Do you have a mind like mine – where the landscape ranges from tropical paradises to fly-infested swamps, tar pits and quicksand?
If you do, you’ll also be familiar with the feeling of getting stuck in those swamps and pits. The harder you fight, the worse it feels and the deeper you sink.
I get stuck in the swamps when I ‘should’ on myself or replay the same thoughts without changing perspective or finding a way to move forward. In these cases, my thoughts loop round and round, driving me deeper into the swamp so I start feeling anxious, stressed and mentally weaker, and I worry I won’t find my way out.
Alcohol and food lessened the pain of the swamps but the relief was always temporary and not once did actually they lift me out. It’s both funny and sad that I was blind to that fact for so many years.
This one has been a bit more challenging for me and I’m still learning it. As an only child and an introvert, I rarely reach out to others. I don’t tend to ask for help and I don’t tend to offer it either – at least not in ways that require me to stop what I’m doing and make someone else my priority or make myself vulnerable in the process.
Recently, two things happened to change this and the results were revelatory.
The first was that my neighbour needed some help. It only took an hour and, when he first knocked my door to ask for my help, I was annoyed at the intrusion. Spending the hour with him left me feeling light and free. He got me out of my head and I ended up thinking about him and his life and how else I might be able to be a better neighbour.
The second was a mother at a local playgroup experienced a tragedy. Talking to her about what she and her family were going through felt very vulnerable because there was nothing I could do or say to help. I just had to sit with her in the grief and powerlessness of it all. The day she and I spoke about what had happened, I was in quicksand with my own stress and worries. By the end of the conversation, my thoughts were on her. My problems felt small and manageable because my perspective had completely shifted.
They say there is no such thing as an altruistic act because we always benefit in some way. It’s true. Although I might have helped both of these people in a small way, they definitely helped me in a large way.
Perhaps this lesson has two parts! The first part is the one I started with: helping people and giving your time, attention and vulnerability is a great way to get out of your own head and gain perspective. The second part is that perhaps we shouldn’t be so afraid of asking for help because, in doing so, we give people an opportunity to help – not just us but themselves.