The voice in my head

photo-2Well, I’m still loving the Power of Now and I’m annotating like crazy. I haven’t underlined a book so much since studying Wuthering Heights at A-Level and Mrs Batch introduced us to a colour coded noting system.

The following paragraphs got me so excited I wrote a giant: “YES!!” next to them. They’re about the voice in our head. The voice that makes us miserable and ever so slightly crazy:

‘When someone goes to the doctor and says, ‘I hear a voice in my head’ he or she will be most likely sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all of the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realise you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues.

‘You have probably come across ‘mad’ people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all the other ‘normal’ people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or ‘mental movies’.

‘…. It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person’s own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness as well as disease.’

AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH?

THESE PASSAGES DESCRIBE WHAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS. 

That voice has ALWAYS been there, telling me I’m crap, that I’m messing up, that I’m an idiot, that I’m lazy, that people don’t like me, that I’m failing, that I’m fat and ugly… etc. etc.

Sometimes it’s quiet enough that I can ignore it but before Christmas it was so loud and constant, I genuinely felt like I was losing my grip on reality. It was there from the moment I woke up, till the moment I eventually fell asleep.

At one point, lying on the yellow bedspread of my Dublin guesthouse, I had a very real feeling that ‘this is what it feels like to go crazy. This is actually what it is like. You’re going crazy.

My thoughts had become obsessive, going around and around in loops, like the never-ending gramophone records, to use Eckhort Tolle’s description.

Here were some of my records:

The blog: I became obsessed by the fact that this blog was so behind schedule. In my head I’d go through each month that had passed and torture myself with the fact that I did not keep it together. Why hadn’t I done better? What hadn’t I done more? Why do I F**K everything up?

The book: I was terrified at the thought of writing a book. Who did I think I was?  I am not a proper writer. A proper writer writes notes all the time… I haven’t been taking notes. Why didn’t I take notes? Why didn’t I do better? etc etc etc

My family: Conversations replayed, hurts revisited, my own petty dramas, playing over and over and over again. I blamed myself, then blamed others…

Me: Why do I drink so much and eat so much? Look how much weight I’ve put on. I’m disgusting… why am I such a pig? Why don’t I have any control? Why, why, why?

My friends: I started to become obsessed by all the ways I’d let people down and been a crap friend. I became quite paranoid. I imagined the people in my life looking at me and thinking I was a loser. ‘Why can’t she just get on with things like the rest of us,’ they’d be saying. I compared myself to more productive, efficient, prettier, more together friends and taunt myself: ‘Look at all they manage to do, juggling kids, jobs, mortgages… and you can’t even manage a stupid self-help blog… Why can’t you be more like them?’

And ON AND ON AND ON… 

To quote Tolle: ‘It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person’s own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness as well as disease.’

I am quite certain the reason I get sick all the time is because this voice drives me into the ground. One of the reasons I am so unproductive is because it takes up all my time and energy – I think I’m using it to spur me on, but it has the opposite effect. I can’t move forward because I’m too busy drowning in past mistakes and visualising future f**K ups.

And anything good that might be happening is ruined because I’m already picking holes in it, thinking about how it could have been better, and how it might go wrong…

It’s so exhausting, and I’m so over it. These records have been playing for years (when I wasn’t worrying about the blog, it was my journalism, when it wasn’t my family, it was my singleness).

I have tortured myself at every turn and it has to stop.

But how?

Tolle writes that most of us try to dampen down this voice with drink (yup), drugs, medication, shopping, sex… but they only quieten the voice temporarily and then it comes back bigger and louder than before.

Instead Tolle says that the only way to find any peace and joy in life is to learn to step back and to REALISE YOUR THOUGHTS ARE NOT REAL.

HOW TO STEP BACK FROM THE CRAZY VOICE IN YOUR HEAD

Tolle writes: ‘The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramaphone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. 

‘When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door.

‘… As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence – your deeper self behind or underneath the thought. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides because you are no longer energising the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of the involuntary and compulsive thinking.’ 

Tolle also says that it’s good to ‘go into your body’ – by taking deep breaths, or feeling each part of your body, your feet, your legs, your arms. When you’re in the body, you’re not in you head. You can also go into nature, or really pay attention to the room you’re in, the physical environment (rather than your mental environment).

I really like this and have been doing it for a week. It helps a lot. Whenever I catch the voice about to start up – and it was already starting up while writing this post (‘You’re not writing this well, why is your brain so foggy, pull yourself together, this is waffle, why are you so crap?…’) – I just notice it. And instead of beating myself up for the fact that I have this voice (other people aren’t this self-indulgent and stupid, they don’t have time for this voice, they just get on with things etc) I just try to accept that it is there. That this is a record that my brain plays.

And just in that one tiny moment of stepping back I feel better. I stop believing my voice. I’ve started to see it as this annoying gremlin (Brene Brown writes about this). I can see it for what it is: just silliness. It loses its power. That’s not to say it doesn’t keep coming back, it does, but I don’t feel like I am consumed by it. I see that it’s just a stupid story I’m telling myself.

Tolle’s theory is that the more often we practice this ‘observing’ and ‘stepping back’ the weaker our attachment to our thoughts becomes until eventually, I guess, we’re not really troubled by bad thoughts. They pop up occasionally but they won’t take hold. We won’t believe in them.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Right now the idea of being free from my negative thoughts is more appealing than a month in the Bahamas or a six-figure cheque – because even if a fairy godmother gave me those things, my thoughts would find a way to ruin the moment.

Bye for now xx

ps This is an interview that you might like (depending on how high your Oprah tolerance is.)  If, like me, you struggled with the book, there’s a lot of good videos on YouTube which break Tolle’s ideas down into simpler chunks. 

 

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