June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

FROM A BILLBOARD NEAR ME: Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you're stupid and make bad decisions.

Imagine you have been offered a new job and you want to do a pros and cons analysis. Would it look something like this?

PROS

  • More money
  • Better insurance
  • Corner Office

CONS

  • Commute (from 30 minutes to 75)
  • Big team to manage
  • Travel about 40% of the time

Those are GREAT things to consider. As a matter of fact, those things must be considered. Those considerations, however, are FACT based. They make the rational brain happy. What about the EMOTIONAL brain? Facts also carry an emotional component. In other words, we have an emotion around truth.

Remember that a WISE MIND* considers both the rational and emotional. We cannot ignore our emotional side of decision-making and expect to be satisfied with our choices. It’s very important we settle down and complete a different type of pros/cons analysis. Let me demonstrate for a scenario I am personally struggling to decide.

UNDER CONSIDERATION:

I’d like to start a “school” for writers. I’m envisioning on-line classes, video classes, a video critique group, one-on-one editing and critique services for all aspects of the writing process.

Rational Pros and Cons

My RATIONAL brain is spitting out pros and cons in rapid-fire fashion. I won’t bother you with the entire list but I will share enough so you can get a feel for how to find WISE MIND.

Pros

  • You are already doing this, it’s just a different adaptation
  • You could make some $
  • You have most of the resources already
  • Might get me an audience for my own book
  • Like teaching – energizes me (that might be my emotional mind weighing in)
  • I’d learn a lot of different skills

Cons

  • It would take an influx of $ to get started (“how much?” the rational brain asks)
  • You would have to learn to do several “technical” things and that would take time from your own writing (huge learning curve)
  • Requires a commitment and you enjoy your current flexibility
  • You’d have to learn a lot of different skills that don’t excite you

I could add – and will add to this – but let’s allow the emotional mind to have her say:

Emotional Pros & Cons

Every decision you make causes distress. Thankfully, most are so minor that you just push on or barely notice. For example, you might be planning to change toothpaste. On a scale of 1-10, that’s a distress level of 1.

But, changing jobs, having a kid, choosing a school, considering marriage or divorce, filing bankruptcy – these cause a level 10 distress! Right? The higher the distress, the more critical it is for you to sit down and feel AND think before acting.

I’m applying an 8 to my distress level regarding starting a writer’s school.

The DBT Pros & Cons is more about the consequences of potential choices on an emotional level. Let me just jump to it because that will likely demonstrate it best.

OPTION 1: Move Forward and Pursue the Idea with Gusto

“TOLERATING THE DISTRESS OF OPENING A SCHOOL”

Pros

  • I’d be very satisfied with this career. This career would not only feed my teaching gift, it would keep me writing and learning.
  • I’d be proud that I faced the fears associated with such a project
  • You’ve written a book, published it, currently writing a second one – this is easier – (that’s not a pro, it’s more an affirmation but I’m trying to share what’s coming up for me)
  • You’re already doing it – you’re being a ding-dong (that’s my name-calling side rearing her beautiful head) – just do it already

Cons

  • I’d have to discuss with Dave and I’m afraid he’ll reject it and cause conflict, hurt feelings … (If I’m brave enough to bring this up, then I’ll want him to get on board)
  • The learning curve scares me – what if I can’t do it – that ‘crushed feeling’ could send me backwards mentally
  • What if it fails …. You’d be a failure …. You’d put your family in jeopardy AGAIN
  • Where does the $ come from – how much are we talking about anyway?
  • FEAR FEAR FEAR
  • Having to face that overwhelmed feeling! Can you do that? Is it worth it?
  • Who are you to think you could do this – and charge for it? – (admittedly, that’s not a con but it does demonstrate Distress Tolerance. This comment is swirling and swirling and beating me down)
  • You’d have to start slow – and that’s not a strength

OPTION 2: GIVE UP THE IDEA

“NOT TOLERATING THE DISTRESS OF OPENING A SCHOOL”

Pros

  • Sweet relief – I could sleep at night – stop running the idea around and around in our heads
  • More time to write, hobbies, etc.
  • Never have to tell Dave and hear his worries (hmmm – this worry may indicate a problem area that I should address at another time)
  • Never have to face the fear
  • No financial impact – (can you see how this is both a rational and emotional idea?)
  • You wouldn’t have to put structure around the idea

Cons

  • You’ll always think about it – wonder if you could have succeeded. The idea will continue to germinate.
  • You like teaching so much – and you’re good at it – do you walk away because of fear that can be worked through?
  • No positive financial aspect – (can you see how this is both a rational and emotional idea?)
  • Working through the fear is good for you on many levels

I could go on and on here too. I’m hoping you see that there are many things to consider. The higher for potential distress, the more I must analyze both areas (rational and emotional).

Combining

Did you notice how some considerations were both rational and emotional? I think when you take the time to do these analyses, the rational and emotional brains start to talk to each other. I’d have an emotional con and my rational brain would agree or challenge. Kind of cool!

What Does the WISE MIND Say

My Wise Mind thinks it’s a good idea on two levels: 1) The idea is just a good one. 2) Having to keep pushing myself through fears and obstacles is only going to benefit my mental health. 3) Discussing this with Dave in a calm manner would continue to strengthen our relationship and build my confidence in conflict management.

Wise Mind is telling me to present the idea to Dave. He’s an excellent source of balance and his ability to see things I haven’t is unparalleled. He’s a resource that has my best interest at heart!

BUT ….

My fear/anxiety about even discussing it is super-high. Imagine how that will grow if I move forward! Worth it?!?

A Weird Observation

Did you notice how sometimes my comments were first person (‘I, me’), then second person (‘you’) and even plural (‘we’). I need to evaluate what that means – was I trying to distance myself, trying to share the angst?

The Decision/Next Step

I’m not sure yet. My next strategy is to bring this up in therapy and try to move “fear” to the back burner and then I’ll be able to look at this more clearly.

And, I will discuss this with Dave (hopefully before he edits this). If I can’t face that fear, I should forget it! But, I need to go to him armed with a plan. Part of that plan is this analysis.

Success

Regardless of what I decide to do, I am PROUD OF MYSELF because I didn’t jump in or run away. I’m sitting in my feelings and letting it all simmer so that I can make a WISE decision. I’m getting better!

*If WISE MIND is a new concept for you, read last week’s blog for an introduction.

Resources:

I did not follow the DBT model exactly as it is typically presented. Still, my adaption follows the methodology pretty well. Here’s more for you to read:

https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/pros_and_cons.html

https://peerguideddbtlessons.weebly.com/dt-procon.html

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions!).

We all know how that phrase ends ….

If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all (my father said it better … If you can’t say something nice, then keep your damn mouth shut.)

What the phrase doesn’t say is that if we can’t say something nice then lie!  Re-read that so you have the words correctly on your tongue …. if we can’t say something nice doesn’t mean we should lie.

So, why do we violate our own authenticity on a regular basis?  Are you raising your eyebrows at my calling us all out as liars?  See if any of these scenarios fit:

  • A friend walks in with a new dress that does NOT look good – yet, we say, “Oh that looks so nice on you.”
  • Someone you haven’t seen in a long time crosses your path – do you tell her you’ve missed her (when you haven’t) or that you can’t wait to see her again (when you don’t care one way or another) or that it was nice to see her (when it was, at best, neutral)?
  • Or how about when you tell someone you’d love to do this or that (when if you do it, you will be cursing them and yourself soon)?

I can go on with the examples and I get ‘social niceties’.  But here is what bugged me – and has me on a soapbox – last week an acquaintance posted on a social media this wonderful tribute to her husband on their anniversary.  She went on and on about what a great guy he is, how supportive, how she appreciates him … lovely!  EXCEPT, I happen to know this couple is so unhappy they barely speak. 

Now, I’m not suggesting she should have broadcast what a jerk she thinks her husband is or how disconnected they may be.  I AM asking … why say anything at all?  Why not ‘keep her damn mouth shut’ as my father would say?  Why lie?

Another person on social media had a birthday.  Well-wishers came out of the woodwork … lovely!  EXCEPT I know some of those well-wishers not only can’t stand the birthday girl but actively trash talk her.  So, again, why lie?  Why not just keep your damn mouth shut?  For my part, this person is not someone I want to cultivate a relationship so I simply didn’t post anything.  If I had chosen to wish her a happy birthday, that would have been inauthentic! 

We preach ‘authenticity’, ‘be your own person’, and ‘it doesn’t matter what other people think’ – but do we live it?? 

One last example – and this may be what has me in a tizzy – an old acquaintance (someone I might have once called a friend) posted a picture of me from years and years ago.  She ‘tagged’ me and wrote this sweet comment … lovely!  But, was it authentic?  I haven’t seen or spoken to this person in YEARS.  I can’t help but to wonder what inspired the sudden loveliness?    (*see important note below for a rational mind’s interpretation)

​​How can we play nice and also be authentic?? 

If you can't be nice, be quiet meme

Want me to be super authentic – the picture that former friend posted was one of my least flattering.  My inner critic, my inner bitch, is trying to convince me she intentionally posted that very picture to make me think badly of myself and to make her look good.  My rational brain says that’s crap.  My emotional brain is banging a war drum.  I’ll spend a bit of time calming the beast within. 

Calming that Beast – What Method Will I Choose?

One of the reasons I write this blog is to give people who struggle with Excess Emotional Energy ideas for calming themselves and using that energy to make the next best decision. 

I’m struggling right now because I want, desperately want, to use my writing time to beat up this person and beat up myself.  You see, the picture was from “before” my mental breakdown and it showcases all that I lost (my career, my friends, even my religion) … so it’s very painful to see that picture and more painful to see it on social media. 

I WANT her to have posted that to purposefully hurt me.  Why?  Because then I can wallow in how awful she is instead of wallowing in how awful it feels to have lost so much.  If she intentionally hurt me, then I can focus all my energy on hate instead of healing!  Hate is easier.   Do you see how an emotional mind often becomes about self?

Hate Or Heal?

I have a choice to make – in this very second, I have to decide what to nurse or how to channel this excess emotion.  It’s too flammable to take out and hold right now.  I need to cool it down.  I’m shuffling through all the techniques I’ve learned in therapy, rehab, life. 

Strangely, I have the Wall Street Journal with me (this is the first time I’ve ever bought one) … I’m going to read two articles, circle any ‘big’ words, look those words up and use them in a sentence.  By the time that’s done, I’ll be better able to choose healing over hatred.  I’ll be able to look at that picture and hurt.  It’s okay to hurt – it’s a part of being human and emotional.  But the difference will be that I hurt because of what I’ve lost not because of what someone else said or did.  But, I also am able to remember that picture and remember some of the wonderful moments of ‘before’.

If it still hurts, I’ll take it therapy!  Eventually, I have to deal with all that my career was and how badly it hurts to have lost it.  That’s one area that stays too hot to handle! 

**Important – Please read!

First, my husband was reluctant to have me post this blog.  He’s worried that the people I’m mentioning will recognize themselves and I may cause problems.  He’s right.  But, I promised authenticity and that’s what I’ll give.  And, seriously, if they recognize themselves then maybe that’s okay.

Second, my husband operates out of a rational mind most of the time.  He said that maybe the person posted an old picture of me in an effort to “have a genuine and safe way to reach out and see if there is any mutual desire to reconnect or mend.”  Every thing we see, think or believe can be viewed from a different lens.

I’m a bit disappointed – I’ve read six articles and no ‘fun’ words.  But, the desired effect was met.  I’m calmer.  I will NOT be wasting time on hating … and, I think I’ll have to take the career loss into therapy – it’s just too hot for me to hold by myself.

I learned a lot reading those articles – I learned there is a lot more to learn!

Several weeks ago, I joined Orange Theory Fitness (OTF). It’s a pretty hardcore workout that pushes you to earn “splat points” or to be in the “orange zone”.  Now, I’m fit and doing the workout is tough but doable.  Yet, I cannot get those damn splat points. 

I know I shouldn’t do it, but I look around at other people’s statistics and see EVERYONE getting more of those points than me.  And I’m dying … I’m working … I’m barely breathing!  I’ve changed the location of the heart rate monitor.  I’ve talked to the front desk.  Today, I got one point …. Everyone else received 10+. 

So, as I have the last several sessions, I spent ten minutes in my car crying like a baby.  Crying so hard that I could not drive home.  I’m a 52-year old woman crying over splat points.  I felt ridiculous doing it and I feel ridiculous admitting it. 

As promised, one of the points of this blog is to show you what an emotional mind “looks” like … here we go:

My Rational Mind

My rational mind (and my husband) is telling me the following:

  1. You are working out so hard, the points don’t matter – it’s a great workout
  2. This is a workout you could not have done 18 months ago – be proud
  3. Really, it doesn’t matter – the point is to get exercise and to bump it up – you’re bumping it up – be satisfied
  4. It’s not about what other people are doing – it’s about what you are doing
  5. And, look around you, you are more fit than so many of the people in that class – it has to be something with the way the monitor works and not you

I try to grab hold onto any of those but my emotional mind is in a frenzy, rejecting everything the rational mind chooses to offer.

My Emotional Mind

My emotional mind is telling me the following (and, picture this like the Tasmanian devil on a roller coaster – the thoughts spin, crash, climb, spin, crash, climb – and that devil is laughing his maniacal laugh!):

  1. There must be something wrong with you – there IS something wrong with you – even if there is nothing wrong with the way you exercise, the way it upsets you means you ARE crazy
  2. You must not be working out as hard as others or you would be getting those points
  3. The people at the front desk aren’t helping you because they don’t like you
  4. You still overeat – you don’t deserve to earn these points
  5. If you really wanted those points, you would work even harder – you give up – you always give up
  6. You embarrass your husband when you get so upset – that’s why you don’t have friends – people think you need to get it under control
  7. You’ll never be what you want to be – in anything – so just give in and give up
  8. Life is fair …. It’s just NOT FAIR TO YOU because there IS something wrong with you
  9. You are a crybaby

Reread those nine things – faster, louder!  I may not have gotten my heart rate up enough to get those points, but it’s rising as I listen to my emotional mind.

Who Wins

That’s the question of the day.  Do I keep going?  I get great physical exercise but the mental turmoil is rough.  And, it’s not getting any better.  No matter what kind of pep talk I give myself when I arrive, by the 35-minute mark (after I’ve compared all the other participants great results), I’m a basket case – choking back the tears until the class ends.  The rational mind just isn’t strong enough to pull me back.

I know my therapist would want me to take this as an opportunity to “sit with” difficult emotions.  She would want me to be mindful of what’s happening in my body and then she’d want me to try to find the story I’m telling myself.  Or, to put it another way, she’d want me to understand what purpose this fear is serving me.  UGH!

But, if I continue to struggle, I’m afraid that I will ultimately just give up – and not just Orange Theory but all exercise.  I’m kind of an all or nothing person – especially when I’m in emotional turmoil.  Exercise is one area in my life that works well and I’m afraid to risk it.

It’s two hours since the class ended – I’ve had a nice breakfast, showered, walked the dog and yet I’m writing this in tears.  Desperate to just go lay down and hide.  All because of a 55-minute exercise class.  Is the class worth it?  Is it beneficial or detrimental?

What should I do?

For Today

One thing I’ve learned over the years of emotional struggle is not to make any decision when my emotional mind is running amok.  So, tomorrow (or later today if I feel more balanced), I’ll process this more. 

I’ll add to this blog and share tomorrow.  (BTW:  I have another class tomorrow morning at 7am – no matter what, I’ll take that class and use it for more information).

Making a Wise Decision

Before you read the following, make a judgment on what YOU would do and make a judgment on what you think I should do.  Take a few minutes to think through the why’s of your choice.  If you’ll take the time to do this, you’ll get more out of my analysis.

What is a Wise Decision?

What’s wise for you is not necessarily what’s wise for me.  And, what decision – exactly – am I making?  I’ve found that when I’m upset about something, I get wrapped up in making decisions that are broader than the problem of the moment.  For example, as I began to process all of this, I caught myself making decisions about all exercise and then that branched into time management issues.  Pulling back, I need to define the problem concretely and keep coming back to that.

The problem:  Considering that I’m struggling to get splat points and that is causing me to doubt and criticize myself, should I continue this particular exercise at this time in my life?

Did you notice how I brought the problem into focus?  I’m considering a certain exercise only (not my entire workout program) and I’m not keeping or eliminating any options for the rest of my life.  (Trying to eliminate ‘always’ and ‘never’ from my vocabulary.)

Using A Pros/Cons Approach

In DBT, we are taught how to use a pros & cons chart.  Here is what I came up with:

Tolerating The Class

Pros

  • It is excellent exercise
  • I do feel proud of myself after I get past the emotional pain
  • I can reduce my personal trainer visits and maybe save some $
  • It’s never the same – therefore interesting
  • Maybe I could make some friends
  • It is motivating to try to keep up

Cons

  • Having to suffer through that emotional crap – the fight I have to wage to get back to ‘normal’
  • The class is exhausting and that exhaustion lasts quite a while
  • As I improve my cardio, I have to just keep increasing the intensity (and, yes, I recognize that’s a pro and a con, but right now it feels like only a con)

Dropping the Class

Pros

  • No longer having to sit in that emotional muck
  • Not having to exercise at a certain time (flexibility)
  • Not comparing myself to others (yes, I know I should stop doing that but that is not the focus of this analysis)
  • It’s not a cheap class

Cons

  • I’ll likely kick myself for a long time for giving up – same negative track as above with a different focus
  • I still need to find a way to increase my cardio workout – whatever I come up with may be just as hard
  • I also kinda forced my husband to sign up – it’d be pretty tacky for me to bail!

Based on my pros and cons analysis, what would you do?  I decided not to decide yet.  I’m giving it a few more weeks (until we leave for vacation).  That deadline takes some of the pressure off – I can suffer anything for 3 weeks, right?  And, in 3 weeks, I may feel better or find some other solution.

These extra weeks will allow me a chance to talk to my therapist and bring it up in my group therapy sessions. Getting perspectives from people who struggle like I do will likely provide me some ideas I hadn’t yet considered. 

Had I not taken the time to 1) write this blog, 2) complete a pros/cons analysis, 3) wait it out a bit, then I would have made an impulse decision to quit.

Unexpected Help

Asking for help is hard (and, I think, even harder for emotionally minded people).  I did try to ask the front desk to help me understand what was happening and what adjustments I needed to make.  But, I burst into tears and the poor guy at the front desk became a deer in headlights (the poor guy is maybe 22 – he had no idea how to handle a 52-year-old basket case – kind of funny if you think about J ).

I told my husband my problem – actually, he’d seen it when he went to class with me and saw me start to lose it.  He ended up calling the fitness center when they weren’t busy with classes.  He explained the problem (including my mental health challenges) and together they looked at my settings.  Then, he went with me to the next day’s session where we met with the manager and she monitored me during a class.  We made some adjustments and I ended up with a reasonable 15 splat points.

What some of you are thinking is that I should have been able to do that myself.  That maybe I depended too much on being rescued by my husband.  Maybe you’re right.  But, if I can accept that sometimes, with some situations, my emotional mind is an asset and other times it’s not, then I should also be able to accept the using someone else’s rational mind is a good skill.  (Sometimes, my ridiculously rational husband depends on my emotional mind too).

Keep an eye on my FB – I’ll post my OTF results!  And, if you want to bump up your exercise, find a center – it’s quite a workout!

Resources:

June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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