One Degree

We are pleased to share the second of a five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers. 

I remember lying on the floor, upstairs in Verde at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, staring at the ceiling and listening to a therapist read a guided meditation, and – at every step – I had a snarky thought-response as to why the idea was absurd…“How can my negative thoughts and worries float out the window if the window is closed?” “Why would I be walking in a forest alone and suddenly encounter a brick wall…” etc.

During my stay at OPC, I fought the idea of meditation and positive self-talk because I thought surrendering to it would mean exorcising all of the sarcasm and dark, twisted cynicism that make me… me. How can someone who organized Woody Allen marathons and commissioned her friends (i.e. offered them chocolate) to paint calligraphic snippets of Dorothy Parker poems around her door frame become Zen, calm, and mindful – speak slowly and accept the world around her, cutting off the ticker-tape of both verbal and, believe it or not, swallowed retorts that have become reflexive.

I rebelled by writing “positive aphorisms” such as: “Smile! You’re still smaller than a sumo wrestler” on paper hearts that were meant to be Valentine’s Day decorations. My 6-word memoir was “Frizzy-haired couples should not reproduce.” Basically, I encouraged my innate negativity lest the Lilly Pulitzer wallpaper and compassion they tried to infuse me with every day were to slip insidiously through my pores. 

Oy! (Can’t have that.)

But recently, I went to a pain specialist for a chronic condition I’ve had since I underwent some shoulder stabilization surgeries eight to nine years ago. After listening to the laundry list – Kim Kardashian’s laundry list – of things I’ve already tried, the doctor just looked at me and said, “Sounds like you’re stuck.”

He then proscribed a series of biofeedback sessions administered by a trained therapist in the university pain center. Biofeedback is basically a method of meditation in which you can watch how breathing and thoughts affect your stress levels and encourages you to use certain methods of relaxation to get your fingers to produce less moisture or get warmer. I happen to like the temperature method. It makes sense. You’re stressed, so “fight-or-flight” chemicals direct all of your blood flow to your core organs, cutting off the blood supply to your extremities. So when you make yourself less stressed, your finger should get warmer.

One day recently, I was doing the exercise, watching the screen as my finger temperature climbed, leveled, dropped, climbed, dropped, dropped, spiked up, leveled… you get the picture.

And suddenly a thought flickered into my mind, “You’re fat and incompetent.” It came from nowhere, it seemed. (Although doctors will tell you “idiopathic” doesn’t mean that something arises from nothing… it really means, “We have no clue what caused this.”) For me these thoughts are idiopathic – in the real sense. Anyway, my finger’s temperature dropped. I repeated the thought, this time deliberately (I love experiments!) And it dropped again.

So, I thought, what the heck, let’s try something new. I repeated in my head, “You did a great job on that assignment yesterday.” My temperature stopped falling and leveled. I repeated the thought.

It rose.

So I added, “You did really well on that assignment, and you’re good at your job.” My temperature rose a full degree. The weird part is that I’m not sure if I believe the positive comment or the negative one, all the time – but it doesn’t seem to matter…

I’m someone who is always looking for evidence… and here it was, plain and clear. (God I was annoyed…) But, I mean, it’s only one degree. The difference in temperatures between Boston and Los Angeles in January can be 70 degrees. So does it matter?

No idea. But it’s food for thought, I guess.

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