by Jennifer Zmurchyk – Prairie Sky Wellness
Through the last few years, I have embarked on an incredible and epic journey towards health, wellness, and becoming an all round better person. What sparked this was a diagnosis of Type 1 Bipolar disorder (see my article here), coupled with a complete collapse of my life and hitting that ‘rock bottom’ moment that many of us experience.
One of the things that I realized I needed to do was end that terrible train of negative thinking that was constantly steaming along the tracks in my mind. That is one of the things that comes with being Bipolar – negative thinking and a little voice in your head always telling you that you aren’t good enough, or you don’t matter. I won’t get into it here but sometimes that negative voice went well beyond telling me I wasn’t good enough and got very dark, taking me into the depths of a horrific bottomless pit.
I began to learn about the science of neuroplasticity, and how it is achievable for any of us to retrain our own neuro pathways and thought processes in the brain. A good analogy would be this:
Imagine a well worn path through a field with long grass growing on either side, a path that you walk on every day, however one day you decide that you are sick of that old path and you want to take a new route. So you begin to start a new path, and you walk this amazing new path every single day paying no attention to the old path. What happens is that the old path eventually grows over with grass and plants, and the new path gets worn and becomes your regular route.
That is how neuroplasticity works in a nutshell.
I decided to try this amazing science to see if it worked for me, because I was sick and tired of feeling so negative and rotten all the time. I don’t know what it feels like to be a person who lives without Bipolar Disorder, and honestly up until these last few years I did not know what it was like to be without the constant loop of negative thinking, which is now completely gone for me. How did I do this? With two simple tricks
I gave negative thinking the ‘boot’ – literally
One of the methods I used when I made the decision to get healthy was commit to walking daily, which was great and a very meditative thing to do. I set the intention before every walk to work on the negative thinking, and as I was walking I was very careful to be mindful of my thoughts. Every single time I had a negative thought creep in, I used a cool visualization technique where I imagined a massively huge black combat boot stomping down the thought, and I would quickly replace the thought with something positive.
Now at the time, I was feeling anything but positive and I believed that little voice in my head that had convinced me that I was a useless piece of garbage. What I did after stomping out the negative thought was say things to myself like ‘I am awesome’ or ‘I am strong’ despite feeling neither of these things at the time. This was a concerted effort that I committed to every day and low and behold, after about a month of doing this I noticed that the negative thoughts were coming in less and less, and it became easier to control them and not let them take over. Amazingly, I actually began to feel ‘awesome’ and ‘strong’ as I had been telling myself I was. This method of giving the negative thoughts ‘the boot’ seems to have had a permanent effect on me, and I have been able to derail that thought train of nastiness once and for all.
Being mindful of my thoughts is an incredibly powerful tool in order to help control them. Another method I used in addition to the ‘big boot’ was keeping a little notepad for times when I wasn’t walking. Again, this took mindfulness and awareness to do, but it worked just as well as the boot visualization did for me. Everytime I had a negative thought, I would put a little tick mark in the notepad without fail. At first, I had many ticks in that little book, but after a while it seemed that I’d managed to train myself to be mindful of my thoughts, and the ticks became less and less until I was finally able to ditch my little notebook.
I have heard that it takes 30 days to form a new habit, and this seems to be what happened with me. Though it was a concerted effort and it took a commitment on my end to be mindful and aware with how I was thinking, these two things have been some of the most amazing tricks I’ve learned in dealing with my mental health. It is a huge relief to be in control of my thoughts now and to be in charge of the things going on upstairs in my head.