Tag Archives: mindfulness

M is for Mad

I went to bed anxious last night. I’m sure that I was not the only one—and while I do have personal reasons to be very anxious, my anxiety is nothing compared to that of the protestors, the families who have lost their children, their fathers, their mothers, their cousins, their neighbors, and friends, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, grandparents. Generations of family members lost to the violence and madness of racism.

I woke up mad. Mad about everything: mad that I’ve been cooped up for months now, cut off from life as I once knew it; mad that this country seems hell bent on self-destruction; mad that we don’t have a functional leader; mad that white people cannot seem to wrap their heads around the systemic damage done by centuries of racism. Mad that I had given up my morning runs at my favorite running trail because when lockdown began, people started swarming to the same trail, no one apparently concerned about spreading germs or vectoring the virus. Mad that so many people I know cling to their Facebook accounts; mad that I still post on my Instagram feed even though I know it’s owned by Zuckerberg; mad that he and Sheryl “Lean In” Sandberg refuse to make any changes. I mean, my mad has no end. Or so it seems.

So, I did what I know to do (I’m a therapist, after all, literally schooled in these things): I tried Mindfulness and Meditating. I put down my phone and my computer for two blissful hours yesterday and went kayaking, basking in nature: ducks, herons, turtles, geese.  I felt better in the moment, but today the anxiety returned, so I called my therapist for an emergency session. That helped. Buoyed, I decided to try returning to my favorite trail, for a walk, with a mask. Big Mistake.

Two other people on the trail today were wearing masks. Two! Out of dozens: old people, children, mothers pushing strollers, dads on bikes with their children. I get why runners might not wear a mask—I had trouble breathing through mine while I was walking, but put on something: a bandana, a scarf, a balaclava to pull up when approaching someone.  I started to get mad again.

And then I remembered. I remembered why I had stopped going to my favorite trail (to any trails, really) for the past three months: I cannot control what anyone else does. I decided back on April 1 that I couldn’t keep coming home from my morning runs mad because so many people were suddenly out there. That was defeating the purpose. I remembered, as I felt like screaming at the other walkers today “PUT ON A DAMN MASK!” that I can only be responsible for my actions. As I felt my blood pressure rise, I remembered, that I had made a choice to be here, and if I wanted things to be different, I needed to make a different choice.

So often, when we feel miserable (mad, sad, anxious, depressed, angry, lonely), we look outside of ourselves for both the reasons and for the answers, when in actuality, the key to changing our feelings lies within. We think “if only they would change, life would be better” while we continue to do the same things, over and over and over again, expecting a different result. That, my friends, is madness. We have done the same things over and over and over again in this country. Silence hasn’t worked. Tolerance hasn’t worked. Action might.

I am reminded of a short parable, that I’ll probably butcher, but it goes something like this:

I walked down a street and fell into a hole. (Distress)
The next day, I walked down the street and walked around the hole.  (Anxiety)
Finally, I walked down a different street. (Choice)

Want to stop the madness? Make a different choice.

For some, a different choice is protesting. Standing up, speaking out, marching. For others, a different choice is listening. Listening to understand, not to reply or to defend, but to hear. For others it is donating, writing, making art, singing. Reaching out. Linking arms. Lifting up.

Choose to do something.

As a counselor, I am ethically obligated to stand for social justice, to stand with those who face systemic oppression and disenfranchisement. And I do. I believe Black Lives Matter. I stand with the protestors.

L is for Loneliness (and Logic)

Let’s try this again. Yesterday’s L is for post was an aberration. No other way to explain it.

Loneliness is such a difficult emotion. When we are feeling lonely, we are probably also experiencing so many other emotions at the same time: depression, anxiety, shame, frustration, for starters. And, behind all of these feelings is probably fear: fear of being judged, fear that we will never find our people, fear of rejection.

With all of these emotions swirling around inside of us and with a perceived lack of support, we often are reluctant to take the steps that are necessary for connection. When we are depressed and anxious our natural inclinations are to curl up further, to retreat more deeply into ourselves. We may even reject overtures of kindness as “pity asks” if we allow ourselves to believe what our emotions are telling us.

Loneliness is particularly difficult because as humans we are wired to be in connection with others, and yet we are also oriented to danger, evolutionarily speaking. We are constantly scanning our environment, looking for danger. This predilection is what kept us alive and kept the gene pool advancing. But this tendency to look for danger resides in our reptilian brain and kicks in without us even knowing, and it keeps us from reaching toward others.

How do we get out of the place of loneliness then? How can we trust that our friends are genuine and not just reaching out to us because they feel sorry for us? I once had a therapist ask me if I really believed that all of my friends were in cahoots to take me on as a “project.” She asked me if I truly believed that they only called and invited me places because they had agreed that no one else would if they didn’t.

The good news is, we don’t only have our reptilian brain, but also our pre-frontal cortex which is where logic and reason reside. Emotions are powerful, but so are our developed brains. I didn’t have to think very long to realize that was a very unlikely scenario. Did I trust my friends, she asked? What did I know about them? Did this strike me as even a remote possibility? Of course not. My friends don’t have time for such projects, nor the inclination to trick someone into feeling loved. The very thought struck me as absurd. And that’s the thing about emotions—they are generally based on a faulty belief, i.e. “I’m lonely because no one likes me.”

When we are confronted with these unpleasant emotions we can develop tools for coping. First, allow yourself to have the feeling. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, emotions come and go. If we can expand our ability to sit with them and to recognize that nothing terrible will happen if we allow ourselves to fully feel our loneliness, we develop resilience. And we learn that we don’t have to be afraid. The feeling might not be as bad as we imagined.

Next, access what you know. List your friends and all of the people in your life that like you. Coworkers, classmates, teachers, family members, book club members, running buddies. Your spouse. Let the names wash over you, feel the love.

Take action. Pick up the phone, send an email, go for a walk and wave at your neighbors (from at least six feet away and wear a mask). Write a letter. Put up reminders around the house that you are loved. Chances are good that your reaching out will touch someone else who might be feeling similarly. If we can remember that we are more alike than different, we will feel more connected. I know that taking action can be difficult, but trust me when I say that not taking action will not alleviate your loneliness. You have to put yourself among your people to find them, and sometimes you have to do it over and over and over again.

We don’t have to be ruled by our emotions, but neither do we need to fear them. Let yourself feel them, get acquainted, and then take charge. I’ll write more about learning how to recognize emotions and how to work with them in my next blog, M is for Mindfulness, so stay tuned. And for anyone who read my initial and awful L is for post, my most sincere apologies. I let my emotions run away with me.