The sleepy sun begins to blink after months of brightly beaming suddenly realizing the long, hot days have started to wane once again There is a stirring of pumpkin spice excitement as the air lifts and lightens its humid grip rising early to greet crisp, chilly mornings with socked feet and hot mugs held tightly in cold hands Spiced apple cider and gathering together to face the winter slowly creeping closer crafting grinning pumpkins to keep the growing darkness at bay Learning to allow myself to enjoy this season despite the inevitable mental decline ahead bravely barreling toward the frigid cold while celebrating another successful season in the sun
Anxiety & Regrets
I used to just try to avoid anything that made me anxious. Let’s not kid ourselves, I still do most of the time. But recently, I’ve come to realize the utter futility of this effort. Quite literally everything seems to make me anxious in one way or another. It can be quite comical when I catch myself, sure that a day off with cease all my anxiety, and then I get anxious about taking a day off, or spend my entire time off worrying about going back the next day. I get anxious about the idea of leaving my current job, but anxious about staying there. I’m anxious to spend all my free time with friends and loved ones, but then anxious that I don’t spend enough time with them.
While it’s very disheartening and discouraging to realize that no matter what I do I’ll likely be anxious about it, it’s also somewhat liberating. Once again, I get to choose what I want to do without the influence of anxiety guiding my hand. I might as well choose things that I truly value and believe will result in a more fulfilling life. I don’t have to shy away from lofty, long-term goals just because working towards them gives me discomfort. Not working towards them would produce the same feeling.
After lockdown it became really obvious how important the relationships I have in my life are. Even as a fairly reclusive, introverted person already, it was agony to be isolated from my loved ones for such long spans of time. I realized that my time with them is limited and not guaranteed. They could be ripped from my life at any moment. Do I really want to waste the time I have with them? Will I really be happier looking back on my life knowing that I chose working out or drawing over the loving connections I’ve been blessed with?
I’ve come to look at a lot of my decisions this way instead. Which decision will I one day regret? Regardless of what I believe would make me happy in the moment, what will make me happy long-term? What do I value in life? For example, I’ve been trying to spend more of my free time with friends and family even though my OCD tries to tell me I’ll die if I don’t do the exact same pointless routine every single day. Yesterday, I thought I might go visit my grandma for a few hours. I agonized over the idea of diverting from my normal schedule all morning. I just kept reminding myself: These silly little tasks that you feel you have to do can be done tomorrow, next week, five years from now. You really have no idea how much time you have left to spend with your grandmother.
I ended up going to see her and was surprised to find my aunt there as well. I spent far longer at her house than I had intended and had an amazing time with them. If I had chosen to stay home, I know I would have regretted it the next day. I slept so soundly last night, knowing there was no better use of my time, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and filled with love. Now when my best friend asks me to hangout or an unexpected opportunity arises, I try to consider what I would regret. It’s ridiculous to imagine I would regret not staying at home by myself repeating the same cookie-cutter day over going out and connecting with people and making precious memories.
I have only been trying this method out for a few weeks, so it’s still difficult. But already I’ve managed to have some wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling days that I would have surely let pass me by in the past. I’m hoping continuing to practice this will reinforce in my mind how beneficial these experiences are. It might make me anxious to imagine going out with other people all day, but when I’m there, I know there is no where else I’d rather be.
I’ve also learned that being with people you love is a powerful balm for mental illness in itself. When I’m alone, my mind runs rampant. It is never silent. It focuses only on me and my problems/fears. This spiral gets bigger and stronger until it is all consuming. When I’m with my family and friends, my mind is finally quiet. I feel peaceful and at ease. My heart is open and over-flowing. My tendency has always been to hide away when I begin to feel overwhelmed, fearing that I can’t handle exerting any more of my social energy. Ironically, that is the very thing that will make me feel better. Being in the presence of people you cherish is a reminder of just how small and insignificant other concerns are. I feel supported and safe. Taking time to connect is refilling your cup.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what matters to me in this life. It’s easy to become distracted by productivity and material aspirations. We lose ourselves in the surface level tasks the world imposes upon us. None of that is truly important though. What’s valuable in this life is love, community, and connection above all else. Even when it’s scary. Even when it seems like you have a million other things you need to be doing. Life isn’t about having a clean house or starting a successful business. It’s about making sure the people you care about know how much you love them and savoring even the small, mundane moments you spend together. I refuse to let mental illness separate me from my true purpose in life: love. The only goal that truly matters, that I need to put in the forefront of my awareness, that I should etch the intention of onto my soul, is being with the ones I love. My time here is limited. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d want to be with my friends and family every moment until then. So why should I ever want to be anywhere else?
Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
The sun was just beginning to set as we walked up to the big double doors of the small venue. March had carried spring in tow, threatening to blossom into an early summer. The soft, warm air was a balm to my soul. The rays of sunlight falling below the skyline did a lot to soothe my seemingly constant inner agitation.
Unlike most buildings that remain ever frigid with artificially cooled air, breaking through the threshold of security exposed a room that was even warmer than the outdoor air. So many bodies packed so tightly together, waiting in eager anticipation of the show that was about to begin any minute, produced a strong human scented heat.
Drinks in hand, we found our place behind the sound booth. I couldn’t help but glance again and again at the beautiful human at my side. What a joy to be here, with him. To see him smile, to hold his hand, as we waited together happily. The first band, one neither of us knew, was just beginning to set up.
As the first chords rang out through the theatre, the loosely packed crowd began to swell and tighten, threatening to suffocate me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as my heart resisted this perceived danger and discomfort. A few deep breaths and it was all okay again. A swirling sentiment of togetherness and companionship swelled within me. These people are all here, filled with hope and happiness and most likely alcohol, just like me, and right now, in this moment, I love them all.
Without the distraction of songs that held personal meaning for me, there was a budding curiosity that took hold. What a beautiful thing to see this small opening band standing in the spot light, living their dream. How lovely it is that I get to be here to see it, to support it. That we are all here, this crowd that is my family for one sensational night. Tears tottered on the edge of my eyelids. Each song felt like a message being sung just to me, just for my partner and I, as we swayed gently together in the darkness.
Somehow I ended up liking the opening bands even more than the headliner. While the main band played, I found myself becoming listless and distracted. How long had we been here? How many more songs would be played? Just as I began to fidget and fret, I shifted my focus back to my new family, this crowd of perfect strangers. I was overcome with that strange love once again as I watched them in rapturous, animated, happiness. What might these songs mean to them? What story brought them to this band? What is the significance of this night in their distant, unknown lives?
I was overcome with the fascinating reality of the many lives that pass by me everyday unnoticed. The feeling of connection and disconnection tangling around me simultaneously. The mystery hidden behind the eyes of my fellow humans. The heart opening experience of reveling in the joy of others we do not, nor will we ever, truly know.
As we filed quickly out of the crowd and stumbled down the packed streets to the car, my heart felt fuller than it had in a long, long time. It held a precious lesson to itself in silence. There is always happiness if you’re willing to look for it. There is no difference between my own happiness and that of another. Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, to share the pleasure of another, especially when we find ourselves struggling. Human connection is a strange, magical thing, and the other party may not even realize it’s happening.
Christmas mornings are soft and special they are filled with tender wishes and warm embraces evoking the image of flame lit evenings in front of fireplaces with family as the harsh world blusters against the door Let us not forget that this magic in the air has been inside of us all year and that we may choose to indulge in these wondrous feelings whenever we wish to and offer our love and gratitude each and every day.
Soften you heart and breathe deeply now is the time to rest in the warm security of our bountiful harvest To surrender to the stark contrast of the snow beneath an inky black sky to snuggle close together with the ones we love in warm stillness, in sweet silence Winter is a time to slow down to reflect on and rejoice in all the year has given to us to gather our blessings and give of ourselves Allow your heart to open to fill and be filled as we give thanks and gather together to welcome another new year
Sharing Yourself with Others
Yesterday was my favorite holiday, Independence Day. I love being able to spend a day with my friends and family in the sunshine, by the water, enjoying fresh fruit and BBQ food. I also always like the opportunity to drink around them as strange as that might sound. Being a generally reserved person, having a little alcohol at family gatherings gives me the courage to be more affectionate with everyone. The only problem with that is sometimes I’ll make promises that sober me isn’t brave enough to keep.
One of the things I always think about is spending more time with my family. My grandmother is over 90 years old, and although she’s SHOCKINGLY healthy and spry, I know I have limited time with her. I think a lot about all the time I spent with her growing up. There was a point I even considered her more of a mom than my actual mom. She would babysit my sister and I while my mom was at work and for a few hours after school every day. Even as a teenager I would often stop by her house before going home from school once I started driving. She was always there for me. I told her everything. She taught me so much and I cherish every memory I have with her.
I honestly don’t know when I started to drift away. Maybe it was once I started college and I wasn’t as close by anymore. For awhile I really didn’t have the time either, although I certainly still could have called. It just seemed like the crippling anxiety I carried with me all through my youth never applied to her. Then at some point, all of a sudden, it did. I became afraid to go see her, afraid I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, afraid I’d be bothering her. The longer I’ve let this anxious energy remain, the bigger it has become.
Now that I’m older I feel similarly about my Aunt. She is an amazing woman whom I love and admire so much. Before I never thought she really cared to be close with my sister and I, but over the last few years that’s changed. These past two presidential elections have really pushed her and her husband apart. It’s also really hurt her relationship with all of her boat club friends. I get the sense that she feels alone now. I want to reach out more and spend more time with her, but I get so anxious at the idea that I usually avoid the thought all together.
As I was sitting with my feet in the damp grass this morning, setting intentions for my day, a new thought struck me. Whenever I’m considering spending more time with friends or family, my main focus is on convincing myself that even though the thought makes me anxious, I will feel better overall. Embarrassingly, this morning was the first time I really considered the other person involved, other than feeling guilty for not following expected social conventions and possibly letting them down. The idea rang through my head that this time that I want to carve out for my friends and family is a gift to them. It is an act of love and compassion. Giving of myself to bring them happiness.
Of course my self-defeating inner voice immediately tried to tear down that idea. “No one cares whether or not they hear from you or spend time with you. You are insignificant,” it tells me. I am constantly afraid of bothering people with my presence. But once again I am merely focusing on myself and my own ego. The fear of feeling unwanted, facing rejection, or feeling like a burden has kept me from forming deeper bonds with all the people in my life. Deep down I know that isn’t true though. My grandmother would never feel burdened by being with me more often.
Not only that, but it helps to remind myself that even if I were an annoyance, so what? I truly believe that the closer we are able to live to the way our distant ancestors lived, the happier we will be. In the tribal communities that once made up humanity, and even in more recent times in small rural towns, every member of the group had value. I don’t have to be perfect to deserve love and quality time with the ones I love. No one expects me to be perfect, except me. There are plenty of people in the world that are more aggravating and problematic than me that are still loved and embraced by those around them. We are all flawed, imperfect beings, but that doesn’t disqualify us from having meaningful, important connections with one another.
I’ve always thought of myself as a very self-centered person. Autism could be a contributing factor to a lot of my more selfish tendencies. It’s not ever been a malicious selfishness. I’m not acting in my own interest at the expense of others. If I ever have, I’ve only unwittingly done so. It’s more like sometimes I forget to consider other people entirely, because I am too busy being consumed by my own inner world. I can still remember when I was very young, noticing that other people would often compliment someone else’s clothing or hair, etc. I remember asking my mom why I never felt the urge to do that, even if I did like something about someone else. I assumed it was only because I was shy and socially anxious. Only after I began forcing myself to compliment people did it become a comfortable, natural habit. I was surprised to discover that it even made me happy.
As I continue to get older, I’ve noticed myself becoming more and more interested in being of use to other people. And the way that thinking of and helping others is its own reward. I once thought selfishness was just a personality trait. I’ve now started to wonder if it’s simply an aspect of youth. I remember hearing about older people focusing their remaining energies on giving back to the community and supporting their family. It seems like in the later stages of life, giving back, sharing what you’ve learned and acquired with others, becomes the most personally fulfilling thing. I always had a hard time imagining myself in this role. Now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
I’ve heard the metaphor of life being compared to a wave in the ocean. In the beginning we are one with the sea, then we crest for a time, the illusion of an individual entity, before eventually falling back into the water we came from. The longer I live, the more convinced I become of two things about this life: Everything is a cycle, and everything is one. These are the fundamental truths I keep coming back to when I have my spiritual experiences with LSD. It is comforting and profound. I can see it everywhere I look. It gives me hope that every ending inevitably leads to a new beginning on both a micro and macro scale.
The idea of the fluctuation of selfishness throughout life seems to fall into that framework as well. When we are born, we are totally dependent on others. Although no longer in the womb, we are still very much an extension of our mother, feeding from her very body to survive. Then we slowly but surely begin to gain independence. We revel in this newfound freedom, we test it’s limits, we find our individuality, just like the wave on the ocean. For awhile we are lost in the intoxication of this illusion. The illusion that we are separate.
No matter what, if any, religion or spirituality you subscribe to, getting older tends to remind us that we are all one, with our fellow humans, other species, the earth, everything. We all depend on one another, we all live through and because of one another. We’ve all sprouted from the same source, just as we will all return to it someday. Like waves in the ocean. But just like the ocean, the tide is relentless. There is no ending to the ebb and flow, there is a constant undulating cycle. It is a beautiful thing to be reminded of this. For me especially, it is nice to be reminded of the way things change, the way I change without even realizing it. What may seem terrifying and impossible to accept one day, seems as easy as breathing when the time finally arrives. We don’t need to worry about how we will handle situations in the distant future, because this current version of ourselves won’t be the one dealing with it anyway. We’ve simply got to keep going and trust that when we get there we will be the person we need to be to get through it.
So there is nothing to fear. Not even death. Because no matter how many cycles come to an end, a new one starts simultaneously, spiraling out into infinity. For a time it may be important for us to be selfish, to learn how to best take care of this newfound self. But there is also beauty and comfort in playing with the very idea of “self.” What made me decide to draw the line where I have? Why is this body the only thing I consider me? Maybe I am actually more than this. That boundary seems to be expanding, little by little, every day. And one day this little brief wave that I am will have fully submerged once again.
Community & Isolation
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. It feels like a huge portion of the human race has been suffering from a less intense version of this type of isolation for over a year now. Even introverts like me have started to feel the effects of spending days upon days alone and cut off from social settings. People’s mental health started to deteriorate after only a few months of lockdown. And that is in our own homes, with access to the internet, television, books, often our pets, roommates, and/or family. Imagine being locked away in just one small room with nothing and no one. With no idea when or if you will ever be allowed to leave or even how much time has passed.
The strange consequences of prolonged separation from others is a humbling testament to how much we really need one another. For me this is quite frustrating and difficult to wrap my head around. How can I simultaneously have social anxiety and need to interact with others regularly to be mentally healthy? Before the lockdowns a year ago, I would have thought I would be my happiest alone in a hut in the woods. But now I see that what we want and what is good for us are often two very different things. I guess we never really stop being children in some ways. Needing someone else to look out for our best interests. I suppose that’s just another benefit of the communal life humans once had that we’ve now strayed from.
Most children would prefer not to go to school, even me, someone who’s always loved learning. I can remember dreading every moment of it. Even signing myself out early a lot of days once I was 18. But looking back, I would love to go to school again. I didn’t realize what a blessing it was to be put in a fishbowl everyday with dozens of other people my age. I didn’t know how difficult life would be once that was no longer a normal part of it. Now I am so grateful for all of those years where I got to spend everyday with my friends, growing and learning and playing together.
Some people are really good at managing themselves. People that create and run their own small businesses or are otherwise self-employed for example. I realized a few years ago that even though I’ve always wanted to break away from normal 9-5 work, there is really no way I would be able to make it on my own without having structure of some kind forced upon me. Given the opportunity, I will always procrastinate and get lazy. It’s quite bizarre given that I’m so rigid about other things in my life.
I’ve always hated the pressure of having someone else to answer to whether it was my parents, my teachers, my peers, or my boss. I thought without this constant stress I would find freedom. However, I’m starting to learn to be grateful for that stress. It seems that without it I fall to ruin. I become utterly lost. Yet even though I’ve realized this strange paradox, it doesn’t make it any easier to help myself.
I often mull over the idea of joining a book club or even starting my own group of some kind. Perhaps a hiking group or a vegan support group. But the eventuality of being held to account by these people, being expected to follow through with plans, etc. is overwhelming. It feels easier and less stressful to just forget about it all together. How frustrating it is to know choosing the path of least resistance is likely not the path to happiness. Even though I don’t necessarily like it, we humans need one another. We need each other for support and love, but also to hold one another accountable so that we may all continue to grow and blossom into the very best versions of ourselves.
The Heart That Gives, Gathers
I still remember giddily awaiting Christmas morning. Hardly being able to fall asleep. My eyes popping open at 4 in the morning, because that is technically Christmas. My sister and I would go wake my parents up at that ungodly hour. And to their credit, they were always good sports about it. They never got mad at us. Usually they’d actually drag themselves out of bed and let us start opening our presents even though the sun had yet to come up. I can’t say I would have reacted the same.
The strangest part is thinking that all that excitement was to receive gifts. Now that I’m older, I still have a sense of excitement for Christmas day, but the thought of what I’ll return home with is the last thing on my mind. I had heard as a child that it was a greater joy to give gifts to your loved ones than to be gifted things in return. But I had always thought that was just a thing adults said so we didn’t feel bad. I had no idea how true I would one day find that sentiment. Now being excited only to be given gifts is the side of the equation that seems absurd.
As I am about to give the gifts that I spent months gathering, making, and wrapping gingerly, I can’t help but be full of gratitude and love. Christmas is a wonderful reminder that even though it may seem counterintuitive, generosity leads to abundance. We spend so much of our lives saving and hoarding, being fearful that we will not have enough. Paradoxically, this draws that sense of “lacking” into our lives rather than keeping it at bay.
When we give and share what we have with others, the universe brings that same energy of abundance back to us. Christmas is a perfect example of that principle. We spend a lot of time and money before the holidays making sure we have just the right gifts for those we love. But are we not repaid for our money and effort tenfold by the joy we receive upon watching their happy faces light up? By their hugs and kisses? By the chance to share delicious hot food as we gather together in the cold?
The winter months seem like a time to hunker down, spend frugally, stay in, save up to survive. But what a beautiful holiday we have implanted right in the middle! A holiday that encourages us to go out, to spend time with our loved ones, to gorge ourselves on fancy foods, to give elaborate gifts. A reminder that we are all one. A reminder that because of this, our generosity will always find it’s way back around to us in some form or another. So we don’t need to be afraid. Give freely. Help others. Even when you may feel like you don’t have anything to spare. It’s always worth it.
A Covid Christmas Miracle
This morning I woke up to the most wonderful gift I will receive this Christmas, the news that my coworker got her Covid test results back. She was negative. I am so relieved. I couldn’t be more grateful to know that I will be able to have Christmas with my family again this year. I was expecting to spend the holiday alone for the first time. I’m glad I held out hope and still wrapped all my gifts and prepared just in case. Sometimes we all need a reminder not to take these small moments together for granted. I know I am going to have an extra special Christmas this year now. Each second I spend with my family will be saturated with gratitude. I am so ready so soak it all in.
My grandmother was the main reason I was going to stay away if I had been exposed. I would never put her at risk. Yet, at the same time, I was also extra upset about having to stay away this year because of her. She is about to be 90 years old. Although she is shockingly healthy, I don’t know how many more holidays we will have together. I really didn’t want to miss a single one, even if it was to protect her. I am so glad that now I don’t have to. However, it still breaks me heart that I won’t be able to hug her and hold her tight when I see her this Friday.
My grandma understands that we are keeping our distance more than usual because we don’t want her to get sick, but I think it still hurts her. I’m sure it is hard for all elderly people these days. Loved ones want to keep away so they can live longer, but then we also run the risk of missing their final days, months, years on this earth anyway. I don’t know what I would do if my grandmother died even a natural death in these dark times. I might not be able to bear the knowledge that I wasn’t able to hug her, kiss her, hold her hand in her last days. God forbid she be hospitalized. Forced to spend her final moments making the decision of which single family member she would like to have by her bedside.
I don’t like to think about my grandmother passing away. But that grim reality gets closer every year, and eventually I will have to face it. This year has made that harsh realization clearer than ever. But sometimes fear, impermanence, uncertainty, make moments spent in happiness together all the more poignant. I am not going to take this Friday for granted. In the place of hugs, I am going to pour my heart out in warm words. I am going to write my love into each card I give. I am going to vibrate with an energy so strong, so grateful, so loving that it will touch everyone around me even if I can’t touch them myself.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas. I know I will.