Over Thought Everything I Can Think of into Symbol…

For a few weeks now I have settled into a kind of generalized anxiety. Even though it can be suppressed on most days, it still is nagging me like an itchy tag in the back of a shirt. Without a doubt, this uneasiness is a product of my terrible habit of overthinking almost any and everything I can think of.

I am my own worst critic and as I have gotten older I have learned that every situation cannot be looked at through one lens, but rather many. Allowing myself to look from multiple angles has been beneficial in considering how others are feeling, justifying mine or other’s actions, and understanding the bigger picture. However, this has precipitated massive overthought and meticulous analyzing. It creates a boundless loop of “well, maybe it is my fault…” or “I can understand why so-and-so did or felt like this…” When I get into this state, I can’t snap out of it and I need someone to bring me back to reality.

I struggle particularly with situations in which another person and myself have different opinions on a matter. Typically, I try to pick the path of least resistance and upset as little people as I can with my decisions. I want to be well liked and if I know that my decisions are in accordance with that of the majority, I fear nothing. When I decide to make a conscious decision for myself and by myself, that is when the broken feedback loop starts. Did I make that decision because I just being selfish and stupid? Was that a bad decision? What if something else had happened?

I recently was listening to the talk show “Invisiblia” on NPR. The episode was called “The Secret History of Thoughts,” which had originally aired in 2015. Co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller discussed three different schools of thought regarding how our thoughts affect our lives and how we can approach them to solve problems. Throughout history, there have been three distinct phases of thought in which different professionals believed that there were particular ways to analyze thought to solve problems and create a more clear, happy and healthy mind.

The first phase is that thoughts have meaning. This Freudian theory believes that ones’ thoughts are very intimately related to who he/she is. Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist in Colorado, stated on the podcast: “There can be a tremendous value-profound value- in understanding where they [your thoughts] come from.”

The second phase doesn’t ask the patient to follow his or her thought, but rather to challenge the thought by asking: “Is there any truth in these thoughts that I am having?” In essence, you contradict the thought you are having to evaluate if there is any part of it rooted in reality. As Spiegel sums up, this phases’ belief was that ‘maybe people shouldn’t always take their thoughts so seriously, particularly a certain subset of their thoughts.”

The third phase’s premise is that you are taking your thoughts too seriously and that it is necessary to ignore them. Therapist Miranda Morris states “We’re going to work not on getting rid of it, but on changing your relationship with it.”

After listening to the podcast, I realized that I can pull different strategies from each phase to help combat my over analyzing antics. For example, I can use the second phase to help me work through self-deprecating thoughts like thinking I am a horrible person because of an isolated incident or that I am not loved. I need to walk myself through steps in which I evaluate if a particular thought is actually true, or if I am just being overly hard on myself. I have to ask myself: “Are there other instances to justify this thought or am I just overreacting?” This can help determine if I need change or fix something in my life to eradicate the thought or can I move to the next phase and ignore the pesky thought. Going through steps like this still allows me to look at situations at different angles, but it prevents me from the tiresome back-and-forth that plagues my everyday musings.

I also need to accept that choices in life aren’t always going to be binary: black and white or right and wrong. Often times, there are millions of different ways that a situation can pan out. Each decision we make is tainted by our own personal opinions, experiences,  and views on a particular situation. From where I sit, I am at the center and everyone else that is in my life falls somewhere around me; whereas exact opposite is true for someone else. I am not the protagonist of their story and they are not the protagonist of mine.

It is important to weigh other’s opinions and preferences but at the end of the day, you have to make sure that you are the protagonist in your own life and not a supporting character in your own story.

Even though I have taken the time to consider how to prevent my overthinking, I realize that at some point I simply have come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I fixate on an event, decision, or experience, I cannot change the past.  If I have hurt someone, by all means, it is necessary for me to apologize sincerely and use the experience to help me be a better person and make more educated decisions in the future, but obsessing over it isn’t going to help anyone.

The first time I realized this was four years ago when I had come home for the summer after freshman year of college. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend at the time, and even though I was the one who ended it, I was having major regrets about the decision. I was talking to my cousin, telling the story over and over again and going through different hypotheticals. Eventually, she stopped me and said: “Whether or not it was the right decision, or you wish you could undo it, you can’t, so there is no sense is continuing to over think it. It happened, and the only thing you can do now is to move forward.” Although this seemed harsh at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear to give myself permission to be okay with my decision. Even though that was many years ago, I have to continue to remind myself of the lesson: no matter how much I analyze past actions, I can’t change them. Looking back on previous experiences and exchanges is valuable and important, but having them consume my present isn’t healthy.

In the past week or so, I haven’t stopped overthinking entirely, but I have been able to stop myself from getting into a downward spiral of negative thoughts. Slowly but surely I am learning to be confident in my decisions and approaching thought as something that I have the ability to control and handle. At the end of the day, my thoughts should be helping me be better, and not working against me.

Link to the transcript from Invisibilia:  http://www.npr.org/2015/01/09/375928124/dark-thoughts

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The Moment Before You Need More Happiness

Six months ago, over Christmas break, a group of friends from high school and I decided to get together for drinks. A few of the girls I had remained close with, while the others and I had drifted apart and took a more passive role in each other’s lives. After a bit of small talk over crappy beers, one of the girls who I hadn’t kept in touch with looked at me and said: “In all your pictures you look SO happy. I wish I was that happy.” This comment caught me off guard and has been echoing in my head since that day.

What did she mean by that? Am I really that happy? Aren’t I supposed to look happy in pictures — isn’t that the point?

The reason I have been so preoccupied with her seemingly meaningless observation is the emphasis which I personally place on the word “happy.” The word carries a certain weight; it has gravity to me. Some words (mostly negative ones in fact) have a triggering effect which conjures bad memories or experiences for people. Although the general concept of happiness is far from a negative one, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth because of my personal relationship with “happy.”

Now a days, there seems to be an epidemic of sporting the ultimate happy mask on social media: post a picture of you smiling doing something fun or interesting and then you must be happy. However, my fixation with being happy started before I had a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account. I learned at a young age that when I told someone I was happy (whether or not it was true), he or she would smile, seem to get some sort of personal satisfaction with that answer, and then leave me alone. I lived for that response. The fact that I could say one thing without having to explain personal emotions I didn’t want to feel or personally acknowledge was astonishing to me. I strived to be “the girl who was happy,” thinking it had some sort of novelty to it. Even when I wasn’t happy and was experiencing loss, facing challenging relationships and struggling with various aspects of growing up with a sick mother, no one really knew how unhappy I was. Years later, when I would tell friends and family about my struggles and how terrified I was, they always seem shocked. They would look at me and say: “But you always seemed so happy!” and I would respond with:“I know, you’re right. I always seemed so happy.”

Unfortunately, I think that for a good portion of my teenage years I wasn’t really happy. That is not to say that I didn’t feel happiness and experience immense joy at points — I did, but I didn’t understand that happiness could be a state you are in, not just a fleeting moment. I understood how to convey the emotion; however, I never fully understood the significance of it. I simply thought that if I said it enough times, it would come true.

In college during my sophomore year (the year of college which I struggled the most) I wrote an article for a school blog about happiness. The short article was an attempt to convince myself, as well as others, to be happy. However, this blog post was another mask I created to cover up inner unhappiness. It was a far cry from a solution to the problem I had been facing for years. I didn’t understand that to have a solution, I would need to pick apart the problem.

Learning how to be happy and be at a place in your life where you feel a general ease takes time and work — something that I never wanted to admit. It is a situation similar to the one that I experienced as a child when my mom would clean out my closet. She would start by taking everything out of my closet, which would initially create a bigger mess. The first time that she did this I was on the verge of hysterics, convinced that she was just making it worse. Of course, at the end of it all, the closet was much cleaner. After realizing that the experience wasn’t as traumatic as I had expected, I let my sister in on the secret: yes, her closet would get a lot messier before it got cleaner, but in the end, just like my mother had promised, it would be much cleaner.

Although I learned this lesson long ago with regards to my closet, I never understood how to apply it to my emotions and feelings until recently. I had to realize that to be able to be in a happier, better place in my life, things were going to have to get a lot messier before it got a lot better.

As I have gotten older I have learned more about happiness: how to attain it and how to deal with aspects of life which are both sometimes in and out of my control. About a year ago, for the first time I really felt happy, (and it wasn’t the fake kind I had been telling people about for all those years growing up.) I can’t describe it, but things felt different, and I felt different. It was good. However, once I felt that way for a period of time, I didn’t know what to do next. I felt like there was nothing to be done.

If I had really achieved happiness, what else was there to do? If I climbed the mountain, couldn’t I just hang out on top? Was this what complacency felt like?

In Mad Men, protagonist Donald Draper states: “But what is happiness? It is the moment before you need more happiness.” My first reaction when I watched this particular episode was: “Oh geez, so metaphysical, Don” (note the sarcasm). However, upon further evaluation, I realized how poignant it was. Most people, as Don noted, haven’t learned how to maintain happiness. People who have lost extreme amounts of weight will tell you that even though losing the initial weight was difficult, the most demanding part is maintaining their new habits and diet. What’s the point of losing all the weight if you are just going to gain it back right away?

This same concept can be applied to achieving happiness, and I am still working on the maintenance piece. Understanding that I can be generally happy and still have bad days has been hard. I am figuring out that I don’t have to be experiencing extreme euphoria weekly to be a happy or well-rounded person. I have been pretending for so long that it is easy to revert back to old habits. Sometimes I question if I am really happy or if it is a combination of external factors which are influencing me to act and present myself in a certain way.

This past year I made a new friend who every time he would see me would say something to the extent of: “Aw, I love you! You are just so happy all of the time.” Each time, he mentioned this, I would cringe a little. I knew he didn’t know that was a sore spot or mean to make me feel uncomfortable. My fear was that if he ever saw me upset, he would be caught completely off guard because I was supposed to be the happy one.

I have started to come to terms with the fact that I can still be the happy one and have moments of defeat and unhappiness. It is necessary to struggle, grieve, and feel sadness and anger. These emotions make the happiness you feel that much better. I know that I am going to experience uncomfortable situations, pain, and have plain-old bad days, but I also am learning to give myself permission to admit that it’s perfectly okay to not be okay all of the time.

Life is too important to spend large amounts of time and energy cultivating relationships which don’t yield a genuine harvest or living at the mercy of negative pressures, both external and self-inflicted.

Due to this fact, I need to continue to figure out what relationships, career paths, geographical locations and various other influences in my life bring me to a happiness which is sustainable and real. I want to be able to look at someone when they say: “Wow, you look so happy in all your photos” and respond with: “Yeah, it’s because I am.”

Hey, Wassup, Hello

Having a place to archive my thoughts –specifically those in which I put in writing — has been something that I have wanted to do for years, but unfortunately never did. It wasn’t that I lacked not the initiative to start one or the organization to maintain one, but rather the confidence to put myself out there. The thought of having my writings archived in one place that I would share to the internet ( and therefore the world), scared me. What if someone who I didn’t like would make fun of me for it? What if people judged me for “trying to be a blogger?” These thoughts, although mostly irrational, made it impossible for me to feel confident enough in my own personal musings to create something of this kind. I am hoping between the conjunction of this blog with my new website (which I designed all by myself on Adobe Muse which I am SUPER proud of myself because I am far from a computer tech person) will be a way for me not only to share my thoughts but also collaborate with other like minded individuals as I attempt to  improve my writing in and improve myself.The thought of having my writings archived in one place that I would share with the internet (and therefore the world), scared me.

What if someone who I didn’t like made fun of me for it? What if people judged me for “trying to be a blogger?” What if my ideas aren’t important enough?

All of these thoughts (although mostly irrational) made it impossible to share many of my personal musings in a public arena. Although these thoughts are still present, they are no longer at the forefront of my mind and I am excited to finally take the plunge to write more openly and honestly. My hopes are that through my blog and website I will be able to chronicle and share my future ruminations, emotions, opinions and adventures!

Can’t wait to write more!