Saleem: Hey, y’all. It’s Saleem Reshamwala and this is More Than A Feeling.
Today we’re kicking off a series of special episodes. This is our first ever listener challenge. So welcome to Day 1 of The Dread Project Challenge.
Cindy: Hi my name is Cindy Messias
Danice: my name is Denise
Matthew: Matthew Munson.
Jen: Jen Markovitz from Ontario, Canada.
Cindy: Los Angeles, California.
Danice: Kasan City, the Philippines.
Cindy: My feelings of dread are connected to everything that I care about.
Jen: I dread that someone will be taken away from me.
Matthew: Anxiety loops about how my future will play out.
Cindy: Just literally starting my day is so dreadful to me
Saleem: So we’re gonna do is investigate whether we can feel better even when we’re anticipating the worst.
Jen: I can feel my dread physically…
Danice: I become trapped in a mind loop of thoughts that affect my mood…
Jen: When I make up a story about something bad that's gonna happen…
Danice: The thoughts can bring me to tears, like literal tears.
Cindy: Dread to me is not just being down in the dumps. I think it just lingers.
Saleem: We’re dropping five mini episodes in your feed this week, a new one every day, that tackle dread in different ways. We look at the big existential stuff, the everyday stuff, and everything in between. And we’re giving you one easy, fun exercise at the end of every episode. It’s a way to engage with your feelings of dread, and road test some tools and techniques that can be really helpful.
Make sure you get every episode and exercise delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the challenge at dreadproject.com.
We’ve got some really exciting stuff coming up every day this week.
Ali: When those thoughts come up again, you can just say, “Alright, I'll deal with this during my worry time.” And it helps you to feel like a little bit more in control over this stuff.
Saleem: Can we jump right into the mix and just spend two minutes drawing dread?
Naomi: Yeah. You wanna see what I've drawn so far?
Saleem: Oh my gosh. You've been drawing during this conversation?
Rachel: I've zipped a lot of people up into body bags. (laughing)
Saleem: Living people?
Rachel: Yeah. Living people. Yes. Sorry. I should have clarified that. (laughing)
Saleem: Last week’s episode was all about dread – what it is, why so many of us feel it. And we introduced the idea that coping better with dread may be more about working with it than trying to make it go away.
If you didn’t hear our Dread Project kick off episode, it’s the one right before this one in your feed. Go back and check it out. And It’s been so cool to hear your messages and to know that even though dread can occasionally be overwhelming and scary, we’re not alone.
Sajid: For me, I found it useful just to even take a minute to think about those things that I'm dreading.
Rebecca: My name’s Rebecca. I just think that this is such an invaluable way for us to kind of remind ourselves that we're connected in more ways than we acknowledge.
Jonathan: My name is Jonathan Harman. Getting your feelings out there, that feels good.
Razz: All of us had mentioned having similar feelings. I was like "Is this more common and people just don't want to talk about it? Like, what's up with that?”
Saleem: Please keep the feedback coming. And remember there are tens of thousands of us all doing all this together.
Listener: What doesn't help is trying to pretend it's not happening.
Ashley: Distracting myself.
Nina: Just wanting to shut down.
Deanna: Avoid, avoid, avoid!
Saleem: Today we want to explore what it’s like to dive deep into dread, to have a real, honest conversation about the kind of feelings we often run away from. And we’re gonna start it with a question.
[theme music swells]
Hala: Can you diagnose fear? The red tree blooming from uterus to throat. It's one long nerve, the doctor says. There's a reason breathing helps.
Saleem: This is poet and author Hala Alyan, reading some excerpts from her poem “Spoiler.”
[end theme music]
Hala: The nightmares have stopped. I tell the doctor I know why. // There's debris. A tatter of sea, grass, and blood from where you scratched your own arm trying to fight the current. // I'm here to tell you the tide will never stop coming in. I'm here to tell you, whatever you build will be ruined, so make it beautiful.
Saleem: I don't wanna read into how you want people to react to it, but I'll just say on hearing it, it made me feel so peaceful, even though you're talking about something being ruined.
Hala: I agree. I also find that ending to be very strange and comforting at the same time.
Saleem: I could listen to Hala read poetry all day. But the real reason I wanted to speak to her is that in addition to her incredible writing, she’s a practicing clinical psychologist, who also does some teaching at NYU. And she happens to have a really interesting specialty.
Hala: A lot of my clinical practice has to do with the intersection of creative expression and mental health and coping.
Saleem: In fact, Hala’s creative background as a storyteller plays a huge role in how she approaches work with her clients. That work relies heavily on something called narrative therapy.
Hala: Narrative therapy is basically a form of therapy that works, I mean, this is a shocking definition, it works with narrative, right? Um, it seeks to replace outdated narratives, ones that aren't really functioning that well anymore. So if you're a kid growing up in a household of neglect or abuse, telling yourself a story about not being able to trust people, telling yourself a story about needing to be self-reliant might be the thing that helps you survive that experience. Fast forward 20, 30 years, you are now safe, right? You now have people that love you. You're no longer in threat. That story may not be helpful anymore.
Saleem: The stories we tell ourselves and about ourselves can be a powerful and sometimes invisible force that shapes how we see our own identity, our capabilities, even our place in the world. As compelling as they might be, Hala says they rarely, if ever, tell the whole story, and there's some real value in critically engaging with your stories, almost the same way you might analyze poetry.
Hala: If I write a poem, there's an element of me in that poem. I've engaged in that poem. I've helped bring it into the world. But that poem does not contain all the multitudes of Hala, right? It's not all Hala, you know? And so I think there's something about that that helps people…
Saleem: Narrative therapy can help people start to recognize the difference between themselves and their stories, which Hala says is especially useful when our bodies are going through something intense.
Hala: I had a therapist a long time ago, cause there was a period of time when I had panic attacks and she said to me, “If I did a scan of your body having a panic attack, and I did a scan of your body on a rollercoaster having the time of your life, I likely would not be able to tell the difference.” And the difference is the story that's told about each of those experiences. And I have since co-opted that and used it on many clients myself. But it’s very true.
Saleem: There's so many times when, um you hear like, “Oh, think of things in a different way” or “Put a positive spin on it.” And this seems deeper than that, than just trying to flip a switch in, in outlook.
Hala: I do think there's something in narrative therapy around this idea of like detachment. Which is actually very similar to many concepts of like Buddhism and Zen practice. Where what you are doing is teaching clients that they're separate from the things that cause their suffering. They're separate from their thought processes, they're separate from their problems, they're separate from all of the stuff. Once you can take a step back, then you can start to look more critically about the narratives of your life, and then you can start to rewrite them, and you can then rewrite yourself in these new stories.
Saleem: And when those stories involve dread – those uncomfortable feelings about the future or anxiety connected to a future event – narrative therapy is especially helpful in disrupting the habits of avoidance we might use to cope.
Hala: Dread is a great example, actually a great emotion to think about with this stuff. Because it is so, it can feel so vague and formless and enormous and like it can color, you know what I mean? Like color, the hours of your day and the weeks of your life and it just like, it brings this mehness to everything.
Generally speaking, what we do with dread – we don't give it a lot of softness or empathy. We like wanna whack it out of our lives. We're like, “This doesn't feel good. Get outta here.” And there's a lot of resistance and there's a lot of like, ugh. You know, you're, you're not, you're not the emotion that I want to be, like dealing with or, or present in my existence. So what we're going to do is try to soften towards it, and we're going to give it a seat at the table, and we're gonna give it an opportunity to kind of like tell us what it's hoping to, have us hear from it.
SALEEM: One of the ways Hala likes to help her clients hear from their dread and other emotions is through journaling.
Hala: That's one of the most beneficial things of bringing language to something or talking about something, or writing about something, or experiencing or expressing it creatively is that you are starting to give it form, right? You're taking something that might feel like it's just inundatingly, you know, again, vague and, and, and shapeless, and you're starting to create a container for it. So part of it is that you'll feel like, “Oh, I got this out on the page.” The other part is that there's an exposure element to it, right? You walked into the thing you were afraid of, you turned and faced the thing that you are dreading, you know? And you heard it out.
Saleem: I bet a lot of people listening have heard, keep a journal, but it sounds like you believe in journaling, so even if people haven't been consistent in the past, they can still get some value from it.
Hala: The biggest thing I can say is like, what is it? Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The thing that I often see happen around self-care practices that is so just counterintuitive, and unfortunately I think just discourages people from doing them, is that there is an expectation and a really high standard that people attach to even their self-care practice. And that's a very quick way to make yourself miserable, doing something that's ostensibly, hopefully making you feel better.
Saleem: So I'm a very inconsistent journaler.
Hala: Same same same.
Saleem: I have had bursts.
Hala: I’m a terrible journaler. I'm all like show, like I will spend a week looking for the perfect journal. I just got a very plain cardboard like notebook and then I covered it myself. Like it took five days to create this thing. And then I created this like bookmark through beads and like it was this work of art. It's beautiful. And I've written in it maybe twice in the last like month.
Saleem: It is such a relief to hear an author who’s published multiple books, who’s had her work in the New Yorker, release me from my guilt about not being the best at keeping a daily journal.
Hala: I love the concept of situational best. Like, people are doing their situational best. And my situational best, if I’ve had ten hours of sleep and a bunch of solo time and self-care and everything is going great in my life is gonna be different than if I'm like frazzled and tired and pulled in a bunch of different directions.
Saleem: I haven't heard that phrase before. I really like it. And I'm just gonna give myself permission, you know? Okay. I'm gonna do my situational best cause I literally am doing a podcast right now for a company that is based around mindfulness and meditation, and I have trouble getting a mindfulness meditation habit.
Hala: Just the last few weeks have like been doing it every day again. I lost my practice for like a year and a half. I mean, it is, it's like think about all the extra time that gets an energy and internal resources that get lost, shaming and blaming ourselves when we like lose track of something that is valuable to us or that reminds us of ourself. You know what I mean? Like I've lost so much extra time kind of being like, “I can't believe I'm not doing this thing.” It's like, just show up in whatever capacity you can. That's, that's really all, that's it. That's all that matters.
Saleem: So I want to invite all of you listening along to just bring your situational best to our first Dread Project challenge prompt. This week, we’ll be giving you these little activities where we’ll be exploring different ways we can engage with our feelings of dread. We’ll do one in each of these mini-episodes we’re dropping, now through Friday.
Today, we’re gonna use journaling to imagine having a conversation with dread. And we’re going to give a little structure to the exercise, so you have a place to start.
First you’re just gonna get out your journals, and I’m using a wide definition of journal here. A leather bound monogrammed diary works just the same as a legal pad or a sheet of blank paper. I’m not embarrassed to say that I use a crappy notebook and a bic pen. You can do it on a computer if that feels better for you.
If you’re nervous because maybe you’ve never tried journaling. Or you’re like me and you’ve tried journaling but had trouble sticking with it, don’t worry! We’re gonna do this. There’s no judgment here and like Hala said, “Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Hala was generous enough to prepare this journaling exercise for us. It was provided to her by her meditation teacher Yael Shy who adapted it from questions written by psychologist Trysa Shulman. You can take as long as you’d like, but try to write for at least five minutes. Alright, Hala, the floor is yours.
Hala: So what I want folks to do is write from the perspective of dread the following questions: What are you hoping to achieve? How do you think it's going? And what's your intention?
Saleem: To break that down. Find a quiet space and shift into thinking from the perspective of your dread. This might sound like a weird thing to get your head around, but we're asking you to imagine that your dread is separate from you, with thoughts and feelings of its own. So you're gonna put yourself in dread's shoes, to try and hear what it wants from you.
Here’s Hala’s questions again:
Hala: What are you hoping to achieve? How do you think it's going? And what's your intention? And that's sort of the structured part of the prompt. And then I would say from there, see what dread has to say and then again, call and response.
Saleem: She even suggests formatting it like a series of messages between you and your dread. Here’s what she told me:
Hala: So you can literally say like, “Dear Saleem” da, you know, “Love, dread.” And then you write back, “Dear dread.” And then write what you have to say, “Love Saleem.” And just, and you can do that a few times and see what happens and see how things kind of shift and change. And you will likely come up with other questions for the dread. So this is like a nice way to kind of set people up for also asking different parts of that aspect of themself.
Saleem: Thank you. This has been wonderful to get such…
Hala: Of course.
Saleem: Such a concrete thing to do because sometimes the feeling of dread is so paralyzing.
Hala: Totally, and again, it's just really like formless a lot of the time. It's important to concretize it, I think, a little bit.
Saleem: You can find today’s challenge instructions along with photos of Hala and my notebooks – spoiler alert – hers is way cooler than mine – at The Dread Project website at dreadproject.com. When you sign up with your email address at dreadproject.com, you’ll get these exercises and podcast episodes, and much more delivered directly to your inbox.
The website also makes it easy for you to send us a voice memo telling us how this challenge went for you. We want to know! Tell us about journaling your conversation with dread, and how you felt afterwards. You can go to dreadproject.com to find simple instructions for how to record using whatever you have, and how to send that recording to us.
For those of you who find yourselves really struggling with some difficult emotions right now, check out the show notes or The Dread Project website for some additional resources that could help. That website, one more time, is dreadproject.com.
Thank you for being on this journey with us. Join us tomorrow as we go beyond words and start by imagining what dread looks like.
Naomi: I imagine it being kind of like fuzzy or amorphous. Maybe it's a character that's like a fuzzy rock.
This is More Than A Feeling. See y’all then.
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