I sometimes feel sorry for myself after my doctor appointments. In the span of just a few minutes, I become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and insecurity. I get upset about all of the time I’ve lost by going for transfusions and check-ups. I tell myself that my career has been stunted by my inability to physically commit to long office hours.
I feel sad that my body has had to endure a lifetime of invasive procedures and wonder how I could possibly manage 30 more years of pain. “Why couldn’t I have been born different?” is what my mind says.
These thoughts are enough to make anyone feel bad for me. They could have easily made me sink into a terrible lifelong depression. For a long time, I was headed that way. I spent most of my teen years moping around like a sad lump.
Fortunately, I was very good at distracting myself. Potato chips were my best friends. I also found solace in gaming. I would play computer and Nintendo games nonstop, for hours on end. My parents probably thought I was being a regular teenager. They didn’t realize I was just trying to keep my mind distracted and preoccupied.
What do you do to get your mind off things? Tell me in the comments below.
Form the ages of 18 through 30, my potato chip binges turned into alcohol binges at parties. I also turned to relationships and school work as a method of coping. Then one day I realized that none of my escapes were working anymore. My mind was winning in its battle against me.
This is when I decided to seek out a different way to deal with things. I found a hospital that was offering free Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as part of a research project designed to treat people who qualified as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I qualified and began working with a Psychiatrist to understand what was happening inside my mind.
I learned how to understand and stop irrational thoughts that were making me behave recklessly. For example, as a kid, my transfusions were delivered by a machine that would regulate the amount of fluid being released into my body. The machine was computerized, but you could hear the mechanics pushing fluid through the tube. That sound, along with needles and the deaths of my friends from the hospital, traumatized me.
My trauma became triggered whenever I heard a noise that sounded similar to the transfusion machine. An example: crosswalk signs that mechanically change from “don’t walk” to “walk” were a trigger for me when I moved to NYC. Upon hearing the noise, I would have a vision of myself at the hospital — one vision after another of different painful memories — all in the time it took to walk across the street. My mind would spiral into stories like “life is a joke that doesn’t make sense,” which then left me thinking “what’s the point?” or “who cares about any of it anyway?”
I was able to shift my perceptions from pessimistic to fairly optimistic after just one year of weekly one hour CBT sessions.
I clearly remember an instance of the previous situation happening after my treatment period had ended. I was finally able to stop my thoughts from sinking into oblivion.
After treatment, I remember walking down the street and hearing the crosswalk signal change, then noticed visions of the hospital appearing in my mind. What happened next was a miracle. Instead of diving into the stories of my mind, I stayed fully present and focused on how beautiful the day was. I admired the sky and the brightly colored taxis rolling by. I reminded myself that the sound of the sign was unrelated to the hospital, so my thoughts need not travel there.
These days, I take the same exact approach when I start feeling sorry for myself.
The trick is to constantly bring yourself back to the exact events that are happening in reality that moment. If reality right now sucks the best thing to do is accept things, without resistance.
If you’re sitting in a hospital room and everything is going fine, but your mind brings you into the future and shows you a vision that makes you question your very existence, try this:
- Stop your mind from projecting itself into the past or the future.
- Challenge your thoughts before they become exaggerated and irrational.
- Stay fully present by forcing yourself to look around your surroundings in a state of awe and wonder.
- Trust in life and free yourself from resisting the natural occurrence of things.
- Live as fully as you possibly can, every chance that you get.
Let’s examine what I said in the beginning of this article; I’m going to put words in bold next to each sentence to describe the way my mind tries to sabotage me.
- I sometimes feel really sorry for myself after my doctor appointments — Feeling sorry for one’s self is due to resistance to what is. Denial of the truth leads to suffering due to lack of acceptance, forgiveness, and love.
- I become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and insecurity — A mental belief of how things should be, according to an ideal that is based on fantasy, not reality.
- I get upset about all of the time I’ve lost by going for transfusions and check-ups — Mind surfing into the past and the future, mixed with resistance to what is.
- I tell myself that my career has been stunted by my inability to physically commit to long office hours — Again, inability to accept the truth of what is.
- I feel sad that my body has had to endure a lifetime of invasive procedures and wonder how I could possibly manage 30 more years of pain — Mental surfing into the past and future, with resistance toward accepting the present.
- “Why couldn’t I have been born different?” is what my mind says — This is the epitome of resistance.
Practicing these techniques over time will lead to mastery. I can’t tell you how helpful CBT has been for me. If you’re struggling, I ask that you at least try what I’ve shared. Let me know how it’s working for you. You can send me an email info(at)josephinebila.com.
Do you know someone who could benefit from learning these cognitive behavioral techniques? If so, please do them the service and share this article with them.
To life without thalassemia,
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