Mental peace is hard to achieve and maintain.
I recently said goodbye to my twenties, and as expected, that event brought with it a whole host of emotions and memories. There were good things to remember: friendships made, family ties strengthened, great nights out, amazing concerts, and more recently officiating my sister’s wedding ceremony and running the New York City Marathon.
It was also a decade of struggle. I was rocked by the loss of my father and the aftermath, but I’ve covered that. Another thing that challenged me was the feeling of being lost, of not knowing which direction to go in. My life lacked any semblance of structure or discernible direction, and my mental health suffered. I was plagued my anxiety and unease, negativity, reoccurring unhappy memories, and so much more. Some of these things I’ve already written about, and some of these will be written about in future posts.
So much to say goodbye to on both side of the spectrum, but if there’s one thing I was happy to leave behind me, it was the feeling of mental turbulence. There were so many times I felt I was spiraling out of control, that my mind was going one hundred miles a minute, that my thoughts were attacking me from all sides, and that I was losing my grip on sanity, like a rock climber hanging from the edge as gravity begins to work its dark magic. I said goodbye to a decade in which I never had the feeling of mental peace, and I won’t miss that.
I moved home to Massachusetts at 28 and a half, and from thereon out, the rest of the decade became about finding tranquility. It was about finding a way to not only restart my life, but to find a sustainable sense of mental peace that had proved so elusive. I didn’t want to feel like I was just keeping my head above water, I wanted to establish a secure and calm mindset so that when things started to go sideways, I’d be more prepared to deal with it. Maybe that’s a negative way to look at life, but for me it rings true: something is always going to go wrong, whether it’s tomorrow or years down the road.
In the times we live in, mental peace is critical. It’s about striking that balance. It’s about looking at something on the news, and feeling angry and compelled enough to take action (in a constructive fashion), without getting so angry that it puts you in a funk the rest of the day/week/year, and letting it throw you out of equilibrium. It’s a fine line to walk, but that’s what I’m after. I’d like to be able to weather the storm no matter what happens.
I tried so many things to achieve mental peace. I’ve tried yoga, meditation, strength training, running, calming music, long walks in nature, anything I could think of. They all seemed to help for a time, or at least at the beginning, but like an antibiotic, if I went to the well one too many times, that activity or thing would lose its efficacy, and I’d have to figure out another way to calm the stormy seas of my mind.
The mental turbulence affected me in so many ways; most notably when I’d lie down at night to try and get some sleep. I’d toss and turn on my sides, my stomach, my back, and after thirty minutes of not being able to sleep, I knew I was screwed. No sleep would come, although I’ve gotten much better about getting up and reading or doing something else to quiet my mind. I’ve also learned to not get so angry when these nights happen, as it doesn’t help me in any way. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Achieving mental peace began with self-exploration. I reflected early and often about what my triggers were, what my reoccurring thoughts were, what kept me from falling asleep at night. So many of these topics were discussed with my therapist(s), and as we talked through them, they helped me to dissect each topic to get to the root of what was eating at me, what was keeping my mind moving and keeping it from shutting down at night. I wonder how many hours I’ve spent in therapy, but every one of them has been worth it. Every one of those hours has gotten me closer to understanding who I am.
The second step was accepting that I’m going to make mistakes, and that there’s things in my life that I can’t influence. I can’t control everything in my universe, but I can control my reaction. Nowadays, I’m focused on the people and the situations right in front of me: affecting change when I can, and not letting myself get too riled up by things that are beyond my control. So much of achieving a peaceful mindset has been about ceding control. It’s about admitting how little power we have as human beings.
I’m working on seeing things as they are, and not forming an association with them that’s either good or bad. Rather than letting some event or a negative comment ruin my day, these things become a blip on the radar. When something happens, I see it, recognize it, and file it away. I also try to just let it go. I still get angry or frustrated at times, but that’s part of life. The important thing is to recognize when this happens, to apologize to those offended, and to not beat yourself up about it. Learn from your mistakes but don’t harp on them either.
I want to judge events and people less, keep my mind open, and stay in the here and now. We can’t influence or change what happened in the past, and while we can plan for the future, these plans won’t always come to fruition. By staying in the present, I’m not caught up in my thoughts. I’m living the day that has been given to me, and I’m enjoying each and every moment.
The final and most important step in the process has been allowing myself to be myself. I’ve admitted to myself that I am human. I’ve realized that I don’t love sitting around and relaxing, and that I’d rather be up and moving. I’m more in touch with who I want to be. I’m a nerd, I’m anxious, I’m emotional, and I lack confidence at times. I am who I am, and admitting that has been a painful process, but I have no doubts that that’s why I’m feeling better about almost everything. I’m looking to maintain that peaceful mindset throughout my thirties, and in the decades to come. Thanks for reading.