An Exercise in Self Kindness

I’ve been in a creative rut lately—and I’m sure many of you can probably relate to this problem a little too much right now. However, as usual, instead of being gentle, I’ve proceeded to berate myself mercilessly for not being more productive. I should have been offering up kind words of encouragement such as: “Don’t worry, you’ve created before, you will do it again. There’s no reason to think this is suddenly the end. Writing, creating—that’s who you are. Always has been, always will be. It’s an indelible facet of your identity”. But I didn’t do that. No, I chose to lash out with harsh words meant to chip away at my own, already low, sense of self-worth: “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so lazy? You have literally nothing going on, stop staring at the wall. You’ve created before, aren’t you supposed to be a writer? Well then, why can’t you do it right now?!”.

I’ve refused to listen to my feelings. I’ve ignored them. I’ve chased them away. The irony, of course, being that the longer you avoid facing your discomfort, the more uncomfortable you become.

***

We’ve been taught by a society hellbent on repression that expressing our feelings and emotions—publicly or even to ourselves—is undesirable.

If you express “negative” emotions, you will be labeled as whiny. If you express “positive” emotions, you will be labeled a braggart. The name of the game is “Sit Down, Shut Up, and Keep It to Yourself”.

Sometimes it seems that the only socially acceptable option is to bottle it all up until you no longer remember how to access those feelings in the first place.

But that’s not being honest with yourself. That’s not being honest with anyone.

Research in the field of psychology has shown time and time again that locking your feelings away and ignoring them is detrimental to your mental health. (This is the part where I should cite sources, but I’m gonna go ahead and cite my undergraduate degree in psych which qualifies me as an expert on the subject. You can trust me, right? Just fucking kidding. Take everything I say with a healthy pinch of skepticism and go do your own research. Learning is fun).

Anywho. No one respects psychology, as evidenced by my family and every other random person I ever met whose response to my studying it was to screw up their face in a condescending manner and say, “Oh, and what exactly are you going to do with that?”.

Nothing, obviously.

Look, I get it. It’s much easier to shit on the science of psychology than to actually do the hard work of sitting with yourself and your discomfort in order to come to a deep and meaningful understanding, and even harder to find the courage to express it to yourself and to others. I’ve been guilty of shutting myself out more times than I’d care to admit.

But today, something shifted. I can’t tell you what it was exactly that set the change in motion… I don’t know why my inner self suddenly switched gears from emotional abuser to loving supporter…but I finally allowed a dialogue between myself and my emotions to open up again. And together, we came up with this exercise in self kindness which really helped me. I hope maybe it can help you, too. You can probably get the general idea by reading my account of the exercise, but to clarify the steps are just:

  • List EVERY possible thing you have going on in your life, externally and internally, that you think might be affecting you in negative ways and contributing to your perceived lack of productivity or whatever it is that’s bothering you.
  • Then list what was going on in your life the last time you felt really creative or productive, or just generally good/ well/happy.
  • Compare the two lists. Talk it through.

No guarantees. But for me, something about seeing everything laid out in list formation allowed me to actually comprehend, in a more concrete and quantifiable way, why I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. Which in turn, helped me feel more self-sympathy. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly geared to feel sympathy for myself innately. My comfort zone is generally self-loathing and insecurity. But, if you stop for a moment and try to view yourself from the outside, as if you were looking at another person, a stranger or a friend—you might find that it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier to empathize with them, to want to help them instead of hurt them. Because no matter how fucked up we are on the inside, we tend to recoil at the thought of inflicting pain on other people. If you can learn to see yourself that way—as just another flawed human being trying their fucking best—it becomes harder and harder to hate them.

So, without any further ado or ceaseless rambling, I want to share with you this exercise as it emerged from thought to action:

***

I keep getting absolutely furious and disgusted with myself because I’m not writing much these days. And when I do manage to scribble something out, it’s sporadic and sparse. The discipline of writing every day—of allowing any and all thought the chance to take shape on a page—that seems to have disappeared. Now, I feel stoppered, when just over two months ago I couldn’t stop myself. Wave after wave came pouring directly from my mind through a pen and into being. I was blowing through notebooks and word documents, my google keep was chaotic and overflowing—that delicious and enthralling type of chaos which accompanies unbridled creativity. I was posting a weekly blog. I was writing scattered pieces of spec scripts and pilots—every scene, every dialogue, every story that came to mind—working on bringing it all together. I was writing bits and material for silly videos, both for fun and to compete in the desperate game of maintaining relevance on social media.

But now…I feel dry, empty, like a husk—nothing flows anymore. I am a drought.

And I’ve been making myself feel like SHIT for this. When just a few weeks ago I promised I would try to be nicer to myself.

I’m sorry, self, I told you this was going to be a long and difficult road together.

I wasn’t listening to you. You were full of bad feelings and I made you feel worse because I just couldn’t handle them, so I took it out on you. But, listen, talk to me now. Tell me everything, scream at me, shake me, just let it all go and tell me: what is the difference between this moment and two months ago? List it, list everything. I’ll wait. I’ll be quiet. I won’t get mad. It’s your turn.

***

  • Early November: Election chaos. I am a mess. I am drinking myself to the point of collapse and ruin—popping benzos to mitigate the repercussions I know will follow come morning. I am a writhing black hole of anxiety. And on top of all that, I feel physically ill. I am in pain and discomfort. I write it off as the fault of the poison I’m filling myself with and the mental stress. I wind up in the emergency room having a panic attack and thinking my insides are about to rupture.
  • The doctors at the ER dismiss me, finding nothing physically amiss, and I spend the next month and a half being passed from doctor to doctor—none of whom can find anything wrong with me. Still, I am in constant pain, nauseated with no appetite. I lose 16 pounds, dropping below 100 lbs for the first time since I was a pre-teen. The doctors treat me like I’m crazy, like I don’t matter. I begin to think this might be true. This mysterious health issue on top of my already strained mental health crushes me. I am deteriorating fast and I can see the breaking point looming ever closer.
  • I feel so alone in the isolation of the year.
  • Early December: At last, a diagnosis. An ovarian cyst, suspected endometriosis. I need surgery but they can’t get me scheduled in until the 22nd of December.
  • Nearly a month passes, my symptoms worsening by the week. My plans to move home to California are trashed. There is no clear future in sight. No certainty. All is fog and doubt and dread. Heavy. I am sinking into a depressive episode.
  • The time finally comes for surgery, I’ve never had one before. I am SO afraid. My anxiety finding novel outlets for physical manifestation (such as shaking uncontrollably), and in more pronounced ways than I can ever recall. It makes me feel weak, ashamed.
  • They tell me the surgery is a success, “we obliterated the endometriosis”, they say. (Hold on wait, I know I said I wouldn’t interrupt, but…what the fuck kind of doctor talks like that? Sorry, continue.). They also tell me this is a chronic condition; it will most likely return. You can take birth control to try and keep it at bay but, in all likelihood, it will one day require a hysterectomy. That is scary, but that is for the future. Not for now.
  • I spend Christmas—a holiday I’m already not particularly fond of—in excruciating pain. I eat hydrocodone like candy and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I worry about my proclivity for addiction. Just another anxiety that looms over my head, but I’m in far too much pain to deal with that right now. I keep taking them after the pain is gone because I’ve got that itchy, restless inside feeling again that makes me squirm at the prospect of being alive and conscious and sober. There is still half of one left. I am saving it. I am afraid to see it go. (It’s gone).

  • 3 weeks have now passed since surgery and I am still in minor pain and discomfort often, more than I expected at this point. I struggle to return to my fitness routine. I can barely make it through half a yoga session. After months of inactivity and malnutrition, my body buckles under the slightest exertion. I feel like shit about this, I feel weak. I worry that the surgery was not as successful as they said.
  • January 6th, 2021. The Capitol is stormed by fascist human detriment—domestic terrorists aided and abetted by their fearful leader, along with inside help from capitol security. They let them walk through the doors, take a tour, and then walk out again. Freely. No mass arrests. I should not be shocked or surprised, this was so very predictable, but I still feel fear and panic and sorrow and rage and powerlessness. Arrests trickle in over the following days, but the piece of human excrement still resides there and there appear to be no consequences for any of it. The 25th is rejected, Impeachment passes through the House but the Senate is a long shot. I both understand how this is possible yet struggle to grasp its reality. (And, of course, it is ultimately rejected).

  • I am preparing to move across the country in the middle of a pandemic. I am driving alone. I am heading home.
  • February: I arrive in LA. I am getting settled in. I am navigating the complications of networking and searching for work in the entertainment industry during Covid. Two weeks pass. I am not having much luck landing a job as a PA. That isn’t much time, but still, I am starting to get nervous.
  • Oh, and have I mentioned yet that all of this is taking place while a global Pandemic rages on in the background? With no end in sight? That it’s been a nearly a year of isolation, fear, and uncertainty—which has generated collective trauma and psychosis?
  • And still, you ask, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you write? Why are you not creating, why are you not being more productive? Why are you so exhausted? Where did that creative fire go, will it come back, is it gone forever? What is so different?? Come on!! TELL ME! FIX YOURSELF! BE BETTER!”

***

Ok, alright, I hear you…I hear everything you’re saying, and now I want you to hear it, too. I can see it all more clearly than I did before. So, let me tell you exactly what the difference is between then and now:

3 months ago:

You were eating well, exercising and doing yoga daily, meditating, drawing, reading, writing, getting back into guitar, working towards a goal, towards a dream. You were about to move back home to California after months of being stuck in Georgia at your parents’ house. Your life was finally about to start again after the pandemic turned it upside down.

Your mental health was not the best (but then again, it never has been) and you still indulged in those bad habits that you know you have to stop one day, but your body was healthy and in better shape than ever. You had hope. And all of this, it fueled you and that fuel ignited a fire and it burned in you and blazed out of you in a flurry of creation. You spent the time alone well—you went deeper inside yourself, your mind, your soul than you ever have been, and you were an introspective person to begin with. You examined your heart, your trauma, your behaviors, your patterns, your darkness, your light. You analyzed the self, the world, and your place within it. You put it all on paper. Every. Single. Thing. you found in those caverns of the psyche…and for the first time, you were sharing it with others rather than tucking it away again to gather dust in some forgotten corner. You allowed yourself to open up, to be vulnerable—which has always been your deepest and most profound fear. This, in turn, lent oxygen to that fire which was burning within you and everything was pouring out of you that had been trapped inside for so long. And sometimes, people resonated with it. And sometimes, you felt proud of yourself. A positive feedback loop began.

That was what was going on 3 months ago. Look back at all that has happened since and is still currently ongoing, in progress.

Don’t you see now? Of course you’re tired. And you needed to write about it, to express every fear, every hurt…but I wouldn’t let you. We were both afraid of it, I think. But that’s ok. You’re doing it right now and don’t you feel better? Like something has opened up again? Even if just a crack…

Come on, we said we’d be nicer to each other. We promised. Don’t give up now, we’re not finished. It’ll all come back in time. And there is time. You’ve been trying hard when you could, but it’s ok if you can’t find the courage and the energy you need to do that every day.

Stop belittling everything you do. Imagine what you could accomplish if you just learned to celebrate yourself for once. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t keep striving to be better, I’m just saying that we should keep striving to learn that ever elusive art of being happy solely for the sake of being alive.

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