Learning to Live in the Present

You may have noticed that I took a short break from the blog. Don’t worry, I’m not done with this fun side hobby. Far from done actually. Life just got in the way and swept me off my feet, probably without many people noticing. To get back on my feet, I’m sharing something extremely personal that has affected me for as long as I can remember, in hope that I help others as well as help myself learn a new mindset and gain confidence each day. Today I am talking about my anxiety. Specifically my anxiety and fear about living in the present.

What is anxiety?

Everywhere I go I hear people discussing anxiety but what really is it? And no, it’s not just a buzzword. My opinion: Anxiety is different for everyone. Some people face anxiety due to change and the fear of the future. Others face work and public speaking related anxiety. For me, my anxiety has me a victim of time – I get stuck in the past or try to force my mind to run away to the future instead of facing the present. On a daily basis, I spend more time agonizing over the past – the what ifs, the would have beens and could have beens instead of moving on. If my mind isn’t on the past, it’s escaping to the future for refuge – my life will be like this if I do this, or life will be better in five years because grieving time has passed etc. It’s one thing to learn from your past mistakes or look forward to an event in the future, but I let the past actions and unforeseen future possibilities control my mind, body and soul, removing me from the present moment in time.

At 25 years old, I’ve spent my fair share of years wondering how different life could have been had my parents not divorced when I was 14. I also wonder what my life could be like if my mom were still alive. These two thoughts alone dictate full internal debates in my head about how I should live my life, ultimately holding me back at life. For example…

A glimpse at my continuous “PAST” related thoughts:
  • “If I spent college breaks with my mom instead of my dad, would I have noticed the signs of congestive heart failure sooner?”
  • “If I went to the doctor last year with my mom instead of cancelling on her, would she still be alive?”
  • “Because my mom had congestive heart failure, will I have it too?”
  • “Because my mom faced multiple miscarriages, will I? And do I need to start having kids now?”
  • “Because my parents divorced, does that mean I will ruin my relationship and marriage?”
A glimpse at my continuous “FUTURE” related thoughts:

When my mom was still alive, my number one future fear was my wedding day and giving birth to my children:

  • “Will my parents be civil at my wedding?”
  • “Will I notice the tension and not enjoy my special day?”
  • “Where will I seat everyone at my reception to cause less stress?”
  • “Who will show up when I have children? And will one parent not show up because the other is there?”
  • “How will holidays work when I have children? Will my family put aside their differences and just L-O-V-E their grandkids.”

Others future thoughts include:

  • “One day my adult acne will clear and then I will be happy. Until I find that magic formula (or you know, hormones slow the heck down), I need to rush through the present.”
  • “I can’t wait until I can host holiday parties and gatherings at my house. But because I am the youngest child without kids, I won’t get that opportunity now. BUT one day in the future I will and I need to hold onto that.”
    • This may not seem like much, but it is truly debilitating to me, and something I have a hard time letting go.
  • “If I don’t do the dishes immediately after dinner, will Nick think less of me and that  I am a slob…? But on the flip side if I am the only person cleaning am I turning into a mom and house maid instead of a girlfriend and partner?”
  • “If Nick is going to spend money on “X”, then I should be the responsible one and save money rather than do what I want to do… One day I will get my chance in the future to go golfing, shopping, antiquing etc…”

Now that you have a look inside my mind, you’ll see that I drive myself crazy on a regular basis, and make a larger deal out of a small situation. Because of this, I fear the silence, and falling asleep at night to no background noise has me in a downward spiral, second guessing everything in my life. I always find a way to avoid the present, be it a happy or sad moment, and let my past baggage control my decisions or convince myself the future will be better and ignore the beautiful moments around me. Yet, even happy future moments come with a great sense of dissatisfaction and inferiority in present day actions and conditions.

What changed?

What changed was Nick and I getting into a three hour conversation only about me and my feelings. Yes, three hours talking about me and this crazy crazy crazy mind of mine. We talked about how I let my guilt over my mom’s death hold me back from living life today. How I let my parent’s divorce hinder our relationship for no reason other than second guessing everything I do and comparing it to their marital mistakes (rather than thinking on my own accord.) Rather than live in the present moment in time, I am already thinking the worst or imagining what it would be like five years from now. And why? For what? Why do I feel the need to remove myself from present moments and only agitate myself each day?

On my way to work this week I saw a small digital billboard outside an insurance agency that said the following inspirational message:

“I am not what happened to me.

I am what I choose to be.”

 

This message is what changed for me. To see written in flashing letters that I can choose my path opened my eyes. Why should I continue to let the past cause me pain. And why should escaping to the future mean that my present day circumstances are only subpar? Of course I already knew this, but when I opened my eyes, I looked at all that life has in front of me and let me tell you – it’s pretty damn great. It’s great because I chose these actions and charted my course.

The Solution

Instead of letting negative thoughts fill my mind, I take a deep breath and ask myself, “Do I truly have a problem or fear right now… Right now in this moment in time?” The answer to this question is always no, allowing me to return to the present day rather than victimize myself to past actions or future possibilities. Mediation and gratitude journaling are two other great tools that bring me back to the present and allow me to realize the beauty and success of my life right now, rather than the hardships or any dissatisfaction that my mind materializes. These small changes to my daily routines and mindset have already created less anxiety in my day to day life, creating a healthier relationship with my boyfriend, my family, friends, and myself.

Trust me when I say it isn’t easy as I’m training myself to think differently than I have for the last fifteen plus years. But each day I am forgiving myself more and more for being so hard on my actions (or lack of actions) and try to take things day by day. I’m loving myself more, doing things that I LOVE and want to do (within financial and logical reason of course) rather than letting others around me be happy in hope that one day “my day will come too.” I don’t think I’m in the position to give anyone else advice, as I am still in this discovery phase myself. All I can say is that life is too short to be a victim of time, and I don’t want to look back with regret that I let life slip away from me.

If I still have any readers, thanks for listening to me share my story. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies on the inside like the outside may show – and that’s okay. If anyone else is facing anxiety or feelings of depression, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If you aren’t there yet, journal it and let it out. Trust me you’ll feel 100 times better.

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