Sweetie and I have a few different euphemisms for internal mind chatter. Sometimes it’s the Hamster on the Wheel. Sometimes it’s a “squirrel” – a hyper creature scurrying in an erratic manner all over everything. Sometimes we just call it “A Sad”.
Mind chatter is really common, especially if you’re depressed or feel like your life is out of control. The chatter can be worry, depression, despair, anger, resentment, judgment. Anything repetitive that cycles through your mind over and over. Squeak, squeak, hamster on a wheel, going nowhere.
I’ve had my share of squirrels. For me, from the time I was a teenager I experienced depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, panic attacks. Those were the worst. On a daily basis, I might find myself returning to judgmental thoughts about my friends (Why doesn’t she just do this?) or returning to scenarios in my mind that make me feel angry or embarassed, when I remember feeling cheated or treated poorly. Things that happened months or years ago – why would I keep returning to that?
But I did, and I still do, sometimes. It isn’t always easy to get control of that crazy squirrel (or squirrels) but it is possible. It may not be easy, but it can be simple.
Here’s what I do; it’s helped me a lot, and maybe it’ll help you too. It’s something to think about, anyway.
Self care. Yeah, you know I said it. Thing is, when we’re miserable, it’s difficult to remember that we deserve to treat ourselves well. When we know that going to the gym or meditating or taking a bath is not going to immediately relieve your mental anguish, it’s tempting to just skip it and watch TV.
When eating a meal could mean going to the grocery store to buy produce vs. nuking a hot pocket, it’s all too easy to neglect your body. Your mind will reflect the condition of your body (and vice versa) and it is so important to really do everything you can stand to do. It might mean crying while making dinner. That’s okay. If you just can’t do it, nuke your hot pocket – but if you can, call someone to help you, you could make some “freezer” dinners together for those tougher days.
Thing is, emotional hygiene is a necessary part of healing, and if you want to get better you HAVE TO do this:
Get outside every day. Go for a walk, however brief.
(This message to one of the readers: No, walking in the graveyard doesn’t count – this has to be something *for you* not something that connects you to grief. Mom, I’ll send you birds to show you I’m walking with you. You don’t have to visit the gravesite to feel close to me. Instead, go walk in the park that is by the water with the bridge, and the garden. With the funny ducks. Remember the ducks when I was little? You are allowed to laugh, you know. Notice how you feel happy for a second and immediately say “I can’t be happy, I’m supposed to be sad,” and then you squash the happiness. You whip yourself with your guilt and your grief. Do you feel like your grief keeps you closer to me? You’re holding on to it, Mom, look at why. I want you to laugh, Mom. Remember how hard it was for you to see me being sad? You couldn’t heal me but you can heal yourself, you can. I want you to learn how to be happy for more than a few seconds. Try for a few minutes. Then maybe, more. Try. I love you.)
Even ten minutes makes a difference. Even taking note of being outside as you walk from the car to a building can help. The more you do this, the better. The quieter and more natural the setting, the better. Nothing heals like nature. Seek it out.
Ask For Help. You have to ask for help when you need it. Heaven can’t just step in and fix you without your consent. Be specific. If you have difficulty coming up with a specific request, keep thinking about what you need and want, especially when you’re walking outside.
Consider meditation and / or prayer. Just consider it. You don’t have to do it. For some people, it can really help. I actually had a lot of difficulty meditating until a couple of years ago – a friend told me I had too much “pita”, a type of energy, and advised me to walk far and fast enough until the thoughts in my mind got tired. Then sit and attempt to still my mind. Sometimes this is simply sitting and observing your hamster, running on his wheel as though you are above and apart from him. Watching him work without judgment or struggle. Releasing those thoughts comes with time and practice.
Learning to meditate is like getting to Narnia. It takes a while to find the door, but once you know how to get there, you can find your way back quickly and easily. I no longer need to work up a sweat before meditation, and the more I practiced, the easier it got. The healing potential through meditation and prayer is enormous – please don’t write it off.
Through meditation, you can really learn how to address, change and ultimately control the thought stream in your head. Once you learn that, it’s a lot easier to coax that hamster off the wheel. You begin to remember what life was like without constant fatigue and struggle. It comes with time, with help.
First, you must decide that healing is possible.
2 thoughts on “Hamster on a wheel”
Hah, I had that very discussion with myself last night: do I walk to the store to buy “real” food or order in? Guess which one won. I paid the physical price for it, which means I’ll be less likely to choose it next time. For me, the road to self care is a long one; I’ve been on the road to ruin a very long time, small instances of treating myself well with good results are making the road to self care more attractive, but it’ll still take time. (Looking after yourself is not, at least initially, nearly as much fun as debauchery and indulgence, and living well is a lot harder than killing yourself slowly.)
Regarding quieting the mind, I’m finding journaling is helping me to get many of the mundane things (to do lists, reflections on the day, etc.) out of my head. I spend so much of my life on a computer keyboard that I’ve forgotten how visceral it is to actually hand-write. (And my internal editor has to shut up because it isn’t easy to edit something that has been written on paper in a book you don’t want to mess up.) I meditated this morning and only three things kept constantly circling around my head (the fact that my shoulder hurt, thoughts of a freelance project I’m working on, and thoughts about how to try to heal an injured chickadee we’re trying to rehab in our living room). That’s a huge difference from before when songs, snippets of TV shows, and other crap would be going through my head. Doodling can serve a similar purpose — while your hand is keeping your easily-distracted self occupied, the rest of your brain is free to do its thing. (I used to draw really elaborate doodles during meetings at work — they kept the squirrel part of my brain that was chattering or prone to going to sleep busy so that I could actually concentrate on the task at hand.)
I’ve found a couple of guided meditations that appeal to me that I’m trying to do in the morning and before bed. It’s only been about a week since I really started making the effort and it’s already starting to feel easier. The bit you wrote about meditation and healing really resonates with me — I’ve had a problem with the cartilage in one of my knees (a medial meniscus injury from twisting my leg) for over two months now; I targeted it during the healing portion of the first meditation I did last week not really expecting a whole lot, but I woke up to only minimal pain. The injury is still there (it’ll take more time for this kind of injury to heal itself so I keep targeting it during meditation), but the pain is mostly gone, which means that for the first time since February, I can actually walk without pain or a marked limp. For me, that was a pretty nifty demonstration of why I should keep trying to meditate, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
Yeah, I and my December “cupcake hips” agree with that sentiment. Know why I call them “cupcake hips”? Because I ate no less than 24 cupcakes in the month of December. I kept making them with the intention of taking them into work, and they were so good Sweetie & I ate them all. I think we did this three or four times.
Sugar has been an absolute bastard for me to kick this time ’round. Not that it was easy the first time. And not that I’ve exactly kicked it yet, but I have one more month to do so before I go “hardcore cleanse” for three months.
That is so awesome that you’re working on the meditations. I think it’s really important for us to understand how much power our minds have over our bodies, and our realities.