“I am a serial f*ck up!.” That is what my brain is telling me right now. “I am a serial f*ck up! This time I did it big!”
To be honest with you, I’m not sure how this is going to play out. The uncertainty has pushed me into the stormy waters of massive anxiety yet again.
I have this reoccurring, chaos creating tendency to be walking my way through each day with poise and confidence. I’m keeping all the balls in the air, juggling all of my competing priorities successfully. Everything is running smoothly. I am positive and optimistic. I’m taking care of my many responsibilities. Then seemingly out of nowhere, I get smacked in the face with something huge that I overlooked or forgot about.
This week, it was learning that a major deadline I had to complete a certification program that is required to continue my employment was the end of June and not the end of October as I had been reassuring myself every time I chose to postpone doing the work. I have three tests, two projects and a class to complete in one month!
This certification program has been a huge bugger of a challenge. I normally excel at educational endeavors and yet this one has been an immense struggle. I’ve already had to retake one of the classes because I failed the test too many times. If I don’t pass it on the next try, I will have to take the class again and my employer has already told me the next $1,300 registration fee has to come out of my pocket. Yikes!
To say that my anxiety was high, is a complete understatement. My anxiety shot up higher than the spacecrafts of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk combined! It didn’t take long for that anxiety to gain a voice of its own and start throwing some serious shade my way.
“You always do this! You go and pretend you’re on top of everything and then blow something big! You are a serial f*ck up! We’re going to lose our job, our apartment! We’re going to end up on the streets and end up dead! Gawd, I hate you for doing this to us again! You don’t even deserve that job of yours! You are nothing more than a huge faking failure! Everyone is going to see you for the imposter you really are!”
And my initial response? I took the bait and followed the rabbit down its hole into a world of despair and self-loathing. Unfortunately, this time was no exception.
“Ugh! Here I am again! I’ve messed up big this time! What am I going to do? I don’t think I can pass these tests. I’m going to have to study day and night every day. No going out to socialize, no TV, no playing games on the phone, and no social media.”
“Shit! I don’t know if I can even pass these tests! I can’t afford to keep trying. I should probably start looking for another job. Even if I pass, I don’t know how much our IT security team will even let me use these skills. I’m probably going through this for nothing.”
I even went so far as to call a work friend of mine to tell her I was thinking of finding another job.
I was clearly starting to spiral in an unhealthy direction. I needed intervention fast!
Now over the past few years, I have come to understand that when things go bad like this for me, I will automatically pull into myself and try to solve the problem myself and it doesn’t end well. Even if I successfully solve the problem, the price paid emotionally is too high.
Sometimes, it almost feels like my brain is an accomplice that I am unaware of, trying to preserve the appearance that nothing is wrong to the point that I will even forget to work through the challenge with my therapist. Reading through my self-talk as I write, I suspect that is part of what caused this current fiasco.
So my first step was to start reaching out to my support circle.
I think that building my support circle has been one of the most critical aspects of my journey to a healthy mindset. This is the one group of people I don’t have to hide any of my faults or failures from and they will respond with grace and wisdom to support me. They are familiar with the anxiety response tools I utilize and can remind to use them or coach me through them.
My circle once again gave me some great advice. They suggested reaching out to my therapist, which I did. (I didn’t want to forget to bring it up at our next session.) They stressed not to make any decisions while the anxiety was raging. They pointed out several options that might be open to me and suggested working with my boss. They reminded me that I was a valuable employee and that my employer wouldn’t be too excited about having to pay to replace me. And they reminded me to use my toolbox.
Several rounds of Box Breathing slowed my racing heart and frantically bouncing foot. However, Box Breathing wasn’t doing anything for the negative self-talk.
I walked across the living room to the window sill where I keep my Grounding Toolbox. I unclasped the lid and lifted it. I slid out the toolset labeled, “Self-talk First Aid” and walked back to my desk.
Sitting down, I opened the toolset and pulled out the tool cards. Enjoying the faint scent of lavender, I flipped through the tool cards to locate my “Challenging Negative Self-Talk” card.
I grabbed a piece of paper and started working through the prompts.
What are you telling yourself?
“I am a f*up and I can’t keep my ship sailing straight on successfully.”
What is the evidence for this?
“My finances, this training, my relationship with my parents, my lack of relationship with my sister.”
Is this always true?
“It seems to be. Things go along fine and I am on top of everything and then something terrible blows up. Something I forgot/blocked/didn’t want to deal with and the world as I know it goes to shit.”
Has this always been true in the past?
“My relationship with school hasn’t usually worked this way.”
What are the odds of this actually being true?
What’s the worst that could happen?
“I could lose my job/home.”
What is so bad about that?
“No money, no place to live, no food to eat, get sick, die.”
(Yes. I am that fatalistic.)
What would I do if it happened?
“Unemployment might be an option. I could ask the church if I can sleep in the church until I get things sorted. It would give me time to work on my project, but I wouldn’t have funds. I could get another job.”
Are you looking at the full picture?
“I haven’t talked to my boss yet about options. I did email Ben and have reached out to Nancy, Harris and Chris.”
Are you being fully objective?
“Probably not completely. I am anxious and freaking out.”
I was surprised to watch the gradual shift in my perspective. My responses to the first half of the prompts were pessimistic and bleak.
As I worked through the remaining prompts, I was directed to look for potential actions I could take if the worst case scenario unfolded itself in my life. “Oh even if the worst happens, I will survive.”
I was pushed to explore how objective and complete I had been in my analysis. “Wow! There’s a lot I hadn’t considered. I don’t have enough information to make a decision yet, and I definitely can’t reach a verdict of worthless, colossal f*ck up quite yet.”
And there in the middle, I found a measure of peace. I didn’t know how this would turn out in the end, but it probably wasn’t as horrific as it currently felt. Yes, my foot was still tapping out essays in Morse code, but I would ultimately be okay. Yes, it still felt like I had shards of glass in my stomach, but the edges weren’t as jagged and I wouldn’t die.
I still don’t know how this will turn out in the end. I’m sure I will use a ton more tools to get myself to the first of July. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you handle negative self-talk.