Tag Archives: endurance

Don’t just jump on any train of thought – train your mind instead, and steer your course.

In recovery of any sort, it is absolutely essential that we get a hold of and harness our thoughts if we want to have a successful outcome.

Please bear in mind that I don’t say this at all lightly. Having experienced the nightmare of complex PTSD and severe generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression, believe me when I say I know how incredibly tough it is to calm those intensely distressing thoughts. Tough, but not impossible.

You need more than muscle or physical endurance to get through a trial or a challenge. You need to set your mind on higher things. Things that are above your pain, above your problems and your circumstances. You need to tell yourself the Truth, and not give in to the despair of lies.

Our thoughts can lead us to all kinds of places. Sometimes those can be incredibly dark places such as low self esteem, depression, fear, phobias, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, self-harm, addiction, obsessions, suicidal ideation and even death. Such negative and intrusive thoughts can affect any of us, and it can be hard to ‘fight them off’. Self pity can lead to anger, bitterness and poor choices. Our thoughts can affect the words we use and our behaviour towards other people. These are certainly not trains of thought that any of us want to get on, but I’m sure that quite a few of us have experience of what it is like to be on such a journey through dark tunnels in our lives.

However, we don’t have to stay on that train. You don’t have to. The longer you are on it, the longer you will hear those ‘announcements’ from inside the carriage, loudly reinforcing that you are headed towards ‘destination nowhere’. Your fellow travellers will be headed in the same direction even if they get off at different stops. And the longer you are on it the more deeply ingrained those messages will become, messages that you may not even realise you are internalising and letting become part of your psyche.

You need to be aware of how detrimental, how devastating and damaging staying with those thoughts can be. They drive deep tracks into your internal processing, how you think of your life, your circumstances and these will inevitably affect not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too, as well as the choices you make and how your relationships with other people turn out.

But don’t despair. You are not your thoughts, and you can come back from it. I’m proof, although I’m a work in progress. Many of the negative things, the abusive words that pierced me in childhood became part of my internal processing. I believed the lies, and they damaged me greatly. Childhood is a very vulnerable time when we don’t have much resources or resilience to deal with what comes our way.

As adults, however, we can choose to get off the train and choose a new destination. I’m not saying that positive thinking is the cure to all of our problems, certainly not (as you probably well know, I believe Jesus Christ Is The cure!). However, we need to train ourselves, our thought patterns and develop new ‘tracks’ in our mind.

Think of the physical process of laying down a railway track. It’s a piece by piece effort, and similarly you will need to redesign your thought processes one thought at a time, reinforcing these as you go.

In your recovery you will learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. You will need to work through things at your own pace. However, it is always helpful if someone can save you some of the heartache by giving you advice and the benefit of experience and hindsight as early as they can for you.

It’s best to decide ahead of time what your ‘go to’ thoughts are going to be, especially in challenging the negative thoughts you have been allowing to become part of your mental make up. You might not even realise that you are doing so. For example, do you allow yourself to dwell on thoughts such as ‘it’s so unfair’ or do you let them drift by and replace them with more productive thoughts such as ‘this isn’t what I would have chosen to happen, but now I have the power to choose what I do with it, and I will choose something productive’.

Thought patterns are so called because of their similarity. It’s unusual to jump from negative thoughts to positive thoughts without intention. For example one negative thought will tend to lead to another, and then another, until ‘tracks’ and ‘grooves’ are formed in our thinking: patterns.

A thought such as ‘it’s so unfair’ could quite easily lead to a stream of other such thoughts, forming a not so beautiful pattern of negativity. ‘It’s so unfair’ can lead to ‘victim thinking’. Whereas as children we may be victims because of our relative powerlessness, as adults, even if our lives are broken, we do have more resources available to us to find a way out. Where we can’t advocate for ourselves, others can, and if we’ve made it into adulthood, we will by default have some ‘tools under our belt’ simply because we have survived this far. We may not feel particularly strong, but we don’t need to be bound by victimhood. We can, at the very least, change our thinking. Victim thinking, such as ‘why me?’, or ‘this always happens to me’ can lead to an apathetic stance, one of ‘giving up’ – ‘what’s the use of trying anyway, nothing ever works out’. I’m not belittling such thoughts because I personally know from experience that they often come from a place of deep hurt but however long the journey of recovery is, we need to begin by acknowledging them for what they are, and then challenging them, followed by replacing them.

Here are some more positive thoughts for you to build upon, and reinforce daily, as you progress and persevere in your recovery over whatever your personal challenge may happen to be:

  • This isn’t what I would have chosen, but I can choose to do something about it.
  • It feels ‘too much’ but the lives of other people who have overcome difficulties testify to the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. If they can do it, I can too.
  • The pain feels too much, but I won’t add to my suffering by thinking negatively about my pain. I will look for the lessons in this tough time and will use them to help other people afterwards, or even while I am in the midst of this.
  • I am grateful to be alive.
  • I appreciate that I can do these (you fill in the blanks) things.
  • I am an overcomer.
  • I am a survivor.
  • I am determined.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • I will use this difficult experience for good in the world.

 

As with weight lifting, where muscle is built and defined and strengthened over time, it also takes time to grow mentally tough. No one said the process won’t hurt, be challenging, or even gruelling at times, but when you begin to see those mental ‘muscles’ gaining definition and strength, you won’t want to look back, and in time you will want to train other people to be strong and positively minded individuals also. Just imagine what good this can do in the world!

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The Pain will Not Defeat You.

It’s very easy for me to think of several periods throughout my childhood, teenage and adult life when I have felt like I was living while being ‘crushed’ and burdened by inner pain.

Intense emotional and psychological pain, fear, crippling anxiety, depression, low self esteem, rejection, helplessness, and feeling oppressed from a large part being ‘bullied’ (it’s such tame word for abuse) in childhood, for instance.

The physical pain from a nervous system all but wrecked by the overproduction of stress hormones, causing fight, flight, a sensitivity to pain sensations triggered by the smallest of things, in my brain, painful skin conditions, panic attacks, hyperventilation, dizziness, difficulty breathing, dissociation, stomach pains and physical ailments, nightmares, a brain / mind that feels like it is ‘exploding’ and might even self destruct.

And the mental pain from verbal and emotional abuse at an early and formative stage. The kind of pain that doesn’t come and go, but remains a constant for years, even as you try to make it through each day. The intensity of pain that makes you wonder whether there is a ‘way out’.

Can you relate? Do you know in your own life how tough it is, even if ‘on the surface’ it looks like everything is going fine, and even if other people think you have an enviable and ‘easy’ life?

There have been several times like that for me, that I have just had to endure, to cling on as the Grace of God holds and buffets me through the storm, and as He gently heals me through tough seasons of life. Enduring has been a challenge and in my pain and distress I’d find myself fearing that I didn’t have what it takes to keep going, fearing what would happen to me, how could I make it through, and so many other things. My reactions would be to focus on that excruciating pain, to cry out to people for help in my distress, and it was all so very hard.

Sometimes, the pain surfaces again, but the years of endurance are beginning to bear fruit. I realise that the gruelling years of suffering in these ways, even if they have been ‘invisible’ to others, have built my resilience. When you’re in the eye of the storm, thinking of the gain that pain will bring later is just an unhelpful cliché in the moment that does nothing to soothe the suffering. But just as an athlete, or as someone who puts their body through challenging exercises of endurance in time pushes past the pain to gain strength, definition, character, so too do we when we persevere through pain.

We push past our pain and develop coping mechanisms. And we cope.

But then we push past our coping mechanisms and begin to create.

We create avenues of growth, of learning, of character, of opportunity, as pain pushes us to exercise muscles of faith, as our character grows through endurance, we find in ourselves the definition of tenacity, and as we recognise that we no longer have to be oppressed by or negatively defined by our pain, we find a new, truer, deeper Identity.

WE become Overcomers.

When pain surfaces, we understand its familiarity. We no longer fear defeat, because we have pushed through every time, whether with tears or tantrums, or gracefully, but we have pushed through nonetheless to arrive at this point.

What have we learned? Mental endurance. Acceptance that this is an inevitable part of the journey but that it can be utilised as a means of growth and positive change rather than an instrument of suffering and distress.

We fall but we rise again. And with every instance of this we get stronger. Until one day we find that we are no longer merely lifting ourselves up, but reaching out to lift someone else up from the mire. WE train, and we become trainers. WE endure and we become inspirers. WE suffer, and we become overcomers. WE persevere and we change our futures.

When we take time to redefine our mental roadmaps, what the pain in our life means to us, then we change how we ‘greet’ it when it appears, we change its significance from being something happening to us, to something we can use for good. We face forward and get up again, knowing that we have always got up and we will get stronger, push onwards and not be defeated. We will become more agile in processing, drawing meaning from, and overcoming the pain in our lives. And as we do so, we use the same strength that took us through seasons of endurance, to propel us into being people who grow, who build, who teach, who equip, who serve, who inspire, who hope, who persevere with hope, who see opportunities in challenges.

The Pain will Not Defeat Us.

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How exercise has helped me press through trauma and experience ‘mental gains’…

woman girl silhouette jogger
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I’d like to add a disclaimer that this isn’t advice for sufferers of eating disorders or others who have negative relationships with exercise and / or body image. These are simply my own thoughts for things that have helped me. 

There have been times in recent years, and even months where I have felt like my brain, my mind was exploding, deconstructing, self-destructing, and taking my nervous system with it. There was a point in my childhood at school where I was on a daily basis experiencing emotional, psychological, verbal abuse and on a few occasions physical attacks from my peers. This was mainly in the first two years of high school, and so the friends that I made after that either did not really know what was going on for me, and I didn’t know how to articulate it, so people assumed I was just quiet, shy and studious, which I was but a lot of the lack of speaking and problems socialising was because I was walking around severely traumatised. But something in me broke. The damage in those two years had been done, I was in such pain I didn’t want to live, I hated myself and had a distorted self image, and didn’t care anymore whether I lived, but this remained unexpressed so no one really knew, and I just quietly kept my head down, got good grades, got on with things, and tried to keep it together but the pain never went away and I never felt even moderately ‘ok’ inside even though appearances on the surface might have told a more positive story. The trauma had no where to go, I can only say that it felt, including physically with chronic pain that I couldn’t really explain to people, like my brain had ‘broken’, and was malfunctioning and this as an adult manifested as complex PTSD. Because I am a smart young woman, people didn’t really consider that this was the case, until several medical health professionals and consultants provided a diagnosis to this silent daily suffering. Eventually I just wasn’t coping and had to reach out for help and the help I have had over the past few years has enabled me to see a way forwards although some of it was gruelling work at the time. Your brain is not ‘broken beyond repair’ – it just sometimes takes a lot of incredibly hard work and support to get to a point of breakthrough.

I was never much of a person for being into exercise, and still I am not a fitness fanatic, but I do try to do something a few times a week, even if for a short amount of time. I have learned that exercise isn’t just about keeping the body fit, or boosting those ‘feel good’ chemicals. It also, importantly, helps to retrain the mind, in a positive direction, and helps keep mind and body ‘in step’ if you’ll pardon the pun, and I think helps to rewire new neural connections. I have noticed that people, even your ‘average’ person, who engage in some kind of fitness often become focussed, determined and press through their personal limitations even if this is on a modest and moderate level. When people reach a personal best there tends to have been a psychological barrier that was broken that enabled them to persevere, well before crossing  a ‘finish line’. I don’t exercise as an escape or as a ‘fix’, but I do know that it is something that over time is improving my mental agility and speeding up my recovery from severe childhood trauma. This needs to be a balanced for some people though, who might take exercising to an extreme – I can safely say that I’m a bit too ‘lazy’ for that ever to be a problem for me.

There are times when I can sense aspects of the trauma ‘getting to me’ again. And I am reminded that what ‘broke’ within my mind as a child doesn’t need to stay in that irreparable state of heightened fear, pain, helplessness and distress. I no longer have to be in a psychological ‘free fall’ unable to stay grounded or to cope with the explosions in my brain that make no sense logically in my adult life where things aren’t an actual threat to me. There is a verse in Scripture that admonishes one to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Scripture also elsewhere talks about the importance of physical exercise (but in the context of training ourselves in godliness and righteousness as even more important). There are also several passages that use analogies of spiritual discipline being like running a race, preparing for battle, being ready, focused and alert.  I believe that although renewing our minds with Truth is the most important thing for us mentally, exercise also has an active role to play in moving towards psychological breakthrough. You are proving to your body and mind that you can do it, even when you feel you are otherwise malfunctioning. You are training your mind to persevere, to push through barriers, and to succeed. Even when I feel that sense of things resurfacing, like this evening, I don’t necessarily have to engage in exercise to know that it is there for me and it has already been of benefit – I can remember the times I have persevered physically and mentally, I have pressed through I did overcome, and what seems insurmountable psychologically in relation to trauma is put in its place as I take my thoughts captive (as the Bible says taking thoughts captive ‘ in obedience to Christ’) and exercise my mental agility to push through and take control and work towards recovery, mental strengthening and over time, a better quality of life.