I looked down at my feet and there it was.
A tiny sandshark.
My (obviously equally tiny) brain was suddenly gridlocked in processing.
Sandshark. On concrete. Far away from any water, salt, or sand.
How could this be?
The next thing I knew, a thousand tiny neurons fired up their guns to come to the exact same conclusion at the exact same time.
“Shannon, it’s not a sandshark. It’s a leaf.”
Now, I have heard that tired old proverb a hundred times about the disciple who saw a rope in the road and thought it was a snake. And every time I’ve heard it I’ve thought very confidently to myself, “No way would I make that mistake. I can tell the difference between a real, live fanged snake and a piece of old gnarled rope.”
But how about a small brown sandshark and a ratsy old piece of ant-chewed leaf?
Not so much, as it turns out.
In recovery this becomes particularly pertinent. For instance, in the case of my eating disorder, how can I tell the difference between what I really look like (in the mirror, in the eyes of others, in my own eyes) and what my disordered brain may try to tell me I look like?
In the case of my struggles with alcohol, how can I tell the difference between the reappearance of social anxiety and a simple desire to enjoy a fine glass of wine with good friends?
In the case of my challenges with depression, how can I tell when I have a true biochemical downturn and when I have quite simply fallen back into the longstanding habit of assuming life is against me and I will never transcend my own sense of limitation?
All of these are questions I have struggled with time and again across the years.
But since I met my first mentor in 1989, I have not struggled with those questions alone.
Since that moment and still now, today, my mentor can be my accurate eyes when my own eyes collude with the mirror against me.
My mentor can text, email, or talk on the phone to reassure me when I have an anxious moment before, during or after a big social event.
My mentor can empathize with me when genuine depression strikes, yet challenge me when I think whining (or isolating) and growing are one and the same.
Most of all, my mentor can strategize with me to develop new coping thoughts and skills that will help me to learn for myself how to tell a rope from a snake, and a sandshark from a leaf….and even how to turn around to ‘pay it forward’ and teach someone else one day.
Today’s Takeaway: Where have you been imagining sandsharks where there are only dry leaves, or venomous snakes in innocent piles of rope? Have you reached out to a trusted other someone – a mentor, friend, or treatment team member – to check out your mind’s assumptions against actual facts? Are you willing to challenge your mind when it tells you to believe the worst in an area where you are striving so hard for recovery, balance, and joy?
If you are struggling to overcome fear, anxiety, or depression, your own mind is often not the best place to start looking for support. Reach out. Talk to us here at PsychCentral.com. Ask a friend to read this blog as a precursor to you sharing what you need support with in your own life. Journal out your secret fears and anxieties until they don’t feel so secret anymore, then reach out and ask safe others how they have dealt with similar situations. Also seek out mentoring-based communities like the Twelve Step Groups and communities like MentorCONNECT for eating disorders mentoring and support.