A Tool to help those who might be struggling with dark thoughts after the Christchurch Attacks
23 March 2019
By Mandi Lynn: Every Body is a Treasure's Founder / Director
A 10 minute read that may help you, and help you to help others in dealing with recurring negative and destructive thoughts either post the Christchurch tragedy or even in facing your life challenges.
For the past three nights, I have been waking up with anxiety.
Heavy racing thoughts scary anxiety. This is not something I normally experience anymore. Part of it I imagine is unprocessed thoughts to do with Christchurch mixed with my own creative vulnerabilities from stretching quite far out of my comfort zone.
After the third morning of it, I had finally had enough. I realized I wasn’t taking my own medicine. I hadn’t been writing my Treasure Technique each morning and the build-up was strong.
The Treasure Technique is something that I do to keep sane in a world that doesn’t always feel that way. Normally I keep myself in a bit of a bubble away from the news but Christchurch reached me in my safe space that is for sure. But how it manifested was very very curious.
My current reality (this isn't skiting...just setting the stage for how distorted the negative voice was)
Here is the reality of my life at the moment. I am doing hard work, the hardest work I have ever done before. I am trying to teach creative resilience to tween and teen girls. I am creating a curriculum from scratch based on 20 years of research, and field testing. I am running the pilot with a group of amazing volunteers who are supportive of the ideas and really want to see the project come to life. It is based on material of which segments of it have already won awards for its value to the community. I have a nice safe home and a loving partner. Artistically I am tracking well to one day become one of New Zealand’s Grand Masters of photography (one gold remaining). I am luscious sized woman but healthy and usually quite happy and really excited about the HeArtivists Program we are building for girls and what it has the potential to do for women and creativity in our community. It would seem everything is tracking relatively well.
So why have I been waking up in a cold sweat the last three nights?
The Warped Filter
The negative voice in my head was going batguano! Stuff I can’t even rewrite here but to summarize, I was a failure, I probably should just quit this whole charitable trust thing because no one believes in it. I was probably going to lose my house because I started focusing on a building charity when I wasn’t rich and didn’t have it already bankrolled. So why freaking bother and put so much that I have spent 30 years building at risk? And while I was at it I should probably check my fat ass off of the planet because my feeble attempts to make something of a difference were worth nothing in the face of this much evil in the world.
I will preface this by saying that voice is not my voice, but it was very very loud in my head. And I have zero intention of listening to it. And this is next level cruelty. And no I am not suicidal, and I don't even body shame myself anymore. I have learned this very clearly over the years, that is the voice of resistance. And she plays dirty. This was not a calm situation that required some loving incorporation of the light and dark sides of myself. I’m sorry but no. This was straight up destructive end of the world style vitriol.
I have been running workshops for about 10 years now and the one thing that most have in common is the presence of this unkind critical voice. Some are louder than others but it isn't reserved just for those who have schizophrenia, it is in most people once they reach about age 10-12 years old. This is why we even have comics with the angel and the devil on each shoulder. But it isn't cute. And I imagine that this voice is the same sort of poison that infects the minds of those who chose to take their own life. The only difference is they choose to believe it instead of challenge it. Protecting against this destructive mind chatter it is one of the main points of the HeArtivists program we are piloting. It took me into my late 30’s to develop this mental self-defense system. I would have given anything to have had been taught it when I was a teen or a tween. My creative potential would have been so much more over my lifetime.
I began to learn it when I modified a three pages method of journaling. I named it after our trust:
The Treasure Technique
Step One | Release the Poo
The three pages is to perform a mental exorcism of sorts. To take those needling sniper style thoughts and bring them out into the open and expose them. Write them down so you can see how wrong-headed they are. How cruel. How lacking in any sort of compassion. Some days the banters is small and trivial. But left unexpressed they can build up into the sorts of things that would be found in the manifesto of a mad man but instead of being focused on a hate crime against an “other” it is focused on a hate crime within. A killing of the creative sprirt.
So if you were just to write out the 3 pages you would be left an oozing mess on the floor with barely the will to live if you got hit by the style of attack I got this morning. (which is why it is good to do the three pages daily so they don’t build up into a pressure cooker bomb that just went off on me) But that is the trick. It is that captures the destructive genie in the bottle. To expose it to light, instead of letting it hide in the shadows.
Step Two | Find the Pearls
Once exposed to light you can pick apart the arguments and sift through and see if there are any takeaways there worth listening to but honour it as the rantings of a mad one. I got a take away from it and that was in the form of an art project that I need to bring to completion that is weighing on my spirit. And a need to focus and wrap up the current projects I am developing before taking on more.
Those were the pearls in the poo.
The rest needed a good old hosing down.
Step Three | Burn that Shizza
Here is the most important part. You don’t hoard those thoughts. Once you have analyzed them for any constructive elements...then you burn them. There is something incredibly satisfying about watching them go up in flames. If you hoard them each time you re-read them it is like subjecting yourself again to a bully. Not nice at all. If you don’t have the option of burning them then shred them. Put them in multiple bins. Get them away from your person.
The added benefit of destroying these is it allows you to vent about others without fear that it will be found or could hurt them. Because lets be honest, sometimes we just want to let loose and vent but we don't want to do anything that is going to damage our relationships. Some times we need to vent without feeling like we are talking about someone we care about behind their backs. I learned this the hard way and really hurt someone I love when they read these momentary frustrated thoughts months later by accident. He was hurt. Not okay. Burn that crap. Don’t leave it around like little land mines waiting to go off on you or someone else.
Step Four - The absolutely required magical part and not to be missed step
Get a cool journal. This is one that you keep. I prefer and unlined A4 journal because sometimes I burst into mind maps and planning. Sometimes I get inspired with a new image to create. Sometimes I just write.
The first burned three pages are for the draining of the infected puss from the wound. The next set of pages in your journal is a clean clear natural medicine wash of self-compassion. It takes the form of writing as if I am writing to a dear and loving friend who has just experienced what I have just experienced. You unpack the unmet needs, for me today, it was safety and security which possibly is an empathic response to the tragedy in Christchurch. I felt the emotion of anger at the needless loss of life. The frustration I have that cell phones are like a virus that is spreading among our youth raising their anxiety levels and taking them away from face to face connection with others. Potentially fracturing their long term ability to connect with one another. Anxiety that what we are trying to do with youth may just be a tiny drop in the bucket and it might not matter, how do I win against a cellphone?
I had to sit with that. Like a good friend sitting next to a sobbing friend who is scared. My 14 year old intern Charlotte was with me when the events at Christchurch were announced. We were running an arts event for the Fringe festival at the time. She held it together until the very end and then just melted. She just needed to sob and be held and have her sorrow held and shared. It was an honour to be there for her at that moment.
This is like that, but on the inside, and you do it to yourself. You honour your own pain, and you make room for it without feeding it.
Your loving wise woman, the knowing compassionate part of you holds the emotionally triggered part of you until the emotion is able to peak and then flow out. Just honouring the emotions and letting them flow like a deep consuming flood until the storm surge slows and just becomes a trickle. The mental loving arms around me become like a parting of the clouds and a ray of sun. My mood shifts from moroseness and depression to hope and planning. You do this through writing. Through your words or your drawings if that suits you better.
My loving mental best friend reminded me that even if I just reach one girl and make a difference in her life somehow that it is worth it, but it is not for me to decide that but just to do the work that I am called to do to the best of my abilities. That's it. Nothing more. To live what I am teaching. To make and to release with no attachment to the outcome but a commitment to creating the finest work possible with my current skill set. She reminded me that my finances have always been sorted even when I was concerned they wouldn’t. That I would be looked after by the universe as long as I was doing the work I was put on the planet to do. I was creating the course that I needed when I was that age and suffering so much and I was working my ass off to make sure that it was free to those who needed it.
Baby steps are okay. So I calmed down. My breathing slowed. I learned something from the inside out. I started making plans and adjusting course with the new information. I thanked that psychotic voice of resistance for showing me that the louder it gets means that I am turned in the exactly right direction...I am fighting against the annihilation of gifts that resistance stands for. I am working with a beautiful team to give girls the tools to fight creative suicide. To learn to face with grit the inevitable physical and mental challenges that will stand in the way of their dreams. And to teach them to wrap their own compassionate arms around themselves and to honour their gift. To work to give it to the world, even if it seems the world may not yet be ready. The act of loving creation is the ultimate smiling middle finger to evil and destruction in the world.
So ironically we are teaching girls to give the middle finger to evil and apathy by being self-compassionate and making their art. Somehow that sits really well with me.
This journaling method is one of the methods I am teaching the HeArtivists. But after the events of last week, it seemed like a good one to share with others as well. So it is my little gift to the world to add to all of the other acts of love and kindness we have seen pouring out since Friday last.
If in a crisis and your safety or someone else's are at risk please follow this link to get help .
If you are not in a crisis but want help turning down the volume of the critical voice then this might be helpful.
- Buy a packet of printer papers
- Buy a a4 ( letter sized) journal
- Pick a time in your day that you can commit to giving yourself 20 minutes of personal therapy and a self - compassion bath (trust me this process feels like that once you get the hang of it.)...and think about it. How much time a day do you spend surfing social media or watching netflicks? I’m not buying you don’t have time to do something like this. P.s. Mornings are best to clear your head for the day.
- Fill your own cup so that you have something to give others.
2020 Nov 05 - Addendum
Since using this with classrooms I have found a slightly more graspable way of presenting the positive voice in their head especially if the youth struggled to identify any kind people in their lives. Here is what I say instead.
Imagine yourself 20 years older than you are right now. The you that is looking back on you right now and who has been there with you every step of the way. The you that even knows your darkest thoughts, and biggest shames. This version has huge empathy for you, feels your pain and wants you to feel better. What would this older and much wiser version of yourself have to say to you right now? Write that down in your journal.