When I first started this blog, my purpose was to have an outlet to discuss being on stress leave, how it felt, what I was struggling with and how I was going to work through it. Over time, my focus has changed a bit, but I do still like to come back to the theme every now and then.
I must confess, I’m not much further along in that book now than I was back on July 31. A number of people have loaned me self-help stress-fighting books since I stopped working in June and I initially dove into them, and then drowned around page 50. I’m like that with the self-help genre.
But yesterday, feeling that I had perhaps been neglecting the whole exercise of developing stress-coping mechanisms (in favour of reading fiction and writing and, well, easier, pleasanter thoughts), I picked the Gremlin book up again.
It’s partially a workbook; you’re not supposed to go flying through it, read it cover to cover, and then check it off your list of things you were going to read.
No, you’re supposed to contemplate and think. There are exercises for your brain. Which is good. I think activities make self-help books more helpful; if you’re actually engaged and doing something you learn how to apply the lessons. It’s like the difference between being lectured at and having a participatory learning experience.
The idea behind the book, in a very simplified nutshell, is that your gremlin is that negative voice inside your head that gets in the way of so many things in life. The book seeks to teach the reader how to distinguish between what the gremlin tells you (the negative self-talk) and what is really happening (the natural you), and to then “banish the nemesis within,” as the summary on the back so aptly explains.
The part I read yesterday was about learning how to notice your gremlin. The gremlin, it explained, is that tightness in your chest, the tension in your shoulders, the queasy, knotted feeling in your stomach, the unexplained anxiousness you feel.
It’s not you. It’s not real. It’s the gremlin.
As you notice the gremlin, you begin to get a sense of its intensity, the hold it has on you. At some point, apparently, you may or may not have an almost tangible impression of this character – its voice, how it looks.
I had read the descriptions of other people’s gremlins earlier in the book, complete with caricatures reminiscent of Ralph Steadman’s drawings, and was doubtful. I mean, really? I get the idea of personifying the negative thoughts in my head, to better notice, observe and separate myself from them. But I wasn’t sure about seeing them as something more concrete.
But yesterday, it all clicked into place. The more physical that gremlin is, the better to notice and differentiate the truth from his negative babble.
I got a sense of who my gremlin resembled in a sudden burst of clarity yesterday.
And who, you ask, might it have been? A horrible teacher I once had? A boss from my past? My ex-husband? My father?
It was Jeremy Clarkson, from Top Gear.
Now, if you don’t watch the show, this probably won’t make you laugh. Even if you do watch it, you still may not laugh.
But I laughed. Lots.
You may find it surprising to discover that I love cars, especially fast ones. I love the sound they make, their aesthetics, and their speed. And I love sarcastic wit. So, that’s why Top Gear.
I probably made this specific connection because my husband, son and I have watched a lot of Top Gear over the holidays, especially the episodes in which the three guys are sent out to some remote part of the world with a small amount of money and are expected to procure some half-dead vehicle with which to make it across a vast distance. Along the way, they try to sabotage each other’s rides in a sort of grown up little boy’s game of oneupmanship in their attempt to reach the destination first.
In all those episodes, Jeremy is loud, opinionated, complainy, grumpy, negative and generally involved in the meanest of the high jinxes.
The perfect gremlin.
So now, when I feel that tightening in my shoulders and the anxiety rising, I hear Jeremy sneering and I tell him to shut up.
My friend hasn’t suddenly decided I’m hateful and never wants to talk to me again, that stranger isn’t judging me, my family doesn’t think I’m the worst mother/wife/daughter ever, the world isn’t about to implode.
It’s just my gremlin, Jeremy, being an ass again.
My next step I guess is to learn how to visualize him driving away in a very fast car, leaving behind only a puff of exhaust.
Or maybe he should be driving away quickly in a crappy car. After all, why give the gremlin a good getaway vehicle?