It was pointed out to me that I had been particularly quiet on the blog last week; it was a tough one. As I wrote on Wednesday, the early shift combined with some particularly hectic days just drained me. Not to mention my own mental health issues creeping back in.
A perfect storm.
I try not to worry or get anxious about not posting these days - if it happens great, if not so be it. And that's what I love about the Daily View on the blog: each day is it's own thing - there are posts or there aren't, there's no indication of streaks or any pressure to create them. It's one less thing to fret about.
But my mental state has been on a slide for the past couple of weeks.
Still, as a family, we've been discussing relocating to to the North-West, even looking at properties, and my wife said the other day that I had a genuine smile on my face - something she doesn't see too often. It was triggered by the thought of being able to move and quit my job.
I think that says a lot about where a number of my problems lie right now.
I'd been thinking for the past week about Stephen's post in which he mentions ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) but hadn't really been able to write something around it.
I can totally recognise and relate to his notion of "presenting myself and others with reasons why I can’t do a thing that are totally unrelated to anxiety" - sometimes I'll realise I'm doing it, more often not until my wife says "you're just making excuses!" Usually, it's after the event because she knows I get into a defensive, entrenched mode of operation where the more someone tells me to do something the more vehemently I'll reject it - almost to the point of outright rebellion. She knows I have to come to the realisation on my own but can leave subtle hints and nudge me in the right direction so I reach that point earlier and it seems like it was my own idea.
While ANTs are normal, and we all have them to varying degrees, I think there is a tendency for the anxious and depressed to dwell on them more, to accept these cognitive distortions as truths, to imagine threats and problems where they don't exist. I know from my own experience that it makes me over-cautious constantly thinking "what if?" and not having the courage to just act without seeing everything as a potential disaster waiting to happen.
It can be incredibly restrictive and equally frustrating for those around me whose lives are affected by the resultant inaction.
Reading some of the literature on ANTs I like the imagery of comparing them to real ants spoiling a picnic: one or two might be fine but an infestation ruins the day. An infestation of ANTs starts to dominate your thinking, becomes self-reinforcing, making it increasingly difficult to shake the dreads and fears even though we may know they are products of our own mind.
I also like the mental imagery of having an ANT-eater, a mechanism for recognising and dealing with these thoughts - it's just not always that easy to be so objective with them, recognise then for what they are, and then deal with them. Especially during these trying times where your world has largely shrunk to the dimensions of your house.
I suppose that's where the practice of observing your thoughts during meditation starts to come into its own.
It's quite paradoxical how I don't define my identity by what I do for a living but do allow it to determine my sense of worth and, therefore, future prospects based on what I see as my current skillset and, in my mind, lack of transferrable skills. There's probably many things I could do but, because of my ANTs, can't see myself doing or how I could ever be qualified to do them based on my experience.
I need to develop the mental tools and resilience to overcome this, it may even come down to just taking a leap (not necessarily of faith) and dealing with whatever happens on the other side, forcing it upon me so that I have no option, no chance to think myself out of it.