When Doing What You Usually Do Isn’t Enough

I’m a huge creature of habit. I think a lot of us are. And while it can be helpful at times to have the ability to function on autopilot, it can also spell disaster.

In my case, I’ve been “doing what I usually do” for quite some time now. I have my little routine and when I stick to it life feels do-able. Everything feels manageable and A-OK. So when I’m presented with a choice to deviate outside of that routine, I usually decline. “No thanks,” I’d say. “I’ll just stick with what I usually do because, well, I’m used to it. And it feels good. And it’s easy. And comfortable…” The problem with all of this is that “what I usually do” is obviously not working out for me too well. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that I know with certainty that I am not functioning at my optimum potential. I still struggle mightily with anxiety and depression, and I can’t quite seem to shake this shit head of an eating disorder. While I wouldn’t exactly say I’m unhappy, I’m not exactly happy either. I feel like I’m out in some deep blue ocean treading water. It’s better than sinking, sure, but I’d like to have a damned boat. With a propeller and a freaking rudder. As it is, I’m just floating along. And I realized this morning that this is largely due to my tendency to just “do what I usually do.”

Well. ENOUGH. Today is the day I stand up and say “NO.” Because what I usually do is clearly not taking me where I want to go. It’s keeping me stuck, and quite frankly, being stuck SUCKS. Big time. So today is the day I shake things up a bit. Today, I am a REBEL. Granted, people on the outside probably will have no idea I’m bucking the trend, but in my experience, huge and sudden changes don’t work too well, so I’ll be going more for the slow and steady approach, but even small changes add up to be big ones. So okay, maybe not exactly a rebel, but rebel-lite. Regardless, let me just go on record and say that today is the day I start asking myself some questions before I act instead of deferring to autopilot mode. So without further ado, here is my version of the ever popular top 5 list (except it’s only 4, because I couldn’t think of a 5th…:

“4 Questions to ask yourself before you act.”

1.  WHAT? What am I doing? Is it what I usually do?

2. WHY? Why am I doing this? Is it helping me get to where I want to go? If not, why do it?

3. HOW? How can I do this differently to align more closely with the kind of life I want to lead?

4. HOW? (part 2) How will doing this make me feel afterwards? It may feel right in the moment, but will I still be glad I did it when it’s done?

So there you go. Try it out today. Be a rebel. (or rebel-lite) Do something differently in your life and see how it makes you feel.

 

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Never Forget

Ask my friends and family if I’m forgetful and they’ll tell you no. I remember everyone’s birthdays, pay attention to what people say and never miss appointments. But when it comes to life’s lessons, I am oh so forgetful. Case in point: so far on this blog, I’ve written about my intention to start breaking my internal set of rules, my dedication to tossing out bad habits as band-aids to problems and my resolve to start living and stop letting fear hold me back. How many of these have I followed through on for more than a few days? ZERO.

Now, before you abandon me and think me a fraud, know that I mean well. I really do. When I wrote each of those posts, I was filled with hope and inspiration and resolve. I want to do each of those things SO badly it hurts. So what happens?

Well, life happens. I have work to do, commitments to fulfill and mental demons to fight. And before you know it, my lofty goals are nowhere to be found. I forget. Oh, how easily I forget.

Exhibit A: If you recall, just the other day I wrote about hope, and how now that I have a nutritionist and concrete goals to work on, the equation was complete and I believed that I would soon be on my way to great things. Ha. Ha ha ha. Yeah. So it didn’t quite happen that way. Just a few days after that post, I went to the beach with my family. Sounds lovely, right? It was. I had a great time and it was wonderful to spend time with my family. Except for one little thing — any time I am taken out of my safe little bubble of routine — my oh so limited comfort zone — I experience higher levels of anxiety than normal. Which for me, is A LOT OF ANXIETY. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside, but on the inside I am on fire. So what did I do? I forgot. Forgot about my new goals, forgot that I’d tossed out my bad habits as band-aids and forgot about my commitment to breaking my stupid, stupid rules. Because when I’m in the moment — when that anxiety is swirling all around me 24/7, that’s what I do. I forget. I grasp for my rules and my bad habits like they’re life preservers and I do my best to weather the storm. So, yeah. While it was still a lovely trip and a much needed getaway, I didn’t make any positive steps forward in my recovery.

So here I am, back on terra firma (okay, so I’ve NEVER been on terra firma. Terra firm-er?) and my memory is slowly coming back. Which is nice, but do you know what would be nicer? If it never flew off in the first place. I’ve been trying to think of ways to keep my goals and intentions at the forefront of my mind no matter what’s going on around me but so far I’ve come up empty. The best idea I’ve had is to purchase a locket and stick a picture of my younger, smiling self inside to remind me of what it is I’m working for. Which kind of worked for a little while, until the picture fell out… Plus I’m not exactly one for jewelry and it kind of got on my nerves at times…

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You’d think you wouldn’t have to remind yourself to do things that are SO important to your quality of life and your health, but those are exactly the kinds of things I have difficulty remembering. Birthdays, things people say, things to do? Those I can remember. I feel like there’s an answer in there somewhere — some trick of the mind I could do to get myself to hold on to those dreams for more than a few days — but right now my mind is blank.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think on some level, everyone can probably relate to the inability to keep important things in their heads at all times. Life has a way of blowing through your brain and whisking away some of your most precious intentions. Take driving for instance. Or being stuck in the check out lane after a long day at work. Now, I imagine anyone who is reading this blog has the intention to be kind to others and generally help make the world a better place. But I guarantee you that at least some of the time, when you’re stuck in traffic or the check out lane, you lose it. You blow your horn, or you’re not especially the nicest to the guy bagging your groceries. You might yell at your kids to shut up, or lose your cool with your significant other. It’s not that you don’t want to be loving and kind to others, especially those closest to you, but every so often, life just makes you forget that that’s important to you.

I feel like saying it’s simply unavoidable, but I don’t think it is. I think it just takes training. A whole life time of training. Yesterday you may have lost your cool with someone you love, but today you can try again. And tomorrow you can try yet again. Sometimes, sure. You’ll forget. Just like I’ll surely forget later on today that I even wrote this. But hopefully tomorrow I’ll remember again. And then maybe the next day I’ll remember sooner. The fact that we forget isn’t a reason to give up. It’s simply a reason to try harder, and to be understanding when we see other people forgetting too.

Thoughts on Depression, Suicide and Mental Health

With Robin Williams’ tragic death yesterday, I feel compelled to write. Whenever anyone dies prematurely it comes as a shock, but for some reason Williams’ passing struck me more deeply than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because I’ve always admired him both as a person and as an actor, but I think it has more to do with the manner in which he appears to have died. Although Williams was open about his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, for some reason it never occurred to me that he might be suffering from depression as well. I mean, I know depression is often a precursor for substance abuse, (it’s a major player in my own issues, after all), but somehow I never connected the dots. I also know that depression affects millions of people, and that you can’t always tell which ones just by looking at them, but Williams’ death makes that more clear than ever. Because as much as I hate to admit my prejudice, in all honesty I was quite taken aback initially that someone as successful, funny, intelligent, talented, etc. as Robin Williams could EVER feel so desperate as to take their own life. It just goes to show you that you really can’t tell everything (or really much of anything) about a person simply by what you can see with your own eyes. People keep so much hidden, especially things they think they should be ashamed about or that other people might not understand. I certainly don’t feel comfortable sharing all the details of my personal struggles with people (blog notwithstanding…) — both out of residual shame and out of worrying what they might think.

But if Williams’ death can teach us anything, it’s that mental illness truly does not discriminate. And as much as I hate to quote a corny medication commercial, depression really DOES hurt everyone. In fact, in the United States, more people die from suicide than from homicide, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. That, my friends, is a tragedy. For EVERYONE involved. And while it’s a complicated issue without any quick fixes, we can start by being more open about the topic of mental health. Blame, shame and embarrassment have no place here. We need to channel all of our energy into love, compassion and understanding.

If you’re struggling, tell someone about it. If you think someone is struggling, reach out. Above all, be kind. To everyone you meet. No man is an island: We’re all in this together. So share a smile and a kind gesture with someone today. You never know what they’re dealing with on the inside.

Rest in peace, Robin. May your tragic death be a wake up call to the world that we can’t keep our eyes closed any longer.