Sunday, April 24, 2016

30 to 31: I Changed my Mind.

“When you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up”

                                                -Alan Watts

On my birthday last year, I posted a photo of myself in a sports bra and gym shorts proudly declaring that I had reached my goal of being in the best shape of my life on the day I turned 30. And I was. But what I didn’t say is that despite the pretty solid abs, I was actually going through a very hard time-not something that I think anyone was really aware of. I was miserable and my self-esteem was in the garbage. I found myself in a place where I honestly thought that I was a shitty person. I felt sick with anxiety every day. I was depressed to the point that nothing felt good ever.

Dying inside lol! (But actually)
There had been a lot of shit that just piled up over the years that I tried to ignore. Or tried to tell myself that I was "thinking positive" when really all I was doing was pushing my feelings deeper down. But it's like pushing down garbage in a trash can. Eventually you can't fit any more garbage in there no matter how hard you push. And all the trash you were trying to get away with ignoring is still there, and now it fucking reeks. I didn't want to deal with anything and I kept looking for ways to feel better that had more to do with external things(material possessions, other people) rather than ever actually taking a hard look at what was going on inside.

My emotional garbage can was overflowing. I knew I couldn't keep going like that. So I pretty much pulled the chute on my entire life. I changed everything all at once, and I have spent a lot of the past year working on myself. Reading a lot. Spending more time in nature. Focusing on building stronger relationships with the people who really matter to me, and having more meaningful conversations with everyone I encounter. And now, on my 31st birthday, I can say that…I still have some issues. But I feel stronger, more confident than I have in many years, and most importantly, flawed though I may be, I actually LIKE myself. And that’s a pretty great feeling.

But my feelings aren’t really what’s important, or at least they are not why I wanted to share my experience. I tried to really quickly summarize what I’ve been through with anxiety and depression this past year, because I actually have another point to make with this post. And it’s not just about my own emotional catharsis.

I’ve chosen to be pretty open about the fact that I deal with a lot of anxiety, and occasionally depression. And I think that because I have chosen to be open, people often feel comfortable talking to me about their own struggles  So the real reason that I want to talk about this personal crisis is not because I think it makes me special or different-but because I have come to realize that it is actually not unique, at all. Anxiety and depression are fucking rampant. And I’m getting really sick of it.

I like that I see a lot posts on social media about mental health awareness. But it seems like much of the rhetoric around mental health focuses on acceptance and normalization of things like anxiety and depression, and I feel like that’s just not quite right. Of course, I think that people deserve to feel safe and supported while tackling these issues. But I don’t think that it should ever be thought of as normal or acceptable that so many people are living in fear and sadness. Instead of just offering support, I think we should be getting pissed off, and start thinking about WHY this is happening and what we can do to change it.

I think a lot of our collective anxiety and depression come from the fact that we are living in a way that is completely removed from what it means to be a human animal. We are ruled by commodities, we are obsessed with materials. We are never good enough. We can never have enough. There is so much junk in the way of us just BEING.

In the midst of my bout of depression I made a quiet goal that I didn’t tell anyone about. Really more of a promise to myself than a goal. And that was that, for the foreseeable future, I would put nurturing my mind ahead of all the other stuff I’d been focused on for a long time. Every day, I have made it a priority to read, or to watch something educational on Youtube. I’ve made subtle changes, like unfollowing most fitness and makeup accounts on Instagram, and following accounts that promote growth, or post interesting facts about the world. I’ve tried my best to let go of the fear that people would think I was weird for talking about the things that really matter to me.

In my pursuit of knowledge, I’ve become convinced that we are living in a crucial time in history, where a lot of people are realizing that we’ve really fucked this whole society thing up. It’s just not working out, and so much of what we have built is making us feel like crap. And I don’t even think that’s really a radical thing to say-if you pay attention to the news at all, it’s pretty obvious.

I don’t know where we go from here. But I definitely do not think that we are meant to be sad and fearful. So something has to change. I’m not getting grandiose and calling for a revolution (although sometimes I think that’s where we are headed).  But I think that on a personal, individual level, changes can be made. For many of us, anxiety and depression feel like a mystery, but I think are coming from a very real place, and I think that the source can be identified, and it can be fought. I don’t think we need to accept that this is just how we are. I believe that we can free our minds.

Yes, I am coming from a place of privilege. I have had many advantages in life, and I have a very strong support system to get me through the hard times. And yes, I am very well acquainted with serious mental health issues that need to be managed with the help of doctors and medication. I know that what has helped me will not work for everyone. But maybe there is someone who can connect with my experience. I know that I have had some conversations with seemingly random people in the past year that made a huge difference to me. I honestly believe that for all the shit that doesn’t matter, humans connecting with other humans DOES matter. So I’m swallowing my pride, posting this extremely personal stuff for all to see, and saying if you’re sick of feeling like life is shit, me too. I’m here.

Thank you for reading.

Alan Watts' philosophy has been very helpful to me during this time of introspection. This is just one short video from many you can find on YouTube. And sorry about the cheesy inspirational music, it's so hard to find clips without that unnecessary addition.