Ever have someone ask you about your personal philosophy? Ever get asked about mantras? I do. People seemed to think that because I suffer from mental illness, I must have lots of inspirational soundbites banging about in my brain. Perhaps they think the mentally ill are closer to the divine? Regardless of their expectation, for years I had no philosophy and the only mantras I practiced were various prayers to try and get me through the day without bingeing and purging and without trying to harm myself. They weren’t very effective.
I’ve made some changes in my thought processes these last few years, however, as I’ve worked on recovering from my most recent nervous breakdown.
I like saying “nervous breakdown”. I’m tired of hiding bits and pieces of myself and the truth is, I hit rock bottom and exploded. Fortunately, once you hit bottom, there are only two choices: death or climb back up. I decided to try the climb. And why not? You can always try death again at some other time.
Part of my recovery process is reading. I’ve read a lot of books these past few years – not altogether different from the years before save the content. I’ve spent a lot of time with books about philosophy, religion, positive psychology, and matters metaphysical. It helped. It’s helped change my thinking style. Helped change the way I interact with the world. Helped me change my thoughts about myself.
So now when someone asks about my personal philosophy I can truthfully say “I’m working on it. I’ve got some ideas. It’s starting to take shape.” Because, after all, a philosophy is kind of a complex thing.
I’ve also been working on the mantras. I used to hate the very idea of them. My eating disorder and neuroses were resistant to things that might help. But I’ve come to see the light.
I’ve a collection of them now and I use different ones depending on the situation. For instance, when I’m sitting in the car gearing myself up to go into the store, to deal with all the noise and the inputs and the scary, scary people, I repeat the phrase, “I can take care of myself.” And I can. The reminder calms me. But it’s not my only.
“I’m worth it.”
“I love you” (to myself in the mirror, an exercise that I still find cringy at times).
“I have a lot of good qualities.”
“I have achieved things.”
“You don’t need approval if you don’t require permission.”
“I can do it.”
I’m not sure if they meet the traditional mantra model. They probably don’t come under the category of smart goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) either, but they work for me. You can get in a pickle if you wed yourself to recovery and philosophical and psychological dogmatism.
I’m going whitewater rafting with my son today. He moved out a little more than a month ago. The adjustment to not having my baby living with me anymore has been challenging. I know that you have to give them roots and wings, but oh how I wish he was still my little boy.
I struggle. How often should I contact him? Can I do it every day or is that overkill? Phone or text? Real message or just funny thoughts and inspirational memes? I’m trying to do something with him every week and suggested the rafting trip. He was enthusiastic, so I booked it and my anxiety has been working overtime ever since.
He could tip over and get his foot caught in a rock and drown. We could have a car accident on the way there. Or on the way back. I could drown swimming at the base camp. What if I fall out and hit my head on a rock and the helmet doesn’t work? What if someone breaks into the car in the parking lot and steals my phone and wallet while we’re on the river? What if, what if, what if?
And here it is, the day of. And I have to go. And be positive. And not let on that I’m currently struggling with depression and not let on that my anxiety about the whole thing is off the hook, notwithstanding the fact that the logical part of my brain keeps pointing out that people do this kind of thing all the time and mostly, they don’t die. We’re not doing super-hardcore rapids, either. Low to medium, suitable for entry level people like us. Still, I want nothing more than to bail, to cancel the whole thing and stay home.
Enter another mantra I use fairly frequently.
“Do it anyway.”
That’s the phrase I use to push through the hard days.
Depression and anxiety are “I don’t want to.” I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to check my email. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to wash or get dressed or do anything around the house or yard. I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to take risks. I don’t want to live large.
Do it anyway. Take small steps. Break tasks down into bite-sized pieces. Challenge the fears. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, I don’t want to. I want to sit in my chair and reread escapist literature and do nothing but that for the foreseeable future.
I want to tell my son to not do stuff either. I want him to stay inside, stay small, and stay safe. Life is scary and treacherous and dangers lurk everywhere. Situations are unpredictable and people can be dangerous. I want to hide my loved ones away and stay with them so we can be safe, so nothing can hurt us. But that would be a small life, and a pointless one and not one that any of them desire.
Enter mantras. Enter positive self-talk.
Feel the anxiety, feel the depression, and to the best of my ability, do it anyway.
What’s your favourite mantra?