Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hold It Together

Don't Make Yourself Nuts!

Maintaining Sanity in this Crazy World

Don't Make Yourself Nuts!
Well, as usual, life seems to have no shortage of dramatic events to toss my way. This past week has been absolutely insane. But on this occasion I don't feel as if life is necessarily to blame for the chaos that has recently ensued. I am starting to strongly believe that perhaps I am responsible for making myself nuts. My latest emotional and mental break was a result of a very normal and everyday task. I was assigned to write a 5 page paper for one of my classes. I wasn't overly concerned about it considering I am a fairly competent writer, never really encountering issues when it comes to formulating and supporting arguments through words, and I had given myself an adequate amount of time in order to complete it by the assigned date. A part of me was actually excited to write the paper because the assignment had a degree of flexibility, which allowed me to choose a topic of personal interest. I was confident that I would be able to write a well executed paper without experiencing any significant level of stress during the process. However, my feelings of confidence were apparently misguided or perhaps simply premature. 
Everything "started becoming blurry."
I am not sure exactly what happened, but the night before the paper was due I found myself struggling to piece it together. Ideas that once seemed clear and distinct started becoming blurry. Arguments I had crafted to support my case no longer made sense. I felt as if the concepts from class that I had chosen to utilize had not been thoroughly explained within the context of my paper. I just began writing and writing and before I knew it this easy 5 page paper turned into a redundant, 14 page, disorganized mess. My OCD tendencies were in full swing, causing me to over complicate the assignment and leaving me feeling insecure and as if I could not eliminate a single element, for fear of inadequately support my argument. I have been a student for a very long time (over 18 years) and I have never pulled an all nighter. Well, that fact changed this past week. My anxiety and need to create a perfect paper kept me up all night. The hours seemed to fly by. I remember looking at the clock at 1:30 am and before I knew it the sun was coming up. 
"The hours seemed to fly by."
I stayed up all night writing this paper and when morning came it still was not done. By this point not only was my paper completely disjointed but so was I. My OCD and perfectionist tendencies have never hindered my ability to perform academically nor have they detracted from the quality of my work. If anything the pairing has always seemed to enhance my abilities as a student. But all of a sudden I was finding myself unable to hold it together. I was literally unravelling due to my anxiety, perfectionism, and sleep deprivation. The combination was making me nuts and I was the only source responsible for this craziness. 

The crazy aftermath of my all nighter-
"Inside every sane person there's a madman struggling to get out...That's what I've always thought. No one goes mad quicker than a totally sane person."

- Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic

I couldn't imagine a better quote to describe my personal bout with madness. Just like the quote says, one minute I was totally fine and everything seemed to be in order and then all of sudden I was in the midst of absolute chaos and insanity. I was feeling good, confident, and "totally sane" and then before I knew it I seemed to have gone absolutely "mad!" The event was truly terrifying because it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Yes, I've reached my breaking point numerous times in the past, but there were always cues or it seemed to happen over the course of a period of time. It has never occurred as abruptly as it did this past week.
As always, a little humor never hurts-
Additionally, I am used to my OCD having an impact on my actions- keeping my apartment immaculately ordered, feeling the need to fold and refold blankets until they look just right, dressing myself in a very specific way, maintaining the same ritualistic routines daily, and organizing my notes so that they are clear and neat- but I have never regarded it as a serious issue, nor did I consider it to be a form of madness, because the behaviors didn't significantly disrupt my life. In actuality, I kind of liked my level of OCD because I appreciated some of the ways it influenced me and my life. I love walking into a clean, organized, and calm apartment every day. I take pride in my appearance and enjoy putting myself together each morning. And my clear and detailed note taking has served me well when it comes to reviewing for tests and writing papers.
"...prevent a similar unraveling..."
It wasn't until this OCD induced all nighter that I began to realize that perhaps this is an issue that needs to be dealt with, in order to prevent a similar unraveling from occurring again in the future. The world is crazy enough as it is; I do not need to be adding any more insanity to my world and my life by making myself nuts. But this thought forces me to face two key questions: How do I manage to eliminate this self-induced insanity and hold it together? And once I have been able to do that, how can I maintain sanity while living in this crazy world?

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

- Marcus Aurelius

"I can't think of anyone...who strives to be considered insane."
There is not one bit of me that can argue against this statement. I can't think of anyone I know who strives to be considered insane. Perhaps one would suggest that I am insane because of my OCD tendencies, anorexia nervosa, perfectionist qualities, and atypical thoughts. But, I don't really care what others think of me as long as I consider myself to be of sound mind. The morning after my all nighter I could not honestly think that I was perfectly sane. I looked around at the array of papers littering my apartment floor. I felt the dampness of stressed induced perspiration in my clothes. I saw the sunken eyes that looked back at me in the mirror. I watched my bony, dry fingers flutter across my computer's key board. I knew that these were not signs of sanity
"I knew that these were not signs of sanity."
Maybe the ability to recognize that we are making ourselves nuts is the first step to learning how to hold it together. If we can acknowledge that our behaviors are not indicative of mental wellness then we at least have something to work with. We can address the thoughts and actions that seem problematic, and with time and help, learn how to correct them. If we know that we don't want to be "in the ranks of the insane," and are able to identify behaviors that may land us there, then we have the power to change our ways in order to hold it together. I can recognize that my perfectionist tendencies have escalated to an unhealthy level. It is one thing to feel obliged to keep my apartment tidy. It is a different thing entirely when these tendencies result in my inability to perform a simple task. I have come to terms with the fact that this is an issue that I need to take care of in order to prevent future episodes and quite frankly to stop making myself nuts! 
I don't need to give it up all together, but I must pull in the reigns and regain some control over it so that it no longer has the capability of negatively impacting me and my life. Once we have taken care of the internal things that are driving us crazy and have found some peace within ourselves, it is time to move on to the second question that I posed: How do we maintain sanity in this crazy world? It is no doubt that we live in a world full of insanity, chaos, and elements that we cannot control. We need to figure out how to prevent the world's craziness from permeating our skin and entering our core. 

"Nothing external to you has any power over you."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote seems fitting as we strive to maintain sanity when being constantly surrounded by insanity. We can alter Emerson's words slightly and choose to use them as an affirmation-

Nothing external to me has power over me.

Or in other words-

Nothing outside myself has the ability to negatively impact me.

The world's craziness is not a monster in the closet-
If we can repeat these words to ourselves every daym no matter what we are facing, then perhaps we have found an ingredient for the recipe of maintaining sanity. However, I do believe that other steps are necessary in order to pursue this difficult task. An affirmation alone cannot protect us from the craziness that we face every single day. We need to take other measures in order to prevent this insanity from seeping into our beings and potentially jeopardizing our sanity. So now that I have thoroughly scared you, portraying the world's craziness as a monster in the closet that is waiting to get you, it is time for me to reveal the secret to holding it together when everything else- work, school, relationships, family, finances, and the world- seem to be going absolutely crazy and are threatening to push us to the brink of sanity. Honestly it's really quite simple, not much of a secret at all in actuality. 
The key to maintaining sanity in this crazy world in which we live is to keep a little list of things that you know help bring you back down to earth when you and your mind seem to be flying away. Similarly to concepts that I have discussed in previous entries, these things don't need to elaborate or grandiose or intensive. They don't have to require a great deal of time or money or effort. And they don't even need to make sense to anyone else. The only requirement is that they are able to instill you with a peace of mind and enable you to reclaim and/or maintain your sanity when you are at risk of losing it. I have an assortment of little nothings that I like to do when I need a moment to gather myself together and block out the external craziness. I enjoy a glass of white wine at the end of the day. I'll go outside into the icy cold and smoke a cigarette. I like to walk into bookstores and see what catches my eye- stationary, journals, cards, books involving France. And for me, nothing beats going into the drugstore and seeing what silly little nick-knacks manage to find their way into my shopping basket. 
"I enjoy a glass of white wine..."
These tiny things, most of which cost nothing or very little, fill me with a sense of calm and peace. These feelings growing until they fill every fiber of my being. And then this intense inner-peace acts as a shield, prohibiting any outside insanity from entering my mind, body, or soul. Create a list of things that provide you with this protective sense of inner-peace. Keep it handy, whether it's written down or simply ingrained in your mind, so that if the world's craziness ever catches you off guard then you are already prepared with a means to combat it. I feel as if it's almost easier to fight off the insanity that comes from external sources, rather than the craziness that can come from within. I find myself being able to hold it together even when everything going on around me is telling me that I should be falling apart. Maybe it's just me but I feel as if I am well equipped to maintain sanity when provoked by this crazy world. It isn't the world that has the propensity to make me nuts. More often then not, I am the one accountable for making me nuts. 
Which direction shall we choose to go?
I am not sure if I am alone in this feeling or not. I definitely have friends who feel similarly, describing the feeling of being stuck in one's own head and expressing frustration over their inability to stop negative thought patterns or the fact that they can't seem to be present. I, like them, know these feelings all too well. It is starting to get me thinking about these categories of sane and insane. Is it possible that the answer is not so black and white? Could there be a continuum of sanity and that we don't need to be at one pole or the other but perhaps we fall somewhere in between? And maybe we are not the same level of sane at all times? Perhaps it is constantly fluctuating? It could be that one minute we are perfectly level headed and then the next minute we have shifted a bit and moved slightly close to the realm of insanity. Now I am really starting to feel insane. I started this post with the intent to answer two main questions and I find myself closing with yet more questions that I don't have the ability nor the time to even attempt to answer. 
However, I suppose the best way to maintain sanity, regardless of the locus of craziness that is seemingly threatening it, is by simply accepting where you are and how you are feeling at this point in your life. Lets tame the qualities within us that have the propensity to drive us nuts. Lets keep in mind the little things that help quell our feelings of chaos or craziness. And let us stop judging ourselves for feeling as if we are walking a thin line between crazy and sane. 
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
I think that we all have points in our lives when it seems as if we are on the border. Life happens and sometimes things that we don't expect to push us over the edge manage to do so. Instead of wasting time questioning our sanity, let us remember that we all have our moments, and lets consider the fact that perhaps a little bit of insanity resides within all of us.

"Was everybody seeing this stuff and acting as though they weren't? Was insanity just a matter of dropping the act?"

- Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

I wish you luck as you head out into this crazy world,

Sometimes our minds feel like this and it's hard to hold it together-

Keep it Together, Guster

It's difficult to always maintain sanity in this crazy world-

Crazy, Britney Spears

And of course I'll leave with you some cuteness and laughter for the road-

P.S: If you were at all curious- I was able to finally finish my paper and I received an extension from my teacher so I was not at all penalized. She was completely understanding of my personal health situation and offered me support when I needed it most. I may have had a brush with insanity but I'm pleased to report that I have come out alive and somehow everything has worked itself out. I have faith that all will work in the end for you as well!

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