Life is like a block of Swiss cheese
What do you do when you fall into a hole?
It started when I checked in, with my consultation group – stated my feeling of frustration and lamented about how hard it is to change my brain and live free of self-defeating thoughts. The same unkind thoughts that come up and replay over and over. I tried to change them but couldn’t. I had been feeling not good enough/unloved yet again – after a (minor transgression, really) hurt that I had experienced from someone I care about.
When I spoke it in the group I felt like I was just checking in honestly – acknowledging an awareness I had had about how stuck and pathetic I was feeling, and felt some relief just to articulate, say it. Having an awareness about a feeling is a little better than simply being overrun by that feeling. I also felt a little stupid and not as effective as my colleagues who always seem to have it all together. I thought I was speaking about something unique to just me.
But I was further uplifted to hear everyone else acknowledge in their check-ins that they too had self-defeating thoughts at times and they too struggled with how to deal with those.
We began talking about how life is like Swiss cheese… And I felt immediately understood – gotten. And oh yeah – not alone.
So often my clients tell me about some slip or dip they’ve had in their lives that brings them down. Ruminating about how they were feeling so good, but suddenly got caught off guard when their partner said something unkind; or when too many challenges piled up (being sick, tired, having a misunderstanding with their teen; not having enough time to have a conversation with a loved one, worrying about a sick coworker; and hearing of one more anti-immigrant sentiment expressed in the news, or another person of color who has been mistreated… Etc.) and they felt overwhelmed or inadequate; or feeling a pervasive sadness or irritation for seemingly no reason at all.
Sometimes they’ve eaten too much, or not eaten well; or not slept or not taken good enough care of themselves. Sometimes they’ve been crying too much, or raging too much, or feel hopeless or unmotivated. Sometimes they’ve been impatient with their kids and snapped at them. Sometimes they can’t seem to ever like themselves even though they’ve tried, or they’ve just had a long period of feeling some unwanted feeling (self-judgement, sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, heartache…) that they couldn’t shake or don’t know where it came from or what to do with).
These experiences remind me of Swiss cheese and how life is like a block of Swiss cheese.
Don’t you also think of Swiss cheese automatically, whenever you’re struggling with one (or several) of life‘s hardships? Let me explain…
We go along, feeling more less secure, intact in our lives. We have some good relationships, housing, families and friends we can choose to be with or not; a job, activities we enjoy. We’ve grown to feel mostly OK about ourselves, even if we don’t always take the best care of ourselves. That’s when we’re living on the structure, ridges, solid parts of the Swiss cheese.
And then, usually quite by surprise, we fall into one of those holes. Some holes are small, tiny, almost unnoticeable. Some are bigger and deeper. Suddenly we’re in the empty space of the Swiss cheese; the holes of life. It’s not just that Swiss cheese (life) is full of holes that is bad enough, but it’s what happens to our mind when we fall into those holes that really wreak havoc.
Typically we’ll experience a different state of mind when we fall into the holes. And sometimes one of those holes in the Swiss cheese leads to the next hole, to the next empty space, or to the next series of holes just like that.
Our state of mind shifts (or crashes) into being hurt, insecure, feeling unloved or not good enough like always when we slip into a hole. We might become distant or shut down, or hyperactivated; pessimistic; angered or very anxious. We get down on ourselves and can feel like pitiful examples of human beings. We may fall into old negative self-talk or those repetitive messages that always come up when we feel bad. We think we’ll never get it right; we’ll always be stuck.
Now Swiss cheese is actually pretty yummy. And the essence of it is that it’s full of holes. In fact, Swiss cheese has the right balance of cheese and holes so it still has flavor. The holes are what make it Swiss cheese. When people eat Swiss cheese, they don’t lament that the holes are there or that one hole is bigger than another. And maybe it’s the holes that actually hold up the cheese part, giving it definition, character, surround. Sometimes the slices are all holes… Sometimes it’s more firm. Sometimes a slice is rather lacy in design.
The holes in Swiss cheese come from bacteria that creates carbon monoxide bubbles that pop or from particles that get that process in motion. The holes in Swiss cheese are actually also called eyes. The holes are the identifier of the cheese – not a source of imperfection in the cheese. Turns out that the larger the eyes in the Swiss cheese, the more pronounced is the flavor. Although of course, cheese that has too many large eyes does not slice well and comes apart, so the size of the holes in the Swiss cheese are actually regulated in order to have the best cheese possible.
- We all have self-defeating thoughts, criticisms, disappointments with ourselves and others. This is our default mode.
- We all have some degree of difficulty when we fall into the holes of our Swiss cheese life. This usually takes place with a shift in our minds.
- We all experience something in our bodies when our mind shifts (rapid breathing, heavy heart, tension in our necks or forehead, upset stomach, etc.). Our memories can even change.
- We can soften the impact of falling into the holes of our Swiss cheese life: We can bring compassion to ourselves.
- We can appreciate the “holes“ as what makes the Swiss cheese what it is. Maybe even see the holes as the foreground and not where something is missing. See the holes as what supports the structure of the cheese.
- We can get out of the holes with kindness rather than making the holes bigger and losing the whole essence of the cheese.
- We can see the holes as just another interesting hole, not a bottomless pit.
- We might acknowledge the hole to someone who cares about us and feels instantly better by their sharing their Swiss cheese story also.
- We might meditate our way out of a hole.
- We might laugh at the absurdity of expecting we would never fall into another hole again.
- We might notice that when caught in the middle of a hole in the Swiss cheese, that there is always some cheese nearby.
- We might see the holes as what makes the Swiss cheese whole.
What happens when you fall into a hole in your Swiss cheese life? I’d love to hear from you about what you notice or how you get out (or stay in!) the hole. Just reply to this post.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with, in, or getting out of the (Swiss cheese) holes of life, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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