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!

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?

The Thought Patterns Ruining My Life

We are not our thoughts. But we are the thoughts we allow to control our lives. And the thoughts we indulge are the thoughts that create ruts in our minds and eventually become thought patterns. Here are my thought patterns and the ways in which they are ruining my life:

Worrying About the Future

I constantly “borrow trouble”. I worry about what the future holds, including those things I don’t have control over. I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and even about negative outcomes that are unlikely to occur. I build them up so much in my mind that I become sure they are going to happen. If anything close to what I fear does end up happening, I see it as a sign that my worry was justified.

Grieving the Past

I go over and over the past, including mistakes I made and mistakes others made that negatively affected me. I dwell on missed and bungled opportunities. I mentally recreate dialogues from years, even decades, past. I yearn for the more positive, alternative outcomes that could have come to fruition “if only…”. I beat myself up for how I used to think, feel, and behave, even though I was younger, less worldly-wise, and hadn’t had many experiences yet. I remember and obsess over dates I find significant (for example, “In the year 2002, this happened” or “May 5, 2008 was the day that…”). I’ve never learned how to “let go”.

Assuming People’s Motivations

I often assume people have malicious motivations towards me which explain their actions. Instead of assuming they are just busy or forgetful or ditzy, I assume they dislike me, maybe even want to harm me, and that is why they do the things they do or don’t do the things they don’t do. I am the guiltiest person when it comes to black-and-white thinking, and this type of thinking does not lend itself well to being able to see context or nuance in any given situation. I have been hurt and disappointed by so many people, I now suspect everyone of malintentions. I feel enraged over the thought that others would mistreat me when I would never mistreat them. Others’ mistreatment of me evokes obsessive thoughts over the matter, which I often whitewash as righteous anger. It is easier for me to claim the moral high ground instead of admitting I mentally and emotionally hold onto these hurts to an extent that is not warranted and that is actually self-destructive.

Trying to Please Others

I constantly try to please others and “fit in”, even when I don’t immediately realize I’m doing so. For example, sometimes I respond in a politically-correct, socially-acceptable way that doesn’t covey my true feelings. This comes to me very naturally and without forethought. Only afterwards do I realize how I compromised myself. It seems although I generally dislike people, I secretly crave their acceptance. This causes me to feel weak and become irritated with myself.

Internalizing What Others Do to Me

I take what others do to me as a measure of my own worth. Instead of thinking of them less, I think of myself less. Even if I get upset with them, it pales in comparison to the way their actions make me feel about myself. In reality, the way someone treats another person reveals more about themselves than the other person. And when a person treats others poorly it’s often a sign they think of themselves poorly.

Trying to Control Things

I try to control my feelings, circumstances, and environment. These are things that are impossible to control. Feelings arise uninvited, but they are generally based on the thoughts I allow to take up space in my mind. Environment can only be controlled to a certain extent, and circumstances often occur unbidden, unplanned, and unwanted. I know that the most peaceful people are those who can “roll with the punches”, let things “roll off their backs”, and successfully adapt instead of trying to mould situations to fit their desires.

Dreaming of the Future

On the face of it, dreaming of the future doesn’t sound like a negative thought pattern. What could be unhealthful about having goals, being excited for what’s to come, and allowing it to lift my mood? While these things aren’t inherently problematic, spending my time dreaming of what “could be” instead of taking the necessary actions to make it a reality only traps me in a sad, unfulfilling present with a false sense of achievement.

Striving for Perfection

Fear leads me to always strive for perfection. I can’t stand making mistakes. I can barely bring myself to read my past blog posts for fear I realize how awful they all are and delete them. I often don’t start something I really should for fear of not doing it perfectly. Past failures, even from very long ago, continue to haunt me. However, the logical side of me knows that progress can be made alongside failures and that those who don’t try, don’t succeed.

Being Overly Sensitive to Injustice

This is another thought pattern that might not sound unhealthful. However, my sense of justice often clouds my better judgment. I end up struggling too long towards a goal I don’t even want due to feeling I deserve it. Realistically, I know that’s my ego sabotaging my peace and contentment as well as my refusal to move past negativity and to accept myself in whatever situation I find myself.

Have you noticed any thought patterns that steal your happiness away? Have you been working on changing which thoughts you focus on in order to change those patterns and find lasting peace?

The Evolution of our Perspectives Over Time

Something amazing about human beings is our ability to mature, develop, and change our stances, beliefs, and viewpoints. This aspect is due to our adaptability, reasoning capabilities, and empathy. Our brains also have a high level of neuroplasticity, changing the way we think, reason, and behave.

Many of my opinions and positions have changed over the years. Some of them have changed 180 degrees while others have simply become softened, and I have grown to see where there is room for other perspectives. I think a lot of this comes with age. Many people aren’t able to see beyond black-and-white until their 30’s. I was definitely one of those people and had a very “us vs. them” mentality throughout my 20’s.

I’m sure my opinions will continue to change as I develop as a person, gain new knowledge and understanding, and have new life experiences. Looking at an issue from afar can leave a much different impression than looking at it from up close. You can never be sure how you will view or act in a certain situation until it happens to you.

Another common trait of human beings is our ability to hold two seemingly contradictory opinions at the same time. This is typically referred to as cognitive dissonance. I have surprised myself by feeling one way about a matter and an entirely different way about a similar matter, where the same principles should have applied. It’s important that in times like these we always use the best evidence, logic, and data we have available to us and do our best to admit any biases or emotions we have that might be causing prejudice. F. Scott Fitzgerald believed, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still be able to function.”

Yet another common human trait is to view anybody with opposing opinions as ill-willed. However, most of the time, someone with differing opinions has their thoughts and attitudes shaped by the same forces we did — upbringing and experience. And they are as sure as we that they are correct. Most of us are not even aware of why we think or behave the way we do. Social conditioning happens without the consent of the individual it shapes.

Have you found you think differently now than you used to? Are you more or less rigid in your views? More or less accepting of other people’s perspectives?

Perspective = Reality

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our perspective becomes our reality. The way we see situations and events determines how those things will affect us. Even the words we use shape our worldview, which in turn shapes our stances and emotions.

For example, I often hear the term “failed marriage”. But why do we conclude a marriage has failed just because it has ended? Perhaps it is the traditional “’til death do we part” part. Can a marriage be called a failure if the members of that marriage were happy for at least part of it and learned something from the experience? Is a marriage seen as “failed” because of the implied religious mandates that the couple never sever the relationship? Perhaps your parents, pastor, or society itself has taught you that marriage should be life-long, even if the situation becomes untenable for one or both spouse(s). Perhaps you’ve internalized that belief and therefore convinced yourself that you’re a “quitter” or that you didn’t try “hard enough”.

But this post really isn’t about marriage. It’s about perspective becoming reality. We have to be so careful to only humor the thoughts we think about ourselves that uplift us, not those that tear us down. Because ultimately, our thoughts become our own personal reality. I am trying to remember this daily by not dwelling on what I consider to be negative and constantly either reframing stressors in my life or concentrating on more important, pleasant things. I also definitely notice that it’s easier not to obsess over an issue or think of it it in a negative light if my life is otherwise full of positivity. Adopting positive perspectives can be a struggle, but it gets easier with practice and is always worth the work.