I recently finished my thirtieth day of meditating in a row! As some of you know, meditation is one of my goals for 2018. I want to make it to 180 days! However, 30 consecutive days feels like such an accomplishment. I highly recommend the app Headspace. Andy, the man who does that guided meditation through the Headspace app, has a voice that is so calming.
I’ve also been implementing yoga and meditation classes at Chill into my routine. If you live in Chicago, I couldn’t recommend Chill enough. The staff, classes, and atmosphere are extremely soothing. It helps me get out of the groove of Headspace and gives me something else involving meditation to look forward to.
First things first, I wanted to explain why I decided to try meditation. Deeeeeep breath. (That's me talking to myself.) It's taken a long time to come to the conclusion that I've been depressed most of my life. Like a functioning alcoholic, I hid it well. Or, I should say, hide it well since it is something that still effects my daily life. However, I know that I am now more open about the struggles I face. I am more adamant to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage everyone who struggles with this to try things that help them whether it be working out, meditation, talking to a therapist, or seeing a doctor. My depression led to me to experience severe anxiety (which would later be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and ultimately led me down a path I am both saddened by and eternally grateful for.
In August 2015, I left home and moved 960 miles away to attend law school in Chicago. Looking back I see that that is the bravest thing I have ever done. If you asked me to do the same thing now... I would most likely say no. Moving to another state with no friends or family and being completely immersed in the competitive and unhealthy environment of law school is enough to give anyone a run for their money. For me, it put me completely over the edge. Hello, depression. I coped with it the best I could - I would still attend class, try to make friends, and work hard in school. I could go on and on about how law school changes people - I've seen my friends change and become people they aren't right in front of my eyes - but frankly any life change should impact the person you are. What it shouldn't do is ruin you. For about two years I felt like depression and anxiety had done exactly that.
In December 2016, I met a boy I went to school with. That's how all stories begin, right? I met a boy. I started to worry about everything much more than usual. Hello, anxiety. He was, and still is, a lovely person. I like to think that growing up with different faiths, in different communities, and having a different set of morals is ultimately what drove us apart. However, deep down I know that my anxiety surrounding the "relationship" and how I blamed him for what I felt ultimately sealed the deal.
He ended up dating someone I thought was my friend shortly thereafter and having to see them together, in school nonetheless, made me feel so alone that my bones physically ached. I had never experienced that level of sadness and grief. I would leave class everyday and either my hands would be shaking from anxiety or I would cry from the sadness that overwhelmed me. Although both of them brought a lot of sadness into my life, he was always the person who pushed me to talk to someone about what I was feeling and the emotions I experienced when we were together. I never decided to talk to anyone until one day I realized that the anxiety of walking into school and seeing them together was so overwhelming I thought quitting law school was the better alternative. Quitting is never the better alternative. Then, I found myself on a year-and-a-half long journey of talking to various health care providers about what I was experiencing and ways to control those emotions. I can't say what drove me to the decision to talk to someone. I would like to think that his advice had an impact on my decision and, for that, I am thankful. For everything else, not so much.
It was the beginning of 2017 at this point and I was regularly seeing healthcare providers. I can't advocate this enough, but if you are struggling with something there are people out there who love you and want to help you. At that time, I still experienced anxiety on a daily basis. Some days, it was so overwhelming that I had multiple panic attacks. Other days, it was OK and I was able to eat a meal or two. Time went on and I stopped having classes with people who triggered my anxiety and started making amazing friends who uplifted me and made me feel like my best self. I started talking to my parents regularly about what I felt, and they were understanding and supportive even though they were so far away. It was difficult, but as time passed the depression and anxiety became easier to manage.
Flash-forward to 2018. At the time I'm writing this, I feel better than I have EVER felt emotionally. I have a great group of friends in Chicago, I graduate law school this year(!!!), I have so many things to be thankful for. However, I regularly found myself ruminating on immaterial events or facts that didn't have an impact on my life. That's where meditation came in. I always thought meditation was pure bologna. It seemed very "hippie," but I bit the bullet and decided to give it a try.
Headspace makes meditation extremely simple. Each session builds off the one before so you slowly ease into it. It builds your "meditation muscle" so to speak. I asked for a yearly membership for Christmas, and Santa came through! It's not necessarily "cheap," but it's a fraction of the cost of workout classes or therapy appointments. I also know it periodically pops up on Groupon for 40% off! I began with the Basics pack truly because it seemed the least intimidating. I would do 3 or 5 minutes each day. I wouldn't say I got hooked immediately. 5 days went by and it still felt like a chore to meditate. 10 days went by and I was annoyed I had to do it. 15 days went by... You get the picture. The day I remember noticing the impact meditation had on my body was a particularly stressful day at school. I had just gone through an undesirable meeting and craved the "alone time" I felt with meditation. Instead of falling into a panic attack, I took 5 minutes and meditated. By then time I knew it, a month had gone by, and I had completed the whole Foundation 1.
A common misconception when it comes to meditation is whether it works or doesn't work. I don't think it's a matter of "working." I think it's a matter of taking techniques you learn in meditation and implementing them into your life. Here are the effects I've experienced:
- I realize I control my mind. Anxiety has a fascinating way of leading people to believe that anxiety controls your brain and you don't control your brain. This is false. One technique I learned in meditation is Noting. This is when the mind wanders you note it as thinking, emotion, etc. Then you bring your mind back to what you are doing. This is fantastic because meditation isn't training you to stop the thoughts you have. Instead, it teaches you that these thoughts are OK and natural but we need to be aware of our present circumstances.
- I am calmer. Before meditation, I felt myself craving "me time." However, meditation has helped me learn that "me time" is always with us wherever we are if we take that time to introspectively look at our mind. I wouldn't say I'm as cool as a cucumber, but I feel noticeably more at ease. I don't need to make crazy lists and plan everything out in order to feel "complete." I've also had fewer panic attacks. I am one of those people who can wake up and know that a panic attack is looming. In the past 30 days, I've had 3 days where I felt I was going to have a panic attack but didn't. I would like to think that meditation has helped this.
- I am more positive. Meditation has taught me that when you let go of something negative in your life, you open yourself up to something more positive. For the past few years, I have had a hard time with forgiveness and letting go. Meditation taught me that it's completely fine to have sadness or grief but it's not OK to think about it constantly. Instead, let those thoughts come, note them, and move on. The overall process of not ruminating on something that saddens me has made me a much more enjoyable person. I think that alone is a great thing.
So, there's a lowdown of my journey with anxiety and how meditation has helped. If you experience anxiety and/or depression, I'm always here to chat so feel free to email me. I hope no matter where you are in life, if meditation is something that seems like it would benefit you then you give it a try! You can download Headspace and get 10 free guided meditations. I have grown to look forward to meditation everyday and hope eventually you do too!
P.S. Now that I'm 30 days in, I have my eyes set on the 60 day marker. Can I do it?!