Mental Health · Personal Development


dawn – a modification of darkness” © Jenny Downing, 2012. CC BY 2.0.
Hopeful and angry. Desperate and begging. Shedding our skins. Bursting forth all raw and tender.

We’re furious. We’re terrified. We dissolve into tears on a daily basis. Every time we walk over a bridge we hold our breath and stare at our feet. We can’t look at the skyline without wondering about how to get to the balconies. Everything hurts and life is completely overwhelming.

But we’re not staying quiet about it anymore. We’re making the phone calls. Asking for medical leave. Requesting new appointments with psychiatrists. Keeping all our therapy sessions. And when they ask if we are dangerous, we look them right in the eye and say, “Yes.”

This is progress. This is forward motion. This is the cusp of settling.

A calmness is climbing in. Filling up the spaces between our ventricles. Wrapping tight around our spines and holding us up tall. Refusing to let us suffer in silence.

We will not sit idly. We will move and we will not go back. So we strip down to the bare minimum. We focus in. We put all our fight into this.

It begins to feel less like the end. More like the moment in the morning when the birds don’t even sing. The whole world holding its breath, waiting for the sun to signal another new beginning.

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.


Sharing Silence

I’m alone” © Vinoth Chandar, 2011. CC BY 2.0..
I grew up around fire pits
and on long drives to nowhere
With conversations that always felt
we were leaving something important out

Bottles of bourbon hidden in trunks
and Altoids containers filled with prescription pills
rattling around in the bottom of my purse

We became experts at deflecting questions
At making excuses
Putting on faces and telling each other
“it’s not as bad as all that”

Always thought we’d ask for help
when it got bad enough
Until then
we’d just roll with it

Sitting on the steps at Jason’s apartment
we didn’t talk about anything
and pretended it was a choice to share a silence
instead of an inability to let each other in

And even when his mom found him
swinging from the rafters
of the house he grew up in
We told ourselves we were all perfectly capable
of carrying the weight alone