During my stint in a mental health facility* a couple of years ago, I picked up skills that I lacked. Skills that could have made it easier to process painful events, assert boundaries, and a metric fuck ton of things. I call upon those skills very frequently. Sometimes I don't even notice it because it has become second nature. I'm grateful to have achieved that.
However, one these skills stands out from the rest. It is by far the one that helps me the most when I start to feel the all too familiar spiral. That shit show always starts with one thought. Everyone hates you, you'll never be more than you are now, and (the most popular) you are and will always be alone. That's when this most useful skill kicks in. It's an acronym that I use to challenge any of these thoughts that the darkness in my brain likes to conjure. The goal is to challenge and reframe the thought. Think.
Is it True?
This is always the hardest one to get through. My self worth is something I always question. I used to actually tell myself that I was an awful person. That I was greedy and selfish. But I'm not an awful person. I'm definitely not perfect. The truth is that I'm compassionate, generous when I came be, and genuine. Not sure those would be characteristics of an awful person. The bottom line is that there is evidence to dispel the difficult things I tell myself.
Is it Helpful?
Most of the time, whatever the fuck I'm telling myself is soooooo not helpful. It keeps me from moving forward or employing problem-solving skills. This always makes me see how I'm my own enemy. How is any of this bad thought supportive?
Is it Inspiring?
Oof. The thoughts that come up aren't typically motivational. I was brought up in a family that thought they could say terrible things to someone and that those would magically motivate someone to do what they think is best for you. "If I make fun of your weight enough, you'll get tired of it and lose weight." Nah. That has never inspired me to do shit. I heard this tactic used against me so much, it naturally became part of the script on my head.
Is it Necessary?
I need negative thoughts like someone needs a hole in their inflatable swimming pool. Whether it is about how pathetic I am for wanting physical intimacy or what a terrible pet owner I am, there is no purpose to this other than to deepen the pit of despair I'm trying hard to avoid.
Is it Kind?
By the time I get to this question, it is the summation of the questions above. The answer is always clear; no. In case it isn't, I ask myself if I would say that negative thought about a close friend. I envision myself facing that person and how terrible it would likely make them feel. That's my barometer if I can't get to the answer "no".
Once I work through this and logic my way to the answer "no" for each question, I come up with a thought that would mean answering "yes" to each of these questions. You put your best foot forward when someone needs you. You spoil the fuck out of your dog and are giving him a blessed life. Your best is more than good enough. You have so many people to turn to if you feel alone. Lastly, I remind myself that all emotions are temporary. So even if I can't change the thought, I can take comfort in knowing that I'll be okay.
So why is this relevant? With all this COVID bullshit, I find myself fixating more and more on how lonely I am. I often have to go through this exercise to keep myself positive. I have to maintain hope for the prospect of something more, especially when there is so much uncertainty in the world. Because ultimately it is not true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, or kind to tell myself that I don't deserve to have someone in my life that will love me and support me in the way that I need. This is just a moment in time and will not define my life.
*One day, I'll blog about this in more detail. Not that anyone would need to read it. I need to write it.