I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Feeling Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the feeling of overwhelm. I experience it often and I’ve noticed that when I have a lot of items on my agenda or in my routine, it helps to take a more critical look and do away with anything that’s just not that important. It could be applying a full face of makeup in the morning or cutting down on hobbies or not going for a promotion at work. It’s really easy to inflate the importance of certain rituals, activities, or milestones until they start to negatively affect your peace of mind and your mental health. I’ve had to get pretty strict with myself because I know I get overwhelmed very easily and hate the feeling of being depleted either physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is a big reason I don’t have more of a social life. But on the flip side, a social life might also lift my spirits, giving me more energy. I’m just terrified of new expectations, new responsibilities, new (potentially awkward) social situations to navigate. It all feels so exhausting. Yet I think about people who have more responsibilities than I do, like someone who not only goes to work and school, but also has a spouse, children, and a large house to attend to. It’s easy for me to feel lazy and unmotivated when I compare myself to these people, but I know from an intellectual standpoint that everybody has different thresholds and tolerances for stressors, often in accordance with their personal mental health history.

Longing to Be Heard

Does anybody else have the hardest time opening up to others? I long so much to be heard. Yet I feel guilty burdening others with my problems, even when they want me to open up. One coworker divulged to me that even though we had known each other for several months and even though she had told me much about her own life (including the fact that she had been forced by her parents to get an abortion while in college and that as a middle-aged woman she had experienced an attempted rape), that she knew little to nothing about me. I have noticed that people often feel very comfortable telling me sensitive details about their own lives and coming to me for counsel. Yet I don’t feel comfortable reciprocating. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test a few times and always get INFJ as my result. From my research, this personality type is known as “the counselor/advocate” because we are often reticent to share anything about ourselves with others other than a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. We are the “extraverted introverts”. I have always been more of a nurturer (although I have no desire to have children) and abhor the thought of being a burden to anybody. As a result, I end up in a pit of self-loathing, knowing I can’t blame others for not hearing me if I never give them the chance. Thus, the blame lies solely with me.

Eight Tips for Staving Off Depression During the Holidays

While the Holidays are touted as an inherently happy, uplifting time of the year, for many people it is anything but. In fact, it can be a depressing time that many just try to “get through”. This time of the year can highlight the things that are wrong in your life, such as a lack of money or family or love. So what can you do to ease the pain?

man standing beside cliff

Be grateful. I know this wisdom can often come off as trite and preachy, but it has worked for me. Whenever I am feeling disconsolate, that the world is against me, that nothing ever goes my way, I think about the positives in my life. I think about what I have that many other people lack. I think about the ways in which I’m fortunate, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve been given, and the ways in which my life is a lot easier and fuller than other people’s. I don’t do this to gloat but instead to foster a grateful attitude in myself and to avoid encouraging negative thinking patterns. And it almost always works. Don’t criticize yourself for not having what others have. Others might have more money, closer families, and better love lives. They most likely also had different upbringings, experiences, and opportunities in life. They also likely face struggles you don’t know about. Keep your focus on you.

top view photography of person near palm trees

Don’t overextend yourself. It’s not worth getting into debt or stressing yourself over money in order to spend more than you can afford just to fit in with everyone else. Avoid getting wrapped up (pun unintended) in the commercialism of the season.

girl decorating the Christmas tree

Don’t concentrate on the past. Times might have been better back then. Holidays past might have been a lot cheerier. Thinking about those times might remind you of what you had and what you lost. We can’t go back, only forward, so concentrate on the changes you can make NOW to ensure happier future Holiday seasons.

man carrying girl

Make your own traditions. Maybe your family didn’t have any or you don’t subscribe to them. Make your own and start a new generational tradition among your family or friends. Post about it on social media if you have an account. Start a trend. Inspire others.

woman wearing black sports bra

Attend to self-care. Be extra gentle with yourself around this time of year. It can already be a dreary, cold time. Don’t beat yourself up for having a different life than others or for not being able to enjoy the season the way many others can.

chocolates with box on white surface

Avoid over-indulging in sweets. While they make you happy in the moment, the inevitable crash can lead to depression. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself unless you have an issue with self-control around food, but make sure you’re not using sweets to fill the void in your life that this season can trigger.

woman in yellow tank top and blue denim skirt holding broom

Keep yourself busy. Attend to tasks you’ve been putting off like cleaning or donating unwanted items. Use this season to concentrate on productive pursuits instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity.

person in blue long sleeve shirt holding babys hand

Be open to happiness and light. Don’t harden your heart or allow resentment to occur. Consider attending a Holiday party, inviting a friend over for dinner, or taking a drive to see the festive lights and decorations many people put out this time of year. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help an elderly neighbor. Embrace the good parts of the season even though you might find it sorrowful, as well.

I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today is having a wonderful holiday. And I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in all of the most important ways, including attending to your mental health, and that you will continue to do so throughout this Holiday season. Stay safe and warm!

Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Fear

I have come to realize, deep down, the only thing holding me back is fear. Not my past, not a lack of funds, or a luck of ability, or anything else. It is hard to admit I am scared. It’s much easier to claim guilt and anger, especially righteous anger, which is so useful for virtue-signaling. It’s much easier to claim sadness and disappointment, which are natural reactions to unpleasant circumstances or situations and which so often generate understanding and compassion from others. It’s easier to admit to frustration, which is typically a more surface and temporary emotion. It’s easier to admit to grief, which is usually a reaction to having lost something dear and which also usually results in pity and understanding from others. It is much harder to admit to fear. It feels like admitting to cowardice, impotence, and weakness. But freedom and power result when fear is acknowledged, confronted, and moved past.

So here goes:

I fear success.

I fear failure.

I fear my past.

I fear my future.

I fear what other people will think of me.

What do you fear?

Starting Therapy Can Be Scary

You might know you need to start therapy. You might have a lot of mental health issues you’ve been struggling with for a very long time. You know the sooner you start going, the sooner you will gain a new understanding of the underlying causes of your problems and receive the help you need in confronting them. You know it would be invaluable to gain insight from an unbiased party that doesn’t know you personally, who has had extensive education in the mental health field, who can help you get on the right track to living a satisfying life. However, there are several things holding you back.

You’re scared of being judged. You are incredibly hard on yourself and feel like you aren’t deserving of understanding and empathy from your therapist. While you know from an academic standpoint that therapists are supposed to show unconditional regard towards their clients/patients, you are still worried you will be judged, even if silently. It’s easy to believe that your issues are unique, that nobody could possibly have gone through similar circumstances or feel similar emotions, but all human beings struggle with the same issues at their core. Therapists have almost certainly heard worse, more shocking stories than yours.

You’re scared of giving up control. By expressing your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, you feel you will be making yourself irreparably vulnerable. You’re scared of saying something you can’t take back. You’re not used to opening up to anyone. Perhaps even those closest to you don’t really know you. This can be terrifying and definitely takes courage. However, it’s the release of control that can bring about beautiful forward movement in your life and allow you to see the possibilities of how wonderful your life could be. Also, modern therapists are taught client-centric, client-empowering modalities so that the client is always the one in charge during sessions.

You’re scared of being institutionalized against your will. Although you may not be suicidal or violent, you fear that you will seem so crazy to your therapist that they will have you locked away, anyway. In reality, laws are very strict regarding putting someone away against their will. And thoughts of suicide from time to time are actually pretty common, even in those who do not suffer from mental illness. What alerts therapists is if you have a plan such as, “On Saturday afternoon when my family is gone, I’m going to shoot myself”. Likewise, angry, even violent feelings and thoughts towards others are normal, and therapists understand this. I myself have had them from time to time but have never acted in a violent manner. Again, a detailed plan is what would alert a therapist.

You’re scared of affecting other people, perhaps in unforeseen ways. You know that by telling your story, you will inevitably be telling other people’s stories along the way. That makes you feel uncomfortable. You don’t want this to have unintended consequences for anyone else. A therapist is required to keep confidentiality at all times except in very narrow cases — those being if they have reason to believe you or another person is in imminent danger or if they are given a court order (and even those can be fought). Also, it’s important to realize that your story and the stories of others in your life are intertwined. People who have wronged you are especially not owed your silence if it means jeopardizing your own well-being and stopping you from telling your own story. What you tell your therapist stays between you and your therapist. And there are stiff penalties for any therapist who abuses your trust.

You’re scared of the energy it will take to tell your stories and unearth your trauma. It is overwhelmingly emotionally taxing to think about, let alone talk about. You constantly question whether your memories are accurate. You worry you have a martyr’s complex and that you’re simply overreacting. You engage in mental gymnastics to excuse others’ behavior because you don’t want to believe bad of those closest to you. You fear how talking about the sorrowful experiences may bring them to life in a scary way. You don’t want to intentionally trigger yourself. Talking with a therapist (especially a trauma-informed one) is a good way to process repressed thoughts and emotions so that you’re not kept paralyzed and unable to move forward. A therapist’s job is not only to empathize, but also to challenge you. If certain unproductive thought patterns reveal themselves, your therapist will broach them as a topic of discussion to ensure you’re being honest with yourself.

You’re scared of change, even positive change. You have been stuck in the same thought patterns for so long, what opportunities would present themselves if you were well? The possibilities take your breath away. You would have nothing holding you back, and it’s overwhelming to think about. The enormity of it is terrifying. It excites you to think of the limitless possibilities of what you could achieve, how happy you could be, how at peace…but it also kind of feels like the descent on a super-tall, super-steep rollercoaster. Change is definitely scary. Even positive change such as getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job can be stress-inducing. However, with change comes new opportunities and revelations about yourself. Adeptly dealing with change results in a stronger person who more easily adapts to unforeseen circumstances and is able to thrive even amid the chaos often present in the world.

You’re not sure how to choose a therapist. You know it’s important to pick the right one for you, as the therapeutic relationship is the basis for success in therapy. There are a lot of factors to consider. Licensed therapists have at least a masters in mental health or a related field and have gone through internships and supervised practice before sitting for their licensing exams. They commit themselves to a certain code of ethics and are perhaps held more accountable than their non-licensed counterparts. They also use only evidence-based modalities in their practice. But that doesn’t mean competent non-licensed therapists don’t exist. Older therapists might have more experience than younger ones. Certain practitioners have taken additional training in niche areas such as addictions or trauma to work with individuals suffering from those specific issues. If race, religion, or gender is an important part of your identity, it might be wise to find a therapist who shares that same trait. Also, there are many different theoretical orientations which include different therapeutic interventions. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and family systems therapy. Lastly, therapists come from different educational backgrounds and worldviews. A social worker will often prioritize the broader, social dynamic of a person’s life; a psychiatrist the biological; and a mental health counselor the personal, emotional.

Is anyone reading this struggling with starting therapy? Or has anybody experienced these concerns only to start therapy and realize it’s what was missing all along? I’d love to hear from you!

When There’s No Lesson to be Learned

I think one of the worst experiences is to go through something awful without learning a valuable lesson. One of those experiences where you ask yourself, “What could I have done differently in order to avoid that situation from occurring?“ or “What was I supposed to come away with/ how was I supposed to change after that event?” and nothing comes to mind. Of course, it could be said there is always a lesson to be learned and that’s it’s only a matter of being honest enough with yourself and unbiased enough to accept what the situation is trying to teach you. Granted, there are many lessons I have learned via negative experiences. However, there are many I feel I must have missed. Learning a lesson makes me feel empowered and as though I didn’t go through a tough situation for nothing, that there’s a “silver lining”. Not knowing what to glean from a situation makes me feel like I have zero control over my own life. If I learn a lesson, I can put that lesson into practice to avoid or ameliorate future issues. If not, all I can do is dread the next time it might come up again. Not having learned a lesson makes it very hard to let go of my emotions surrounding it. It feels more like an assault than an opportunity, more like scorched earth than a rebuild. It feels like a bandaid that keeps getting ripped off or a trauma relived. I think in this type of situation the only thing you can do is to position yourself so that it’s less likely to happen again (whether that means moving, changing jobs, etc) and learn to accept what you can’t change or control. Am I the only one who has things happen that are super unpleasant and yet seemingly unavoidable and without any merit or redeeming value? How do you weather that experience in a dignified manner while not coming out on the other side jaded and fearful?

How to Stay Dignified and Cool-Headed Even When You’ve Been Wronged

One of my biggest weaknesses is practicing patience and keeping my composure when I feel I have been wronged. I tend to have a lot of what I consider (rightly or wrongly) to be righteous anger. I feel the same extreme emotions when I see someone else being wronged. I have a strong sense of right and wrong and am careful to treat others the way I want to be treated. When that same care is not shown to me, I tend to react with high emotions. It’s not possible to control other people or their behavior towards you. But it is possible to control your reaction. So how do you refrain from reacting emotionally while also defending yourself?

Let’s say somebody owes you money and has not paid you back. Pursue every reasonable avenue available to you to get the money. This could include asking them for it both verbally and in writing and perhaps even bringing a lawsuit against them. However, do not allow your pursuit to stress you or cause you to get so wrapped up in the future you lose the present. If you are not successful at getting your money back, let it go. Put it out of your mind. As the Buddha said, “The root of suffering is attachment”. Do not attach yourself to the money or to any sense that you need to be vindicated for the wrong done you. The burden does not belong to you to be vindicated. The burden belongs to them to make it right with you.

Practicing non-attachment does not mean you are a doormat or that you show weakness. It takes strength to stand up for what is right while keeping detached enough to retain your mental stability even when a satisfactory outcome does not result, to disallow it from rattling you or reducing you in any way. It’s detaching from the ego, which is a separate entity from yourself. It’s practicing self-care. By remaining detached, you are more powerful than you ever could be. Doing so frees you from the fear and angst you feel when your contentment depends on other people’s actions. Realize that you’re going to be okay, regardless of the outcome. Stay grounded. Realize that pursuing the matter any more will only hurt you. Elkhart Tolle says, “When you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you are doing, you become stressed” and “Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on”. Refrain from dwelling on their motives, the unfairness of the situation, or on what you’ve lost.

Do you also struggle with reacting in a healthful manner when you are wronged? Does anybody else strive to practice detachment in their everyday life?

You’re Not You (and Why This is Freeing)

An important concept to learn, understand, and remember is that you are not you. Knowing this can help you disconnect your self-worth from your thoughts, emotions, and tendencies. Your personality is largely made up of dynamics you don’t control, such as early childhood experiences, family culture, and genetics.

For example, I grew up in a very strict religious family with a diagnosed narcissist for a father. Individualism and critical thinking were not encouraged or tolerated. Religious, mental, and emotional abuse were the hallmarks of my childhood and teenage years. I grew up dreadfully insecure and fearful. As a teenager I developed OCD (never officially diagnosed, as my parents did not seek professional help for me), which included obsessive praying multiple times a day for God to forgive me, obsessive counting, and obsessive hand-washing.

Even at 36, I don’t know to what extent my personality has been shaped by the traumatic experiences of my youth. I very often have identity crises that most people past their teens or early twenties no longer experience. I constantly question what I want and if it’s not actually my trauma talking. I still feel that I don’t know who I am, what I should be doing, what kind of a life I want, or what I believe. It’s even hard to know how I’m feeling sometimes.

In his December 14, 2015 Bustle article entitled 7 Signs You Grew Up With a Toxic Parent and Didn’t Know It, JR Thorpe pulls from Dr. Susan Forward’s book Toxic Parents and says, “Many children of toxic parents find it exceptionally difficult to identify who they are once they grow up. Forward identities three areas in which their self-knowledge falls short: ‘who you are, what you feel, and what you want’…your sense of confusion and distance runs very deep indeed.”

Science tells us that your personality is pretty much set by six years old. It is largely an amalgam of your parents’/early caregivers’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Science also tells us that certain mental disorders have strong genetic links and that trauma can be passed down in the genes of families from generation to generation (epigenetics). But does this mean you can’t change? That you are bound by the mistakes of your parents and the generations before them for your emotions, feelings, reactions, and attachment styles? Thankfully, not. Recent science also emphasizes the neuroplasticity shown by the brain and its capability to create new neural pathways. By consciously making better, more self-caring choices, we can create new pathways in the brain and new defaults for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Eventually, it becomes easier and more natural for us to act and think in ways that benefit us and allow us to take back control of our lives.

I take some comfort in the thought that I am not simply a summation of my personality, interests, and mental issues. My worth does not lie there and cannot be calculated by arbitrary factors such as these. I don’t have to allow these facets of myself to control my decisions, moods, or mindsets. I don’t have to follow my instincts and can instead choose to think and act in ways that are best for me, which will in turn make me feel my best.

First Change Yourself

I’m trying to learn to take more responsibility for my life by changing myself before trying to change my environment. It is easier to change things under your control, such as restructuring your priorities or taking a different perspective on your situation, than to change other people or circumstances that arise outside your control.

In general, I am currently a pretty unhappy, dissatisfied person. There are a lot of things I feel are wrong or unbalanced about my life. But there are several small steps I could take to improve my life. For example, I currently live with my mother. Although we get along well, I feel uncomfortable with living at home at my age. I plan to get my own place. I also want to travel more often, get healthy, exercise regularly, look at screens (phone, laptop) less often, have more hobbies, and become more social. These are all relatively small changes I could make that I know would have a huge positive impact on the quality of my life. Making small changes or focusing on one goal at a time can be less overwhelming and less of a shock to the system than changing everything overnight or making radical changes.

I’ve often heard the expression that “no matter where you go, you bring your problems with you.” This I have found to be true throughout my life. Many of the issues that make us unhappy in life will not be changed just by moving geographic locations except for weather/climate issues; however, even these location-dependent issues are more likely to make us miserable depending upon our attitudes, reactions, and coping skills.

Are you planning on moving to alleviate your woes? Be honest about your motivations for wanting to move. Is your quality of life really going to be improved by your new surroundings? Are the deep issues that plague you going to resolve themselves? Or can you do the important work that needs to be done first, before moving? An unwell mind is not one which should be depended upon to make big decisions like a move.

It is sometimes easier to flee when we feel frozen than to start making less-dramatic, smaller changes. It is tempting to do something big and dramatic in order to force yourself out of your misery, but reacting this way is reacting like a caged animal.

Something I struggle with a good deal is impulsivity. It is a well-researched fact that impulsivity is a common trait of people with mental illness and can be found in the diagnostic criteria of several mental disorders. I find, personally, that while being rash often feels great in the moment and delivers instant gratification, it almost always screws me over in the end. And it’s when I’m feeling my least emotionally-stable that I act impulsively. When I’m feeling depressed and anxious, I don’t have the energy to plan and strategize the best course of action.

It is also a well-researched fact that mental illness and trauma negatively affect the executive functioning of the brain, making thinking and planning harder. However, planning an action before executing it usually ends with more desirable results.

I think we have a lot more control over how happy we are than we imagine. We have the power to enact many of the changes needed to improve our own lives.