A Cat a Mouse and a Metaphor

My cat has been hunting a mouse recently. She does this with one mindedness, determination, sitting in front of the fridge with eyes on high beam, still, patient. She caught it the other evening. I heard the calculated pounce.  My reflexes are never quicker than in reaction to the sound of a pounce (and of a cat about to vomit).  Thus, I launched myself to the rescue of the sweet little beast in her mouth. She dropped it in the midst of my yelling and flailing. The tiny thing ran and hid.

The next day the same scene played out over again, except this time Wallis ran outside with the helpless body in her mouth. Again, in the face of my yelling, frightened, she dropped it. Again, it ran, hid … but this time it was outdoors, free.

Why am I telling you this?

Because life, I’ve found, is one big fat metaphor. And God knows I love a metaphor.  Paying attention to them is like having the Powers that Be read us a fable-filled story. Like those we read in childhood, life stories are also rich with lessons.  

Those two days might well have been the most traumatic that mouse lived. And it might not have known something bigger than itself was on its side (that’s me!) but nevertheless there was. Life always places us where we need to be, there’s always obstacles, challenges (perfect for knowing the strength of our bones).  And if we don’t learn the first time we get the same learnings, same challenges, proffered like an unwanted present re-gifted.  But at the end there’s freedom.

I can’t be certain of what that mouse learned, but I sure took on the timely reminders in the story for myself. Wallis, not so much. She’s still sitting by the fridge waiting for the same opportunity to come by again in the same place. She’s not cottoned onto the fact (not yet) that we can stay in the same place hoping for a different result but it just leaves us sitting in the same place waiting.

She’ll get there. That mouse did. We all will.

Reaction or Equilibrium: We get to choose.

Some of us have only ever known how to be thermometers and we don't realise we can actually be thermostats. These worlds sound similar but they are really vastly different and I'll tell you why.  

Many of us respond to what comes our way, when this happens we're in thermometer mode.  We read what's happening around us and we react (often protectively and reflexively). Sometimes we might manage to be thermostats, evaluating what's happening around and adjusting as necessary to maintain equilibrium. The difference is that in thermometer mode we feel we're constantly in reaction to our environment, where in thermostat mode we feel we are part of our environment, empowered to act and respond in considered ways.  In this thermostat mode we have agency; we can evaluate what's happening and we can adjust, contributing to and changing our environment. One mode leaves us at the mercy of circumstance, the other mode allows us mastery over how we engage with events.

Often when we experience trauma or a crisis we flick into thermometer mode, it's a case of simple survival. Commonly, the themes to our reactions (like shutting down or clinging tight) have come from long, long ago when we might not even have been adults. As younger people, often very small, we learn these techniques to cope with things we can’t control to protect ourselves emotionally. These survival strategies might have been all we could do then to feel somewhat in control but they don’t work so well as adults where we have more agency in our lives. We no longer need to tune out, shut down, withdraw or feel hyper alert to be safe.

Over time though we might continue to draw upon these reactive survival techniques that are no longer helpful when applied to very different adult circumstances.

It can take a whole lot of mindfulness, learning new strategies and professional support to begin to move into thermostat mode, to feel our own strength and to implement that more consistently. 

It’s okay to engage in support and professional help. With most things in life we know that in order for us to learn any new skills we should go to a class, get a tutor, to learn more. Our emotional wellbeing is no different. When we’ve only learnt a few ways of doing things and we know we need to learn other ways, it’s totally okay to hire a professional, to collaborate with someone who is going to be able to see things from the outside and to help us re-frame and re-write our stories and to learn thermostatic skills!

Self Care: busting myths and stepping into discomfort

Self-care has become an Instagram buzz word. Imagery comes to mind of mani/pedis, candle lit salt baths, of 'splurging' on the self.  This kind of self-care exists in a world where we're told to 'hustle', to be more, be better, to do more. And then, exhausted, we run that bath, purchase that new thing because 'we deserve it' and then....

Caring for the self is a very misunderstood thing. While there is a place for treats and indulgence, Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so deeply exhausted that we need to tune out our endless pursuit of an illusive 'better life'. Consumer self-care is what we're so often told and sold. And we've learned this is what self-care is. It's quick, easy but never quite fills the internal cup.  Whole-hearted self-care is about parenting ourselves, about making choices that support our long term wellness. It's about letting go of the idea that we must 'fix ourselves' and instead it is about beginning to take care of ourselves. Perhaps looking at the parts of our hectic and sometimes unreasonably demanding lives and letting go of some of the striving and longing and the aiming to 'be better'.

We have this. Here. Now. This body, this heart, this mind to look after. So how?

Self-care is preventative. It is often doing the thing you least want to do. It might mean looking at your accounts and re-working how spending happens so there's less pressure. It might mean cooking healthy meals for yourself so you feel grounded and stable. It might mean disappointing others at times, to honour the voice within that says 'we're at capacity, let's not take that on'. It might mean setting boundaries (with the self and with others). It might mean letting go of some beliefs about our bodies or lives that keep us running the wheel. It might mean we opt out of particular social media feeds that promote bodies or lives that focus on the superficial, that don't inspire the soul or wholly speak to the gut or heart.

Self-care is about allowing ourselves to be as we are, normal, unexceptional, yet brilliantly unique. Allowing ourselves to step our own path with confidence at a pace that feels good, right. Self-care is reaching out for support when the load is hefty, connecting with a counsellor or therapist to look at the uncomfortable stuff, the hard stuff, that is often ignored in life's busy.  Self-care is about not trying to be wonder woman every single day.