Have you ever actually paid attention to all the things you worry about? As I am becoming more aware of my thoughts, I am absolutely shocked and amazed by all the rubbish my mind produces pretty much non-stop all day.
In one of our 3E center morning sessions, we talk about the fact that generally in our current society we have a tendency to focus on the negative. I think anyone who reads the paper or watches the news will agree. I had never thought about it until now. But made aware of it, it becomes so obvious. Remembering the negative was, of course, a really useful skill to have in our evolutionary development. To be able to tell your child “don’t eat that berry or that mushroom, because your great grandfather’s best friend died from it, so we know it’s poisonous” is definitely a very useful ability humans have. It has protected us over many thousands of years and allowed us to survive.
However, we have become over-cautious. We now try to protect ourselves from all sorts of eventualities that most likely will never occur. There are dangers everywhere, be aware! This safety comes at a price and the price many of us (especially those who worry) pay is our inner peace of mind. We are constantly alert, constantly scanning for trouble, making sure we are prepared for whatever may come our way. Expect the worst! Like most people who develop cancers or other chronic illnesses, I am a worrier (according to the 3E centre, you're more likely to get cancer if you have a tendency to worry). It's in my blood and I can now see that both my parents are worriers. No wonder I became one, too.
I get an excellent example one night as I'm on one of my evening walks. I ring my dad. The setting sun is bathing the wheat field around me in the most delicious warm orange glow. We are chatting away and I tell him about my forest walks every morning and night, and how they remind me of our hunting days together and how they make me so happy.
And here it comes: the voice I have heard all my childhood, teenage hood and adulthood. The voice of the concerned father who is also a worrier. "I really don’t think you should be walking or jogging alone through a forest. Women get attacked, raped and murdered when they walk alone in remote areas. Who would hear you if you screamed?!" Immediately my whole body tenses up. Now I have my newly won awareness, I can literally watch my body change into fight-flight mode. Incredible. I pacify my dad, telling him that there are other people walking (which is a lie, I am often totally by myself) and that he needn’t worry. We change the subject and eventually say our goodbyes. I take a deep breath. Walking into the forest, I am replaying the conversation I just had over and over in my head.
Doing this makes me tense again. When some bushes move to my left, I jump. My heart is pounding. My whole body is tuned into the imaginary dangers of the forest around me. I realise that my whole life I have actually always been a little “on edge” when I walked by myself anywhere remote. This wouldn’t matter too much for people who live in a city and don’t walk anywhere. But I live in the countryside and walk my dog pretty much every day. For the first time ever, I notice how these walks, which could have been simply relaxing, were often accompanied by a slight undercurrent of fear or at least alertness. Tension instead of relaxation.
I decide to become even more aware of how I feel, and to consciously change my emotion whenever I feel irrational fear. I’m really glad this happened. After all, I can only change things, if I bring them into my awareness. So much is happening subconsciously. Automatic reactions, automatic responses. Fear of possible dangers is definitely a pattern I see running through my whole family. I'm going to have to look at where that comes from.
Another emotion for me to watch is guilt. For years I have felt guilty about all sorts of things that I now realise are just rubbish. I'm writing a list in my diary:
I felt guilty about having moved to the UK and having left my family. Especially when my parents both got cancer, I felt awful because despite the fact that I did fly over as much as I could, the guilt about not being there for them the way I would have been had I lived round the corner was immense.
I felt guilty about living so far from them that they couldn't see their grandson grow up the way they would have, had I stayed in Germany.
I felt guilty about being a mum and working part-time instead of having a proper full blown career. I was always a top student and there is definitely a sense of 'I could have done so much more with my life'. In a way, motherhood has become devalued by society and I have devalued myself. Surely for any woman, being a mother has got to be the most important job we will ever do: growing and nursing the next generation of human beings. (Obviously that's if we do choose to be a mum - I totally understand those who choose not to and obviously we are talking endometriosis here... an illness that more often than not makes you infertile).
I felt guilty about not being able to read Josh bedtime stories anymore, because I lost my voice. I felt guilty about being another ill wife for my husband.
I felt guilty about not being happy with my life when to any outsider I have everything anyone could ever want. On so many levels and seen from the superficial outside, my life is a fairytale. I live in a lovely neighbourhood, have no financial worries, a husband who adores me, a gorgeous son who is never any trouble. Up until I lost my voice, I always had part-time jobs that I liked (even though I also always knew deep down that they didn't truly fulfil me).
I felt guilty about feeling guilty. And I felt I could not tell anyone this, as that would have seemed so ungrateful when there was so much in my life to be grateful for.
I am not just becoming aware of all this hidden fear, worry and guilt, but also of how much I hid my true self in order to fulfil expectations I thought others had of me and in order to function. Functioning is something most of us women are incredibly good at. We forget our own needs, put ourselves last. As long as we function and fulfil everyone else's needs, things are fine. My own mum had totally sacrificed her life for the wellbeing of her family. I suddenly realise that my endometriosis started about two years after becoming a mum. Was this when I stopped looking after myself? I suppose like most first time mums, I copied the only true role model I had: my own mum.
The more I reflect, the more it dawns on me, that for years I have felt guilty about not being truly happy. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't exactly unhappy. But deep down and behind the functioning version of me, I knew that something was missing. I knew that I wasn't living the life I had come here to live. That there was something more I should be doing. This seemed such an odd thought and I had no idea what it was that was missing. I often felt like I was living my life parallel to where I should be. Like I was close but not on the right track.
At the 3E centre, with all this time on my hands and nowhere to rush to, nothing to get distracted by, my perspective starts to shift. It's like I am watching my own judgement of myself from an outsider's point of view and recognize how silly my thoughts, fears, worries and all that guilt were. It's as if in the peace and quiet of my 3E life, I can finally see things with much more clarity.
I can see that I have been an incredible mum. I admit to myself that deep down I actually love caring, nurturing, cooking, baking and channeling lots of love into our home. I admit to myself that I don't care two hoots about a successful career. Being a good mum is so much more important to me than earning a lot of money in some stressful job.
I can see that loosing my voice has brought Richard and Josh closer. Richard took over as the family bedtime story reader and we had beautiful family moments together, all of us cuddling up in bed at night. Nobody really missed out on anything. In a funny sort of way we have gained so much.
I can see that despite the geographical distance between the UK and Germany, my son has the most incredible relationship with his grandparents and we are all such a close, loving family. Maybe it is precisely the distance that makes us cherish our time together so much more. We don't waste it with squabbles, but actually value being together.
And finally, being here trying to heal my endometriosis makes me realise that anyone who is ill is on a very personal journey. Even if I had lived closer when my parents were ill, they both would have still had to go on their own individual journey. I could not have done it for them.
Layer after layer I strip away beliefs I held for years. Day after day, I become aware of beliefs I held that were untrue.
Who am I?
What's left if I strip away everything that I believed I was?
Would I be able to stop worrying? Would I be able to stop being afraid of things that most likely will never occur? Would I be able to switch off all that guilt?
Could I totally reinvent myself at the age of 40? What would the truest, most authentic version of me look like? Will the people I love still like me, if I drop all my various facades and show the outside world who I truly am inside? Will turning myself inside out, help me find whatever it is that I feel has been missing in my life?