A little less paranoia…

Would you believe me if I said that as I typed the title of this article, I did it in the voice of Elvis? Cause I did. And now, I bet, you are too.

I have so very, very, very much I want to talk about, but not the time that would be needed to consecrate to the subject at hand, which is, in a word, courtesy. Courtesy is one of the many virtues that my indulgent husband and I established as ones that we wanted to raise our children to embody. Courtesy is not just a word that precedes “Airport Shuttle.” Courtesy is a long-lost art. It is a theme park word. It is the thing for which my heart as a parent beats.

But I do not have the time to go into all that today, as my family just returned home from theme park vacation and things are a bit nuts.

I will talk about courtesy this week.

However…

Proof, Pudding et al

Earlier this summer, I laid out a pseudo-scientific experiment to help myself become slightly less paranoid. If you will remember, the problem was that, since as early as I could remember, I have always had a feeling of being “watched.”

I already admitted that this was not going to make me sound very sane, so whatever judgment this stirs up in you, I can accept. I know that it is strange. I know that it is paranoid. I know that most normal people don’t live with this.

However, the scientists of the laboratory of Proof, Pudding et al, located in my little theory-loving brain at the Institute of Jekyll & Hyde, had an idea. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, there might be a way, through a bit of cognitive behavior modification, to reduce the paranoid thoughts.

Step one: write down the thoughts I was having, thereby actually acknowledging them, rather then just letting them hang over my shoulder whispering in my ear all the time.

Step two: take active steps to tamp down the “primping” behaviors that the paranoia caused, eg: make-up wearing every day, even if I wasn’t leaving the house, the painstaking rotation of clothing so as to never wear the same thing twice in a row, and never wear the same thing twice in a similar situation.

The Experiment

The first step, writing down the thoughts, quickly became cumbersome. The sheer quantity of the thoughts was more than I had time or inclination to actually write down. This was disturbing in so many ways: I could not cross a street without having a strange thought that the person on the street corner across the plaza was noticing that my hair was messy.

I did modify the experiment, however, to simply put words to the thoughts and say them out loud(ish). Not to nullify the thought, just to speak it out loud, so I could hear how ridiculous it was. “That person is looking at my messy hair.”

This, I find, was perhaps more effective than writing them down ever would have been. Because, the truth is, I hate it when other people complain/worry about their appearances. Hearing myself do this grated a nerve in my soul so badly that I was very quickly in some kind of aversion therapy-mode.

The second part, the repeat-wearing of four (very loud and flashy) dresses all summer, is something I mentioned in a Challenge Update that I needed to tweak. I found that I got bored of only wearing four dresses, but that it was a great place to start. I needed to find a happy medium between not dressing for others, but also repeat-wearing enough to dull the nerve in my psyche that was causing me to feel paranoid about this.

I settled on a seven-day rotation, and this in rainbow order, just because this kind of thing makes me happy. So: Sunday, red. Monday, orange (my rainbow dress did the trick.) Tuesday, yellow. Wednesday and Thursday were green, Friday blue, Saturday purple. (Thus the photo at the top of this article!)

I did this starting in June until this last weekend, the 22 of August.

Results

This cognitive behavioral therapy, this aversion therapy that I was inflicting on myself would have an end date. It so happens that the end date for it that I rather randomly chose was Sunday, August 22, my eldest child’s sixth birthday.

The final “test” of my experiment would be telling: My family would be going to a big European theme park on August 23. Crowds have always been the worst place to be for my paranoia. Too much stimulus, too many eyes. I would go to a theme park, no make-up, one little black dress and my scalawag adventurer family.

The result (this is so stark and unbelievable that I can barely believe it myself): I did not have one single paranoid thought. Not one. I did not even hardly notice the other people at the park, except for the people who worked there, because, as I have said before, “you can take the girl outta the theme park, but you can’t take the theme park outta the girl.”

I wore no makeup. I wore a black dress and tennis shoes and a sunhat. I was indistinguishable from any number of thousands of people and this ZERO thoughts. Zero considerations. Zero worries.

Conclusions

This experiment, by the hard-working team at Proof, Pudding et al, in the laboratory of Jekyll & Hyde, proved that I am capable of making measurable progress on a deeply rooted and uncomfortable phenomenon like paranoia, in a carefully structured situation and with careful, thoughtful and modifiable rules.

There was little danger to the experiment, little risk. But the resulting freedom was worth the discomfort.

I will need to check-in on my progress, and be aware if the paranoia returns and under what circumstances it does. I seem to have found a solution for it, at least in the short-term, and I could not be more pleased.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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