We all have a little voice in our heads. One that that can be critical or complementary, fear-inducing or courageous, bitter or joyful, grim or hopeful. Do you listen to the voice in your head? If you do, do you listen correctly? I do and I don’t, both rightly and wrongly and this is a tale of both. Please understand however, that I’m not talking about a voice that insists you harm yourself or others. If that is happening please speak to someone you trust or you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or visit this Healthy Place web site that has numbers and links to various resources for mental health help. There is never any shame in asking for help and there are so many people willing and able to help you.
So my first story is a tale of not listening to my little voice and the consequences of that. I took my bathroom scales out of my closet Sunday morning a week ago and placed it on the hard floor in the hall between my closet and sink area. I had just woken up and I weighed myself (once a week only, any more than that is crazy making) then got dressed and started my day. I had lots of chores to do around my apartment that day. I walked past those scales five or six times during the day and every time I did, EVERY TIME I did, my little voice said, oops, forgot to put that away, better do that. Or, Really? You still haven’t put that away yet? Or, you’d better put that away or you’re going to stub your toe. Keep in mind, I was busy. Doing laundry, changing sheets, vacuuming, etc. so I kept answering my little voice with, yep I’d better put that away. Every time I walked past it. So, it got dark and I was on my last load of laundry so I was going to my closet to get some hangers. I didn’t turn on the bedroom light, since I know the room by heart, just planning to turn on the light in the closet and walking along at a brisk pace, ready to be done, and you guessed it. I hit those heavy metal bathroom scales with my right foot and well, I’ll spare you the details of my colorful language, but let me just say it hurt. You know, the bright, sharp flare of pain when you know it’s probably a bit worse than a stub. I hobbled, cussing, to turn on a light and found that I’d ripped my big toenail almost completely off. It was standing straight up. I have a picture I took, but I’ve found most people are too squeamish to look, so I’ll spare you. I tried to push it back down, but oh my goodness that hurt. So I thought I’ll trim it down, but it moved too much when I tried and oh my goodness did THAT hurt. One of my sons helpfully suggested I pull it the rest of the way off, actually he said, “just rip it off mom” but where it was still attached, it was really attached. I slowly came to the conclusion that I was going to have to have a medical professional take care of it as I was just not going to be able to handle it myself. Of course it was 8:30 on a Sunday night, and there was no way I was going to be able to wait for my doctor on Monday. And the thought of visiting a busy ER and waiting hours was very unappealing. I ended up going to a small “boutique” ER that had opened up nearby. All they do is take emergencies and they are full service so they can even take trauma cases. Anyway, I was able to get seen immediately so that was great. The nurse took one look at my toe and grimaced, then said, I’m usually really stingy with pain meds, but I’m going to give you a shot for that. Whatever she gave me wasn’t very strong, because I’m a lightweight when it comes to stuff like that, but it did help with the intense throbbing. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when the nurse asked if I’d traveled out of the country in the last 21 days, though. I guess that’s going to be a question every time we visit a doctor now. Anyway, the doctor comes in and says he can push the nail down and wrap it, but the nail was just going to come off anyway, so I said go ahead and just take it off. He told me he would numb the toe and it would take about 10 min. for that to take effect. When he came at my toe with a very long needle, the nurse came over and took my hand. I was thinking that was not a good sign. And let me just tell you, pain shot or no, a doctor sticking a long needle deeply into various parts of your already traumatized toe is not something you want to experience. Seriously. I was proud of myself because I stayed still, didn’t cry and didn’t swear, but I also didn’t breath. I did watch though. I find it’s easier to watch that stuff than close my eyes, because I can SEE what’s causing the pain and it makes it a bit less scary in a way. So after the 10 minutes the doc came back, but I could still feel it somewhat. He kept putting a bit of pressure and checking my reaction all the while talking to me. I knew what he was doing, he was very slowly pulling it off while distracting me and it worked. He stopped when I grimaced, then started again. It probably only took a couple of minutes for him to get it off. He asked me if I wanted to keep the nail, but I was quite happy for it to go into the trash can. I guess some people like to keep things like that, but I just don’t know where I’d keep a whole toenail. So, I’ve had a very sore, very ugly toe for over a week now. It’s finally starting to feel better and the nail bed has quit oozing and seeping and has finally scabbed over. The doc said it would take about a year for the nail to completely grow back. All because I ignored a very pragmatic and prescient voice in my head. Lesson learned, though!
My next tale is also about ignoring the voice in my head and the very different consequences. A bit of background first, would probably be helpful. When I started an office job and a commute a few years back I ended up gaining quite a bit of weight. I’d always been on my feet a lot, but I was never an athlete or even an exerciser. In fact, I hate to exercise. Oh, taking long leisurely walks or going for an occasional swim were fine, but I’d never, ever exercised regularly. And I’d never needed to. I’d always been slim and I’m tall so it was fine. Until I sat at a desk all day and in my car a couple of hours a day. And then did the weight start creeping up. And up. Well, I finally got sick of it and completely changed my eating patterns and I started exercising regularly. Notice I didn’t say I went on a diet. They don’t work. You will lose the weight and gain it back when you stop the “diet.” I know, been there done that. You have to learn a way to eat that is sustainable for you. But all of that is for another post. Long story short, I lost a lot of weight by changing my lifestyle (eating habits and exercise habits). But here in the last few weeks I’ve noticed my weight starting to creep up again. I’ve also noticed that I’m really lagging on my exercising. I just have not been keeping up with it regularly enough. Remember, I’ve always hated to exercise. So I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’ve not been following through lately, even though I really enjoy feeling so much better and having my slim body back, and the answer is boredom. I’ve just been bored silly with my exercise routine and I also believe my body has gotten used to it and it’s not giving me the same good results. So I did what I did when I first started and began researching options. I found a program that looked like something that might work for me. You work out three times a week, very intensely for just 15 minutes rotating through different exercises using your own body weight. Things like push-ups, squats and lots of others as well. However, you are supposed to push very hard, rest when you feel you need to and then continue again pushing hard. You do a different routine each day of the 3 days you workout each week for 3 weeks and then switch to a different set for three weeks and you do it for nine weeks. At the end of the nine weeks you start again, hopefully able to work even harder for longer. There is a beginner, intermediate and advanced person in each workout so you have someone to watch that matches your level. So, what did my little voice tell me about this program? Well, 15 minutes three times a week is awesome. Very hard to tell yourself you don’t have time to do that. But the intensity scared me. Remember, I’m not an exerciser and I’m not very strong. There are tons of push-ups for example and even doing girl push-ups I can’t do very many. And even though it said that it is actually helpful the more you rest because then you can push yourself harder when you’re ready to go again, I was dubious. My voice just kept telling me, it’s going to be too hard for you. You’ll purchase the program and quit because it will be too hard for you. You are not athletic, it will be too hard for you. You are too old, you are too weak, you are too, too, too whatever. My little voice was very insistent that I would not be able to handle this program. Don’t do it. DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY!!! Well, I’ve heard that “you can’t do this” voice in my head my whole life and for the most part, any more, I answer back, well I’ll never really know unless I try. So I bought the program. And then had to put it off for a week because I ripped my toenail off. But my toe felt well enough to start this morning so I did. And it kicked my ass. In fact the whole time I was doing it, I kept thinking I’m resting more than I’m working, how can this help? But at the same time, I was resting because I was genuinely out of breath and my muscles were burning. I was dripping sweat. And it was finished in 15 minutes. The program recommends a cool down of stretching or a walk afterwords in order to bring down your cortisol levels (stress hormones) so I did some gentle bouncing on my rebounder for an additional 15 minutes and by the time I was done I felt great. Definitely felt as if I’d had a workout, but my heart rate was normalized and I felt like I’d worked hard but did not overdo it. I’m now looking forward to the new set in a couple of days. And the best part is, I know I will get stronger. Heck, maybe I’ll eventually be able to do regular sit-ups! All because I ignored the voice in my head. Although I did listen when it told me it was time to rest. I don’t want to overdo it and hurt myself!
So two tales of ignoring the voice in my head with two very different lessons. I think the issue is really one of discernment. That little voice is really just trying to keep you safe. Sometimes it knows what it’s talking about and sometimes it doesn’t. And as sentient beings we have a choice about whether we choose to listen or even believe what that voice is telling us. If it is a fearful voice telling us to be terrified of Ebola coming to the U.S. we have a choice. We can get the facts, understand how Ebola is spread, realize the likelihood of contracting it are minuscule and move on, or we can give in to the fear and restrict our lives. I mean we do it everyday. Something like 40,000 American’s die in car accidents every year. But we get into our cars and drive where we need to without a thought. Because we’ve made the decision that the need to get where we need to go is worth the risk. Living is risky, if you think about it. So what we all need is a little discernment in figuring out if that little voice is truly protecting us or holding us back from living fully. Of course what that is will be different for everyone. And that’s ok. It’s your voice, your choice. Have there been times you wished you’d listened to your little voice, or ignored it? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!