To Be Alone

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to a place where I am comfortable with myself. I wouldn’t say that I’ve grown to love myself, because honestly, I still hate the way I look, and I’m not a huge fan of my personality either. I think its more of a feeling of acceptance.

I used to be really afraid of being alone. I’d spend nights crying because I was so alone. Of course I had family and I had friends, but this was different. It was a fear that I would never find anyone who would understand exactly what it was like to be me. To feel these things that I could never explain in words. Someone who could make my decisions for me. I guess, just someone to be me, to live my life and to just let me watch.

But I’ve learned that to be alone is something to be cherished. To know that you are the only one in the entire world who is ever going to feel this way, to have these experiences, to look at the world from this perspective. That is a beautiful thing. I’ve learned that this what life is. To contribute to the world a life that you shape, a life that is limitless. Sure, there are laws, societal conventions, restrictions. But still, it’s crazy to think that as a human being, you have the ability to do anything, to decide to feel whatever you want to feel. To me, that is the gift of being alone. And it’s something that I’ve accepted.

Here’s the part that’s not so great though. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year being on my own, learning to trust myself and appreciate that I have the power to shape my life and decide whether or not I’m going to be happy. But now I’m scared to not be alone.

I guess its because when I’m the only person involved in my life, I’m in complete control. But, when I let other people in, I lose control, and that’s when things get tough. The problem is, the closer people get, the more I care about them. And the more I care about people, the more they have the power to hurt me. And this is the kind of hurt that I can’t control, I can’t turn off.

It’s been three months since I’ve gotten back. I haven’t gotten particularly close to anybody this semester. I’ve met people, made new friends, but I haven’t made any close connections. Part of it is circumstance. But a huge part is excuses, reasons not to commit, not to care, not to ever let anybody have the power to hurt me. It’s not that I love being alone. I’m okay with it, and I don’t mind it. But I’m terrified to not be alone.

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Want

I’ve been thinking about desire a lot lately. Mostly because I have a whole freaking lot of it. I want my skin to get better. I want my own room. I want a real bed. I want to go home. I want to be happy. And these are only the big ones. Other moments are filled with other miniscule desires and cravings that for some reason my mind believes will make me satisfied, happy. I want chocolate. I want the bell to ring (during zazen). I want to not have to write this paper.

The problem is that I can want as many things as I want but (1) that doesn’t mean I’ll get them, and (2) if I do get them, I still won’t be happy. It’s similar to meditating for the purpose of achieving enlightenment. Here is an anecdote that I read last night in preparation for one of the papers that I didn’t want to write. It comes from the traditional biography of Chan Master Nanyue Huirang:

During the Kaiyuanera [713-742] there was a monk named Daoyi (that is, the great teacher Mazu) who resided at the Chuanfa Cloister and spent every day sitting in dhyāna (C.zuochan, J.zazen 坐禪). The master [Huairang] knew that he was a vessel of the dharma, so he went to him and asked,“What do you intend to accomplish by sitting in dhyāna?” Daoyi replied,“I intend to make myself into a buddha.” The master picked up a tile and rubbed it on a stone in front of the hermitage. Daoyi inquired,“Master, what are you doing?” The master said,“I am polishing it to make a mirror.” Daoyi said, “How could you sitting in dhyāna ever result in becoming a buddha?” Daoyi asked, “How is it done, then?” The master said, “It is like a man driving a cart that does not move: should he strike the cart to get it to go, or should he strike the ox?” Daoyi had no response. (Foulk 25)*

In this case, “striking the ox” is to sit with the understanding that there is no such thing as awakening rather than to sit with the desire of gaining awakening. Now this isn’t a perfect analogy and I don’t claim to be an enlightened philosopher, but I have recently been coming to the realization that achieving my desires will not produce happiness… so why not let go of desire? To be quite honest, its something that has kept me from living in the present because of all the potential I invest in the future. I don’t mean letting go of dreams and ambitions, because goals are something that keep us going and give our lives purpose. I mean letting go of those silly little superficial wants that we have no control over.

By no means is this an easy task. I was actually thinking about my experience at Toshoji and one of the things that made it so difficult was the fact that the entire time we had no control. It was very much about doing things that you didn’t want to do at times that you didn’t want to do them. But in a way, it made things easier because it became so clear to me that I had no control and I had to just let things be.

Anyways, this morning at zazen, I sat and meditated. I didn’t sit with the hope that the bell would ring soon and I didn’t sit thinking about what I wanted for breakfast. Sure there were moments when my mind would begin to wander here and there, but this morning I sat with the focus of being in the moment. It was probably one of the best zazens I’ve had on this trip besides my time at Toshoji. I think from now on, I’m going to focus on letting go of the things I can’t control, accepting that I can’t control them, and instead choosing to focus on the moment.

*Foulk, T. Griffith. Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School. Tokyo: Sotoshu Shumucho, 2010.

Surprises

I’ve been off antidepressants for nearly a month now. And its been kind of a wild ride. I first went on about a year ago after my anxiety debilitated me to the point that I constantly thought I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t sleep every night for fear that I was going to die in my sleep. Despite a chest x-ray and an EKG, I visited the doctor’s office or the health center at least once a week with a different ailment in my head. I finally succumbed to medication, and it really made a difference.

Of course there were the side effects. I was numb, emotionless, I couldn’t concentrate. When I wasn’t in class or even if I was, I was asleep. But I stopped constantly believing I was on the edge of death, and honestly, it was worth it. My anxiety vanished.

The only problem was that I simply didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about my grades which I had previously lived for, I didn’t care about what I did with my body. And I became really impulsive. This continued until I nearly failed all of my midterms, and I saw that something had to change. At this point, I lowered my dosage slightly and more or less coasted to where I am now, not in a particularly successful way, but at least I made it.

I finally decided I needed to stop. I was sick of wasting my life sleeping all the time and honestly, I hated being dependent on medication and I was willing to do whatever it took to stop. I was worried that I would spiral into a depression, that my anxiety would again debilitate me, but I wanted to have control again.

So here’s what happened: I spent a few weeks more depressed than I have ever been. I considered cutting again and I spent more time crying than not. My anxiety came back too, slowly but surely, and I had one of my worst panic attacks ever. But I started caring again. I found myself truly smiling and being genuinely happy for the first time in months. My foggy thoughts disappeared and I was able to think clearly and logically. And lately, I’ve found myself experiencing really deep emotions, the gut wrenching tearing up in a good way kind. And caring. Really and truly caring. My anxiety continues and every day I still have moments when I’m certain that I’m about to have a heart attack or my eardrum’s about to burst (which is a whole nother issue), but its no longer constant, and I’ve been able to talk myself through the situation.

It’s taken a really long time to get here, but I’m finally starting to feel like me again. Not just a shell walking through life, but a person that really and truly cares. I’ll always be a work in progress and I know that with all that’s going on in my life I may still face some very large obstacles in my near future. But here, right now, in this moment, I’m satisfied. And that’s what matters.

This is my experience and it is in no way universal, but have hope. Sometimes, its all you can count on.

Addiction

addiction_cycle1

Addiction is more common than we realize. It goes beyond alcoholism or drug addiction. Much of our society is addicted to the internet, to being constantly online. Other talented folk are addicted to practicing their sports or their instruments. But these things aren’t necessarily bad or harmful. I’m talking about the addictions out there that mimic the effects of drugs or alcohol, that make you feel deceivingly good or at least numb for the smallest amount of time, but ultimately leave you in a much worse state then before. I’m referring to our addictions to certain emotions or actions or even people. This may not be the case for everybody, but as someone with an extremely addictive personality, I am starting to see how addiction has been manifesting in my life in ways I never realized.

Every person has their own way of dealing with stress or depression (the emotional trigger). Some turn to drugs, drinking, or sex, which are okay in moderation, but not in large doses. Other stress relievers are cutting, undereating, or overeating. These behaviors often come into play because people feel like they are losing control over their life and they reach for the one thing that they believe they can control. I have a tendency to deal with stress through impulsive behaviors, whether it be getting piercings or tattoos, or any of the above. While engaging in these behaviors gives me a sense of control and short-term elation or just numbness, I always end up at the other end feeling no better and often times worse, especially since I am aware that my body physically can’t handle some of these things.

My worst addiction is something that I’m not comfortable discussing online, but it is something that I never even realized I was addicted to. On a good day, I don’t even think about it and I’m always proud of myself for being able to control myself. But in times of stress or depression, its nearly impossible to get it off my mind. And every time I give in, I find it harder and harder to stay away the next time I am stressed out because I haven’t learned to deal with my stress in a healthy way, without this fall back.

So this post is my acknowledgement of my addiction, my first step to recovery. And my promise to myself that I will start addressing this addiction, and any other addictions I have in my life. I know that it won’t be easy, but I want my actions to be things that I want to do, not things that I need to do.

Learning to Lose Control

I haven’t written in a while. Some of this stems from the black hole that Williamstown creates when it is sucked into a polar vortex containing approximately six hours of sunlight a day, thus encouraging the 2,000 students that remain on campus to enter hibernation. The other part was me wallowing in self pity for coming down the seasonal flu for the third year in a row, complete with vomiting. During this time, I discovered that I enjoyed way too much the joys of having a month with no obligations except for the task of finishing as much of Netflix as possible. I’m sure I’m not the only one to get down in the dumps over the winter season. After all, its only natural when the majority of the year is filled with the stresses of finishing the night’s paper before the midnight deadline while attempting to simultaneously study for your midterm for your 8:30 the next day. Then there’s the question of your future, your summer internship or studying for the MCAT or LSAT or GRE or deciding what to do with your life, while trying to make sure you don’t end up alone and living with cats in the future.

And that’s part of it. I worry about being alone. Its not having friends or family that I worry about. It is the fact that no matter how many people I surround myself with, no one is going to be responsible for my life but myself. I am only starting to realize this fear now, but growing up, my parents and family were responsible for making sure I got through school, made the right friends, didn’t end up in juvie, and basically stayed on the right path. After getting my drivers license, like so many other teenagers, I started going out on my own, finding jobs when I needed money, and finally going off to college and living essentially on my own for the first time. Now I feel free. I feel happy. I have friends that I consider my family. And yet I feel more alone than ever. Although we all face the same challenges, I am ultimately responsible for what I become in the future and every decision that I make from now until then affects what I become and what happens to me. I feel like this is part of why I am so scared, why I often self-sabotage and don’t go for the things that I want, and why I put off what I need to do.

I know there are those cliches that say “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” or that every mistake makes you stronger, but I feel like sometimes it is these sayings that make me regret so much of the past rather than looking toward the future. A facebook friend of mine shared a quote from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline the other day saying “Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe” and it really struck me. Not every moment in life need to go toward that destined future for greatness. If you waste a day or a week or even a month wallowing in self-pity as I sometimes do when my mental health is feeling unstable, there is no need for regrets. And with this cycle, if you start regretting the fact that you are regretting, take a deep breath and let it go.

I have to admit that I have lived a very uptight life, striving for perfection in everything I do, not to say that it ends up perfect because most of the time, it doesn’t. And most of the time, its because I’m being a control freak with my life. You know those times when you have a list of work to do and it just feels so overwhelming so you just beat yourself up for staring at it for the past hour and not doing it? Don’t do it. If you have a little bit of time, set an alarm on your phone for five minutes and do what you want to do. Lie in bed and listen to music. Go poop. Don’t play flappy bird (trust me). Look up a short youtube video that makes you smile. Just breathe and put a smile on your face. But don’t hate on yourself. And don’t be afraid to ask for help or just take some time to cry. Whenever I have what I consider a life crisis or hit some hurdles in life, I beat myself up for not being able to get over it. I try to control my feelings, but I’m starting to learn that its okay to lose control once in a while. Not every problem has to be fixed right away. If you have something that’s bothering you, write it down. If it is a person that is bothering you, write down what you are feeling then go talk to them. Think of the worst possible scenario and I guarantee it will never be that.

If you read this far, thanks for listening to my brain ramble. I have hit a few bumps in my life recently and I’m still working on trying to be okay with losing control. I know it’ll take time, and that’s okay. If you wanna help me out, comment below with some youtube videos that make you laugh.

Metta.