Thursday, 14 May 2020

Dark Thoughts

I have to confess that I've always been a thinker. I don't necessarily mean in the manner of a great philosopher but just in terms of internalising or deliberating. Being inside my head has been a kind of refuge from the world; a place I could escape into  - like a wood. It was also a creative place where poems came from. I enjoyed thinking about things.

But, when I became ill, my place of refuge became a place of torment. It was as though the wood had been set on fire. What had previously been a sun-dappled quiet place - became an inferno - acrid and charred. Depression made my thoughts turn toxic through a combination of feeling  worthless, guilty and hopeless. I think my anxiety also added some panic and dread. The thoughts  were so powerful that they made me physically uncomfortable - inducing cold sweats or shakiness. To give you an example, I might think: I'm going mad - therefore I won't be able to work and I won't be able to earn any money, so I won't be able to pay my way. I'll be stuck at home forever, or worse still I'll lose my home.

But as I've said before thoughts are not facts. They may seem like facts. They may seem logical and inescapable. But really they are insubstantial things.

What we all need when we're assailed by the dark thoughts is to create a kind of cordon - a Patronus charm, if you like. The only way I have found of doing this is through mindfulness. Being in the present can definitely slow down (and potentially stop) the thoughts. Let us try a quick exercise now. Start by looking around you. You don't have to be in a beautiful natural place: anywhere will do. (If you're in Coronavirus lockdown then the chances are you'll be in a room.) Try and concentrate on your surroundings. Use your eyes and your ears and your sense of smell and touch. Absorb all the information that you can about the room - the colours - the shapes - the textures - the sounds. How does the light enter the room? When the dark thoughts come back, as they will, just draw your attention back to the present moment. See how long you can keep the thoughts at bay for. Another thing to try is just to be vigilant of your thoughts. Stand back a little and try and observe them as they arrive. (That's that one about not being able to work again.) Don't judge them. Instead of fighting them or trying to block them - just gently draw yourself back to the room. If you can stay in the present - then the thoughts will find it hard to get a grip. They will lose some of their stickiness. If you can keep out the thoughts - even for a short while - you will find that your body will relax a little. This, will then allow you to breathe. Getting in tune with your breathing will also help to keep the thoughts at bay. 

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