Every day, for years now, I’ve been waking up feeling lost, a wide painful chasm in my chest that I continue to fill and refill with the huge lead task of trying to figure out why I am here. At the same time, I believe that there is no reason why we are here, I believe if there is to be any reason, we bring it. This is a bit like trying to comprehend the vastness of the universe or the void of nonexistence altogether, but much less inclined to inspire wonder and awe. Since my human mind has no capacity to comprehend the dissonance, it spins in an infinite feedback loop. My brain works like a skipping record and if I could only pick up the needle the insanity would stop, then I could enjoy the moments of existence. I could sigh, dream, and hold the hands of those I love. I do get some sweet moments, when I’m riding horses, doing yoga, laughing with friends, writing, or kissing my dog that the skipping stops. These brief interludes of bliss comfort me during the times that the skipping record is turned up so loudly I sometimes fear relief will never return.
Although this is neither the first nor last time I've experienced cognitive dissonance in my belief system, I think there is currently one major reason my mind record keeps skipping. I’ve been resisting, in my own way, something about myself for a very long time. I suppose, like many people with depression, anxiety, and other mental illness, resisting aspects of myself goes along with the general belief that something is “wrong” with me. That, however, is a post for another day. This post is for a specific aspect of myself, one that when nurtured makes me fulfilled and healthy in mind and body, but one which I continue to resist or ignore as unimportant or “wrong”. Why do I do this, even though this exact quality has been shown by research to make people live longer, happier lives? Yes, there are data from Harvard, who has the longest running study on happiness and health to date (you can read about the study here.). The data have shown time and time again that the key to long, healthy, happy lives is in our relationships- specifically our closest relationships and our sense of community and belonging.
Despite knowing that I value more than anything my relationships and my sense of belonging and community, I continue to resist it, blast it as unimportant, claim that this can’t be IT, that is just too easy for me. In my low moments I ask myself, “Why can’t I do anything MORE. Why am I not DOING anything meaningful? What about my career? Seriously Ashley, what the hell are you doing with your life? All these other people are…” blah, blah, blah… skip, skip, skip…
I continue to waste so much energy and time looking for that “thing” or those “things” that I’m “supposed” to be doing when I could be investing that energy into the people I love. Don’t get me wrong, I DO dedicate a lot of energy to my relationships, in fact I think more than most people, but why can’t I let who I am be enough? The people in my life, creating a sense of belonging are and have always been the key to my happiness and health. Yet despite my efforts to tell myself that I am enough the way I am, I still wish, that I had a different mind; a mind more organized, more innovative, more intelligent, more business savvy, more driven, more gifted, more of society's definition of success.
We are bombed with information everywhere in our society telling us that success means we need to be rich, famous, powerful, innovative, pretty, glamorous, thin, and driven. I’ve known for years that deep down I do not want that to be my definition of success, but since I have not yet come up with a specific alternative definition, I don't have another record to play, my brain continues to abide by the old definition, spinning and skipping away. I need a new defintion of success. Sure, I want to "have close relationships" be a “good person” and I want to be “happy” but what does THAT even mean?
It makes me sick, causes my depression and anxiety to skyrocket, when I try to follow society's definition of success. I am happiest when I prioritize my relationships, my sense of belonging, but AT THE SAME TIME I don't see that as a valuable trait for one to have in this world. Therefore, my record is continues to skip. I’m ready to set myself up to feel good, to play a better goddamn record.
So please tell me, how do you define, or WANT to define, success? What are the things that bring you bliss, and are you truly valuing them? Do you think those qualities are important in society, and why? Where are you placing most of your physical, mental, and emotional energy? Where is your record skipping and when does it play smoothly? In short, what the hell does your record sound like?