GUEST POST: I WROTE NEW RULES FOR DEALING WITH MY CRITICAL INNER VOICE

Kieran Moolchan’s inner monologue and story behind how he is learning to defend against his own negative self-talk.

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GUEST WRITER INFO

Kieran Moolchan is a product manager, gamer and frisbee enthusiast, and mental health advocate in Winnipeg. He’s a charity fund organizer at A Critical Cause and is always willing to listen before even thinking about giving advice. He says ‘yes’ to less things than it seems like.

About 3 minutes ago there were about 700 words on this page about “being the best, like no one ever was.”

From that opening Pokémon joke, and went on and on about the our internal desires for greatness and how the process to achieve that greatness was blah blah blah

Shut up, Kieran.

I usually hate the first thing I write.

But that’s because it usually sucks.

…Or it’s because I’m conditioned to be extremely critical of any work that I do.

Many of us are conditioned to bring ourselves down. That conditioning comes from different sources and triggers, but it nags and criticizes some of us every waking second.

It’s that inner voice…can you hear it?

“That’s garbage.”

“Why would you do that?”

“You’re trash.”

I hear that voice all the time.

When I’m writing when I’m talking when I’m driving when I’m walking when I’m buying groceries when I’m making soup when I’m running when I’m boarding an airplane but don’t have my boarding pass on the right page of my passport so then it takes an extra five seconds to switch to my photo page the attendant looks up at me and raises her eyebrows for a second and there’s sixty people behind me and they just want to get home to Trinidad because it’s February in Canada and wouldn’t we all rather be in the Caribbean?

“You’re bad at airplane embarkation.”

I was thinking about trying to put together a plan to make it my priority to find some time to allocate some personal energy to sending a message to someone I respect about offering to, if they were into it, and only if they had a minute, do some work for them for free, only if they wanted it, because I’d love to help them out.

“They wouldn’t even want your shitty help why even offer?”

There was a moment that I was putting in a resume application to a place that I have always dreamed of working but then I didn’t do it for three months because if I failed then my inner voice would win and I’d be embarrassed at…myself?

Internally embarrassed?

Eternally held back.

Consistently brought down.

By myself.

By my own inner voice.

For some reason, I’ve always thought that my critical inner voice brought me a type of power. The kind of power that let me see my mistakes and look for a way to be better.

To be better next time.

Just be better.

But the negative aspect of that can be an inner voice that critiques with cruelty, instead of constructively.

Has my inner voice always been so destructive?

I think that when I was younger, I had a lot less ammunition to berate myself with when I tried to accomplish something. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that was exciting, not terrifying.

As a kid, I was curious and confident, though prone to the occasional outburst of emotion that was quickly quelled by someone, usually my father, saying that it was disappointing that I hadn’t expressed my frustration first and then found a solution, instead of letting that frustration fester into anger.

My dad was pretty good at helping me feel what I needed to feel without losing control of those feelings.

I’m thankful for that.

And so, I could see what I wasn’t good at, analyze why I wasn’t good, and then improve.

But that was just something that I did, not something I felt I had a voice inside speaking out about.

I was me, and I just heard…ME, inside my head.

I think we don’t truly start to notice our inner voice until it starts to sound like someone, or something else.

In university, it was things like long mood swings, and missed classes because I couldn’t get out of bed. There wasn’t just a lack of energy. There was also something different, something other than the same inner monologue that I’d heard before, that perfectly reflected the way I felt or the way I thought I should be thinking.

It was a tired voice whispering: “why bother?”

I didn’t recognize this voice.

I’m not saying it was another person. It was just a version of me who I didn’t recognize.

But after a few weeks, that voice would perk up, and I’d sound like myself again.

Then, in 2011, my dad died.

Feel what you need to feel” was something that only lasted so long before I was stuck in the feeling. I was past grief and into depression. I quit school, basically. I stopped doing track and field…I’d been pretty good at it and I just dropped it. There were deeper reasons than just an inner, but it was shouting the whole time.

Why bother.”

I was acutely aware of that voice now, during that time, and it was telling me that this shitty feeling was going to last a lot longer.

I didn’t want it to.

So I went back to school, thinking I could ignore it, or function with it whispering within me.

But that was tough too.

Because, as I found out through therapy and a psychiatric diagnosis a few years later, everyone has an inner voice, but mine was supercharged with the symptoms of bipolar type 2. I’m open to talk a lot about that diagnosis, but all that means, when it comes to inner voices, is that I’ve had the experiences of all sorts of internal narratives.

Sometimes I feel so powerful and unstoppable that I have to recognize that what’s in my head is much too enthusiastic.

During the best of times, and more and more often now, through practice and self-awareness, my inner voice sounds like the one I recognize as mine: curious and confident.

But the hardest voice I have to deal with is one that is a saboteur.

The one saying: “Why bother.

Do you ever let your own inner voice get out of hand?

I definitely do.

And the times it gets out of hand means I’m no longer going through the process of trying to be better. Instead, I’m tearing down the thing I just did. I’m tearing down my own performance when I should be building on it. The thing is, there is almost ALWAYS something good about what came before. Even if what came before felt like a disaster.

The best we can do is build on what we did before.

Our inner voice, when it’s feeling like a particular kind of jerk, holds back our will to start and our will to build. It makes us feel so bad about the million ways that we could fail that we end up paralyzed and overwhelmed, unable to begin, accomplishing nothing.

And if we do nothing; if we have nothing to build on because we never started, then our inner voice has really sabotaged us.

The good news is that through all my experience I’ve come up with three steps that are simple to say and write down (but require practice) for when that inner voice is moving from helpful to harmful:

  1. Don’t pick up the phone
  2. Don’t let him in
  3. Don’t be his friend

Seriously, Dua Lipa ain’t wrong.

1. Don’t pick up the phone (Or, use your inner voice caller ID)

A lot of the time I can feel when my inner voice is going to drop some trash commentary on what I’m doing.

The monologue changes from “Let’s do this!” or “Let’s do this…a little better!” to something more nefarious, like “Are you sure you’re up to this?”, “Do you even KNOW what you’re about to do?”.

And then, before I can even answer with “Yes, I’m ready!”, it wants to answer for me.

You’re nothing. Don’t even try.

At that point, I’m not picking up that phone.

I’m going to dive in to the thing that I was about to get a negative comment about. If I just try it, just do it, and fail, that’s better than not trying it at all because my little voice was being a party pooper.

At least, after, I have a performance to improve on. And hopefully the rush of having done something a little out of my comfort zone.

I’m not giving that mean inner voice the chance to stop me from starting.

2. Don’t let him in (When that voice comes knockin’ don’t open that door)

Once I’ve done the thing, or I’m doing the thing, I have to keep up the momentum, no matter how many internal side-eyes I’m giving myself.

For example:

I am, embarrassingly, for some reason, stress sweating while I write this.

I’m alone in an office. There’s no one around. Yet, I’m stressing OUT.

What if you/they hate this article?

What if my Dua Lipa connection fails and I have to start this sucker all over again?

Oh yeah, that’s my inner voice.

I’m not letting him in.

I’m not letting that voice stop my momentum.

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Throwback to when I got the chance to speak at a Pecha Kucha night about my mental health journey last year. The way I feel today is a lot different than how I felt when I was fighting with the worst of my symptoms four years ago. ⠀ I'm where I am now because of the help of my family, friends, and mental health services in Winnipeg.⠀ ⠀ But those services could be better. When things were at their worst for me, it didn't seem like there was an accessible path to help. Resources exist, but they felt far away.⠀ ⠀ I still get messages from friends and friends of friends asking "Where do I go for help?" or "Who should I talk to?", and there should be more done to make it easier to know how to get help, and feel comfortable asking for it.⠀ ⠀ This Saturday, April 22, I'll be part of a 24 hour charity video game stream. We'll be raising money to support mental health initiatives in Winnipeg. There will be guests, stories, and a welcoming community of gamers ready to make things better.⠀ ⠀ Tune in on your computer or phone at:⠀ ⠀ CriticalCause.org⠀ ⠀ I love y'all.⠀ ⠀ Photo cred @ jeope (on Twitter)

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3. Don’t be his friend (create a new, more constructive inner voice)

We’re almost at the finish line. Maybe I’ll go back over this post and see what edits I can make. I’ll probably engage in a little constructive criticism and then seriously question if this blog isn’t just hot garbage but what if it is hot garbage and when I read this post over the next day I realize what a huge mistake I made and that not even light edits can save it and…

Damn, I woke up in his bed in the morning.

I’d just gone over for a little coffee and critique and the next thing I knew I was fully under him.

Come on Kieran, just charge ahead and hit publish.

Believe in yourself, the world won’t end if you missed a typo.

Most people are hopefully still on board with this extended song lyric metaphor, seriously!

But for real, if you shack up with your hurtful inner voice, using it to justify the inadequacies that you think you might have, you won’t be able to lean into improvement and constructive habits.

That inner voice needs to change, or, if you’re feeling extra dramatic, throw it out and make it a new, encouraging and positive voice!

It takes a lot of effort, and practice to do, but that voice doesn’t have to be so negative. It doesn’t have to bring you down.

I’m not saying we should never listen to our inner voices.

I’m not saying that a constructive, cautiously optimistic voice doesn’t sometimes keep us safe.

Our voices are a part of us. They’re an amazing, powerful part of us that can drive us to do great things.

But if you find that your inner voice is being cripplingly critical, like I did, for years, and sometimes, even now, I hope that you can start the breakup process with your jerk voice.

With practice, and mindfulness, your relationship with your inner voice can become supportive and safe.

And if you need an external supporting voice, let me know.

We can practice together.


WHAT COMES NEXT FOR KIERAN

Kieran is going to keep as active as possible with ultimate frisbee, biking, and working out because one of the best ways to keep the mind healthy is to keep the body in motion. It also holds back the neverending tide of McDonald’s he eats.

He’s serious about listening and giving advice, so feel free to send him an email at http://kieranmoolchan.com or tweet in his direction.

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ON LOSING “IT” AND MAKING A COMEBACK

No, I’m not referring to your virginity. I’m talking about when you realize you’ve been feeling….off. Maybe it’s been a few days, weeks or even months. You know when you’re not you, but for whatever reason, you can’t get back to being you.

You’ve lost it. *It* might be something different for everyone. 

Your magic. Your connection to a higher power. Your version of balance. Your gratitude. Your flow. Your peace. Your love. Your wellness. Your self love. Your mental stability. Your total and complete SHIT. 

I’ll provide one example.

When I shoved all semblance of self-care aside recently and allowed my perfectionism to take the wheel, I lost it. All of it. Like that entire list basically. And here’s what happened.

I cried. A lot. Whenever, wherever. Literally while standing in an aisle at Superstore picking toilet paper, at my desk at work when no one was around and once when everyone was around.

I was acting like the jacked up 2.0 version of me that was angry and agitated ALL THE TIME. I cancelled plans, cared way too much about what people thought, was overly critical of others, was insanely critical and mean to myself, binged and pursued short term solutions to pep me up while ignoring how they would make me feel long term.  I was full of every kind of fear you can have. It was like gripping life way too tight and losing feeling in my hands.

All of what I described above totally violates my values, and isn’t the version of myself I want to be. The pain of realizing it sucked. I felt like I had totally and completely let myself down. I was also exhausted from being stressed out and in a cloud of rage and tension 24/7.

I would like to say that I corrected my behaviour immediately, but I felt like I had drained all of my energy on holding on too tight.

Instead, I started to feel totally numb and indifferent — which isn’t really any better, I must say. As someone who feels emotions really deeply (both good and bad), feeling nothing is like a curse. I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything. I came home and watched hours of Netflix and stopped trying taking care of my body or my mind. It’s hard to admit and look within, but we all play a part in our own demise. I was the one who kept hitting ‘next episode’ after all.

I started plotting my epic “comeback” and trying to do things that would reset the hell out of me. However, I also acknowledged that creating sustainable solutions, taking stock of the situation and making changes are how I would come back and stay back.

I ended up quitting my full-time job to pursue other opportunities and I’m starting to get feeling back in my hands again. It feels good.

We all need a kickstart sometimes.

With that being said, here are a few things that have historically kicked my ass into gear:

Making the decisions I’ve been putting off

This is open to interpretation, but you’d be surprised how much mental space and energy unfinished business takes up in your brain. Stop shelving shit for later. In fact, for some people (like myself), procrastinating decisions can be a form of self-sabotage.

There is no better time than now and any decision you make is the right decision, simply because it’s yours. End of story.

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You do not exist to please others, to help or to fix them. You exist to help and fix yourself. Once you are completely full you can spread that love as far and wide as you want to help others love themselves too, remembering to top yourself up with love along the way so you don’t run out. This is self care! Something I forgot to prioritise during the chaos that has been the past few weeks, filling everyone else up…but not myself. If you ever feel like you’re giving too much, or you’re a workaholic like me and take too much on at a time, remember to take a day’s rest – you can’t be amazing all the time 💗 Be selfish with your time because it’s YOURS and no one else’s. People will use you for all you’re worth and they won’t give back – so fill yourself up FIRST

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Cutting back drastically on things that allow me to escape

Escapism is the avoidance of unpleasant, boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life.[2] It can also be used as a term to define the actions people take to help relieve persistent feelings of depression or general sadness.

Escapism is as easy as hitting next episode again and again or coming home after a hard week and having some beers. The sun always comes out again tomorrow and we wake to greet the same problems we escaped yesterday. It allows me to float through without reflecting. It allows me to numb myself to whatever pain I’m probably feeling.

When it’s just me and my thoughts it forces me to address them. This tactic might not work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Especially when it comes to social media.

Doing something really really scary 

Everyday fear keeps us in line. Adrenaline reminds us that real fear is supposed to keep us safe. Jumping out of an airplane isn’t for anyone, but whatever seems scary go do it. Once in a while we all need a reminder that sometimes the only thing stopping us from feeling better is all our fears piled high. It might be riding your bike on the road, climbing the highest tree or jumping for the top bar (in Gymnastics), but do it, and even if you get hurt, take that as a lesson too. You’re still here.

Then get up, get a bandaid and say “fuck you fear you aren’t keeping me safe, you’re making me sorry.” Then smother that fear with a healthy dose of self love.

Reading a self-help book

Is it cliche? Yes. Is it cliche for a reason? Yes.

It’s usually a sign something is off in itself when I start avoiding anything that would make me reflect on my own behaviour or decisions — things like reading books that ask tough questions or meditating. Everytime I force myself to crack a non-fiction book when I absolutely don’t want to, it ends up being the encouragement I need to be better and pull myself up off the ground.

What a Time to Be Alone
Book is ‘What a Time To Be Alone’ by Chidera Eggerue

Moving

Whether it’s across the city or to another city, this a real thing that can help. I left my first apartment because my lease was up, but also because I knew I needed a fresh start and a place with air conditioning.

With this being said, no matter where you go, the pain or fear that you are carrying on your back will come with you. For me, my new space invited me in, made me feel good enough to put down the bags and become the person I always wanted to be.

Buying a red leather jacket

While I don’t typically suggest retail therapy as a solution, this jacket was what made me realize I missed colour in my life. It also made me realize I had been dressing, and living, on other peoples’ terms. LAME. Now I wear it and it represents who I really am.

Find your version of my red leather jacket and pick it up whenever you feel like you need some lightning straight to the soul. Or whenever you just wanna be a badass.

Saying “thank u, next”

Take stock of the five people you spend the most time with. Are they the squad that’s gonna help you make a successful comeback? Are they encouraging? Do they want you to do what’s right for you even if it’s not what they’d do? Do they remind you who you are in your moments of weakness? Do they call you on your bullshit, but in a kind way that keeps you accountable? If the answer is no – say thank you. Be kind, but be on your way. Now is the time to rise. You need those who will help lift you, and sometimes holding on to certain relationships means staying down.

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Tag your pals to remind them👇 @yarashahidi

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Changing my hair

Nothing like slipping into an alter-ego version of yourself by making a drastic change that takes 9 months to grow out. No but seriously, I can’t even express the amount of times I’ve used getting over the fear of a hair change to get the ball rolling on addressing my other unfounded bullshit fears.

There have even been a few times I’ve changed my hair only to realize it’s because I wanted other changes. I felt like I couldn’t grasp what I wanted or I was too scared to reach so I changed what I could control.

Moral of the story is: get the bangs, shave your head, dye your hair. It might just help you figure out where you’re at and which glowed up alter-ego you want to embrace going forward.


I thought I’d share in case anyone else is in a position where they don’t feel like themselves and are trying to find their way back. I also always suggest finding a counsellor or therapist and trying to see them consistently if possible, but I know not everyone has access to that kind of care.

Fuck any rhetoric that tells you going through rough patches isn’t normal and part of the damn process. Remember your setbacks fondly and don’t forget them — they literally made you who you are and gave you the ability to see things the way you see them now. Because every time we lose it, I think it makes us little bit better at figuring out how to get “it” back. 

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