I couldn’t tell you exactly the moment when I became aware that I had a vicious bully of a Sergeant Major living in my head. It’s something I lived with all my life and had no separation from, so couldn’t even see it.
I had been reading books and listening to podcasts from the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Zoe Blaskey (Motherkind), Dr Kristen Neff, Mo Gawdat, Michelle Chalfant (The Adult Chair) and many more, for some time. Their wisdom slowly began percolating, prompting me to question myself in a way I had never done before.
Before this, I had a period of burnout about 7 years ago, which unsurprisingly coincided with physically working all hours of the day and night, renovating our house while living in my (actually only 15m2) studio with two young children.
I feel like I have been running on adrenaline all my life, so my tolerance for stress and overwork is abnormally high, in fact it used to be a point of pride. However, nowadays I am very grateful that my body has the capacity to say no! Each burnout or low period I have encountered has been because I got so physically ill I had no choice but to stop. And whilst this used to frustrate and irritate me, I now see each forced rest as an invitation to step off the treadmill and an important step towards putting boundaries in place that had been missing from my life prior to this point.
Much of my motivation and drive came from that inner Sergeant Major spurring me on. Which might have been helpful for achieving my to do list, but that same Sergeant then had the nerve to run me down when I was vulnerable, or totally randomly dish me out a nice juicy helping of shame to keep me on my toes.
The simple realisation that I AM NOT that voice changed everything! That voice may have helped me get here but I can now choose not to follow its instructions or take on the criticisms. This is THE single biggest realisation I have had in my life so far!
But what next? The Sergeant Major doesn’t simply walk away. They are committed to their position for life! Knowing that I don’t have to listen isn’t enough, sometimes the nasty words are just hanging in my brain it’s a full time job not to catch them.
Enter Dr Kristen Neff and her work with the Center for Self-Compassion.
I needed to invite someone else to live in my head. Someone with a kinder and more understanding viewpoint and this is how the caring person moved in with the Sergeant Major. I call her Pam.
Sometimes I would feel like I didn’t have the kind words at my fingertips. I distinctly remember some bleak moments, sinking to the kitchen floor in tears during lock-down and the charade of homeschooling when I felt like I was completely empty. And that’s when I first made my Self-Care Cards. I put them up around the house and each time I cleaned my teeth, or turned on the kitchen light I would take a moment to read the words (in Pam’s voice) and try and let them land.
Just before you call the doctors to get me committed for my multiple personalities, let me tell you about these cards. I am now releasing my second collection of four FREE Self-Care cards.
My new collection of Self-Care postcards look like this:
Slow down-Whenever I feel stressed out I usually feel rushed and I’m not able to think properly. Going more slowly, even if it feels like torture for a serial adrenaline addict, always leads to better results, more thought, intention and pleasure alone the way.
This moment will pass- There have been many moments over the last few years that have felt like they would drive me mad! Remembering it is all fleeting is so grounding. And the flip side that even the wonderful times will also pass, helps me to remember to be here now and relish the present. Apparently it takes 90 seconds to sit with an uncomfortable emotion before it passes through you. This is what I say to myself when I’m squirming with something uncomfortable. It helps.
One thing at a time- Multi-tasking is a lie. Dividing your attention just isn’t affective, whatever your gender and it erodes your mental health. This is another one that I was muttering constantly through lockdown. Having to remind myself that working, running a home and educating my children is the work of at least 3 people and I can’t do it all. Even out of lockdown, this really helps my focus, when I’ve a tendency to run ahead of myself.
You are not your output- This is a biggy! Everything in our capitalist, consumer society tells us it’s not true. I struggle most with this one, when I don’t finish (or even start) something I had hoped to, or feel I should have done; even if it’s something mundane. It’s a constant re-education process and reminder that my worth is more than what I make and do. Work in progress!
My first collection of Self-Care postcards was free from my website till recently, but if you missed them subscribers only, can get them for until October 7th. (Sign up here)
You are seen and valued- Ultimately that’s really all any of us want, especially when we were children. Even if I say this to myself (or Pam says it), I feel the ripples reaching some deep part of me. This is one that you can wait your whole life to hear from someone else but it works just as well to say it to yourself. Imagine how it would feel to receive this one in the post.
Breathe- sometimes, the time it takes to take a slow and intentional breath is enough to help me re-calibrate and remember I can decide how to respond. It separates me from the heat of the moment and is super simple. Often when I’m stressed I realise I’m not breathing at all!
You are enough- the first time I heard this concept fully expounded it brought me to tears. No striving, struggling and straining needed to justify your worthiness. You are worthy just because you are. Phew, what a relief! Who cares if the house is clean, you’re looking your best. What a treat to let it all go.
This is hard and you are doing your best- this was literally the mantra I was mumbling constantly under my breath during all the lockdowns. Recognition that things can be really hard feels so validating, even if it is coming from yourself. And if you’re not dealing with things in the way you feel you should, accepting that you’re doing all you can right now is sometimes enough to give yourself a break.
I’d love to hear if Self-Compassion is one of your practices, what words do you say to yourself? Who lives in your head? Do let me know if these cards help you in anyway.
Pam and I are really happy to share these cards with you for free, but if you would like to order the full set of 8 for yourself or as a gift, beautifully printed on thick archival card, you can get them here. You can even add a personal message to be enclosed if you’re sending them to a friend.
Thanks so much for reading and with all the best for the growth of your inner Pam.