my dharma journey to mental healthiness


A number of thoughts went through my head during my mindfulness practice this morning. One of them was “No, you are not a bad person just because thoughts are going through your head when your intention is to pay attention to your breathing and not your thoughts”.

This, of course, is the nature of a mindfulness practice: intention one place, attention elsewhere. But you notice the elsewhere and, with intention, return the attention to where you want it. This is never a failure; it’s just how the human brain functions.

But that wasn’t the thought that caught my attention, so to speak. I was thinking about the podcast I’ve beeen intending to start for over two years now, which I am calling “A LIttle Less Awful”. I was thinking about how life is usually not as awful as we think; most people’s lives are not too bad and maybe better than their worries allow them to believe.

I was thinking about ways to say this in the podcast, and ways to address people whose lives can be pretty bad: those with mental health challenges. I can imagine that life with schizophrenia, for example, could be pretty awful at times. I know depression is awful to live with; undiagnosed, untreated depression kills thousands of people a year. And then I thought: Anxiety; it just makes you tired.

Which is a thought I’d never had before, and it hit me hard. After all, my life-long mental health challenge has been anxiety, something I came to learn less than two years ago. I’m still trying to come to grips with what that means. But I recognized immediately that what seemed like a random thought was in fact a truth I needed to learn:

My lifetime of anxiety has exhausted me. 

I’ve been approaching my “habit” of starting projects that I never complete with the belief that I’m constantly undermined by the fears and self-doubt fueled by anxiety (and the resultant self-loathing of being a serial failure). This is a true belief, but it’s an insufficient one. 

I’ve struggled with my experiences, over and over, of trying to work on something and despite being enthusiastic about the idea, almost immediately feeling too tired to do the actual work. The self-loathing part of my brain reminds me how lazy I am, and the less hateful parts of my brain try to make me feel better with more reasonable, and more accurate, assessments. But the simple fact remains:

I am constantly feeling too tired to put in the work to do something I truly feel I want to do. And it makes me feel like shit.

I”m reading the book “Innate” which presents the scientific evidence that much of our personality is baked into our genes. I was, in this frame, born with anxious tendencies. Had my parents known this and been able to respond properly, I could have been raised to live productively as an anxious person – just as I was given glasses to compensate for my near-sightedness.

Unfortunately, I lived over sixty years as an anxious person without knowing I was an anxious person and doing things that simply made my life progressively more awful. As a result of fighting my natural psychological being all those years – a fight I was never going to win – I get to the point where I am today:

I am just so fucking tired.

Thankfully, knowledge is power. Simply knowing that continuing with my mindfulness practice and the other things I do to become mentally healhier I will also get physically healthier, and that this kind of exhaustion will dissipate, makes me feel lighter inside. I don’t have to do anything major to fix what’s wrong with me, to put it in somewhat negative terms. I just have to continue doing what I’m doing, stick with the mindfulness practice, commit to making the changes I can make each day, and allow myself to become healthier, stronger, and more awake.