Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

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Trust

In some ways anxiety disorders are about trust, or rather a lack of it. When you lack trust, you try to compensate for it with control. You try to micromanage every detail of your life so that you always know exactly what is going to happen and when. Inevitably though, things don’t ever work out as planned. Any small inconvenience becomes a huge source of anxiety. You find yourself unable to adapt and work with instead of against the flow of life.

Even though I’ve recognized this in myself, it still hasn’t exactly solved the problem. Knowing I need to learn to trust is one thing. Actually learning to trust is another. Trusting is like a muscle that needs constant exercise. It takes a long time to pry your fingers from that fear and desire for control that you’ve been clinging to.

It can feel insane to simply trust. I look at all of the horrible things that happen in this world everyday and it only makes sense to be afraid, to want to control my life as much as I possibly can. But the truth is, no matter how afraid we are, how vigilant we are, how much we try to control things, life is going to unfold as it pleases. In the end, our choice isn’t exactly whether or not to trust, it’s whether or not we want to live our lives in fear.

Even if I don’t feel ready to trust the universe, I can at least decide to trust myself. After all, I’ve made it this far. I’ve overcome so many obstacles. I’ve risen from my own ashes time and time again. I’ve taken that pain and that suffering and struggling and allowed it to help shape the person that I am today. And even though I say I’ve suffered, that’s relative. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve never had to endure the cold or the elements. I’ve never been terribly ill. I’ve never even suffered the untimely loss of a loved one.

I have been extremely fortunate in this life. I want to work harder to focus on all the good things that the universe has put in my path, because they far outweigh the bad. Even when I’ve been confronted with something I didn’t think I could handle, I always managed to grow and learn from it.

Sweet surrender, isn’t that the phrase? I think that trust and surrender go hand in hand. We have all got to learn to surrender to the unpredictable flow of the universe. We must give over the illusion of control and trust that no matter what happens, we will be okay. Give yourself the trust that you deserve for helping you make it this far. Thank yourself for always being there. Thank the universe for always providing you with what you need, even if it wasn’t what you wanted.

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Another Day

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My mind is only rarely actually in the present. To be honest, something scares me about surrendering to the moment. My brain is always working overtime, trying to predict, prioritize, and protect. If feels like if I’m not always checking off lists in my head, planning what to do next, or policing my own thoughts that everything will fall apart. I guess it’s just my ego’s desperate endeavor to maintain control.

But no matter how frantically I struggle against myself and this world, the fact is, it is not within my control. I don’t know why that seems so scary to admit. In most of my life, I prefer not to be in control. I’ve never wanted to be in a position of power at work or within my family or friend group. I was the last to take a leadership role in school even in group projects that would have probably turned out much better if I had. Yet when it comes to my own personal life and inner landscape, I am so rigid and domineering.

What am I so afraid of? There is nothing in this present moment for me to fear. Here I am, in my pretty, cozy bedroom, at my cute little desk. There is a slick, frigid February morning outside of my window. My dog is perched at my feet, licking my socks like a precious little weirdo. I am still allowed to work from home. Not only that, my boss texted everyone last night asking us to stay home today because of the weather. How many people can say they work for a place so caring? It truly warms my heart.

Despite all these things, my mind veered off once again. The mere mention of work led me to swirling through panicked predictions of how it could all go wrong. I find myself constantly having to talk myself down, to reassure myself that everything is fine detail by detail. It is actually quite funny when I stop to think about it. If I spend all the peaceful times in my life focused on the fear of losing them someday, what am I even afraid of losing? I’ve not been allowing myself to enjoy all that I have to be grateful for anyway. What sense does it make to agonize over what could change in the future when by doing so I am sacrificing any peace and pleasure I currently have in front of me?

Maybe today, I’ll designate something small to place around my house as a reminder, a reminder that I am happy, a reminder to pause and be grateful. Perhaps the raw crystals I have in every room. Whenever I see one I could take a moment to feel its rough edges in my fingers, to take a few long, deep, mindful breaths, and be present. That might be a nice way to stay grounded. I could also design a small symbol to put up in the corner of my windows or somewhere that will catch my eye. These things will be my anchor. My guide back to the present moment.

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Breath

Before yoga, I never really paid much attention to my breathing. It was just something my body did, like blinking or swallowing, nothing very interesting or worth my attention. I think most people live their entire lives without really thinking about their breath. Even a lot of people that do yoga still don’t have a strong connection with their breathing. I certainly still have a LONG way to go myself with that aspect of my practice.

When I first began doing yoga, I was only concerned with “doing it right.” Certain poses were paired with inhales, others were paired with exhales. That much I knew. However, it was still difficult to keep this in mind when bending my body into, at that time, strange and unfamiliar positions. I didn’t know the significance of breathing in a certain way as I practiced. I was just trying to follow along. As my practice grew though, so did my connection with my breath and my understanding of its importance.

The breath is possibly the most important aspect of yoga. Not only that, but it is one of the easiest parts of practice to take with you into your daily life. You don’t need to do a 90 minute class to destress. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can work wonders. I used to think it was magical how, for some reason, doing yoga always managed to calm me down. Now I finally realize that it isn’t necessarily because of the movements and postures, it is because when I practice yoga, I am breathing differently.

It seems hard to believe at first, but the way we breathe can completely change how we experience life. There is a feedback loop between our mental state and our breath. When we are feeling anxious or upset, our breath naturally becomes quick and shallow. Our bodies are trying to prepare us to fight or flee. I’m sure this was once far more useful to us than it is in modern times. The good thing is, while our mental state effects our breath, the reverse is also true. We can use our breath to change our state of mind.

The next time you are feeling less than ideal, take a step back and notice your breathing. Is it quick and mainly staying up in your chest? If it is, try taking at least 5 mindful, full breaths. Consciously directing each inhale down into the belly, using the diaphragm. Try making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, pushing out every bit of air. Breathing in this way naturally calms down our nervous system. We are using our breath to show the mind that we are okay.

The most incredible thing is, this always works. Always. Even when I have moments where it feels like it’s not working, I realize it isn’t that it isn’t working, it’s that I am just having a hard time controlling my breath. I let my mind carry me away too quickly. I am not able to stay with my breath long enough to utilize it. But with practice it becomes easier to do no matter what state our minds are in. We are able to use our breath to help us wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

I used to roll my eyes at the constant obsession with the breath in yoga. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand the emphasis. It can be frustrating not being able to express to someone what immense power we all have that we are not tapping into. However much you preach about breath work though, it is up to each individual to find out its importance for themselves.

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Meditation Metaphor

Imagine the mind as a flowing river. Normally we, ourselves, are submerged in the rushing waters of our own minds. Trying desperately to keep our heads above the current. We are swept along with every passing thought. Unable to separate ourselves. Meditation is a chance to step out of that raging river.

When we sit down to meditate, we have stepped onto the bank of the river. As we nestle in, the sunlight begins to dry our dewy skin. We align our backs with the trunk of a sturdy tree. We imagine our own roots sprouting from the sits bones, anchoring us. Finally finding solid ground after being carried by the cold rapids for so long.

As we watch the river in front of us, we notice leaves falling from the tree and landing on the water’s surface. These are our thoughts. Fragile and fleeting, the river carries them off quickly. As we meditate, our job is not to stop these leaves from falling, nor is it to catch them or collect them from the water. We simply observe them. We watch them land on the water, floating gracefully for a few moments before the current carries them out of sight. We don’t need to identify the leaf or discover why it fell. We don’t need to stop the flowing waters. Just watch. Just breathe. Feel your new roots grounding you, anchoring you in place. Secure as we watch the river of the mind and it’s many thoughts.

This is one way to visualize meditation. It isn’t about control. We can never hope to control our minds. Meditation is about observing. We are watching ourselves. Noticing what it feels like to exist. Maybe as we watch, realizing some of our own patterns, and maybe not. Just giving ourselves permission to sit on the bank for awhile. To just breathe, just watch, just be. It may even be helpful to visualize yourself at the side of a river as you meditate. Whenever you notice yourself getting tangled in thought, bring your mind back to the image of the water. Imagine the thought falling as a leaf into the river, and watch it go. We are not the leaves of thought. We are not the swift waters of the mind. We are the one who watches.

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Learning to Ignore that Little Voice

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. People with OCD perform rituals in order to keep their anxiety at bay. Many people with other anxiety disorders also do this, but to a lesser extent. I believe I am somewhere teetering on that edge. There is always that little anxious voice in my head whispering, rambling on. Telling me that I’m forgetting something. Saying there is something I should be worried about.

Most days I have a vague fear that there is something very important I am overlooking. One way of combating this momentarily is to make lists. Lists upon lists. It provides a few moments of relief. It feels like I have finally grabbed ahold of the thoughts swirling around inside my head driving me crazy. It is calming to know that they are somewhere tangible now. Somewhere they won’t be lost in a soup of psychosis. It affords me a certain sense of control. But it doesn’t last. No matter how many lists I make. Something always feels undone, forgotten.

One of the scariest things about mental illness is not knowing whether or not you can trust yourself. Most people follow their instincts, their intuition, with faith and conviction. But what if your intuition is misleading you? What if these instincts can’t be trusted? Now you are adrift. The only tools you have to gauge reality are faulty. Where can you go from here?

It is only natural for me to want to trust that sense of panic as it builds in my chest, telling me that something is wrong. Normally that feeling would be the difference between life and death. But in this strange new world we all live in, this feeling is misplaced. It is time I practice ignoring it instead. Rather than trusting my instincts, I’ve got to learn to trust my higher self. I need to stop letting these bodily sensations of panic keep making me doubt myself constantly.

Instead of letting myself run over all the reasons everything has been taken care of and accounted for again and again in an effort to dismiss my nerves, I am going to breathe deep. I am going to trust that I am okay, that I am capable of facing and overcoming any problems that may arise. I don’t have to be in control. I just have to be present. I just have to do my best. The feeling may never go away, but I can learn to live with it. I can teach myself that it’s okay to feel anxious. I am not required to respond to those feelings. It isn’t my job to make them go away. To “fix” whatever is causing the anxiety. Because this is a disorder. There is no “cause.” My anxiety is a part of me. A part that I can learn to live with rather than run from.

Anxiety is a cue. But I think I can decide what it is a cue for. Maybe instead of looking outside of myself for a way to alleviate that feeling, I can start going within. To “ignore” my anxiety sounds a little harsh. It is just a primal part of me, trying to do it’s best. Trying to protect me. But when I know I’m not in danger, when I know there is nothing to be done, perhaps I can use these feelings as a cue for some self-love instead. As a reminder to be gentle with myself. As a signal that says “check in with yourself.” My anxiety is the scared child inside of me. Rather than responding with frantic irritation or trying to brush it under the rug, I should try just being there with it, holding it’s hand. Taking a moment to tell myself, “I’m okay. Everything is okay.”

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Grasping

As someone who finds comfort in consistency and knowing what to expect from one moment to the next, it has always been hard for me to accept that the nature of this existence is change. I’ve often heard that depression is the effect of living in the past and anxiety is caused when one tries to live in the future. I think this is quite accurate. Anxiety is mostly a shapeless, murky panic of the unknown. It is the fear of losing control. Although any control we think we have is merely an illusion regardless.

I am hopeful that beginning therapy in January will give me some new tools to cope with this fear. For so long now I have tried to handle my mental health on my own. I stubbornly maintain that I already know what I need to do. I just have a hard time making myself do it. However, I am not longer sure that’s true. I would welcome some new strategies. And I want to try them even if I doubt their ability to help me at first.

I am not sure where this deep distrust of the world around me has come from. I have always been in a fairly good position in the grand scheme of things. This world has always taken very good care of me. And I have always overcome the obstacles that I did encounter. It may sound stupid, but life is really one big trust fall. You have to let go. You have to stop grasping. You have to face your fear of falling. You have to trust in yourself. Trust in the universe to catch you. It might be scary, but it’s better than dragging your nails in the dirt all of your life. And my fingers are practically nubs right now.

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Control

It’s strange for me to acknowledge the dichotomy between my public life and my personal life. When it comes to school or work or anything else out in the world, I’m the first to tell you, I have no lust for power or being in charge. I would much rather remain a passive observer than the person running the show.

However many of my mental health problems seem to be rooted in a desire to have control. Over myself, over my life. While I have never desired to have influence over others, I have spent my whole life bullying myself into submission.

I have no idea why though. Why on earth do I care so much? What am I afraid of if I “lose control” of myself? Ironically, as most people in my position find, the very behaviors implemented to gain control are the very things that cause us to lose it. We are no longer in control. The behaviors are.

I keep telling myself that I am going to make all these changes in the new year. But to be honest, I get more and more afraid as it gets closer. I keep waiting to feel ready. To feel strong. I’m not sure that day will ever come though. I need to accept that most things worth doing are scary. Are difficult. It is okay to be scared. I can be scared and do it anyway.

And I want to remind myself that it isn’t about control this time. It’s about love. I don’t want to strongarm myself into changing. Changing only for fear of the guilt I’ll rain down upon myself if I don’t. I want to change because I love myself. Because it’s what is best for me.

When January comes, I want to step forward into the new year with the security of self-love supporting me. Whether I succeed or fail. Knowing I will be there for myself. Knowing that the true success is caring for myself every day. Picking myself up again and again. As many times as it takes. Not giving up on myself like I have so many times in the past.

I want to learn to relinquish control. It is impossible to truly have anyway. It is only an illusion, a delusion. Whether we accept it or not, we are not in control. Our choice is merely to willingly let the current take us, or fight it till the bitter end. I’m so tired of fighting. I’m so tired of being afraid of where the water will take me. Because I will be taken either way. It is time I cultivate trust instead of control. I want to learn to trust in this universe. To trust in myself. And I’d rather spend my time floating than flailing.