I sat there in my wheelchair looking up at my options as I contemplated the enormously difficult situation I was in. My anxiety was steadily growing as I struggled to find a solution to this puzzle facing me. I was wrestling with a question that has plagued mankind for years. What is the best flavor of Pop-Tart? This may not seem like a life or death decision, and thinking about it now I know that there is no “best” flavor, but 4 years ago this was not the case. Decisions like this used to be a source of great apprehension and frustration for me, and at times these powerful feelings were nearly debilitating to the point that they were having a large, negative impact on my life and happiness. It was only through learning to manage this anxiety, and even more importantly learning to accept myself in spite of quirks like this, that I was able to overcome this growing problem and return to my happy, successful life.
Even though I have never been officially diagnosed by a psychologist, for as long as I can remember I have had what I would call OCD tendencies. Probably because I can’t physically act on these urges due to my disability, they were never really a big deal as I was growing up, but I was always aware of them. Things like a picture hanging on the wall crooked or a cabinet door not closing all the way with a nice thump, would make me feel a little anxiety and discomfort for a few minutes. As a result of the mathematician in me, I also have always needed to do things in round numbers, square numbers, and parallel lines. For example, if I am raising the volume on my television, I have to raise it to either a volume of 45 or 50, but I can’t stop on 47. Like I said though, as a child none of these idiosyncrasies were a big deal, but as I grew into adulthood things progressively got worse.
As I have discussed before in my post, “Forgiveness,” after I had my brush with death and got my trache when I was 15, I started making decisions based upon what I thought my parents would want, which translated to what was safest. I gauged every choice by what would be best for my health. I have already mentioned the psychological toll this took on my happiness, but it also had a large impact on my ability to make certain types of decisions. There are a lot of choices in our day-to-day lives where there is no right or best answer, and the option we pick is based on how we feel or personal preference (like what flavor of Pop-Tart is best). For most people these low pressure situations are the most fun and easiest decisions to make, because there is no wrong answer. For someone like me at the time however, someone who had completely separated themselves from their feelings when making decisions and wanted the best choice, these decisions are a nightmare. I would sit and think about the possible choices trying to find some objective criteria that I could use to find the best answer, which would always end in frustration as I gave up realizing that there wasn’t one.
After numerous hours of counseling and getting back to making decisions based on what I want not what I thought my parents would want, I was able to learn to make these trivial decisions in a healthy, efficient way, but I still get feelings of anxiety about making the “wrong” choice to this day. As I’m rolling down the breakfast aisle at Wal-Mart looking at all of the countless cereals and Pop-Tart flavors, I still find myself worrying that I will make a poor choice, even though I know that they are all the same collections of chemicals and artificial flavors. This used to bother me too, and I would get angry at myself for knowing that I made a perfectly good decision, but feeling apprehension and doubt anyway. After many meditation sessions and plenty of introspection about these feelings though, I had a revelation that immediately stopped me from getting upset and beating myself up over these situations. This epiphany was only 2 words, “so what?”
So what if I have some feelings of doubt about a pointless decision? I can now make these decisions in a healthy, time efficient way, and the small amount of anxiety I feel does not impact my life. Plus, by getting angry at myself I am only increasing the level of negative feelings that I have to deal with. Also, as much as I can work to control and manage these emotions, I will never be able to eliminate them completely, and it is pointless to get mad about something I cannot change. So now when I get these feelings I just shrug and think, “so what?” By adopting these 2 words and accepting myself in spite of this deficiency, I gained a lot more happiness in my life. Not only did this mentality help me in making these decisions, but I have been able to apply it to many of my little quirks that I used to think of as negative qualities. So what if I feel the need to have the volume on 50 instead of 47? So what if I have to eat my Fruit Loops one color at a time? So what…? These little idiosyncrasies are not hurting me or anyone else, although the Fruit Loops thing does drive my nurses nuts, and they are part of who I am. I like who I am and accept myself, and that means accepting everything about myself, warts and all.
I have eliminated so much self-criticism thanks to these 2 little words. I have learned to accept myself in spite of my unique picadillos. In fact, I actually value myself more now because of my quirks, because they are what make me different and special. These are the things that only the people closest to me are aware of, and they are the types of things that when I am gone, my loved ones will remember with a smile. What personality traits do you get angry with yourself over? What quirks do you beat yourself up about? The next time you find yourself doing this, ask yourself, “so what?” Chances are this quality is not a big deal, and that it is not really impacting your life. If this is the case, just shrug it off, say “so what,” and move on. By accepting yourself with all of your qualities, you will greatly increase your confidence and self-esteem. Most importantly though, you will bring a lot more happiness to your life.