Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

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Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

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More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

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Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

Channeling Your Inner Child

I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that said: I think the key to a happy life as an adult woman is to channel your inner weird little girl and make her happy. There is so much truth behind those words. Without realizing it, I have been doing exactly that. By setting goals for myself to write and draw everyday, I am actually giving myself permission to enjoy the hobbies I use to enjoy as a young girl. For as long as I can remember I loved to create through these two mediums of artist expression.

Even though I have already been unwittingly following the advice of that post, doing it with a conscious intention of taking care of that strange little girl inside me, makes it feel all the more special and rewarding. At some point as I began to grow up, I started to need a reason behind everything that I did. Which seems strange to me, given that ultimately nothing really matters except what you decide matters. Did I have a reason to play Pokémon and Hamtaro for hours? Was there a good reason for printing out stacks upon stacks of Sailor Moon pictures I found online to color? Was there a purpose to all of the magical time I spent playing outside in nature with my sister and friends? Were these experiences any less important, any less meaningful, because I didn’t have a direct, practical goal in mind?

Perhaps this resistance to doing anything without a clear purpose is merely an excuse, a lingering symptom of mild depression. After all, what better reason is there than to make yourself happy? Sometimes it feels as though I’ve forgotten how to make myself happy, how to enjoy my life from one moment to the next. Only once I’ve begun a project, given myself the time to lose myself in it, do I feel true joy and freedom. It’s taking that first step that is always so very difficult. For example, most days I simply dread the idea of beginning my yoga and meditation practice. I contemplate cutting it short every time. But when I actually sit down and begin, it always becomes the very best part of my day. Despite this, that initial dread never seems to go away.

For a lot of my life, I relied on inspiration to spur me onward. Without it, I felt like there was no way I could continue with anything I was doing. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that most of the time that inspiration follows rather than precedes my actions. Most days I have no idea what I want to write about when I sit down to begin. I never know what to draw in the evenings. Yet I’ve learned that if I just force myself to start, I can surprise myself with what I’m able to create. I think that is what art is all about, surprising ourselves. Most of my best creations were not the result of careful planning and intention. They were spontaneous accidents that allowed me to unconsciously share a piece of myself with the world that I didn’t even know was mine to share.

So when I’m struggling with that stubborn resistance before beginning something, I’ve found it very helpful to remind myself that this is a gift for my inner child. It’s almost like the joy you get from playing with a child, in fact. As an adult, you may not be very interested in the game itself at first, but to see the happiness and pleasure in that innocent little face makes it worthwhile. It makes me so happy inside to imagine my younger self in my place, happily typing away, working hard on stories that will never be published or even read by others. To imagine that little girl I once was drawing anime without a care in the world, her excitement at how good we’ve gotten at it.

Channeling my inner child is one of the best ways for me to remember how to be in the present moment. It reminds me how to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. I am so grateful for the children I get to meet everyday at work. Their lighthearted energy has been a great help to me as I work to reconnect with the child within myself. I am able to see myself in them and remember what it was like to be the age they are now. They inspire me to keep the child in me alive, to keep her happy, to keep her close. It’s definitely something worth practicing.

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Self Distortion

I was reminded again yesterday, that I really have a warped perception of myself. I genuinely have no idea how other people see me. One of the detectives I work with was excited to show me a YouTube channel he found. He said that the girl on this channel looked exactly like me. I am always extremely nervous when someone tells me they found someone that looks like me. Usually it is very flattering, but being someone that has an eating disorder, this is a great way to trigger me. Not that anyone has ever compared me to anyone heavy, but once I was compared to someone on Instagram that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to see myself. I was upset about that one for days.

Luckily this time the YouTuber in question was drop-dead gorgeous. She had an alternative look and long, beautiful, black hair. I still never know how to respond when someone approaches me with something like this, but overall I was very happy. Even though I do not see the resemblance at all. It’s interesting to contemplate the disconnect between the way others see me and the way I see myself. I used to glance at strangers and try to find someone I thought had a similar body type and build so that I could see how I must look to others. Eventually I gave up on this because it only upset me. I would be interested to see if the people I thought were built similar to me would be the people those around me would pick as well. I once even found a website where you could enter your height and weight and it would produce pictures of other people with the same dimensions. That one fucked me up for weeks. Even though the images produced could vary wildly, I always assumed I was closer to the less pleasing photos, rather than the women that looked like models at my height and weight.

My sister always used to tell me that I had body dysmorphia. Basically, that’s a mental disorder where you have an extremely altered perception of your physical appearance, usually focusing in on one aspect of yourself like your nose or your ears or your weight to hyper-fixate on. Part of me has always really wanted to believe she was right, but then a larger part of me always says, “well if that’s true you’re acknowledging that you aren’t as fat as you think you are, which is obviously ridiculous.” However in recent years, I’ve come to mostly accept that label even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. (As you can tell I’m one of those four year psych degree people that loves to self-diagnose: autism, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, generalized anxiety, feel free to roll your eyes.) Anyway, I now view body dysmorphia as just a label that explains that I don’t know what a really look like. It’s as if I am always looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. My self-perception has a tendency to vary immensely from one day to the next, one moment to the next. And of course I always identify with the least flattering reflections most of all.

It can be really nice to be reminded that other people view me differently than the way I view myself. It’s honestly hard to believe. I can’t help but wonder if they are just lying to me or attempting to flatter me for some unknown reason. Oh, the inner ramblings of a mentally ill mind. It makes it quite difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, I try to let all of this nonsensical pondering go completely. After all, it doesn’t really matter what I look like. One day whatever looks I have now will fade away. I will become shriveled, wrinkled, and grey. And I don’t want to have placed all of my value and self-worth in a youthful appearance. There is so much more to life than what you look like.

It does raise the question of how others perceive the rest of me. I don’t think my self-perception is much better when it comes to my character or personality. I really couldn’t say what words other people might use to describe me. Perhaps I should make a point to start asking them, letting them know before hand that I want their honest opinion no matter what. I can’t even image what kinds of words they might use to describe me to be honest. But I am so curious, because those are the perceptions that really matter in the end. However, even with these descriptions I am so much quicker to believe anything negative about myself than anything positive. When someone says nice things about me, it can make me feel uncomfortable, even guilty. I think, “Oh no, I have somehow tricked them into thinking better of me than they should. They are going to be so upset if they ever find out who I truly am.” I know these thoughts may seem ridiculous, but they come up more than I’d like to admit.

The sad thing is, that none of these opinions or perceptions of other people are what’s important. Because ultimately it’s my own self-perception that matters most. Sadly it is also the least flattering perception I’ve encountered. I’m hopeful that maybe learning to trust the perceptions other people have of me will give me the confidence to start to see myself differently.

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Perception & Mental Illness

I went to visit my mom yesterday. We had planned to do taxes, but I told her that I might end up being too anxious to actually get very far. I explained to her how I’d been feeling: racing thoughts, worrying about everything big and small, present and future, feeling rushed, feeling like I’m going to forget something important, etc. My mom seems almost relieved when I tell her these things. Not that she is glad I’m feeling this way, but just knowing that I understand the way she feels.

She tells me that she has felt that way her whole life, overwhelmed with anxiety. But I suppose she wasn’t overwhelmed exactly. She put herself through college, had a career that she excelled in, raised a family, all while paying her bills and taking care of household chores. I often think about this and feel amazed. I can’t imagine having to deal with the shit I put her through as the parent, with this level of mental disfunction. It seems like I would most certainly go mad.

It seems like the only difference between her anxiety and mine, is that I have almost immediately identified and classified it as a disorder. My mom on the other hand was raised in a much less psychologically aware time. Nothing ever led her to believe that what she was experiencing was anything abnormal. It still seems kind of funny from my point of view, but she tells me she just thought everyone felt like she did growing up.

It’s so interesting to think about what a huge difference just that small distinction can make in a life. Two people living with the same level of anxiety, only one knows that there is something wrong, while the other thinks it’s normal to feel this way. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer as much as I do if i wasn’t also piling on more anxiety about being “broken” or “messed up.” At times it seems like a lot of my stress comes from desperately looking for a way to stop or prevent these anxious feelings from happening.

My mom didn’t have this added level of distress. She just carried on with her life despite these feelings. It would almost be a comfort to think that it was normal and everyone around me also struggled with these same feelings. To believe that even with this inner anxiety others managed to do great things and lead happy, peaceful, successful lives. Instead I spend the majority of my time trying to “fix” myself. Resigning myself to mediocrity due to my psychological limitations.

I’ve been thinking once again about starting therapy. I know there are tools that I could learn to help me cope. Even that idea “to cope” implies that these feelings won’t ever go away. I can’t evict this anxiety from my mind. All I can hope to do is learn how to make peace with it, to accept it as a part of me, to stop fighting it. My mom’s life is an excellent example that it is possible. I can live with my anxiety instead of constantly struggling to push it away.

I’ve always been grateful that I live in a time where psychology is widely accepted and understood by the general population. I’ve always loved to learn about the mind and all of it’s different disorders. I feel my peers are able to sympathize with and understand me better than they would have in older generations. But at the same time, I know knowledge and awareness don’t necessarily produce more happiness. Maybe I would have been happier not knowing all the details. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

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Mental Health & Time Perception

I have been reading a very interesting book called Time Warped: Unlocking the Secrets of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond. This is a great book for anyone curious about the many mysteries of how we interpret and view time, and how our perception of time can change as we age and even from one moment to the next. While a lot of the book has fascinating facts that are not exactly useful as far as effecting everyday life, there are a few things that I think have immense potential for practical implications.

One of the most important things this book mentions is the way mental illness, namely depression, effects time perception. While I mainly suffer from anxiety, I have had periods of severe depression in my life. And even though I’ve had suicidal ideations in my teen years, I still never fully understood how anyone could go through with ending their own life. I think understanding how depression can warp our idea of time plays a key role in suicidal behavior.

It has been shown that people with depression over-estimate the amount of time that has passed in a given interval. Basically time slows down when you have depression. Each moment begins to feel like an eternity. Every day is simply too much to bear. Life seems to drag on and on. Knowing that depression can make you perceive time in this way really makes it more understandable why someone might feel like they just can’t take it anymore.

In addition to that, Hammond points out in this book that depression also effects one’s ability to imagine the future. So not only do they feel like every moment is taking longer than it objectively is, they also cannot visualize a future for themselves. Granted, being depressed, they may only imagine an awful, bleak future if they can imagine one, but they are incapable of imagining things getting better. They can’t imagine things ever changing in general. Even on my darkest days, part of me finds a small amount of comfort in the thought that nothing lasts forever, and when you’re already so low, most likely things can only improve from there. But imagining not even having that, to truly believe things will always remain the way they are, that things will remain painful, intolerable, desolate, lonely? Well, it begins to become more clear why suicide seems like a reasonable choice to some people.

Now, I’m not a psychologist, nor do I have any training in counseling people with depression, so perhaps this knowledge is already being implemented. However, I immediately thought of a way this may benefit therapists and perhaps even help save lives. In my experience as a social worker, there are many times when we must assess whether or not a client is at risk of hurting themselves. To do this, we normally ask if they have ever thought about hurting themselves, if they have had those thoughts recently, if they have a plan, etc. There is nothing wrong with these questions and I think they should still be asked. However, there is A LOT of stigma around depression, mental illness, and thoughts of suicide, especially amongst older generations. While we all hope each client will feel comfortable enough to answer questions about suicidal ideation honestly, I’m sure many don’t.

I remember in school reading about all the warning signs to look out for regarding depression and suicide. These are certainly beneficial and take into account that not everyone will verbally express these thoughts and feelings to others. By now, I would assume most people know these are the signs people are looking for and may actively seek to avoid being found out in these ways. I would propose that therapists, social workers, even friends and family members that are concerned about a loved one committing suicide, should begin asking seemingly innocuous questions regarding time perception.

The person’s ability to answer questions about the future would be a dead give away as to whether or not they may be at risk of suicide. You may think, well if they are already trying to hide their true feelings, they would just make something up. But if I understand correctly, they would not do this. Because they would not be able to. It isn’t that they are imagining an awful future full of suffering and would lie to the questioner, offering an imagined pleasant or neutral future. They would be incapable of giving an answer at all apart from “I don’t know.”

Not only would this question be much less direct than asking someone if they had thoughts of suicide, it would also be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be deceptive with the answer. I believe this would be a great way for people to nonchalantly discover whether or not someone is depressed or potentially suicidal. As I said perhaps this is already being utilized by therapists, but it could also be useful to anyone concerned for a loved one. I am hopeful that this kind of information will become more well-known and perhaps even save lives by allowing people to get the help they need before it’s too late.

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Memory

There is a lot that we still don’t understand about the way our brains store and organize our memories. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve considered keeping a detailed journal of each days events. Part of me is afraid that there are important moments that I am going to forget. There could even be some I’ve already forgotten. There are definitely a lot of instances in college that I was too drunk to form adequate memories, but I do have a hazy recollection when a friend brings up different moments. It would certainly be interesting to look back on a written record of a memory years later and see if my memory recalls it as accurately as the written version. Seems unlikely that it would.

It is unsettling to know, but our memories aren’t very reliable. Eye witness accounts have been proven to be highly flawed, even when about a momentous event. How can we trust our own memories of simple every day things? When I look back on my life, I wonder how much of it has been colored by my own interpretations and emotions. How much has been altered? How much has faded away?

I have always been perplexed when people say their earliest memories are when they are 7 years old or something equivalent. Really? Is that when most peoples’ memory record begins? I have memories from before I was even able to speak. I certainly have lots of memories from before I was in school. But this discrepancy between myself and others has made me ponder my own memories even more. When I really think about it, those early “memories” do feel different than, say, a memory of being in middle school. I feel somewhat more removed. Like I am remembering other times when I’d told the story of that memory. It made me wonder if I should even count that as a memory any more. Maybe that’s why other people don’t claim to have memories from that early on in life.

I think the majority of us feel extremely confident in our ability to remember our past accurately. It is scary to realize that despite this confidence, the only thing we really can be certain of, is that those memories aren’t entirely correct. We may never know exactly what happened in our pasts. But then again, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the ways our brains change our memories over time is just as important.

It seems to me that the more we learn and discover about the human brain, the more it appears that our reality is actually a clever illusion. This is terrifying and fascinating to consider. It is scary knowing we can’t really trust our own senses to portray our world with 100% accuracy. However, at least for me, this is also an exciting realization. To me this information also sends a message that we still don’t fully comprehend this existence. There could be so much more about consciousness and the universe that we can’t even imagine from our current perspective. It opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities. It even makes me question the finality of death.

The things we reveal, the insights we uncover as we delve deeper into the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and biology may scare us. But they also may excite us. They may open up our understanding of this world, this life, in ways that no one could have anticipated. So while my brain may not be the same as a camera, recording my memories like a video, I will trust what it does save for me. And I will keep going. I will keep facing this crazy existence that may just be a clever illusion created for me inside my own head. It can be frustrating to accept there are things I just can’t understand. But I am still eager and hopeful that some day I just might.

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What is This Trying to Teach Me

In the most unlikely place, I was again confronted abruptly with the idea that perhaps our entire reality is being personally generated from within our own minds. Or I suppose, from within my own mind. As no one else would technically exist apart from me if this is in fact the case. I think the idea struck me so intensely just because of the way it seemed to come out of nowhere within an anime I was watching. I was completely caught off guard.

Even though it may seem like a waste of time to some to consider possibilities like this that can never really be proven, I can’t help but be captivated by the idea. As rational human beings we tend to only believe what our senses and our experiences tell us. We depend on our own perception of reality and believe that it must be accurate and all there is. But I know from my experiences with psychedelics that isn’t necessarily the case. There is so much more to this existence than we can even imagine.

In the end no one really understands existence. It is still a great mystery. Why are we here? What happens when we die? Where were we before we were born? All of these things will forever remain unanswered questions it seems. This is partially why the concept that I am creating this reality for myself is so fascinating to me. Not only does this explanation provide some comfort and sense of control, it also helps me find a sense of surrender.

If I am the one crafting this reality subconsciously, then every single moment, every single person, every single experience is significant. It is all here to teach me something. I can use it all to understand myself a little bit better. For some reason looking at life through this strange lens allows me to truly feel that connection between myself and everything that is. It makes sense of that oneness I’ve come to genuinely believe in. It makes me less afraid, more curious. What is it that each moment is trying to teach me?

Part of me has always felt that reality is mostly random. I never put much weight into “signs” or things that are “meant to be.” Even though I’ve had moments that felt that way, I’ve always convinced myself it was just a result of the human brain’s endless search for patterns and meaning. Now I’m not so sure. The older I get, the less I’m sure of anything. Despite all the times in the past when I was sure I knew it all, the world has continued to surprise me.

There is something exciting in the idea that every little detail of my day is filled with some hidden purpose and meaning. It helps me not feel so afraid. I am eager to analysis my every interaction. What is this moment trying to teach me? Why do I need to be feeling this right now? Why is this experience necessary? What am I trying to show myself?

The best part about looking at reality this way is that it seems beneficial even if you are entirely wrong in the end. It certainly can’t hurt to see the world as a part of yourself, to see yourself in others. It couldn’t hurt to try to learn something from everyone you meet, from everything that happens to you. It seems like a pretty good way to live your life to me. Who knows what it could lead to? I hope one day I find out.

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