Throughout my life I have avoided making decisions at all opportunities. I have preferred others to make my decisions for me or I have coasted along life with my go with the flow attitude. This way life just happens to me organically without having to decide on them. However as I am growing older I am trying to more control over my own destiny and life.
This time of year especially, people around us always feel slightly on edge. There is often an overwhelming sense of nervous energy around us. For example; have we bought enough presents for our loved ones? Have we spent enough money on each other? Should we buy a new tree? Have we got enough bobbles on the tree? Can we make all of these Christmas nights out? Can I wear the same thing twice to different parties? Have I written all of my Christmas cards? Do I have time to go to work and still wrap everything? What should I wear on Christmas day? Hopefully we can please everybody?
Over the past ten years my mind has been overly polluted by these various thoughts and stresses over Christmas. But this year, after a tumultuous and difficult 2016 I am trying something different. I am practising contentment every single day. If I am content and present none of the above really matter. This Christmas I will be present and spending quality time with loved ones, practising contentment and enjoying a good rest. That is all that is important to me.
Recently I was in Morrisons recently and watched everybody racing around the aisles with their trolleys panic buying everything in sight. It felt like the world was about to end. Shoppers were buying everything in sight in a panic. The queues were a mile long. The staff were all wearing Christmas jumpers and Santa hats. Christmas music blared through the store. The nervous energy was so contagious that I found myself joining in the madness and putting everything in my trolley too. I was looking at the cheeseboards on offer and there was an intense shopper breathing down my neck behind me. Clearly I was blocking her view and I needed to get out of the cheeseboard traffic jam. As someone who never ever writes lists after twenty minutes of wandering around aimlessly in the Christmas consumerism frenzy I had completely forgotten what I was there for. I walked away from my trolley full of unessential items and returned home. The next day did I say to myself-
“Oh I really needed those Santa Claus pyjamas for my cat to wear on Christmas eve?”
Erm- no. Much to my cat Alfie’s relief.
My therapist says that anxiety is sometimes a result of having too much choice. Worrying about whether or not we make the right decisions. This creates a niggling sense of discontentment in our sub- conscious. Prolonging the decision making process- and in this process making some really impulsive and terrible decisions. In the procrastination period we often use various vices to ease the stress; some use the Xbox; some use shopping; some use drugs; some use alcohol; some use food; some use Netflix; some use the internet; some use a variety of all of these. These vices are used to ease our anxiety ultimately make it ten times worse.
I remember when my anxiety was at its worst I couldn’t even order a Subway sandwich without having a meltdown. As I walked through the door the stench of the food instantly made me feel like being violently ill. And then, after waiting in the queue ogling at all of the options and different sandwich fillings I felt incredibly confused. What the hell did I want?
“can I take your order”
I realised. I have no idea what I want. What do I want? Which sandwich will make me happy? Which sandwich will fill this hole in my heart? That is the question. I had only really stepped in the door and I was expected to immediately be self-assured by my choice of lunch.
“You ready to order yet mam? Which type of bread? Toasted? Plain cheese? Spicy cheese? Salad? Sauce? Meal deal?”
I remember feeling these questions from the server hitting me like bullets. My back turned itchy and I started to sweat. My breathing became shallow and sharp. I felt like screaming and crying in the shop. In full fight or flight mode I just robotically said:
A meatball marinara please. Italian bread. Plain cheese. Toasted. All salad.
What if I regret this decision? As I left the establishment I saw an older homeless man sitting in the doorstep of a shop being questioned by the police and realised that I didn’t need this stupid sandwich in the first place. I could have made myself a basic cheese sandwich of my own. I was influenced by consumerism and my own greed. I mean I still ate my sandwich in the comfort of my own home (I never eat a subway in public as I eat them like an animal) but I felt guilty eating it and didn’t enjoy it. What a waste.
I thought of what my therapist said about the correlation of anxiety and choice and it really made perfect sense. Even making a simple decision like picking a sandwich overwhelmed me and that is how I knew I needed help. Many of us are lucky that we are in the position of being able to choose as we have options whereas others suffering real poverty in third world countries still can’t have access clean water. But this doesn’t mean we should disregard our stresses as they are real for many of us. There is just too much going on in our day to day lives and it can drive you loopy.
Last Christmas I was a complete spoiled brat and had a Christmas day strop as – despite previously buying me a bag and boots a few weeks before Christmas as my main gift- my other half bought me an electric tin can opener and an actual oven glove to open on Christmas Day. I cried and ran to my room. Then I came out again sheepishly feeling stupid because Christmas is not about me- it’s about my little boy. It took me an LONG time to get over the electric tin can opener gift!
However thankfully I have let go of the resentment. I have a busy mind and over-active thoughts- therefore I don’t find meditating easy. During my yoga practice and meditations over the past few weeks I have been visualising the word contentment. Let go of all the negative thoughts. Let go of all the mistakes I’ve made. Forget worrying if I have bought enough for my sons Christmas. He won’t care. Forget it if his Christmas Eve pyjamas don’t arrive on time. Forget it if nobody likes the cream of cauliflower soup I made- as my dad probably has a backup lentil soup prepared anyway. None of this even matters. This Christmas I just want to enjoy the company of family and friends. It takes practise for me to be present and content and that for me is all that matters this festive season and for the rest of my life. But if I get an electric tin can opener again- I’ll be practising being present and content in a prison cell as I’ll be doing time.