The art of talking to oneself: sanity born out of ‘insanity’.

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Approximately four months ago, I started talking to myself. It started early on this year when I was alone in my flat. At first it was only intermittent but now it’s daily. I enjoy talking to myself. In fact I encourage everyone to talk to themselves in the same way that I have been talking to myself. Before I go any further, let me explain a few things.

In my previous life as a College teacher, I worked with an assortment of eclectic students. Among them were some with serious and enduring mental health issues. Others had no official diagnosis but clearly carried with them minds as fragile as glass.

One common trait in both groups of students was a tendency (at times) to talk to themselves. Sometimes this was done in plain view and at other times I would catch a glimpse of them doing this when I was out and about. I always thought talking to oneself was a sign of encroaching or fully formed insanity but I no longer believe this to be the case.

There are in my opinion distinct types of ‘self-talk’. These are just some of them:

  1. an individual is talking to someone who is not visible to the naked eye (those struggling with schizophrenia, psychosis or even grief may sometimes fall into this category). I include the latter because people sometimes talk to people who are no longer alive. Whereas the latter group may find self-talk comforting, for those struggling with schizophrenia or psychosis this may be a sign of their deteriorating health.
  2. talking to oneself negatively. We all have instances of self-deprecation, self-criticism etc. Some do this aloud whilst others keep it to themselves. It’s not always a bad thing in my opinion. I sometimes berate myself for doing something silly. If it leads to a positive action, then I am all for a verbal slap in the face at times.
  3. talking to yourself in order to encourage yourself. I’ve seen sports stars like Serena Williams do this when on the brink of defeat. I’ve seen it serve her well and I’ve seen it sometimes not lead to victory. (Please note, this is not the same as what ‘the Donald’ does when he is feeding his ego).

It’s a combination of the first and third type of self-talk that I started engaging in earlier this year. At the start of the year, I started ‘talking to the ‘eating disorder’ as though it were a person. I started saying “I will recover, I am recovered, I will see the end of you, I will see the back of you” as though I were assured of victory. On the most awful day I kept on repeating these words and soon it acquired a realness to it, as though victory were a seed planted on fertile ground on the inside of me. Although I was still months away from visible progress, I stuck with this talk. Why? Because a decade of negative self-talk had done absolutely nothing but land me in hot pepper (ata rodo rather than horseradish type heat).

Recently, I started to practice positive self-talk. This was not about doing the ten steps to victory tips that I had read in some self-help book. This was something natural, intrinsic, which was born out of my realisation that anxiousness played a huge role in my current state and led to disordered behaviours. I started saying to myself “it’s okay Funmi, it’ll be okay, you’re doing well Funmi”. I said this to myself when I felt the talons of anxiety perched upon my shoulders, digging itself in, I said it when I was having a good moment or a good day when I was coming to some level of acceptance about the changes creeping all over my body. This is the kind of self-talk that I have come to love most and embrace.

For all the stick Americans get about their loudness, brashness, extreme self-confidence, the one thing I will say is that they really know how to cheer their teams on. I mean really cheer. Like back-flipping all over the field, fist-pumping, coca-cola all over my top cos I am so excited kind of cheering. And that is exactly what I am starting to become – my own greatest cheerleader. 

If we are ever to overcome the difficulties in life, make progress towards goals, pick ourselves back up with grazed knees and keep running, then we need to learn this art of cheerleading, this art of talking to ourselves. It will serve us well when we most need help.

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