Internal Chemistry & Time

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about internal chemistry and time. I try to start and end my days at the same time e.g. in bed by 12 am and up by 8 or 9—even on the weekends. From the ages of 18-21 this was not the case. I was always up until 3 or 4 am on the weekends, 1 am on the weekdays, but somehow always up for class by 7 or 8 am. I had no idea how much happier and efficient I could be if I changed some of my habits.

I mentioned on one of my Instagram stories that I don’t go out anymore. I made an exception this weekend for a birthday and a friend that was in town from NYC. Since I don’t drink, I gravitate towards coffee and Diet Coke (poison, I know, but let me just have this one) to get energy to stay out and socialize. Even though I got home by a reasonable hour, I couldn’t fall asleep until 3-4 am. My body chemistry was thrown completely out of order and it truly took a toll on my productivity. This made me realize—people do this every weekend. How much more productive could we be as people, friends and citizens if we used moderation? How much happier could we be? Surely less irritable.

I was pissed about my lack of productivity over these few days which made me weep over spilled milk: lost time. This week I’m focusing on setting a new intention every day. We have no control over what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. Why do we get annoyed at ourselves about the choices we made yesterday? Time isn’t cyclical—yesterday is gone. Perhaps to make the mistake more salient in our memory in order to avoid repeating it. But this turns into shame and anger for me. From the moment you wake up everyday until the moment you fall asleep is all on you. Our actions should align with our values—values of making sure we finish our to do lists, lose a few pounds, etc. Each step you take is a choice. I came across this quote that resonated with me:

“Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of your and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.”

Be mindful of your actions and ask yourself, “will this take me in the direction I want to go?”

Second Arrows

A few weeks ago I went to my first meditation class at The Den. The topic of focus was “second arrows”:

“When hit with discomfort, the conventional reaction is to whine and regret, kick oneself, take it hard. So we feel two afflictions: 1) the inevitable, physical feelings [a first arrow the world blasts us with] and 2) the additional, mental reactions [the second arrow we shoot into ourself]. We may fail to note any relief or escape from uncomfortable feelings [the first arrow] other than to distract ourselves with sensual pleasure. So we cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.”

—The Buddha, The Arrow Sutta

I think it’s important to allow that first “arrow” to hit you–a break up, the loss of a job, betrayal, etc but forbidding it from having a last effect. Initially, there will be that hollow feeling in your chest, a burning in your stomach and that rage that seems to envelop you (fight or flight response/sympathetic nervous system). But your thoughts surrounding these sensations either amplify them or control them. If you feel that burning sensation in your gut and say to yourself “I’m feeling rage,” you’re going to make it worse. It’s such a quick cycle so it takes a lot of practice but it is your choice as to which course of action to take.

I’ve had my fair share of these situations and I’ve definitely shot those second arrows–especially during my last breakup. A friend reminded me of this Buddhist ideal when I was feeling especially upset and it helped me check myself. I realized exactly what I was doing and how it wasn’t serving me in any way. This is where the buzzword we all love to hear people talk about–“mindfulness”–comes in. Something I practice often is getting myself out of unnecessary deep thought–if I’m driving, I drive; if I’m eating, I focus on that; if I’m reading, I pay attention to each word and process it. All of this takes concentration and practice but the physical sensations and reactions to situations do go away over time.

There are innumerable self-guided meditation videos and articles online but I highly encourage a group setting class. The social obligation of staying the entire time has prevented me from leaving classes when I’ve gotten anxious or lost my ability to concentrate. Because who wants to be that disruptive person that leaves early?

And if you’re like me, fresh out of a tumultuous relationship, don’t shoot those second arrows. Don’t go through old texts and think to yourself, “but he/she said…” Delete those messages and let it be. Understand that the only things you have control over are your actions and thoughts.

Dealing with Depression

Social media platforms present the concept of euphoric lives filled with champagne brunches, outfit photos and the latest turmeric matcha recipes. But in my experience, behind the confines of a screen, bloggers have been among the unhappiest people I’ve encountered. I have struggled with depression my whole life. And by “depression,” I don’t mean sadness. I mean that hollowed out, empty and numb feeling that gnaws at the core of your being. This online world used to be a safe haven for me–a place to express myself freely. But for some reason it’s now a competition of who is having the most fun and lavish digital mirage of a life.

This illness took over when I came to college and has led me in and out of multiple psychiatrist and psychologists’ offices. I will go into more detail regarding my struggles in the future but to sum it up–I have tried an arsenal of medication and therapy techniques (most to little or no avail) to realize that the only person that can help me is myself.

A psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, conducted a study involving a dog, a bell and a shock. After the dog realized the ringing of the bell meant that a shock was going to be delivered, the dog became afraid of the ringing bell. Next, Seligman placed the dog in a large crate that only delivered shocks on one side. The dog had the ability to jump to the other side but did not do so. Seligman called this “learned helplessness.” When we attribute failures or setbacks to an internal cause (“I’m not good enough” “I’m dumb” “I always make mistakes”), we don’t grow as individuals—we don’t move on. We remain stuck on the shock delivering side of the crate.

In the first two years of my twenties I have learned that everyone is just trying to survive. We can’t expect too much from others (e.g. empathy, sympathy) because everyone is dealing with something. “Oh, you and your boyfriend broke up? Well I just lost my job.” It’s not that it’s some sort of competition of who has the worst problems but sometimes it feels that way. I’m not saying that your friends don’t care, it’s just that we’re all treading water in an effort to stay afloat. So when you find yourself back in a depressive state, as I have time and time again, you cannot give into learned helplessness. No one is going to come to your bedroom, drag you out of bed, push you into the shower, brush your hair and clothe you (except maybe your mom).

You have to act opposite to your emotions. The pull of depression is alluring for many reasons. It can be comfortable. When you stay depressed, you don’t have to struggle to work your way out of it just to deal with the anxious thought that your happiness is temporary and can be snatched at any moment. Reject this idea. A depressed mind plays tricks.

A boy won’t make you feel better, a party won’t do the trick but a sense of mastery or completion of some task–any task—will. Make a small change every day: sign up for a pottery class, read one chapter of a book, clean one corner of your bedroom, eat one healthy meal, walk one mile on a treadmill. Celebrate these accomplishments, don’t minimize them. Over time, you’ll start to feel like yourself again.