Our brains are very good at using the past and the future to make decisions. We learn from our mistakes, and are able to live with relatively more ease by planning ahead. In the game of survival, it has done very well for us. However, when we begin to overthink, it can also become a hindrance…
Being able to keep myself present, through meditation or otherwise, and consequently stopping myself from getting caught up in overthinking, has proven to be a vital part of my on-going battle with depression. But what exactly is it about being in the present that brings such relief and mental strength to us?
First, let’s explore the past. Overindulging in bad memories, when there is nothing that can be done to change them, can bring on feelings of regret, guilt, and self-loathing. Even good memories can just bring on feelings of painful nostalgia- we wish we were back where we were, and compare it to our relatively unsatisfactory present state.
And the future? Well, dwelling on that too much can often make us anxious. When we try to predict, and plan ahead too far, or without flexibility, we can induce panic in ourselves as all we are doing is trying to control something that has not even happened yet, and potentially never will. If we preempt ourselves a negative future, we fear it. If we daydream of a perfect future, we begin to put things on hold by saying things like, ‘when I get my job/money/house/girl/boy/baby, then I will be happy’. In both cases, the result is the same- we are depriving ourselves of really connecting with the present.
In my depression, I spent a lot of time (pre-professional help) in trying to think my way out of it. I combed through my past, trying to come up with some sort of reason that I am the way I am now. I ask myself did something happen? Was there one key event? Did I miss something? My mind deals with this in the only way it knows- it focuses on all of the other times in my life that I have ever felt some sort of similar miserable sensation, and tries to find a pattern. Needless to say, this tactic would probably not help anyone feel any better, and, if anything, just adds to the belief that life was not, and never has been, without misery. So, I tried desperately to focus on positive memories. I brought up times in the past when, to my knowledge, I have been truly happy (whatever that means), and tried to work out some sort of formula or something to how I had done it. This made me frustrated, spiteful and, indeed, jealous of my past, seemingly ‘carefree’, self. I took down all of the photos I had on my walls of me before the depression kicked in, angry that I had been so happy and so naive. So, I change tack. I look forward, at who I want to become. Positive energy and planning. But every day I’d wake up desperately reaching towards this bright future and only feeling more trapped in my unhappy present state. Sure, it gave me hope to continue, to a degree. But with that hope came feelings of deep unworthiness and helplessness.
It was mindfulness that finally brought me into my present. Before therapy, I avoided facing the present at all costs. To be where I was, and feel how I felt, and accept that? That hurt. It was hard. But in my CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), I had to. It wasn’t comfortable, to begin with, and I believe that is why many people do not stick it out. It was only when I began to finally accept where I was in about week 9 or 10, for myself, however scary that was, and begin to focus on the things that I can do right now, in the present, and be, and feel, and appreciate, and enjoy- that I began to feel alive again. It was baby steps, and it was hard to accept – I won’t lie, and I have lost a lot, but it is the only way that I can be now. And accepting it, at least, brings me peace.
I finished my 12 week course of CBT about a month ago now, and things are just steadily trickling along. I’m growing, and learning to live with my mental health, and prioritise, and develop a lifestyle that works for me as I am now. I leave the future to sort itself out as best as I can, there is no point in planning too much for that (although it can be fun to dream up plans, in moderation of course), and time somehow manages to pass itself without me worrying about how to pass it. I do not live with regret for that time has already gone, as while I acknowledge that I have made mistakes, they now lie out of my reach. I have only the now. And I let go of everything else. And I can tell you, hand on heart, that that is truly the biggest of reliefs.
Keep practising being present, in all that you do, and you will find that your mind has this amazing ability to heal itself. The hard part however, is in trying to stop thinking so much.
These last few days have been particularly tough for me- my boyfriend is currently over 5000 miles away, and every time I have tried to clear my mind recently one hundred different trains of anxious thoughts have leapt in to fill the space. And yet, this evening, while I’ve been typing away at this, I can feel myself understanding again, and gaining control again, as I patiently explain to you (and subsequently to myself) what is making me feel so unbalanced. This blog has done so much for me, and, of course, I hope it might perhaps make sense or even help someone else too.
You go, buddy.