Third Level Anxiety: The Paradox of Overthinking

Anxiety and overthinking go hand in hand. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario. Does the anxiety cause the overthinking or does the overthinking cause anxiety? Hard to tell. In the end, I’m not sure if it even matters which comes first. The result is the same, discomfort, distress, and inability to make decisions. The prefrontal cortex shuts down in that all consuming sympathetic nervous system reaction triggered by the amygdala, or the emotional center of our primitive little lizard brain.

Over the years, anxiety has a way of building. The pathways between stimulus and response get more and more defined. My anxiety used to be directly related to specific instances. I would get anxious in social situations. Soon that anxiety would begin to bubble up at just the thought of being in said situations. Now it’s transformed into more of a vague fear of the anxiety itself and trying to avoid all situations in which I may start to feel anxious. I’ve reached third level anxiety, fear of the fear of the fear. This stage is practically paralyzing. It can cause you to avoid your life completely just in an effort to avoid anxiety. It can manifest in a covert way, such as the inability to make decisions.

I have to admit it is humorous to realize I’ve always tried to “fix” my anxiety by somehow thinking myself into a sense of ease. But it’s pretty hard to use logic and reason to defuse a completely illogical physical reaction. It’s counterproductive to try to think your way out of overthinking. But what else can you do?

Learning to Cope

One of the reasons I have my doubts about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s effectiveness when it comes to my mental health specifically and anxiety disorders in general is the focus on the thinking mind. CBT’s primary method is changing the way you think in order to change your behavior. But you can’t solve the problem of too much thinking with more thinking. A lesser known therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT feels like a better fit. Rather than teach you how to reframe your thinking, this therapy helps you cope with and understand your emotions so that you can feel safe and accept yourself.

Even though in the moment anxiety feels like it’s demanding action or some solution, I’ve learned by now that there really isn’t anything I can do or think that can dispel my anxiety completely. The frantic effort to avoid it only causes more mental suffering. The only real way I can learn to handle this fear is to let myself feel it. More than any catastrophic imagined outcome, I’ve become afraid of the physical sensations themselves. I’m anxious about feeling anxious. However, that quickly dissipates when I face those feelings rather than try to run from them.

How to Face the Feelings

Coincidentally, I’ve found the advice from my previous post about how to help yourself focus and be mindful in a calm, neutral setting works just as well when you’re lying in bed on the edge of a panic attack. This time rather than being unable to focus because of the vague sense of disinterest or boredom at the everyday objects around me, it’s the exact opposite. It’s hard to focus because everything just seems so overwhelming that I don’t know where to begin. But nevertheless, imagining I have to describe what is happening in that moment as if I’m writing a story is tremendously helpful.

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, overthinking, or distressed by indecision, take a moment to step out of the thinking mind all together. Accept that the solution you’re desperately trying to find with your mind is not in the mind at all. The solution is surrender. It’s accepting that sometimes there is no solution but to sit with the sensations. Try to describe the feelings of anxiety swirling around in your body to someone who has no idea what anxiety even is. Be as detailed and creative as possible. Get curious. What is anxiety? Where does it manifest in the body? What does it physically feel like? How long can it last? Does it ebb and flow? Does it get stuck in your chest, in your throat?

Avoid concentrating on what it is that’s making you anxious. That is irrelevant once you’ve determined that it is irrational. Let it go. Show yourself that you are capable of feeling these difficult feelings. Even if they don’t go away. That’s not the intention. It’s learning that you can handle them. When I slow down and breathe into my anxious feelings, I often realize that the feelings themselves are no where near as bad as my struggle to avoid them. I can befriend these sensations by simply allowing them to exist.

Conclusion

I know all this is easier said than done. It’s hard to do anything with intention and mindfulness when your brain and body are on red alert. However, knowing that this is an option available to you is the first step towards practicing it. You won’t be able to every single time, but the more you notice the opportunity to sit with your difficult feelings instead of trying to fight them, the easier it will become. Give yourself the time and the space and the permission to experience even unpleasant situations with patience, curiosity, and equanimity.

I’ve Published My First Coloring Book!

I am so pleased to announce that my positive affirmation coloring book I’ve been working on for over a year now is finally available for purchase on Amazon. I was inspired to make this through my time at a Child Advocacy Center. There are so many children that are put in unimaginably awful situations every day. Through this book and my art, I hope to offer them a small place of refuge from the often dark realities of their everyday lives.

This book was made particularly for children and teens that have experienced trauma, but it would be great for people of any age. I hope that private individuals, as well as therapists, social workers, and schools will find a benefit in having a resource like this.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. I would love to get feedback, and if you happen to purchase one, please leave me a review! It would mean so very much to me.

The False Dichotomy of Psychedelic Support

Every day it seems the momentum behind the psychedelic movement grows and becomes more serious. I’m overjoyed to know that the mental health community is finally beginning to incorporate these plant medicines into their practices. However, I am getting uneasy at the tone that pervades this new promotion. I’ve heard talk of corporations already working on ways to alter, commodify, and monetize these ancient spiritual experiences. More and more professionals are professing that while these substances are therapeutic and medicinal, they are not to be taken without the guidance and support of some authoritative entity.

I understand that traditionally, the tribes and peoples that have used plant medicine as part of their culture did so under the supervision of a shaman, elder, or guide of some kind. Even so, I think it is a grave mistake for this to be preached as the only way one can benefit from these natural substances. My experience with LSD has given me a completely different perspective on psychedelics than what I am now seeing in the mainstream explanations. I honestly find it very elitist and offensive to have it assumed some person of authority must facilitate this divine communion with nature and with ourselves.

Psychedelics, in my opinion, speak for themselves. No one has to guide me in my journey. I feel deeply that part of that journey is learning to be your own guide. The psychoactive substances themselves are the teacher. There is certainly nothing wrong with eliciting the help of a mental health professional or a shaman (given there is some meaning behind that word, and it isn’t just a self proclamation of some egotistical white man) especially if that relieves your fears or gives you a feeling of comfort and safety. I just feel there is something dangerous in professing that it is a requirement in order to use psychedelics safely and receive their healing benefits. There are hundreds of thousands of people, like myself, that would never have a psychedelic experience if we were to believe this interpretation. Requiring this particular, clinical set and setting leaves the realm of psychedelic experiences to only a small, financially elevated subset of individuals that have the ability to pay for these services and/or travel to where they are available.

I’ve taken LSD a handful of times now, never with any clear set intention or professional guide, and still, it has been an utterly transcendent and transformational experience. You don’t have to go looking for answers and healing when you ingest these plant medicines, they will break upon you of their own volition like rays of sunlight cresting the horizon. It is inevitable. There is such a thing as “play therapy” and this is the vein in which I see psychedelic therapy. I believe it is a grave mistake to tarnish this innocent and natural experience with the heavy weight of “serious spiritual work.”

I don’t understand why everything I read or listen to about psychedelics seems to put “fun trips” and “spiritual awakenings” into separate and opposite camps. Why must they be mutually exclusive? My trips have all been silly, playful, and lighthearted, while simultaneously being the most poignant spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. Why must spirituality be cold, clinical, and serious? Can’t we have fun while we heal? I certainly believe we can and that it is a central part of the healing experience.

One of the big problems with society and humanity today is that we take ourselves too seriously. LSD has been an opportunity for me to let go of that stuffy, self-importance and existential gravitas. It reminds me how to open myself to the silly, the absurd, the curiosity, the awe of this life. It’s a lesson in acceptance, simple pleasure, childlike wonder, and ecstatic, undefinable joy. I don’t believe we should isolate ourselves in a room and try to force the direction and scope of our psychedelic voyages. We must give ourselves space to explore, to discover, to follow the experience wherever it chooses to take us.

I have nothing against the therapeutic or ritualistic uses of plant medicine. I just feel uneasy about this camp’s insistence that these settings are the only appropriate or beneficial ways to utilize psychedelics. Plant medicines are a gift from mother Earth. They should be equally accessible to all of us, regardless of where we live or if we have the money/connections to purchase a “guide.” The setting up of an atmosphere or gatekeeping is something we should be extremely wary of. Always be safe, do your own research, and take precautions, but don’t allow anyone to tell you that you must go through them to obtain Earth’s most potent and healing medicine.

Portraits From Social Work – Part 1: David

Even since I lost my last job doing social work with high risk, low income adults out in the community, I have missed the clients I used to see everyday. While I’m not sure if these people ever knew it themselves, the time I spent with them was much more meaningful to me than just trying to get a paycheck. This was the first time in my life that I was really able to get to know some interesting characters and bond with people older than me, with totally different and unique life experiences. Even though I was supposed to keep a professional distance, I simply couldn’t help holding a space for each of my clients in my heart. I believe these people are interesting to learn about in general, but I am also writing about them today to ensure that I can keep them with me even if they eventually fade from my memory. (I obviously won’t use their real names for confidentiality reasons.)

Part 1: David

David was my all time favorite client. I still dream of him often, and I wonder how he is doing on nearly a daily basis. I liked to describe him as my schizophrenic, satanist client. Usually people are shocked to discover that this was the client I became closest to. However, schizophrenia has fascinated me since youth and although I was afraid at first, I was eager to finally get to know a real person with this disorder.

Far from being the violent psychopath that most people picture when I say he’s a satanist suffering from schizophrenia, David was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve met. Even though he was in his early 50s, he still had an almost childlike quality about him. He inspired in me a motherly instinct. I recall once even looking up if you are allowed to adopt someone older than you on a whim with him in mind. I also recall discussing with David what kind of pet he might like if he got one. I was expecting a snake or tarantula or something along those lines. I wish I could have hugged him when instead he said he’d always wanted a rabbit. If David had a spirit animal it would definitely have been a rabbit.

One of the many things I learned from David is that Satanists do not believe in a literal Satan. It’s more of a reactionary stance taken against Christianity. It is spitting in the face of these churches, while acknowledging the community that comes with religion is valuable and worthwhile. Satanists are just atheists, and David was so happy that I was an atheist too. Unfortunately most of the people he had encountered in life (including his therapist) were religious nut jobs. His adoptive mother had been Catholic I believe and seemed to have hated him for abandoning his faith. He told me about a few occasions in his youth when she had discovered his Satanic stockpile and threw it all away. (Jokes on her. The house is his now and the walls are covered with pentagrams painted in red.)

David lived all alone in his house. He had no family left to speak of besides a brother that lived in another state and rarely communicated with him. He had no transportation either, besides me. So with nothing to fill his days, David lost himself in books. He loved to read. He lent me lots of his Satanist books along with a few of his favorites by Stephen King. It made me so happy to be able to discuss the contents with him after I was finished.

It truly breaks my heart to know that I will most likely never see or speak to this man again. I never even got to tell him goodbye. Part of me still wished I could write him a letter and at least explain the circumstances of my leaving. However, I have no right to do so. It would be unethical of me to reach out to any of my past clients now that I am not their case worker anymore, no matter how much I may want to do so. I just hope that somehow he knows that the bond we shared was real and it meant a lot to me.

I am happy about all I was able to do for David, primarily being a genuine friend to a lonely, isolated man, but also getting him a laptop and internet access to make him a little less isolated. I also know that I could have done much more. I wish that I had made more of an effort to address his hoarding behaviors. His house was an absolute mess, filled with bits of paper, receipts, scattered DVDs and books, and random garbage. I also wish that I would have fought to get him a different therapist at my work. The one he has been seeing for years was not doing him any favors. In fact, I would go so far as to say he was exacerbating his mental illness, by acting as though his schizophrenic hallucinations may have actually been revelations from God. No joke, he was that bad. Nothing they discussed in his sessions could be considered therapy by even the loosest of definitions. It bordered on criminal.

David had a lot of issues that he struggled with every day. He would tell me about his hallucinations of vengeful angels and violent demons. How the fear of a Hell he didn’t even believe in would sometimes make him try to get back into religion. He was sexually and physically abused as a young child. He was also abandoned and excluded by his peers and eventually even his family growing up. He was so terribly bullied at his school that he once brought a knife to protect himself and was subsequently expelled for it. David also seems to believe that he is a terrible, evil, irredeemable person even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unlike a lot of my clients, David never tried to take advantage of me. He was always extremely polite and considerate. He once got bedbugs and would put his clothes in the dryer on high right before I came to get him to ensure that he wouldn’t transfer any to me. Even though I always said yes, he would still ask me every time before using snuff in my car. He would prefer to suffer in silence rather than inconvenience anyone. Despite all that he had to deal with, he never complained or made himself out to be a victim. He is a truly beautiful, gentle soul. I miss him so much, and I hope that he is doing alright and that he knows I cherish the times we spent together.

Satanism - Founders, Philosophies & Branches - HISTORY

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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