My Top 10 Truths for 2022
How I'm harnessing the power of reminders to foster a more compassionate relationship with myself.
Many years ago, I began a "diet" that quickly spiraled into disordered eating comfortably disguised as a New Year's resolution. Undoing what damage I could and rebuilding a healthy relationship with food after the fact was neither quick nor easy. After a grueling healing process—which admittedly is ongoing—I resolved to ban resolutions of any kind. (Yes, I recognize the irony.) I was utterly convinced that I was one of many for whom resolutions were bound to fail.
As well as I could manage, I began to see December 31st as just another day and ditched the added pressure of having some life-altering goal looming over my head. I'm not exactly a proponent of waiting until it's time to buy a new calendar to embark on a journey towards self-improvement anyway. I've been about as successful at starting new habits on January 1st as I have been at starting new habits on Mondays or at the start of any other month.
Not a great track record.
Something DOES need to change, though. I'm restless both in the sense that I haven't been sleeping well and that I'm extremely agitated and on edge as of late.
A resolution revolution is exactly what I’ve been needing.
To me, January 16 seems as good a day as any to get one step closer to being a little gentler with myself.
That's where my absolute truths come in.
"Absolute Truths" Explained
In both August and October of 2021, I was hospitalized for mental health concerns. Thankfully I was only partially admitted, which meant that I returned home in the evenings and on weekends. During my second treatment, knowing that I could benefit from a higher dose of self-compassion and sanity, my outpatient therapist introduced me to the concept of absolute truths.
An absolute truth, she said, is something that's undeniably, indisputably true regardless of any possible external circumstances that may arise. It's a truth that will never stop being true, and, once we recognize it as such, we no longer need to expend energy questioning its validity. It's unalterable, undeniable, permanent.
I liked that. It felt nearly impossible to come up with such a true truth, but I was fond of the idea.
What would my life begin to look like if I could believe that I am worthy as fully and completely as I believe the sun will rise each morning?
I was ready to find out.
And incredibly stuck.
How does one start to believe something that for so long has felt absolutely untrue?
I'm not entirely sure yet, but I think I'm getting closer. I've decided that, in 2022, absolute truths are my jam. They're what I'm here for.
I've heard it said that having no plan is a plan to fail. I needed something practical if I was going to embrace absolute truths. Something tangible. I realized over months of stagnancy that simply saying I would remind myself of my absolute truths when I most need to hear them has gotten me exactly nowhere.
And it's no wonder, really. I've yet to meet someone who thinks rationally during episodes of panic or whose self-talk defaults to kindness without some serious work involved.
Assuring myself that "this is temporary" during a moment I most need to be reminded has happened very rarely unprompted. With the help of others, sure, but I'm working on my ability to speak truly and kindly to myself independently. I want to be able to access support 24/7—and for me that means starting with the support I can offer myself.
The reminders app in my phone has been the most useful tool I've thought to utilize to bring my absolute truths to the forefront of my mind when I anticipate needing them most. I schedule daily reminders at intentional times using the absolute truths I came up with in therapy. For now, having the reminders pop up in my notifications is helpful.
When I start to naturally default to speaking these truths to myself in hard moments, I'll know I've made tremendous progress.
My Top 10 Truths
1. This is temporary.
As someone who lives with severe anxiety, these three words are extremely meaningful in times of high stress and panic. Reminding myself that panic cannot last forever nor will it always feel as threatening as it does in the moment doesn't take my symptoms away, but it does make tolerating them feel more within my reach.
I schedule this reminder sporadically because I enjoy forgetting when it's going to pop up next. Sometimes it catches me during a good moment, while I'm playing with children or enjoying a cup of coffee with a favorite TV show. Acknowledging those moments as temporary encourages me to appreciate them a bit more and stay present.
2. I am safe.
Of course, this is true barring any actual threat to my safety. But particularly when sleeplessness hits, it's one of the most useful on the list. When I use this one well, my inner dialogue turns to something like,
I am safe. This feels really scary, but I am not actually in danger. I have never died from a panic attack.
Again, it doesn't take the symptoms or pain away. But if I can spend just a fraction of my worst moments reminding myself of something that is true and helpful—not just how fast my heart is beating or that I can't feel my hands or how long it's been since I last felt calm—I'm one step closer to being just a little gentler and compassionate with myself.
Scheduled daily at 3 a.m., a time my mind tends to run wild.
3. I am not alone; there are people who care about me.
This was inspired by an eleven-year-old who swears to strangers that I am his "real-life hero." (Really. I drive him to school a few days a week and he's told his teachers upon introducing me.)
A few weeks ago he overheard his mom and me talking and ran into the room ready with a hug and refreshingly sweet words I wouldn't have expected but really needed to hear:
Don't forget, you are loved by a lot of people.
He then left the room, leaving me marveling at how gracious and thoughtful someone less than half my age is to me. If he can remind me, surely I can remind myself.
Scheduled for the mornings I drive him to school and nights I know I'm going to be home alone.
4. I am capable of preventing my pain from turning into suffering.
During group therapy sessions at the mental health hospital where I was treated, we often reflected on progress towards goals. I can still recall a specific moment that felt pivotal like it was just yesterday. I had shared that the night before, rather than repeating my usual panic attack mantra of I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I made a conscious effort to change my inner dialogue to I can. I can breathe. I can make it through. I can do this.
It didn't change my panic, but it did improve my perspective and confidence, even if at the time it felt like I was faking it to make it through. I said all this like I was unsure of myself, so my therapist's excitement was slightly shocking. I can still see her hands in the air and hear the pride in her voice; I can still feel the way her pride echoed into my soul.
Julianna! You are doing really hard work and it shows. This is what I mean when I say that we can prevent our pain from turning into suffering.
In short, if pain is what we're given; suffering is one of many possible responses. I didn't appreciate this perspective until I began to lean into it. What I recognize now is that I have the power to choose what I do with my pain.
My pain isn't a choice.
But I can work on responding in ways that limit my suffering.
Scheduled for Saturday mornings, when I find it hardest to get out of bed and complete basic tasks.
5. I can learn to tolerate ____.
Fill in the blank: disappointment, anger, rejection, sadness, pain.
I live with a profound, persistent fear that the people I love are going to leave me. I also don't respond well to change, especially when it's unforeseen and sudden. I feel goodbyes and the ending of life's seasons intensely.
Building tolerance: this concept is quite new to me. Up until very recently, I used to just think, 'well, that's the way I am. It'll always be this hard.' Now I'm making space for growth and reminding myself that I can learn to tolerate experiences and emotions that are uncomfortable. It isn't easy. It definitely isn't fun. But it is livable.
"I can learn to tolerate fearing the unknown" scheduled a half hour before a cardiologist consultation I'd really rather not show up to this week.
6. I am worthy.
My worth is unconditional. I'm not worthy if or when or because—I just am. This was radical when I first started accepting it.
"I am worthy of rest" scheduled for Wednesday evenings, my longest work day of the week.
7. I am more than ____.
Again, fill in the blank: my diagnoses, the number on the scale, what others say about me, how much money I make, my relationship status.
I've always struggled with feeling defined by a single aspect of my identity that I perceive as negative. When I began to recognize that I'm overthinking it way more than others ever will, I found a bit of relief.
"I am more than the sum of my mental illness symptoms" scheduled for right before my next psychiatry appointment.
8. I've done things that have felt impossible before.
I have more strength and capacity than I am giving myself credit for in this moment.
This feels hard, but I can do hard things.
I've made it through things I didn't think I would in the past.
I repeat these mantras like my life depends on it some days. I tend not to give myself credit or trust my own capability. I hope to start conceptualizing difficult tasks as possible.
"I've done things that have felt impossible before" scheduled next for the anniversary of a past breakup, which happens to be my grandmother's birthday and a day I find the act of celebrating incredibly painful.
9. I was doing the best I could with the resources, knowledge, and capacity I had at the time.
This is not a cop-out or a means of excusing past mistakes. It's more about giving myself the grace and benefit of the doubt I so freely give to others. There comes a point in my reliving of mistakes at which I need to stop wishing I'd done differently and shift my focus to self-compassion.
Next scheduled for the one-year anniversary of losing my previous job.
10. There will always be another joyful moment.
This one comes full circle with "this is temporary." It's easy to think when I'm feeling miserable that I may never find a reason to be happy. (On the flip side, I know that pain will come again also.) Rather than ruminating and fighting the bad moments, I'm trying to live into this truth to find a way to just be present with what is.
There is more to life than right here, right now.
Scheduled daily for 9p.m., when my depression and anxiety typically feel heaviest.
Why This Practice Matters to Me
First, let me say that this was not my therapist's idea. She introduced me to absolute truths, I struggled with the concept for a while until finally something clicked and upwards of a dozen came to me in a flood of emotion, and I ran with them to my note's app on my own accord. I assign my own "therapy homework" at the end of sessions to feel in control and motivated to do hard work between appointments.
This has been one of the few assignments I've wholeheartedly followed through with.
Approaching self-kindness this way has been an uncomfortable but powerful adjustment. It's easier to be gentler with myself when my phone is reminding me that I am enough as I am and that this thing I'm not fond of experiencing won't last forever.
I fully believe that it's only when I'm compassionate towards myself that I can give wholly to others. As someone who cares deeply for the people I love, I don't want to settle for superficial kindness.
If you're running on a low dose of self-compassion, consider the reminders app in your phone (or sticky notes on your dashboard, or dry-erase markers on your mirror). If you're anything like me—if you give kindness freely to others and tend to reserve very little for yourself—I think you'll wind up thanking yourself for using the power of a reminders app for more than tasks like "buy eggs."
The beautiful thing about kindness is that it doesn't exist in a limited quantity. For as long as we're able to prioritize caring for ourselves first, we'll never reach its quota. That's the catch to compassion I'm learning to embrace, and I hope you'll consider joining me along the journey.
A look into my Reminders app: