts out in childhood as a way to make sense of the world, becomes more critical and unhelpful as we grow up.
My son’s demons haven’t turned on him yet. They’re playful and positive.
How do I know this? Because he hasn’t yet learnt to contain his demons – and they spill out all over the place. His running commentary is audible. When sitting in the car, lying in bed, playing in the bath – any moment he thinks no one is paying attention, he will be talking to himself – allowing us to hear his internal conversation in all its glory.
When I became a parent my demon introduced guilt to the conversation, becoming louder and more critical than ever.
I did read the manual. But my kids didn’t always behave the way Gina Ford said they were meant to. As a result, I felt that I’d fallen short in more ways than ever.
Now as a working mum, I have guilt that my self-employed status is somehow self-indulgent; that I’m not as successful as I should be; I’m not as fit as I should be; I’m not devoting enough time or effort my family, my health or my friends.
I don’t grow my own vegetables, knit or play guitar. I’m hopeless at DIY, I occasionally allow my kids to eat sweets and play on the Xbox (gasp, horror!) and I can barely figure out C’s maths homework.
The list is endless.
See how critical my demon is? She’s cruel, unnecessary and unhelpful – and if I heard her talking to a friend like that I’d be horrified. Yet she gets away with it, day after day.
This constant internal commentary means that I go through much of my life on autopilot. Frighteningly my autopilot often kicks in while I’m driving, thinking about something completely unrelated to driving or road safety.
Some miles down the road I wonder how I made it to that set of traffic lights without crashing.
I also have ‘senior moments’ when I head towards a room with a specific purpose and, having arrived, wonder what I went in there for.
Or I can be enjoying a good book for a while until, distracted but still staring at the page, I have to go back and re-read a paragraph several times because none of it has registered.
During each of these scenarios, my mind has wandered so far that I am focusing on everything apart from the task at hand.
I’m not entirely here, now, in the present.
Does this sound familiar?
I recently completed a course on Mindfulness. I attended four sessions with Nathalie Roth, founder of Nurse Your Tree, where I and four wonderful women, learnt how to start the demon-taming process.
We learned that through practicing mindfulness, we can start to experience what is happening and how we are feeling now. We were taught to pay attention to unhelpful, judgemental thoughts, mental predictions of events that haven’t happened and the dangers of making assumptions.
Through a variety of mental exercises, we were encouraged to notice and acknowledge these thoughts, then challenge them and finally distance ourselves from them.
By being kinder to ourselves we can enjoy more of the present.
We learned techniques to focus our attention, relax and meditate.
This might all sounds like hippy nonsense – if I had read this a couple of years ago, I would have thought so. But now I understand how closely our mental wellbeing impacts on all of our relationships and ultimately our happiness.
This quote taken from the book Thrive by Arianna Huffington says it all:
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “this is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “no, this is what’s important.”” [Iain Thomas]
I don’t want experiences to pass me by, because of regrets or embarrassments from the past which I’m still carrying around. And I don’t want to deny myself happy moments now, because of anxiety about what might be around the corner.
What matters is today, I’ll cope with tomorrow when I get there.
Practice makes perfect
All this mindfulness takes practice. I am setting aside time each day to exercise my mental muscles.
One of my favourite expressions is ‘Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle’.
I need to apply this to the person in the mirror.
Much love, Vx
[Disclosure: my thanks to Natalie Roth who asked me to take her course in return for an honest review. This post has been updated since its first publication in 2015]