December 10, 2022

The False Stories we Tell Ourselves (& How to Determine Fact from Fiction).


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I allowed someone to poke around with scary, sharp instruments on my eyes yesterday.

I was told that it was necessary for the health of my vision.

I was told the procedure takes place thousands of times a day and is routine.

I was told my doctor is an expert in her field.

I was reassured by many people who had the procedure that it was simple and easy.

I was held up by prayers and good vibes from many of my caring family and friends.

But still I panicked.

My thoughts taking me down every possible road and scenario of how this could go wrong.

I imagined going partially blind or even totally blind. I created a life where I can no longer see my grandchildren or read my precious books or be entertained by my nightly TV shows. We take all of our senses for granted.

The logical part of my brain knew this was all silliness. But the stories we often tell ourselves feel real and can create unimaginable stress and anxiety.

We often don’t eat the right foods or do the right exercises or listen to the advice of knowledgeable trusted professionals on how we should care for our bodies and our minds.

The consequences of these choices that we make daily oftentimes bring us into situations where we have to allow people to poke around on our eyeballs early in the morning on an average Wednesday, fearing our lives will be changed forever.

I find myself at a crossroads here as to whether to go in the direction of talking about the stories we make up in our heads or the consequences of the life choices we make.

But I suppose one follows the other, right? Those tales we conjure up seem so real and true.

Brené Brown gives a great example of the places our minds can take us, based on nothing but our own fears and misgivings.

She was swimming in a lake with her husband. They had both been competitive swimmers in their past and they were enjoying this rare time together without the children. She made a comment to her husband while they were crossing the lake about how nice it was and he did not respond. She tried again. Still nothing. She dropped back a little, frustrated that he was not making the most of this rare moment alone together. Her mind started churning with all the possibilities for his silence. Was he mad at her for some reason? Did he not like spending time alone with her anymore? Did he not find her attractive in a swimsuit now that she was older and had born children?

By the time they made it back to the shore she was furious with him. An unpleasant confrontation ensued.

He, of course, was clueless as to the reason for the rage. He had just enjoyed a nice swim with his wife. She, on the other hand, had begun thinking about lawyers; sure he was not interested in being married to her anymore.

When I read this, I laughed out loud at the absurdity and the relatable truth.

We do not have to believe everything our imaginative mind creates for us. Our insecurities and fear based on past experiences can take us to places in our head worthy of a good science fiction movie.

And then we act on those imaginings as if they were indisputable truth. Then the bad choices begin.

“He doesn’t find me attractive anymore so I might as well eat the whole cake.”

“She didn’t return my call or reply to my text, so I guess we were never really friends to begin with.”

I missed a few yearly eye exams (excuses: finances, insurance disruption, pandemic). If I go to the optometrist now, she is just going to tell me it’s too late to fix my problems and that I am of an age where I should realize it just really doesn’t matter anymore anyway. Or I do go and she tells me my issue is serious and needs to be addressed right away.

I am sure I am going to go blind and never see another sunrise or read another Mary Oliver poem.

So we have circled around back to the beginning and possibly the moral of this story.

My eye surgery was successful. The doctor laughed as she told me what a fun patient I was. Apparently, I laughed and joked during the whole procedure, which was a small problem for her as I was supposed to be laying perfectly still.

So my mind starts weaving another story. Did I move around too much? Did it cause her to make a mistake we just haven’t noticed yet? That is what I get for relaxing into the moment. Now I will probably have double vision or lose the use of my right eye. Why don’t I have more self-control?

Why do we do this to ourselves? How do we avoid creating unnecessary stress and anxiety for ourselves and those around us? How do we stop listening to the voices in our heads?

Byron Katie has a simple solution.

Ask yourself these four questions when you find yourself buying in to your imaginative creations:

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know that it is true?

3. How do you react; what happens when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without that thought?    

I keep a printed out workbook style sheet of paper with these questions on it. Whenever I start weaving my web of make believe, I pull one out and answer the questions.

This exercise really helps me connect with the emotions my body is creating around my tale. It helps me divide fact from fiction, pulls me back into the moment, and the reality of my situation.

Some days I go through a lot of those sheets of paper; other times I can just run through the questions in my mind and bring myself back into focus.

Remember, you really don’t have to believe every thought that comes across your mind.

I will have to have surgery on the other eye in the near future. I am going to use the time in between to stare lovingly at my grandsons every chance I get so that their sweet faces are imprinted permanently in my mind. I am going to devour all the books I can get my hands on and take every opportunity to see the sun rise and set. Just in case…

And isn’t that the way we should be living our lives anyway?


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