Sometimes, I catch myself having fierce arguments in my head with people I have never met, about situations that have not happened, followed by resolutions that are never satisfying. My headspace is cranky and irritable and there is no logical preceding incident; it is just where my head automatically ends up when let off the leash and wanders free range. I call this IBS – Irritable Borderline Syndrome.
Now, when I catch myself doing this, I redirect my thoughts into something else. I discovered I was doing this on the 45-minute journey to and from work. Without external noise distraction (my radio/CD broke) and only my thoughts to keep me company on the stop/start traffic jam journey to and from work, I was mentally irritable from plotting evil thoughts, arguing with my inner self and ruminating long before I reached my destination. My armpits and skin would itch with stress induced hormones and my bowels and intestines would cramp into knots.
My therapist once told me that traffic jams and traffic lights were wonderful opportunities to un-cramp, de-itch and meditate into a peaceful state of mind, because you literally have nothing else to do, so use that head-space wisely. Instead of picking fights with people who don’t exist (I can argue with a lamppost sometimes) I now redirect (with much effort sometimes) those thoughts to something pleasant.
Towards my destination, I drive through semi-rural country and there are many horses, sheep, cows, ducks and geese on the side of the road to keep me company.
Like my daily routine, my mind needs much structure and focus. Arguing with myself is counter-productive to where I want to be. I want to move to infinity and beyond. I want to think of ideas. I read recently that small minds think about people, average minds think about events and great minds think about ideas. So I now keep a notebook in my bag for any great, world-transforming ideas that might spring to mind when traffic starts to bottleneck in front of me.
Conflict resolution is necessary for the function and progress of the human race and internal conflict resolution is imperative if I am to arrive at my destination free from mental cramps and diarrhea. Part of the BPD syndrome involves living in the past, being unable to get past previous situations and having a different perspective from others about the same events. If direct focus on personal events is too scary, then I can fabricate alternative scenarios which have a distinct revenge theme.
But instead of rocketing down that rabbit-hole every time a car stops in front of me, I try to practice mindfulness and meditation and think about happy or neutral present-day issues without judgement or harshness. This involves practice because redirecting anger into constructive thoughts processes did not happen overnight with me.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or as I like to call it, Diabolical Behaviour Therapy involves much mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness (including with yourself), emotional regulation (keeping those mind demons at bay) and distress tolerance. Tolerating the distress of being in your own thoughts at traffic lights can be quite liberating.
I could have gone out and bought a new car radio/CD but I would have missed this golden opportunity for personal growth. The first few months were agony and I missed my favourite radio stations. I had it on my list of things to do, but never got around to it. Then I slowly and gradually started to enjoy the peace, learning to live in the unregulated air space that was my twisted and tortured mind.
Then I started to greatly look forward to the nothingness, the blankness that I could fill with wonderful new ideas.
This became my personal time to save the world from itself, free the Universe from mental illness, self-sabotage and self-destruction, but most of all, it was my time to chill out, to decelerate my racing brain, keep it in neutral, humming and clicking over, and even staying completely idle in a fast, tumultuous, ever changing world. It is good not to be continuously plugged into white noise, loud-mouthed shock jocks, talk back drama and national opinions just so you don’t have to think.
Staying unplugged and mindful can take you on a well-worn car journey to a destination you have never been to before because you didn’t know it existed.
Photos: Sonia Neale 2012
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Last reviewed: 13 Aug 2012