I don’t have any new insights to share. No confidence to try to impart. No tips. No anxiety hacks or depression busters to offer. Normally I wouldn’t even write at a time like this. When I’ve got nothing.
If I could sob on your shoulder, I would. If there were distractions that still worked, I would be distracted. If I could walk my dog without sunglasses hiding my eyes, I would greet the people I passed. If I could hear over the earbuds pumping music in over my thoughts, I would listen.
But I have no listen left. No smiling greetings. I got nothing.
Behind me pain, before me terrors, and me now in the moment between the two, submerged. Aghast. Unable to look.
When is resilience not enough? What if all the running, the working, the planning, the sweating and clawing don’t end up in freedom? When is the way of Dufresne closed forever?
This is all wrong. I should have died or fallen out of the game decades ago. And yet I continued on. There had to be more. I would be more. I would succeed. I would overcome. And I did, until I could no longer. I can’t run anymore. I can’t plan. I can’t think. I can no longer bend with the wind lest I should snap in two.
This isn’t why you read me. This isn’t why I write. This should be when I struggle hardest. This is when I’d fight.
I walk my dog. I pet my cat. I tell the people I love that I do. That’s all I have. Cheerful encouraging words? Hopeful thoughts? Look elsewhere, I got nothing.
After last week’s post, I thought I ought to qualify my neuroses worship. Yeah. It’s good to laugh at ourselves for our most difficult bits. I may laugh at my social anxiety for what a dork I am, but what if I stopped and just observed me being anxious for a few minutes? What might I learn? How could that help?
Well, for a start, I can stop being my thoughts. If we get a charley horse, we don’t shout, “Ah! I am a charley horse!” We say we “have a charley horse.” (Now I’m really curious why this is called a charley horse…OK. Turns out it’s from baseball.) So why do we say, “I am anxious?” Not, “I have anxious thoughts?” HMMMMMM!? Question this we must.
Sorry upfront for speaking the “M” word. Mindfulness has been co-opted by the corporate world to “incentivize” those folks who are overworked, underpaid, and/or without proper health care. Wellness as free pizza day. But that doesn’t negate the actual benefits mindfulness habits can reveal to us.
Mindfulness really only requires one thing. A point of concentration. Think of this as an anchor. We may drift from it, but when we wander, we can always return to that point. Mindfulness in meditation mainly focuses on the breath, observing an object, sense, or repeating a word or sound. It can even be noting the sensations in the body.
But we can practice mindful anything. We can take mindful walks. We may focus on the breath, the sensations of walking, and what we can sense or observe. We simply pay attention to one, or shift between senses. If our minds wander, we keep returning to the anchor.
The point is not to “stop our minds from wandering.” That’s what brains do. So, when we discover our minds have meandered off, note this without judging. Either the wandering or the thought, then return to the anchor. This is what strengthens the mind, helps us keep calm, undistracted, and in the moment.
Anxiety is intrusive, stressful, and spiraling thoughts, often about the future. If we find ourselves anxious about some paperwork or some hypothetical scenario of doom, this is when we note and observe this feeling. If we can continually keep pulling our brains back to our anchor in the present, the more easily we can remain safely and calmly moored.
So, instead of spending our time worrying, the quicker we get that paperwork done. Then no more worry. And if we can look calmly at our hypothetical scenario of doom, we might discover what is really at the root of that feeling. Overtime, we will get familiar with it so it has less and less of a grip over us and our lives. We may even laugh at it in blogs.
As I said, we can do just about anything mindfully. Coloring is fun. Simply keep putting down colors in a way we like. Playing an instrument requires mindfulness because it is time based. Have to maintain the rhythm, which requires being fully present in the moment.
I like yoga, besides the health benefit, it requires concentration on many things at once. The breath, balance, proper form, activating or relaxing certain muscles make me feel like I am juggling my own body. Lots to keep track of. Yoga has the added benefit of letting me feel where I an holding pain or tension in my body, and release it.
Sometimes in yoga — or any mindfulness practice — we may discover an old hurt or wound. We may suddenly find ourselves crying over something we had forgotten, but that has haunted us in some other form like anxiety or depression for years. And that is when we get to know ourselves a lot more.
Mindfulness also provides us with tools to deal with those discoveries. Practices involving self-love, forgiveness, gratitude (sorry “G” word), and compassion all help us put back together the pieces of ourselves that are broken.
Again, we could practice mindful dish washing or toothbrushing. The object is to keep bringing our wandering minds back around to our anchor. Each time we do this, we are working that brain muscle. Each time we get a little stronger, learn a bit more about ourselves. Then we can gently handle what we learn so that we can be calmer, happier, better, and more compassionate people. And we may end up with a new skill.
My yoga practice improves every time I practice. Even when the actual practice goes badly. Especially then. That’s why it’s called practice. [Gah! AI meme.] The same goes for basically anything “you put your mind to.” So pick a thing, any thing. Put aside a little time aside regularly for your thing, see what you learn, and if you can’t learn to laugh just a little more more at your inner dork.
Holy hand grenade, I’ve been going through a time. Let’s review. A neighbor dog killed one of our ducks in our yard, never tried to make it right, and someone is shooting arrows at my side porch.
Along with those slings and arrows, I’ve had: two funerals, two stomach viruses, looking for a new SS lawyer, phone calls and paperwork, and that most Karen of 90s holdouts, faxes!
Speaking of 90s holdouts, I found a copy of the CD Bona Drag, by Morrissey. The original with the red shirt on the blue background. I had that on tape! It was five bucks at a music store. Snapped it up.
When I finally sat down to listen, I realized that every single one of the songs was a hit that would show up as the first song on a Pandora playlist. But they were all together! These iconic songs were all ordered into one entire unfolding experience. A two year journey of delicious pop, with 60s girl band throwbacks, the slyest and snarkiest of lyrics, and a smooth yet odd and expressive voice. I had never fully appreciated those songs until I heard them set in that order.
That’s what the rest of my life has been in want of: order. I’m world-renowned for my intense dislike of chaos (and people going barefoot). I needed to get my life in some form of order, and I needed to let nature dictate that order. I needed to listen to each piece of it all in its own time, in order.
I love not worrying. Worry gives me panic attacks and agita. But when needs must, at least let me take it one at a time.
The first part to call was physical. Take a shower. Clean clothes. Drink water. Eat! Your brain is hardwired to react to scarcity, or any physical discomfort. You ever get depressed when you’re sick? And you ever tried eating? It’s like magic! Your body and brain work. I also highly recommend sleep. Melatonin helps.
This can all be truly hard when you are worried or anxious or depressed. But they’re some of the first parts of myself I try to reclaim from disrepair after a shock, sickness, or emergency.
I hate that I’ve become this person, but I gotta move my body! Slowly start walking about, swing my arms, dance a little, do some gentle yoga. My body becomes a Gordian knot after a few sedentary days. Only I slowly work it out, unlike other, “greater,” Greeks. My body is screaming, “move that arse.”
While we all are forced to make quick calls, literal and figurative, most of the time, those calls can wait a day or so for us to recover. And even for us to clean our normal work and life space. I’m a big fan of dedicated spaces that are ready for whatever.
And of course: can’t ignore the call to self-soothe. I try being very kind to myself. Let myself have permission to not be top functioning. I struggle with this. I feel I should do every dreaded task at once, when I could probably put aside time every day to work on the pieces. But if I don’t stop to just do a thing that soothes my mind and body, I can’t function at all.
The sooner I get myself on my regularly scheduled program, the better. But it does take time to come back from a major life whalloping. But at least there is plenty of daylight to get things done. Plenty of long summer days to tend to myself and life.
Obviously, things are still rough going. But I’m taking it in stages. Pasito a pasito. Baby steps. Making time for fun/good for me stuff. Even stopping at that music store for no reason was a win. I also got “Viva Hate” by, Morrissey. So I’ll sit down for a proper listen in good time, and in order.
– JL ✌🏼💚💐🖖🏼
PS – Fax machines are an arcane, invasive species of communication. There is no limit on killing them.