Music & Mindset

Music is an art, but it can also be a tool.

I never exercise without music. A good fast beat can energize me and get me pumped for my workout. I also enjoy calm music or scores when I have to focus on writing or reading.

Since I was a teenager, music has been a tool that I use to set my mood. If I’m feeling down, an upbeat song can make me happier. If I need to calm down for some reason, I always turn to my favorite indie band, Death Cab for Cutie, to make me feel relaxed and slow my breathing. I often listen to them on a plane when I trying to fall asleep and block out the noise.

I set the pace and intensity of a workout by the playlist I choose that day. A harder, rougher sound motivates me to push myself. A lighter tone can be good to get my heart rate up while I do cardio. I have a few playlists on my phone that I am always using, but occasionally I like to shake things up and use something created by Spotify. I can always change it during a rest while I’m working out if its not my jam.

Music can also motivate me when I’m not feeling up for a workout one day. I set the music to more upbeat pop or my favorite genre — emo/punk. By the end of the first song, my mood is usually elevated and I feel more confident about what’s to come.

Even as I write this entry, I’m listening to a selection of scores, mostly from shows and movies. I prefer shows lately, because movie soundtracks can be too iconic and well-known to blend into the background. At this moment, I picked scores from the shows Arrow and Supergirl. Arrow tends to be darker and grittier in its tone, while Supergirl is lighter and more hopeful. I don’t really notice when they are playing, but it helps me concentrate and get into the flow state while I write.

I mostly use speakers to play my music, both in my home gym and in my office. In my gym, I have a Google Home Max speaker that wirelessly plays Spotify off my phone. I can control it by voice, so I don’t have to fiddle with my phone if I’m in the middle of something. My office speaker is a Marshall bluetooth speaker that sits on my bookcases. I’m not a stickler for sound quality, so I can’t tell you which one is better. Both serve their function, which is what I care about most. If I’m out and about shopping or walking, I use either my Bose headphones or earbuds by Skullcandy. Again, I’m looking for features unrelated to sound quality. I use the Bose mostly on airplanes or if I’m in a coffee shop working. The earbuds are mostly used to listen to podcasts while I’m shopping.

I hope you consider your relationship to music while working out or going about your lives. It has been a major component of my life, and I wouldn’t be able to function without it.

The Workspace Fallacy

During this pandemic (and even before), I’ve been severely struggling to create anything new.  Although this struggle cannot be pinned to only one factor, it doesn’t help that I have a fixation with creating the perfect workspace to produce my writing.  I have detailed opinions about lighting, chair height, and desks—I have so many nitpicks about the perfect desk.

After some deep thinking, I realized that my quest for the ultimate workspace is only causing me to put off writing.  It doesn’t help that I’m still, after 2 years, recovering from burnout after grad school.  But that aside, my focus is in the wrong place.

I confess, I hated my desk from grad school that sat in my home office.  It was worn and the edge was sharp where the two composite pieces met, tearing into my wrists as I typed.  I recently ordered a custom desk from a local woodworker after waiting months and not writing at my old desk or laying out my work at the wide dining table in my open concept dining/kitchen/living area.  My new desk is here, and I still find myself resisting sitting down in my office.  Why?  My lighting is great.  My new desk is exactly what I wanted, down to every detail.  My chair is at the right height.  Why did I resist the siren song of my favorite pen and a fresh sheet of yellow legal notepad paper?

Simply put, I was aiming for a goal that I would never achieve.  My perfectionism was blocking me from seeing my priorities clearly.  There is no perfect place or workspace to write if you can’t bring yourself to just sit down and do the work.

Today, I sat down at my new desk and I made myself focus on the act of writing.  I pulled out my old college tricks—Pomodoro timer, noise-cancelling headphones, background music—and I wrote.  In fact, I wrote this post.

A persistent myth about writing is the false idea of “waiting for my Muse.”  Instead of having a Muse, I aim for achieving the Flow State where time is meaningless, and ideas seem to flow freely.  It is very difficult for me to slip into the Flow State, especially after burning out.  Although I hate to admit it, I have better focus if I know I have a looming deadline.  The time crunch forces me to get down to work.  This fact helped all throughout college and grad school.  With a lack of deadlines, I don’t do my work.  I put it off.  Then, the pandemic hit and my mental health tanked, so I didn’t find solace in the idea of creating.  I felt only urges to move, to work with my hands, but not to create.  TO be fair to myself, this is a weird time for everyone; the normal rules do not apply.

In my restlessness, I sought to craft the exact workspace that would bring me quickly into the Flow State.  It was something physical and tangible for me to focus on.  I kept talking about writing, but I didn’t.  I set up an accountability system with a friend who is also a writer, and I still didn’t write.  I promised myself “tomorrow” when I deleted the day’s set hour for writing from my Google calendar. But today I somehow felt different.  I didn’t want to write, exactly, but I knew I needed to write.  Much like a tough workout, I always feel better after a good writing session.  I just have to set myself up—drink, headphones, lighting, etc.—and do the work.  If sweat is a sign of a good workout, a calm satisfaction is the sign of a good writing session.

No environment will ever be perfect.  Writers will always come up with some fault.  In college, I put off a task until the start of the hour.  If my clock read 10:05 am, I would tell myself I had 55 minutes to mess around before I definitely had to start the task at 11am on the dot.  Writing is a struggle against silence, and if we do not write, we are silencing ourselves.

My Journey to Loving My Body

In grad school, I took a seminar class focusing on the connection between the mind and the body while reading Victorian novels like Frankenstein and Dorian Gray.  (I know it sounds nerdy, but it was fun.)  This class, and the deep questions it provoked, has lingered in my brain since then.  One of my scholarly areas of interest before then was the body and gender, but I had never considered the links between the body and the mind, mostly because I saw these two facets as one and the same.  Late nights spent discussing the mind/body question led me to ponder my own mind and body.

Until very recently, I lived in my mind, and I neglected my body.  After gaining weight around 2011-2012, I escaped my physical discomfort by immersing myself in my studies and media, many books and television shows.  I made minimal effort in grad school when I began working out with a trainer at my university’s wellness center.  But I never pushed myself and often cancelled sessions when I was depressed or just not feeling up to it.  Many days were spent in my house or the local coffee shop, writing my thesis, studying for exams, or writing semester-end papers.  I would close myself off to the world with a pair of headphones and block out everything, including my own body.  I would dwell for hours in my brain as my hand moved across a notebook or keyboard.

To be frank, I hated my body.  I was never athletic as a kind, but I played tee ball and softball as well as gymnastics, dance, and my favorite sport, marital arts.  Then came the one-two punch of puberty and mental illness, which sidelined my physical activities as most days I struggled to merely get out of bed.  High school became college and I drifted from my body into my mind.  I became supremely self-aware of my mental states while my body suffered.  I wouldn’t say I had a bad diet or didn’t get off the couch; I was a typical American who ate large portions and wasn’t active.  But when everyone around you is the same way, you don’t notice it.

Then I gained a lot of weight and my indifference to my body grew into hate.  I gave up.  I ate tons of pasta and takeout.  My diet was terrible, and I sat in my recliner feeling miserable most days.  I didn’t know how to fix my situation.  I focused on school.  Meanwhile, I felt trapped in my body.

My first attempt to lose weight didn’t work.  Like I said, I skipped more workout sessions than I attended.  I didn’t commit and I continue to eat terribly, hoping the workouts I did attend would offset the calories.  I ignored my body except for the times my mom mentioned weight loss surgery.  This only made me feel worse.

My breaking point came in October 2018.  The following February, I moved to central Iowa and quickly inquired at my local gym about seeing a personal trainer.  I can’t explain what had changed for me, but I felt it was time to get out of my mind and into my long-neglected body.

The human body is capable of many extraordinary feats.  For so long I had lived with my body without pushing it to do more than walk and talk.  I saw exercise as something healthy people did or a short-term method of weight loss.  In America, exercise is not the norm.  Growing up, I was active and healthy, but I had lost that along the way.  I had forgotten what my body could do.

I have been working with an awesome trainer for almost one year now and I am excited about the changes that have happe3ned to my body.  This month I have accomplished many firsts: running on a treadmill (without holding on), lifting crazy amounts of weights, to name just two.  In only one year, I have gone from unable to squat to deep squatting with a weighted bar.  I find myself literally dancing with joy and excitement at times.  On the mental health side, I have never felt so stable in my life.  My highs and lows have mellowed out incredibly.  I have made my workout session habitual, by which I mean I just get ready and go with few exceptions.  At first, I felt anxiety when walking into the gym.  Now I actually feel relaxed.  I am learning to cook at home and my diet is better.  I’ve learned so much about nutrition and the human body.  I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention in school or if no one explained these facts to me.  Either way, I’m making up for it.  I was never great at science, but I now have a basic, functional understanding of anatomy, biology, and related chemistry.  (For reference, I barely passed with a C in high school chemistry.)

My trainer has told me that this change is not a short-term solution.  It is a lifestyle change.  It is a shift at the core of how I live my life.  I didn’t grasp the profoundness of that idea until recently.  Yes, I have changed a great deal.  No, this change is not temporary.  I don’t want to go back to hating my body.  I like how I fell and the way my clothes fit me now.  I even see the appeal of fashion where I once dressed functionally, to cover everything up.  I recently purged my closet of everything that is too big for me now.  It felt exhilarating.

I won’t go back because I know how miserable I was living in my head.  I hated my body.  I have more on my weight loss journey, but I am amazed at the progress I’ve already made, especially in one year. (For the record, I’ve lost 62 lbs. as of this week.)  I feel good, not just mentally, but also physically.  I’ve never said that as an adult.

I feel now that I am living in my mind and my body.

2014/2019/2024

2014

2014

Me in 2014 at Nigara Falls

I was directionless.  I’d graduated college last December but remained in the same small town.  On a manic whim, I wanted to buy a building on Main Street and start a bookstore.  Luckily, the bank said no.  I was generally depressed, especially with the long winter still ahead of me.  In October, my Mom and I had taken a road trip to the East Coast to see an area of the US we’d never seen.  We’d had fun in Boston, Niagara Falls, and Maine.  Vermont was beautiful.

On another whim, with no jobs open to me in my little town, I applied to the graduate program at my old university.  I don’t think I’d get an acceptance letter until the next month.

Most of my day was spent in a depressed stupor.  I napped most days.  I would watch television, Netflix, and read.  I was very inactive, and I survived on a diet of pasta.  I loved to make a pot of goulash and save the rest for lunches and dinners afterward.  I wasn’t interested in cooking.  I ordered takeout from the local Chinese restaurant or terrible Italian place.  Typically, I made my own breakfast: eggs, turkey bacon, and toast.  I drank too much Coke with vanilla or straight Coke.  This habit would become much worse when I’d have to power through hours of homework in grad school.

I didn’t exercise or even leave the house if I could help it.  Most days were spent at home with my two dogs, Lucy and Desi.

I weighed around 260-270 pounds after gaining over 50 pounds two years before.  I’d been put on a new medication, which made me ravenously hungry.  I didn’t realize that I was eating way too much, often filling myself with very unhealthy food.  The weight gain made my depression worse, as I felt bad mentally and physically.  I was never athletic but during my undergraduate years, I’d been active and somewhat healthy.  I ate better then and didn’t overindulge.  I was comfortable with my body size in 2012; I weighed a bit too much, but I wasn’t obese.

Two years had changed my body to a sluggish, inactive mess.  It would remain that way until 2019.

 

2019

2019

Me in 2019 (November) at Galaxy Con Minn

I’ve been working hard since February to change my body, when I walked into a gym and signed up with a trainer.  I’d moved to the area at the beginning of the month to be closer to my parents and extended family.  It took me nearly a month to follow up on my desire to change.

When I joined my local gym, I was 293 pounds and deeply unhappy.  Although I’d been working with a student-trainer from 2017-2018, I’d stopped for the winter and gained 15+ pounds.  The thought of being 300 pounds made me upset and extremely depressed.  I knew gaining weight back in 2012 hadn’t really been my fault but now I’d had to live with it.  I’d been living with it for 7 years.  I knew I needed a dramatic change.  My move was an opportunity to create a new start.

Ten months later, I’ve lost 50 pounds after a great deal of work and some setbacks.  Since February, I’ve been going to the gym three times a week, with a few exceptions like travel.  I’ve scaled back my pasta habit considerably.  Instead, I enjoy cooking meals at home or eating a Chipotle chicken bowl.  I now monitor my diet, logging every meal and snack.  I don’t drink Coke anymore.  Occasionally, I’ll have one can of Zevia cola mixed with water to take away it’s sweetness.  Otherwise, I drink water or sugar-free Powerade.  My diet is limited to 1700 calories per day.  I don’t eat candy or inhale pasta like I once did.  I walk an average of 7000 steps per days.  I can lift 140 pounds.  When I first started, I couldn’t squat without getting stuck in an awkward position.  Now I can do back squats with weight.  I’m physically the strongest I’ve probably ever been.

My mental health has been stable for months with only a few mild bouts of depression.  My lows are small and brief.  My highs are limited and manageable.  In my adult life, I’ve never been this mentally healthy.  After a workout, I feel an incredible boost both mentally and physically that I’ve never known before.  A natural high.  I’m the most active I’ve been since I was a preteen.  I never played sports in high school.  In middle school, I played softball.  Before middle school, I ranked up to red belt (just below black belt).  I deeply enjoyed marital arts, but I stopped when I couldn’t level up to senior red belt.  As a child, I was wild and playful, staying outside from morning until dinner.  I spent most days roaming our family farm.  I watched Saturday morning cartoons and Aladdin and Hook (both on repeat) after I’d spent the day outside.  Otherwise, I didn’t spend much time in front of a screen.

 

 

2024

I see myself happily active and weighing between 170-180 pounds, a healthy place from my frame.  I cook at home and actually enjoy doing it.  I go to the gym 4-5 days a week, in the mornings.  I work on writing afterwards, when I’m mentally alert.

I like to jog around my neighborhood or on local trails.  Maybe I’ve taken up hiking.

I can do back squats well and deadlift 200 pounds.

I continue to be mentally stable, but I check in with my therapist monthly.  I’m comfortable in my body.  I own nice gym clothes that I’ve invested in.  My wardrobe of clothes fit well.

I’m strong physically and mentally.  I let myself enjoy cheat meals without feeling guilty.  I don’t overindulge.  I like protein powder.  Maybe I can make smoothies at home.

I generally feel calm and content, at peace.

I don’t gain weight, especially during the winter.  I like looking in the mirror.

I’ve become what I always pictured when I imagined myself as an adult.

 

Self-Talk and Mental Health

Over the past year (2019), I’ve been working hard to change how I talk to myself mentally.  My biggest hurdle was my inner voice.  It often tells me to give up and let it go.  But during the last few months, I’ve noticed a change of tone and dialogue.  Instead of “Give up; it’s okay,” I hear, “I’ve got this; you can do it!”  This makes me push myself for one more rep, one more minute, one more whatever.

This change has altered my mindset completely.  I don’t just give up and quit when faced with a challenge; I try to keep going until I’m satisfied, or I can go no more physically.  It has created new mental discipline I’ve never had before in my life.  The only time I remember pushing myself physically is when I did Tae Kwon Do as a preteen, almost two decades ago.

My new mindset has had such a positive effect on my mental health.  I tend to be acutely aware of my mood and mental wellbeing, since I’ve dealt with bipolar disorder and anxiety since I was 15 years old.  Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a general smoothing out of the swings I typically experience.  My highs are less severe, and my lows are less devastating.  My bounce-back time has also become shorter, from depressed to stable in only a day or two.  That’s not to say that my mental illness is gone; it is just less intense.

I crave the mental boost brought on by a good workout.  It helps carry me through my day, especially during long dark winter days.  That said, I know winter and January in particular will test my newfound mental stability.  The holidays make early winter more palatable, but after New Year’s Day, it is one long laborious wait until spring.  It usually takes an immense toll on my mental and physical health.

I need to keep telling myself, “You’ve got this!”

Routines

“Routine” is a catch phrase for my therapist.  She has been telling me to develop and stick to a routine for 15+ years.  I have created several routines over the years, often based on college schedules and deadlines.  Now that I’m out of grad school, I have found my lack of routine to be a huge problem.  I have not written much in the time since I graduated in May of 2018.  I need to change this situation and the key is routine.

I have amazing freedom when it comes to how I spend my time.  My day is a blank page, and, as a writer, that makes it my enemy.  I can’t focus on a task, so I have to use an app like Freedom to block sites and apps that distract me easily.  I basically need to make my laptop into a typewriter to accomplish any work, especially without a looming deadline.  My routine is also easily thrown off by sickness or travel.  I always have to rebuild my routine after such occasions.  But life is filled with trial and error and, well, life.  Shit happens.

The biggest rule of building a routine is to start simply.  Block out chunks of time on a calendar to know what your day looks like in a clear and quick format.  Always plan more time than you think you’ll need to achieve a task.  Humans are terrible about estimating time.  Use colors and labels to create distinct areas of your life, i.e. blue is personal, red is work, etc.  (For more advice on this topic and many others, I recommend checking out Thomas Frank.)

Set out a single task to do at one time and do it fully.  Emerge yourself in your work.  Learn to focus.  Don’t over-crowd your day (if possible) when you first begin; start small.

I begin with one key habit to build a routine.  Then I add to my schedule each week.  But this is my method.  My key habit is exercise.  I see my trainer three times a week.  Then I add a chunk of time in the afternoon for writing, when I have found I am most productive and mentally clear.  Then other habits and tasks fall in place.  I leave one day a week for household chores, like cleaning, and that tends to fall on Saturday.

Although this may seem really simple when I lay it out here, it takes time and effort to build and maintain a good routine.  I have one general rule that I stole from Matt D’Avella: never miss two days in a row.  If you flub one day, that’s fine.  But don’t let it become a pattern.  Don’t let it happen two days in a row.

My Breaking Point – Health and Fitness

Brief context: Harry Potter as a series of books has always been important to me since they entered my life at age 11.  But I never expected how they would affect my life when it came to my weight.

During October 2018, I flew with a few friends to Orlando to go to Universal Studios and see the Wizarding World in person.  I’d been to the version on the west coast in California and didn’t deeply enjoy myself because of the heat and having a toddler in tow.  So I was excited to say the least.

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Diagon Alley, Gringott’s Dragon

The first day we headed straight through the main park at Universal and all the way to the back to enter Diagon Alley.  I was pumped.  I had a butter beer and was amazed at the detailed world around me.  Then I went to sit in a test seat for one of the rides.  I didn’t fit.  I was too big.  I was pissed and super sad.  I hadn’t thought about it, but my weight had gotten out of hand and now I couldn’t enjoy myself on vacation.

When I got home, I knew I needed to make a change.  I’d been seeing a trainer for over a year and nothing had come of it.  I didn’t push myself and he didn’t insist that I push myself.  I had started working out when I was in grad school, but I still ate a ton of garbage food.  I didn’t watch my diet and I didn’t exercise outside of our sessions.  I wasn’t taking care of my body while I enlarged the scope of my brain.  I didn’t feel like the workouts were helping and often cancelled when I just didn’t feel like leaving the house.

I was deeply depressed and isolated myself after I graduated in May 2018.  I would go days without leaving the house.  So I had been looking forward to my Orlando trip.  But I came back depressed and sad again.

I ended up looking for a new house in a new town four hours away.  I saw this move as a chance to make a dramatic change.  I looked into local gyms with professional trainers nearby.  After another bout of depression post-move, I sought out a new trainer in my new town.

I met Joel when I was 293 pounds and very out of shape.  During our first training session, I squatted into position and found myself stuck in an odd crouch.  I couldn’t get myself up and was left to sort of roll/fall to my side to get out the position.  This deeply embarrassed me, and I thought about giving up.  Joel asked me about my goals, and I told him about being upset in Orlando because I couldn’t fit on the rides.  He understood and set me up for 3 workout sessions per week.  I had only done 2 per week max before.  But I knew I had to get serious and I took him up on the challenge.

The first month or so was the worst, mainly because I didn’t to build the habit of driving myself to the gym.  My anxiety was often high, and I postponed or outright cancelled a few sessions.  But eventually I made it a habit, which helped dampen the anxiety.  I began losing a few pounds and I grew strong.  I saw actual progress, the kind I had never had before.

I was told long ago that I would not lose weight because of the medications I was on.  I resigned myself to be unhappy in my body forever.  I worked on my brain and didn’t look in a mirror.  I felt uncomfortable in my own flesh and I deep hated myself physically.

But then I lost 10 pounds.  Then 20.  And so on.

As of writing, I have lost a little over 40 pounds.  My first weight goal is to be 200 pounds.  My ultimate goal is around 175-180.  For the record, I am 5’9” tall.

Although it felt like shit in the moment and for months after, I have Harry Potter to thank for kicking my ass into gear and starting my weight loss journey.

And yes, I bought a cloak.

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Oct 2018, 293 lbs

 

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Sept 2019, 40 lbs lighter

My Disenchantment with Technology

You can blame this blog post of Cal Newport.

After reading his book Deep Work [Amazon], I became interested in his ideas and ordered a hardcover copy of his newest book, Digital Minimalism [Amazon].  While not dismissing the benefits that technology has created in our lives, Newport goes on to examine the habits that have led to phone addiction.  I am guilty of such an addiction.  Over a year ago, with extremely important deadlines pressing in on me, I deleted the social media apps from my iPhone.  However, once those deadlines had passed, I added them back onto my phone and carried on scrolling for hours on end.  If I was bored, I found myself scrolling Facebook or Twitter mindlessly.

However, a few days ago, I deleted Facebook again from my phone.  I also limited the amount of time I could use the remaining social media apps to thirty minutes a day.  In these last few days, I have found myself calmer and more focuses.  I don’t check my phone nearly as often.  I don’t feel the desire to scroll while watching television.  I have been reading regularly again, despite thinking before that I didn’t have the time in my day.

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Newport’s Defintion of Digital Minimalism

I still have bad tech habits.  I watch too much YouTube daily.  I constantly check my calendar because I forget my schedule for the day.  But I am working on these habits as well.

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This brings me to another point that I’ve recently realized.  I usually jump when a new iPhone is released.  I always think the new product is an improvement on the older model I have in my possession.  But lately, I noticed that I didn’t get the new model when I came out.  I almost didn’t notice it and I couldn’t tell you the name of the newer version.  I own an iPhone 8 Plus, which has 256 GB of storage, more than enough for me.  The screen is fine, although I need to replace the chipped screen protector.  I think I had my current phone for almost two years, and I don’t plan on upgrading in the near future.  Honestly, I have no desire to do so.  I even recently looked at purchasing a Google phone, but it lacked the storage capacity I require.  The only reason I have stuck with Apple is because I became enamored with their products in college.  I am typing on a MacBook Pro, I own an iPad Pro, and an Apple Watch.  But as I come to rethink my relationship with technology and, frankly, its effects on my mental health, I have become more mindful of the devices around me.  I would like to phase out my Apple Watch, but I value its fitness features, although I’m beginning to weigh those against the constant nagging on my wrist.  The only reason I wouldn’t switch to a conventional watch is that I have to keep track of my steps and other data throughout the day.  Aspects I once found appealing—the notifications, the Siri voice feature, etc.—now annoy me.  I’d rather wait to look at my phone, in my own leisurely time.

Rethinking my use of technology has led me to understand that the constant bombardment of messages, notifications, and data has been causing me unneeded anxiety.  I already have generalized anxiety; I don’t need my devices added to it.  So if you message me, I may not respond quickly, a quality that used to frustrate me with other people.  I am taking a lesson from Newport’s book and being mindful of the tech around me.  I am even experimenting with analog habits like paper journaling.  Oh, what a brave new world.

Thinking about Meditation

For the past 177 days, I have been meditating daily.  I wanted a way to “switch off” before bed in order to fall asleep faster.  After a few false starts, I have kept the habit going for almost six months.  Before developing this habit, I had never really meditated.  While many starts with YouTube videos of guided meditation, I didn’t go that route because I was worried I’d get distracted by other, more exciting videos.  Instead, I downloaded an app called Headspace onto my iPhone (I believe there is a version for Android as well).  Many may find the act of meditation as too crunchy or hippie for their tastes, which I completely understand.  I did not look to mediation for a spiritual experience.  I merely wanted a way to quiet my brain before bedtime.  Headspace, for me, does a great job at handling both the long history of meditation, as well as the facts about what happens when a person meditates.  According to the Headspace website: “[W]e see meditation as both a practice rooted in ancient history and a topic of modern science.  This is why we are as equally committed to providing authentic expertise in meditation and also studying the science of meditation” (LINK HERE).Unknown

There are many benefits to meditation according to the research that has been done.  Some of these benefits include: reduced stress, better emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, and improved sleep, among many others (LINK HERE).  The Headspace website even includes peer-reviewed studies on the list of benefits (LINK HERE).  But, again, I am not pushing this on anyone.  I just found that it works for me.

In the past 177 days, I have meditated for a total of 24 hours over the course of 231 sessions.  I have integrated mediation into my nightly routine.  I turn on the app and select from one of its many courses.  I only do between 3-10 minutes per night, although I find myself more focused the longer the session.  Since I began this routine, I have found myself slipping easily off to sleep at night, instead of overthinking and tossing and turning before sleep happens.  It has made me feel more rested in the mornings and more aware throughout the day.  I’ve always been told I was a self-aware person, but this routine has helped me realize my own thoughts more.  I can usually catch myself when I’m too deep into my own head.  I highly recommend this app or any others out there.  I should also mention that the Headspace app isn’t free.  If that holds you back from trying it, please do look for other options.  Any mediation is better than none at all.

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1 https://www.headspace.com/science

2 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#section8

3 https://www.headspace.com/science/meditation-benefits

 

What is Hypomania?

The image of the maniac is ingrained in our culture.  What is a common image of mania?  While I hate to perpetuate the stereotype, I even think of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, hacking through a door with an ax.

What do you think of when you hear the word mania?  You may imagine a business person, working long hours and getting things done.  You may even discount the term mania because you think it is a harmless thing, like Sonic Mania or Mattress Mania, where some spokesperson in a commercial shouts “These low prices are crazy!”8E4463B6-F3FD-4B1C-916B-5C333B453D80.png

But that is not the normal or reality for most people struggling with mania.  How would I know?  I know because I have bipolar disorder and I often deal with something very similar to mania, which is hypomania.

What is Hypomania?

First, let’s look at a definition because I’m a good English scholar.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mania is “one of the aspects of bipolar (manic-depressive) mood disorder, characterized particularly by euphoria, grandiose thought, rapid speech expressing loosely connected thoughts (flight of ideas), decreased need for sleep, increased physical activity, and sometimes delusions or hallucinations” (OED).

But I said hypomania, not mania.  So what does hypomania mean?

Hypomania is defined as “A minor form of mania, often part of the manic-depressive cycle, characterized by elation and a feeling of well-being together with quickness of thought” (OED).  But this definition, in my opinion, is underselling the condition.  As someone with bipolar disorder, I occasionally suffer from hypomania and it is far from simple.

The Reality

When I’m hypomanic, I can go with little or no sleep.  Despite this lack of sleep, I feel an extreme boost of energy, like lightning in my veins.  I speak quickly, think quickly, zip around the house like The Flash or Quicksilver.16377486875_bd27a6a6a2_o

I am invincible.  I can do no wrong.  Every idea is pure gold.  I need to buy that useless something when I don’t have much money in the bank.  My mood changes on a pin, from happy to angry to irritable.  I forget to eat.  I think up a thousand new projects that need to happen now.  Then I reach a tipping point.  I become highly aware that I’m out of control.  I’m dangerous to myself and those around me.  I need to stop.

But I can’t stop.  I can’t focus.  I can’t come down off this high.  My thoughts and actions become foreign to me, to the point of annoyance.  I can’t control myself.

Then the crash. My seemingly endless amount of energy falls to E. Unknown.jpeg

Now there is only regret and exhaustion.  Can I return this item on Amazon or in store?  Do I really want to start a podcast?  When was the last time I had a meal?  I did what?

Depression begins to creep in.  I go from Flash/Quicksilver to some slow turtle creature.  My life becomes boring and everything takes effort, like walking through Jello.

What Can Be Done? 

When I describe this process to people, they are usually stunned.  Then they all ask the same question: How do you recover?  Here, I’d like to break down my answer.

First, I have to acknowledge that yes, I am hypomanic.  I am experiencing something that may feel wonderful at the time but it will pass.

Second, I try to minimize the damage.  I avoid Amazon.com, which is my Kryptonite (apparently, I have superheroes on the brain today).  If I cannot avoid Amazon, I put all the things I want to buy in my Wishlist or my Cart, but I do not press “Buy.”  For food, I stock my fridge with easy-to-make items and snacks.  I schedule my day to include meals and I will sometimes set reminders telling me to eat.

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Third, I take advantage of it.  The ideas that come when I’m hypomanic can be great.  But I don’t pursue them all.  I write them down in a notebook or an app like Evernote.  I get everything out of my head when it hits.  Maybe one day, I’ll start that podcast, but not today.  Once the ideas are out, I don’t have to dwell on them.

Fourth, I try not to let it interrupt my schedule.  My hypomania is typically tied to my monthly cycle, so I know when it is coming.  I block off days that I know I will be hypomanic and do not try to be productive on those days.  If I have an appointment, I try to reschedule.  But some things can’t be avoided.  If I have classes or something that can’t be moved, I tell the person in advance that I’m feeling a little off today, just a heads up.  I don’t go into detail unless I have to; they don’t always need to know.

Last, I try to fight it.  I try to sit down and write or read with no distractions.  I use my energy to clean the house–might as well put it to good use. (PS- I generally hate cleaning, but when I’m hypomanic, it is a great outlet.)  I try to be calm and not give into the hyper energy that I feel coursing through my body.  This doesn’t always work, but I try, which I feel is more important.

Conclusion

While hypomania, or mania, is not a walk in the park, it is manageable.  The key to dealing with it is the same key to dealing with any aspect of mental health: self-awareness.  Look at the patterns in your life.  Notice things that seem to crop up.  Keep a journal or even a mood journal.  I use an app on my iPhone called iMoodJournal, which is also available on Google Play (link here).  I’ve been using this app for over a year and it is great for tracking moods and patterns.

Also, know that you are not alone.  There are many people who struggle with the same things.  Reach out.  Ask your friends and family for help.  Ask your doctor.  Look for communities online.  I am a member of a few groups on Facebook, including TWLOHA,  who remind me that my struggle is valid and I don’t have to be in it alone.

Note: If you want to reach out to me, you can reach me on Twitter @LeslieJClaussen or via my website, LeslieJClaussen.com.