Months ago, or maybe even sometime last year, my therapist gave me a handout that I skimmed and filed, never giving it too much thought again until now. Across the top, it says “Distress Tolerance Handout 5 (cont.)” and at the bottom, the source line indicates it’s from a book by Marsha Linehan, the “mother” of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT.
I’ve written about DBT several times before; it has helped me figure out the coping skills that work for me when I’m stressed–coping skills I’m having a hard time remembering at this time, when I seem to really need them. Which is why I busted out the handouts again for a refresher.
This morning, I spent 15 minutes in front of my light therapy box (my “SAD lamp” as I call it, which I’m sure confuses some people–how can a lamp be sad?) and pulled out this particular handout, staring at it without reading it for a minute until I remembered all I’d learned about one-mindfulness (another DBT term, meaning to do one thing at a time, letting go of distractions, focusing on the moment).
I focused, one-mindfully, on the first box: Willingness. “Willingness is DOING JUST WHAT IS NEEDED in each situation, in an unpretentious way. It is focusing on effectiveness.” Apropos for a Monday morning, don’t you agree?
My to do list just for today, not even for the whole week, felt overwhelming. Like it always does every morning. So instead of caving in to the voice in my head that was scolding me for taking such an early break from the work (There is so much of it to do! Get doing it!), I continued to read:
“Willingness is listening very carefully to your WISE MIND, acting from your inner self.”
“Willingness is ALLOWING into awareness your connection to the universe–to the earth, to the floor you are standing on, to the chair you are sitting on, to the person you are talking to.”
Yes, I thought, this makes sense to me today. What was my “Wise Mind” (still another DBT term, meaning the place where your Reasonable Mind and your Emotional Mind meet) telling me? That I always pull off the save at the end of the day–I always manage to check off most of what’s on my to do list. I’m a wonderful employee, and my bosses clearly seem to trust that I’ll do the job well. And if I don’t? There’s another day to try again. And if something gets past me or is late? It has never resulted in dire consequences; I think at this point we all know I’m only human. In other words, it’s going to be ok, even though the list seems insurmountable, impossible. I will find a way to get it done. And because I’ve been in therapy and because I keep these handouts nearby, I’ll find a way to get it done without sacrificing my quality of life.
The handout then described the opposite of willingness: willfulness.
“Willfulness is SITTING ON YOUR HANDS when action is needed, refusing to make changes that are needed.” Oh, denial? Check.
“Willfulness is GIVING UP.” Double check.
Things were striking a chord. With my workload increasing from 1,080 pages per year (I managed 2 health care journals for a publishing company) to 1800+ pages per year (I am now managing 3 journals, with only a minimal increase in help), it would be fair to say that yes, I do feel like giving up. I feel like searching for a new job altogether. I feel like shutting down. I feel like giving up who I am and what I love just to check everything off my long to do list at work. I’ve done a whole lot of ignoring this isn’t happening at work. I’ve also stomped a lot and raged and cried at home. Neither of those things is working. I’ve instead had migraines from crying and being stressed. I’ve let go of anything enjoyable to me–now, when I obviously (even to me) need those things most! I’ve tried to “FIX every situation” (which is also willfulness, according to this handout).
I’m not, and I never have been, good at rolling with the punches. But I think it’s time this old dog learned how to be willing and not willful, before I burn out. I see it happening already, and so quickly. And it’s terrifying.
Wish me luck as I trim the fat from my life and focus, one-mindfully, on only what’s really important, both at home and at work. Wish me luck as I try to practice what I just preached above!