Swooning sensation of new aspirations is quickly stamped out by self doubt slowly rising from subconscious to surface All energy is exhausted in efforts to extinguish the inward agony of not being worthy enough for your own endeavors The thought itself becomes tainted with terrible ties to negative self-talk until all you can do is turn away from once cherished dreams all together The heaviness of this heartache is enough to halt everything even the hopes inside your own head that you've harbored to help you hold on
Everything At Once
Why do I only identify with the worst parts of me? there is nothing more inherent in my fear, exhaustion, or anger than in my energized, inspired, charisma My compassion and joy seem to me less real than my anxiety and cruelty for some strange reason I can't quite understand Why is it so much easier to internalize all of my mistakes than to take credit for the things I've accomplished throughout my life As if any success was an accident but all of my failures, a reflection of who I truly am deep down I'm tired of denying the aspects of myself that I can admire Is it so impossible to accept that I can be magnificent and flawed at the same time? my mysterious soul knows it can be everything at once
The maddening drumbeat of self-doubt filling up all the silent spaces pushing out all other sounds A low rumble that underlies existence made natural and unquestioned by repetition unnoticed like the soft rustles of steady breathing The regular and consistent rhythm I've come to rely on looked for reluctance in any new endeavor the steady signal flash of certain failure Siren song inside my head that guides me towards the rocky shore of inner oblivion a false friend I've always carried with me
Always & Never
Writing regularly really emphasizes the way the inner voice likes to speak looking back at the words it repeats with such predictable frequency Always and never, always and never I feel these words ever present on the tip of my tongue, on my fingertips as I begin every new sentence At first it just felt like lazy writing repetitive words and phrases get dull but it speaks to something much deeper a glimpse into my tendency toward extremes Universal qualifiers that diminish and shrink the possibilities open to me within the inner model of my cordoned off imagination two big boxes where every experience is placed Strong nails hammered into the coffin of my capabilities trapping me inside absolutes that cut and categorize the world down into just two categories making everything ultimate and inescapable I'll always be like this I will never be enough I've always been alone things will never change Definitive diatribes used to dismiss any potential for nuance or transformation immovable iron bars that lock me inside my own limited perception Untruths that feel so true thoughts with the heavy weight of death knells held so tightly inside my chest that I didn't see them until now
Softening inside I see I'm holding my breath again Easing into discomfort have I been clenching my jaw this whole time? Curious observation of the chatter my mind coughs out blaming myself for involuntary spasms of verbal self harm adopted long ago Swollen eyes and softly parted lips hang on one word: forgiveness a gift gathering dust waiting to be offered up All my inner struggles are opportunities to love myself anyway to love the world anyway Perfection would be too easy little broken things bring beauty the syrupy sweet emotion that saturates me when I'm given what I do not deserve
What Am I Making This Mean
Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.
I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.
It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?
I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.
One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”
Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.
Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.
When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.
Examining Limiting Beliefs
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.
An Idle Mind is Anxiety’s Workshop
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.
At the beginning of my yoga practice nearly 8 years ago, I felt that I was irrevocably changed. I could hardly believe the powerful shift I began to notice within myself. A daily 7 minutes was all it used to take to completely transform my mental state. A sense of gratitude, humility, and awe seemed to follow me wherever I went. My heart felt open for the first time in my life. I experienced a new sense of self-acceptance that I had previously thought impossible. My only hope was that some day I might become a yoga teacher as a way to repay the universe for bestowing this gift upon me by sharing it with others.
Driving home from the Saturday morning class I’ve taught for three years now, all of that seems like a distant memory. I feel bitterness, stagnation, regression, apathy. Not only do I suffer greatly from these states, but they also illicit a strong sense of imposter syndrome. Who am I to teach yoga? Who am I to promote meditation and gratitude and self-love? When I seem to have utterly lost my connection to everything. I know that no one is able to avoid these experiences forever, but I had hoped they would pass over me more quickly. I have been waiting for so long now. I fear that my rejection and refusal of them has kept me trapped beneath their weight. Despite this I feel helpless to free myself or accept where I am.
Nothing feels right anymore. Nothing feels worthwhile. I can hardly remember what it was that once sparked such joy inside my heart. I no longer enjoy my morning writing ritual or my daily drawing sessions. These few hours used to be what I looked forward to, the passion that kept me moving forward. I was filled with such energy and inspiration, pride and contentment and gratitude. These were my natural reactions to many parts of my life that have now lost all color. I often think that this is a sign that the things I’ve been doing are no longer serving me, that it’s time to come up with different habits and hobbies that do bring me happiness. Yet when I search my mind for a new direction, a new interest, I find nothing. “What’s the point?” is the only reply I am able to hear echoing back from the walls of my hollow heart.
I can’t even remember now how long it’s been that I’ve felt this way. It seems like a lifetime. I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that I do generally become more depressed and withdrawn at this time of the year. The lack of warmth and sunlight finally begins to grip me once the holidays have passed. It’s always so hard to convince yourself it’s just a transient state of mind when you are currently being consumed by it.
I think it would suit me to slow down and take notice when I find myself in these difficult periods. Rather than keep pushing myself to produce, to create, to transcend, it’s time for me to draw back, to let go, to be still. Intellectually I know that to have balance, I must incorporate rest. There is always a part of me that fears it. I’m afraid that if I stop moving, especially when I’m feeling down, that I’ll never get back up again. I’m afraid that momentum is the only thing keeping me alive, keeping me sane, and just barely at that.
The worst part is feeling as though I’ve completely lost all the progress I was so proud of a few years ago. It’s as though all of my effort, all of my lessons were for nothing. I feel like I’m right back where I started. Worse even, because now I’m also beating myself up for backsliding. A persistent shudder of shame and self-denial has been my constant companion for the last few months. And part of me feels at home here to be honest. A snide inner voice says, “See? This is just who you are. How foolish you were to believe that you could change.” Even when I know it’s not true, I have succumb to this voice. I’ve allowed it to suffocate all remaining self esteem.
My last hope is holding out until spring. While my heart may not even have the strength to long for the sun, part of me still has faith that there is healing to be found under its powerful rays. It is inevitable that some day soon, this long dark night of the soul with be flooded with light once more. I pray that it will be enough and that I can sustain myself upon my last scraps of inner strength until then.
Deceptive Mental States
Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie
What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.
This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.
It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.
Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.
The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.
This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.
It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.
You’ve got this. I believe in you.