How I’m Learning to “Leave It”

The past few months have been pretty stressful with work, and – I’ll be real – I haven’t felt motivated or inspired to write anything. I’ve been attempting to put my phone down and keep a few things to myself. When I get out of therapy sessions, I’m starting to allow myself to process information without external validation. Just me, myself, and I. 

To be honest, it’s scary. To just rely on myself to fully understand, embrace, and trust I’m learning (or unlearning) something the healthy way. It’s scary because it’s not familiar for me, to trust myself fully before others.

As we head closer and closer (just one day, actually) into the new year, I’ve been thinking what 2018 has taught me and one of the major lessons has been learning to “leave it.”

About six months ago, my therapist gave me a book called Codependent No More by Melody Beattie and while it took me some time to actually crack it open, the pages have been beyond eye-opening for me.

Every chapter is heavy, raw and it’s almost like it’s coming out of the page and pointing directly at me saying: this is for you, Erica. At the end of each section, there are a few workbook questions based on what you’ve just read, and I make sure to write them out in my journal. It not only makes for a good journaling exercise, but I go over what I write in my monthly therapy sessions.

The most recent chapter I read was called, “Don’t Be Blown About By Every Wind,” and let me tell ya, this one hit me hard. The section goes into detail about reactionaries, aka people who go through life reacting to other people’s lives, desires, problems, personalities, successes, and failures. I’m Erica and I’m a reactionary. The first step is accepting it, right?

I resonated with this chapter so much, that I wanted to share a few things, both in the book and through therapy, about how I’ve learned to “leave it.”

You do NOT have to react 24/7.

Whether it’s a little thing like getting lost with directions in the car with my mom or having an intense argument with my sister, you can always catch me reacting. Doesn’t matter the emotional size of the moment, it could have the power to throw me completely off track.

Through reading Codependent No More, I realized that I keep myself in this “crisis state,” which means I always have muscles tensed, and I’m ready to react to something as if it’s an emergency, when it usually isn’t.

Here’s a section from the chapter that truly defines being caged into this crisis state:

“Someone does something, so we must do something back. Someone says something, so we must say something back. Someone feels a certain way, so we must feel a certain way. We jump into the first feeling that comes our way and then wallow in it.”

Believe it or not, are you ready for this (it’s crazy, prepare yourself) you actually don’t have to respond or react when someone is reacting. Sound trivial to you? Well, it’s something I haven’t known most of my life. I’ve been operating on the notion that I have to react, I have to make them understand, I have to raise my voice because I never had one before. Turns out, we can choose when to speak up. We can protect our voices, and we can make decisions on how to react and when, for our own health.

Time to stop taking things so seriously.

Blowing things out of proportion is my anxiety’s favorite past-time. Nothing like a good feelings fest to start a morning, or ruin the end of a day.

While I can blow things out of proportion, I find I do the same thing when it comes to other people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. I could be having a wonderful day, and then BOOM, a phone call from my mother and her feelings and actions have suddenly morphed my great attitude into a horrible one.

The book says it best:

“Feelings are important, but they’re only feelings. Thoughts are important, but they’re only thoughts–and we all think a lot of different things, and our thoughts are subject to change. What we say and do is important, what others say and do is important, but the world doesn’t hinge on any particular speech or action. And if it is particularly important that something gets done or said, don’t worry: it’ll happen…Give yourself and others room to move, talk, to be who they are–to be human.”

The last few sentences of this quote are something I still struggle with. Giving myself room to process. When there is conflict, I have this ingrained need to immediately fix it, an urgency to clear the air. Only in the last few months have I been unlearning that motivation. I do not have to run towards ending the argument if I need time to think about how I will react. It’s okay to give myself and others time to pause and reflect.

Detachment isn’t a negative word.

When people normally hear the word detach, they associate it with a negative context. That someone is ignoring you, or being dismissive of your feelings. However, detaching can be something that is needed for ourselves and our mental health.

“Detaching does not mean we don’t care. It means we learn to love, care, and be involved without going crazy. We stop creating all this chaos in our minds and environments. When we are not anxiously and compulsively thrashing about, we become able to make good decisions about how to love people, and how to solve our problems. We become free to care and to love in ways that help others and don’t hurt ourselves.”

Detaching ourselves means we stop worrying obsessively about the outcome of other people’s lives and start focusing on our own.

This also applies to the notion of taking things personally. If someone you love is having a crappy day or gets angry, it’s a knee jerk reaction to assume it’s something we’ve done. But as this book wisely states, “Usually things have far less to do with us than we think.”

This is why it’s healthy to separate ourselves from things. Practicing detachment decreases our destructive reactionary tendencies.

“Leave things alone, and let people be who they are.” Going into 2019, this will be one of my guiding mantras. It’s incredibly difficult for me, but that’s why I know it’s worth it to try and embrace each day.

My own therapist and I have dedicated whole sessions to this idea, since it’s something I struggle with owning in myself. She’s said to me:

“You don’t need people to ‘see.’ You can pause and reflect. Wisdom comes with patience. Stop and consider, what do I want to say?”

We are always so busy reacting we don’t give ourselves the time, energy or opportunity to face the real problems or figure out a game plan on how to solve it.

2018 has been a year of consistent challenges. Directly facing toxic patterns I’ve created for myself, doing the work on breaking them, and pausing to find out why they were there to being with.

It’s been a year where I’ve truly learned what it means to take care of myself, for myself. And it’s one where – only in the last few months – I’ve learned that it’s okay to choose the path of detachment. It’s not my job to show the people around me how they’ve hurt me, or why they need to change or grow in a certain way. It’s theirs. The more time I focus on making other people “see,” the less time I have to direct my attention where it should be: at me. Looking at myself and how I can change my reactions towards others.

At first I pushed back so hard at this notion because I always thought it was “unfair” that I had to do all the work, and change myself. Why can’t they just see they need to change? I never realized that changing my reaction is for me, not them. It’s to put less of a burden on myself and my feelings. It’s to show myself what is worth reacting over and what isn’t.

I’ll leave you all with this quote from the end of the chapter I just read:

“You are not responsible for making other people “see the light,” and you do not need to “set them straight.” You are responsible for helping yourself see the light and for setting yourself straight. If you can’t get peaceful about a decision, let it go. It’s not time to make it yet.

This is the year of cancelling the reactions that hurt us, and recognizing that not everything is worth spending our time and energy on. Dedicate it to your own growth.

Do you have issues with not being able to “leave it” or need people to “see the light”? Share your story in the comments below! 

4 Ways Reading Helps Me Cope With My Anxiety

I’ve always thought that books are the answer to all life’s problems. Turns out, they are the actual answer to some after all.

As a writer, reading has always been a part of my life. I was reading chapter books in kindergarten – I know, I’m a genius. I’ve cultivated that passion for reading into my adult life and with anxiety, it can seriously help me to cope. While you would think some of the reasons below are slightly obvious when dealing with anxiety, there are a few that popped up along the way that I wasn’t expecting.

Reading relaxes me physically.

While anxiety is mental disorder, it can have physical symptoms and triggers like high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Studies have shown that reading can lower your heart rate and ease muscle tension quickly and effectively. Even better – it doesn’t matter what you read. Whether you’re a fan of fiction, poetry or even my own obsession of graphic novels, you can enjoy any genre and self care at the same time.

It’s an escape from reality.

While my own anxiety tends to take me far away from reality – reading removes me from it in a positive way.

Taking a break from reality can work wonders for your mental health. Anxiety is constant – overwhelming, enveloping your every thought and action. It taints every experience you have with a shadow of self-doubt and fear. If you could hit the pause button on that, wouldn’t you? 

Jumping into the story of a book allows me to escape my own mind and live in someone else’s. Getting lost in a story helps me to let go – somewhat – of my anxieties, insecurities, and fears, if only for an hour or so.

It shifts my daily perspective.

Reading about other people’s experiences, whether they are relatable or not, is a great way to shift my own perspective, which is constantly riddled by my anxiety. Living with anxiety can wrap your mind in me, me, me and everything I’m suffering through – reading breaks that school of thought.

By looking through someone else’s eyes in stories, I gain a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise find, which in turn forces me to realize that my own isn’t as bad as I make it, or not even reality.

Book club can be a form of therapy for me.

A little over a year ago, I decided to create my own book club. I’ve founded book clubs in the past, but they would always fade out. People get too busy and everyone bails on meeting up. But luckily, I’ve been able to get this one to stick.

When I first started it, I went in just wanting to read new genres and discuss them with some friends. It has morphed into so much more. While I go to actual therapy, I find that meeting up with my regular group of girls can be extremely cathartic. It is very helpful that most of the ladies in the group also have their own forms of anxiety, so I feel comfortable talking about my daily struggles with them. It’s a good reminder that while anxiety is a very lonely disorder – I’m not alone. 

Last but not least, I truly believe that having your own bookshelf is a form of self care. There is nothing I enjoy more than collecting beautiful books and being able to adorn them on my bookshelf. Here’s a quick photo of my pride and joy:

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I hope all my fellow bookworms enjoyed this post! Now, I must get back to reading The Roanoke Girls –book club is this week and I’m SO close to finishing.

 

Do you love to read – share your favorite book in the comments! How does it help with your anxiety? 

Rad Reads: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck

It was a lazy Sunday at the mall with my dad when this book came into my life. We were browsing around the bookstore (I had forced him to go in, naturally) and the title caught my eye. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Alright, you got me. I picked it up and turned to a random page to get an idea of what this book entailed, and read a passage with about three or four uses of “fuck” in it, so obviously I bought it.

With therapy comes the reading of certain self improvement books, just to experiment and see what resonates with you and your particular form of anxiety. I’ve read The Four Agreements and next on my list is You Are a Badass, which I’m pretty stoked for. Some you relate to, some you don’t. In this particular book, I found almost every word motivational. If I could have highlighted the entire book, I would. Mark Manson has a way with words that inspires, and also hits you with an uncomfortable truth that results in laughter and tears. Since this book has been so moving for me, and issues I face daily with my own anxiety, I decided to share some of my favorite passages.

“Look, this is how it works. You’re going to die one day. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I just wanted to remind you in case you’d forgotten. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice – well, then you’re going to get fucked.”

This passage is on page 13, so you hit it right off the bat. Mark Manson, the author, doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the point. When faced with our own mortality, life’s petty and trivial struggles seem just that – petty and trivial. They are small, and shouldn’t be limiting our ability to truly shine in what motivates us, and brings us joy. Life is so short, and we only have the ability to give a certain amount of fucks, why waste them on things that could bring us down or dull our light? For me personally, this passage meant more about my anxiety. Why would I be wasting my time obsessing about things I cannot control; like if someone actually likes me or if they are just being nice, or if I did something perfectly right at work, when there are so many other, bigger things I could be devoting my time to? It’s a question worth asking yourself, you never know what the answer might be.

“Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.”

There is a certainty relief in knowing that we are all in this thing called life together. When you think about it, no one really knows what they are doing. Everyone from President Obama, to your next door neighbor has no real clue. All of our doubts and insecurities about tackling that next goal or step towards happiness or true success comes from the fear that we “don’t know” what will happen. There have been plenty of times where I’ve stumbled into something completely blind, not knowing at all what will happen next. It’s a really scary place to be, but also the most thrilling. It’s a true sign of being alive to brave unknown challenges, so we must not forget to do it anyway.

“When the standard of success becomes merely acting – when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite – we propel ourselves ahead. We feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward.” 

In particular, this passage struck a nerve with me. Failure has always been something I struggle dealing with. It ties directly with shame, an emotion that constantly triggers my anxiety. The fear of failing is what keeps me from rising to the challenge – whether it be at work, or a personal goal – but rather paralyzes me with anxiousness. Manson challenges us to change how we view success and how we reward ourselves, so we are able to tackle that next goal without that fear of failure creeping in. Yes, failure will always be there like a constant black cloud, but failure isn’t always a negative. Throughout the book, Manson also challenges that dealing with the negative is crucial and failure is something we encounter on a daily basis, but it’s how we handle the emotion that truly counts. Can you move forward from that feeling, or will it cripple you?

“If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so. If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to be because he or she genuinely wants to, not because you’ve manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations.”

This passage not only applies to romantic relationships, but family or friendships. It can be very difficult to wade through the constant bullshit of family drama and toxic relationships – whether it be a shitty ex boyfriend or a manipulative parent – and come out the other side completely unfazed. More recently, I’ve had to unlearn a lot of behaviors that were taught by my family, and learn how to think more for myself. As someone who has had her fair share of manipulative relationships, it can be tricky to tell when it’s genuine and when the act of love is fake, especially when you’re still learning new ways to be in these relationships.

Manson teaches us that love is only real when the acts are performed without any expectations or conditions, which almost everyone has trouble erasing. For me, it’s been a slow progression, but the more you realize that you deserve genuine acts of love from the relationships you’re in, the less you care about people dropping from your life. They never really deserved to be there in the first place.

“You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not. Whether anybody realizes it or not. And it’s not because you launched an iPhone app, or finished school a year early, or bought yourself a sweet-ass boat. These things do not define greatness.

You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to. This mere fact, this simple optioning for your own values in life, already makes you beautiful, already makes you successful, and already makes you loved. Even if you don’t realize it. Even if you’re sleeping in a gutter and starving.”

I wanted to make this the last passage from the book because it captures the essence of Mark’s message to his readers: you are already good enough. At least, that’s what I felt reading it. He so wants you to understand that you already have greatness inside you, it’s just a matter of rejecting the fear holding it back, and facing what life will ultimately throw your way.

With my anxiety, I have real trouble with statements or affirmations like this because I mostly don’t think I’m good enough. So, reading it and hearing myself say it can be emotional. This passage very much reminded me of a time when my therapist first got to the root of my stress and anxiety and told me, “you know you’re good enough, right?” Which resulted in enough tears to fill the entire room. It’s books like this that I must force myself to read and fully grasp the message of channeling my greatness. Plus, it helps that there’s a good deal of swearing and sarcasm, I like that.

The very end of this book takes you on Mark’s journey to look death directly in the face, and the final page leaves you with a sense of peace and new motivation to apply for that job that seems out of reach, ask that guy or girl out who makes you weak in the knees, or even push you to write a blog post about how much this book moved you. Like Mark says, we all are going to croak one day. Why not just do the things that scare us, and give out our fucks only for things that build us up, not bring us down. It’s not the simple path, but it’s one I plan on giving a go now.

Sidenote: If you want to learn more about Mark and his book, check out his website here. Manson also writes another book called Models: Attract Women Through Honesty. You know, just in case you fellas were reading this and wondering why us ladies aren’t flocking to you as of late. Just a suggestion.

Did you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, or another self improvement book? What were your thoughts?