False Narratives

What are some of the lies that you tell yourself? Maybe they don’t even seem like lies to you. We all have a personal narrative. It is probably unknown by those around us and maybe we ourselves have a hard time recognizing what that narrative is. After all it never feels like a story we are creating. Most of the time that inner voice talking to us seems like an honest assessment and observation of reality, no matter how cruel or warped it may actually be. But this story only has as much power as we give to it. All stories have the potential to be interpreted in a completely different way if we only allow our minds to open to the possibilities.

One of the lies my inner voice loves to use is: I can’t be nice to myself, not while I’m such a train wreck at least. I have to be mean and critical of myself in order to motivate myself to do better. Otherwise I would never do anything or make any progress in my life. Up until yesterday, I never even questioned that narrative. Even when I tried to rationalize or reason with it, it was more about how to prioritize self love and self compassion over personal progress towards my other goals. I was still working within the lines of the false narrative I’d been feeding myself.

Then I heard someone talking about that very narrative from a different perspective. I was initially just relieved to realize that other people told themselves similar stories. The best part was that moment of clarity when this person explained why this story is laughable on its face. So if you are someone who tells yourself the same type of story, take a moment to really think about it with me. Remember when you were a child? If not, do you see how children in your adult life behave? Do those children seem unmotivated? Were you unmotivated? Of course not! Children are full of energy and curiosity and motivation and enthusiasm. Do you think they need a harsh, demanding inner voice to be that way? Did your harsh inner voice even exist within you when you were a child? I know mine didn’t and I was much happier and quite frankly, more productive, back then.

All along I was buying into the false dichotomy my inner voice was offering me. Be mean to yourself or surrender your goals and aspirations for yourself. Even in that scenario, it wouldn’t be worth continuing to not love myself in exchange for being successful. I was having a hard time convincing myself of that though. It is such a relief to know that I don’t even have to choose one over the other. Being kind to myself isn’t going to turn me into a lazy blob with no aspirations or motivation. It will probably even do the exact opposite. Just imagine how much more energy I’d have to work toward what I want to be working toward if I wasn’t using it all up being anxious and/or angry with myself all the time.

I feel so much freer after realizing the absurdity of just that one lie my inner voice was preaching. I’m sure there are many more false narratives in my head to unravel. The next time my inner voice is telling me something that makes me feel badly about myself, instead of just accepting it as fact, I want to challenge it. If it’s too hard to disengage from in the moment, it might also be a good idea to simply write down what your inner voice is telling you in that moment. Then once you’ve gotten some space from the situation, you can come back and take a look at what you wrote down. I hope we can all learn to listen to our own inner voice in a neutral, passive way so that we may learn something new about ourselves and hopefully discover new ways to improve our lives and our relationship with ourself.

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Balancing Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Routines

When I look up tips for coping with anxiety or self-care ideas, I often see people talking about setting up morning and nighttime routines. Creating routines has always been something I am easily able to get excited about. I think new habits are much easier to stick with if you structure a set time and order to do them. Not only that, having a strong self-care routine to wake up or wind down at the end of the day can be a great way to help ground you and alleviate anxiety. It always feels good to do something for yourself with loving intentions.

I’ve been tempted to add a more structured nighttime routine into my daily habits in order to help me break away from my disordered nightly eating habits. I also think it would be nice to set aside a few extra moments of meditation and mindfulness in the evenings as I tend to get especially anxious later in the day. The only thing that’s holding me back from creating this new routine is the OCD tendencies I’ve become aware of lately.

I honestly can’t say how long this has been a problem for me. It has only become clear since the pandemic hit and I was alone in my house for days at a time. I think the reason it took me awhile to catch on to these unhealthy patterns is because I never really thought of OCD presenting in this way. Whenever I imagined OCD, I thought about people doing very simple repetitive things like turning lights on and off a certain number of times. I never really imagined that more complex, in depth (otherwise healthy) routines could become obsessive compulsive. Yet that’s what it feels like. I feel compelled to do certain activities each and every day, usually in the exact same order, or else I will feel off balance and extra anxious.

I know that OCD and anxiety are very closely related to one another and often overlap. Anxious feelings are what compel someone with OCD to perform certain behaviors. These behaviors are then rewarded by a decrease in anxiety, thereby creating a cycle of reinforcement. Plus I know that these mental health problems often have a genetic component. My mother has anxiety, but she also has ever increasing symptoms of OCD. Although her habits are more what I normally think of, such as checking the stove or the locks multiple times before being able to leave the house.

I would be interested to hear what a therapist would have to say on the subject of healthy routines and people suffering from OCD. Is there a way to integrate a routine that won’t become unhealthy for people like me? I am always very selective with any routine I begin to practice. I know that very likely it will soon cease to be a pleasant, healthy habit, and become a mandatory, anxiety producing part of my day. Instead of feeling like I am doing something kind for myself because I want to, it starts to feel like just another overwhelming obligation.

I have thought of one possible solution to this problem, but I don’t know how practical it would actually be. Perhaps if I were able to create a cycle big enough, spanning a long enough time period, like a whole month for example, I wouldn’t get so obsessed with performing identical tasks. However, I don’t know that this would really make a difference. It feels like I would be less attached to a behavior I only performed once a month, than one that I do every single day. For example, if on the 14th of every month, I take myself out on a date, it might not give me as much anxiety if that didn’t fit into my schedule one month.

Part of me thinks that is a very clever solution, but another part of me wonders if I might just be moving the goal posts. My gut tells me a therapist would prefer that I work on the problem in a different way. I know it’d be more helpful to actually start seeing a therapist and just ask about it, but we all know I’ve been trying and failing to get myself to go to therapy for years now. There just aren’t many therapists in my area that actually know what they’re doing. The good ones I do know either don’t accept my insurance, or are unable to see me as a client because we know one another through work.

For the time being I am interested to here what you all think about this issue. Do you believe routines can be healthy for some people, but unhealthy for others? Is there a way that someone with OCD can develop a healthier relationship with personal routines? Do you have any experience with this dilemma? What have you found helpful? Also, if anyone reading this happens to be a therapist, I would absolutely love to have you weigh in and give me your opinion.

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Limiting Beliefs to Let Go of in Therapy

Today I want to write about some of the limiting beliefs that prevent me from being happy in my life. I think these beliefs will be what I’d like to tackle first once I find a therapist. I’m hoping that by writing it all down, I’ll be able to get a clearer picture of why therapy is important to me and my personal growth. Even though I majored in psychology and have a great respect for therapy and the field in general, part of me still feels hesitant about whether or not talking to a therapist would benefit me personally. I’m not sure why I have this reluctance. I think part of me believes that, while therapy works, not many practitioners in my area are very good at it. What I mean by this is they don’t seem to employ any evidence based therapies whatsoever. I’ve met quite a few therapists through my work and sadly only two have ever seemed legitimate to me. Even more sadly, one is a child therapist and both are off the table for me because we work together.

That brings me to my first limiting belief though. When I decide something is going to be difficult and take a lot of time and effort, I am quick to give up. I’ve always been someone that would rather not try at all than try and fail. This is no way to live your life though. Failure isn’t something to fear and avoid. It is a healthy part of the process of growth. I even try to avoid putting time and effort into personal relationships. Rather than have a painful conversation, I prefer to simply disappear. I almost ghosted my boyfriend the first time he asked to hangout because I was so afraid of setting time aside from my busy schedule to meet him. Part of me still wants to run away from him rather than make the five hour drive to his new apartment and stay there for three days at the end of the month. I have to keep reminding myself how grateful I am that I didn’t run away from that first meeting. I faced my fears and met an amazing boy that I’m growing to love. These are the types of experiences that I stand to lose if I continue to run from the hard things in life.

Ironically, while I am afraid that I won’t be able to find a good therapist, I’m also afraid that I will find one. What I mean by that is I’m afraid that eventually my therapist will make me face my self-destructive habits, particularly when it comes to food and exercise. I’m petrified that my therapist will challenge me to stop my insane daily cardio sessions. I know that she won’t be able to make me do anything. What scares me is I already know how much these obsessive compulsive habits hold me back. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make personal progress without facing them. I’ve always been afraid of giving up my exercise routine. I’ve been working out for at least an hour every single day for nearly a decade at this point. You might wonder what I’m afraid of. Most people would love an excuse not to exercise. That’s where my next limiting belief comes into play. A big part of me believes that my appearance directly reflects my worth as a human being, as a woman. Strangely enough this doesn’t apply to anyone else in my life, just me. I would never look down on someone because of their physical appearance. But when it comes to myself, it already feels like I hardly deserve to take up space in this world. I feel like I have to make myself into something pretty to look at in order to earn the right to exist at all. I have directly linked personal happiness and the right to be loved with how I look. Not only is this highly detrimental to my mental health, it is also completely unsustainable. Even though I’m not even 30 years old yet, I’ve already begun to fear aging. What will I do when my skin begins to crease and sag? When my hair turns grey and brittle? If it falls out completely? When my body can no longer keep up with the strenuous routines I impose upon it? No matter how afraid I am to face this, I know I’ll have to eventually.

Another limiting belief that I’d like to address in therapy is my dependence on the approval of others. This is somewhat part of my issue with looks, but this applies more to my personality. I have always been afraid of confrontation. I’d rather say yes to something and burden myself than say no and risk upsetting the other person. In order to avoid criticism or tough conversations, I’m quick to put other’s needs ahead of my own. I’d like to learn how to say no with confidence. I want to learn how to navigate more complex social interactions. More importantly I’d like to have a stronger connection with myself and learn to trust my intuition and see my own personal needs more clearly. I want to stand firm in the belief that I don’t need the approval and acceptance of others to be happy.

Finally I’d like to learn how to be more gentle and forgiving with myself. No matter how much I do or how far I’ve come, it’s never enough. I am quite good at criticizing myself for my mistakes, but utterly inept at congratulating myself when I succeed. After years of only focusing on my flaws, it’s often hard to even identify the things I’m doing well. I want to build a healthier relationship with myself through therapy. I’d like to be given some tools to help me practice loving kindness with myself. Even why I try to be kind to myself, it often feels hollow or uncomfortable. I have a hard time really believing anything positive I direct at myself. That cruel little voice in the back of my head is quick to counter anything nice I have to say. And after years and years of feeding that awful voice, it has become much stronger than my attempts to love myself.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had strong ideas about what I need to do to find happiness and fulfillment in my life. However even after years of effort, I can’t seem to overcome these limiting beliefs I have. The real reason I want to start therapy is so that I can have someone on my team. I want there to be someone else to help me and hold me accountable. It would also be nice to have an outside voice of advice and reassurance, someone to help me get perspective. Maybe then that mean little voice inside will finally be overpowered by positivity. Even though I’m afraid, even though it may be hard and take a long time, all I’ve got to do is focus on the step right in front of me. I don’t need to worry and wonder how many different therapists I’ll have to meet before I find the right one. Right now all I need to do is make one phone call and schedule that first appointment. Future me is capable of handling the rest as it comes.

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I Choose

The longer I live, the more I realize just how much about our lives and the way we experience reality is a personal choice. Our upbringing, our genetics, and our environment definitely contribute to how easily we are able to choose one thing over another, but we all have a choice. Some people may be naturally inclined to view things more negatively than others. For these people, it will always take more effort and practice to see the good in other people and situations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

I think I was born a with a friendly, happy, and positive disposition. Even so, as I grew older I began to lose touch with that lighthearted, open nature. Encounters with heartache, pain, and rejection caused me to close my heart little by little in an attempt to protect myself, to shield myself from the world. I started to view myself as a pessimist. I was the stereotypical “emo” kid throughout high school. The longer I stayed in that “woe-is-me” mindset, the more I started to identify with it. Suffering became an essential part of me. For years now I have been working to redirect myself back down a more positive path, a path that feels more true to who I was meant to be, and who I want to be. (I plan to keep that emo aesthetic though. I love me some black clothing.)

Currently, I am at a stage where I am able to clearly see both sides of that coin. I can see the negatives, the pessimistic viewpoint I would have once had, but I can also see the positives, the option I have to view things in a different way. I used to think one way was more true or honest than the other, but now I see that reality is all about perception. There is no right or wrong way to experience the world. It is always a choice. At times this can lead me to feel frustrated as I struggle against that doom and gloom voice I spent so many years feeding and building up inside my own head. It can be easy to get stuck feeling hopeless, feeling unable to change, a lost cause.

When these doubts begin to bubble up I try to remind myself just how far I have come. I never could have imagined that I would be able to become the person I am today. All I can do is keep moving forward and trust in myself. It may be a slow and arduous process, but it’s worthwhile. Truly, it is the only kind of self-improvement that matters. You can tell yourself you will be happy once you get a promotion, make more money, lose more weight, build more muscle, move somewhere else, but even after reaching all of your goals, you are still the one you have to face at the end of the day. It is easy to think that changing external circumstances will change the way we think and feel inside. That inner voice loves to complain and blame this or that for all of our problems. However, those upsetting and limiting thoughts are the real problem. This is always where we must start our journey, inside ourselves.

Even after seeing so many people achieve the things I want to achieve in life and continuing to be miserable, I find myself thinking those same accomplishments will bring me happiness even if it didn’t for them. We always think we are the exception. But those things we desire are ultimately just distractions. They are excuses for why we aren’t able to be happy right now. It can be difficult to admit that we are the only reason we aren’t happy. Happiness comes from within. It has been ours since the day we gained consciousness and it will be available to us in each and every moment until the day we die. Even when it feels impossible for you to allow yourself to be happy, just know that it’s because you haven’t spent enough time practicing. Sometimes I even think of this practice like a game. When I find myself facing something exceptionally upsetting or challenging, I ask myself: are there any positives I can find in this situation? Just like the hag stones I scan the riverbank for, the more time you spend searching for certain things, the easier it becomes to spot them. When I first tried to find those special stones, I felt like I would never find one. I wasn’t even sure if there were any to find. Yet now I am easily able to pick up two or three as I walk along the shore without even trying. At first it might feel like there is really nothing good about different parts of your life, but the more you practice looking for the good in things, the easier it will become and the more abundant those good things will seem.

It can be hard work, training ourselves to be happy, but it is possible. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I say these words for myself as much as for anyone who happens to be reading this. We are capable. We are powerful. We have everything we need inside of us. Don’t be afraid. You are safe. You are loved. You are enough. Even if at first you don’t believe it, keep repeating these uplifting, empowering words to yourself. Eventually they will become as true and real to you as that negative inner dialogue that many of us have become accustomed to. It may not be easy, it may take a very long time, but I promise you, it will work. And it will be worth it.

Empathy for All

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in such an interesting field. Psychology has always fascinated me, but actually working with kids and families in my community has broadened my horizons even more than I could have imagined back when I was still in school. Given that I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life, it seems strange to me that I would have such a good time working is social services. However, I’ve learned to be more fascinated than fearful of people. Even so, I also believe that I am on the autistic spectrum which I feel gives me an interesting perspective on interpersonal matters. I have always been able to set aside my emotions around a subject or situation fairly easily and act based on logic and facts rather than my feelings.

I’ve learned throughout my life though, that this analytical character of mine can often be seen as cold and calculating by those around me. Many times I have offered up an opinion about something that seems perfectly logical to me, but has been terribly shocking and offensive to others. For instance, a recent conversation I’ve had with a friend at work sticks out to me. We were discussing the idea of legalizing all drugs and illicit substances. We both agreed that at face value, this seems like a shocking and unethical idea. I think most people have a gut reaction to this proposal that causes them to condemn it right away. However, I have read the research on this idea from countries where similar policies have been implemented. It came as a surprise to me, but legalizing these substances actually has the opposite effect than you would expect. Rather than more people abusing drugs and overdosing, there are less instances of this behavior. This is because people are more easily able to reach out for help. There is less of a stigma surrounding drug abuse. People that use are also able to do so more safely than they are when it’s illegal, which results in less instances of overdose and infection.

After discovering this data, I was fully on board with legalizing all drugs. Even though my emotional reaction to the idea remained unchanged. It still felt like a bad idea, but I was confident in the science enough to overlook my personal biases. However, when I shared this information with my coworker, he refused to change his position on the matter. I asked him, “So you’re still against it even if it results in less drug abuse?” This seemed so interesting to me. That even highly intelligent people will often side with their emotions rather than the facts.

A similar discussion came up the other day at a meeting with people we work with on cases of child abuse. We began discussing the idea of virtual child pornography or child sex dolls. Of course the idea is repulsive. Everyone’s initial reaction is of disgust and condemnation. Yet, I remain convinced that if there is data that shows these things lessen the likelihood that actual children will be abused, then I think they should be allowed. I’m not aware that there is any such data. It could very well be the exact opposite. But even in this hypothetical situation, no one else would agree that this should ever be legal. Even if it stops children from being abused. Once again, I was left feeling amazed at the irrationality of these smart individuals.

I am careful to watch what I say, lest I upset anyone, but a lot of the time, I don’t find it as easy to condemn the alleged perpetrators as I feel I should. Obviously child abuse of any kind is inexcusable and all measures must be taken to protect children from these offenders. However, this doesn’t make me incapable of still feeling sorry for everyone involved. After all, a lot of pedophiles were once the innocent victims. This obviously doesn’t justify their crimes, but it does somewhat explain them. We are unable to just cast these people out of society. The fact remains that putting them in prison for ten years doesn’t solve the problem. They are very likely to go on offending as soon as they are released. The science has shown that as upsetting as it is, pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It is something that cannot be changed. These people must learn how to control these urges and understand that although they cannot control their thoughts, they are able to control their actions. If they are considered monsters by society for their thoughts alone, why wouldn’t they give in to their urges? There needs to be an effort to rehabilitate these people, not just punish them.

Often we will interview a child because they have been abusing other children. We won’t ask them about what they’ve done, rather we try to ascertain whether or not something has happened to them that is causing them to act out this abuse on others. I think it’s very interesting that when a child hurts another child, we still feel empathy and compassion for both of them. It makes me wonder at what point we draw the line. When does a troubled child become an unforgivable adult? Does the limit of our compassion end at eighteen? Why do we make that distinction?

I find it hard to make sense of this divide, even though I do feel it viscerally within myself. It is much easier to vilify an adult than a child for the same crime. At the same time it seems illogical to arbitrarily make a decision that someone isn’t culpable at 16 but they are at 18. How exactly were they expected to “fix themselves” now that they are legally an adult? This atmosphere of shame and condemnation only makes it harder for the “undesirables” in society to seek help. Apparently in the U.S. you may be reported to the authorities for even mentioning you feel sexually attracted to minors to your therapist, even if you’ve never acted on those urges.

At the end of the day, despite our feelings on these difficult matters, we need to act and make decisions in a way that results in the best outcomes for society as a whole. Sometimes it may end up to be something that at face value seems counterintuitive. But we’ve got to learn to look past our emotional impulses and trust the data. I certainly don’t know all the answers to these very challenging questions. I just hope that we can be objective and open as we continue to search for those answers.

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Tired of My Own Shit

Over three months into 2021 and I haven’t made nearly as much progress towards my goals as I had hoped. I had such grand plans to stop smoking and get my eating habits back on track. Yet hardly anything has changed at all. I suppose I am slightly proud that I have managed to stop smoking in the morning and all day at work. I’ve gotten back to only drinking sugar and creamer in my coffee on my days off. I’ve also managed to at least reimplement some healthy meals back into my diet, despite it overall still being extremely repetitive, shamefully odd, and unhealthy.

When I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes in the past, it has been because I would suddenly realize that this activity that I once relished and looked forward to, had become something to dread or at least feel indifferent towards. This same weariness has crept into all of my once cherished, bad habits. It is quite a strange realization. When once I could justify these behaviors to myself because they brought me some semblance of joy and calm, now I have no excuse. Now instead of feeling like I’m indulging myself and being cheeky, I feel as though I’m a slave to these compulsions.

To me, these feelings are similar to what some people call “rock bottom.” In that sense, I do understand why a lot of people say you must reach rock bottom before you are willing to change. Once you’ve gotten that low, it seems equally difficult no matter which path you choose to take. There is no longer a path of least resistance. It is just as hard, if not harder, to continue the negative behaviors than it is to change. Changing can almost become an exciting idea again, a real possibility, a real path back to some sort of happiness. After all, nothing could feel worse than continuing down the road you are on.

I feel like right now I am just on the precipice of that place. I can feel myself hesitating at the fork in the road before me. On the right I can see ahead of me more of the same drudgery, the same guilt, shame, and pain I’ve become so accustomed to. On the left, however, the path is completely obscured by a dense fog. At what point does the fear of the unknown become less terrifying than continuing on the way you have been? It feels like I am about to find out first hand. I hope that I am about to find out.

I promised myself that if I was still struggling after starting the new year that I would begin therapy. Even though I desperately don’t want to, nor do I really have the money to, I think it may finally be time to make an appointment. I’ve got to get a professional, outside perspective in order to help myself. I am too lost within the delusions of my own mental illness. When I first began these disordered eating habits, I told myself that it would be worth it because I would finally be able to be super skinny. And I was for at least a month or two last summer. So much so that my friends and family began to worry about me. Yet it didn’t bring me any happiness at all. I was more anxious and miserable than ever before. I still hated myself. I still hated my body and the way I looked, maybe even more than before. Somehow even though I felt bony and stick-like, I never stopped feeling bulbous, bulky, and too big.

Now I’ve basically reverted back to my normal weight (I’m too afraid of the scale to know for sure) but I’ve been unable to shake my disordered eating. It feels like all of that suffering was ultimately for nothing. I’ve maintained all the negatives, but none of the “positives.” And even though I keep reminding myself that my weight did not correlate with my happiness at all, I am too afraid of gaining more to take proper care of myself again. It’s been so long that I’m not sure I ever remember how to. Food used to be my crutch, my comfort, but now it has also become my greatest fear and my greatest shame. The damage I have done to my relationship with food and with myself seems impossible for me to fix alone. I need to push through my anxiety in order to ask for help, to get an outside voice to help overpower the unhealthy one in my head.

I just want to trust myself again. I want to reconnect with my body’s wisdom, with my intuition. I want to feel healthy again, mentally and physically. I want to love myself. I want to take good care of myself. It is insane to me that the fear of being fat is able to overpower all of my more positive impulses and instincts. I know that I have to overcome that fear in order to get back to a healthier place. I need to accept that I’ll probably have to gain weight in order to set my body right again. Why on earth does that feel like a death sentence?

I want to stop focusing on weight all together. It doesn’t matter. It is meaningless. I want to focus on the things that really matter in this life, like being kind to myself and others, being a good person, a good daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend. I want to live a life that doesn’t have to be a shameful secret. I want to live a life that I can be proud of. I want to get excited about my life again.

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Perception & Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helping Others Help Themselves

This evening I have been talking with an old friend. He will often send me photos of our group from high school and remark forlornly about how much he misses those days. I understand the sentiment. I miss those days too. It can be hard to accept how different and lonely life can be as an adult. I genuinely feel for this friend and often find myself wishing there was some way that I could help him to be happy again with the life he now lives.

Today has been especially difficult in this regard. My friend expressed to me that he doesn’t believe he will ever be happy, just less sad. My heart breaks for this kind soul that I have known for so many years. His dejected state reminds me painfully of who I used to be as a teenager, believing I would never find happiness. Even though I’m not where I would like to be in life, I have still been able to carve out my own unique sense of wellbeing and contentment.

There have been many times since noticing this change within myself, this awakening to my power over my own happiness, that I have desperately longed to somehow be able to share this new point of view with others that are still suffering. Yet somehow there never seem to be any words that I could deem fitting to do so. There are lots of things that helped me to heal, primarily yoga and meditation. But I hesitate to even offer these solutions. I can’t help but cringe internally as I imagine how I would have once felt receiving the same sort of advice.

I had been on the other side of this encounter many times in the past. When you are depressed and feeling hopeless, it is frustrating to keep hearing: “have you tried meditation?” “You can make your own happiness!” “Just focus on all the things you have to be grateful for.” In that state of mind, I always felt these suggestions were more like a slap in the face than practical options. It just made me feel more alone. It felt like no one was listening, like no one understood. One of the things my mom used to always tell me when I was younger and having one of my many existential crises comes to mind. Essentially she would tell me not to worry about all the big problems I saw in my life, my past and my future, but to focus on the small everyday joys like hearing the birds chirping outside my window, or having a hot cup of coffee on a cold Sunday morning while watching the snow blanket the world in a crisp, bright whiteness. I can still remembering being incensed by this. What did any of those things matter in comparison to my problems? A cup of coffee isn’t enough to make a happy life. Chirping birds don’t make me feel any less alone.

Yet now all of the things I once considered useless platitudes have become so poignant and meaningful to me. It is wild to juxtapose these two parallel perspectives inside me. I was so grateful to have the chance to tell my mom that I finally understand what she was trying to say. The problem is that I don’t know what it was that got it to click. I don’t have an answer for why I am able to see life so differently now. I keep racking my brain for that answer, but always come up empty. I’ve even tried to imagine what I could say to my sixteen-year-old self that would have helped her. Sadly, I feel like there isn’t anything I could have said.

When you decide that you are miserable and you will never be able to be happy, there isn’t much anyone else can do to change that. I wish there was. When feeling sad and lonely becomes part of your identity, part of your own idea of who you are, it is hard to get away from that. It’s similar to an addiction. If an addict doesn’t want to stop using, nothing anyone else does is going to help in the end. The most crucial step in recovery is deciding that you want to recover. And just like some addicts need to hit rock bottom to finally get to that point, that is also what it felt like it took for me to change. I finally had had enough. I couldn’t stand to feel so miserable any more. Then something inside of me finally let go and I realized it was up to me to decide how I was going to feel. I began to truly believe that it was my choice, and that I could choose to be happy if I really wanted to.

The problem I keep being faced with is how to help others make that shift in consciousness. I just cannot accept that there is no way to do so even though that honestly seems like the hard truth. But maybe telling people my story can help in some way. Although I can already imagine teenage Rachel rolling her eyes at anyone having told me this story. “Well they didn’t really know what it’s like to feel this way. They could never understand my situation.” But I am going to keep telling it anyway in the hopes that maybe it can help someone. There is no easy fix for feeling alone and depressed. It takes a lot of work. Everyday. I haven’t stopped that work and I know I never will. But the point is it’s worth it, it’s possible. The bad news is no one else can do it for you. The good news is you can do it all by yourself. You are capable. You are powerful. Even if one person can’t change the world. You can change your own world. I hope you do.

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Healing Through Yoga

As I’ve mentioned before, I began yoga for pretty superficial reasons. For years, my practice was about changing my body, trying to make it fit into a certain mold through simply practicing different shapes. Yet, even with a practice that hasn’t yet scratched the surface of yoga, it is impossible to avoid receiving some of the more spiritual benefits. Even without meaning to, you start to drop into the breath. You start to really become acquainted with it, maybe for the first time. You have moments of perfect peace, of true presence of mind. In the beginning, these were just pleasantly surprising pluses from my practice, not the focus of it.

Throughout the years my practice has grown. At times it almost feels like a completely different activity all together from those first forays, which I would now think of more as simply stretching. Back then yoga was all about the body. Now it is also about the mind and spirit. It is incredible how much this mental shift has changed my practice. On the outside, it may look identical, but now I am able to more fully absorb all the goodness yoga offers me and use it to heal.

I no longer care to push myself into my fullest expression of every pose when I lay out my mat each day. I am not trying to prove something to myself or anyone with my practice anymore. If I learn to do a handstand without a wall to support me, that’s great, but these types of things are no longer the types of goals I set for myself. Now it is more about what I would learn on the way towards such a goal. How do I deal with frustration? How to I react when confronted with limitations? Can I be patient? Can I embrace where I am now? Can I be resilient? Can I persevere in the face of adversity, of failure? Can I trust? Now most of the work is going on inside of me. When you approach your practice (and life itself) in this way, no effort is “wasted.” If after years of working towards a handstand, I never quite make it, that’s perfectly okay. I will still have gained so much through my efforts.

Now it isn’t about how a pose looks. It is more about how a pose feels. How it affects the breath. What thoughts come up? Can I allow them to pass through me without clinging to them or pushing them away? Can I find the perfect balance between effort and ease? Can I notice what my body needs today? This inner work, this is what yoga is truly about. Truthfully, learning how to do impressive physical feats is cool, but ultimately doesn’t matter much in life. What we really learn from yoga is how to live. I am much better off having done all of that inner work and never being able to do a handstand than if I learned how to do a perfect handstand but nothing else.

Yoga allows us to explore what it means to exist in this body, with this mind, through this breath, right now. It teaches us how to cope with life’s struggles, how to more fully savor life’s gifts, how to work through anger and frustration and sorrow, how to be there for ourselves. In my opinion, yoga is therapy. Except you are the therapist and the client. You design and guide yourself through your own healing journey. After all, who is better equipped for this than you? All of the answers that we seek are already within us. Yoga teaches us how to tap into that wisdom, how to listen to the body, to the heart.

I still have a lot to learn, but each moment is a lesson. Not only during my work on the mat, but off it as well. True yoga isn’t left behind when we step out of the studio. We try our best to take it with us into the rest of our life as well. When you stay mindful, every moment can be part of your practice.

All of this, this is the reason I became a yoga teacher. I am overcome with gratitude whenever I think about this gift of yoga that has been passed down through the ages, eventually finding its way to me. I simply had to do whatever I could to share this gift with others. It is my sincere hope that this beautiful practice continues to help the whole world to heal. I will keep doing my part by learning how to heal myself through this ancient art and passing it along to others so that they may begin their own healing.

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Mental Health & Time Perception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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