How Selective Listening Is Helping My Mental Health

It’s a Saturday afternoon, one month before my 35th birthday, and I am in bed, just waking up. It’s almost two o’clock. I have never been a morning person, but this prolonged slumber—it’s been fourteen hours since I fell asleep—is excessive, even for me. I look at my phone and see that my friend D texted around nine to see if I wanted to get brunch. Last night, D was, I am certain, out much later than I was. He’d gone to a party for a mutual friend. I’d gone out for sushi with a girlfriend and watched a couple episodes of Nashville before closing my iPad and falling asleep before midnight.

My standard self-criticism kicks in: I am lazy, worthless, selfish, antisocial. A normal person wouldn’t have missed a 2 o’clock yoga class. A normal person would be at yoga or the gym or just finishing brunch or shopping for groceries. I go to the bathroom to pee, then get back into bed. I’ve already wasted most of the day, so what’s the point?

Head on my pillow, my eyes snap into focus on the bottle of pills next to my alarm clock, reminding me that I need to take my morning medication. After I sit up to swallow a Wellbutrin, I lay back down and I remember two glasses of wine I drank at the bar last night before continuing on to some sake with my sashimi. The recollection matters for me because it’s the realization that the excessive sleep I’m so quick to label ‘lazy’ isn’t random. It’s almost certainly the outcome of mixing my cocktail of medication with alcohol. And let me be clear: it’s not that I didn’t know about the affects alcohol has on my brain and body, but I do often conveniently “forget” about my limitations because, first, it’s hard to be social in New York City and not drink, and second, I like a glass of white wine everyone now and then.

So what did I do with my day? Well, I did end up going back to sleep and taking a nap. It was relaxing and I woke up and didn’t punish myself with self-hatred and criticism. By the time I got dressed it was late afternoon. I’d been thinking a lot about how to have a better morning routine during the week because, as much as I know I’ll never be a morning person, I want to get up earlier, meditate, perhaps write, and then make myself some kind of breakfast. I have a girlfriend who swears by her Nutribullet, and I’d been toying with the idea about getting one for a while. So I found an old Bed Bath & Beyond gift card, a twenty percent coupon my mom gave me, and then trained it down to Lincoln Center to pick one up.  Every single day last week, though I didn’t get out of bed as soon as I would have liked, I did manage to get up early enough to make a green smoothie, which was a huge victory for me.

If I allow the bad voice in my head to speak up (that voice who was calling me lazy and selfish before), she will say to me, in this moment, you’re in your mid-30s and you’re excited that you were able to make a SMOOTHIE every morning? WTF is wrong with you? She will watch me type these words and say, other women much younger than you have written books and won writing awards and you have done nothing with your life that matters.

Here’s the thing I’ve only recently come to understand: this terrible voice inside me—she will never go away. Just like relentless internet trolls who trash articles on the internet for sport, she will take me down daily. But that doesn’t mean she has to win, I’m now realizing, because, I am a person who is separate from her thoughts.

The solution is difficult to achieve but simple in concept. I’m choosing to stay proud of myself for making those (delicious) smoothies last week as part of my fledgling morning routine. I’m refusing to feel bad about sleeping fourteen hours.

It does not matter that am still hearing those negative words in my head. Because I’m choosing not to listen to them.

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3 thoughts on “How Selective Listening Is Helping My Mental Health

  1. Hello, BP~ As usual, I’d like to encourage you. Sometimes going slow is the only way to keep going. What’s the hurry? I often think of my older sister when I start thinking that I’m wasting my life, doing nothing. She has bi-polar, and has been at home playing cards for most of her adult life, and yet she is my rock and my inspiration when it comes to internal wisdom and compassion. I’m stuck in an eating ice-cream and stuffing my face late at night rut when no one is up to see, and I don’t like it….but I’m also aware that beating myself up about it is definitely not going to help me change. I’m making effort to avoid any drama, and working at staying clear and peaceful, and doing the right thing according to my conscience. Right Effort. Step by Step. Keep encouraging yourself for the Right Efforts that you make. I’m inspired by the Green Smoothies. You’re way ahead of me!

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  2. All too familiar with this part of the sleep story. I cycle in and out of no sleep at all and 14 hours of sleep. Regardless of which path I take I am never refreshed and I wind up frustrated and filled with demoralising self hatred; my inner voice deciding I’m lazy, useless and inadequate.
    I admire your decision to stop engaging when this inner voice shames you. I hope to be able to do this in the future and accept my sleep and a whole bunch of other things for what they are. It is not easy at all, but I’m glad you are exhibiting pride in yourself for such wonderfully positive steps forward (despite the time of day, those deliciously fresh smoothies will be great for your health!) both physically and emotionally.
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts!
    Aimee x

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