Writing last week’s post about my constant worry made me think of plenty of things (not hard to imagine, right?) But since this isn’t a therapy session, I didn’t want to dive into figuring out why this happens. What I thought would be more helpful is sharing what I’ve done to combat this constant worry since I don’t think I’m alone here. Regardless of any diagnosis, plenty of people deal with this issue. Obviously, some have it worse than others (hello!), but we can all use the same strategies to overcome the problem.
I know that headline might make you pause, but I’m trying to be as honest as I can. I believe in self-care and I would really like to implement it more into my life. But after doing some scouring of the Internet to get to the root of what this buzzword means, I was left feeling a little empty.
Since making the decision not to move, I’ve done some thinking about my life. It’s been some time since I’ve made a decision this big, and I feel the same pressure now that I’ve felt when I’ve made a big decision in the past. It’s a feeling of okay, I did this…now what? While making the decision is important, it brings with it all this brand-new, self-imposed pressure. Basically, since I’m not doing the specific thing, what can I do now?
I am not the type of person to only change one aspect of my life at a time. I often feel that when I make a change, it has to touch every facet of who I am and what I do. I don’t like this about myself, but I also know that it’s true. And I want to change.
I’ve hopped, skipped and jumped through my adult life in the three years since graduating college. Every move I’ve made has been done with an eye on making a different move in the future. I’ve never actually been settled in one place and felt at home there because I was always focused on where I’m going next. Instead of letting my life happen, I was trying to pigeonhole everything.
For the first time, I’m in a position where I don’t have a ‘next place’ that I want to go live. I’m just in the place I am now until something changes. But honestly, that part is key. I’ve never had that before. I’m in a spot where I just need to take my life day by day and figure it out. That might sound like a common thing for most people (I feel like a lot of you are reading this and thinking well duh…), but it’s never really hit me like that before.
I thought I would know where I was going in life before I got there – that’s how I’ve viewed things in the past. But maybe that’s not how it is. Either way, I’m learning to take things as they come and improve myself where I can. I’m going to work on making the pressure I put on myself dissipate. One way or another, my life is going to happen. Maybe I’ll understand it before it happens, maybe I won’t. But now, more than ever, I’m along for the ride.
Things have been very strange for the past month. Not happy or sad, good or terrible, difficult or easy. Just very, very strange.
This month, I was supposed to move to Europe and begin a job teaching English. It’s something I’d been looking forward to for a very long time. In fact, I’d taken all the necessary steps months in advance because of how sure I was about this situation. But last month, about six weeks before I was supposed to head out, a feeling hit me. It would be easy to just say I had second thoughts and leave it at that, but that wasn’t it.
Sometimes with second thoughts, you’re just afraid that you’re doubting yourself, and it’s not uncommon to go ahead with the decision you’ve made. But once I got that feeling that I didn’t want to go anymore, it stuck and it stayed there. And while I’m not feeling any one type of way about it, it is…weird.
I’m not going to get into the details right now, because that’s not why I’m sharing this. Maybe one day I’ll share that story on this blog, but that day is not today. At the moment, the most important part of this decision isn’t the decision that I’ve made – it’s everything else that’s going to happen to me now. Say what you will, but a decision not to do something is still a decision – it might not sound that way, but it’s true. And now, even though I’m not moving halfway around the world, my life is still going to change. That’s the nature of making any sort of important decision in life. In some form or other, it will change the trajectory of where you’re headed.
I’m sorry I was gone from here for a while – I couldn’t post as much as I wanted because honestly, it’s been hard to wrap my head around what I’m doing these days. But I’m in a good spot in a ton of ways. As I long as I focus on that, I’ll be good to figure out what’s next. I’m hoping to continue to give you all some #premium mental health content going forward in addition to joining me on this journey. Hope you’re along for the ride!
“I think, therefore I am.”
This famous quote, first uttered by Rene Descartes, is something that’s been on my mind this week. I recently started listening to an NPR podcast which is all about the invisible things around us that affect our daily lives. The very first episode was about the ‘secret history of thoughts’ where the hosts asked a question: are my thoughts related to my inner wishes, and do they reveal who I really am?
All my life, I have been told that what I think is important, that my thoughts matter. They do, and so do yours! But not every single thought is important. Not every single thought needs to affect your life. Learning that – and accepting that – has been one of the most important tools when it comes to how I approach my thoughts.
Think, really think, about the insanely high volume of thoughts you have every day. Thoughts can come from anywhere and be about anything. How often do we get sidetracked by our thoughts, or get distracted by thinking of something completely different from what we’re doing? Anxiety or not, depression or not, I know this happens to everyone.
I have intrusive thoughts that pop up every single day, most of which are negative. And I obsess over them. Some days they are all I can think about. And I get stuck.
But what if I didn’t give these thoughts so much power? What if I took them for what they are? It would not be easy, but it’s not impossible. As I have been told by several therapists who specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one way to reframe my thought process is that instead of trying desperately to ignore the negative thoughts in my head, I can acknowledge them for what they are – thoughts – and move on with my day.
I tried that, and it proved to be very difficult. I still gave importance to every thought that popped into my head, and I was getting stuck on the negative thoughts. I’d like to take a new approach that takes my thoughts beyond the base level of acknowledging them and moving on. I’d like to address those thoughts and tell them what I think of them – that they won’t last, that they aren’t important, that they aren’t me.
I am not my thoughts. I am not a collection of the thoughts I produce. I am a complex person who will have millions of thoughts in his lifetime, and not all of them count. I am going to try to pay more attention to the ones that matter and can make me a better person. As for those intrusive thoughts? Those can go right in the trash.
As a kid, I loved to read. While I had favorite authors and genres, it came to a point where it almost didn’t matter what kind of book it was – if I hadn’t read it before, odds were that I’d give it a shot. I’d guess that I’ve read hundreds of books in my lifetime, but the vast majority of them happened before I went to college – and I had to deal with my mental health.
When my mental health worsened, it became hard to read. I had difficulty concentrating on one task at a time, and the result was many years of multitasking. I would have music on while studying, or stream a show on Netflix while doing some writing. I could not focus on a sole subject or interest because I could not develop a one-track mind. Instead, I would have two thought processes running in my head: 1) the normal thoughts and feelings about what it is I was doing at the time, and 2) the negative thoughts and self-talk that seemed to be popping up more and more every day.
By multitasking, I was occupying both thought processes and keeping my mind fully occupied and away from the negative thoughts. But reading a book meant that I would have to develop a one-track mind that concentrated on the words on the page – a near-impossible ask for my anxious self.
This meant that over the course of my college career, I read very little outside of what was required for school. After college, I tried to get into reading a little more, but it proved to be too difficult. I thought that I had to be busy all the time in order to combat the negative thoughts, and the result was an unhealthy lifestyle that definitely didn’t make me feel better about myself. So, like in many other aspects of my mental health and my life, I took a new approach.
First I started rereading books that I’d enjoyed in the past. Some were easier to read than others, but it helped me get on a good schedule of reading consistently because even if I didn’t enjoy it, I’d already read the book before so it wasn’t a total waste.
When 2019 started, I decided to take a chance and really get into reading again. I started by making it a goal to read only 10 pages a day. It was a small chunk, but it was manageable and made me feel like I’d accomplished something. Soon, I started reading during my lunch break at work, which satiated my need for multitasking while helping me learn how to focus on reading.
It’s taken a few months, but I’ve finally hit my groove. I’ve read four books so far in 2019 and I just started my fifth, and while I’m not in love with reading like I used to be as a kid, I like it a whole lot more than I have in recent years. I hope that as my mental muscles grow stronger I can read not only as a coping mechanism but because I genuinely enjoy it.
Has your mental health affected a hobby or activity that you love? Let me know in the comments!
When I was a teenager, I would feel…off. You know how it feels when something is off. It’s like having a pebble stuck in your shoe, or that last bit of corn in your teeth. Of course, those situations have solutions. Take the pebble out of your shoe. Get a toothpick. Now imagine feeling that way but being unable to change it. That was my reality before knowing what was wrong.
Fear of the Unknown
So when I first saw a therapist, when depression and anxiety were first mentioned, I assumed I would be relieved. But I wasn’t. Instead, my anxiety grew, and I was more nervous about my situation than before, when I didn’t know what was wrong.
There’s a lot to be said for fear of the unknown. It makes sense. I’m not saying you should or should not fear the unknown (maybe I’ll tackle that subject another time), but I am saying I had that fear, and I understand why. But what I didn’t understand was the fear that followed. Even though I knew what was wrong, I was still afraid. In many ways, it was worse than not knowing.
Fear of the Known
I was shocked. I was unprepared. I didn’t think I’d be that much more afraid of knowing something than not knowing something, but I was.
I’m not sure why I thought that fear would go away. Maybe I thought I would be a braver person now that I knew what I was dealing with. In many ways, I was. But as those close to me could attest, in many ways I was not. I let fear of my mental illness dictate what I did and did not do. I let fear in, and it won. For a long time, it won.
These days, fear wins less. Every day I get stronger and learn new ways to attack my mental health. But one of the biggest changes was recognizing the role fear played in my life and trying to minimize that as much as possible.
Whether you’re afraid of something you know or something you don’t, fear is fear. When you battle it, you won’t always win. It would be naive of me to tell you that I’m no longer afraid of my mental illness. But for every bit of strength I gain, that fear, every so slightly, shrinks.
Like many things in life, mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. Each day is an opportunity to be better. And since we’re honest here, it’s also a chance to get worse. And sometimes, it will be worse. There’s no way around that. But letting the fear of mental illness dictate what you can and can’t do? You can fight that. You can fight back. And you might not always win, but you will get stronger. And the stronger you get, the better you can fight. And my hope for you is that the fear you have, of the known and the unknown, slowly fades into nothingness.
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!
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!