Mental Health · Personal Development

Our focus is the only thing that changes

making waves” © Elizabeth Donoghue, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I get up and go to the gym. Climb onto an elliptical and put my headphones in. An hour of time three days a week where I don’t have to say anything, answer any questions, evaluate or receive feedback. Simpler than the three days I spend lifting. Concentrating on proper form: shoulders back, deep breath, hold, tight core, begin. On cardio days I don’t even really have to think. I zone out completely. Stare at the numbers on the display in front of me. Listen to my music, my breathing, my heartbeat. It’s freedom. But it toes the line of complacency.

When I have the option of getting in a groove I can lose my focus. My attention drifts to the TV set hanging from the ceiling in the gym. Before I know it my pace has slowed, my heart-rate dropped, my breathing become easy. It’s just like that in everything, isn’t it?

We stop pushing. Settle into a rhythm and neglect to notice we’ve stopped trying. Stopped growing.

Eventually something happens to bring my attention back to it. My weight creeps up again, my brain becomes cluttered, my moods swing wildly. I wake up with bruises, I miss a deadline, I find myself standing too close to the edge.

So I make an elaborate gesture to make up for all the time I’ve been slipping.

I clean up my diet, start running, write a new blog post, break up with an abusive boyfriend, quit drinking, throw out my stash again. Great big things. Impressive and shiny. Always beneficial, but rarely long lasting. Not because I’m not committed, but because I lose focus again. Forget to stay conscious of how I’m using my time, my energy, my brain power.

My attention drifts off and I neglect to pull it back. By the time I notice something has to change, I have an insane amount of work to do to make up the difference. And it’s just not sustainable. That’s how I burn out. Fatigue. Get overwhelmed with the constant bigness of everything.

Imagine instead if I applied consistent effort toward maintaining focus on the things I want to achieve. Unwavering commitment and a refusal to compromise. No distractions. Eyes on the prize. Always.

It’s not dramatic. It’s not extreme. It’s not even all that difficult. It’s just paying attention. Always paying attention. Pulling my focus back to the place it needs to be to keep moving forward. Keep progressing. And there’s only one way to learn to do that: practice. When my mind wanders, I practice guiding it back. Meditation in the day to day. Routine pressure.

Learning to act against the forces which have been acting against me.

Done being the rock walls.

Ready to be waves.


Dive In

"STAR-STRUCK BOKEH" © Graeme Law, 2010. CC BY 2.0.
STAR-STRUCK BOKEH” © Graeme Law, 2010. CC BY 2.0.

I find myself wanting to cancel meetings with my therapist. Avoid writing. Walk around the house with headphones in. I’m tired of talking, of explaining, of ruminating.

Spring is clawing at my window pane, but I stay in the other room saying, “Come back later. I’m not ready yet.” Hit snooze. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow, but I doubt it.


It’s time to spend some time focusing my energy on getting out of the cycle I’m in. So I’m going to take a break from posting on this blog. Refuel. Find something I want to plant, to tend.

Mental Health


"Drongo bird in the rain" © uditha wickramanayaka, 2014. CC BY 2.0.
Drongo bird in the rain” © uditha wickramanayaka, 2014. CC BY 2.0.
I haven’t written much of anything this month. Haven’t gone to the gym a whole lot. I’ve been sick for the last week, yes. But it was a problem before that. It’s not motivation or self-discipline. Well, it might be a lot of that. But there’s something else in there. Something sitting beneath the surface that has more to do with my brain than anything. With running over the same damn things over and over and over again. With getting all caught up in all sorts of catastrophes that haven’t happened and probably never will. It’s the closing in, the shutting down. That’s what gets me. That’s what battling February was supposed to be all about.

I don’t know where it went. What happened to it. The month. All the plans that I had to make it through it. All that shit. It slips through your fingers like one of those frogs we caught as kids. Constantly leaping away from you and there isn’t anything you can do about it.

No. I don’t think that’s true. Not really. I don’t think true helplessness exists. Not in the way I’m trying to make it. There is always an ability. A promise I can cling to. There is always a way to get the things I want to get done done. There is just that part of me that is terrified of it, isn’t there?

That doesn’t know what to do with success. With getting clean. With relationships that last. People that stay. There is that part of me that doesn’t know how to believe that what they’re all saying is true. It’s not even just a part by this point, is it? That’s the default state. On edge and wrapped in disbelief. Untrusting and apprehensive. Positive that this is all just daydreaming and planning. That none of this is going to last and none of it is worth anything anyway.

And I start to wonder if the reason I don’t see any success in these ventures is because I’m always doing it for someone else. Not even really for them. Doing it for the memory of them. So that if I run into a person from my past I will look like someone they never knew. Is that really the driving force behind most of my ambition?

So I can say this version of myself didn’t do the things the old versions did. That this version is clean and fit and well-dressed and has gorgeous flowing hair you can stick your hands into. That this version is the better version. The version you don’t get to be a part of. The version that’s not for you.

I’m trying to balance that with the idea that I’m proud of where I came from and I’m not ashamed of who I am. That I made poor choices, but that they made sense for the life I was living in. I say I don’t have any regrets and at the same time I say I want to do it completely different.

And these things are not meshing well for me. This thought process does not get me to the place I want to be. Another one of those things that pulls strings behind the curtains and forces me into positions I’d rather not be. This is not the type of life I want to be living. The one that is always suffering from some past heartbreak. That’s not the type of shit I want to deal with anymore. Constantly living in shadow. Explain to me how that is any fucking fun at all. How you can ever feel like you’re actually improving.

The mileposts are always moving. You’re not going to realize one day that you’re no longer hurting from the things that you did, from the things that happened to you. Accomplishing things now is not going to undo any of it. You’re trying to put back together a broken plate with glue that doesn’t adhere. This is an impossible task. A waste of time. This is not how you move forward.

It’s interesting, though, isn’t it? That you could do the same things, but change the reasoning and it will change everything. They say that, don’t they? That it doesn’t matter so much what you do, but why you’re doing it. And I’m sure there is something to that. And something that helps explains how if the reasons aren’t right then you’re going to have a really rough time.

My motivations are all wrong.

No. Not wrong. Just not conducive to progress. Not the kind that I want. I’m trying to build something gold out of rebar. No matter how good it turns out to be, it’s not going to be the thing I’m trying for.