Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Journey to Now

I've been on a journey lately that may be one of the most important things I've ever done in my life.

I mentioned in my last post how I try to think of my mental illness issues as a blessing instead of a curse; as frustrating as the downsides can be, I sometimes think that I am able to use the symptoms to my advantage. I may feel a little more deeply than other people, which of course is bad when the feelings are bad, but when they're good? It's amazing. I think they call it flying close to the sun, which is exactly how I picture myself.

I've had so many epiphanies and "lightbulb moments" this past month that I don't even know where to begin. I've been working on my happiness, and fighting depression and anxiety with medication but also with thought and perspective changes. At least, that's where it started.

Sometime after my last post, I was sitting out on my back patio, sipping coffee and checking my phone. It was a normal morning, cool and still, and my dog was in the backyard with me. She had been lying in the grass and I guess heard a squirrel, and got up to check it out. As I looked up from my phone and watched her, I had this overwhelming sense of tranquility that I could not explain. It wasn't just happiness, it was something almost holy. I don't remember ever experiencing anything like it. It lasted for about a minute. I noticed the wind moving the trees slowly and it was like I was in tune with every leaf.  I saw her moving towards the squirrel quietly, I noticed the temperature of the air, the way the sun was hitting everything, and the moment seemed to last forever. Then it was over, and I felt so peaceful. I had no idea what had just happened but I knew I had tapped into something that I wanted more of.

The next day I tried to explain what had happened to my husband, but coming up with words for that experience is nearly impossible. And when you describe the actual moment, it sounds so insignificant when in reality, it was enormous.

I moved on not knowing what to think about that moment and kept trying to recreate it. The closest I could come was on my walks out in nature, but nothing ever came close to the perfection and the stillness I had found on my patio.

I read several blogs and websites about happiness and peace these days, to aid in my journey to finding permanent happiness. I kept seeing the book "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle mentioned on these blogs. I had heard of this book years earlier and even remember watching Mr. Tolle speak on Oprah back when I had time to watch tv. It was on my radar, then one afternoon I was scrolling my Facebook feed and someone had asked "What are you all reading right now?" and someone mentioned this book. That was all I needed that the universe was trying to tell me something, so I bought the book on Kindle and began it that night.

In the first chapter, Mr. Tolle describes the moment I experienced in perfect detail! I couldn't believe it! I was obviously meant to read this book, and it turns out to be the answers that I was seeking in "How can I get more of that". His explanation is a tough one to recreate in my own words, but basically, once we tune into the present moment then we are in touch with our own spirits--the "us" that is free of the thinking brain; and only then can we find true peace and happiness. The book is his teaching of how to accomplish this feeling even through our darkest hours.

I've written here before about how I lost my religion after my father's brain tumor disaster. I just couldn't believe anymore in the God that I grew up knowing, it didn't make sense to me that someone was up there making decisions or allowing things to happen and it was all part of some larger plan. At first I called myself an atheist but I think that was more of an anger thing with a God that I still believed in on some level. Eventually I let that go, and I could not deny that there was still "something"...I just didn't know what.

I think I'm starting to understand that now; my belief of what there "is". It's a connection between all human beings, all living things. And not our "egos"--which make us do crazy things, but our souls. We are all one.

This has been tough for me to wrap my mind around. In nature, it's easy. I love nature. I can look at a tree and feel my one-ness with it, no problem. Trees don't have egos, or thinking minds, and a tree has never hurt me. People are a totally different story. I've been hurt by people. People completely mystify me in their behaviors. People make me anxious--I practically never leave my house these days out of fear of people. But I'm still learning and trying, and my goal is to completely eliminate my anxiety.

Our thoughts are completely controllable. We create dramas and anxieties with our thinking minds that cause us so much unnecessary pain. By worrying about the future we create what Mr. Tolle calls an "anxiety gap"--a gap between the present moment and the future that causes pain. The future hasn't happened yet and it is insanity to focus on it instead of focusing on right now, the perfect present.

It turns out that I already knew this on some level. When I was reading about the anxiety gap I remembered a conversation I had with my youngest a few months ago. She was suddenly terrified of dying someday and couldn't sleep at night because of thinking about it. It broke my heart to watch her suffer from the same anxiety I've had my entire life, and I taught her to ask herself "Am I ok right now?" The answer is ALWAYS yes, and she got over her fear of dying very quickly.

When the book described letting go of so much unnecessary thought and anxiety I began to cry. I want my brain to stop thinking so much. It's like a constant current of noise and when it was turned off momentarily, the silence was so beautiful. 

36 years of habit is going to be tough to undo. I feel like I'm undergoing a major transformation in thought and just like changing to a healthy eating lifestyle, it's not going to be easy and will take lots of time and attention. But all to have more of that peaceful moment on my patio back? Completely worth it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

I'm ok, really I am. You guys hear from me on my bad days because this is my outlet for the pain, the place I turn when I'm feeling awkward and misunderstood. But I am having many more good days than bad.

I've had so many people share their stories of depression with me and I thought I would share a little bit more about how I am fighting it, not just with medication.

I came across a blog post about a month ago that was fitness related, but was so inspiring to every aspect of my life. It talked about having a virtual "vision board", something in e-form so you could copy and paste inspiring quotes and images easily and paste it into your blog or word document.

I started off just recording 5 gratitude statements per day. This was a good start but I would record the statements and not really *feel* them. I started work on my virtual vision board, made a list of all the things I wanted to do and see and experiences I wanted to have. It took a good week to finish but I made it my sole priority everyday to get a little bit of it done. It started to feel like the difference between getting better and sinking further into despair.

It was difficult at first to have a clear vision for what I wanted for my life. The travel part was easy, I love to travel and see the world. But what would fulfill me until then?

This is going to sound so completely cliche and SOOO 2006, but The Secret movie has always really inspired me. I know that most people think it's hocus pocus. But I have lived by the principles in the movie in the past and it was the happiest I had ever been. This dawned on me last week, and I remembered that it was available on Netflix. So I cued it up on my iPad and watched it in my kitchen while making dinner.

It all came rushing back to me...how the joy of life is in the gratitude for the things we do have, how the attitude of gratitude brings about more of what we love, how our thoughts are the glasses we wear to see the world around us. I was reminded of how when we have ideas we should go forward with trust and no fear--how you don't have to see the top of the staircase to take the first step--how with action, the universe will open doors where there were only walls--how we create our own heaven on earth.

I followed up The Secret with a documentary also available on Netflix called "Happy". This movie totally drove the point home that happiness is not in any material things, situations, people...happiness is a perspective. The movie opens with a family in a third world country. The father is being interviewed and talking about how great his life is and how happy he is. He says "We have a great house that shelters us from the rain, and a great community"...and they show his house and it is nothing but a shack with a tarp for a roof. But he was joyful because in that house was the family that he loves, and surrounding his house were neighbors who were a supportive community for his family.

Another interesting point in Happy is that happiness is that feeling you get when you are doing something you love, something you could do for hours and not notice the time has gone by. Whether it's rockclimbing, or hiking, or playing with your kids, we should find the activities that bring us that type of mindless joy and fill our lives with those moments. Tomorrow or even the next minute of our lives is not promised, so living in the present is the key to tranquility. For someone who suffers from severe anxiety, reminding myself of this has helped me SO. MUCH.

I finished up my virtual vision board and even made a physical one for my office, that sits right next to me. Here are the quotes I read everytime I look over:

-Happiness is a direction, not a destination.
-Thoughts become things.
-Tell the story of your amazing life, the law of attraction will make sure you receive it.
-It's really important to feel GOOD. The more you feel GOOD, the more GOOD things you will attract.
-Say THANK YOU for every GOOD THING.
-Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.
-The happiest people are those ho think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others. 

I am beginning to try and look at life differently. I'm seeing my mental illness as a blessing instead of a curse. Yes I have horrible awful days, but without them I might not appreciate the good so much. Yes I have an overactive mind that is riddled with anxiety, but if I really focus, I can use that overactivity and channel it into being incredibly productive and creative.

Whenever I have one of those blissful moments, in my mind I say "Thank you". I recognize the moment and really feel the joy in it. In turn, everything around me is changing. The attitudes of the people I love are suddenly different. They were never the problem...it was always me. Realizing this and really wrapping my mind around it has been HUGE.

My creativity has been at an all-time high since I've been working on this little happiness project, and I have some pretty inspired ideas that I just need to make sure I follow through on. I am not expecting everyday to be roses and daisies, because this *is* chemistry in my brain, a physical illness that could take hold at any time. But even in those dark moments I will meditate on the fact that no matter what my body does, I am in control of my thoughts, and I can change them. I will aim to view the hard days as part of the process and a lesson in what is good in my life.

I have so much to look forward to and I have woken up the past couple of days so excited just to be alive and make my bliss. I feel like I have a clear picture of what the rest of my life should be. We're not meant to be so stressed out. Life is supposed to be relaxed and happy, everyday.

It's a work in progress, but progress it is.