Hey guys, Sam here! This morning I was washing embarrassingly old peanut butter off a mile-high stack of plates and found myself in deep self-reflection. I noticed I felt different today. I felt slightly more motivated, less anxious, and increasingly validated–but why? Today is no different than any other–in fact, it’s a MONDAY! Who feels good on a MONDAY?! Psychos. That’s who.
I realized it had everything to do with the way I started my morning. Now, please, keep your expectations realistic here people. Don’t think I got up at 5am, went for a run, and started my day with a protein shake and some mindful meditation all before 8am. Instead, I just got up when my alarm went off, and told myself “no bullshit today, Sam”. I got up, washed my face like an adult, drank a Smart Cup (my version of coffee), made eggs and toast for breakfast, and did the dishes.
What a morning!!!!
I realize this is what every single normal American does every single day and likely has 12,000 other things they do in addition, but hey, it’s a step for me, okay? I’ve been aware for some time now that I could totally transform my days if I would just buckle down and establish a morning routine. But that’s a blog post for another time. Really what I’m here to talk about is the thoughts that occurred to me as I did the dishes.
In order to better understand what spurred this internal conversation of mine, I’ll provide some context.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been in, well frankly, a deep and dark place. I’ve been unmotivated to a point that almost scares me, I’ve lacked direction and purpose, I find myself sad all too frequently throughout the day, and the most joy I experience is when I’m asleep.
That being said, when I first noticed I was starting to feel “off”, I kind of denied it. I kept thinking “nah, just having a bad day here and there, nothing to be concerned about”, until eventually it was 100% something to be concerned about.
In acknowledging that I might be in a full blown depression, I thought maybe the next step was to allow myself to exist in that space for a while. That maybe all I needed was to actually experience the emotions that were going on in my body and it would all resolve itself. I have a lot of thoughts on what might’ve been causing this, primarily that my grief might be catching up to me–but that’s beside the point for this post. For a while I let myself do all the “sad Sam” things. I ate shitty food, I didn’t make moving my body a priority, I did a little online shopping, took lots of long showers with sad music playing, and engaged in every numbing activity I could–Netflix for hours on end, aimlessly scrolling through Instagram until all hours of the night, you name it. But that’s what you have to do right? On the surface it felt like I was giving myself the “grace” and “self-care” that was long overdue. When in fact, what started out with good intentions turned into full blown enabling.
It’s was all too easy to make myself the victim, to let myself cozy up to the idea that I just needed to take it easy for a while and life would be there waiting when I got back.
YIKES. It embarrasses me even now to talk about it. But Lord knows, we’ve all been there and even more so, many of us know how hard it can be to leave that place.
Being the relatively self-aware person that I am, I saw what was happening. I realized the only way to fix this funk was to start showing up to my life again. To physically get off my ass and be intentional about how and what I did each day. No more excuses. I tried the self-care thing and it wasn’t working, so I moved on to toughening up.
And sure enough, eventually I started to feel better.
Fast forward to today.
As I stood there reflecting on the past couple of weeks and contemplating how much better I felt today, I started thinking about the roots of my decision making. Why was it so easy and natural-feeling to just waste away and put band-aid after band-aid on my pain? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because we live in a society that very literally profits off of self-doubt, insecurities, and shame. Today it’s almost cool to be struggling, we wear it like a badge of honor. “Booked and busy” you know? So many of us, damn sure including myself, fall into using excuses to justify our actions because society has told us its okay. Don’t get me wrong, I am a full blown passionate advocate for giving yourself grace, for allowing yourself to have bad days, and for taking breaks. However, at some point, while the world grew to accept the concept of self care, it seems to have simultaneously rejected tried and true grit. The balance of grit and grace (shout out Tim McGraw) has lost its equilibrium.
I grew up in a house where “toughen up and put some more clothes on” and “you need more lead in your breeches” were phrases used on the daily. It wasn’t shameful to be told to step up, in fact it was quite the opposite–it was empowering as hell! I like to think of my childhood as a balance of “suck it up” and “let’s talk about it”, you know? Today we are fortunate enough to live in a world with an astounding amount of information and acceptance around mental health, eating disorders, body image, all kinds of very important issues. All of which I am so, so supportive of and thrilled to see continue to emerge. But I feel like we need more voices that tie our parents’ and grandparents’ generations to our own. Sometimes, there are deep-rooted issues that need to be addressed, but also, sometimes we’re using excuses to avoid discomfort. I know that when you are in that dark place, it feels impossible to tell up from down, let alone identify if your issues are all in your head or if there’s things you’ve been avoiding that need to be addressed. I want to share how I attempt to navigate that extremely messy and confusing territory.
In those days where I was deep in my “self-care” routine, it absolutely felt right, as it often does. But eventually I had to ask myself, “Am I really solving the problem or am I enabling myself by using superficial band-aids to avoid being uncomfortable?”
Damn. Even now I feel attacked by my own realization.
A tool I’ve learned through therapy is my personal go-to for deciphering where the issue truly lies. In short, you start by identifying where you’re carrying stress in your physical body and transition to identifying it in your mind through a verbal or written journey. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds fruity but it’s really not.
When you notice something is off and you can feel yourself leaning on external numbing agents, it’s time to employ this exercise.
Here’s what it looks like:
Sit on the couch, pick your comfiest blanket and settle in. Make sure there’s no distractions, the TV isn’t on, your phone is silenced, your dogs aren’t barking at you incessantly (a regular concern at my house). Once you’re all prepped and ready to go, bring your thoughts inward. You can do this easily by practicing some mindfulness activities: focus on your breath, observe how your physical body feels at very specific areas. As you assess your body and begin to really become mindful, you’ll likely notice areas of tension. These areas are physical manifestations of a mental stress. I often will have tension in my shoulders all day long and not notice it until I’m laying in bed at night. My neck will be killing me and I’ll have a headache from hell, yet somehow I will have managed to ignore it all day long. Once you pinpoint these tensions, say them aloud or write them down, whichever you feel more comfortable with. Typically, I’m a journaling kind of gal, but in this exercise I feel it’s easiest to just say these things aloud to myself. Side note: there may not always be anything you’re experiencing physically, or you may be so used to it you struggle to identify it. That’s okay, don’t put too much pressure on that step if it doesn’t come to you. For me, its usually in my shoulders so I fly right through this.
Once I’ve pinpointed these areas, this is where the magic happens. I’ll ask myself plainly “what am I feeling right now?”. I will be sitting on my couch, alone in my house with my eyes shut and just spit out randomly, “I feel sad”. Simple as that. And typically right then is when all of my emotions start pouring to the surface. By saying it out loud or writing it down, you’re making it tangible. You’re validating your own emotions and giving yourself permission to experience them. Trust me, once you try this exercise and really commit to the experience, it will blow your mind how it all surfaces. Emotions you didn’t even realize were inside you.
From there, since I’m a Chatty Cathy by nature, I usually just start yammering off how I’m feeling and why. For some people it might not come so easy. For those of you, I’ve prepared a list of questions you can ask yourself internally to help guide your conversation.
Often times just acknowledging my emotions is solution enough and I immediately feel relieved. Other times, this conversation leads to the realization that action needs to be taken. Either way, the whole point is to provide productive relief and search for the root of the problem, there’s really no right or wrong outcome.
Here’s the deal, if the problem is bothering you bad enough that you realize you’re over-engaging in numbing activities, you need to try this exercise. Because the days when self-care really is all that you need, you’re not going to find yourself acting the same way you do when there’s really a problem. You just won’t. They might look similar from the outside, but your body knows the difference and you know your body.
My point is, be mindful about what you do in your day to do. Practice being intentional and be careful not to fall victim to a jaded version of “self-care”. Be a bad ass when necessary, step up to the plate and address whatever the issue is head-on. There is fine line of grace and grit, do your best to navigate it wisely. Don’t let uncomfortable emotions or experiences hold you back from living your life fully.
I hope the tools I’ve shared above help you in your own life and I encourage everyone to keep digging deeper into other ideas and exercises to help you be mindful, aware, and engaged.
As always thanks for reading, and here’s to deep thoughts over a sink of dirty dishes.
P.S. I wrote this entire post, almost 2-hour’s worth of composing, and when I clicked “Save Draft” I was sent to actual hell on earth. A new page that said only this, “Link has expired. Try again.” And just like that, all of my work was gone. This is what I’m talking about, folks. BAD. HAIR. DAYS. They come in all shapes and error code sizes. Cheers!
Sam…..loving your blog!! Thanks for all you are sharing especially the organizing tips!