As you may or may not know, I struggle with anxiety and depression. Medication, weekly counseling, the whole shabang. The beginning of the new semester brought me a new counselor, and so far I’ve really liked working with her. In our work together we go about discovering more about myself and healing in ways I haven’t before. Mainly we do chakra work and meditations to help me understand my own emotions and energies better. (I will definitely do a post on this sometime, but that is not the point of today’s post.) One of the things I have found rather helpful in my emotional regulation practices is in fact a very small alteration to my internal dialogue.
Normally when feelings arise, especially if they are negative, I respond by internally saying things like “I am anxious,” “I am sad,” and so on and so forth. The issue with phrasing my emotional states in this way is that it does not recognize that those feelings are just that, temporary states. By saying “I am…” I am unconsciously equating my identity to my feelings. For someone who feels a lot of quote unquote “negative” emotions, this practice can be incredibly harmful and self-destructive to the way in which I see myself. I started to believe that anxiety, depression, and guilt were who I was. I ended up feeling worthless and inherently bad. Combine that with my previous campus ministry’s theology of sin and there was a lot of pain in my life.
After a few sessions with my new counselor, I started attempting to switch out my “I am…” statements with “I am feeling…” So far it has done a lot for me. This slight alteration in the way I speak to myself and the focus on noticing my internal realm has created space for my feelings to be feelings and not my identities. While I’m by no means “fixed” or “cured” (Damn it, I’ve got to stop saying toxic things like that. It’s just so ever present in our society’s language surrounding any kind of illness.)…anyways, I am still definitely struggling with anxiety and depression (and now I’m coming to realize codependency as well… more on that later), but this small act of mindfulness has eased things for me.
Now I need to work on saying “I am feeling…at this moment” in order to remind myself that these feelings are transient. So remember folks, you are not what you feel. You are the conscious being that notices your emotions and the comings and goings of said emotions. Do not get too wrapped up in the feels, but rather create a space for them to exist and allow them to both stay as long as they need to and leave when they are ready.
I am an intellectual person. I do not say this as a way to boast, but merely to put into words the way in which I encounter the world. Simply put, I live in my head. While at times the habit of allowing my mind to be the ruling center of my life has its benefits (i.e. school and other academic pursuits), residing in my head is rather exhausting. Often I feel as though I have trouble being present. Whenever I interact with others I am always overly conscious of my body language and the messages it is sending, whether or not I am talking too much or with the proper inflection for what I am trying to convey, or I allow my mind to wander. Rarely can I allow myself to simply be. There’s simply too much to consider, too many things to observe, for me to let go of my thoughts and enjoy a moment. I fear I am out of balance. I place too much emphasis on my mind and not enough on my body and spirit, and I’m feeling the consequences.
Lately I’ve been working on noticing where in my body I feel my emotions, especially stress, and I have been focusing a lot on my breath. The books on mindfulness and meditation are piling up next to my bed and on my to-read list. The issue is that it is all too simply for me to read about how to do these things, but applying what I intellectually learn into my life is just so difficult. I can understand the importance of letting go, but the act is so difficult. My disconnect from my body is not simply expressed throughout my emotions and breath; my relationship with my physical health is suffering. I had once lost a considerable amount of weight, was exercising regularly, and eating healthy. No longer is that the case. I’ve started to gain a bit of weight back, eat terribly, and avoid working out. The motivation to care for my body just isn’t there right now. On some level I want to, but again, I’m just not too eager to put my desires into practice.
Spirit is a bit more difficult for me to even define, but right now I’m thinking of it as religious spirituality. Again, a very difficult concept for me. I can read texts and understand concepts, but I struggle with prayer, I worry that about my micromovements during communion, I just don’t feel connected to God (which I’m still trying to understand intellectually anyways, regardless of experiential (dis)connection). I think about religion and spirituality all the time, but I only experience it through my mind, not on a spiritual level.
I’m seeking better balance, but it is difficult. How can I simply let go of my thoughts and just allow for experiences to come as they do? How can I be fully present in the present without worry of not being present? How can I be without analyzing how I am? These are the questions that plague me during long drives by myself.
I first started to notice that I struggled with my emotions and coping with stress during my junior year of high school. It was a pretty rough year. I was being made fun of in my gym class pretty ruthlessly by three of my peers, my band director had explicitly embarrassed me in front of our 180 person band several times and subsequently made me feel like an idiot, and my family was dealing with the stress that came with my sister’s impending wedding.
I feel it’s safe to say that I wasn’t okay. I was crying a lot, always anxious — especially during gym, and having panic attacks about once a week (though I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time). It caused frequent arguments with my friends because I was simply on edge the whole time. Continue reading