Surrender to the seasons of your life learn to sit with whatever you find within what resides inside your childish heart let it resonate and ring through your ribcage The feeling of fully embodying each moment navigating the quicksand of resistance that binds us to what we fear most cultivating that counterintuitive current Can you learn to honor uncertainty and discomfort to keep your heart open through every storm allowing the thick, stagnant energy of ingratitude to flow through you and be released This life is about collecting lessons soul of soft clay, continuous transformation trying to capture and confine good feelings so clever in our self-inflicted suffering Forgetting that each moment adds up to make a life far from what we had intended justifying, defending, and doubling down on the things that destroy your peace Etch your true intentions on your heart trace the tender grooves daily whisper them into the air, a gentle prayer have faith that you will find your way
There is purpose in pain there is salvation in suffering there is peace is powerlessness teetering on the edge of oblivion is a balancing act that brings great strength blessings disguised as burdens bring unsuspecting hearts new perspectives sometimes joy is hard to find in a life of lavish excess the simple soothing sensations of aching needs finally met are lost in the gratuitous gamut of wealth and superfluous luxury even small happinesses are enough to feed a truly hungry heart there is no need to fear the fall it offers us cleansing from distraction a chance to uncover the real pleasures of a life unclouded by greed we flee from the emptiness clinging desperately to all we have forgetting that letting go is a lesson that teaches us we were enough all along
Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.
I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.
It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?
I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.
One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”
Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.
Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.
When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.
Over the last ten years of vegan living, I’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive menu of healthy, fresh, easy, and quick meal options. Despite my dislike of grocery shopping and cooking in general, I can’t help but be overjoyed when I look down at my grocery cart filled with brightly colored produce. There is also a simple joy and meditative peace from chopping up all these fresh fruits and vegetables each day, knowing I’m giving my body the very best fuel. I see it as the ultimate act of self love, giving my body and mind exactly what they need to heal, grow, and flourish.
I’d like to share the tips, tricks, and recipes I’ve collected over the years with any new or prospective vegans who might be struggling to transition into a healthier diet. In the beginning it can be very hard to balance health, time, and money while also trying to figure out what you can and can’t eat and resisting the temptation of old favorites. Establishing new eating habits can be frustrating and in the worst cases lead to giving up efforts to live a vegan lifestyle all together. I’m hear to help make sure that doesn’t happen by providing all the knowledge I’ve gained on my own vegan journey.
Breakfast is actually something I only began participating in within the last year or two. For most of my life I tried to “save” my calories for later in the day. However, it’s definitely been much better for my mental and physical health to start eating earlier. It also makes it much easier to avoid binge eating at night. Because I’m new to breakfast, I usually keep it pretty simple and similar every day.
Fruit: My go-to breakfast is usually a big pile of fresh fruit. I’ll make a bowl of cut up melon and berries, eat 2-3 bananas, or have an apple with peanut butter. My favorite my far in the summer is to start my day with a ton of super sweet, hydrating watermelon.
Bagel: Usually reserved for a weekend treat, I’ll also sometimes have a whole wheat bagel with natural peanut butter and a drizzle of agave. This warm and filling breakfast easily keeps me happy and full until lunchtime.
If you’re someone like me who works 40 hours a week, lunch can be the trickiest meal of all. Some people go out to lunch every day, but if you’re trying to live on a budget or live in an area that has little to no vegan options, this is out of the question. My method for getting around this hurdle is meal prepping my lunches. It’s nothing elaborate, but I’ll spend an hour on the weekend making one big batch of soup for the rest of the week’s midday meal. Yes, it may seem boring to some, but I eat soup for lunch every day. I just LOVE soup. I keep it interesting by having an ever changing menu of soups to enjoy. Soup is one of the easiest things to cook in my option. It’s also a great way to pack in lots of leafy greens and healthy root veggies. Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Lentil Potato Soup
- Cheesy Broccoli Soup (I add potatoes to this one.)
- Creamy Ginger Sweet Potato Lentil Stew (I use lite coconut milk.)
- Potato Corn Chowder
- Bean Soup
- Gnocchi Soup (A bit more expensive ingredients, but so worth it)
- Chickpea Noodle Soup (I use like coconut milk, again.)
- African Peanut Stew
- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup
- Cabbage Potato Soup
With breakfast and lunch being taken care of so easily, the only meal I really have to put any thought and effort into each day is dinner. As I’ve mentioned I hate to cook so all of the seemingly elaborate and complex dinners I make are surprisingly easy to prepare. If I’m especially short on time, I’ll just have something extremely simple like a couple baked sweet potatoes (I use this for quick, easy baked potatoes) steamed broccoli with vegan butter, and roasted carrots or veggies of some kind (just wash, cut, oil lightly, season to taste, and bake in the over for around 30min.) Delicious!
When I have more time to prepare like on the weekends, I’ll make one of these mouth watering options. Given that I live alone, there is always enough for at least one day of leftovers too!
- Creamy Chickpea Potato Curry
- Veggie Peanut Sauce Stir Fry
- Roasted Sweet Potato with Peanut Sauce
- Aloo Palak (Indian Potato & Spinach Curry)
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Vegetable Potato Fritters
- Potato Pepper and Kale Bowl with Spicy Tahini Dressing
- Chickpea Noodle Casserole
- Creamy Broccoli Pasta
- Chickpea Corn Patties Over Kale Slaw
As my ten year veganversary quickly approaches, it is an honor to be able to share some of what I’ve learned with others. I hope that these cheap, quick, easy meal options can serve you as well as they have served me over the last few years. I hope that you will give your body the gift of fresh, colorful, healthy foods this year. And I hope that this advice will help with the often daunting transition to a more ethical, healthy, and environmentally friendly lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Try these recipes out and discover how yummy veganism truly is! Let me know how it goes or if you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share. Don’t forget to like, comment, and/or share these recipes to support the incredible chefs that have come up with them. Be well, be kind, and enjoy!
There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.
Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.
It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.
I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.
I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.
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.
It’s no secret that I am an extremely cynical person. On the surface this may seem confusing to those around me, given that I put so much effort into fighting for social change and self-improvement. Why bother if you don’t believe that there is any hope of creating any lasting, large scale impact? Why be vegan if you fully believe we’ll never be able to liberate animals, that the earth will perish long before human beings make the connection? Why do social work every day if you believe human beings are inherently bad, that the system is corrupt and won’t change? Why advocate for a leftist agenda if you also acknowledge any political system will inevitably be taken over and coopted by bad actors if given enough time?
The reason I keep fighting, isn’t because I think I can change the world. In fact, I feel completely confident that I won’t. I fight because I have to. Even if failure is the only possible outcome. Giving up is still not an option. As long as I am here, as long as I’m still breathing, I will keep advocating for the things I believe in. I will keep fighting for those that don’t even have the privilege of a voice of their own.
Despite my resignation to the hopelessness I feel on a large scale, I do find personal fulfillment and meaning on a smaller scale. Very few of the child abuse cases that I work on ever go to trial. My clients, my coworkers, and myself are constantly faced with the sobering reality that many of these pedophiles and domestic abusers will walk free, that they will go on to victimize more and more people, that they may never ultimately face justice. Even so, a criminal conviction is not the only outcome that I consider a success. I’ve had many kids tell me that my coworkers and I are the nicest people they’ve ever met. And they meant it. I believed them. Sometimes I get to be one of the ONLY people that would even listen to them, the first person that believed them. Sometimes this is all someone needs, more than they thought they would ever get. I get to hold their hand as they let go of the external repercussions and focus on the possibility of inner healing, the only thing that they actually do have the power to influence.
Even though I have no hope that I’ll see the end of animal agriculture, even though I believe I will, instead, see the end of the earth, I will continue to do everything in my power to spread the vegan message and protect animals. Every person that goes vegan, every person that buys an Impossible Whopper without mayo instead of a Whopper, every person that switches to plant based milks, makes a difference. Maybe not in the bigger picture of the oppressive, abusive industries across the world, but to even a single animal. That matters.
I may not believe that I can change the world, but I do believe that I can change the lives of the people I meet everyday, of the animals that I DON’T eat. Just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean what I can do doesn’t matter. Take pride in the small victories. Why should it matter than you couldn’t end all oppression? You were there for someone in a vulnerable moment, in their moment of need. Maybe you didn’t change the world. But you changed the world for one person and that’s just as good. All we can do is offer our love and compassion, and that’s enough.
It’s taken me a long time to even recognize the things I say about myself are not objectively true, rather self-perceptions. Even with this realization, it can still be hard to challenge these beliefs. Most of them I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. That’s part of the reason why they feel so true and unchangeable. Today I wanted to list out a few of these limiting beliefs I have about myself and break them down in the hopes that I may begin to see them in a different light.
My Limiting Beliefs:
- I am easily overwhelmed.
- I am flaky/unreliable.
- I am unworthy.
- I am broken.
- I have poor communication skills.
- I’m a bad person.
- I am incapable of making decisions.
- I am easily angered/upset.
I am easily overwhelmed:
I think it’s important for me to preface this by acknowledging that reframing limiting beliefs does not have to mean that I completely deny these felt characteristics. I don’t have to reframe this to be the exact opposite (I am not easily overwhelmed.) I don’t believe that would serve me either. It needs to be a little more creative and nuanced than that. Rather than feeling badly about being “easily overwhelmed” I may start to view this quality a bit differently. Maybe it’s not that I’m easily overwhelmed, but that I am sensitive and feel things deeply. This isn’t necessarily a different thing, but for me, it’s a more positive and pleasant way to regard myself. One framing feels like a deficit, a weakness, while the other feels like a strength.
I am flaky/unreliable:
I might reframe this narrative to something like: I am spontaneous and ever changing. The first statement makes me feel guilty, but the second phrasing allows me to feel good about myself. There is nothing wrong with being spontaneous. It’s good to constantly shift and reevaluate and go with the flow from one moment to the next. There are definitely benefits to being consistent and commitment oriented, but there are also benefits of handling life differently.
I am unworthy:
This one if very hard for me to grapple with. I can’t recall when exactly I made this determination about myself. I feel this thought lingering over me always. It really inhibits my ability to flourish in life. You can’t enjoy the good things that happen to you or all that you have to be grateful for when you feel unworthy of it. This one might be best reframed as: The good things I have in life inspire me to be better every day. My passion and effort to improve are what count.
I am broken:
This one has also been with me for as long as I can remember. I catch my inner voice repeating questions like why am I like this? or why can’t I be normal? all the time. In some ways, I think this belief stems from my sense of awkwardness and social isolation as an autistic woman. I see my differences and label myself “broken” because of them. But different does not mean broken. I am unique. Differences and diversity make the world a fuller, more interesting place.
I have poor communication skills:
Unlike a lot of the other beliefs I hold about myself, I don’t think I began verbalizing this one until recently. I was often frustrated by interpersonal relationships, but didn’t really understand why they always seemed to go wrong. I think the main cause of my “poor communication” is fear. Therefore, I’d like to change this one to: It’s okay to speak from the heart even if it sounds awkward or embarrassing. I am practicing and improving my ability to connect with others every day.
I’m a bad person:
This one, although I do feel it, I imagine would shock a lot of people. I recognize that they are lots of people that are doing worse things than me, but that does not change the way I perceive myself. I have very high standards for myself and the people in my life. I also struggle with black and white thinking. These two factors lead me to view myself as wildly imperfect and therefore “bad.” What’s more interesting is the fact that I am ascribing this label to myself based more on my inner thoughts than my actions. Even though I don’t often act from anger or jealousy or greed, I know that I feel these emotions often and judge myself for it. However, thoughts are not crimes. Immorality is based on action, not emotions. And doing a few bad things or making the wrong decision from time to time does not make me view anyone else as a “bad person” so why should I apply different standards to myself? I am doing my best. Imperfect does not equal bad.
I am incapable of making decisions:
This belief tends to hold me back a lot in life as well. We are presented with decisions every day, and I make each one of them more stressful than they need to be by berating myself with the belief I am incapable of making them. Rather than thinking of this as a negative, I can see this as another strength. I am a careful, thoughtful, and considerate person. I like to analyze every decision thoroughly before taking action.
I am easily angered/upset:
There are positives and negatives of everything in life. Sure, I might feel anger more easily than other people, but on the other hand, I am a very passionate person. My passion is something I really value about myself. Getting angry is just a sign that I care. It’s how I respond to and deal with those difficult emotions that matters.
The next time I catch myself mindlessly repeating these familiar self-judgements, I hope that I can remember that there are other ways to view these aspects of myself. Things don’t always have to be true or false. There are so many different ways to view the same situations, circumstances, and aspects of ourselves. It will be hard at first. I’ve believed these things without question for my entire life. I won’t be able to let them go in an instant. But with persistence and practice, it will get easier.
When was the last time I truly allowed myself to do nothing? Was there ever a moment that I’ve allowed myself that space, that freedom? No matter how busy I make myself day after day, year after year, I still go to sleep at night feeling like I’ve wasted so much time. I still wake up every morning with the pressure of thinking I’ve dwindled away all the days before. I keep myself in a flurry of frenzied thoughts and trailing to-do lists. I hold my breath as I rush around my home, my office, my head, trying frantically to get as much done as possible.
I tell myself that I’m trying to do extra work to create a bubble of free time for myself in the future, but that future moment never arrives. There is always something more that I could be doing. From time to time, I become so overwhelmed, so run down by my own errands that I have to stop and try to remember why I’m even doing any of this. I must have a good reason right? What was my ultimate goal again? What’s the point of all this work?
When I ask myself these questions, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the answer that always seems to come up. My only real goal, the thing that I’m struggling so desperately to achieve is just to be happy. I become so tangled in all the techniques I’ve piled on to my daily routine in order to facilitate a happy life, that I forget happiness is a choice. All I have to do is keep making that choice in every moment. These limits and restrictions and qualifications I put on my happiness are mine to hold on to or let go of as I wish. No amount of self-help or self-care rituals will generate happiness in my life. These things are just reminders, opportunities for me to give myself permission to experience the happiness that is already inside of me.
Despite all my years of yoga and meditation practice, I keep grasping and clawing at the world around me, at my external circumstances, trying to reach some perfect, organized, flawless outer condition in order to finally rest. I keep feeding myself a story that I know is a lie. I say, “In order to be happy, I must do this or achieve that or resolve all the problems in my life.” I place my happiness in some far off idealized future world that is intangible and unattainable. Then I beat myself up for not being able to reach it. “I’m a failure! I’m lazy! I’m not trying hard enough! I’m too easily overwhelmed! I’m too mentally ill to ever be happy!”
I allow my own inner voice to berate me and belittle me in ways that I would never allow anyone else to. I hardly even recognize the self-abuse I inflict every day. I place the aspirations of who I’d like to be off in the future and set up hurdles for myself to reach them. I make life more complicated, grave, and serious than it has to be. I tell myself to be calm and then pile on unrealistic tasks for myself to complete in order to permit a moment of relaxation. I tell myself to be happy while I rattle off endless criticisms of myself and everything in my life.
Life can be more simple and light-hearted if I only allow it to be. I don’t need to be or do anything in order to be happy or find peace. Those states are part of me. They are not dependent on anything outside of my head. I can go within and find peace, love, and happiness no matter where I am or what is going on in my life. They are not objects to be acquired out in the world. They are essential aspects of my nature. I generate them. I am them.
I am finally giving myself permission to stop regularly and ask, “what is it that I need right now?” and then simply allow myself to have it. Instead of withholding all of the compassion, understanding, and tenderness that I so desperately long for until I reach some distant abstract goal, I can give it to myself right now, this moment, every moment. I no longer require anything of myself in order to offer myself kindness. Real love is always unconditional. We merely clip it’s wings and distort it’s healing energy by placing qualifiers on it in any capacity.
I’ve wasted so much time and effort trying to earn love, trying to earn happiness, when in reality, all I have to do is stop choking off these energies that are always naturally flowing within me. No matter how many times I affirm it to myself, it’s so hard to remember that when I find myself in a state of distress or despair, I don’t need to do anything or obtain something to “fix” it. All I’ve got to do is be there. Just allow myself to be there, with whatever is happening internally and externally. Just allow myself to feel what it’s like to exist in that moment, to breathe, to experience life.
It sounds so simple, so easy that it just can’t be true. It’s very hard to combat so many years of telling myself the answers are outside of me somewhere, that reaching milestones and goals will bestow the inner experience I am seeking. It’s a daily effort in mindfulness to pull myself back down to earth, back into my own body, and redirect my soul’s awareness to that deep, dark, smooth, cooling stillness that soothes all of life’s struggles. It’s always right there inside of me. It is me. If I can only be silent enough to hear it’s soft, kind, loving voice. That’s the me that I want to be. That’s the me that I really am. She’s always there waiting patiently for me to come home. That path home might be perilous and overgrown at the moment, but I know with time it will be worn down until one day I’ll be able to make that journey back to myself with ease.
It has long been said that if your time is not being occupied with something productive, you will find yourself getting into trouble instead. I feel that the same applies to the mentally ill mind. According to an article by Origins, higher IQ is not only associated with “more and earlier drug use,” but also with more mental illness including anxiety and depression. My intelligence has always been something I take great pride in, but I also understand that it can be a curse at times.
It’s difficult to tease apart correlation and causation, but in my personal story I would say that high intelligence led to mental illness beginning at a young age, which then led to early drug use as an attempt to disassociate or slow my mind down for a while. I still love to self-medicate, but I believe that mentally healthy people have no interest in using drugs. If you are happy, you don’t feel the need to take any amount of risk in order to find relief, so why would you?
In recent years I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy. It seems like each and every moment is filled with a task or activity for me to direct my attention toward. I’ve begun to actually fear not having anything to do. I know I will start to worry, ruminate, and subsequently spiral if I’m left with nothing to occupy my mind for any significant amount of time. Even once my daily habits become too routine to demand much of my attention, I begin to notice negative, stress-filled thoughts clouding my thoughts.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.Proverb
The original quote is referring to keeping the physical body busy so that we don’t start making mischief. This is a lot simpler than keeping the mind busy, and that is especially true for highly intelligent minds that need a lot more stimulation. It’s a beautiful thing when my mind is set to work on a difficult problem or complicated task. I am energized, focused, and engaged. However, it isn’t always easy to find something my mind deems worthy of it’s full attention.
Depression and anxiety can make it hard to focus. And that inability to focus exacerbates the anxiety and/or depression. It is a viscous cycle that sometimes feels impossible to break. Similarly, depression and anxiety can cause us to lose interest in even things we once greatly enjoyed. This also makes it harder to find things to occupy our minds adequately. It’s quite difficult to focus on anything that you aren’t interested in or motivated by.
I think this is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading so much. When I’m reading, my brain is fully engaged in the story unfolding before me. My anxiety all but disappears while I’m losing myself in a book. It’s also a relief when we can redirect ourselves towards thinking about other people rather than our own problems. It requires a lot of attention and thoughtfulness to help others or work with them to solve their problems. Other people are always interesting and complex in their own way, which makes them excellent opportunities to get out of our own heads.
Sometimes my anxiety won’t allow me to focus on anything else. It tells me that it’s concerns and fears are urgent and pressing and must be at the forefront of my awareness. Then the difficult thing becomes not only finding something I’m more interested in to do, but to convince myself that it’s safe to redirect myself to that other task or train of thought.
If you notice yourself sinking deeper into depression or working yourself up into a frenzy whenever you have a lot of free time on your hands, consider implementing some safe guards to help prevent this pattern from occurring. When you find yourself in a good mental space, make a list of some activities that you enjoy or tasks you’ve been wanting to work on. Then when you have spare time, you’ll be able to refer to your list even if your mental illness has raised it’s ugly head and already begun to affect your ability to think clearing and redirect your attention.
In these stressful and/or depressed states, none of the items on your list are likely to sound very appealing to you. Just pick one and do it anyway. Trust that if you surrender to the task and allow your mind to be fully immersed in it, inevitably you will start to feel better. Don’t worry about the quality or outcome of whatever you decide to focus on. Remind yourself that it’s the focused attention you’re after, nothing more. Mental illness tends to fester in an unoccupied mind. A focused, busy mind is a happy, healthy mind.