September 2023: Biker Babe
Disclaimer: Hang onto your hats/devices, this is a long one!
I am not a fan of country music, per se; but I do enjoy the music of certain country musicians. In fact, there aren’t too many music genres that I don’t appreciate at least in part. However, when I am unpacking some emotional baggage, usually it is a variety of the blues-rock genre that helps me process. It took me by surprise to find it was the 1998 self-titled album by Faith Hill that came to the forefront starting with the lyrics of Me. But I am getting ahead of myself.
If August was a turn on the Tilt-a-Whirl, then September has been that ride that suspends you high above reality only to plummet you back to earth, jerking you skyward again before landing back on solid ground. I don’t know its name, nor have I experienced that firsthand…only the healing journey variety. From the highest of hopes to the depths of despair. The month started off well, but took turns for the worse as it progressed. The usual flow of clients dried up (hopefully temporarily 😉) and things escalated from there. As it turns out, the lack of clients was a catch22: while I could’ve used the distraction (and income), I wasn’t in the best head space to help anyone else. However, it also triggered my financial scarcity mindset which, combined with other factors, spiralled into a major depressive episode.
While I work hard to manage the anxiety, it does require effort when I don’t have extra to expend. As noted, the inexplicable lack of clients ended up being an act of grace given the many “interruptions” this month: an eventful long weekend filled with activity and people, plumbing fiascoes, and hormones wildly gone awry. My thyroid had its annual ultrasound session; and some of the numbers I saw the technician type in were a bit concerning. Results next month. Any potential concerns have to be tabled until then. But if it’s gone off the rails, that might explain some of the health challenges I’ve had lately. When I get stuck in the financial scarcity mindset, I’ve had to remind myself that the Universe is limitless.
The hopelessness in the midst of a major depressive episode is the hardest to manage. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced one that severe. Not sure what made it finally break. Maybe it ran its course, or it was the coping strategies of the ‘one thing’ rule and focusing on what is in my control instead of what isn’t. Daily walks in nature with the dogs also keeps me grounded when life is chaos. Abbie is definitely my unofficial emotional support dog. Every dog I’ve had the honour to call my own has served this purpose for me. They have been my life savers each in their own way. The Faith Hill song, You Give Me Love is playing as I write this paragraph. Very apt lyrics, especially the chorus.
When the world is cold
And I need a friend to hold
You give me love, you give me love, baby
And when my hope is gone
And I feel I can’t go on
You pick me up
You give me love, you give me love…
Sometimes I wonder what my brain and life would be like if I had had a safe and secure upbringing. Those dang unmet attachment needs. Fortunately, the Universe sends emotionally corrective experiences along the healing journey. I talk about them quite a bit with clients. It’s a tad unsettling when I have to process them for myself. Luckily, the heavy clouds of my major depressive episode had cleared by the time I had an opportunity to go for a short motorbike ride, even if the actual sky was overcast.
It was a fairly emotional outing for me for a few reasons. The most evident was missing my brother and motorbike rides with him. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a bike ride with my brother. We also used to mountain bike together when we both lived in the Yukon. Life has pulled us in different directions (geographically and metaphorically). I miss the closeness we once had. So, it was a bit nostalgic for me. It was also weird because I haven’t ridden with anyone else. I had to work hard not to let my brain obsess about what would be the ‘right’ way to ride with another person (not screwing up, embarrassing myself, that sort of thing). Somehow I managed to quelch the anxiety, and for the most part, be in the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed that short bike ride! I lack the words to describe the sensation being on the open road surrounded by the vibrant colours of fall.
Putting this profound moment-in-time into shareable words is challenging as it was an emotionally corrective experience on many levels.
- Someone being kind and attentive out of the goodness of their heart;
- Staying in the moment and not giving in to the shame spirals;
- Side stepping the people pleasing coping mechanism;
- Showing up instead of hiding;
- Reclaiming abandoned dreams.
Essentially, an emotionally corrective experience is one that challenges or corrects the pattern of behaviour you have come to expect or a no-longer-helpful core belief.
It was an emotionally corrective experience to have someone attend to me for a change without any ulterior motive (no strings attached and/or not being a burden, an imposition). And I need to savour it—to feel the feels and not push them away as self-indulgent or undeserved. Usually in therapy, we have to feel the feels of grief and pain. This is bizarre for me to feel the feels of positive experience. My instinct is to shut it down in an effort to prevent a shame spiral or avoid internal angst. And it is mind blowing to consider that it could have been a pleasure for the other person to provide this experience for me. That idea messes with my head. It is easier for me to believe that I am now beholden to this person for going out of their way for me or that the gig is up. They have glimpsed the real me and will vanish from my life. I still have to process that one a bit.
One of my conditioned beliefs is that anyone doing something nice for me either wants something or they’re just being polite (not sincere or genuine). The coping mechanism to counter my suspicious mind has been to become a chameleon, adapting to every situation as I sensed what was required. Also known as people pleasing. Some of the inner thoughts I battle when experiencing something new usually start with the following. You may recognize some from your own experience.
- When they really get to know me, they will reject/abandon me…
- Always needing an escape route…
- Not giving the wrong impression…
- Not misreading a situation/”stepping in it”…
- Acts of kindness can’t be trusted….
- Being teased, shamed if I show up…
- Being too much, not good enough…
- Not imposing…
So when the offer of a bike ride was made, something I really wanted to do, I was tempted to turn it down in order to avoid dealing with the internalized shame messages. To hide, instead of show up.
Attachment needs of consistent attention and affection as well as the development of mirror neurons are critical to developing a healthy sense of self. I never knew where I stood with either of my parents. And neither parent ever provided positive feedback in the form of reflecting back the good they saw in me. What my mirror neurons received was that I was the bane of their existence. I learned to be overly considerate of others—anticipating needs, moods, and desired behaviour—in order to prevent bad things from happening (such as rejection). Hence, my sense of self has always been based upon perceptions: what I sensed (rightly or wrongly) from others. I am still working on strengthening my sense of self.
Showing up (not hiding or blending in) means being open to rejection, as well as acceptance. I am conditioned to anticipate rejection, judgement, criticism (believe me, it’s been circulating in my cranium). I am not as well prepared for acceptance. Being a chameleon is easier. But as I strengthen my inner core and practice showing up, the words to Faith Hill’s Me begin to become my own:
That’s all I have to give
What you get is what you see, yeah
No second guessing, no pretending
… all I ever have to be is me
Another layer of this emotionally corrective experience is the resurgence of dreams. It occurred to me on the morning walk that I still don’t believe I “deserve” to ask for things or accept them when offered or visualize more in my future. Always paramount is the other person’s experience (making sure they are not inconvenienced). This morning’s realization was that I do deserve to have my early attachment needs for consistent attention and affection to finally be met. I have been hyper-focused on the grieving of losses to the exclusion of dreams. Another catch22: grieving the loss of attachment needs, yet too guarded to have any of them met. While it may appear to some as just a bike ride, for me it was a crack in my armour and an opening for hope that all may not be lost.
My dream to obtain my motorcycle license was shelved due to health and balance issues; but with the new trikes on the market, I may have to put that back on my imagined vision board. It’s just in my head right now; but I may have to develop a tangible board to remind myself of this juncture on my healing journey. I had also given up on having my need for consistent affection and attention to ever be met (partially or completely). Believing it was out of reach, not meant for me. The image came to mind of raising my hand to say ‘yes’ to something I want and having my hand swatted down. I have more work to do in addressing the shame associated with taking advantage of opportunities let alone being honest with myself about what would bring me joy. But there is a crack, an opening. The challenge lies in being terrified of humiliation while remaining open to emotionally corrective experiences.
From my journal:
Genial invitation to go for a ride. No strings attached. But I look for the strings, the ulterior motives, the hidden agendas. Best way to avoid embarrassment and shame and rejection and disappointment is to keep to oneself and not participate. Limit expectations. Maybe it’s time to expect more from life, not less. Open myself to joy and emotionally corrective experiences that break the old patterns of being. Life isn’t all or nothing. There is kindness and generosity still to be found. It might be exceptional instead of common, but it is there.
If I keep myself closed, I cannot experience it when it surfaces. I can only attract what I am open to. From hiding in the shadows to stepping into the sunshine. There remains a ways to go, but at least I know I still have love to give, and life to live. Far cry from what I was thinking and feeling in the depths of my depression. Winds of change blowing away the brain fog and self-doubt and self-limiting beliefs. There are many more of those to unpack yet. But at least I can own my needs and wants, hopes and dreams. I can ask, leaving opportunity for both no and yes. No does not mean rejection or failure. Yes can be pure and not tainted with baggage.
I don’t know how my dreams will one day be realized, but at least there is renewed hope. After the month I’ve had, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I can sing along with Faith Hill that better days are coming.
Better days are comin’ around
I know you feel like
The whole world’s gone and let you down but
Better days they’re comin’ for you