I saw a great post this week, although I can't recall where it was or who shared it. It said “she refuses to be imprisoned by other people’s opinions”. It made me think how I can sometimes be imprisoned by my own opinions, and what I THINK are other people’s opinions. Just try that on for size. How often do we think we know what other people are thinking? It happens a lot, and it’s not helpful. It’s not based on fact, and it will continue to do harm until we learn to become aware of our thinking. That’s how we break free.
It's not a secret that breast cancer completely changed my life. I suspect that happens to many people who experience any kind of major life threatening or life altering situation. For me, it changed the way I look at things and helped me recognize what is truly important in life. There's a lot of nonsense I used to put up with, from others and from myself.
Today I'm focusing on the crap I dish out to myself. What I notice more and more is how I can make myself a prisoner to other people’s opinions. Not just their known opinions, but what I think their opinions might be. Let's allow that to sink in for just a moment.
Earlier this week I had my annual mammogram. I consider myself to be very lucky that my cancer was caught so early. I didn't need chemotherapy. I had surgery, completed radiation, and was prescribed a dreadful medication for a total of 10 years to help prevent cancer recurrence. Aside from that, I get an annual mammogram and MRI. Some of this can be challenging at times, especially the medication, but I didn't need chemo. I count my blessings.
At my appointment this week the lovely woman who took me back to the waiting room handed me one of those fabulous hospital gowns to put on. I was directed to a changing room where I would remove all clothing from the waist up and wait for my name to be called. I put on the gown, which was approximately 10 sizes too big. You could probably wrap this thing around me several times. All the belts in the world wouldn't help. I'm somewhat used to this, so I configured it the best I could and went to sit and wait. I'm sure I could have asked for a smaller gown, and I thought about it for a moment, but I knew I wouldn't be waiting long. It wasn't a big deal.
While I was waiting I started to notice the thoughts entering my head. They went something like this: "They all know I'm wearing a big gown". "This gown looks different than the others". "They know I need a larger gown". That quickly spiraled into "I should be further along on my weight journey". "I shouldn't have to wear the big gown anymore". "I'm bigger than everyone here". In my mind I make all of this mean I'm less than, not good enough, etc.
Let’s talk about what was really happening in this moment. First, I inserted myself into other people’s business by thinking I knew what they were thinking. I simply don't have that kind of power. My mind then used this as an opportunity to beat myself up a little bit about my body, my size, and the fact that someone handed me a much larger gown than I needed. I was making the size of the gown mean so much. I want to point out that absolutely none of this was based on fact. The only fact in this situation is that I was given a gown that was too big. Period. Anything I felt after that (shame, sadness, regret) was a result of my thoughts about the gown and MY thoughts about myself. That's it.
Even after all the work I have done my brain still does this. Our brains can be really clever. They'll come up with all sorts of twisted and slippery ways to screw us up. They are brilliant, and believe it or not they do mean well. Sitting in the waiting room, with the gown falling off my shoulders, I realized what my brain was doing. I stopped myself and called my own bullshit.
Perhaps my brain diverted because it didn't want to face what was about to go down. My annual mammogram brings up all kinds of memories. There is still a very real fear that cancer will come back. It can be very emotional and overwhelming, especially at these appointments. Or, perhaps this is still part of my MO. It’s part of my very old habit. It’s the road I have traveled for decades, and it’s familiar. I think I know what other people are thinking, especially about my body. Then, I beat myself up for whatever I think they are thinking. It’s a masterful distraction, and it's all me. My inner critic is still alive and well. I'm certain it's a combination of all these things, and I’m fascinated by it.
In the end, the reasons why don't matter. I caught myself before it could get really ugly. I noticed I was not in my own business. I noticed I was harshly criticizing myself. I was on to myself, and that allowed me to move on. In that moment I put my hand on my heart, took several deep breaths, and kindly told my critic she could stop. All is well. This is awareness.
I ended up having several conversations with other women in the waiting room. They were dealing with their own feelings for different reasons. They were focused on their own stuff. Nobody gave a shit about what I was wearing. The gown didn’t matter. It never does. I’m still waking up.
I wish I would have taken a selfie in the gown, but I didn't. This selfie will have to do. xo