Long Term Gains

Preamble to the Preamble: I want to take a moment to say thank you to my very good friend, Gio, who gave me the courage and the inspiration to write this. We’ve been through a lot, together and individually, and your belief in me when I don’t believe in myself means more than you will ever know. Thanks Gio. You’re still in my phone as Jerez. #neverforget

Real talk: This year has been hard for me. I don't feel the need any more to pretend that it hasn't been. I have had my heartbroken and my feelings hurt in more ways than I can count. I started to walk into my job feeling like I had no right to be there, like I was a horrible teacher and a worse leader. I felt like I lost my support systems. I couldn't fathom holding myself up. This is how life goes sometimes. There are moments of pure joy and there are moments of deep despair. All of it is the experience of being alive. To numb one side would dull the experience of the other. On one of my last days in the city, I was spending time with my teacher and mentor and friend. In his sage-like wisdom, he casually said of course you need this feeling you have now or else you would have nothing to compare the joy to. This is a buddhist belief. When talking about sorrow, Thich Nhat Hahn says that he would never want a person to grow up in a world without sorrow. Sorrow is the thing that allows people to understand joy. It is the same with the idea of wins and losses. We have to have both. We have to know both intimately. But what doesn’t work is being dragged down by the weight of the losses and the sorrow. If you are a person like me who will have to navigate depression and anxiety for the rest of their life, you know how hard it can be to find your way out of the lows. I was in the space of letting myself be dragged down. I got out of the circumstances that were holding me down and built a path towards okay using these four strategies. 

Place Yourself in Public Spaces: Starting with the hardest first. When I find myself deep inside of a depression, I know that it is the hardest thing for me to leave my solitude. What I have found to be true about myself though is that the more time I spend alone, the deeper I go into that dark place.  The majority of the work I do is highly social and requires a heightened awareness and attentiveness to others. Especially when stuck in a downward spiral, it can take every last once of energy I have to show up the way I normally do for work. My brain is trained to inhabit public spaces in a heightened state which makes them way less palatable when I happen to be depressed. The key for me here is to not put any pressure on myself to show up in a certain way.

In a very casual way, take yourself out into the world. Sit in the park or a coffee shop or the beach. Simply observe the people around you. Their energy and vibration is infectious and can be so healing. As humans, we are social creatures.  One of the most harmful experiences we can force ourselves into is isolation. You don’t have to interact with anyone if you don’t want to. You can bring a book and read for a while. Spaces carry with them energy and memories. So, if you spend all day isolated in a space that is heavy with the weight of self-defeating thoughts, isolation, and cyclical ruminating, that weight will keep you down. If instead you take yourself to a place with light and new energy and fresh air and a different perspective, the odds are in your favor that you will change your state by changing your environment.

Spend Time with Your People: There is a certain type of magic that happens when you find yourself in the company of people who make you feel safe. I’m not so sure there is a rhyme or reason to feeling safe. Rather, it’s just that deep knowing, the kind you feel in your gut, that says “this person has me and will hold my heart and head no matter what state it’s in”. I am grateful to have met a few of those people. Not all of them stick around forever. In fact, I find that it’s these same people that tend to wash into our lives like waves. They come in with all of their intensity and beauty and swallow you whole before they return back to the sea that is their home.  What they leave behind is that magic. It’s like their perspective was the key to unlocking a part of your thoughts and feelings that have forever been behind a big iron door. 

The more I cycle through the typical ups and downs of living, the stronger I feel that both the low and the high moments are filled with significance because of those special individuals who hold those moments with you. When I was finally ready to admit to myself that I was in a dark and low space, I made a point to connect with the people who I knew  I could trust with my broken pieces and were at the point in my life where they were crashing on my shore instead of receding back into the ocean. One of the great needs every human has is to be seen and heard. Even if you don’t have much to say yet, put something on the calendar with your people- I prefer one-on-ones- that will get you up, get you out, and take all of that cyclical and self-deprecating mind chatter out of the equation for a few hours.

Ps. I also highly recommend talking to a therapist, but I totally understand how hard that can be especially if you have horrible insurance that covers literally nothing like mine does. Sometimes, chatting with a friend on a long walk can be equally healing.  

Own What You Write: I woke up. Early. Above me was the canopy of trees. I heard owls talking in the distance. For being so early, the forest was alive in a way that was so refreshingly different from the alive and awake of a big city. After soaking in the beauty of the moment, I took out my journal and started to write like I do every morning. This particular morning, something hit me. With abnormal clarity, I realized that if this is the first thing I do in the morning, and I am choosing to ruminate over people and situations that I know pull me back into the territory of depression, I am setting myself up to live in that space for the rest of the day. 

It is so simple. The story that I was literally writing over and over again as I woke up was one that kept pulling me under. So I started to focus my writing for the first time in a quite some time.  Over the course of my morning pages, they transformed from dream journals to gratitude journals to stream of conscious to lists for happiness to writing memories down in the most vivid detail and back again. For the last year, I’ve been in the stream of consciousness phase. I rarely have a prompt for my writing and just try to get out as much of the mind chatter as possible. As my circumstances, both internal and external, have changed, I’m finding that what I used to do is no longer serving me. Not all of the thoughts we think are true. If I’m willing them to be true by continuously writing them into existence, of course they will lead back down into the dark. So, I’ve given myself a limit. I allow myself to get out everything I can in seven minutes and I leave it there. I’m done with it. I use the rest of my journaling time to focus on things that are proven to bolster long term happiness (like gratitude journaling) or literally anything that is not my cyclical self-defeating thoughts.

Feeling stuck? Use an app like brainsparker or any of the School of Life Prompt Cards.

Carve Out Time for the Nonnegotiables: For LA Kristin, mine sound like walking or running on the beach/in nature, yoga, and journal time. No matter what state I’m in, these are the things that make me feel more in control of the way I respond to circumstances and events. These actions connect me to the moment, reality, my body, my heart, my mind. In so many ways, these are the practices that have given me healing and resilience. Even for New York Kristin, these things were nonnegotiables. The truth: When you’re sad, everything is hard. It’s hard to do the things you love. It’s hard to do the things you don’t love. I would lie on my mat and not be able to move. For many reasons, I questioned my ability as a practitioner and a teacher. Being on my mat and allowing myself to move again with any amount of freedom or non-judgement or non-attachment was a difficult journey. I had anxiety about practicing in public classes but I knew that the practice would heal my heart as it has so many times before. I’m so grateful I had a community to support me and a safe place to practice while I was finding my way back (thank you Y7 and all of my amazing friends who led me through practices that made me feel like I could do the thing again). 

If you know the things that bring you joy, comfort, a sense of self, start to schedule them in on the daily. More than likely, if you’ve been spiraling, much of your time will not be going to self care or healing practices. Make them mandatory for yourself because nothing will change if you don’t try something different. Put them in your calendar. Set ten alarms to remind you that you have to go. Plan to go with another human so that you have to show up for them and for you. Even though the healing process will feel like a Sisyphean task, begin. Your nonnegotiables will work their magic. Take smalls steps towards integrating the whole practice into your day. For me, that meant twenty minutes of rolling around on the ground. That twenty turned into 45, turned into me feeling like I could practice in a public class again without having a breakdown. Start small and build. Incorporate moments of the things that soothe and ground you as often as you can. Instead of living in the haze of anxiety, your nonnegotiables will give you the opportunity to settle into the truth of your circumstances.

Emotional and mental wellbeing are just as important as physical wellbeing. In fact, they are inextricably linked. Remember that it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to need help and to ask for it. It is okay to be moving through sadness and heartbreak and healing.. These experiences remind us that we are human. We are flawed. We all have hurts, whether they are visible or not. These experiences reminds us that we are alive. I'm here for the full experience of being alive. This life, it's quite a beautiful one.