It started as a vision I had one morning this summer on our road trip. I woke up before daybreak in the steamy Florida gulf, hung over from one too many rum runners the day before. In my hypnagogic dream state, my brain was a big puffy cinnamon roll, except instead of streaks of delicious cinnamon crusting the folds, my brain was smeared with lines of black gunk. I woke up, went outside to watch sunrise and didn’t think too much more about it. But it definitely stuck with me.
I believe our bodies have a lot of innate wisdom, but that they speak to us in very subtle ways. It can be hard to listen, especially with our modern, hectic lives. Ever get a little nagging feeling about a tiny sensation in your body? How many times do you ignore it? When I have a vision like that, I try not to ignore it.
Skip forward a couple months . . . I was in the DC area, about to leave for Europe. Our friends were sort of throwing a big house party for us. It was a good time, but at one point I found myself in their purple parlor room all alone, which was fine. People were just a few feet away in the kitchen, cooking burgers, hanging out and laughing. Others were in the front room listening to music. And a thought hijacked my brain and it just wouldn’t let me go. That loop was . . . “You are stupid. You are really, really dumb. You are literally mentally deficient.”
I sat with those ridiculous thoughts for a minute, reflected on why they’d entered. There are probably a lot of reasons – my mother has an intellectual disability and I’ve been dealing with her care a lot the past couple of years. Here’s an old post from seven years ago, before I was so involved with her care. Things have changed a lot, and that’s another story that weighs on me pretty fucking heavy. Another reason those thoughts came is that I’m in a huge period of flux. With my home – not sure where we are going to live – and with my career. I’m never going back to motion picture accounting, but even as I type these words, I’m hoping and praying I don’t have to eat them someday.
Those “you are stupid” thoughts didn’t come from me. For the record: I don’t think I’m stupid. By writing this post, I’m not fishing for platitudes about how I’m not stupid. I hate to say/admit that I have a mental illness, but anxiety and depression definitely fall into that spectrum. And I couldn’t stop those thoughts from running through my head . . . “You are stupid. You are really, really dumb. You are literally mentally deficient.”
Part of me wanted to freak out. But I didn’t. I just took a few deep breaths, said to those thoughts, “Stop picking on me. My friends still love me even if I’m a drooling idiot.” Then I went out to the living room and danced and laughed with my friends as we watched the video “Whip/Nae Nae” like twenty times in a row. (It’s what all the kids are watching these days, in case you’re old like me and don’t know it.) And I didn’t think too much more about the ‘stupid’ racing thoughts. But those words stuck with me somewhere.
Welp, like anything that gets stuffed down, those thoughts eventually resurfaced. And when they did, they hit really, really hard. They caught up with me in Germany. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really, it was a situational thing – these thoughts would have eventually caught up with me no matter what. We couchsurfed with a couple for a week in Berlin. The woman, an anesthesiologist, loved using the word ‘stupid.’ This is stupid, that is stupid, this person is stupid . . . blah, blah, blah, SO STUPID and she delivered those words in that typical tight-assed, regimented, rules loving, staunch German accent. Everything and everybody in her world, she thought, seemed to be really stupid. (We probably should have thanked her for the couchsurf and politely exited.) But we didn’t.
My brain held on to her ‘stupid’ keyword like a hawk who’s just snagged a mouse. Hearing that word so often, almost like a mantra, gave those ridiculous thoughts a chance to weasel their way back in. And this time, there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them. “You are stupid.” By the time we got to Dresden, it didn’t take much for me to have a bad day.
Matt and I had another huge argument over nothing. It was the biggest one yet and it lasted for three days. I was really close to being like, “Fuck this trip, I’m done.” Except I didn’t have a home to go back to. Those days in Dresden were probably my lowest point.
I reached out to my good friend Lizette. She suggested that as a Christmas present to her, that I consider a temporary ban on using the word “stupid” both toward myself and toward any people or things. Because it hurts you no matter which way you direct it. If you believe something can be stupid, you can believe YOU are stupid. The moment you unravel someone or something that seems stupid or dumb or idiotic (pick your vague terminology), there are myriad ways of explaining why things are the way they are. Other words instead of stupid: uninformed, misinformed, under-informed, confused, unprepared, nervous, tired, overwhelmed, grieving, afraid for her safety, chewing on a problem, annoyed, angry, hazy, not there yet, scared of being left alone, scared of being told they can’t do something, just scared but not sure why.
So, that’s what I’m doing. Merry Christmas, Lizette!
Remember what I said about how our bodies talk to us in a subtle way? Well, I think my brain is telling me/was telling me that I have to take better care of myself. And I think it was also a deep realization that I’m leaving a career and so, with building a new one, it’s time to gain new skills. And cull one very uninformed, misinformed, nervous, grieving, hazy, annoying word from my vocabulary. Those thoughts haven’t surfaced in a long time. If they surface, I’m going to say, “Hello, bad thought. Not today.”
We all probably have words we need to excise from our mental vocabulary, words that we need to find more kind, generous and uplifting substitutes for. What are some of yours? Are you willing to consider a temporary moratorium on words that are mucking up your brain with black streaks? It’s a great Christmas gift that you can give to someone or yourself and it won’t cost you a thing. Let us know in the comments below. We’ll all celebrate together.