Anxiety & Regrets

I used to just try to avoid anything that made me anxious. Let’s not kid ourselves, I still do most of the time. But recently, I’ve come to realize the utter futility of this effort. Quite literally everything seems to make me anxious in one way or another. It can be quite comical when I catch myself, sure that a day off with cease all my anxiety, and then I get anxious about taking a day off, or spend my entire time off worrying about going back the next day. I get anxious about the idea of leaving my current job, but anxious about staying there. I’m anxious to spend all my free time with friends and loved ones, but then anxious that I don’t spend enough time with them.

While it’s very disheartening and discouraging to realize that no matter what I do I’ll likely be anxious about it, it’s also somewhat liberating. Once again, I get to choose what I want to do without the influence of anxiety guiding my hand. I might as well choose things that I truly value and believe will result in a more fulfilling life. I don’t have to shy away from lofty, long-term goals just because working towards them gives me discomfort. Not working towards them would produce the same feeling.

After lockdown it became really obvious how important the relationships I have in my life are. Even as a fairly reclusive, introverted person already, it was agony to be isolated from my loved ones for such long spans of time. I realized that my time with them is limited and not guaranteed. They could be ripped from my life at any moment. Do I really want to waste the time I have with them? Will I really be happier looking back on my life knowing that I chose working out or drawing over the loving connections I’ve been blessed with?

I’ve come to look at a lot of my decisions this way instead. Which decision will I one day regret? Regardless of what I believe would make me happy in the moment, what will make me happy long-term? What do I value in life? For example, I’ve been trying to spend more of my free time with friends and family even though my OCD tries to tell me I’ll die if I don’t do the exact same pointless routine every single day. Yesterday, I thought I might go visit my grandma for a few hours. I agonized over the idea of diverting from my normal schedule all morning. I just kept reminding myself: These silly little tasks that you feel you have to do can be done tomorrow, next week, five years from now. You really have no idea how much time you have left to spend with your grandmother.

I ended up going to see her and was surprised to find my aunt there as well. I spent far longer at her house than I had intended and had an amazing time with them. If I had chosen to stay home, I know I would have regretted it the next day. I slept so soundly last night, knowing there was no better use of my time, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and filled with love. Now when my best friend asks me to hangout or an unexpected opportunity arises, I try to consider what I would regret. It’s ridiculous to imagine I would regret not staying at home by myself repeating the same cookie-cutter day over going out and connecting with people and making precious memories.

I have only been trying this method out for a few weeks, so it’s still difficult. But already I’ve managed to have some wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling days that I would have surely let pass me by in the past. I’m hoping continuing to practice this will reinforce in my mind how beneficial these experiences are. It might make me anxious to imagine going out with other people all day, but when I’m there, I know there is no where else I’d rather be.

I’ve also learned that being with people you love is a powerful balm for mental illness in itself. When I’m alone, my mind runs rampant. It is never silent. It focuses only on me and my problems/fears. This spiral gets bigger and stronger until it is all consuming. When I’m with my family and friends, my mind is finally quiet. I feel peaceful and at ease. My heart is open and over-flowing. My tendency has always been to hide away when I begin to feel overwhelmed, fearing that I can’t handle exerting any more of my social energy. Ironically, that is the very thing that will make me feel better. Being in the presence of people you cherish is a reminder of just how small and insignificant other concerns are. I feel supported and safe. Taking time to connect is refilling your cup.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what matters to me in this life. It’s easy to become distracted by productivity and material aspirations. We lose ourselves in the surface level tasks the world imposes upon us. None of that is truly important though. What’s valuable in this life is love, community, and connection above all else. Even when it’s scary. Even when it seems like you have a million other things you need to be doing. Life isn’t about having a clean house or starting a successful business. It’s about making sure the people you care about know how much you love them and savoring even the small, mundane moments you spend together. I refuse to let mental illness separate me from my true purpose in life: love. The only goal that truly matters, that I need to put in the forefront of my awareness, that I should etch the intention of onto my soul, is being with the ones I love. My time here is limited. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d want to be with my friends and family every moment until then. So why should I ever want to be anywhere else?

Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Unnecessary Pressures of Monogamy

They gather like wolves on the boardwalk below, they’re howling for answers no wolf could know.

Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume; Mewithoutyou

After realizing on New Year’s Day that my boyfriend has never made me laugh, and might not reveal himself to be funny as I was waiting for him to do, I’ve been sick with anxiety and rumination. I love him. The time we spend together makes me happy. I miss him when he’s gone. But at the same time, I can’t imagine being with him and only him forever if he can’t make me laugh. I just don’t think that would work out in the end. Not only is that a very attractive and important quality in not only my partners but my friends as well. I just know without that lighthearted, playful dynamic, after this little honeymoon phase, I will start to get pissy with him. With nothing to diffuse and mitigate my sour moods, I would surely become a bitter nightmare to be around. I am easily turned towards resentment.

I’ve been in this spot before. Unsure whether to be happy where I’m at and just wait out this concern, or to cut and run as fast as possible to save us both time and heartache. (Not that either would be entirely spared at this point.) Each time I find myself in this stressful situation, I can’t help but feel resentment towards society for forcing us all into monogamous relationships. When I take away that looming threat of “no one else, only this one person must meet your every need and desire for the rest of your life!!!” I feel no issue between us at all. Without that ridiculous, intimidating idea hanging over my head, I am perfectly happy, content, and deeply in love.

Polyamory has always been the perfect solution for me. Not only does it allow me to accept each person in my life for exactly who they are without expecting them to be more, it also relieves me of the pressure of always being available to my partner. No one can be everything for someone else. Even if they possess all the desired qualities, it’s too much to put on a single person, especially for a lifetime. This is why half of marriages fail. It’s a faulty, unrealistic system. It sets up this weird binary where you either want to be with this person every moment of every day until you die, or never speak to them again. It leaves no room for grey area. It tries to smash every relationship and every human interaction into a stupid little box, that to be honest, barely any truly fit into.

I’ve seen so many perfectly happy couples part because of this imaginary pressure put upon them. As soon as that initial spark begins to dim, welp I guess you don’t really love them. Better leave. As soon as you notice an attraction to anyone else, no matter how subtle, you never really loved your partner. Not only must you leave them, it would be cruel to stay with such wandering eyes! Your “soul mate” must be someone else. I’ve always known that my expectations and requirements for a partner are unrealistic. How many atheist, vegan, feminist, liberal, funny, tall, charismatic, outgoing, intelligent men and women could there possibly even be in the world, let alone near me? Even when I find someone with the vast majority of those qualities, I can’t help but feel like it’s a huge sacrifice to give up even one of those qualities forever.

Sadly even though polyamory solves a lot of my romantic relationship issues, it still isn’t a perfect solution. Say my boyfriend was okay with it and we allowed one another to see other people, we would have to either hide this aspect of our relationship from everyone we know and love, or be viciously judged and criticized for it. It would be a spectacle that would constantly have to be explained. Not only that, the structure of society leaves very little possibility that my partner would even be okay with it. When you hear your partner say they want to open the relationship, we have been conditioned to hear: I don’t love you. You’re not enough for me. And no one wants to hear that from the person they love. No matter how fervently you might insist that isn’t true, there will always be a lingering sense of doubt and insecurity spoiling things.

So once again, I’m left alone in my mind with an impossible decision to be made. Knowing I’ll likely find a way to regret whatever I choose, and I’ll definitely be deeply upset either way. I’ve been so distraught and fixated on this issue that I even had a dream that he made a witty reply to me last night. I woke up feeling comforted, only to realize that wasn’t real. I’m left with the feeling that no matter what, from this point on, that blind, blissful happiness of having someone has evaporated before my eyes. And the loss of that has left me in mourning, where I see myself remaining for quite a while, exhausted, frustrated, guilty, and disenchanted.

Toxic monogamy is real—here's how to heal it | Well+Good

Meditation on Death

Due to my morbid obsession with death and dying this past week, I started looking for some books to read in order to better cope with these grim ruminations. After a little searching, I came across a book that seems perfect for me. It’s called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Joan Halifax. I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters yet, but it has already been a great comfort to me.

This book approaches the subject of death from a Buddhist perspective. It highlights the different ways that western and eastern cultures deal with death. It calls attention to the way the fear of death dominates western culture. We do our best to hide it away out of sight. We live most of our lives without ever thinking about the fact that we are all going to die some day. Avoidance seems to be a primary part our lives, especially in America.

The best part about this book is that it is written as a resource for everyone, in any stage of life. It can benefit teenagers, the elderly, caregivers, medical professionals, healthy people, and people that are terminally ill. This book reminds us that death is a natural part of life. It is something that has the potential to bring us all together. It is ultimately the great equalizer. It is a phase of life, a culmination of everything we have experienced here, a right of passage, a necessary darkness we will all pass through one day.

One of the ways I believe this book will help me is by preparing me to be there for my loved ones when they die. I still feel tremendously guilty about how little I was around my grandmother as she was slowly dying from cancer a few years ago. For the most part, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. I saw her when we went to my parent’s house on holidays. It was painful just to look at her, to be in that room with her. Even though it was actually the room I grew up in, my childhood bedroom. What a sad, beautiful mixture of things that have gone on within the walls of that room.

When I sat by her bedside those last few times I saw her, I felt paralyzed, petrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask her so many questions. But instead I sat silently at her side, waiting for any opportunity to leave. I still wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was she afraid? Did she resent us for not being there for her? Did she find peace? Did she have regrets? Were there things she wanted to tell us, but didn’t? Did we leave her feeling alone? Unloved? What is normal, what is acceptable to say or do around a death bed? Is anything? Does it even matter?

I think our society’s fear and avoidance of death leaves a lot of people to regret their incompetence when dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you avoid something all your life, how can you possibly be expected to handle it when it is in front of you? When it can no longer be avoided? When my other grandmother passes, when my parents pass, I want to be ready. I want to be everything I wished I could have been for my dad’s mom. I want to be brave enough and comfortable enough to discuss these difficult topics with them. I want to be prepared to give them everything that they need, even if they are unable to ask for it when the time comes.

Being with Dying provides exercises to help us work through our aversion and fear of death. The first meditation it suggests is to contemplate both the best and the worst case scenarios for your own death, in as much detail as possible. I want to have my grandmother and my mom do these exercises with me at some point. I want to know everything that I can do to make their deaths peaceful and comfortable and meaningful. However, even the thought of writing such a thing down seems terrifying to me. At the same time, that terror is quite fascinating. To confront this reality, the certainty of death, why is it so very painful? Why does my mind want to avoid even the thought of it at any cost? Do people in other cultures feel the same way? Or are they able to embrace this inevitability with grace and humble surrender?

I think my greatest fear surrounding death, is simply not knowing. It is the ultimate loss of control, a nosedive into a vast unknown. Perhaps it is less daunting if you believe in an afterlife of some kind. But it seems impossible that anyone could have total conviction as they are facing down their own end. There must always be some doubt, some uncertainty. It is not only not knowing what happens after we die, but not knowing when or how we will die that is frightening. I suppose a lot of people are also deeply afraid of death being painful. As someone who hasn’t experienced hardly any physical pain yet in my life, I find this hard to imagine well enough to be afraid of. Besides it always seems like pain can be escaped, even if that escape is death itself. However, that not knowing, that final surrender, will always be there.

I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I am hopeful that it will give me the tools I need to prepare myself for this stage of life, this end of life. Not only for myself but for those around me as well. Even if you think I’m nuts for believing the science that says soon the oceans will be dead along with all of us, I would still recommend this book. Regardless of when you imagine death will touch your life, the fact remains that it will, no matter who you are. It’s much easier to avert our eyes as long as possible, but if you are ready to face that fear head on and take the steps you need to in order to be prepared, Living with Dying seems like a great place to start.

Please make the wonderful effort to show up for your life, every moment, this moment – because it is perfect, just as it is.

Being with Dying
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Self Pity

Yesterday as I was winding down and the day was coming to an end, I was struck by a thought. How long do I intend to keep feeling sorry for myself? I finally found myself in a position of actually wanting to let go of all this pain and regret I’ve been clinging to for years now. I’ve simply started to get tired of it. For the first time in so long, I felt capable of putting down this weight I’ve been carrying.

I am so relieved that I’ve somehow found myself back in this state of mind. I had it once before, but I felt like back then it was a response to hitting rock bottom. I was faced with a choice between staying there at the bottom of the ocean with this weight around my neck, or freeing myself from it and finding my way back to the surface alone. That was the first time in my life that I can remember facing tragedy and deciding to be happy anyway. I had decided that I wasn’t going to waste anymore time being sad over things I couldn’t change or waiting for something that may never come before I would give myself permission to just enjoy my life.

Somehow I found myself dragging that same weight around once again. Somewhere along the line I picked it back up without realizing it. The story I’m writing of my life isn’t the story of Sisyphus, though. I have not been cursed. This burden is not my destiny. I still have free will and I am tired of choosing needless suffering.

Often I’ll look at my situation from an outsider’s point of view to get some perspective. Usually I cringe at how pathetic and pitiful I seem. But as I look at it now, that same pitiful nature appears simply inconsequential. I can look at it as if it’s sad I cling to something so far gone. But I can also look at it as something so distant and silly that it will be easy to release myself from it. From this perspective I feel almost like laughing at how simple it seems.

When did I allow myself to fall back into the shadow of that sad teenage girl who desperately needed someone else to make her whole, to validate her? That girl hasn’t been me for a long time now. I know who I am now. I am strong and smart and self-sufficient. I can give myself anything that I once thought I needed from someone or something outside of me.

I won’t chastise myself for all this time I’ve spent wallowing. Perhaps it was something I needed. However, the time has come for me to step back into the light, my own light. It is time for me to start enjoying myself again. I plan on making this coming spring yet another rebirth. To shed this tight, dry, winter skin and step back into the person I was meant to be. To step back into my power. The power to create my own dazzling sunshine of happiness. And for the first time in a long time, I am so excited.

Forgiveness

Yesterday I mentioned that I was kinda peeved about my sister’s boyfriend drinking all my vodka. Given the hangover I have today from drinking at Christmas dinner, I’m actually glad he did. Otherwise I would have probably gotten even more drunk last night. Either way, I had decided not to hold it against him. He is a pretty cool guy overall. I even ended up supplying him with cigarettes. All of our local shops were closed for the holiday, and he couldn’t buy his own.

Now normally, this would have only soured me to him even more. But it actually felt good to let all that petty nonsense go. It was nice to just enjoy helping someone else out. It feels much better than getting salty about every little thing. So I was able to forgive him for all of his minor transgressions and enjoy sharing my family holiday with him.

However, this morning as I groggily rolled myself out of bed, I was filled with shame and regret. For probably the hundredth time I got WAY too drunk and practically blacked out while spending a holiday with my family, who by the way, don’t really drink. I genuinely don’t even remember getting home or going to bed last night. I feel like shit this morning, though. Physically and mentally. I can’t believe I made the same humiliating mistake once again.

I’ve started thinking about how good it feels to forgive other people though. I really wish it was as easy to be able to forgive myself. I’m sure yesterday wasn’t even a big deal to anyone besides me. I think I’ve always just been afraid to forgive myself. Somewhere along the line that idea of operant conditioning, of punishment and reward, really stuck in my brain. I am always trying to train other people to behave in the ways I want them to. I am always trying to train myself in this way. If I forgive myself, how will I learn?

I can remember implementing this technique far before I ever learned about it in any academic setting. It seems like common sense. If you are punished for doing something you will avoid doing it. If you are rewarded in some way you will try to repeat the behavior in the future. Yet everyday life is not often so straightforward. Real life behaviors are not isolated in a scientific setting.

My relationship with myself cannot be that black and white either. I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my mistakes. I recognize my flaws, and forgiving myself for them is not the same as encouraging them. Besides I’m not really even following the laws of operant conditioning correctly. When was the last time I gave myself a reward for doing something well? Maybe never. The only thing I’ve been “training” myself to do is to be unhappy, to never believe in myself, to think I am not good enough.

Rather than make this cold, hungover Saturday even harder by beating myself up, I am going to be kind to myself today. I deserve kindness. I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself. I don’t have to forbid myself from the happiness and comfort I may find today because of what happened yesterday. That isn’t going to make me a better person. Love and forgiveness isn’t going to make me a worse person. Today I am going to be gentle with myself. I am going to rest and make myself comfortable. I am going to forgive myself.

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