One of my all time favorite phrases comes from the grande dame of Thursday nights, Shonda Rhimes. Ms. Rhimes knows how to turn a phrase and this one has always resonated.
I can get very Dark & Twisty.
It usually starts after a difficult conversation, or getting bad news. Little demons appear in my head and begin gnawing at my brain. I remember once hearing composer Paul Williams refer to it as when “the rats start chewing on the wires.”
One of my resolutions for 2016 is to minimize the Dark & Twisty. You can’t keep the rats from entering, but you can certainly protect your wiring. I’m learning to have a tougher skin, but I’ll admit, a negative comment or someone misconstruing or belittling my efforts can send me into the light socket, lighting up my brain in ways that make my head spin. Criticism can come from the most anonymous or far removed source and I can take it way too personally.
Not everyone is going to like what I do at all times. I know that. I don’t need a cheer squad following me around. But, wouldn’t that be nice?
I’m also a creative soul and an empath, which means I feel things pretty deeply. When someone is upset, even if it’s not with me, it’s hard to throw up my shields.
We all have to deal with sour grapes at one time or another. Your boss, your kids, your partner, yourself. But HOW we deal is where making the choice comes in. For a very long time, I used food. It was my weapon of mass destruction to numb myself. For years my lizard brain told me this was comfort. But overindulging was also an act of anger. What went through my head were thoughts like, “Screw them. I’ll do what I want.” “I’ll eat what I want, I don’t care.”
But in the end of course, I cared.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I must not be good at my job.”
“Look at how undisciplined I am. If people only knew.”
“I’m a lazy sloth.”
“I’ll never get what I want.”
When you are overweight, you wear many of your battle scars right out in the open. And there are many walking wounded. Of course, we’re not the only ones with pain and anxiety or depression. But our way of coping bears the burden of a big visual scar. And we are judged. We are judged by others and we judge ourselves even more.
I have many instances I can point to where Dark & Twisty pulled me out of the moment. When I was first starting out as a film director, I received a Grammy nomination for my work on a music video. It was almost surreal. And my first thought was, I’m not where I want to be with my weight.
Sitting in the seats in the theater, I was filled with insecurity and self-loathing. The dress I had picked out was of course black, since a stylist had told me it was the best option for ‘someone of my size’ (PS: I was a size 12 here). My failed attempts at sticking with any diet had the light beaming on it now. And the upset deprived me of really embracing that wonderful moment. In fact, when they announced my category, I literally panicked, and prayed I wouldn’t win.
Well, I got my wish. I didn’t. The Dark & Twisty rose up in my gut, and for the rest of the night I checked out. At the party after, with all the gorgeous people in the room, I felt terrible. I smiled through it, but underneath I was a mess.
Dark & Twisty.
There are lots of ways to release the Dark & Twisty that don’t involve diving into the refrigerator. Here are my top 5:
Learning to train my lizard brain to be a little less prone to hanging onto thoughts that aren’t serving me has improved it. I often find even a few minutes of breathing deeply helps. And 10-15 minutes of quiet, repeating a simple mantra, can make a difference.
2. Flash Forward
Whenever I experience mind torture over a problem, or fear an outcome, I flash forward and imagine the power of that particular issue dissipating with time. I think back now on so many instances where I couldn’t remove myself emotionally from a situation and how I now regret giving so much energy to it. Think about how much a particular issue will matter in a year or two. Is it really worth allowing it to take you out of the present, sending you spinning? Most things just aren’t worth it.
3. Have The Conversations That Matter When They Matter
I used to be really fearful of confrontation, afraid I’d say the wrong thing, or burn a bridge. But standing in your truth and speaking your truth can stop the festering later. So don’t avoid making the call, or having the in-person chat. It may not always end with you being someone’s favorite person, but it will help to dissipate your old friend Dark & Twisty.
4. Write It Out As You Ride It Out
Like meditation, writing down thoughts and feelings can help give perspective. It can also give you a moment to take a beat and release the emotions, creating some distance between you and the spinning in your brain.
5. Keep Your Word
Sometimes those gnawing rats often circle when you feel bad about not following through, when you avoid keeping your promises. Doing what you said you would do leaves less room for Dark & Twisty. This is never more true than when it comes to promises you’ve made to yourself regarding weight. It undermines self-confidence, gnaws at your integrity and can really impact self-esteem. When you feel yourself starting to bail, don’t allow all the Dark & Twisty chatter to rise up with reasons not to do what you promised. Don’t throw yourself under the bus, no matter how many great excuses there are to bail. You are your word. You’ll ultimately have less stress following through, no matter what the issue is.
I fully expect Dark & Twisty to show up this year. But I expect the visits to be short. And I won’t be serving snacks.
Note: One of my favorite books on the subject of releasing the Dark & Twisty is by author/entrepreneur Michael Singer called The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.