Trapped

trapped inside a groundhog day
of my own design
rinse and repeat
for the thousandth time

why not fall back into bad habits
when there is nothing better to do
it's tedious and troublesome
but the truth is far more terrifying

it's always been easier
to hide behind a mind set to autopilot
than to confront the chaos and uncertainty
that causes me so much fear

at least this way the days fly by
sticking to strict schedules
provides the protective illusion of control
assures there are no unexpected surprises

but the unexpected, the unknown
that's where spontaneous joy resides as well
hidden behind a writhing wall of fear and hesitation
I am what's holding me back

A Higher Hunger

Anxiety is the price of intellect
when there is nothing to occupy the mind
it will follow it's own fancies 
namely, naming everything
that could potentially pose a threat

Genius is a gnawing hunger
that left unfed, lends itself
to a buffet of fear
starved of stimulation
it will learn to feed on insecurity

Yet a fire that is fed
only grows larger
always asking for more
no longer sustained
on yesterday's small rations

A tired mind, an engaged mind
is peaceful and satisfied
a brilliant brain left to wander
will always find new worries
and run itself ragged on rumination

Great potential is balanced by
the possibility of great peril
a fast metabolism requires extra fuel
likewise an exceptional mind needs
it's own nourishment of new knowledge
 

Fear Moves Forward

that flutter in my chest
never seems to settle
eyes fixed on the future
never find rest
there is always something else
looming just over the horizon
a new fear always forms
to take its place
perching itself on my racing heart
safety and peace
permanently out of reach
forever pushed back
anxiety is a moving target
that always promises you
"just one more bull's eye
and I'll be gone"
no matter how many times
I fall for this lie
I'll believe it again tomorrow
because it's so tempting to think
that this will go away
that if I can adjust my life just right
I'll be able to rest

Unsafe

For years I've been afraid
of everything I want
I'm afraid to lose this sense of longing
I've set a place for at my table
I'm afraid it will leave me
and I'm afraid that it won't
When I face that inner voice of mine
that's all it seems to say:
I'm afraid
I'm afraid
I'm afraid
this mantra skips and repeats
etches and engraves deep marks in me
flutters nervously behind my eyelids
where can I go
when I'm afraid of every outcome
it's hard to move forward
on shaking, unsteady limbs
I've exhausted every effort
to soothe the voice that says "unsafe"
I've built up walls and barricades
I've torn them down to demonstrate
that I can be brave
but still the deep seed of fear remains
it cracks through the concrete I lay
it crawls ever upward through my veins
searching for the sun

The Descent

when does routine
become a restraint
a heavy weight around your ankle
dangling over the balustrade

no prison more insidious
than the bars built up in our minds
silently erecting new walls each day
to box us into smaller and smaller spaces

somedays it's a revelation
to realize I'm the warden
that these limitations
have been self imposed

the power of self-possession
is a perplexing puzzle to ponder
the overwhelming responsibility
of deciding my own destiny

the never ending balancing act
between benefit and burden
mind numbing monotony
and clumsy chaos

learning to trust
those internal cues
telling you it's time
for change

instead of stuffing myself
into stifling rituals that no longer serve me 
resisting the endless cycle
of inner evolution

it's so scary to let go
of what's carried you this far
even once you begin
to drown

it's so tempting
to keep pretending
that perfection can be reached
if you keep pushing

I'm still learning how
to leave the sinking ship
before it hits
rock bottom

to take notice of the decent
and bravely face the bitter cold
of unknown waters
once again 

Cycles

My sorrow comes in cycles
waxing and waning with the moon
regular intervals of lapping tides
frigid dark waters against a jagged shore

long desolate seasons of solitude
convince me that joy was never mine
the cosmos close in around me
a heavy weight upon my sunken chest

when the sun finally emerges on the other side
of that cruel and endless winter wasteland
happiness breaks over my heart
like a revelation

my sleeping soul cracks open
shivering with delight in the warm heavy air
finally freed from its cramped cocoon
to absorb the majesty of the world reborn

open and unafraid, buoyantly held above
the stark reality of the season past
the second side of my dual nature
shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying

why was I so sad before?
what was it that I'd been pained by?
now suffering seems so far away
was it ever here at all?

I don't recognize myself
as I look back through the snow
and the aching, bony trees
caught in the swift, sharp wind

the summer beckons me forward
into a bright mirage of green
where nothing can cause me harm
where this time the cycle has surely stopped

each moment maintains its own eternity
forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern
immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy
always and again

What Am I Making This Mean

Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.

I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.

It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?

I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.

One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”

Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.

Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.

When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

Writer’s Block

For months now every time I sit down to write, I am overcome with a deep piercing pang of unworthiness. I heard someone say the other day that creating starts with believing that you have something worth sharing. This struck a chord within me. Maybe once I felt I had valuable input, interesting concepts to put forth into the world, but now? Now I feel empty. The longer I spend trying to come up with an idea, the worse I feel about myself as a writer, as a person.

Again and again this idea has been reinforced. I have nothing worth sharing. I’m embarrassed by the assumption that I might. I feel ashamed of the blank page in front of me, reminding me that I’m not enough. That blinking black line on an ocean of white is agonizing. What could be more painful than plumbing the depths of your soul and finding nothing?

This intense internal pressure never reaches a breaking point. There is no release from this ever tightening grip of anguish. Why does this vague desire to pour out my soul in colorful, living form not subside? When I try to pin down the essence of that longed for expression, there is nothing but smoke and shadow. There is nothing but a looming sense of emptiness, dusty bare walls of an empty room.

Shame

Shame is the thief of authenticity
the shadow that steals 
the joy inside your heart
the darkness that whispers 
what makes you unworthy

Shame is the fear of showing yourself
the horror of what it will mean to be seen
rejecting yourself before anyone else can
a punishment for perceived imperfections
a constant reminder that you are not enough

Shame is worse than the reality it threatens
the judgment of others only hurts so badly
when it is a confirmation of what you believe
shame is a mirror we place as a barrier
our own vicious eyes cutting in