It seems like a ridiculous thing to suggest. Listening for wellbeing, what on earth does that mean when someone we love is clearly struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, or addiction?

I remember when Bea was ill, all I could see was the illness, the fact that she was eating less, exercising more, becoming more and more withdrawn. Everything was a struggle. I felt overwhelmed from the moment I woke to the time I crashed exhausted into bed at the end of the day. She was sick, that’s all I saw, or so it seemed.

How can I listen for wellbeing when I don’t hear it? How can I look out for wellbeing when I don’t see it? And what does it mean anyway?

Maybe we need to turn this on its head. I’ll use a random example to explain what I mean. Let’s say you’re considering changing your car and decide you’d really like a red Mini. Have you noticed that suddenly all you seem to see on the road are red Minis? They are everywhere. Crazy isn’t it. The thing is they were always there we just hadn’t noticed them because we weren’t looking for them. They weren’t in our conscious awareness.

We are always looking for evidence to confirm what’s on our mind and what we’re thinking about.

So if my daughter’s ill health is always on my mind then I’m naturally going to be finding evidence to show me this to be true. It’s the most natural thing in the world that we do this.

This phenomenon isn’t just restricted to eating disorders or red Minis. Notice the ‘evidence’ in our daily lives. For most of us it’s a way to bring ourselves down, to judge ourselves, to prove to ourselves that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or bright enough. Go on, have a look, you’ll find evidence all around.

What if instead we spent some time listening and looking out for wellbeing instead of only seeing and hearing the ‘illness’? I know that might sound ridiculous, it probably would have to me too when Bea was struggling.

The truth, as I see it, is that beneath the illness, the behaviours of the eating disorder, the anxiety, the addiction, there is always wellbeing.

Here’s what that might look like:

curling up to watch a film together with nothing else on your or their mind

playing with the pet dog or cat

painting, sewing, listening to music, writing, reading

being in flow doing a piece of work

chatting about favourite holidays or places you’d love to visit

getting lost in a creative project

really enjoying giving a presentation at work

going for a walk together

Basically, any time that the disorder, addiction or anxiety, isn’t front and centre in your day to day life. It happens more often that you imagine.

This is what I see as our innate wellbeing, it’s always there, silently waiting for us to notice it.

I used to think I thought about Bea’s eating disorder all the time. And yes, there were times when it felt like I did.

However, when I was out on a dog walk with friends in awe of the surroundings I was in a state of wellbeing.

When I could hear Bea in her room laughing with friends she was in a state of wellbeing.

When I was at my sewing machine enjoying creating I was in a state of wellbeing.

When she was curled up on the sofa with her brothers watching television she was in a state of wellbeing.

Can you see that?

Anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, mindless Facebook scrolling, (fill in the blank)…are behaviours they aren’t who you are. This is really important to grasp.

All we are ever doing is experiencing thought in the moment. Nothing more.

Our suffering happens when we begin believing our thinking to be true. The moment we think we are our eating disorder, or our anxiety disorder or whatever we are ‘suffering’ with we give it credence and believe everything we hear in our heads to be true. We find evidence all around to validate this.

The more we listen out for wellbeing within ourselves and others the more evidence we’ll find.

The original of this post was published by Rebecca Perkins on Medium.