“He’s going to die,” I say to myself.
My dad is in the hospital on the other side of the world from me — in Australia — so far away! Oh, how I want to be there with him. He is my father and I love him dearly. But my need to be with him is also driven by the stories I am telling myself, and the “what-if’s” that I keep repeating in my head.
You see, my over-thinking mind is really good at creating worst-case scenarios.
To overcome my over-thinking, I find myself repeating over and over to myself, “stick to the facts, Robyn; stick to the facts.”
Fact-checking for mental health
Making up worst-case scenarios in my head was once a common theme. It was how I woke up every morning.
Daily, I’d walk around with panic as my constant companion; a sense of doom dictated my every move. Over time in my recovery, I have learned that my emotions can hijack me, if I let them, and take my power, too.
I can still wake up like this, but thankfully I now have tools to overcome lingering anxiety
. For example, today, I find myself worrying about my Dad and what his medical professionals will find during the upcoming tests. But instead of allowing my emotions to consume me, I am using the fact-checking skills that I learned in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
, when I was in recovery from an eating disorder. Back then, I started out by fact-checking my eating disorder thoughts. Now, I can fact-check all situations — like when I worry about my Dad.
How to fact-check your worries
Here are some examples of ways that I fact-check my worries:
: Skinny people have more respect, opportunities, and relationship options in our society. Fat people are treated differently from skinny people.
: “I can promise you there are many ways to meet your goals beyond forcing your body into a mold. I believe it because I have walked beside countless individuals who have discovered ways to meet their goals independently of their body’s shape and size.” *
: My dad is going to die and I won’t get to see him. Robyn, drop everything and go be with him right now!
Fact-check: Dad is in the care of professionals. He is getting tests and treatment. To the best of my knowledge, he is not in imminent danger of dying today. If this information changes, my brother will contact me immediately. Until then, I can prepare for my family, work and flight home. I am scared and I love my dad. I can be scared and strong at the same time. Thankfully, I am okay right now...
Fact-checking is a great tool for anxiety; it immediately lowers our anxiety levels
, allows us to ground ourselves, clear our heads and take action — but only if needed.
Being a highly sensitive person
Those of us who have experienced eating disorders often have a heightened sensitivity. This can be hard. Being in recovery or being recovered (whatever you choose to call it) doesn’t stop us from having feelings that could consume every ounce of us when we get scared.
But, on the bright side, this sensitivity also gives us more compassion, creativity, and empathy for others. These qualities do not go away with recovery — nor should we want them to.
Using fact-checking doesn’t take my sadness away or reduce my desire to rush immediately to my dad’s side. But it does help me get practical so that I can take necessary steps to prepare myself for whatever I need to do. Now, when I do go to be with my dad he will have my full attention.
Life is hard sometimes, my friends. But today, no matter how painful it is (and it is painful), I have the tools I need and the ability to show up for life on life’s terms.
* From my book Making Peace with Your Plate, page 77.
Robyn Cruze, MA is National Recovery Advocate and the online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.