I Want to Meditate. How Should I Do It?

Meditation has never come easy to me. I’ve done it off and on for years, but I have never been able to get into any sort of consistency when it came to meditating on a daily, even regular, basis.

But it’s so simple, you’re probably thinking. And as a concept, you’re totally right. You sit still and let your mind wander. You focus on your breathing and develop heightened awareness. Most people end meditation feeling way more at peace than they did when they started (I’d say all, but you never know!). But not me.

Meditation for an Anxious Mind

Part of my meditation problems are due to my anxiety. GAD means that thoughts are filling your head constantly. They don’t give you time to pause and process – it’s just one thought after another, flooding your brain with both important and unimportant thoughts. Since my best approach to dealing with anxious thoughts is to keep my mind busy with other creative outlets (writing, work, etc.), being in a situation where my mind is free to roam has never really helped. Thinking all through meditation makes that meditation pretty counterintuitive, so it’s hard to gain any momentum from repetitive meditation.

Not Having the Right Goals

Like other tools in my mental health toolkit, I think I’ve been looking at meditation all wrong. I expected every session to end with me feeling refreshed, happy and better about myself. When that didn’t happen, I blamed meditation as being something that ‘didn’t work.’ I was looking for meditation to have some sort of instant impact that made my mental illness go away. As with any habit, my skills would undoubtedly grow stronger with time as I meditated more. But I didn’t have patience, and I didn’t have the right goals. No wonder it didn’t work out.

Like exercising, journaling and everything else I do to be mentally healthy, meditation can be a tool in the chest rather than the be-all and end-all of my mental health. This new outlook might be what I need to make it work this time.

I Need Your Help

I’d like to start meditating on a daily basis. I think that, with the right approach and with the right goals in mind, meditation can be something that I incorporate into my daily routine. But how should I meditate?

In the past I have used several apps, including Headspace, but they didn’t work for me. However, now that I have this new approach I am willing to try things that didn’t work for me before. I’m open to suggestions, so let me know in the comments how you meditate. I need all the help I can get!

Pema Chodron

Recognizing the Signs of Depression

Depression isn’t always easy to spot. It can sometimes be disguised as grief, fear, exhaustion. Sometimes there seems to be an obvious reason; other times it is incredibly subtle. No matter the reason, depression is something that is extremely prevalent in today’s world – major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for adults ages 18-44 according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And rather than push the evidence to the side, it’s time to pay closer attention to those around us to look for some of the signs of depression (these symptoms, and many more, are listed on the Mayo Clinic’s website).

Tiredness or lack of energy

Lack of energy is a big one for me personally because when depression hits it saps me of my energy. Working out the right medication has helped physically, but it still takes a mental toll to get things done when my mind is full of negative self-talk and resentfulness. Now some people are just tired – life is like that – but when this symptom is combined with other symptoms of depression, it can be a sign of poor mental health.

Problems sleeping

When you read this I know you’re thinking about your insomniac friend. I know, because I am that insomniac friend. But before you diagnose your friend remember – problems sleeping include both people who don’t get enough and people who get too much. So if your friend has trouble getting out of bed to do normal everyday activities, you might want to ask them if they’re okay.

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness

This is one of the prime symptoms of depression that set it apart from other mental health disorders. That last word – hopelessness – is common among people with depression. We feel empty. We feel hopeless. And we feel like things are never going to get better. As with other symptoms, this might be circumstantial, but when it’s not you should talk to someone about it. Sadness happens. Feeling empty happens. But it shouldn’t consume your life.

Trouble thinking, concentrating or remembering things

I have a terrible memory. I constantly forget things that happen – my camera roll is full of mundane photos that help me remember the things I do in life. Now, I won’t blame that all on depression. Like the other symptoms listed, take this with a grain of salt. But when you combine this symptom with feelings of hopelessness and a lack of energy, it’s possible that you might be having a depressive episode. Your mind can get cloudy when it’s full of self-hate and negative thoughts, and that can easily get in the way of concentrating on things.

Loss of interest in normal activities

I love the game of basketball. I played competitively at a high level until I was 18 years old. It got to the point that I was doing something basketball-related almost every single day. But as my depression got worse in college, I lost interest in playing. I didn’t get burned out. I didn’t fall out of love with the game. I just didn’t get any pleasure out of it. When that happens to the things you love – schoolwork, hobbies, teams or clubs – you need to evaluate why you lost interest. If there’s a concrete reason, it’s okay. That’s life. But when a loss of interest or pleasure happens suddenly or for no reason at all, you might want to ask yourself why that is.

While all of these are signs of depression, you should NOT diagnose yourself because you identify with one of these symptoms. Depression should not be a word to be thrown around lightly – it is a serious issue that affects millions of people. However, if you begin to combine these symptoms and notice a pattern of behavior in a friend or loved one, you should check in on them – not just to talk about to depression, but to make sure they’re doing okay.

Owning Your Story

I’ve said it before: I’m not sorry about my mental illness. It’s a part of my life, it’s a part of who I am, and it influences a lot of what I do. But it’s not the only thing about me. 

I have a story. We all do. From when we were born until right this minute, your story’s being told. There are tons of things that make up your story. Where you grew up. The friends you’ve made. The family you have. Your hobbies and interests. Your job. Everything and anything can make up your story – whether you want it to or not.

Today isn’t about my story – it’s about encouraging you to tell yours. How this looks is different for everyone. For instance, I’m a writer so this is how I’ve chosen to share my story. I also write creatively, which contains part of my story as well. Some people find it in other forms like photography, art or music. You can find it in things like yoga or meditation, or push yourself to the brink physically by competing in marathons and other physical activities. There’s really no limit as to how your story can be told – what’s important is that you own it.

What does it mean to own your story? It means that you are not – and should not be – ashamed of it. It means that if someone questions it that’s their problem, not yours. It means that you should be unapologetically yourself because it’s who you are – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It’s taken my awhile to own my story. If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I’m even completely there. I got in my own head and got in my own way, and that made it difficult to own up to who I am and what kind of person I am. But I’m doing my best, and it’s made me better. There is a special power in owning your story – in not shying away from who you are. When you own your story, it’s hard for people to hurt you with it.

I will not shy away from who I am. That includes all parts of me – scars and all. We shouldn’t claim to be perfect and without flaws, but we also should not be ashamed of being flawed – it’s led us to where we are today. And while I might not be where I want to be, I’m proud of where I am, and I hope you are too.

Owning my story has been a big step in my personal growth, but I had to get through plenty of mental setbacks before getting there. What’s stopping you from owning your story? If it helps for me to share more, I’d be happy to!

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I Have Bad Habits – and They Aren’t Because of My Anxiety

I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.

Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.

In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.

I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.

I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.

Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.

Will Durant

 

My Journey to Setting Monthly Goals

Like any other day, I was scrolling through social media when I came across an interesting article. Apparently, you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. This is not just some cliche – it’s actually backed up by science. I was a little surprised, but then I thought about all the goals I have for this coming year. To be honest, they’re quite vague, and that isn’t helpful. How can I achieve something if I don’t really know how to get there? Continue reading

Teenagers and Mental Health

There are pros and cons to only writing about your own experience with mental health. On one hand, you can write more in-depth about the day-to-day of living with mental illness because well, you’re living it. On the other hand, I still have a limited worldview (given my age, gender, race, etc.) that isn’t as helpful to people different than me. I’m going to try to post more from a mental health advocacy perspective, and I’m very interested in hearing from you about what I should cover. Let me know in the comments or send me an email at mybrainsnotbroken@gmail.com!

I am not a Gen Z’er. For one thing, I don’t think anyone actually uses that term, and for another thing, I am not a teenager. Though I’m only in my 20s, I am practically ancient when it comes to the digital upbringing of people even 5-10 years younger than me. So there’s a lot I don’t understand about the generation below me, and a lot I won’t even try to understand. But one thing I will say is that the conversation surrounding mental health by teenagers today is far, far ahead of the conversation that was being had when I was a teenager.

In a recent Pew Research Poll, 70 percent of teens saw mental health as a ‘struggle for their peers.’ Is this concerning? Definitely. But that also means that mental health is part of a conversation for teens that didn’t exist a generation ago.

“It’s both worrying and positive at the same time,” says Claire Henderson, a clinical senior lecturer at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience. “In terms of more people saying they know someone [with mental illness], it may be because the rates are going up, but it may also be because of a greater level of awareness.” (from the Atlantic)

And call me glass half-full, but I think that there’s a greater level of awareness surrounding mental health today than in past decades, which contributes directly to that ‘growing’ number.

One of the biggest differences is the Internet. While there are clearly issues when it comes to teenagers and the Internet/social media, there is also an upside. It gives teens an opportunity to not only share their own experiences but see that they aren’t alone in those experiences. Considering a significant symptom of depression is a feeling of isolation, knowing you’re not alone can go a long way toward dealing with your issues.

Though it’s only been a few years since I was a teen, my upbringing was significantly different than theirs. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16, and I didn’t download Instagram until I was 21. There’s a big difference between the pressures I was feeling being 16 years old in 2010 and how a 16-year-old feels in 2019. But the good news is, it seems as though the conversation is easier to have. And that is a massive step in improving the mental health conversation in today’s America – a goal people of every age should aspire to.

EE Cummings.png

An Attitude of Gratitude

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that keeping a ‘gratitude journal,’ or writing down what you’re grateful/thankful for on a daily basis, is helpful for your mental health. It makes sense why. When you recount good things in your life, it reminds you of how blessed you are. You feel better because you remember all of the good things in your life, and those good things can push the negative thoughts out of your brain. I’ve tried to keep a gratitude journal before, or at least to write down lists of what I’m thankful for. But it’s never sustainable, and that’s because I think that in the past, I’ve done it for the wrong reasons.

What a gratitude journal is not – a cure.

See for some reason, I thought writing down what I’m grateful would remind me why my life was so good, and that reminder would cure me of feeling the effects of depression. If I know that I have a good life, I can’t possibly continue to feel depressed, right? Wrong.

If you haven’t already heard, life is actually going pretty well for me right now – personally, professionally and mentally. I have tons of new opportunities this year and I’m happy when I think about all the good things that are going to happen in 2019. But…I still have depression. And I still have anxiety. And no matter how good my life is, I don’t forget that I have depression and anxiety. Because it doesn’t go away.

I imagined my lists of gratitude bringing me joy and helping me welcome each new day with a wonderful rise and shine attitude. That was not the case. Instead, those lists would bring me guilt. I have so many things to be grateful for, I’d think. Why am I not happier about all this? Then it hit me…I’d approached this all wrong. This exercise was not supposed to solve all my problems but rather, put those problems in perspective.

What a gratitude journal can be – a tool to improve mental health

I would like to start a gratitude journal again, but use my lists in a different way. What I’m grateful shouldn’t make me feel like I have to be happy all the time, or that my life is easy – rather, it should be a gentle reminder that there are positive aspects of my life (very positive aspects, in my opinion) that help me to combat the negative aspects. My blessings help me fight against my struggles – good battles evil, in a way.

I can’t guarantee that things will go any better this second time around, but I hope by approaching my journaling with a new attitude that I will be to use more tools to fight against my mental illness. You can’t have too many tools in the toolbox, can you?

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Life Update – Taking Steps Toward My Dreams

So I know it’s been a long time since I updated you guys on what’s going on in my life, but I wanted to share some of what’s been going on with me recently.

Last year I mentioned my TEFL certification course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and I am happy to share that I am now a TEFL-certified teacher! I have had plans in the works to move to Europe in 2019, and I am making that dream a reality. I settled on returning to Prague, where I studied as an undergrad. In fact, I’ve already found a place to live in advance of my move, which I am extremely excited about! Next thing on the list: finding a job. While I’m a writer at heart, I’m really curious to see what effect a year of teaching English has on me and my personal development. As the son of two teachers, I can only hope some of those genes have rubbed off on me.

I’m still busy at work, learning the ins and outs of what it’s like to work on a Communications team. In May I will have worked at my organization for two years, and I am proud of myself for the fortitude and strength to stay at this position for so long while maintaining my mental health. That’s not to say every day is easy, but I’ve gained knowledge and put more tools in my chest to succeed at my job despite my mental illness.

I also have some big plans for the basketball website that I run (Ballers Abroad – shameless plug, I know) as well as this blog! The tagline for #MBNB is “living with mental illness and promoting mental wellness” and while I think I’ve done a good job of sharing my experience living with mental illness, I have not done as good a job as promoting mental wellness. Next month, I hope that you see more than one post a week from me as I delve into what it really means to live and be mentally well. I’m always open to ideas on what to write about, so please let me know what you want to read!

The next stage of my life is slowly beginning to take shape, and I am excited to share it with you. The positive response to this blog over the past year and a half has been so amazing, and I cannot wait to continue to share my experience and continue to be a true mental health advocate. Much love to you all!

Do The Things You Love

I absolutely love live music. I’m not the most musically proficient person (I played the saxophone in middle school and sang in a boy choir until puberty hit), but something I discovered when I reached adulthood was that I love going to live shows. Since a majority of the bands I like are smaller acts, that meant I was hitting small clubs and intimate venues in tons of cities listening to my favorite bands and songwriters.

I’ve had different concert buddies over the years, but there have always been people willing to go see shows with me. One constant concert pal is Kevin, who I’ve seen tons of shows with. We had a particularly crazy stretch where we saw three concerts at three different venues over the course of eleven days. And it ROCKED.

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It’s hard to describe what going to a live show does for me. I think the biggest thing is that, for a few hours, it seems like nothing else matters. It’s just me, the people around me, and the band putting on their show. Everything else takes a back seat. All my problems and worries are set to the side while I immerse myself in the music.

An annoying symptom of depression is that sometimes you don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Over the years, that loss of joy has happened with a lot of things. I have fought to enjoy things I once loved, and don’t enjoy certain activities quite like I used to. So when I do find something I love to do, I hold on to it as tightly as I can.

We all have things we love to do – activities, pastimes, whatever you want to call them. There are things out there that make us feel alive, at peace, content – happy. Oftentimes, after we do those things, we think to ourselves I should do this more.

And you’re right. You should. Not just because life is short and you should make the most of your time (though that is a good reason), but because you deserve it. You deserve to do the things you love because it’s another reminder that you’re a human who loves things – just like everyone else. We all deserve it. So what’s stopping you?

I love to travel, write, and see live music. What are the things YOU love to do? Let me know in the comments!

#BellLetsTalk: An Important Movement

If you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have seen the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. It appears once a year, and it’s a beautiful thing. When you tweet #BellLetsTalk, for every retweet you get, 5 cents were donated toward mental health initiatives in Canada. That might not sound like much, but when the results include 145 million impressions, more than 7 MILLION dollars ended up being donated!

I’ve seen #BellLetsTalk pop up more since I’ve started this blog, and it’s encouraging to see. One of the most important ways to combat mental health is by reducing the stigma surrounding it. Bringing in as many people into the conversation as possible is an important step that can go a long way toward having more involved conversations about mental health. I’d encourage you to check out the hashtag and I hope you see why it’s important to have this conversation regardless of whether or not you personally have a mental illness.

Mental health is important for everyone because it touches all of our lives in one way or another – whether we know it or not. Mental illness might affect every 1 out of 5 people in the United States, but mental health affects 5 out of 5 people. We all have to deal with keeping ourselves happy and healthy regardless of whether or not we have a mental illness. Pushing mental health away because we don’t think it applies to us is an unsafe choice that could have serious ramifications on our long-term health.

For my Canadian readers, I’d encourage you to check out Bell Let’s Talk and see what they’re all about. If you’re in the States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is still one of my favorite places for information and resources, but there are tons of other sites and organizations that offer mental health information and services. I love to see when mental health conversations become a national topic, but it’s also important to know that these conversations are continuing every day online, in-person and on social media. And if you don’t know where to start, I’m happy to help.

#BellLetsTalk #LetsKeepTalking

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