Beginning Again with Self-Compassion: Part One

Dear Blogging Friends,

After my last post admitting the fact that I have no clue what I’m doing with my various blogs and social media pages, my faithful reader, Doug, said he voted for having this be more of a personal blog. Although appealing, it scares me for several reasons. One, I’ve been raised to be very private. (Why not just write in a  journal?)  In addition, some of the things I want to write about involve other people, who don’t want their stories told. I respect that. And then there’s this: a personal blog is, well, personal. Do I really want the world to know how messed up I am? I told my husband a few weeks ago, “I thought I’d be more together by age 52.” He so sweetly and earnestly said, “Being together is over-rated.”

You have been taught that there is something wrong with you and that you are imperfect, and there isn’t and you’re not.

-Cheri Huber

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But, at least for today, I’m going to go for it, and tell you what’s really going on with me.

My self-compassion practice has been a joke. My husband told me the other day that he thinks I’m still way too hard on myself.  I said incredulously, “Really?” I hadn’t even noticed. So I retook the self-compassion test on Kristin Neff’s website and I scored horribly–probably lower than I did when I first started this blog. Oh my gosh. I felt badly because I was feeling so badly about myself! Of course, I started to cry.

My first year of blogging went really well. I was learning to be kinder and more gentle with myself; I felt more peaceful. So what happened? I’m not sure, but here are a few theories (maybe not in order of importance–I’m figuring this out as I go):

1. Chronic pain has worn me down.

  • I’ve felt overwhelmed dealing with doctors and new medicine trials. I’ve had hopes dashed when a medicine gave me so many side effects I stopped taking it, and then read in my records I was labeled “noncompliant.”
  • I don’t have doctors I trust. I feel like I’m flip-flopping around too much, but I can’t find anyone I click with.
  • It’s frustrating having to weigh every decision based on whether I think I’ll be able to manage the pain, and how long I’ll take to recover.
  • The things I like to do the most are the things that exacerbate my pain.

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.

-Michael J. Fox

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2. Dealing with depression on top of chronic pain really sucks.

  • I’ve had a long, long history of depression, and I’ve come to realize that I have what’s called “treatment-resistant” depression. Despite lots of psychotherapy and lots of different medications, I have a very difficult time maintaining a stable mood. (And going through menopause definitely made me worse!) I’m not Bipolar with highs and lows–I just have varying degrees of lows, with just enough good days sprinkled in to let me know what I’m missing. My last psychiatrist retired, so I’m starting with a new one. Of course, she thinks the previous doc had me on all the wrong things, so I’m trying some new things, which is EXTREMELY scary for me. I am trying really, really hard. I didn’t read any of the information on side effects and am giving this a chance. It’s been two weeks and I’m afraid to be hopeful, but maybe I am, just a little bit.

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

-Mark Twain

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3. I have an over-active reptilian brain.

The reptilian brain is the part of the brain that deals with threats. From an evolutionary perspective, this part of the brain kept us safe from lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). When confronted with perceived danger, adrenaline kicks in and we swiftly move into survival mode. Our nervous system goes on overdrive and we can do amazing things–run quickly, fight off an enemy, or freeze until our enemy thinks we’re dead and leaves us alone. I would have been great in prehistoric times. But now? My brain is constantly scanning for things to go wrong, leaving me in worry-mode much of the time.

Also, as Kristin Neff pointed out: “…when the threat is to our self-concept, self-criticism does not work well. When you view yourself as the problem (I can’t believe I gained those 5 pounds back, I should’ve gotten an A on that test) the reptilian brain kicks in and attacks yourself, thus the self-critical self-talk.”

To top it off, as neuroscientist Rick Hanson describes it, my brain is like teflon for remembering positive events and velcro for remembering negative events. In actuality, the ratio of positive to negative events in my life is in my favor, but it often doesn’t feel this way. I forget the good.

What does this have to do with my self-compassion practice going awry? I think because these grooves are so deeply cut into my brain that I have to be very intentional to move out of this way of being. And I haven’t been very intentional (partly due to #1 and #2)

We have to have compassion for the self critic. Self-criticism comes from a desire to keep ourselves safe.

-Kristin Neff

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This is getting kind of long, but I’m not finished yet! I’ll continue in Part Two, hopefully in a few days. I want you to know how much I appreciate you reading this and all your support. I am going to begin again with self-compassion, this very moment, and know that it is okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, and everything is already alright.

You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you’re beautiful.

-Amy Bloom

Photos by Greg Markway, taken over the past few weeks.

25 thoughts on “Beginning Again with Self-Compassion: Part One

  1. You rock. The conversations you and your hubby seem to be having are also taking place several hundred miles North of you ;-) Yep, are you sure you don’t have a microphone planted in our house picking up what we’ve been talking about? I also think your (our) family of origin definitely is a piece of the equation here…hard working salt of the earth, no time for much fun German rootstock casts a long shadow. It just does. My wish for you is some tangible relief from the chronic pain and finding a caregiver you click with and love, soon! PS tell Greg I love the pictures. I am a “wanna be” photographer. Barb, thanks for trusting us with your heart. DM

  2. I love your honesty and always have. Thank you for sharing the real you and your struggles. I must say though, despite the fact that you say you are a private person, the real you always shines though anyhow. You are as genuine as they come Barb. You continue to teach me that it is okay to be real and human and not pretend to be somebody that I am not. Sadly, society doesn’t seem to be so excepting of that type of honesty and sees it as a sign of weakness. It has been held against me often in life and therefore makes me be more cautious of who I can share my real self with. Thanks so much for doing that here Barb. You continue to inspire me!!!

    • Hi Sherry! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You are so sweet to say that the real me shines through. And I love the word genuine :-) Yes it’s true that society sometimes equates vulnerability with weakness. I wish it weren’t that way, and I’m sorry it’s been held against you in the past. I hope you can find more people who will cherish the real you, because I know you’re pretty awesome!

  3. Beautiful, honest, and vulnerable Barb. Thank you for sharing your journey with such transparency. I bet so many of us can relate to one or more parts of your story.

    I, too, would have done better in prehistoric times with my overly anxious mind. As a recovering perfectionist, people-pleaser and achiever … I spent much of my life ‘proving’ my worth. I join you whole-heartedly in your search for self-compassion and have found the work of Kristin Neff, Rick Hanson, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle Melton, Byron Katie and, of course, Debbie Ford (top of my list for stepping out of my self-limiting patterns) very beneficial as well! I look forward to hearing more … thank you again for heeding Doug’s suggestion. I believe you will speak straight into the souls of so many … Karen

    • Thanks, Karen. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but it’s gratifying when people can relate him feel less alone. Your comments make it worthwhile!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I often remind myself that life is supposed to be about the journey, but sometimes it would be nice to take the highway instead of the dirt road…

    • Hi Amy! You are so sweet. And now you have the sweetest little girl :-) I hope my pain someday gets to the point where I can come and visit you!

  5. You are beautiful. I loved your blog, and this one is even better. Thanks for being authentic and I know you are already seeing that as a big part of your path to gratitude, joy and wholeness. Big hugs.

  6. Get out my head! I relate strongly with each and every one of your points, although I do not have chronic pain. “Just” chronic depression and anxiety exacerbated by the deaths of both my parents, a daughter’s extreme difficulties, and my husband’s two hospitalizations, all in the same year and a half. We all have our litanies of suffering. Thank you for your self-disclosure and writing about it straight forwardly. I feel less alone. Now… to focus on that self-compassion! I’m starting an 8-week compassion cultivation class this week, the one created at Stanford by the Dalai Lama’s translator. It can’t hurt, right? I am so glad to find your beautiful blog and will visit frequently. Peace be with you.

    • Wow! You have had a lot of stress! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you feel less alone. That really means a lot! Your 8 week compassion Class sounds wonderful. Peace be with you too!

  7. Thanks for your honesty. I have the same treatment-resistant depression (I’m 54). Plus social anxiety. I can’t take any medications, either I’m allergic or they don’t work or the side effects are too severe. This round of therapy has been 3+ years and I recently began supplementing it with the workbook “Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression”. I’m now a convert this Acceptance and Commitment therapy, it’s helping me a lot. I’m beginning to have hope. I had chronic back pain for about a year and I thought I was going out of my mind. It’s terrible how strong an effect pain can have on your mood.

    • Hi Cynthia, thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve dabbled with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’m glad it’s helping you a lot. I have a few ACT books–I’ll pull them out and give them another look. Yes, it’s so true how pain can impact your mood. I never know which comes first–the pain or the bad mood… So glad you’re beginning to have some hope.

  8. Thank you for being so open and honest. It made me feel better about myself, especially after last week. I think all of those things keep me from being compassionate to myself. I thought I was doing better and then last week my therapist tells me she doesn’t think I’m better. Threw me for a loop. And all because I refuse to quit my job, which she believes is too stressful for me. But I had to disagree with her. I’ve only been seeing her for 7 months and, before that, I would have been freaking out about the situation I was in at work and being very hard on myself about it. Instead I was able to see the bigger picture and the likely outcomes without getting overly emotional. But then Friday blew up in my face and all of that flew out the window. Your words today though give me hope. They show me that we may have down times but we can get back up and keep moving on the road we want to be on despite all that happens.

  9. I’ve read your blog posts before. Nothing wrong with starting over. I guess that is better than giving up. I can really relate…….being a person in daily pain, fatigue , and depression that comes along with it. I think for me acceptance of how much my life has changed has taken awhile, but I’m getting there. That right there makes self-compassion easier.

  10. Wow. If this wasn’t what I needed to hear exactly when I need to hear it. I have been putting my hand on my heart and saying one word: forgiven. I see a therapist who specializes in hypnosis and EMDR. I have read the work of Bessel van der Kolk. My experience has been amazing and I have become a believer in “body memory”. When you wrote, “my brain is like teflon for remembering positive events and velcro for remembering negative events”…I thought, Yes! That is exactly what Mary tells me. She believes until you process the body memory of those disturbing events, you can’t let them go and heal. Read Bessel’s interview at onbeing.org with Krista Tippet re: trauma and emdr. Best wishes.

  11. Pingback: Learn to show a little more compassion… for yourself | Martina McGowan

  12. Hi Barb, all I have to add is that I really feel for you, I always value your communication which not only touches but nourishes my heart and appreciate you very much. Sending big prayers and hugs across the waves. xx

  13. Dear Barbara,
    re: continuing to practice self-care, Please don’t give up on finding a way to control or end your chronic pain.
    Several years ago I had a minor accident that caused me to develop a chronic pain problem. The doctors I saw at my HMO told me there was nothing they could do for me except prescribe ibuprophen, because there was no cure or even a treatment for my problem. One of my doctors told me to resign myself to the pain, because no one at my HMO would give me an Rx for stronger pain meds knowing I’d be using them the rest of my life: They didn’t want to become an addict!
    Fortunately for me, while talking to a friend about her own injury and the treatment she was undergoing, I discovered a chiropractic treatment that helped bring my pain under control in short order. My chiropractor told me the treatment was not a cure and my problem would require “management”, but, in fact, in the decade since I first went for treatment, I have only had to return for two follow-ups, the last one more than five years ago.
    I want to encourage you to not give up hope for a treatment or cure because I know how chronic pain wears a person down; you don’t sleep unless exhausted, you never feel rested and the lack of rest impairs your cognitive functioning. It would be easy to give up hope for pain relief.
    Good luck,
    Melissa Brown

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