There’s a voice in my head that encourages me to get out for my run, or ride or, in this snowy season, a cross-country ski. You’ll have fun, she says. And even if it’s not fun today, she assures me that I’ll feel better for having done it. She’s pretty much always right. There’s another voice in my head, which tells me that I’m out of shape and slow and why bother. Sigh. I hear her, all too well, even though she’s mostly wrong.
Yet another voice tells me that I’d feel better if I just had that cute long sleeve base layer in black and mint green that I saw in the ski shop.
These voices are cast members in the long running television series going on inside my head. I’ve named the show after the popular series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, because a few of the scenes were filmed in the apartment below mine. I’ve made a cast list:
(note: each distinct character — such as BFC- and BFC+ — has a dual, yet integrated and whole, nature and should be played by a single performer, with distinguishing costume elements. Triple asterisks separate each double-faceted character)
Bad Fairy Critic (BFC-) — a generalist, who will criticize anything and everything from my body to my intelligence, to my fundamental worth … AND
Bountiful Fairy Creator (BFC+) — who supports me with empathy and gentle guidance.
Fat Face — my inner judge, who is named after the judge in Toad of Toad Hall, a character I played in a grade school production, and who judges me and others, and then judges me for judging others … AND
Agnes — a source of wisdom and discernment, a woman we might have called a witch in times past. She is also organized and practical. She gets shit done. Her name comes from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, an epic, feminist art installation with names of 1038 women of herstory and myth. The name Agnes showed up multiple times and grabbed my attention.
Doña Q — she specializes in delusions of grandeur, followed by vicious re-education sessions to set me straight about my puny capabilities and potential … AND
Geneviève — my inner voice of compassion and the divine, my superheroine.
Kaitie — she wonders, why bother with anything? You’re just going to end up with wormy chocolate and unwilling visitors who think you are a batty cat lady … AND
Gigi — the Good Girl who does her homework (and workouts) and even the supplementary readings and post workout stretches. She keeps on keeping on.
You-Are-Not-Enough — she is the messenger with a trumpet. Hear ye, hear ye, all ye who enter abandon hope of ever being whole, you will never be up to it, no matter what it is… AND
I Am Enough — she isn’t complacent, just assured and at ease, humble, yet also respects her own gifts.
Tiffany — she is constantly yearning for that one more perfect piece of clothing that will make her feel whole and cure all the past hurts caused by not fitting in … AND
Audrey — she feels satiated and plentiful, not to mention kickass, when she’s wearing a favourite pair of boots (green velvet!) or piece of clothing (midnight blue silk shirt!).
Boo — she hides under the bed to avoid conflict and, if anyone finds her, she’ll just claim to be “re-axing”, a throwback to when she was a year and a half old and her father would storm around the house, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Everybody, just relax.” Back in those days, my nickname was Boo. After a period of disdaining Boo as infantilizing, I have a renewed love for the moniker, but no one calls me by that name anymore … AND
Margaret — who is a gorgeous communicator across difficult topics and knows how to connect through difference (the name is an homage to two great Canadian writers named Margaret).
As you’ve no doubt noticed, every character had two sides to her personality — a destructive, bull-in-a-china shop aspect and a creative, you-go-girl aspect. Depending on the day, one or the other will have all the lines and the other one won’t be in the episode at all.
I wondered if I was getting carried away with this naming business and anthropomorphizing the voices in my head. Then I signed up for a workshop in Internal Family Systems. Turns out I was onto something. IFS calls this cast of characters our parts. And it’s not just me, we all have our own personal television series. But it takes time and intention to tune into the right channel. And not just get to know them, but befriend them. Because all of them have our best interests at heart, even if they seem to be toxic.
I’m still in the very early stages of tuning in. But even the bit of bandwidth I’ve gotten access to with this cast list has been enormously helpful. When one of the destroyers starts up with a vicious monologue, I’m learning that being gentle can be an effective Jedi mind trick. If I listen to her, instead of trying to mute her, this softens her edge and can even coax her twin creator personality out of hiding. Well, that’s helpful! When Kaitie is on a trash talking spree about how lousy my cross-country skiing is in the current series episode, I thank her for caring about my skills. Saying thanks presses the pause button on Kaitie’s diatribe. Gigi then takes the moment of silence as an invitation to chime in about how great it is that I’m out on the snow.
Sometimes, I can’t immediately identify who is flaming me. But the very act of trying to discern which cast member is speaking, slows down the action enough to flip the script to the creator. Does it work every time? Nope. Still, having the cast of characters perspective, creates a lot more distance between me and the voices in my head. I get less overwhelmed and sometimes one of them even makes me laugh with a particularly preposterous, over-the-top harangue. The script writer has quite an imagination.
In the most recent episode, Gigi got me out for my regular ski workout and BFC+ offered empathy when I was resisting sitting down to write this.
An earlier version of this piece was published on Fit Is A Feminist Issue
For a deeper dive into how I started to really work with these voices in my head— I Am Enough: How Psychedelics Helped Me Befriend the Negative Voices in My Head