Pillows and Perspective

I’m up a bit later than expected today, nestled under the covers sipping my mid-morning cup of coffee with eggnog. I couldn’t sleep last night, which is really no surprise. I battle insomnia, and getting to sleep is a chore on most nights, at best. I did all the right things, though. Took my sleep aid at 8 pm, my anti-anxiety meds at 9:30, and started my ten-minute meditation right at 10:15. I was breathing in the calm, breathing out the stress. You know, all the stuff.

It was hot; then it wasn’t. Then hot again. I think I’m finally at the age where a comfortable climate will never be something I feel again. Then, of course, the pillow wasn’t soft enough, making the ability to fall asleep that much worse. So I switched. Wouldn’t you know it…that one was too soft. I felt like I was in a real-life version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. “This pillow is too hard. This pillow is too soft…” except none of the six pillows on my bed were “just right.” 

Then I remembered something I used to do when I was a kid when I couldn’t fall asleep in the hot southern Missouri home where we had no air conditioning: I switched positions so that my head was at the foot of the bed and my feet were at the head of the bed. The fans (Yes, plural.) were hitting my head ever so lightly, and, I don’t know, it just ‘felt’ better. I think I was asleep within ten minutes of changing my sleeping position.

This story is a nice setup for what I think will be a halfway decent post today. The subject? How changing our perspective in difficult times can significantly impact our ability to cope with discomfort. Some call it ‘reframing’ or ‘changing the narrative.’ Both are correct, but to summarize: The ability to look at a problem in a completely different light can make all the difference in the world. If you disagree, at least you know my trick for finally finding a way to fall asleep via the foot of the bed. That’s your takeaway.

Today I’m going to tell you about some of the ways I’ve managed to change my perspective and arrive at an entirely different place from the original story I was repeating day in and day out. So, grab a drink and settle in. Let’s put our head at the foot of the bed.

1) Life’s little valleys happen for us, not to us. I used to be the first person to cry “Why is this happening to me?” In 2016 I let a man I loved talk me into quitting a perfectly good job, moving back to the God-forsaken land of Southwest Missouri, and fighting like hell to make a dollar to keep us all afloat. The marriage started to fall apart (big surprise) and at the time, I wasn’t sure there was a lesson in this. I was so hung up on telling the story of what happened to me that I didn’t realize at the time what was happening for me. The shift came in therapy when the therapist asked “So, what did you learn?” forcing me to change the narrative. Ever since then I’ve been able to feel better about myself and my experience, about my ex-husband, and about the circumstances around what got me here from there. So. What exactly did I learn? Glad you asked. First – never marry a man that refuses to pull his own weight. Next, I can live on a lot less than I thought I ever could so I’ve learned how to save money. Third, accept help when it’s offered – which is still a challenge, but I try. And finally, when allowed to rise from the ashes… don’t forget the lessons. I save more, give more, and value more than I ever did before we packed that U-haul.

2) It’s okay to be afraid. In the past, I was the last person on the planet ever to show vulnerability. The “never let them see you sweat” force was strong with me. But my perspective changed in those dark times between 2016 and today. I’ve learned to open up, to be brave, and to feel the fear and do it anyway. I knew how strong I was and just how much I wanted to help other people by coming out the other side better than I went in. Before the day we drove out of Michigan to Missouri, I NEVER would have shown a lick of vulnerability. I’m still not super great at it, but some people have seen it because I feel safe around them. And some people are now benefiting from my experience because I’m sharing the experience. (Hence, the creepy online diary.)

3) Quitting and accepting the seasons are not the same. Search the internet for ‘quotes about quitting’ and you’ll find a million that tell you not to do it. I’m not a quitter by nature. I have a high tolerance for bad behavior and this unfortunate character flaw hasn’t served me well. But by changing my perspective I’ve come to know that there are seasons in every person’s life. And seasons are meant to change. If you accept that a season of your life is over and that requires a different direction…it isn’t quitting. It’s growing. Like the leaves on an autumn tree…it’s accepting that it is time to let go and move on. I’ve realized that anything unhealthy is just not worth the fight and there must be a lesson or two that I picked up along the way during that season in my life. In other words, it’s okay to walk away from anything toxic – a job, a relationship, family members, and thoughts or habits.

4) “No” is a complete sentence. I was the ‘yes-iest’ person on the planet. I was nice. I was sweet. I was committed to the very end, even long after I got depressed just thinking about saying yes. But nice people are resentful people. Nice folks are just people with no boundaries and they are explosions waiting to happen. By changing my perspective, I realized that saying yes to things I didn’t want to do wasn’t making me any ‘nicer’ – it was making me more resentful. I realized that saying “no” was actually the nicest thing I could do in those moments. So, say “No” and say it unapologetically.

5) I’m sorry doesn’t mean it’s okay. Growing up, I was taught that if someone says “I’m sorry” then that was that. Things were to go ‘back to normal;’ This narrative became repugnant when I realized that the “I’m sorry = Acceptance” story was most likely the root of my ‘I have a high tolerance for bad behavior’ patterning. I concluded that even though an apology was nice, what I really wanted was changed behavior. When the behavior didn’t change, my responsibility was to set boundaries on what I would and would not accept. In 2017, unchanged behavior led to a divorce. No need to get that dramatic in most cases. I’m just saying that you can accept the apology and still move on (or, at minimum, take a different route). I once had someone tell me that their financial issues were none of my business. It’s true, they aren’t, however up until that point, this person had freely shared their salary, the dwindling balance of their mortgage, how quickly they paid off their car, bragged about the increasing amount in savings, etc. etc. etc. So, of course, I was shocked when I asked a simple question one evening and they exploded (yes, exploded) with “It’s none of your f***ing business.” Um. Okay. I was hurt by the behavior and then a little bit pissed off about it. Eventually, they apologized, but something in me had clicked that night (I think it was my F-It switch) and now when they try to discuss their finances with me I just stop them in mid-sentence: “You know what? Your finances are really none of my f***ing business. Please stop.” In this case, I learned that I couldn’t change another person’s behavior, but I could sure as hell change mine.

To wrap this up, whether it’s sleeping with your head at the foot of the bed or changing your old behavior by reframing all the experiences you’ve labeled as ‘bad’, there’s a lot of value in accepting a new perspective. And, in doing so, we can gain greater insights and achieve more happiness. Changing perspective is a healthy exercise if we want to be empathetic, rational, and compassionate. So…shake up that narrative a little. Ask yourself: What if I look at this differently? How could that change the outcome? It might just blow your mind a bit.

I know this might be hard to follow today. It’s esoteric… it’s metaphorical… it’s long. But let me know in the comments if I’ve made any sense at all. If I haven’t…well…at least I’ve left you with a pretty good song. You’ll want to click that link because the optimistic spirit of this song is part of why it’s a great song about perspective. So…sip that coffee (or eggnog…or whiskey…or coffee with eggnog and whiskey) and enjoy.

PS…if you’ve read this far and liked it, could you share it on social media? Or hit that ‘follow’ button? I’d appreciate it so much.

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