Why We Fear Change (and how to overcome it)

Humans are hard-wired to resist change. Our brains process a life-changing event, like a new job, a big move across country, or news of pregnancy, as being so unsettling that it registers as an error that needs to be corrected. Even when it’s a change that we desired and took weeks, even months to plan, we experience this fear. It may explain why the “cold feet” phenomenon happens to people right before their weddings. The nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach seems inevitable, regardless of intentions or planning.

What is it about change that we fear?

Think about a change in your life, especially a positive one, that you have made and all the steps it took. There was probably a moment where you felt doubt or fear. Why? Can you put your finger on it?

Sometimes we just fear the unknown and hate the thought of leaving our old life, our old friends, our old habits behind. Sometimes, it’s just a mourning of that lost life in favor of a new one, no matter how bright and shiny its appeal was in the beginning. Sometimes, we know it’s the right choice and feel nervous or scared anyway. Our brains don’t like the unfamiliar.

It doesn’t matter that humans as a species are adaptable. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent careful thought and consideration to make this choice and recognize that it’s good for you. We like the comfort of routine and that feels safe. A disruption of that, large or small, feels uncertain and scary.

Afraid to even try

What about the changes you’ve thought about, and know you want to make, like starting a new exercise plan, or pursuing a new career, but you just can’t pull the trigger? What are some of the reasons why you can’t?

“I don’t have the time”, “I’m too tired”, “I can’t afford the gym”, “I need to pay off this debt first”, “I’m not qualified for these jobs”, “I like my schedule at the current place”, “I know how the system works here”.

Do you recognize these for what they are? None of the above reasons are legitimate. Really, you don’t have the time to exercise? Even though it’s something you say you want and you know would be good for you, and you talk to your friends who work out and say things like, “I’m so jealous. I wish I could work out!” What’s stopping you?

We make time for the things that matter most to us. Time is usually the biggest bullshit excuse for not doing something in the world. This year, I decided I wanted to change my priorities. In doing that, I had to look at my own schedule and current priorities and how it reflected with my new goals. I didn’t think I had the time, but I really did. I just spent a lot of it playing video games. The reality here was that I didn’t want to give up that time. I liked doing it, and felt I’d be giving up “too much” if I only spent an hour playing instead of four. That statement is laughably dumb now. Four hours of video games was not getting me closer to where I wanted to be in life.

How to make the change

I encourage you to pull the trigger on the new workout routine, the new career path, the big move across country, starting a new family, going back to school. If something is calling you, but you’re too afraid of the change (or afraid to fail), here’s some starter tips:

  • Write down an affirmation related to this goal. Something tangible you can look back to and say, “this is why I want to do this. This is why I’m going through this scary stuff.” If you’re that passionate about it, you’ll continue to feel inspired.
  • Assess your current priorities. Not what you actually value, not what you dream of–where your time is currently going. As stated above, my goals and actual real-life priorities did not match up. I noticed video games were a time sink and I made the necessary adjustment. What is in your current routine that doesn’t sync up with your long-term goals or dreams? What’s taking up your time that you can get rid of or cut down?
  • Cut through your other BS excuses. Working out is a good example. Saying the gym is too expensive or that you don’t have any equipment at home is just a fancy excuse. YouTube is full of free workout videos, including ones that don’t need weights or any other materials. I also encourage you to give yoga a try. They have styles for building strength, building flexibility, or for weight loss. I use a blanket, not even a real yoga mat. No equipment, no gym fees, no excuses!
  • Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a real life coach that you meet up with, but it does help to have someone you can go to when you need advice and support. I use the term mentor because I find it helpful to seek out people who have done what you’re doing and been through what you’ve been through. If you have a great support system already, that’s awesome. But it is so amazingly validating and fulfilling to speak to someone who has been through what you’re going through, or about to go through. It can be online, with a total stranger. I’m such a big advocate of online forums. It’s a great way to get myriad opinions and backgrounds, while maintaining the comforting, introverted buffer of the internet.
  • Get started, even if it’s not perfect. I used this point in a previous blog post about life lessons. You don’t have to have every step in place. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge. There won’t always be details that you can flesh out to the very end. You won’t always know everything at the beginning. Sometimes you just need to get in, get the experience, and fall back on that mentor of yours when you run into a wall. And hey, that first step is usually the hardest anyway. You may be relieved at how it feels to just go for it.

I hope you go for the change you’ve been wanting. I hope everything works out the way you want.

What is it that you want to do but are too afraid to start? What has been holding you back?

Advertisements
mental health, inspiration, life hacks, video games, depression, bipolar, ocd, ptsd, anxiety, bpd, borderline personality disorder

What Video Games Can Teach Us About Life

I played Super Mario Bros. on SNES when I was a kid. I played it over and over for years. Occasionally, I played racing games on the original PlayStation, as well as some Tomb Raider II, which I never beat. I didn’t touch any more games until a few years ago when I got into it regularly–and I haven’t stopped. Starting at 28 though, I struggle with issues that other gamers mastered years ago.

However, I maintain it as one of my favorite activities to do, despite maybe not being the best player ever. The experience has been exciting and rewarding. I also realized that you could take away many life lessons from it, if you really looked.

Here’s what video games have taught me.

Patience

I’ve heard this one is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait, after all. It’s because the early bird catches the worm. Ah! I can’t stop talking in cliches! Video games require a certain level of patience for a variety of different aspects. Learning fighting combos, battling difficult bosses, or navigating a jumping puzzle will teach you in a hurry to slow down and accept your fate. If you want to succeed, you have to be patient. Angry fits of frustration rarely make it happen any faster.

It’s a good skill to have in life, too. Take your time when doing important things. After all, haste makes waste. Ah! I’m doing it again. But I do have to remember patience when I’m trying to rush through something. I’ve seen the sloppy results of my rushing, and it’s not pretty. I also do this with BIG IMPORTANT LIFE DECISIONS that I should definitely take my time on. I just like to have things marked off as done, instead of waiting around. I have to remind myself that it’s not just “waiting” around though. Being patient can help you make a better decision and help you tune into your rational side, if you’re prone to impulsiveness like me.

I’ve also had to apply this to my mental health. For example, using a DBT skill or a breathing exercise for the 1000th time. It feels so repetitive sometimes and it’s hard to feel like it’s working. Just remember: it’s not about mastery; it’s about maintenance.

You don’t need to have everything figured out

When I picked up a certain popular, massive RPG for the first time, I was intimidated by the overwhelming amount of things to explore and do. It deterred me enough to put the game down. I feared I had done it wrong up to that point and had missed out on something. I later watched a video that said not to worry about some of those bigger things and just enjoy the game until you level up. It made me feel so relieved. Why did I focus so hard on having everything perfect, instead of just playing?

This correlates perfectly to the same feeling I get in my life–planning my career, figuring out meal planning, wanting to have a linear progression for mental health recovery. Like that same video game though, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to have the perfect resume or portfolio before I allow myself to start applying to dream jobs. I don’t need to have blogger mom-style meal plans and Pinterest boards full of ideas to go grocery shopping. Things just do not have to be perfect in order to get started and to reap the benefits.

I’m detail-oriented, but I like to look at the big picture. Maybe too much. You can take that first step, even if you’re not sure what the whole picture looks like. Ah! Now I’m just mixing metaphors.

Don’t forget to have fun!

I admit I struggle to have fun playing video games sometimes. I play to win and to be good at the game. I’m very focused on my personal stats because that’s what being good at the game is to me. That’s what having fun is to me. So when I do poorly, I don’t enjoy playing so much. And if I’m not enjoying it, what’s the point in playing?

That’s when I have to change my approach. Do something less serious. Go work on my form in a practice area. Take a moment to chill out. I don’t want to play if I’m not having fun.

I think life should be similar. Not the exact same. Like, don’t go quit your job because it’s not fun or fulfilling. You still need that. But start looking for a new one! Build skills for a job that you really want, even if you have to do that on the side for awhile. Keep your dreams alive. Say yes to more fun things. Say no to more things that weigh you down. Don’t do everything out of obligation, instead pick and choose what’s worth your time.

If people judge you or criticize you for not being a “team player” or being too selfish, remember that this is your boundaries and mental health at stake, not theirs. You are not responsible for everyone else’s problems or feelings. It’s a crazy concept for someone like me, who took years of adulthood to figure out to put my needs first. It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. You can take care of your needs, while also being a compassionate, empathetic person. It’s about boundaries. That doesn’t sound like “fun”, but it helps you set limits for yourself and it can help you create parameters for yourself to make more time for things you enjoy.

That’s right. You can order yourself to have fun.

Know who to talk to

Knowing the right NPC to speak to can literally be a game changer. It can move the story along or give you valuable items, completely changing the course of the game. I admit I’ve been stumped while playing a game until I realized I needed to speak to the right person or do something in a specific order, in just the right way, to get it done.

You should also know who to talk to in life. Know when to ask help, know when to reach out, know who your resources are. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. This big ole world feels small and lonely far too often. But you do have those who care and who will listen and support you. There’s always internet strangers in various forums all over the world, too, right at your fingertips. It can feel weird to just reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I need to talk to someone,” especially if you don’t feel like any of your friends are “that kind of friend”. So the internet is a perfect solution to this problem! I’ve used it myself.

This can be applied to other things as well. Knowing who to talk to you at your job when you want to move up the ladder or get a raise. Or perhaps, like me, you fancied a career change and you needed outward advice and opinions on what to do next. You would ask people who are in that field or who have made similar moves and seem knowledgeable about the job market as a whole.

It all comes down to knowing who is in your corner. I’ve found it useful to communicate with people on Twitter, as I’m learning the blogging world and what’s “meta”. Just like I do on Reddit when I’m learning a new game.

All that matters is you get through it and you enjoy it

My boyfriend has told me repeatedly that a particular game he loves would be enjoyable even if I played it on “easy” mode. Playing on easy is sort of taboo among hardcore gamers because it means you didn’t earn your way through it properly. It’s almost seen as cheating because you aren’t of the same skill level as other people. To this, my boyfriend offered: “The point of the game is to have fun. If you have to do it on easy, then who cares? It’s a video game. That’s what it’s for.” He’s right. I hold myself to such high standards when gaming (as I mentioned) and I hate using any crutches or advantages that might make me look less legit. But what he said about this really clicked with me.

Similar to the point about having fun, all that matters about your choices in life is that you’re getting through it and doing what you want.

You don’t have to do things “the right way”, like I mentioned above. You don’t have to do what you don’t want to do, just because you think you should.

This is your life. You can do or not do what you want. Your decisions are not set in stone. It is not too late. You’re not too old. It’s not impossible.

I say this not as some successful career person who has had an illustrious life filled with amazing adventures and meaningful endeavors. I’ve been here and there. I’ve made good choices and really, really bad ones. I’ve done things I’m proud of, and seemingly far too many things I regret. Nothing really sticks for too long, it seems. I find somewhere I belong and then I’m gone when it no longer fits me. I haven’t let that stop me from having a passion, from having goals. I still cherish experiences and connections above all else, and I can look at those moments from my past and present life as things that warm my soul the way nothing else can.

I sometimes do feel like it’s all over. It’s too late. I suck at life. Wallowing in that sentiment will not help me feel better about it. It won’t change anything. I try to focus on the positive, great memories, while also keeping my eyes firmly on the future. I am always in the pursuit of that which fulfills and enriches my life. From people and connections, to experiences and events, to passions and hobbies.

That’s what my 2019 is going to be about–people, passions, and a lot more video games.

What other lessons can we take from video games?

mental health, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, inspiration, mental health positivity

Comfort Vs. Pleasure

In my pursuit for better mental health, I’ve found a lot of self-help and recovery resources that point to comforting activities to do when you’re having intensely negative emotions or massive anxiety.

I’ve also seen mental health tips like, “do something that you love” or “take up a hobby,” to encourage emotional happiness and decrease stress.

Both of these are good tips, but without practical and personal application, they become meaningless.

I got frustrated making my own list of comforting activities because I confuse comfort and pleasure. I’m not very good at self-care, and I had a hard time making the list because of my confusion. Unless I sat down to confront the differences, I could be engaging in the wrong type of activity for my needs.

So in order to better serve my mental health, I have to distinguish between comfort and pleasure. It looks something like this:

Comfort is soothing, distraction, calming, and healing

While it can certainly be enjoyable, the main benefit is that it is soothing and calming. It will both center me and distract me from any harmful stimuli (especially negative thoughts). Some comforting things to me would be:

  • Listening to soothing, relaxing music (smooth jazz is my go-to)
  • Tactile comforts like playing with kinetic sand or squishing a rubbery toy
  • ASMR videos
  • Lighting a candle
  • The smell of printed magazines or books
  • Taking a bath
  • Using face masks
  • Opening the blinds during a sunny day or stepping outside for a moment to absorb some sunlight
  • Looking at the stars/galaxies (outside or pictures online)
  • Breathing exercises

Pleasure is fun, enjoyable, rewarding, exciting, makes your heart pump, floods you with dopamine

Like I said before, pleasure and comfort can cross paths, but the main benefit of seeking pleasurable or enjoyable activities is ultimately about increasing happiness. Seeking hobbies and interests which you’re passionate about gives your life purpose and fulfillment. Here are the activities that really get my blood pumping:

  • Music – especially listening through a good pair of headphones
  • Connecting with people who make my heart happy, who make me laugh, who really get me
  • Writing
  • Playing video games
  • Learning new things, especially about vocabulary, space, deep sea, or psychology
  • Making videos/short films to tell the stories I envision

When to Use These Activities

Now that we know the difference, here is how I like to utilize the items in each category:

Comfort:

  • High anxiety
  • Dissociation
  • Stressful situation
  • Being upset or sad

Pleasure

  • Bad mood
  • Depressed
  • Feeling listless or restless
  • Being in a rut

What are some things on your comfort list or pleasure list?

getting over negativity, mental illness, complaining, self improvement, self help

When You’re the Toxic One

“I hate drama,”I tell my friend, dramatically. “I’m just a chill kind of person” (I’m not). “I just can’t stand all the negativity around here,” I tell another friend on another day. “It’s just so awful. No one knows how to do their damn job!” I keep complaining and slowly lose the will to give anything beyond like 60% effort. “Have you heard about ole what’s-her-name? She did something subjectively terrible, and even though I don’t even know her, I’m going to judge her harshly and say nasty things about her. Yeah, she’s the worst. I’ve never made any mistakes.”

While this fake dialogue may be just slightly dramatized, it does represent a problem I’ve noticed with myself. Far too much negativity. I’ve been the reason someone has rolled their eyes. I’ve been the person that maybe has been avoided because of my attitude. I’ve been guilty of being the type of person I complain about.

Venting and complaining are necessary outlets and I engage in them frequently. However, I’m still victim to my own feedback loop of commiserating and the “high” it produces. After all, dopamine doesn’t care if it’s a positive or negative emotion.

So what’s the answer?
Be positive and happy and shit, right? Wrong. I think the opposite of negativity and toxicity is empathy and compassion. Understanding where someone else is coming from before writing them off as a fuck up. The ole “walk a mile in their shoes before you judge” kind of thing. I certainly know I’d like some empathy if the situation were reversed.

I think I’m a pretty empathetic person in general, but why is it at work, or with family, or with close friends, I can be so negative and judgmental? Shouldn’t I cut people some slack, especially those I am closest to or those I’m around the most?

That’s what I’m working on. Empathy when I want to complain. Saying something nice, when I want to say something mean. Not saying anything when I can’t be nice (there’s an old adage in that statement, too). I’m obviously completely imperfect at this, but it’s a start. I’m aware of it now, at least, and I’ll keep getting better.

Are you guilty of being toxic sometimes? What do you do about it?

I Faced My Fears in 2018

fear anxiety mental health

I am afraid of fear itself. I’m afraid to feel negative emotions in any situation whatsoever, afraid to encounter something that I can’t handle, afraid to face the unknown–I fear anything that I think might make me feel afraid of any of these things. That should be anxiety’s mantra: already afraid, so you don’t have to be. 

There are many sources now that show how facing your fears can actually help reduce anxiety. It’s called exposure therapy. It’s proving to your brain that there actually isn’t a threat when you’re safely secure on a bridge, looking down. It’s showing you that you can get through a crowded DMV and handle your business there without having a breakdown. It’s putting fear back in its place for things that are actually threats to your well-being.

So what fears have you faced recently? Here’s some of mine.

  • Drove to Kansas City (8 hours away) for a gig in a highly competitive industry for little money to do a high-pressure job during a huge event.
  • On a number of occasions, I was able to address issues with coworkers without lashing out in anger or cowering behind guilt and shame for feeling how I felt.
  • Was able to ask for help at work and not feel afraid, or if I did feel afraid, I stood my ground to get answers/clarification in order to properly do important tasks.
  • Moved into a new place that I had never seen with roommates I didn’t know due to an immediate need for moving out of my old place
  •  New living situation has forced me to reevaluate my expenses and work harder to keep up. It’s extremely intimidating and I put off this change for a long time due to fear.
  • Initiated friendly conversations with strangers.
  • Made calls that I needed to make, to leasing offices, to renters, to doctor’s offices, to customer service help desks.
  • Spoke up when my order wasn’t quite right.
  • Asked for help with a couple of things in my personal life that were difficult to ask.

These are just a few of the fears I faced. Some are specific and only happened once, while others are broad and recurring. The ones that I had to face multiple times lead to me mastering that fear and I never had to feel–oh, wait, no. That’s not how that works. I still feel fear. I’m still an anxious person. I probably always will be.

That’s the biggest thing I learned. Facing my fears, even a list like this that I’m proud of, didn’t make me some master of conquering my fears. I’m not a whole new person who courageously knocks down every obstacle that comes up because I feel no fear. Rather, I learned how to handle scary situations, despite the fear. I can survive even with the knot in my stomach, even when my heart races, even when I feel the pull of dread dragging me the opposite way. That’s what bravery is–not the absence of fear, but standing up to the challenge in spite of it.

What fears did you face?

The Guide to Recalibrating Your Priorities

I’m already looking forward to 2019. By that, I don’t mean I’m eagerly anticipating it. I have my sights set on the future. In 2019, I will be in a new apartment with new goals. A sudden change in my life forced me to change my perspective. It shattered me at first, but I bounced back and now have taken a good, long look at myself.

Therefore, I’m focusing on what my priorities are–and figuring out what they even are now. I feel like I’ve sort of lost myself along the way and though I’ve attempted many times to right the ship with minimal success, this change in my life is forcing me to follow through. I refuse to just be swept up in the madness of all these transitions. I can still enjoy myself and fulfill my desires.

So if you want to reflect on yourself and what you want for your future, you can use these points that I used!

What Gives You Light

This is about what makes you “you”–something that both gives you contentment and peace, but also energizes you with passion and fire. For me, it’s connecting with others, usually one-on-one, or in small groups, either over a common interest or career field or through a good chat and a laugh. It also gives me light to help others/benefit the world in some way, most prominently through volunteering.

Commit to doing what gives you light, even if it’s the smallest opportunity.

Self-Care

Self-care for me, like I imagine it is for many others, is difficult. I didn’t really “get it”. I thought it was about pampering yourself and living up the “treat yourself” motto. To a degree, it can be. But it’s all about what works for you. At first, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. It was a startling realization that I didn’t know what truly relaxed me and nourished my soul. There’s quite a difference between things you enjoy and things that are good for your physical or mental health.

For instance, while I love to write and have several fictional works that I enjoy writing, it doesn’t relax me or make me feel “taken care of”. Accomplished? Sure. Excited about possibilities? Absolutely. It’s fulfilling, but not exactly nourishing. However, I found that I love baths and face masks. Simple, relaxing, rejuvenating. I enjoy being outside, too, even if it’s just for a light walk. Listening to headphones, specifically while wearing headphones, is another tactic I use to just zone out and decompress.

What You Need to Improve On

This one is less fun, but it keeps in perspective what you can do to grow and change. It may not be your favorite thing to reflect on, but it’s necessary sometimes. There are plenty of workbooks and resources online to help you tackle almost any issue. I also find going to specialized forums helpful, too, because you get a lot of great anecdotes and personal advice.

Hobbies/Interests

I literally have a list of hobbies and interests I have. It’s important for me to see it in writing so that I “remember who I am”, so to speak. I tend to get swept up in stress or depression and drift along. It’s nice to remember the things that are fun for me or interest me. Sometimes I search for classes or workshops regarding that interest, other times I will look up videos, as appropriate. If it’s a hobby I can personally engage in, of course, spending time actually doing it can make me feel more connected to myself and overall more fulfilled.

My big obstacle here is mental and physical energy. It’s in short supply lately. Surprisingly, the list is comforting. It’s nice to know those things will be there for me when I’m able.

Priorities

Taking all the above into consideration, what are my priorities? The facts for me are as follows:

  • I’m moving (which is super stressful and very involved)
  • I have little energy when I’m home
  • I do know what I like to do, what fulfills me, what nourishes me, and what I need to work on

So with all this in mind, what is feasible for me in order to feel more rejuvenated, more connected, more alive, even during a time of stress?

  • Start volunteering again, even a very minimal commitment.
  • Make one “friend date” and go through with it before making any other social plans
  • Make more of an effort to connect and network online with other mental health bloggers

That’s it. These are the small, short-term goals I’ve decided to make for myself. Anything else is a bonus. But these are the things I can work toward in my current state, without feeling overwhelmed by all the things I should or could be doing.

I’ve certainly had my ups and downs this year. I just hope I can make the ups last a little longer next year.

What are your goals for 2019?

A Guide to a Crisis

I have stumbled upon a mental crisis. I’m talking deep, dark place, code red, talk me off the ledge crisis. Thankfully, I didn’t do anything destructive or harmful, aside from some yelling. What pulled me back down to earth a little from my downward spiral was the thought that if someone else were in this crisis, I’m sure I’d piece together some solid advice to at least help them de-escalate. I figured I should do the same for myself.

This is a guide for a time of crisis, when you feel overwhelmed or pushed to your limit, where you think you might break something, hurt yourself, or just scream and cry and wish for the cold, eternal embrace of death.

How to Deal with a Mental Crisis

  1. Cry
  2. Seriously, just cry a lot when you need to. Let it out.
  3. Embrace any and all emotions, like a wave washing over you. Don’t hide from them or repress them. In fact, listen to music that enhances this feeling. Angry music, melancholy music, whatever underscores that emotion.
  4. Can’t solve your problem immediately? Drink a lot of water. Like chug a bunch. Yay, you’ve accomplished one good thing!
  5. Speaking of water, splashing your face with cold tap water is very effective at helping you reset your emotions temporarily. There’s something about the shock of cold water that just recalibrates your brain. It’s science.
  6. Reach out to someone, if you can. Maybe you don’t have a ton of close friends, like me, and you feel awkward reaching out to someone and saying “hey, I’m struggling. Can I talk to you about this?” If it’s too uncomfortable and you don’t feel like you can do it with your current friend group, there are plenty of internet strangers willing to lend a helping hand (or a listening ear). There are free chat sites available out there for talking about this sort of thing, but I’ve always found the mental health community on Tumblr to be very supportive and willing to talk to complete strangers. There are also some great specialized subreddits on Reddit and support groups on Facebook that are for specific mental illnesses. I’ve found each of those communities to also be supportive.
  7. Distract yourself. Right now, you don’t need to have it all figured out. You need to relax and take your mind off it. Your mind and your body will be better off if you can decompress for a bit and then revisit it. You can’t solve anything when you’re tense, frustrated, overwhelmed, or on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

    For me, distraction isn’t just mindless scrolling of social media on my phone. At least, that’s not positive distraction. I like to completely immerse myself in a hobby or interest, like writing or video games. I also distract myself easily by learning new things (watching a documentary or reading an article), looking up classes for things that I am interested in, even if I have no intention of going, or just playing around on vocabulary.com or Duolingo. Another good distraction is diving into some big, unpleasant task that I’ve been putting off, like cleaning out my dresser drawers or my closet (usually involves some deep cleaning, for me). Probably the best and greatest distraction though is watching something that makes me laugh. I love vine compilations especially, but a good comedy special is great, too, or an episode of my favorite show.

  8. Finally, when you’ve done all these things, try to get some sleep. Throw on a podcast or ASMR video, if you need help. Take 3mg of Melatonin, or half of that, if you’re inclined to use sleep remedies. You can see things with a fresh perspective tomorrow. It’s that simple. There’s a reason that the phrase “sleep on it” became so popular. The brain can reorganize all the thoughts and information it received throughout the day. Maybe it all can’t be solved with sleep, but it definitely will help.

I hope you get through your crisis and feel a little better. I hope we all do.

Step Two to Pulling Yourself Out of a Rut

All the way back in February, I talked about how to pull yourself out of a rut. It’s a discussion I’ve had with myself numerous times. Battling mental health problems is like repetitive like that. You think you’re on a good path and that from here on out, it’ll be smooth sailing, but the truth is, like anything, self-improvement takes discipline, consistence, and perseverance.

A few months after that post, I bought a journal to help me focus on the next step. Often times, I get lost in the muck and mire, overwhelmed by the big picture. I sometimes feel I’m drowning in the details (the devil is in them, you know) and it all feels like too much. I feel like I’d rather give up than just try.

So I started breaking it down into doable steps in my journal. I have four major categories that I like to track: mental health, physical health, careers and hobbies, and giving and helping. For each one, I write a goal, and then, what the next step would be. It’s just a practical, simple way to visualize what you can do to achieve your goal.

For example, physical health.

Goal: make a workout routine
Next Step: 
research yoga channels and beginner videos.

Goal: Eat healthier, plan meals
Next Step: research foods to incorporate and those to avoid; look up recipes (For me, I’m going for anti-inflammatory foods).

Another example, careers and hobbies.

Goal: Secure more freelance work
Next step: check all my online resources for gig listings

Goal: Spend more time doing enriching hobbies/learning skills.
Next step: one lesson on Vocabulary.com, one lesson in Duolingo, two paragraphs of creative writing.

It’s all about the next step. Actually, it’s all bout doing the next step because the idea is that taking a step toward your goal will help you feel more accomplished, fulfilled, and overall happier. The doing is the hard part sometimes though. I know some of the things on my lists have sat there for months. But if I’m serious about pulling myself out of the rut, I need to continue to look at the list and push myself to do a small part for one of my goals. I’ve been better about some of the steps than others.

I encourage you to think about your goals and what your next step would be to get there, no matter how big or small. All goals look the same size when you break them down into small steps.

Can I Learn Anything from Nostalgia?

I drove through my hometown recently. The Black Crowes’ new album was playing. I had just got done running an errand in the neighboring town. I was still in my work clothes. I hadn’t expected my GPS to route me through the small town of 1,500 people, and I didn’t expect the feelings I had while I did it.

I’m not a nostalgia chaser. I try not to live in the past or indulge it too often because I become “homesick”, per se, of a time I used to live in, a person I used to be, a place I used to live. It hurts to feel that sort of sickening in your stomach that can’t be alleviated because the only true cure is to revisit that moment and feel it over again in the flesh.

Despite my aversion to nostalgia, I was hit with a strong wave of it as I drove through Chapel Hill, Tennessee. It was still the same in many ways–advertising the tractor pull, a few mom and pop shops amongst the name-brand franchises, vinyl-paneled houses that remind me of 2004 sandwiched between clumps of much older, country-style houses. But it was different, too. Dozens of more stores and businesses, but the same people live around, it seemed. Old folks in old clothes with old routines. They probably were born and raised there. They’ll likely die there, too. I don’t know who chooses to move there, but like my family when I was little, it’s probably because it’s cheap.

I actually moved there because my dad was a pastor. I didn’t know what that meant at age 5, but I grew up in church, essentially, and spent a lot of time with the people there up until 2008. I drove past that church. It has a new fluorescent sign. There were more buildings around it. I nearly didn’t recognize it, aside from the outside looking exactly the same. That vinyl-paneling that we put on a few years after we moved there. I felt so many different emotions and images crashing my brain, nearly short-circuiting my memory. I didn’t know which thought or feeling to chase.

Playing outside for what seemed like hours after service, coming up with crazy schemes (“We should build our OWN bus for traveling!”), getting scolded for scuffing my shoes or messing up my hairdo, chasing the boys, gossiping with my best friend, teasing my brothers, sitting in my parents’ van listening to the Top 40 on Sundays. There was a big oak tree out in the back yard and a giant slope to roll down. We built a shed out in the back, too, but it was mostly for the riding mower. The old parsonage nearby that we tore down is where I stepped on a nail. I still remembered how it smelled inside. We had a lot of potlucks at church, which was good, because I was always hungry.

What do these disjointed memories mean? Effective to my current life and situation, virtually nothing. However, my experiences throughout childhood, including these seemingly inane details shared here, helped shape my personality, my mind, and my views of the world. Everything in our lives, for better or worse, impress upon us different lessons or truths.

I, for one, though don’t assign special meaning to memories just because I associate them with a feeling. Because a memory makes me feel nice or good in of itself is not valuable to me. I cannot recreate the situation in those exact circumstances, so it is in vain for me to feel attached to it for too long.

What it really comes down to though is that I am almost 30. The little girl who grew up playing by that oak tree would not have imagined the life I had now. She may be sad for me, or confused. She may vow to never become like me. I remember pitying certain people as I grew older because I didn’t want to settle; I didn’t want to “be like them”. Complacent, unchallenged, lazy.

Now I find myself with a college degree, pursuing a career that has been difficult to sustain. I have no goals that feel reachable due to waning energy, high levels of fatigue and chronic pain, as well as recurring mood issues/depression. Sometimes I feel like I’m sinking. Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing a mountain and having a grand time doing it. Other times, the mountain is in sight, but it looks more like a chore, than a fun challenge. I’m afraid this latter mentality is one I’ll die with.

How foolish for me, a 29-year-old, to feel that my life is basically over! Ah, I’ve done everything I’m capable of. Might as well die.

Except I’m obviously not going to do that. I do get tired of this same song and dance. The pattern of highs and lows. Not being able to sustain a normal, or at least balanced, life. Coping with a mental illness isn’t like following some linear path of treatment or recovery. It’s messy and frenetic and disordered. Some great days, then mediocre days, then awful days, then worse days, then a good day, a second good day, a bunch of meh days, and then a great day. Repeat ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

I get so sick of it, honestly. Like just sick to death of it. I haven’t updated this blog regularly because I don’t have solutions. I don’t have anything blog-worthy to share and to inspire. And what would be the point of wallowing, self-pitying, depressing entries with no solution or inspiration for other sufferers? That’s part of my problem with the blog and myself in general: I’m losing my direction. I keep falling into this same rut and I’m having trouble staying out.

Nostalgia makes me yearn for the days when this stuff wasn’t an issue yet. I don’t like remembering those days because I don’t know how to be like that anymore.

I don’t have an inspiring answer or motivational send-off for those who maybe feel similarly. But I will give this advice: don’t stop trying. There’s always a next step. You may not fix all of your problems or cure your mental illness, but focus on your next step. That’s what I’m doing. I can’t recreate my childhood memories or feel that same glee and freedom, but my life isn’t over. There’s still many years to come. So what’s next?

I encourage you to ask yourself the same thing.

Do What Gives You Joy

My personal journey of growth and self-improvement has been bumpy, to say the least. Everything I post on here is about that journey to find happiness, stability, and a healthy mind. It’s not been a linear journey, either.

I’ve concentrated my efforts lately not on doing some specific CBT worksheet or DBT skill, but instead on doing what gives me joy. Long-lasting happiness and being in complete control of all my emotions and reactions seems a little too far-fetched some days. But moments of joy–that’s attainable.

Well, first of all, what gives me joy?

  • Connecting with people, whether it’s friends, family, or even nice strangers. Warm people who light up my life. People I can laugh with, people I can trust in, people I feel comfortable with. This can be my best friend or a customer at work. I like interacting with people who make me feel that light inside.
  • Creating something of my own. File this under writing and video work. I want to do more in video that’s MY work. I love helping on other projects, but I have my own ideas. I got into video production because I wanted to tell stories. I’ve cast aside all my ideas in favor of…what? Nothing. What’s stopping me? And regular ole writing–I have two blogs that I don’t keep updated regularly. I can do that.
  • Helping others, as cliche as it sounds. Although, if it were so cliche, maybe more people would actually do it, instead of listing it? I used to volunteer a lot a few years ago. I recently got back into it with a local animal shelter. I love doing something for the greater good. I would extend this also to doing kind things for others, be it just a compliment, paying for someone’s meal, or going out of your way to do anything for them at all. Again, strangers or friends.

Okay, this a nice list! But I have to actually make it happen. That means “doing”. This blog is not about theory. It’s about practice. I try to showcase when I actually do, not just when I have some pretty platitudes or pragmatic bullshit to spew.

The doing is the hard part though. We all have trouble with the doing, I can say that pretty confidently. There may be a Thing you want to do that will give you joy, but it requires some effort. Effort is hard. Your time, your money, the mental and physical energy you exert are all valuable resources when it comes to doing. So valuable that you may not do The Thing because parting with those resources means more than any benefit you can get from The Thing.

I still struggle with the doing. Maybe something on the joy list isn’t always accessible or practical, but I’ve talked about other quick fixes for feeling a bit more energetic and productive. Anything to decrease the amount of time I feel like crap.

My goal is to do more things, more often that give me joy. If I only make one little step toward it one day, that’s fine. At least I’m working on that Thing. There are days I don’t feel like doing any steps. That’s okay, too. I am just trying to keep having more Joy Days than non-joy days. It’s only going to go up from here, I tell myself.

 

So, what gives you joy? Why can’t you do it right now? What’s a step you can take toward it right now? What’s the second step?

I’ve had enough bad times, and I’m sick of dwelling on them. I’m ready to start cashing in on more of the great moments. Let’s make some damn memories.