Taking Space to Heal (Even When My Brain Objects)

I’ve been feeling it again lately, the pull, the pressure, the anxiety, the voice in my head that says “do more!” “be more!” “you are never going to achieve anything if you don’t make a huge push to accomplish great things NOW!” It’s loud, scary, and anxiety-inducing. Also, it feeds that voice in my head that tells me I am a big huge failure who will never make anything of my life.

But before we talk about that voice, why it’s doing that, and what I’m doing about it, let’s go back to the beginning:

The Original Plan (and what happened instead)

As you may know, if you’ve been following me online, this year I moved from Portland, OR back to my homeland of New Jersey. The original plan was, that after years of slogging along trying (and failing) to tame my mental and physical health issues and finally get back to life as a functional, self-sufficient adult who can accomplish things, I would go back to my childhood home for a couple of months. The idea was to be around my family and bask in my mother’s unwavering support and love, get healthy, and then figure out where I actually wanted to live and what my life would look like. I already felt a bit self-conscious about this plan because it really forced me to acknowledge that I, a woman in my forties, had never actually gotten my shit together and that the last 8 years of my life were somewhere between an unsuccessful experiment and a complete waste of time.

That being said, I was still looking forward to the plan as it felt like a lifeline, a way back to functionality. Frankly, I was counting down the days until I could get home to my mom. Then the plan kind of imploded when, 2.5 weeks before I was due to arrive home, my mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Then I got here and found that applying for health care (a vital part of the “getting healthy” plan) was a months-long, still-unresolved ordeal. In short, I’ve been here for 4 months and have found that my previous mental state was just aggravated by the (if we’re being honest, shockingly cruel) timing of my mother’s death and I have no access to care to help with any of it.

When I landed in New Jersey in May, and I had no idea the impact the events of the previous months were going to have on me, I sat down and made a list of the things I wanted to do over the summer it included:

I have accomplished exactly one (1) of those things (if you are reading this post on my Patreon where it went live 2 weeks before it appeared on my website, you know which one it was) and looking back that shouldn’t be surprising. If we’re being honest, in April and May I faced not one but two of the most stressful life events: the death of a loved one and moving¹ so it makes sense that now would not be the most productive time. Even though that totally makes sense, right now I’m actually spending a lot of time trying to convince myself that it’s okay to take this time to get my mind and body in order; to maybe finally win the battle I’ve been fighting for most of the last decade.

How My Brain is Objecting

The problem is, because I’ve been struggling for SO LONG and I have had SO MANY conversations about how it’s okay to be kind to myself, to take it easy, to stop beating myself up and I feel like I’ve already lost so much time. I generally feel like I haven’t really bean working for YEARS. With that in mind, how can it be okay to take it easy when my brain thinks I’ve been taking it easy since Obama was in office?

Additionally, there’s the voice in my head that tells me that taking time to heal won’t actually do anything. That there’s no healing to be had so I should stop being so lazy (because my working class New Jersey roots always tell me that the work I do isn’t “real” work and I’m just being too lazy to get an actual job) and just get back to work.The thing is, after years and years of spending money I didn’t really have chasing effective treatment (thus triggering guilt about A. not being a functional adult with a reasonable income who could just afford to pay for such things and B. “blowing” money when I had very little coming in) and listening to doctors make suggestions only to get annoyed and exasperated when I didn’t get better (making me feel like it was my fault and I was making a concerted effort to not get well), I’m pretty firmly convinced that the reason everything still sucks, the reason I’m still struggling so hard, is one of the following:

  1. I am cursed to lead a shitty, broken life and absolutely nothing will change it.
  2. I am somehow choosing this shitty, broken life and this is all my fault.
  3. I am just incredibly lazy and have spent the last near-decade not *really* working but also not *really* trying to get better and that’s why I am neither professionally successful nor mentally healthy.

Basically, I have a lot of thoughts swirling around my head that lead to the inevitable conclusion that I do not have the right to ONCE AGAIN, declare it time to not stress about work and to instead try to take care of myself. I haven’t earned that and I apparently don’t know how to effectively do that anyway.

What I’m Doing to Heal

There’s a lot happening in my brain these days, and as you can probably tell, a lot of it is discouraging. So I’m fighting that. I’m trying to take care of myself and take steps forward.  I’m also not being super-rigid about anything. What does that mean? It means I make daily to-do lists but am kind to myself if I don’t get them done. It means I’m trying to eat reasonably and stay hydrated but sometimes I say fuck it and eat a lot of chocolate. It means I try to be more active and actually engage in exercise but sometimes I skip it.

Just this week I had a day where I got up, walked the dog, attacked my to-do list and the instant I was done with the urgent, pressing things on it I wanted to stop working, go get some chocolate, and then take a nap. So that’s what I did. It freaked me out because I worry about backsliding mental health-wise (both because I think that would be bad and, at this point, I’m legitimately concerned it could possibly be deadly). It felt like I was giving in and this was my life now. But you know what happened? The next morning I got up, walked the dog, and felt able to do all the things on my list.

The lesson here isn’t “take it easy because long-term I’ll be more productive”. It’s more like “taking it easy one day is not committing myself to a lifetime of not trying. It’s just giving all these feelings and all this fear space to breathe. It’s showing myself that I can feel all the awful shit and still get back to life the next day. It’s giving me now what I never really gave myself when my dad died, freedom to not be a big raging badass.”

I’m not sure where I’m going ultimately (Like at all. Career, relationships, where I’m going to live– it’s all up in the air!) but I am already seeing how this approach as opposed to the “taking it easy” of years past, which I’m realizing was often just avoidance with a hefty helping of self-harm dressed up as self care, is helping me move forward. The steps may be slow and small but they are there.

I’ll keep you posted.

¹ This year can be topped only by 2011 when my dad died, I got divorced, and I moved all within 2 months… at least then I had healthcare.

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