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Heading Forward Without a Plan

When I woke up today, I felt exhausted. I didn’t really want to go out for a run and I didn't want to meet my friend Mary at the gym. I started reviewing my schedule for the week and got more tired by the moment. Then I stopped thinking and processing. I just read the paper, enjoyed a great cup of coffee, chatted with Jodi about the dogs, and watched the sun come over the trees in my neighbor’s yard. I ate some oatmeal and I put in a load of laundry. Pretty soon, I felt like putting on my running shoes and heading out into the early spring morning—but not before I cancelled the gym visit, because I just really didn’t feel like going. It was a lovely run and it turned out to be a great way to get myself going for the day. When I got home, I tweaked my schedule a few more times so that it felt more manageable, and I found myself looking forward to what lay ahead.

Sometimes my brain and who I am as a person are not particularly good friends. I think it's because my intellectual musings are based much more on what I think I should do, what I promised I would do, and what I imagine “good” people do than on what I really want to do. The voice of my busy brain has always served as my watcher at the gate, the reminder to me of what I really ought to be doing. And weirdly, somewhere along the way, I gave this voice more power than I give to my actual one. If this rule-maker inside my head is the good guy, the person I feel like I am in my purest form is the bad one.

Sometimes my brain and who I am as a person are not particularly good friends.

This is an extreme description, and one I have moved much further from than I used to be, but in times of anxiety, I revert. Here I’ll be, overscheduled, stressed, and worried, and the first thing I do is to try and use my thought process to work my way through it. I just jump right onto my little brain train and start engaging in a complex game of Jenga with the pieces of my life. I go right to, “Well, just do this, this, this, and this, and you’ll definitely feel better.” It rarely occurs to me to just let that train pass by and then see how I feel. Part of the tyranny of letting my brain rule me is the constant scheduling. Though I don't always remember this, that adherence to a timetable is a tool from long ago. I developed it, I know, to prevent too much down time that I might otherwise use to feel bad about my life. Even though I'm not there anymore, some of those coping mechanisms refuse to budge.

I'm learning now that if I just acknowledge the anxiety, take a few deep breaths and do something that I know feels good, it helps. And it's so much more useful than creating a complex mental diagram of all the steps I need to follow in order to take control of the chaos. It’s no doubt why it really helped this morning when I looked out the window and saw the trees moving gently in the breeze over the jogging trail that runs by our house. I had a sweet chat with my neighbor, who’d just returned from a vacation, and the sun on my face was exactly what I needed. I reminded myself that I was just out to be out, and soon I felt happy and connected to me again.

I’m not smart enough to know all of the reasons that we torment ourselves with rules and regulations and structures and limitations, but I’m pretty sure it’s all related in some way to fear. I know for myself that I can create some pretty deadly machinations in my head rather than face whatever it is that’s poking at me. And yet, when I do just sit with it, I don’t fall apart as I worried that I might. It actually lets me be gentler with myself, feel some empathy for my circumstances and give myself some room to breathe. It’s such a relief, really, to just face it head on, and it makes the day so much more pleasant than I imagined it was going to be.

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