In this episode, we get close and personal with another central character in the Happier Approach: the overindulgent BFF. The BFF has good intentions– she’s often jumping in to argue with the Monger when that mean voice of self-criticism gets too loud. But the BFF can push us over the line from self-care to self-indulgence very quickly. Nancy walks us through a typical tug-of-war between her Monger and BFF, and tells us how she’s able to quiet those voices.
Nancy also speaks to writer and mental health advocate Jill Stark, author of three books about mental health. Jill tells us about her experience giving up alcohol, and how practicing radical honesty around that tough decision totally kick-started her career as an author. She also shares some tips that she’s picked up from her own experiences dealing with her inner critic.
Jill: I’d just say to anyone who is feeling that they’re in a really tough place and that somehow their truffles define them or make them weak or weird or abnormal. You’re not alone. And it is possible to struggle and still be strong and that your vulnerability is your superpower.
Nancy VO: Hey guys, it’s me! Nancy Jane Smith. Welcome back to the Happier Approach, the show that pulls back the curtain on the need to succeed, hustle, and achieve at the price of our inner peace and relationships.
So far this season we’ve tackled a few different topics. We’ve talked about where my inspiration to write the Happier Approach came from, and learned all about that mean old Monger. If you missed those episodes, go back and check ‘em out!
In today’s episode we’re exploring another Happier Approach character.
One that’s totally tied to the Monger, but acts like her complete opposite. I call her my BFF.
Wherever there’s a Monger, there’s a BFF. When our Monger gets too loud and overwhelming, the BFF usually chimes in to relieve some of the pressure. She’s the voice that tells me: just hit the snooze button one more time, splurge on that fancy pair of pants that instagram advertised to you because you deserve it. She’s not mean like the Monger. She’s like one of those big red lollipops you get at the bank– super sugary and a little too sweet. It tastes good but it’s not good for you.
Let me paint you a picture…
Act I: Nancy’s BFF story
The house is quiet and my faithful cat companion Calvin is curled up next to me. With my coffee cup in hand and my laptop glowing in front of me I’m ready to start my day.
Bird chirping/morning sfx
I’m getting an early start because I’m excited to dive into a new project. A course I’m creating to talk about High Functioning Anxiety. And I am pumped to dive in.
But… the new project joy doesn’t last very long. Before I can even open my web browser my Monger pops into my head. “You have no clue where to start,” she sneers.
In a bid to quiet my Monger and find a starting place, I Google High Functioning Anxiety.
Keyboard tapping sfx
The first person to grab my attention is an anxiety expert. I click over to her website… and immediately my Monger starts talking again. “Her site looks so professional! She uses better buzz words than you do. Look, she says that she cured her anxiety!!! You keep saying you can’t cure anxiety but she says she has, so what is wrong with you!“
Then… like the other little devil on my shoulder
my BFF jumps up: “You can’t cure anxiety!” she screams, “That’s BS and you know it. I mean, who does this woman think she is describing anxiety that way—does she even know what anxiety is!?! Good grief, she did a terrible job. You are going to kick her ass. Your course will be 10000 times better– just wait and see!”
Ok… I think. Surfing the internet is not helping. I’m just going to do a brain dump and write everything I know about HFA. I open up Word and start brainstorming.
And UGH there’s my Monger again: “This is a mess. At this rate this process is going to take FOREVER. You are never going to get this course done!”
“Ok, Ok that’s enough,” says my BFF, “We have PLENTY of time. In fact, let’s grab some cheese and crackers. All that mentally energy
and work deserves some food!!”
Sfx run downstairs, munch munch
After a few cheese and crackers, I return to my office, fortified and ready to dive back in. But the tug of war between my Monger and my BFF continues.
“Cheese and crackers—it isn’t even lunchtime,” says my Monger, “If you worked more you’d get more accomplished. At this rate we might get the course done next year!!”
And then of course, my BFF speaks her mind “We worked all morning, researching and writing. And you need brain food for this project! Protein and carbs are good for you.”
This is how it goes… back and forth, one chiming in then the other arguing on and on until I can’t take it anymore!
I get stuck in this dynamic a lot. I hate that I get stuck here. I’m embarrassed that I get stuck here.
My Monger gets so loud beating me down that I get relief by listening to my BFF. She does one of 2 things. One, she encourages me to stop working and indulge in something chocolate, a glass of wine or some Real Housewives. Or two, she demonstrates how she always has my back, by beating up the other people I’m comparing myself to.
This is where I lived for a long time, jumping back and forth between those two voices. With just a little push from the Monger, the BFF can cross over the line from self-care to self-destruction in a second.
So how do we separate out those voices and really learn to take care of our whole selves. How can we tune out the anxious WWE wrestling match that’s always going on between the Monger and the BFF?
Act II: Jill Stark
Jill: When I was growing up in Scotland, my parents they used to worry that I would get hit by a car because I was literally reading a book as I was crossing the street. I was one of those nerdy kids. And I was always writing stories.
NANCY VO: This is Jill Stark. She’s a writer, mental health advocate, and author of three books about mental health.
Jill: I think storytelling is a very powerful vehicle for connection and for making people feel less alone. And, and feel comforted that their experiences are shared experiences.
NANCY VO: Jill was always sort of an anxious kid.
Jill: I just worried about everything. And you know, beyond the point that you would say, was kind of routine worries for a child like I would, if my mum went out for dinner with friends. And she wasn’t back by a time that I had thought she’d be home, but I’d be standing at the window, waiting for her, convinced that she’s, you know, died in a car crash.
Jill: I worried about everything from the width of my hips to like, nuclear war. I was worried about global warming in the 80s, before it was even known.
NANCY VO: And Jill’s anxiety was… BIG SURPRISE… accompanied by a loud Monger voice.
Jill: I have an inner critic, a cross between Regina George from Mean girls and nurse ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
So she’s mean and cutting and sometimes witty and hilarious, but you know,
Jill: pretty, pretty mean.
NANCY VO: As an adult the inner critic that stoked Jill’s anxiety– it didn’t go away. But as she got older and moved from her native Scotland to her now-home in Australia– she found other ways to cope. To quiet the nagging feeling that she didn’t quite fit in.
Jill: Alcohol gives us permission in our minds, to behave in a certain way.
Jill: It’s sort of like, this sort of invisibility cloak, this sort of protective shield that we wrap around ourselves, and it’s somehow going to give us these super powers of confidence and wit and conversational skills.
Jill: For me, alcohol was kind of this gateway to belonging and to being seen as this fun party girl who fit in, when really that’s just a myth.
Jill: I was about to turn 35. I had woken up on New Year’s Day 2011 with a hangover that I honestly thought was going to kill me it was so awful.
Jill: But I had a pretty violent panic attack as I was in my car driving to go to McDonald’s, to try and find some comfort for my pain. I just had this real sort of sense of something has to give here. I mean, I don’t identify as an alcoholic, I wasn’t someone who was, you know, waking up and craving a drink. But I was certainly someone who relied on alcohol very much in social situations.
Jill: But when I woke up with that hangover, in 2011, I just there was, you know, when you, you have that voice inside you that instinctive kind of guiding internal voice that is always there, but we often ignore it, we particularly can often ignore it if we pour alcohol in it and try to block it out. But it was starting to get louder with that hangover saying something has to change. You can’t go on like this. You’ve been doing this since you’re 13 years old. And it wasn’t working for me anymore.
NANCY VO: At the time, Jill was a journalist, specifically a health reporter. And she had actually done a lot of reporting on alcohol consumption in Australia.
It’s a country with a strong drinking culture.
Jill: The thought of not drinking for three months from January to the end of March, which in Australia is summer, you know, and it also included my 35th birthday in that period, the idea of not drinking for three months, absolutely terrified me.
Jill: So I decided to give it a crack.
NANCY VO: Jill started blogging about her experience of giving up alcohol. And her editor at the paper suggested that at the end of all of it, she should write an article about everything she’d been through. But there was a catch. Jill would have to out herself as a health reporter with an unhealthy relationship to drinking.
Jill: It was just this complete like, cognitive dissonance like this complete disconnect between what I was writing and my own lived experience. I was really nervous.
Jill: I had really good contacts in that space, some of the most senior people in the country who were advising the Prime Minister on, on Australia’s drinking guidelines, and these are like really clever neuroscientists and addiction medicine specialists, who had been my contacts, and all of the sudden I was outing myself as part of the problem.
Jill: The night that it went to press, as I was leaving the newsroom on the Saturday afternoon, my editor said to me, as I was walking out the door, enjoy your last night of anonymity and kind of laughed, and I was just like, oh, what the hell have I done.
And sure enough, the next day, everything just went absolutely crazy,
Jill: I had more comments and emails, and feedback on that piece than anything I’ve ever written in my career.
NANCY VO: It turns out that the radical honesty of Jill’s article really resonated with people. She was tapping into her own self-loyalty. And it really paid off. Not only did she learn a lot about herself by not drinking, she got to write her first published book all about it.
Jill: High sobriety was more than anything, a journey of self discovery.
NANCY VO: It’s pretty common for the BFF to encourage us to use alcohol to escape. When she was writing High Sobriety, Jill realized that numbing out with alcohol to cope with anxiety kept the Monger in her strong.
Jill: If my greatest fear is being left alone, and outside of the group, then it’s like a self fulfilling prophecy that I try to act in ways that will prove like see, I am defective, and unlovable because everyone left me, because I’m trying to prove this theory by behaving in ways that push people away.
Jill: So that’s the way that I used alcohol.
Jill: We do often use comfort, whether it’s food or alcohol or shopping, as a way to give us comfort, but it’s a tricky one, I find that quite a very difficult balance to strike between knowing when you do need to just eat a tub of ice cream and watch Netflix, and that’s the best thing for you, and when that is actually avoidance, or is actually harming you and it’s learning to know yourself, and know when you’re actually sliding into avoidance and almost self harm in what you’re doing.
Jill: The more that you know about yourself, the more you can tell the difference between those two states.
NANCY VO: For Jill, part of learning to be self-loyal and tell the difference between self-compassion and self-sabotage, meant leaning in to listen to the voice of her inner child. Especially when she’s going through a tough time with her mental health.
Jill: I was walking around this big park near my place. And I just was walking and walking and crying. And listening to music and a song by Lady Gaga kind of came on. And I just felt this part of me, this little child part of me, that was kind of lost through this fog of depression, just speaking to me say, “I want to dance,” because she heard the music, and she wanted to dance. And I looked around and I was like, can’t dance. We’re in the middle of the park, people walking their dogs, people running, people everywhere. And then I just thought fuck it, and I ran into the middle of this field, or the middle of the park, and just had a silent disco for one. Because like, really, who cares! Like people were walking past and I’m dancing like, but who cares. And that moment of connection to that to really listening to what that little child said and find meaning in it was so powerful. And that’s what I go back to again, and again. And again, when I’m really drowning. And I’m really feeling like I can’t do this.
NANCY VO: In that moment, Jill listened to the little inner child voice inside her and tapped into a physical way to release her emotions, instead of numbing herself out.
Jill: And sometimes I need to put boundaries in it, because maybe she does want to eat the second time of ice cream. And maybe it’s like, actually not what you need darling. And so it’s being able to kind of connect with what she wants. And sometimes yes, let’s, let’s indulge, let’s sit down and watch six hours of Netflix. But tomorrow, we’re going to put on our shoes, and we’re going to go out for a walk and we’re going to eat some greens and like it’s just having that balance.
Jill: I need to parent her. And when I’m drinking, I don’t have the skills.
NANCY VO: Now Jill’s able to tap into what that scared little kid inside of her needs. Physically and emotionally. Because she knows herself, she can differentiate between self-compassion and self-sabotage.
Jill: I was looking at right now on my coffee table a picture of me as a four year old that I keep all my coffee table. And I speak to her and remind to remind me that that little child felt lost and alone. But she’s shy. She’s not anymore. And I’m here.
Act III: Nancy does ASK
NANCY VO: What Jill calls her inner child, I might call my inner voice of self-loyalty, my Biggest Fan. And learning to tune into that voice over the noise of the Monger and the BFF’s constant bickering is one of my tried and true techniques for separating self-compassionate actions from self-indulgent ones.
NANCY VO: Last we left off, I was witnessing a battle royale between my Monger and my BFF. All triggered by working on a project that initially, I was excited to get started on.
So as the dust settles, finally, I decide it is time to practice ASK.
I acknowledge my feelings: inferior, uneasy, fear, excited, timid, passionate, hopeful.
I Slow Down and Get into My Body. I put on One Night in Bangkok, one of my favorite 80s tunes that always makes me dance and brings back good memories, and I do a little dance standing in my office.
One Night in Bangkok plays?
I Kindly pull back and see the big picture. With my hand over my heart, I say to myself, “Ok, Sweet pea, we want to write this course, we know a lot about High Functioning Anxiety.
We are passionate about it, and we can help people who are struggling. So let’s do this. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. You know this stuff! And you can figure out HOW to organize it later. Let’s get the outline done. Let’s dive in.
I set the timer for 20 minutes, and I go to work.
Now I would love to say I sat down and wrote, and the Monger and BFF were silent—but I would be lying. The key to quieting them for me is not letting them get out of control. I rope them in as quickly as possible by practicing ASK, taking regular breaks, and setting timers. And if they get out of control, I take a pause and listen to what I really need, not what’s going to numb me out.
That’s it for this week! In next week’s episode we’re going to spend some time with the final character in the Happier Approach cast. The voice that really has my back.
My wise, self-loyal Biggest Fan.
That’s next time on the Happier Approach.
Nancy VO: The Happier Approach is produced by Nicki Stein and me, Nancy Jane Smith. Music provided by Pod5 and Epidemic Sound. For more episodes, to get in touch, or to order a copy of my book The Happier Approach, you can visit live-happier.com. And if you like the show, leave us a review on iTunes! It actually helps us out a lot.
The Happier Approach will be back with another episode in two weeks. Take care, until then.
Theme music out