Black and White in a World of Technicolour

I first encountered the phrase “black and white thinking” a couple of years ago when I met with someone at the local Anxiety Disorders Association prior to starting any programming, exercises or medication. This was probably half a decade ago now, and I remember sitting in a very welcoming lady’s office and noticing that despite probably being well into her fifties, she had one of the prettiest, most inviting faces I’d ever seen, as well as a head of beautiful brown curls. Her face was etched with countless lines, but all I remember seeing in it was kindness and beauty. The purpose of my visit at this point was, after a referral from my doctor, to have a discussion to see what type of anxiety disorder I had. Social? Panic? Generalised? I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember her opening a book at a page listing a series of symptoms and feelings, and asking me which I related to. I remember bursting into tears when I realised my life was filled with every single thing on the list, and feeling like it was complete and utter confirmation that I was thoroughly flawed. Broken. I wasn’t able to finish the assessment, and I vowed never to go back—stepping foot inside that building again would be a reminder that I was fundamentally wrong, and I knew if I stayed out, I could pretend. I could do it by myself.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I did end up back in that very same building, taking that very same assessment. I’d done what I could on my own—set up and near-completed a list of everything I was ever afraid of (then, in true INFJ fashion, made another one!), tackled fears head-on (even if they resulted in various instances of throwing up or sobbing my heart out feeling my efforts weren’t good enough), but I still had Serious Issues. We could go back for hours talking about where they came from, but the point was they were still there. At this point, I went through the program. I started counselling and medication and I started doing my homework. I did a lot of reading and a lot of learning, not on how to “conquer” anxiety, because I think I’ll always be a worrier, but how to manage the destructive thoughts and feelings that had buried themselves so deeply into my skin that they’d become part of my identity.

My then-boyfriend broke up with me several times over anxiety-related issues. Each time I felt once again that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to do better, be more, in order to be worthy of being wanted. I felt like I had to prove myself for two whole years, but looking back, I’m glad things unfolded the way they did. Even if the motivation at the time was fuelled by insecurity, being forced to learn independence and how to manage my thoughts made me strong enough to accept the final breakup when it did happen. I’d learned I needed—and deserved—more than always having to prove myself and beg desperately simply to feel wanted.

That was a tangent, but it leads me back to the idea of black and white thinking. Throughout all that, I was taught that it was a terrible thing, and that it was part of my anxiety that had to be eliminated. Yes, I did learn that sometimes, not being able to see the in-between can blind you to the best solution. It’s horribly self-centred of me to believe that there are only two ways of seeing things and that anything else is completely invalid, but at the same time, hate the idea of wasting a single day on things that don’t align with what life should be. Trivialities, chores, arguments, Facebook… we have one life, and each day is falling away from us faster and faster as we get older. We don’t know how many we have left. We hope there’ll be lots, but there are no guarantees. None. So on one hand, I do acknowledge that being too focused on not wasting time prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly the thing that others involved may expect or need—but on the other, perhaps more dominant hand, being able to quickly see how things are, whether or not they line up with how they should be, and make an immediate call to action to improve them results in more time being spent on the things that matter. I realise that not everyone operates this way, and I acknowledge the value in devoting time to truly exploring the best way forward. I just have an unequivocable need to bridge any discrepancy between how things are and how they’re meant to be as quickly as possible, so as to make the most of however many moments we’re given on this planet.

BridgeI’m not just talking about times of conflict. I’m talking about goals in life, too. I honestly think if I hadn’t put everything out there for the world to see, I would have had no reason to remain accountable or take action, and I would probably still be huddled away in my cubicle at lunchtime so inwardly full of dreams and so outwardly terrified of judgment and failure. What a waste of this gift of time. When I first met AC, I saw someone passionate about music. Someone who’d begun with the same dream but had been as scared as I was, who’d taken the leap into performing and a year later, fronted a band, had written dozens of songs, and had turned that dream into reality. I wished desperately for someone I might be able to begin the same journey with, and when he was actually open to starting a band with me, my brain quickly weighed out the options in a flash: fight or flight. This was my option to fight the fear that had kept me off stage for nigh on a decade, so I grabbed onto it tightly, all the while counting my lucky stars for the opportunity. That night, I sang something, and made him face the other direction I was so nervous. But a few hours later, we were singing together, and I’d decided we were going to perform publicly in two weeks’ time. I remember him telling me it didn’t have to be so soon, that I could take my time and ease into it. And I remember saying that as scared as I was, it was something I wanted to be able to do, and there was no point wasting any more months being afraid when the opportunity to just do it was staring me in the face. The thing is, opportunities are all around us. If you don’t like something about your life, you have every power to change it. All you have to do is decide to, and take action. It’s been almost three months since we started our little duo, and I’ve got a log of six performance diaries already, music videos of us on YouTube, a rather official looking Facebook page, and photos of myself actually enjoying being on stage. Three months, and already so very much closer to where I want to be—all because of black and white thinking.

Video shoot screencap

I’m trying to walk the line between what I believe to be the benefits of black and white thinking and what others around me may need. Do I try to convince them of my rationale? I think any time someone tries to get someone to see things their way, if it’s done with the intention of bettering things, practices, thoughts or processes, it’s almost a crime not to—only when one tries to convince purely for the sake of being right is the endeavour wrongly entered into. But I have to respect that other people’s methods and ways of doing things are just as valid to them as mine are to me. It’s a strange balancing act, but I had to put it out there. If there’s a situation, a goal, or a life you want to be leading and aren’t, whether it’s ten minutes from the present or ten years away, realizing the discrepancy between what you’re actually doing right now and whether or not it’s going to get you where you want to be can be an immediate call back to the right direction. Things can be as simple as switching your mindset; breaking the cycle of immediate emotion and focusing instead on how your current actions are affecting the big picture. Life is finite, and that’s a scary thought. Why fill any period of time with grey when it could be filled with technicolour?

In limbo, and slightly scared

Some of you know I work in a job a really love.  I started as receptionist and within a few months was promoted to my current position – this place gets major points for always wanting to recognise somebody’s strengths, and put them in a role that allows them to thrive.  Since July, I’ve been in a position where I’ve been responsible for designing all external advertising, writing copy, organising videos and even doing radio voiceovers (shudder, lol) – as well as being moved to a roomy, big-windowed office shared with three other wonderful ladies who’ve become close friends.  We motivate each other, encourage each other to reach our goals, we’ve held lunch hours together doing yoga, or cuddled around a table watching Britain’s The Apprentice sharing sushi.  I love it there, and I’m so blessed to have been given opportunity after opportunity to challenge myself and grow – if I hadn’t, I honestly think I’d still be battling every day with my anxiety.

It’s been wonderful, and I’d like nothing more than to stay there as long as I could.  But we’re a non-profit, funded by the government on an annual basis – each year the proposal goes in with better stats and results than the last year, and we get funding for another year.  It’s been renewed every year since 1996, and this year we wrapped up a huge three-year research study with incredible results – it’s been a record-breaking year in helping people find employment.

The position I’m in right now was always a term position.  A mat leave ending in March, with the plan, at the time, to go back to reception should nothing else open up by April 1st.  In December, my boss and I had a conversation.  About how I had a heck of a lot more to offer and didn’t want to go back.  I wanted to contribute – I wanted to grow, and I wanted to keep helping the organization with the skills I’d developed in the role.  I asked the question: should I be looking for other employment?

My boss assured me I’d be fine – they’d put a proposal in for another two positions to open up, both of which I’d be frontrunner for, and “if she should I should be looking, she’d tell me.”  And she didn’t.  I went on Christmas break and recent holiday worry-free, assured that by late January we’d have a good idea if we’d have the budget to keep me (which we probably would) – it was just a matter of getting the proposal approved by the government.  On my first day back this week, I was greeted with hugs, cupcakes – and an email from my boss telling me the advertising budget had been cut.  Not great – but this meant we knew something about the budget!!! I went to her office to talk about the further updates on the likelihood of my staying…. and it wasn’t good.

They still didn’t know.  Budgets in other departments were being cut as well as mine, and we still didn’t know if the two positions I’d be “perfect for” would even be approved.  We’ll know for sure before March 31st – the day my position ends.  If we’re not getting approval…. I kind of feel like I should be using this time to look elsewhere, as much as it breaks my heart to do so – because one day is not realistic to find employment. I was also told that should we get approval, the new positions would have to go through an external approval process and a certain amount of paperwork… which would mean the start date  may not be possible for April 1, it could be May or June.

My boss hammered in the fact that she doesn’t want me to go.  But also her understanding that I had to be realistic.  So right now, folks, I’m in limbo.  Do I hold out hope that everything will work out in the next six weeks, hang tight and not send out any resumes? Do I start applying at places right away, because it could very well take me a month to find something if the worst comes to the worst? Or do I take the opportunity to go back to school – screwing over our wedding budget, and putting all living/wedding expenses solely on Sweet’s (very generous and willing) shoulders? I don’t think I could do it – not even considering the fact that our wedding would be exam week.

I’m torn.  I desperately want to stay – and best case scenario, we get approval, and it’s a couple of months before I can go back and start.  That’s doable – I can go on EI for a month or two to get by, or skimp a bit for a little while – Sweet’s been incredible, and I’m blessed to have someone so willing to support me and help me out – but I’m one of those people who needs a plan.  A concrete plan she can follow along where everything happens just as it should.  I hate being in limbo.  And right now, I have no idea what I should do.