“The way we spend our days is how we spend our lives” It makes perfect sense, but sometimes it is so hard to just be one with the present day. If we spend our days being consumed by worries about the future that means that's how we are spending our lives- in a constant state of discontent. The fact of the matter is, there is no “future”. There is only this day, and yesterday can never be changed no matter how bad we want it to. Anxiety comes from a disconnect between the past, future and present.
An anxious person will come up with a thousand mini movies in their head on a daily basis. These could consist of anything ranging from the engine on your car falling out, to getting physically assaulted, to you or your loved ones developing strange illnesses. Most of these stories lead to absolute horror and devastation As you can tell none of these future predictions are ever positive. While watching these 'films' in their head through out the day, their mood naturally dips down, causing even more negative thinking. If left unchecked, this cycle can continue all day until all their energy is depleted and they feel absolutely miserable. Some people live every day like this. I am fighting everyday not to live like this. That is where Presence plays a key role.
It comes first with accepting the fact that no one can never predict the future. And I mean never. I used to have ideas about my life when I was a child, and a teenager, but very few predictions actually came true. I remember saying in 3rd grade that when I grew up I was going to be an artist, a writer, and a teacher. All of those things are true this day, which still amazes me. But other than that, I could never have predicted all the details- every tiny beautiful (and ugly) moment that came together to form this life I am living.
Every day, I remind myself to stop picturing what I think the future should look like. I have hopes, sure, but I am no longer set on a specific ideal, an unreachable goal that will supposedly finally bring me a sense of peace and satisfaction. You must ask yourself, if you never reach that dreamy future ideal, will you live in a state of dissatisfaction your whole life? Or even more importantly, if you did reach that goal, do you think you would truly be satisfied, or is the discontent coming from something other than your circumstances, somewhere deep inside you? The key to true success is to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the small things you do and experience in every present moment.
One way I like to cultivate Presence is to meditate on my breathing. Wherever I am, and whatever I am doing, I will zone in on the breath coming in and out of my lungs. When my anxiety is flaring up, and I am stuck in some nightmare inside of my mind, my breathing can become short and shallow. Just being able to remember to breathe can sometimes bring me out of my head and back to reality. I tell myself take a deep breath. Look around you. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? I take time to check all my senses and mentally log what I see, smell, and hear. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes longer, but I eventually come back to the present moment. I realize that there is only ever this moment in time. That I will never get to repeat it. I continue to breathe deeply.
The next thing I do is attempt to be content with the present moment. I look around and find the smallest thing to be happy or grateful about. This might sound simple, but during an anxiety attack it can be difficult, everything you see is through negativity-tainted glasses. Once I find that one positive thing, I focus on it and consciously try to shift my emotions away from the negative downward spiral.
Once I have recovered slightly, I have to make sure to monitor my thoughts to make sure they don't start back on the downward trend. I do this by routinely asking myself What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself? One would think that we are always aware and in control of our thoughts, when in fact our thoughts are a voice playing in our heads, but it is not us. That is why, without paying attention to what we are thinking, we can have negative thoughts running through our head all day and poisoning our lives. Imagine having a sidekick that followed you around and constantly critiqued everything and made horrible comments. You would definitely not be a happy camper. That is what anxiety is like, and being present in the moment can help stem the flow of thoughts that can ruin your day.
Remember: Breathe, check your senses, find something positive, then monitor your thoughts.
Being an artist with anxiety and depression is hard, and even more difficult to explain. But writing this article is important to me. Our image on social media needs to be more transparent, more human, and I want to set a good example. Too many of us scroll through IG looking at images of seemingly happy people and start to feel bad about our own lives. That is because what we see online is only a slice of reality. I can be so focused on getting out the next post that I don't see the illusion of perfection I am creating for my viewers. That changes from here on out, starting with this post.
It's time to get real. I am an artist who lives with mental illness. My two companions are anxiety and depression. They are hereditary and I've experienced symptoms most of my young adult life.
The anxiety comes at me from one side in a voice that sounds like my own but with an edge to it that cuts like a sword- it says your art isn't good enough. Why can't you do anything right? They probably are laughing at you. If this inner voice was a person I would call her a bitch, and would avoid her like the plague. Because man, is she mean. That is anxiety, a constant inner dialogue that makes you feel tense and uncomfortable, in a constant state between fight and flight. Worry furrows my brow at even the simplest of things because the anxiety will amplify the problem into something bigger. It will dig through my brain and find every possible scenario and outcome and throw it into my field of vision. I have to consciously tell myself to shut it off, like changing the channel on the TV. Switch it to something more peaceful and positive.
On the other side is my depression. It brings fatigue and an inner numbness. My body aches for no reason at all. The sadness seems to seep out of my bones and infect my muscles. Migraines are a weekly occurrence. All this, seemingly for nothing. Because depression doesn't need a reason to stop by. Depression exists within me and I battle it every day. Most days are good, sometimes years go by before my companion stirs. Sometimes it pops up for no reason, other times it is triggered by stress, but when it is here, depression can tear me down like nothing else. Motivation is hard to find, my bed is my safe haven from the world I start to see in increasingly shit-colored glasses. The future seems absolutely bleak. My mind naively sighs it will be this horrible forever. I can't see myself being happy again. This is absolute nonsense, of course. Every storm will pass but the depressed mind only sees doom and gloom.
My biggest enemy has always been my own mind. As an artist my mind is my biggest tool. As someone who lives with mental illness, it can also be my biggest weakness. Accepting these truths and simply allowing myself to feel whole despite them is what brings me comfort day by day.
Phew. I did it. Everything in me is screaming not to publish this article, but I am going to anyway. I am going to put myself out there and be vulnerable. I invite everyone reading this to be brave and comment some of their vulnerabilities. Take one step towards finding peace by admitting it to yourself and to the world.
Until next time, keep pushing forward.