Getting Your Shit Together is a monthly column on everyday mental health from Auckland mindfulness educator Kristina Cavit. In her final column of the series she’s talking to Sheryn Gieck about how to find clarity in a world full of stress and anxiety.
I’ve just returned from teaching yoga and mindfulness at the NPH orphanage in the Dominican Republic where I used to live for two years. I felt the happiest I have been in a while doing mindfulness, yoga, dance and having so many lols with over 200 kids at the NPH orphanage. So I got to thinking about how I could keep hold of this perspective in our little pressure cooker that is Auckland.
It’s easy enough to forget all those amazing moments with the kids, get complacent about how good my life is and buy into the chaos of rushing around mindlessly to get everything done. So I thought I would talk to one of my favourite wahine toa, Sheryn Gieck to see how she keeps her perspective.
When I was strung out on anxiety and about to burn out, Sheryn came along like an actual angel. I met her at a yoga teacher training in 2013. She supported me to go to The School of The Work of Byron Katie in California – a nine day programme that completely shifted my perspective on stress. To say that Sheryn changed my life is no lie.
On this programme, I learnt how to see things with a more accurate, kind perspective and the stressful thoughts I’d been carrying around for years started having less power over me. It was hands down the most difficult, amazing, empowering thing I’ve ever done. I now use this tool of questioning stressful thoughts on a daily basis to move through my own negative thinking, and to support our private clients and rangatahi at The Kindness Institute.
So I asked Sheryn to share some of the challenges she’s faced and how she manages stress during tough times.
When did you first notice you were experiencing stress?
I’ve had a level of anxiety that was always there, even as a little girl. It was like a feeling of being a bit baffled by life. I went to three different colleges, my parents had split up and I was going back and forth between them, looking after mums boyfriends kids, doing the ironing, cooking dinner, cleaning after school. I was trying to be the best young girl that I could be for each parent. I wanted it all to be ok.
This anxiety stayed and I took that into my marriage and into the following years of parenting. I thought it was normal. The anxiety grew, dramas started to increase and I realised I couldn’t be a good parent living this way. Something had to change.
That’s when I started taking a look at myself – I thought, I don’t want this anxiety anymore and there’s got to be another way. So I embarked on a journey of self-development. I did HEAPS of things: I punched pillows, I did counselling, rebirthing, American ‘You can do it!’ new age courses, self-help, spiritual books…. I’m tired just thinking about it!
All this work and nothing fundamentally seemed to be shifting. In my mid 40s I realised that all this work was not addressing what was going on in my mind. I understood that if I didn’t do something with my belief structure, nothing would change.
What helped change things for you?
About 10 years ago, I went on a workshop for The Work of Byron Katie, which is a tool to question the thoughts that cause our stress. That’s where I went ‘Ok, this is about what’s going on in my head – mostly very old thoughts and stories that I’m still believing.’ Thoughts I had never questioned. The Work is based on Byron Katie’s experience that we suffer when we are believing a stressful thought and don’t suffer when we don’t believe a stressful thought.
There are three parts to it: identify the stressful thought; question the thought; and to take that thought and turn it around (and see it from another perspective).
It made sense to me from that first workshop. I started doing it pretty regularly. And yet it was after experiencing a major collapse in my life that my commitment for The Work came. My 28 year marriage ended dramatically, my last child had left home, our last parent had died and I ruptured my L5 disc and had a back operation. I look back and think it had to be that dramatic.
I was so attached to looking outwards to others for my self-worth – wanting to be the best young woman and seeking approval and love from outside of me. Nearly all the key players in my life no longer were there. It was me with me.
I went right down a hole, it was a very dark time for me… and yet I trusted The Work and down the hole it came with me. Then for the next couple of years I was doing The Work daily on my stressful thoughts such as ‘I’m alone’, ‘Life is scary’ ‘He betrayed me’, ‘she hurt me’, ‘they don’t care about me’. It was a big internal journey and eventually a homecoming.
Today I live with a greater ease and peace. I like myself, I trust myself, I listen to myself for guidance. Am I perfect? Haha no! Yet when I experience stress, I have a tool. I question the thought, rather than simply believing it. I understand that I am my own answer for peace. No one else is. It’s my job and my responsibility. It’s not a quick fix, it is work. Yet once the benefits are felt, there is no going back. It becomes a daily practice for the sheer love of how I feel after doing it.
Are you experiencing depression or anxiety and need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.
Samaritans – 0800 726 666.
Anxiety phone line – 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
This column is brought to you by the Mental Health Foundation. The MHF is working to create an Aotearoa where we all feel good most of the time, whether or not you have experience of mental illness. It promotes the Five Ways to Wellbeing – give, be active, take notice, keep learning and connect – because these five amazingly simple strategies really will make a difference to how you live and feel every day.