A few months ago, right when Paper Thoughts was still more of an idea than anything else (we didn’t even have a facebook page yet…), I got an email about TedxNewburgh.
For those of you who don’t know what a Ted Talk is, its a small non-profit that spreads ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Their catch phrase is “Ideas worth spreading.” I love Ted Talks. I’ve watched hundreds of them. And now there was going to be a Tedx event close enough for me to attend in person?! I was excited!
Then a tiny idea popped in my head…what if *I* did a Ted Talk…what if I did a Ted Talk on Paper Thoughts and journaling?
I imagined myself up on stage, with the TedXNewburgh sign behind me. Microphone on, talking, spreading information. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I love to learn and I love to help others. TedX was the perfect space to get to do both. Also, it would be a great chance to help Paper Thoughts grow.
But anyone who knows me well can also tell you I tend to be an anxious person. The thought of standing up in front of all those people was terrifying.
I told myself, what’s the harm in trying to apply, at least I could say that I tried. So I submitted my application. I assumed that there would be hundreds of applicants and in a few day I’d get an email saying “thanks for your submission, but we regret to inform you you have not been chosen as a speaker.” I could pretend I had been brave and move on with my life.
That wasn’t what happened.
Instead I got an email saying I’d made it through the first round of selections and asking for a 4 minute video explaining who I was and what I wanted to talk about. I begrudgingly made my video and made it through to the final round.
Time to write a speech. And practice. And practice and practice and practice.
This was really happening. I was really going to do a TedxTalk. I was terrified. Can you guess what I did? I journaled. I journaled…a lot. In fact, I’ve almost filled up my journal pouring out all my anxiety onto the paper. Countering all my negative thoughts on the terrible things that “could happen.”
What if I fell getting on stage? What if I threw up on stage? What if I had a migraine that day? What if i froze? What if…what if…what if…
What if I forgot what to say?
WHAT IF I FORGOT WHAT TO SAY?!
Well guess what. I did forget what to say. The night of the Ted Talk I got all dressed up. I got up on stage, went out there in front of all those people, said the first few lines of my speech…
and then nothing.
My problem was, I looked down…I saw everyone looking at me.
And then I had what we call in therapy, an “intrusive thought.” An intrusive thought is an unwelcome and involuntary thought or idea that pops into your head. We teach clients to counter involuntary thoughts by thinking the opposite thought or by rationalizing them away.
“Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up.”
I stood there like a deer in the headlights for what seemed like an eternity.
I couldn’t remember the next line. I don’t know how long it was I stood there (I guess we’ll see in the video!), but it was long enough for me to imagine myself calmly turning around, walking backstage, handing the microphone back to the Tedx team and going back to my seat in the audience. Back to safety. Away from the eyes of the crowd and their looks of disappointment. Then it would be over. I inhaled deeply.
I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it is a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable for me. I’ve already messed up and that’s okay, I need to keep going.
I took a deep breath, centered myself. And then I continued. And then I finished. Everyone clapped and several people approached me after to ask about Paper Thoughts and how they could get involved.
It was worth it.
I’d like to say that my ability to overcome that anxiety in the moment and persist was because of journaling. It would be really a good story for Paper Thoughts, but it would also be a lie.
Because a similar thing happened when I was 4…and I couldn’t write yet, so I obviously wasn’t journaling back then.
I was in ballet and it was my very first dance recital. I was all decked out in my fancy blue tutu and way more makeup than any 4 year old should have been wearing. I was scared. My family told me they’d be in the audience watching while I was on stage.
But then I got out on stage. I could only see the first few rows because of the lights…and none of my family was there.
They’re gone. Now you’re alone forever.
I started sobbing. I really believed that was true.
But I danced anyway.
I stood in line with all my friends and my teachers and I did ballet. Tears and makeup running down my face.
At 4 I didn’t have the tools yet to manage my anxiety so it overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to counter those thoughts and to get through it. I didn’t know that I could think “your parents love you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights.” I didn’t have the skills.
Working as a therapist I’ve seen lots of kids without the skills to deal with negative intrusive thoughts. Lots of kids believing, panicking and sobbing instead of breathing, countering and overcoming.
Obviously, journaling is helpful for doing this. If you write down your intrusive thought, you can take a step back and remove yourself from the emotions that are attached to it. By doing that you can think more clearly. You can then write down a reframed thought; something more logical, or kinder, or more realistic. Sometimes I make a chart like this
|Intrusive Thought||Rational Thought|
|Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up.||I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it was a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable.|
|Your family is gone. Now you’re alone forever.||Your family loves you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights. You’ll see them when you finish dancing|
You can go back and look at your reframed thoughts whenever you have the same intrusive thought and remind yourself of what is true and real. You can also track your intrusive thoughts and see how often they happen. The more practice you get countering, the less likely they are to happen.
This is such an important skill to have. And it’s something so many kids lack. If anything, this TedxTalk and my experience with it has illustrated how important getting journals into the hands of kids and teaching them how to use them is. They NEED to learn these skills, just like I did.
They need to know they can keep dancing.
They need to know they can keep talking.
They need to know they can keep learning.
They need to know they can keep growing.
And most importantly….
They need to know that we care enough to help them do it.
If you want to help Paper Thoughts show kids we care, please donate to our gofundme page or visit our get involved page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice. page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice.