Are we out of the Shoulds yet?

I should be happier. I should be recovered. I should have more friends. I should be better...

Just your average sentence for a babe in the shoulds; the one typing this, for example, although I can't say I recommend it over Radio 1/Ed Sheeran. I'd even dare to claim that LBC's Nigel Farage show makes for kinder listening, at the risk of getting unwisely political. For at least Mr Brexit's show is over in 60 minutes; Should, on the other hand, is the voice that never sleeps.

Should is the voice of comparison, criticism and countless 'what ifs'. Should is a gun with infinite bullets, showing  no mercy and exploiting those who are already wounded. Because that's the thing with mental illness; the longer it lingers, the more resilient it is to keep lingering. It definitely has no intention of following the White Rabbit and his "other important date." 

The longer you spend in the neck of the shoulds, the harder it becomes it can often seem impossible to consider any alternative. With every shot, the accuracy increases and the victim is further submerged. Soon, they doubt if a life outside the 'shoulds' can even exist. How do others find the world beyond the trees, while I remain in perpetual darkness? 

In a recent post, I introduced you to 'Negative Over-Analysis' - NOA to his friends - who I have been in an unwelcome relationship with for many, many years. In the world of NOA (besides biblical floods and beards), Should is the gift that keeps on giving taking. For what better way to make you fixate on something negatively, than list all the reasons it isn't good enough? No need for diamond rings or national trust memberships here; this neck of the shoulds has enough trees to save a planet....

... just not me. Or you. Or anyone  who wants a happy, healthy and free life. After I introduced NOA a couple of months ago, I spoke of my intention to begin this process (cue unwanted allusions to Brexit...). More specifically, I want a divorce from NOA, preferably with custody of the dogs and rights for all EU animals. I had all the right motivations, dreams  and plans.



In practice, however, we're about as far into proceedings as Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May. NOA is still very much in my life and, on reflection, I was probably a bit optimistic. Yet this does not mean I am waving the white flag; moreover, it would be wrong the claim that I've made no forward step out of the shoulds - for i've come up with a plan...

Yes, a PLAN! By this fact alone, my #Noaexit is looking more sunny-side up than hard-boiled dismay Ms May.... My last two CBT sessions have been central to this, after I finally introduced  NOA to the divorce lawyer - aka my amazing psychologist R, who agreed that he is a bit of an Orge... and not the kind who have onion layers. So we started at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start; nevertheless, while Julie Andrews had Does and Deers, CBT is a bit more challenging

The more I do CBT, the more I trust in its potential. Nevertheless, part of this involves a storm before the calm; those "it gets worse before it gets better" moments, which are draining to say the least, For in order to get out of the shoulds, you have to go into them and then some. So here's a little shoutout to anyone doing CBT; it is basically a full-time job, so please accept a billion virtual hugs from my screen to yours.  

When R and I began to talk about NOA, it involved unearthing all the many, many, many shoulds that he brings. In short, here's a preview of my CBT homework from two weeks ago... 

As I said at the start of this post, Radio 1 makes for much brighter listening. However, not everyone can; more than ever, in fact, if the statistics are anything to go by statistics show just how many of us are lost in the shoulds. I, along with many others I am sure, would love Ed Sheehan or Graham Norton to narrate my morning; yet when you're buried so deep in the shoulds, it is very hard to hear anything else. I am far from alone here and, after placing my "shoulds" in context, I can start to see why. 

Comparison. Social Media has many wonderful qualities, but illusion is not one of them. Critics may claim that instagram brunches and Facebook friends are trivial - scorn the idea that they are at all comparable to 'real life struggles' - but for many of us they are real life. If a person is already vulnerable to the firing of "shoulds", one photo can summon a whole squadron. If you're already feeling isolated, it can make that feeling all the mote acute. 

I see smiles and I should be happy. 

I read blog posts and I should be a better writer. 

I see artwork and I should be more creative. 

I see people living, while I survive, and I should be better

In the past couple of years, I have both exposed and shielded myself to this social media onslaught. Suspending my studies and going into hospital has had a significant impact on my response to social media. I do not regret either decision; both were a necessity for my mental and physical health. However, leaving University also meant leaving behind a huge part of my life. I have lost contact with the majority of people from my time in Exeter and the voice of NOA (yes, dear old NOA again) says I am to blame. "I should have made more effort". "I should have travelled to see them". "I should be the one messaging". "I should be a nicer person". I should should should should... 

And nothing changes. These shoulds do not take me any further along in my path to a better future. Focusing on what I lack will not hand it to me. On the contrary, every time I tell myself "I should text them" I am less likely to do so; my hand is paralysed by the fear that they will see my own failing. And NOA just loves this; as a treasure with wit beyond measure (Luna Lovegood) so wisely observes:

"I suppose that's how he wants you to feel. for if I were You-Know Who, I'd want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it's just you alone, you're not as much of a threat"

When we touch wood 'should', it brings the opposite of good fortune. With every 'should', we summon the storm of 'never good enough.' We bury the prospect of future days in the sun, because no ray will ever beam bright enough. So if we can, unequivocally, conduce that should is not getting us anywhere, how do we step out of it? This is where my divorce lawyer/ psychologist has given me hope.... Cue CBT homework Pt. 2, which is definitely nicer than Nigel Farage... and may even give Ed a run for his money!
Welcome to Sophie's walk through the shoulds. R suggested that we use my literary love for imagery to good use, so I came up with this. We decided to break down my list of "shoulds" and focus on one area to explore - I chose "I should be productive" and some of the examples that link to this. In my wood, the trees grow denser as you move further along the path; the things that provoke more anxiety and feel harder to change.  Once I challenge the first steps, however, the next stage of the walk will (hopefully) feel more manageable. The rain clouds are the reasons behind the "should", while the sunshine contains the facts I talked through with R; they are still difficult for me to accept as "true", but this is where I need to trust her and not NOA. Ultimately, my aim is to make those days in the sun (cue Beauty and the Beast song) more common than walks in the rain. For now, I'm trying not to think too far ahead. 

For this week at least, we're focusing on the first step of "being productive"; my compulsion to do things for others. The picture explains the rest and, in short, my 'homework' is to craft something... for ME. Whether it be crochet, knitting, or an illustration. Enforcing the idea that I am worth what I would so readily give to someone else. So any suggestions for what I should make, I'm all ears! Over time, I'll build on this graphic and make new ones for the other "shoulds" in my life. If my first graphic is anything to go by, it will definitely take time.. yet it's a starting point, which is a step beyond where I was. 

As a regain my confidence with blogging and post more, I would like to share more of my CBT  experience; I hope that, by sharing, other people may resonate and want to try it themselves. I'm all-too-aware that CBT treatment is difficult to access - I've waited years for this kind of treatment and know how it feels to be alone in the woods, with no search party to find you.

With every sentence I type, NOA has been telling me that I shouldn't post this - that the graphics should be more polished or the words more precise. All throughout MHAW, I have been reading these amazing posts and questioning the worth of my own. Yet there is the possibility, however small, that my words could matter. That for others who are also lost in the shoulds,  there is a voice calling out to say "Someone is looking, someone is listening, and someone believes that it could be okay."

My motivation to help others will always be there; it is a huge driver in my treatment. Yet, as R would tell me, if it works it will, first and foremost, matter for ME. . A life beyond being lost in the shoulds. A life where I can find the coulds; the possibilities; a world where I can recover Sophie.

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