“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha
When I was a kid, I won a Miss Sunshine award for always having a smile on my face. No matter what happened I smiled and laughed. Surgeries, hospital stays, teased for being the one disabled kid in school? I smiled, cracked a joke, laughed, and kept on walking. It annoyed the bullies and inspired the adults.
Want to know my dirty little secret? I was in so much pain. I’m not talking about the physical pain. That was there and it sucked but the emotional pain was so much worse. My heart throbbed. There was a constant weight pressing against my chest. My stomach felt like it was turning itself inside out. I was too young to understand these feelings. I didn’t have the vocabulary to say them out loud, so I swallowed them down.
I stood in front of the school, at the end of year awards assembly, with that smile on my face. I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and listened to the principles kind words. I bit my lip and shifted my weight between my feet. I awkwardly waited for it to be over. On the outside, I was this happy, stoic, kid.
Inside? I felt like a fraud. My heart wasn’t smiling. My heart wanted to cry! If they only knew but they didn’t. No one knew what I was feeling or thinking. Of course they didn’t! I didn’t tell them.
Thing is, standing there that day, I also felt a sense of accomplishment that had nothing to do with that plastic trophy. See, my mask had worked! I had em all fooled. The grown-ups and the bullies. They all thought I was made from Teflon. They gave me an award for my positivity. I was depressed, anxious, and my CPTSD was just getting warmed up. No one knew because my smile, witty sarcasm, and stoicism created the perfect smokescreen.
It was one hell of a magic trick!
You know what’s even more impressive than fooling others? Fooling myself into thinking that this was the best course of action. I shoved my dirty little secret so far down that it made a home for itself in the pit of my stomach. It wrapped its claws around my heart. It festered and grew down in the darkness.
I thought I was doing the right thing because I thought I was a burden. My kidney failure, heart problems, and seizures put a strain on everyone that loved me. They never complained or did anything to suggest I was a burden. My family gave me unwavering, unconditional, love and support. I placed this burden on myself because my thoughts were erroneous.
The things I say to myself are crueler than anything those bullies said. The thoughts I have, the way they shape how I feel about myself, are horrible and misguided. They’re tainted by my dirty little secret, and I know, logically, that they aren’t right or justified.
If, as Buddha says, “We’re shaped by our thoughts,” then what have my thoughts turned me into? A neurotic mess who feels like a burden. A fraud. A fake. A two-bit magician with a one-trick pony. Torn between logic and emotion. Walking a fine line between reason and madness.
All of these thoughts, the feelings they bring, are wearing me down. I’m so tired. I’m physically, mentally, spiritually exhausted. Something has to give or something will break. The only thing I can change right now, or try to change, are the thoughts I’m having.
Sounds easy? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
My thoughts have hidden my joy behind the rain clouds for so long; I’m not sure I’d recognize the sun. Changing that isn’t easy. My thoughts are so automatic. It’s easy to think negatively but that needs to change. I want joy to follow me like a “shadow that never leaves,” and for that to happen I need to rethink how I talk to myself.
So that’s what I’m going to try to do. This year, I’m challenging my thoughts and how they shape my view on life. I want to stop the automatic negativity and replace it with something more balanced. Yes, it’s a tall order so let’s start with small steps.
I’m going to find words of wisdom that don’t just inspire me but put my thinking to the test. It’s time to question what I believe to be true so I can find some clarity. Since writing helps me process, I’m bringing you along on this journey, quest, thing. Together, we can change the way we think and how our thoughts shape us. It’s possible. It has to be possible! Life is too long for it to be too late to find our joy in the shadows.
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