Noticing the Disappointment Cycle

Dear Audy,

At the start of this week, I started writing to figure out where I was at with the whole coping with life thing and discovered that I’d been tripping myself up by expecting too much from my better days (The Problem is in the Positivity). I’ve been thinking about this realisation all week and wondering how to stay inspired and motivated without being so attached to the outcome of my plans that I’m continuously traveling through a disappointment cycle – which I imagine would look like one of those spinning circle illusions.

It seems to be moving, or maybe I am moving and I’m going towards the centre and maybe there is some sort of prize in the centre and I’m working hard and getting close to it and then my eyes twitch and the circles stop spinning and, once again, I’m not going anywhere. (click for image source)

It seems to be moving, or maybe I am moving and I’m going towards the centre and maybe there is some sort of prize in the centre and I’m working hard and getting close to it and then my eyes twitch and the circles stop spinning and, once again, I’m not going anywhere.
(click for image source)



I refuse to stay trapped in a disappointment cycle. It’s an illusion, the circles were never spinning. Feeling down is on me, all of those emotions are created by my reactions to things in my life. They might be events, they might be thoughts, they might be accidents, they might even be actions that are entirely in the control of and carried out by others. It doesn’t matter, none of those things can make me feel feelings.

Emotions are all reactions, it can just take some work to figure out what I’m reacting to and why I’m generating that particular response.

The overwhelming feeling that has been bothering me lately felt like losing to the limits. At first, it felt like just another aspect of CRPS, as though achieving goals was just another thing that the disease had stolen. I accepted this explanation for a while, until I began to wonder why I was accepting these unhelpful emotions when I sincerely believe that I don’t have to remain upset simply because I am sick.

Feeling sad doesn’t make feeling sore any better, so I hack away at what is going on in my mind until I figure out the real issue that’s instigating the emotions.

For example: If I believe that physical pain = sadness, then I will be sad all the time. I’m literally never not in physical pain (not even when I’m laughing and dancing with you) and so if I accept this equation as fact then I am doomed by my own misunderstanding of my own mind.

Thankfully, emotional states can be examined further than simply “accept” or “reject”. I look for the whys, even when they seem ludicrous, or confronting. To be honest, it’s always confronting to challenge myself to find the belief that’s holding me hostage, call it out, decide to let it go and actively build a new belief out of the lessons that life teaches to anyone who’ll listen. I’ve had to spend a lot of time admitting to myself that I have been wrong, that I have been ignorant, that I have been carried away by assumptions, that I’ve been an asshole, that I don’t know everything, or anything, and that even the things that I think I understand might be changed by further information.

It can be harsh. The kinds of internal beliefs that I need to challenge in order to alter my emotional reactions are parts of me, or ways of me, that have been guiding me for my whole life, forming my identity and hovering around everything I do, disguised as certainties. Challenging the beliefs that form my identity is like taking a puzzle, scattering the pieces and then trying to figure out if any of those pieces will fit into a new picture that I’ve never seen before. The puzzle pieces form the ground that I stand on. Until I can get them to fit together in a more helpful way, I’m just floating. If a core belief isn’t make me feel good, then it needs to be tweaked until I have something solid to stand back up on.

Emotional states aren’t usually just in the here and now. I’ve been riding a roller coaster of feeling well, okay, crappy and utterly useless. The carriage was set to a high speed and I went up and down, over and under, around and around. I was dealing with emotions as they arose and neglecting to notice the overall patterns made by those fancy coaster curves.

I’d feel well one day, get a lot done and start to plan how I could use this newfound power to get a lot done the next day and the day after that. I’d see a career start unfolding in my imagination. I’d get that feeling that whatever plan I was thinking about was something that I could do “now that I’m feeling better”. The next time that my pain shot through the roof, or fatigue floored me, I’d feel disappointment at realising that I am not actually “feeling better” enough to carry out the plans from my feeling-well-day and then I’d sink into the sadness and have to fight it off again.

It’s a bigger cycle than a day, a bigger flowchart than event-causes-emotion and of greater importance than it might seem.

To stop getting caught up in the disappointment cycle, I have to stop getting disappointed. Even more, I have to stop setting myself up to be disappointed. Daydreaming is fun, it can be a great way to begin a new adventure, but it is that sense of beginning that I think is causing my angst.

When I am having a good day, I have to let it be a good day, try to enjoy it, but not assume those feelings mean anything about my future health or abilities. CRPS doesn’t simply heal, I need to remember that feeling well and being well are different things and the same goes for feeling capable.

It’s quite daunting to be looking forward and wondering what will happen to my mind once I’ve been policing it away from overexcitement for a while. Will I stop feeling motivated? Or never feel inspired? I’ve allowed myself to emotionally invest so much in my dreams of the future for so long that my senses of feeling motivated and inspired are tied up with my plans and predictions. I need to separate them, to maintain motivation without the need for achievement and search out inspiration without the need for outcome.

I’ve noticed my mind attempting to attach a more productive future to everything I’ve managed to do this week. I was able to cope with shopping and cooking and so I felt the urge to plan more and more complicated meals. I was able to drive about an hour to a friend’s place, go out to eat and drive an hour home and so I felt the urge to plan bigger adventures, you know, maybe I could drive two hours in the same direction and end up visiting a friend who lives even further away. I was able to handle a 5km walk and more sessions on the exercise bike than I’ve been capable of in months and so I began to think about returning to Tasmania to hike the hikes that I could have never handled on my first visit… the goals get rather specific at times.

I’m not admonishing myself for having these thoughts, or cutting them off, or immediately attempting to replace them with other, more purposely manufactured thoughts. That’s not how changing a way of thinking works. I can’t force beliefs to change by being forceful. Instead, I just need to notice them. I just need to look and see what’s going on, honestly. The honesty part is important, some of those long-standing core beliefs refuse to go down without a fight and are fond of resorting to trickery. They hate to be seen, though, and just noticing them can cause them to vanish or morph into something new.

I refuse to stay trapped in a disappointment cycle. I refuse to stay trapped by thoughts or emotions. I’ll keep watching and the next step will reveal itself. It always does.

Love & Actual Positive Thinking,
Caf

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  • 2 thoughts on “Noticing the Disappointment Cycle

    1. Sharon

      Thanks for this great post! Your post has given me some things to think about. I try to keep stuffing my emotions down and they do eventually bubble up and over. I wonder if i will ever wrap my head around this illness. My crps friends tell me it sits better with you after a few years. It’s been 3 years. I just wanted to thank you for posting your thoughts

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        It’s definitely a hard illness to wrap your head around! I have been at it for 8 years and I’m still not sure I’ve got a handle on it. At the very least, I do cope a lot better these days than I did in the first few years. Thanks so much for stopping by :) x

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