Friday, April 27, 2012
On Mindfulness, Structure, and Where They Fit
A description of my train of thought leading to these topics, and the way in which I've decided to apply them to my life, will follow.
I was talking about camp. I talk about camp all the time, because camp is wonderful. Camp is magic to everyone, but I wanted to explore why I am so happy at camp so that I can try to recreate that in the real world. It's a nearly impossible feat, but recreating moments that make sense in my home environment could make my life better.
I noted that at camp things slow down. I'm aware that's an everyone-thing. Nature slows you down. Just smelling camp (the septic tank included), my heart rate slows a little, and parts of my body, which I had been unconsciously tightening, released and the whole of my psyche sighs with relief--slowly, and calmly.
Camp is also a place (nearly) free of technology and social media. My phone is usually glued to my hand. Ignoring it for more than an hour is nearly impossible. Even in class, I have to put it on vibrate in my pocket so I'm aware of emails, facebook notifications, twitter notifications, texts, and calls. Putting it away is hard at first, but eventually, I feel freed. A ball and chain removed. And I'm running, exercising legs--sleeping from the weight of it.
What about those things make me happy? What about nature and the freedom from technology makes me so happy? It is mindfulness. I'm more aware of my body. I can tell you how I'm feeling with greater insight and honesty than I'm willing to give in the "real world." I can experience joy fully without another task hanging over my head; which brings me to my next topic.
I thrive on structure. I'm bipolar, dammit. I need to know when I'm supposed to be present and when I'm supposed to leave. I need to know when each task before me is going to be completed. At camp our time is strictly scheduled, counselors agree on times to complete tasks. I don't even mind volunteering for extra tasks in that kind of environment, because I don't feel intimidated by what's before me. I'm more scared of the things I'll have to face when I get home. But that's the thing: I don't have to face them until I get home.
But when all my work has been done, I need a clean and quite sparse area to calm down at the end of the day. I need ritual to slow down and settle my racing thoughts. (I need my stack to lay flat.) Chapel. At the end of every day, we take the campers to Chapel. I get a lesson. I sing. I hold still. I give kind looks to campers (favorite hobby--I always loved when people smiled at me). This gives me a chance to breathe. Then I go back to my cabin. I definitely prefer the whole area to be clean, but if it's not? I just want my things organized. That's it really. I need to keep myself together. I need to keep my self together. And camp creates a near-perfect environment to put me in a good frame of mind.
In my life. That mindfulness is hard to recreate. My mother lives on crisis. She works well under pressure. She moves quickly, she talks quickly, and she expects that from the people around her. But, although I can do all those things, I cannot do them and remain fully self-aware. I panic in crisis. Under pressure, I crumble. I move too quickly, and it puts me on edge. I talk too fast, and I don't have time to evaluate the things I say before they come out. All of that works for Mom. It just doesn't for me. She was the model I used for even the simplest of behaviors (like putting my clothes away), and it was a model that did not match my own needs.
Elaborating on the prior example: I find that I don't put my clothes away for a long time. The idea of putting them away overwhelms me, and even causes minor physical panic. But why? It's not a difficult task. It doesn't really take that long. But that panic scares me out of the task. I know that as I put my clothes away, I'm going to feel that panic full-force, and I'm scared of it. When I practice self-awareness, I can begin to realize that when I put clothes away, I do it too quickly. I do it sloppily because my muscles tense and I just want to stop; I treat it like a race. The panic will end if I can just finish. And when Mom nags me about it, it gets harder, because the pressure which I've already placed upon myself, has been doubled. Now I need to do it for someone else too.
I'm not mad at Mom for nagging me. I used to think I was. But I wasn't. I was mad at my own suppressed panic that rose to the surface with the reminder. I just wanted to forget it. And sadly, I try to combine those things. I pitifully try to create structure in my home. But everyone has to be in on that, and I just don't live among people who rely on structure the way I do. So I get grumpy and nervous when I'm reminded of the lack of structure. Not because I'm mad at my parents for lacking structure. But because I hate that I get panicked over something so silly. I try to do one thing at a time, because my bipolar mind wants so badly to place everything in order and live a more moderate life. But I live among people who want me to do what needs done when they need it done. In structured, Maddie-Land, we don't do that. We have a detailed to-do list, and no item below those before it is performed. We complete homework before we switch the wash, because we've already done the math to know that it will be done before I leave for my next activity. But here, no one knows when they're leaving. They wing it. Ugh.
But again. It's not their fault. It's a different lifestyle. It's a lifestyle that is almost detrimental to me, though. I cannot ask of someone to change their entire personality to suit my needs. Although I do in my frustration. And this doing of one thing to the next, hinders my ability to achieve mindfulness. I'm really trying (okay this is the first day I've tried) to carry out my general tasks more thoughtfully. Like making my bed. I'd left it unmade this morning, and I wanted it fixed. I found that it didn't take any more time to do it slowly than it did when I rushed through, hardly breathing. I put away my clothes in that way as well. Again--same time. There's no reason for me to rush. It accomplishes nothing beyond seriously wearing on my mental health. Epiphany much? I got a lot done in my room, actually, because it didn't scare me anymore. Actually. Nothing really scared me.
Well. That's a lie. I'm always scared of things, just like anyone else. I worry about my brother, I worry about my sister, (both of them have a significant amount of my worry these days), I worry about Grandma, I worry that Mom bites off more than she can chew, I worry Jim doesn't feel heard, I worry about the election, and I worry that Kayla's children are going to grow up without me there. Because I miss them so much. And I worry I'm going to fail. But those are all things that feel out of my control. That's reasonable. Worrying about putting away my clothes was irrational; I see that now. But it will get better. Mostly because I'm aware of a significant issue. If I find myself getting irritable or anxious, I know one thing I can do to help myself. There's nothing I can do about the structure. There just isn't. But perhaps if I'm more mindful, then pushing through the discomfort of the uncertainty of my unstructured household will be a little easier.