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
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
Coasting on momentum for such a long time, makes the idea of stopping a daunting one. One of the reasons I’m so fearful of allowing myself a moment to rest is because I worry that I’ll like resting so much, that I’ll never do anything again. Instead I keep white-knuckling my way through life hoping that somehow the tension will eventually break and things will get easier. My intuition for when to go inward and when to express myself creatively has gone dormant long ago. Now it’s hard to even tell what I’m feeling or need from day to day. I no longer trust myself. I have turned my back on my body’s wisdom.
Western society is so focused on outward expressions of productivity and progress. We have completely devalued and cast aside the inherent worth of rest, introspection, and mental/emotional/spiritual growth. I’ve been sensing the need to go in a different direction with my life for quite a while now. My daily pursuits no longer bring me the joy and sense of fulfillment that they once did. Still I continue to cling to them, walking swiftly farther down the wrong path, and then wondering why I haven’t discovered the new direction I’ve been searching for.
You can’t explore your other options and reassess things while simultaneously barreling ahead with your current routines. Especially when those routines are as time consuming as mine are. There needs to be stillness, quiet, and rest for you to gain new perspective and insight. Even if it feels like it or looks like it from the outside, slowing down and even stopping completely is not lazy, unproductive, or a waste of time. Come to think of it, what’s even wrong with giving yourself permission to be lazy and unproductive every now and then anyway? Moments spent “wasting time” can often transform into some of our most precious, playful memories. Whether or not something is a “waste” is all based on what you place value on. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Despite all of the endless examples presented to me constantly in nature, my human arrogance insists that the cyclical nature of things does not apply to me. As a species we’ve become so separated from the nature ebb and flow of activity and rest that we forget the importance of both. Now the setting sun no longer commands rest, the seasons have no hold on our ambitious routines. Even if we only cared about productivity and working hard, it would still be more beneficial for us to also take moments to relax and do nothing.
Forcing myself to do the same mentally and physically demanding tasks day in and day out, it’s no wonder that my inspiration and motivation have bottomed out. Nothing lasts forever, even our internal stores of energy and creativity have a limit when we never allow them to naturally be replenished. I hardly remember what it feels like to be bored. Maybe that should be my goal one day, to remember what it feels like to be so idle that I’m bored.
Having scheduled out every minute of every day of my life for years now, you’d think it would be easy enough to include a few days here and there to rest. Wouldn’t that be so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a loving treat to give to myself? Part of me is excited at the idea. Strangely, at the same time, I feel a deep fear rising up as well. In my desperation to avoid that fear, that voice in my head that says “you don’t deserve it” or “everything will fall apart if you stop to rest” is so powerful that I continue to push myself even though I’ve gone far past my limit. It’s high time that I acknowledge the fact that I can’t keep running forever. I can choose to face this fear and show myself that it is just a phantom. It will evaporate into dust in the shadow of my courage and loving awareness.
As winter shrinks back and the warmth of spring begins to thaw the frozen earth, I want to make sure I am able to pause and witness it. It’s been a hard year and I’m always so happy step our from the cold dark months to emerge again into the sunshine. This month, I am going to schedule at least one day to do absolutely nothing. I need to refill my cup. It’s long overdue.
For the last week or so, I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do that I just don’t have the time for. It feels like this list of “one day”s grows longer every moment, yet nothing ever seems to get checked off. I see it trailing behind me whenever I look over my should like an ominous tail. A tail I feel compelled to measure over and over again to make sure it’s all there and I haven’t lost track of any of it. The most interesting part is, intellectually I know I’m only looking outside of myself in an effort to “fix” something inside of me.
Past experience has taught me that even if I were able to finish all of these things crowding my mind, new ones would easily press in on me to take their place. Not only that, the satisfaction and peace I imagine will be the result of completing my checklist, is never what I expect. In the past it has only been a mere shimmer, a glimmer of contentment, quickly covered again by new concerns and goals to achieve.
You’d think I’d be able to learn from the past, to acknowledge these lived truths. No matter how urgent and overwhelming each item feels, that is just an illusion. Not only that, but that rushed, pressured feeling I seek to alleviate by wiping away all these tasks will not be affected. That feeling is inside of me. Nothing I alter or change in the world outside is going to adequately address that inner turmoil. It may provide a momentary distraction, but it will surely bubble back up to the surface of my awareness.
I was reminded again of that fact yesterday evening. As I was washing the dishes and preparing soup for my lunches this week, a pleasant sense of calm and contentment settled over me. I was enjoying myself. My mind was focused and still. “Everything is exactly as it should be.” Never had that mantra felt more true. I found myself in that delicious flow state, but that nagging little anxiety mosquito would not allow me to rest there. It buzzed by my ears, trying to pick apart that peace.
I caught myself searching for that sense of urgency and overwhelm that I was so familiar with. As if it must still be there somewhere, as if I had misplaced it. I smiled in spite of myself. Why did I feel the need to find my discomfort? Sadly, it almost feels unsafe to be without it. I have learned to trust my feelings of dis-ease more than feelings of peace and stillness. At what point had I decided that the former was more true, a more accurate representation of reality, than the latter? Why did I not feel inclined to do the reverse and seek out that calm state when I noticed myself spiraling?
This was a reminder that even if I were to accomplish every single thing I hope to accomplish and I reach that place of ease I’m longing for, I won’t trust it. I will continue searching for more problems that need solving, and because of that, I will inevitably find them. So when I find myself fretting about all of these random things left undone, I must remind myself that it’s not about whatever I’m fixating on. It’s about the feelings themselves. It’s not a signal that I must act to change the external world. It is a signal that I need to work on trust and surrender.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a dysfunctional relationship with trust. I seem to trust others almost to a fault, never even suspecting that they may be untruthful. However, I can’t ever seem to trust myself or the universe to take care of me. Despite the fact that it always has, that I always have. I’m beginning to wonder if these feelings have something to do with my OCD tendencies.
When someone with OCD performs their compulsions, it is in an effort to dissipate feelings of anxiety. I’ve heard people suffering with OCD say that even though they know it’s not true, they feel they must touch the doorknob five times or walk in a particular pattern across the room to prevent some kind of natural disaster or to protect their loved ones from harm. They understand that this is ridiculous, yet they cannot help but be compelled to continue doing it. I feel similarly about my own situation.
It may be a more vague, shapeless sense of dread, but it is still there. I always have this foggy sense that if I don’t stay ever vigilant, if I don’t make sure I keep my life perfectly organized, and accomplish these random things that my reality will descend into utter chaos. I’m not sure exactly how I imagine this will happen, but the fear is always there. I guess I’ve convinced myself of an irrational slippery slope argument. If I start to let things slip through the cracks, for example not keeping up with cleaning my home, then it will continue to get worse and worse until it is unbearable and impossible to set right again. Then expanding upon that unlikely scenario, I tell myself that everything else in my life will start to break apart too. Ultimately resulting in: I will never be happy unless I can take care of all of these tasks I’ve thought of that need done. Even though, like the OCD sufferers, I know it to be untrue, I can’t help but believe it.
Just as with OCD, the only way to alleviate these irrational fears, is to show yourself that the outcomes you fear will not occur. Only through repeated, conscious effort to resist the compulsion can we teach ourselves that we don’t need to be afraid, that everything will still be okay if we let go. The irony of trust is that you’ve got to practice it to strengthen it. Even though those initial efforts to trust seem impossibly scary and reckless. We’ve got to trust that it is safe to trust. Even though that little voice inside is saying: What if it’s not? That is when we’ve also got to trust ourselves to be okay in the event things do go awry. I know that all I can do is try my best to focus on what I am able to accomplish, and practice trusting that the rest will still be there when and if I find the time for it.
My head is full of floating thoughts that expand and break apart they cloud my heart and contract my lungs endlessly vibrating in and out of awareness My head is full, but more flows in a constant stream of stressful flurries piling up inside my mind getting denser and heavier each day It feels as though I will surely crack open and spill this jumbled mess upon the pavement or perhaps be flattened under the weight of everything I've left undone It's hard to focus while restitching seams in my skull trying to keep it all together as I'm pulled forward into a future waiting to pour even more liquid lists through my shaking fingers It's all too much, too fast, too busy the urgency of each moment tugging at me from all sides knowing it cannot all be done Impossible to decide the next step I want my heart to open like a faucet and release all this pressure inside to spill and spill until I am empty Until I can hold that blissful space and replace my lists with trust a trust without form, just feeling a brave surrender of the spirit
Change is scary. Especially when it’s unexpected. Sometimes even a good change can cause extreme levels of anxiety when it happens suddenly. Today I find myself struggling with that kind of change. All week I have been eagerly awaiting the weekend. I desperately needed a full day to rest and recharge. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and ungrounded. I was so happy that the weekend had finally arrived so that I could just relax and do some boring housework.
However, last night, out of nowhere, my boyfriend tells me that a few of his friends are going to drive down to the city near me tonight and wants us to hangout tomorrow. I felt my breath catch in my chest. I was filled with horror, dread, despair, and anger. How can he expect me to drop everything and see him on such short notice? How can I possibly get out of this? How can I mentally bear to go another full week with no chance to emotionally and energetically recover? I want to scream, to cry, to hide myself away, to disappear completely.
Amidst this already chaotic swirl of emotion I also felt immense guilt and shame for my involuntary reaction. The anger that I was initially directing outward at him for being “inconsiderate” was now turned back on myself for being so rigid and ungrateful. I was ashamed of my inflexible, violent nature. I couldn’t help thinking about the way a “normal” person would have reacted to the same surprise. An impromptu chance to see someone I love who I haven’t been able to be with in over a month? What an amazing opportunity! How fortunate! How exciting! That’s probably what most people would think. The layers of unwanted, uncomfortable emotions I was already feeling were condensed even more tightly around my heart by this realization and the guilt that it produced.
I spent all morning in a brutal battle with my own thoughts and feelings, arguing with myself, making excuses, imagining hateful words to spew at others and myself for the injustice of any inconvenience to my incredibly easy and privileged existence. My yoga class was undoubtably terrible earlier. I felt like a fraud, unworthy to lead my class with such a childish inner torrent raging inside of me. “None of this will matter at all next week, next month, next year.” I keep telling myself that. I keep reminding myself that at the end of my life, would I really be happy making a decision to sour this unexpected chance to be with my beloved simply because my house would have to remain uncleaned for yet another week? What is going to matter on my deathbed? Sundays spent in monotonous home maintenance or moments shared with those most important to me? Obviously the latter. So how can I still feel so unsafe inside?
Mental illness is not rational. That’s what it always comes down too. I can’t expect to explain away these feelings. I must make peace with the fact that logic and reason won’t make these thoughts and emotions go away. I have to accept them. I have to sit with them, watch them, get curious about them, learn from them. Instead of doing that, I busily flew around my house this morning trying to leave for my class on time after waking up late, planning a detailed message to send to my boyfriend. “You need to account for ‘x’ if you want ‘y’. I need this, this, and this, so I can be comfortable. These are all the ways in which you need to accommodate and tiptoe around my anxiety and OCD.”
Luckily I was too rushed to send anything until I had had a chance to calm down a bit. On my long drive to the studio, I had time to think. Is it really right for me to insist the people in my life enable me to continue on being enslaved to my unhealthy sense of control? Why should anyone else be burdened by these irrational “requirements”? That wouldn’t be good for them or for me. Once again, I was trying to mold the world into what I think it should be, to make every moment suit my personal preferences. I was placing the blame on the event (a sudden change of plans) instead of on my inner reaction (discomfort, anxiety, anger.) I can’t manipulate the world around me in a way that will shield me from these emotions. What I can do is learn how to tend to the emotions themselves.
Everything that we initially view as negative, irritating, or upsetting can ultimately be transformed in our mind into an opportunity for self study and inner growth. It’s easy to say that I want to be enlightened, that I want to find inner peace, but it’s much harder to be given the chance to cultivate that peace and enlightenment. It’s moments like these, the instances that cause avoidance and rejection to rise up inside of me, that are my greatest lessons, my greatest opportunities to practice being who I want to be.
Earlier this week, my friend at work accidentally dropped a mug on my favorite bowl and broke it. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. I may have even cried. Definitely would have harbored a silent anger and resentment toward my friend. Yet that day, after an initial jolt of disappointment and irritation, I saw an opportunity present itself. Instead of focusing on myself and my misfortune, my focus shifted to my friend. “She must feel so badly,” I thought with compassion. In that moment all I wanted was for her to know that I still felt nothing but love for her. That was what mattered, not an inanimate object.
Even though I’m not sure she fully believed me, I quickly told her that it was okay. I told her that I had been taught recently that we should perceive everything we have in this life as already being broken. That way we can enjoy it in the moment, and still be able to let it go when the time comes. I thanked her for giving me the chance to practice non-attachment and letting go. And I was thankful, surprisingly. I was even excited to witness the inner progress I had made. I genuinely wasn’t upset. I was actually eager to use this moment for my spiritual growth, to turn it into something much more valuable than a silly bowl.
Now I see that moment as preparation, a warm-up, for this weekend. Can I also practice letting go of my plans and the way I think things should be? Can I learn to embrace change instead of immediately rejecting it? Can I actively teach myself that I will be okay even when things don’t go the way I thought they would? These are all questions I have to ask myself today, ways in which I must now challenge myself. This weekend is a spiritual gift, even though it may not look like it right now.
I am going to be grateful. I choose to be grateful. I am going to stop being so upset with myself for the fact that it is a hard choice to make. Instead I am going to be proud of myself for even having the option. Not long ago, this choice wouldn’t have even been available to me. I would have been so lost in my immediate reaction that I would have completely missed this chance to shift perspective. Now thanks to my yoga practice and all the hard work I’ve been doing for years, I am able to see more clearly. I am more easily able to observe the storm inside myself without being sucked into it. The storm is still there, even as I write these words, but I’m going to sit with it for awhile, with compassion, with empathy, with curiosity, and with love.
Until now, I’ve only made vague references and comments about this on my blog. Part of me was hesitant even to do that. There are a lot of reasons that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story. Not only am I ashamed of the behaviors themselves and the seemingly benign catalyst to this downward spiral, but I’m also ashamed to label myself as someone recovering from an eating disorder.
Even though I definitely suffered from extremely disordered eating for months if not an entire year, I never felt like it was “that bad.” I know a lot of people internally minimize their own mental health issues especially when eating disorders are involved, but even knowing that, I didn’t feel able to consider myself one of those people. I’ve watched so many documentaries and series about anorexia and other eating disorders. I know how bad it can get. I know it can be life-threatening at times, especially in the cases that persist for years and years. I was comparing myself to those extreme cases and disregarding the suffering and severity of where I was physically and mentally for those months. I felt, like a lot of people do, that I wasn’t “that sick.” I wasn’t extreme enough in my behaviors. I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder. It hadn’t been going on long enough.
It is easy for me to recognize these excuses and minimizing attempts in others, but only recently have I been able to accept that things really had gotten bad for me. And that I’m still struggling to regain healthy eating habits and not fall back into toxic self-talk. I wanted to write about my experiences today for all of those who may be reading that are like me. There is no “sick enough” threshold that you have to meet before you can get help. If you feel there is a problem, there is. You don’t have to reach rock bottom or suffer for a certain length of time before you can decide to love yourself, before you decide you are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of recovery right now. You are always worthy of love. Your suffering matters, regardless of whether or not someone else may “have it worse.”
My eating disorder began at the end of 2019. One of the parts I’m embarrassed by is the “reason” it seemed to have been triggered. I’m sure there were a lot of other underlying issues going on, and the isolation of the pandemic really made it a lot worse, but the day I recall that switch happening in my mind was a day I was pulled over. I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but this one really got to me for some reason. I was so ashamed and humiliated for getting yet another ticket and having to spend over $100 on something so stupid right before the holidays. As I cried big ugly tears on the rest of my drive home, my thoughts were swirling with negativity.
I’m never pretty enough to get out of a ticket I thought. A thought I have basically every time I’ve been pulled over. But that day it stung particularly badly. “I don’t deserve to eat tonight.” That was the thought that played on repeat. And I didn’t eat that night. Or the next. To my surprise, fasting made me feel a lot better. I felt powerful and strong. I felt sleek and beautiful. My mind felt sharp. I felt in control. I woke up more easily. I felt lighter during my morning workout. “This is great,” I told myself.
After those first two days without eating, fasts became a normal part of my weekly routine. At first I was fasting for one or two days every week. Then three days a week. Then it started to become more than just fasting. On the four days a week I allowed myself to eat, I had a very strict diet. I didn’t eat until 6 or 7 in the evening, and then I would basically eat things that had virtually no calories so that I could eat for hours straight without feeling guilty. Each and every day I ate, I would eat the same exact things, in the same exact order. First I would eat four whole cans of green beans with copious amounts of salt and onion powder. Then I would eat roasted zucchini. Then I would eat cabbage soup. Then lima beans. Sometimes these super low-calorie spring rolls. Then I would finish it off by gorging myself on vegan halotop ice cream, or banana nice cream.
Not long after that, I also starting binging and purging two of the four days I did eat. So I basically wasn’t getting any calories besides the few I would keep down two days a week. I continued to workout for an hour every day like always during this period, mind you. If for some reason I ended up eating with family or friends, that would inevitably be thrown up later. I was worried about the purging, but not much else. And even that was about my looks. I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I knew that wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, but at the time, I still didn’t want to stop.
In the beginning, I felt amazing. I was losing more weight, more quickly than I ever had my entire life. Every week I was meeting new personal goals. I was elated each and every time I took out the scale to see a smaller number. Even so, it didn’t seem to be perceivable in the reflection I saw in the mirror. Even though I reached my lifelong personal goal for the first time ever, I still hated who I saw staring back at me. I still felt the same, worse even. I felt disgusting, fat, like my belly was grotesque, like I’d never be thin enough.
At a certain point a month or more in, my family and friends started to express their concerns. They were not hesitant at all about asking me point blank if I had an eating disorder. Of course I lied and said I was just being very careful not to eat as much as I used to, but that I was completely fine and healthy. They didn’t seem to believe me, but they didn’t push the issue either. Their concern only made me hate myself more. I felt guilty and embarrassed that they knew I wasn’t okay. I felt like a failure that the comments I received were concerned instead of impressed. I also felt immense pressure at that point to keep the weight off. I was horrified at the idea I may gain it back and people would notice that too.
I had always dreamed of being thin. Ever since I was a little girl in elementary school. I still remember that when I found out about eating disorders, I genuinely wished that I could have one. I felt like that was the only way I’d ever be able to get skinny. Sadly, I made that wish come true through years and years of exposing myself to “thinspo” on Instagram and Tumbr. It always felt like the horrible mental side effects of these disorders just wouldn’t happen to me, or that they were an okay price to pay for beauty. After experiencing the mental and emotional agony I went through, I can say with absolute certainty that isn’t true.
I had sold myself the lie that being skinny would make me happy for my entire life. It was absolutely devastating to confront that lie. During these months, my mental health plummeted lower than ever before. I absolutely hated myself. I was utterly disgusted by every part of myself. I hated my reflection even more than I did before I lost the weight. Each and every moment of the day was consumed by thoughts of food and outrageous levels of anxiety. This was supposed to be how I found happiness, but I found only misery. It felt like happiness didn’t even exist anymore, or at least I’d never find it.
I honestly don’t know how I found the strength within me to finally work on more healthy eating habits again, but somehow I did. It was a slow process, and I still haven’t made it back to “normal” yet. But I am so proud of myself for deciding that I was worthy of my own love. Even though my eating is still a bit haywire, I feel like I have a healthier relationship with my body than I ever thought I would. Now when those toxic thoughts about my body come up, I remind myself that being skinny isn’t going to solve all my problems. It didn’t solve them. It just made life a living Hell. I remind myself that I get to choose whether to be happy or not, and it is in no way correlated to my appearance. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.
If you’re reading this right now and see yourself in any of what I’ve written today. Please get help. Even if that’s just deciding to try to help yourself. Don’t wait until things are unbearable to change course. Because the sooner you are able to turn around, the easier it will be to reclaim some sense of normalcy. And trust me, if I was able to do it, anyone can. You are beautiful for who you are, not what you look like. You are enough. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of happiness. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re struggling. I would be honored to answer any questions anyone might have or offer my support to anyone who needs it. Thank you for letting me finally share my story.
Why am I so anxious? The age old question. At some point it seems like my anxiety became the sole focal point of my life. Everything I do is in an effort to avoid feeling anxious. The problem is even when your intention is to avoid something, you end up concentrating on the very thing you’re trying to avoid. Therefore you’re attracting even more of it into your life. I’ve been spiraling in that space for a while now.
Listening to my anxiety instead of trying to ignore it taught me something. When I’m running through the list of everything I have scheduled for the day, panicking that I may not have time for everything, I never really took the time to wonder, so what? I followed my panic to it’s logical conclusion and found only myself waiting there to hand out the “punishment” I so feared. Spending a few days away from my normal routine with my boyfriend really emphasized that point.
This is what happens when we lose our intention, when we stop checking in with ourselves, when we forget to take the time to find grounding. It’s almost as if I had completely given up the power I have over my own life. I have been living as if I have to do this or I have to do that, never pausing to ask why I’m doing it in the first place. I’ve been so fearful, running from myself for so long that when I finally looked back, what a relief it was to realize that I’m the only one around. I’m the only one handing out these consequences of fear and displeasure.
After doing things a certain way, living in a certain way, for so long, I nearly forgot that I don’t have to keep following this road I’ve laid out. It’s almost like following a path through the forest. I’ve gotten so used to the path that I’ve become afraid of the dense woodlands on either side. However, the path I’m on leads me in circles. I’m the only one making the rule that “I must follow the path.” I am completely free to make a new path. It seems silly, but just realizing that fills me with so much joy and excitement. I don’t know what I’ll encounter once I step into the woods, but I am so eager to find out.
When it comes down to it, most of the unpleasant feelings we try to avoid in life are completely up to us. We make so many rules for ourselves without even realizing it. If I sleep in too late, I’m going to have a bad day. If I don’t accomplish my goal, I have to feel badly about myself. If my friend can’t hangout, I’ve got to be sad all day instead. We have these unspoken rules about the things that make us feel a certain way. Then we work so hard to justify our reactions to ourselves, perpetuating moods and emotions that aren’t serving us.
It’s funny. I used the restrict myself the very same way with my anger. I felt like I didn’t have a choice other than to get angry when certain things happened. I felt that was the only logical, appropriate response. Thankfully, I finally realized that I get to decide what’s worth getting angry over. (Turns out hardly anything.) Yet I failed to apply this lesson to my other emotions. Just because something happens doesn’t mean I have to feel a certain emotion about it for a certain length of time.
If I make a mistake, there is absolutely nothing forcing me to feel badly about myself because of it. If things don’t end up going as planned, I get anxious partly because I am afraid of the emotions and feelings I feel must follow. I’d forgotten that I’m the one writing this story. I get to decide how I respond to whatever happens to me. I’m the one calling the shots. I get to choose happiness and inner peace no matter what is happening around me.
My anxiety has been a response to my own self-rejection. I’m afraid if I don’t do everything perfectly, I’m going to lose my own love and compassion toward myself. My self love has been so conditional that it could hardly be considered love at all. My anxiety is my inner child, constantly afraid of a manipulative, emotionally abusive parent. The first step toward healing that fearful child is to stop abandoning myself if I don’t live up to my own expectations. Just reassuring myself that this deep love with always be here inside of me, will always be available and freely given to myself no matter what, fills me with peace and frees me from this oppressive fear that has been looming over me for so long. Regardless of what happens, regardless of what I do or don’t do, I am going to be here, supporting and loving myself with everything I’ve got.
When I look up tips for coping with anxiety or self-care ideas, I often see people talking about setting up morning and nighttime routines. Creating routines has always been something I am easily able to get excited about. I think new habits are much easier to stick with if you structure a set time and order to do them. Not only that, having a strong self-care routine to wake up or wind down at the end of the day can be a great way to help ground you and alleviate anxiety. It always feels good to do something for yourself with loving intentions.
I’ve been tempted to add a more structured nighttime routine into my daily habits in order to help me break away from my disordered nightly eating habits. I also think it would be nice to set aside a few extra moments of meditation and mindfulness in the evenings as I tend to get especially anxious later in the day. The only thing that’s holding me back from creating this new routine is the OCD tendencies I’ve become aware of lately.
I honestly can’t say how long this has been a problem for me. It has only become clear since the pandemic hit and I was alone in my house for days at a time. I think the reason it took me awhile to catch on to these unhealthy patterns is because I never really thought of OCD presenting in this way. Whenever I imagined OCD, I thought about people doing very simple repetitive things like turning lights on and off a certain number of times. I never really imagined that more complex, in depth (otherwise healthy) routines could become obsessive compulsive. Yet that’s what it feels like. I feel compelled to do certain activities each and every day, usually in the exact same order, or else I will feel off balance and extra anxious.
I know that OCD and anxiety are very closely related to one another and often overlap. Anxious feelings are what compel someone with OCD to perform certain behaviors. These behaviors are then rewarded by a decrease in anxiety, thereby creating a cycle of reinforcement. Plus I know that these mental health problems often have a genetic component. My mother has anxiety, but she also has ever increasing symptoms of OCD. Although her habits are more what I normally think of, such as checking the stove or the locks multiple times before being able to leave the house.
I would be interested to hear what a therapist would have to say on the subject of healthy routines and people suffering from OCD. Is there a way to integrate a routine that won’t become unhealthy for people like me? I am always very selective with any routine I begin to practice. I know that very likely it will soon cease to be a pleasant, healthy habit, and become a mandatory, anxiety producing part of my day. Instead of feeling like I am doing something kind for myself because I want to, it starts to feel like just another overwhelming obligation.
I have thought of one possible solution to this problem, but I don’t know how practical it would actually be. Perhaps if I were able to create a cycle big enough, spanning a long enough time period, like a whole month for example, I wouldn’t get so obsessed with performing identical tasks. However, I don’t know that this would really make a difference. It feels like I would be less attached to a behavior I only performed once a month, than one that I do every single day. For example, if on the 14th of every month, I take myself out on a date, it might not give me as much anxiety if that didn’t fit into my schedule one month.
Part of me thinks that is a very clever solution, but another part of me wonders if I might just be moving the goal posts. My gut tells me a therapist would prefer that I work on the problem in a different way. I know it’d be more helpful to actually start seeing a therapist and just ask about it, but we all know I’ve been trying and failing to get myself to go to therapy for years now. There just aren’t many therapists in my area that actually know what they’re doing. The good ones I do know either don’t accept my insurance, or are unable to see me as a client because we know one another through work.
For the time being I am interested to here what you all think about this issue. Do you believe routines can be healthy for some people, but unhealthy for others? Is there a way that someone with OCD can develop a healthier relationship with personal routines? Do you have any experience with this dilemma? What have you found helpful? Also, if anyone reading this happens to be a therapist, I would absolutely love to have you weigh in and give me your opinion.
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.