My mind is like Beyoncé, except really really mean
This morning I got woken up by an elaborately simple and terrifying thought:
I am a total fuck-up.
It was followed by a long list of well-thought-out reasons and evidence for why this is the case. And as you might expect, this didn't feel great. In fact, it was instant fire town inside my gooey human bits.
Now being awoken by graphic images of your own failure is, of course, not ideal, but this week I’ve been trying to use my horrifying bodily-anxiety-sensations as a starting point for curiosity, rather than just merely as something I desperately want to escape. And I thought I'd share what I've learned with y'all...
Collecting data on The Terror Of It All
I'm a bit of an anxiety buff. So when my helpful brain woke me up, I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
I spent a good hour or two trying a few different approaches. Breathing slowly and purposefully, mindfulness, reading, and a good ol’ fashion cry - all the while checking in with my body and asking: “hey, did that move any of the anxious furniture?” And the answer was sometimes ohh hell no, sometimes I dunno man, and sometimes ever so slightly, yes.
I have a problem solve-y type of brain. When things get overwhelming, I like pretending like I’m in the lab of my own fleshy human form, just kind of testing the waters in my own whirly human brain, investigating kindly.
If I can pretend that I am a scientist, and the awful feeling inside my guts is just a petri dish, and I’m just putting in different thoughts, actions, ideas, seeing what happens in the petri dish - well then it’s all just data.
So what friends, did I learn on this fine, fine anxiety morning??
Sometimes my mind is Beyoncé, but really, really mean
I have to hand it to my mind. Like a world class entertainer, it knows how to elicit a response. If my mind is Beyoncé then my body is 100,000 screaming fans saying “whatever you say Beyoncé. Oh you say I’m a piece of shit? You’re so right Bey, I love you forever.”
There I was, testing all these things in the petri dish, seeing what new strains of anxiety I could discover, when I properly realised something. The source of the anxiety, all these terrifying “I’m A Total Failure” thoughts, they are utterly captivating to me. Mega captivating. Like twenty-two-time-Grammy-award-winning-artist captivating.
Here's how it usually goes:
Me: sleep, sleep, sleep
Mean Beyoncé: do you remember that awful photo someone took of you five years ago? That's probably on the internet somewhere and if you ever become successful someone, somewhere will find it and put it on the the front of TV weekly
Mean Beyoncé: also have you ever thought about how you've never really had a real job? Are you worried about that??
Me: OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING I'M TRYING TO SLEEEEEEEEP
Mean Beyoncé: oh I'm sorry you're trying to sleep, I'll just leave this dossier of potential bad consequences here on your bedside then
It’s as if some advertising exec had run the algorithms to the letter to create an unending stream of mean and totally plausible personal failings. The kind that are most likely to get under my skin. The kind that pick at the edges of the scab of myself until it lifts off and exposes my juicy red lying-in-bed-anxiously-sweating-for-two-hours self.
And I realised, it actually helps to think of it this way. To remember that all these mean thoughts are, in fact, *designed* to make me feel like shit. So it's no wonder that's exactly how they make me feel.
It's really hard not to believe Mean Beyoncé
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to de-identify with these cruel thoughts of mine. This is a tough ask, particularly for those of us who’ve had them hanging around us for a while, sometimes years (for me, as long as I can remember).
But here’s my latest go at it.
In Buddhist meditation they speak of this character called Mara. Mara is basically bad vibes incarnate. It’s the little voice in your head that tells you awfully mean things on a daily basis. In other words, it's Mean Beyoncé.
And the thing is, because this little voice is so damn charismatic, it's impossible to ignore.
The Buddhist approach is not to try to ignore Mara (Mean Beyoncé). It's to invite her in for tea. To welcome her presence in your little old brain. That, of course, is easier said than done. Especially when she's so, damn, mean!
The thing about that mean voice is, it sounds for all money like it's coming from inside your brain. So you think it's got the inside goss, you think it must be right about you.
Mean Beyoncé isn't really inside you at all
Lately I’ve been doing this meditation. I've been picturing the mean voice not as a gorgeous pop queen, but as a big gloomy character that looks like it’s straight out of a Miyazaki film.
The thing I try to focus on is simple: that big gloomy cloud is not me. It’s not inme. Whatever today's terrifying thought may be, I tell myself it's not inside me at all. It's not some infectious disease eating me from the inside out - which is what I often feel like when I’m on fire with this stuff. It’s out there.
And it's not *my* mean voice. It's bigger than me. And it's bigger than you too! Chances are your mean voice and my mean voice say some pretty similar stuff! Mean Beyoncé (like real Beyoncé) is a busy woman.
And it’s there, sitting in that space, that I realise that I can just hold it there. For as long as I need to. I say to this mean voice, the giant ethereal cloud-beast, “hello. I see you. I see you there.” But it’s not in me. It’s there. It’s there. It’s there.
And there's this kind of alchemy that happens when you can hold Queen Bey at bay like that. It just creates that tiny bit more space. A tiny bit more breathing room for your big, beautiful brain.
Mean Beyoncé is just a story, but a really, really captivating one
Whatever Mean Beyoncé is saying to you. Whatever that story is telling you right now, it’s just that. It’s just a story. It’s sometimes a terrifying, overwhelming, crying-in-the-car-to-your-friend-paralysing, but it’s only one story.
And what’s helpful to remember is that just like the real Beyoncé, it’s designed to be captivating, mesmerising. Impossible to look away from.
Just as I can recognise that the media these days is designed to shill fear to the masses in order to sell ad space, I can also recognise that Mean Beyoncé is promoting an incredibly captivating form of fear, my own fear, back to me, so that it can purchase more real estate in my mind.
But Mean Beyoncé isn’t me. She’s just telling a story. It just happens to be a really, really captivating one. But I can hold her at arm’s length. I can hold her there. For as long as I need to.
For five more seconds.
For five more minutes.
For five more hours.