In seven days, “We Need to Talk” snapped up 4,000 views from 30 different countries. In seven days, I received emails and messages from dozens of people who connected somehow with my words. In seven days, I realized the truth of the situation:
There is an extraordinary number of people experiencing these problems, and no one really knows where to go. Hence the million-dollar question: How do I get to that light at the end of the tunnel?
Spoiler alert: there’s no ritual. There’s no miracle concoction. You can’t sacrifice your firstborn child or click your sparkly red high heels three times. In fact, the road to recovery is actually more of an inside-out, upside-down labyrinth that spans multiple dimensions and sometimes randomly tries to squish you to death . . . which doesn’t even necessarily lead to recovery. Not all the time.
Twice already, I’ve enjoyed a long stretch of all-is-well-along-the-road-to-recovery before being unceremoniously shoved back into the brambles. The first time, there was a trigger. (Triggers include but are not limited to: a snide comment, bad news in the mail, breakups, death of a loved one, etc.) The second time, I’d been healthy for nearly a year already. I was ignorantly convinced that this meant I’d be healthy for the rest of eternity—and then one day I woke up, ate a pancake, went to class, and had a breakdown in the middle of a lecture on sports economics. Which really says something about the not-a-road to recovery: either sports economics is an alarmingly sensitive topic, or relapses hit hard and fast and out of the blue.
No matter where you are in the healing process, relapse is always an ugly, unfortunate possibility. The key is to accept this, to prepare yourself, and to tell yourself when it does happen, “This is okay. I will be okay.” Forgive yourself. Aim not for recovery, but for acceptance. Below, I’ve listed 10 steps to approaching life in an accepting sort of way. Hopefully this new year we can all try a teeny bit harder to take care of ourselves a teeny bit more.
10 Tips for Maintaining a Sane-esque State of Mind
1) Keep a log for The Happiness Scavenger Hunt. For a long time, happiness did not come naturally to me; finding it was a life-wide scavenger hunt. Invest in a decent journal, or download an app like Stigma. Right before you curl up for temporary hibernation each night, write/type down one thing that made you happy that day. It could be anything, i.e. “I got an acceptance letter from my dream school” or “Jared and I burst into giggles at the ice cream place” or “I ate a really ugly blueberry and was expecting it to taste like dead things but actually it turned out to be a slice of heaven.” Or even “I got out of bed today wowza.” Anything bright, anything smiley. Just one thing. Now, every morning you can wake up knowing that something good will happen within the next 24 hours, something good you can log in your Scavenger Hunt Notebook/App along with all the other something-goods that have happened this year.
2) Associate positive mood swings with a certain song. Create a Cheer Me Up playlist, making sure to keep the number of songs on it small. Don’t listen to them unless you are truly, honestly, completely, undeniably, iridescently happy. At this moment, you must (a) break out the playlist and (b1) head-bang enthusiastically or (b2) let it go altogether and dance around like a crazy person. Repeat this process until you feel that you have successfully associated true, honest, complete, undeniable, iridescent happiness with your Cheer Me Up playlist. And then whenever you find yourself floundering back in the abyss, (a) break out the playlist and (b1) head-bang enthusiastically or (b2) let it go altogether and dance around like a crazy person. This is called psychological conditioning. Nothing in the world exists except you and the music. Your Cheer Me Up playlist will always be by your side. Unlike friends, music is constant, unchanging. This does not suggest that you should exchange human contact for a pair of expensive headphones. This suggests that, when in need, music is always here for you, and you should take comfort in this.
3) Engage in a monthly ARK excursion. ARK = Acts of Random Kindness. It has been scientifically proven (scratch that—despite attending a science/tech school for four years, I have no idea what is going on in the science world and thus cannot for sure claim the scientifically-proven status of things) that helping others is a way of helping yourself. “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else,” said Booker T. Washington, who KNEW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. At least once a month, plan something that you know will make someone else’s day. Throw your best friend a surprise party out of the blue (this is significantly more fun if you do it on a random day of the year, claiming it is National Celebrate Cool People Day, as opposed to his/her birthday). Hand out charming little this-is-why-I-love-you notes to all your friends. Make a stranger a bouquet of flowers. Drop by a senior center and conversate with some of its residents. And you don’t have to do it alone: last year, I dragged my friend Jason along with me on a Valentine’s trip to Dulles Mall. It was the time of my life.
4) Become a lifestyle god or goddess. Create yourself a workout routine and a beauty regime. I use this app called Seven to force myself into daily exercise, and I started jogging again recently—if you can’t be mentally healthy, at least you can be physically healthy. Turn your obsession with bad thoughts into an obsession with fitness. Also, when I say beauty regime, I do not mean for you to purchase $94821 worth of face falsification ingredients, and I do not mean for you to plastic surgery your face into Barbie-esque proportions. I mean, spend time brushing your hair and putting on lotion every morning. I mean, wear clothes that make you confident and comfortable. I mean, sleep for a solid 8 hours every night—even if you can survive on less, or even thrive on less, 8 hours will help your soul. It’s that secret tidbit that no one tells you about. Sleep actually makes you feel better, whether or not you think you need it.
5) Wrangle out your inner Buddha. This is not a feeble attempt to convert you to Buddhism (which I lowkey suspect is what my parents have been trying to do to me for the past several months). In Angela speak, “inner Buddha” = yoga + meditation. In terms of yoga, you get what you put into it. If you truly focus on wheedling out your inner chi and nosediving into the poses, yoga is an ice pack on a festering bruise. In terms of meditation, 10 minutes a day, as soon as you wake up, is a way of grounding yourself. You can hit up Google and YouTube for some guided meditations, or you can just try your best to clear your mind (I talk about this a bit in To Become A Hyperventilating Chicken). I also downloaded this app called Zen Friend that keeps track of my meditations so that I feel guilty whenever I skip a day. I promise I’m not being paid to advertise these iPhone apps. It is just that my self-control is not up to par and I am a slave to productivity apps.
6) Limit the electronics. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. These are all life-esteem killers. Everyone schmups their most beautiful, most perfect photos onto the Internet, which consequently makes it look like everyone has their shit together. Plot twist: no one has their shit together. Seeing all this evidence that they do can be crippling. Look at the way her thighs don’t jiggle, you say to yourself. Look at that ugly selfie that is actually unfairly adorable. Unplug for a while and spend some time with yourself. None of them matter. In a hundred years, one person will have been present your whole entire life: yourself. Your experiences. Your moments. You.
7) Forge a creative outlet. I would like to point out that you don’t have to be remotely talented in anything in order to forge a creative outlet. I sing like a wounded animal with bronchitis, but I still record music, and it does wonders on my soul. I can’t draw, so I cut and paste things into scrapbooks instead. Find some activity that allows you to express your feelings without hurting yourself. Creativity could be the angle of your kick towards the soccer ball. It could be folding small origami stars and filling up jars upon jars with them. It could be adult coloring books or Play-Doh or photos with basic and/or artistic filters. And if you can’t find a creative outlet, don’t stress about it. Let it come naturally to you; just do what occurs to you. I didn’t realize I was in love with climbing trees until, one day, I passed by a tree and spontaneously decided to give it a hug. That day, I discovered that if I sit up in a tree and press my face to the bark and close my eyes, I will smile. This is also a creative outlet. It tugs at the limits of the definition of a creative outlet, but that is okay. It is all okay. Have a donut.
8) Find a lifeline. Think carefully about the people in your life, and choose one or two people to fully confide in. These will be the people you trust to the max, who you can turn to in times of need, who are mature and understanding enough to handle a situation. Red alert: when I say “carefully,” I actually mean EXTREMELY CAREFULLY. When I say “one or two,” I actually mean NOT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR BUDDIES. People will say they care—and they do—but not everyone handles the situation in a way that will benefit you. No one is at fault for this. Since we all come from different backgrounds, we all view things differently. I remember one of my friends complaining that he couldn’t get any work done one semester because his friend “went all suicidal” on him. I also remember one of my friends growing angry and lashing out when I refused to go to a therapist. I don’t blame either of them. I’m just saying that I’ve found other people who can be there for me in a way that is helpful, and that these two friends are amazing friends who happen to not be so amazing when faced with certain scenarios. And again, like I said in my last post, if you desperately need a lifeline: hello from firstname.lastname@example.org.
9) Feel unalone. I was blown away by the sheer amount of I-connected-so-much-with-your-experience messages. Blown. Away. In high school, I walked the same halls as strangers who were going through the exact same thing as I was. In college, I still am. You don’t necessarily have to seek out all these kindred spirits. Just know that, despite how alone you feel in your struggles, there are so many others out there who connect. We are all linked together by some invisible gossamer thread. It’s kind of like we are all holding hands, if you think about it in the right way, but not really. So don’t give up. We are all here, and we shall not give up on ourselves, and we shall not give up on you.
10) Recite this mantra: This really shitty thing is happening to me, and it’s turning me into a shitty blob of a human being, but what I can’t see is how it’s molding me into someone great and beautiful.