Why do I suddenly feel like crap?

On July 4th, 2014 something happened that altered how I’ve lived my life ever since. It was such a visceral experience that I remember the moment it happened like it was yesterday.

Life was dandy. I had an incredible position at Walt Disney World as a full-time musician, a great relationship, and no reason to feel badly about anything. But that afternoon sitting on the couch watching an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with my girlfriend I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my stomach. It wasn’t like anything I had ever felt before. I couldn’t tell if it was emotional pain or actual physical pain. It was similar to that feeling you get when you hear terrible news combined with the worst stomachache you can imagine. I excused myself from the comedy and went to lay down for a few minutes. I examined all possible causes and decided it must have been what I ate for lunch. I found some momentary relief in my logical assumption.

Later on that day the feeling returned. The way I described it to my bandmates at the time was, “It feels like my mind is moving faster than my body can handle.” I pasted a smile over my discomfort for the remainder of the evening as it’s all I could think to do. I was hoping that a good night's sleep would be the solution, but alas that was not the case. This whole situation had me quite perplexed. I had been on the positive thinking train for a few years at this point and had gotten pretty good at noticing how my thoughts are linked to my emotions. Why in a time of my life when I was happy and content was I suddenly feeling this intense feeling of panic?

For the first few weeks or so I tried to cover up the feeling with any noise I could insert into my surroundings that would drown it out. I buckled down on my positive thinking tactics: appreciating more, smiling more often. All of this effort just seemed to exacerbate the anxiety. After a few weeks of denial and fruitless effort, I tried the only thing I hadn’t thought of yet which was to slow down. I took more alone time at work and in my relationship. I would sit with my eyes closed and listen to music that provided a blanket of white noise while breathing as slowly and deeply as possible. I found that the pace of my breath seemed to correlate to the pace of my thoughts. This helped and I started to feel a little more sane. When the anxious feeling crept back in, I would take it as a cue to slow down.

This process of slowing down and listening to myself helped me become aware of my habitual patterns of thought. I noticed how comparing myself to others or to a version of myself that I thought I should be was creating a sense of anxiety and panic. I had to start unwinding the habit of compulsively comparing and criticizing myself. Some examples of thoughts I would have on a daily basis: “Why don’t I have the vocal stamina of these other vocalists I’m performing with?” “Look how easily this guy seems to be handling all of these tasks. There’s no way I could do that, I’d become overwhelmed. What’s wrong with me?” Any time I was feeling less than exuberantly joyful I would look around and see how happy everyone else seemed to be and think “I should be happy right now. What reason do I have not to be happy?”

I wish I could say that becoming aware of these habits of critical self-judgement instantly cured me from them but that was not the case. It took a few months of being diligent about my thoughts and noticing when I was being critical of myself. Any time a thought of self judgement would arise and start gaining momentum I would cut the cord to that train of thought. I found that the earlier I caught a thought, the easier it was to change it. I started practicing replacing the judgmental thoughts with ones that were positive and made me feel better about myself. I became my own inner caretaker, soothing myself back from the brink of what felt like insanity at every opportunity. Saying to myself, “All is well.” “It’s okay.” “Be easy on yourself.”

I’m able now to look back at this time in my life with immense gratitude. Had it not been for this challenging phase I may never have come to the sense of independence that I now have. It freed me from the need to weigh every decision against the opinions and judgements of others. And although that voice of self-criticism still rears it’s head from time to time I now have a process to deal with it. I respond lovingly, thanking it for it’s input without allowing it to guide my decisions or to keep me in a perpetual cycle of self judgement.

I think it’s important to state that at the time when I was going through this phase of strong anxiety I had already been meditating for a number of years. This coupled with my naturally introverted and introspective nature helped me to deal with this situation by myself. Had the anxiety or panic gotten any worse or had I not found a suitable solution I very well may have needed to reach out for help. If you’re going through something similar don’t ignore the signs, they’re there for a reason. Be aware of what your body or emotions may be trying to tell you and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t feel you have someone you can turn to there are some great online resources including this one at Lifeline.org.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear anything you have to add or share in the comments section.


Helpful songs for slowing down during times of anxiety:

Be Here Now by Ray Lamontagne

The Tourist by Radiohead

Take It Easy by The Eagles

Posted on April 9, 2017 .

Farewell Veganism

Almost exactly a year ago I made the switch from vegetarian and occasionally eating fish to full on vegan. I had just given up alcohol and caffeine at the start of 2016, and following a brief experimentation with raw veganism, I decided that going vegan was the best thing at the time. It felt right and in tune with what my body was asking for. I did tons of research, and it opened me up to a whole new world of cuisine that was exciting to explore. I was pretty sure it would be a long-lasting decision. Little did I know.

For some context, it’s important to state that over time I’ve developed a strong sense of following my gut and intuition. I think it’s what people mean when they say “follow your heart.” For a while now I have given that small whisper of a voice priority over all opinions from the world around me. I was really quite surprised when about a week ago my intuition started telling me to drink milk. Not almond, soy, or coconut milk - real cow's milk. I dismissed it over and over. Surely that couldn’t be my intuition speaking - I’m VEGAN, and I was led to become vegan by following what my body wanted. After a few days of dismissal, I had this wacky dream where I was looking upwards to the sky with my mouth open, and milk was being poured down my throat in a constant stream. I woke up perplexed. At this point, I knew pretty certainly what my body wanted but still was resisting it. It took some poignant words from a friend to help me finally take the leap:


“Are you doing eyes-wide-shut on something that you know you need but you don’t want to give yourself because you think it’s not right?”


That question hit home. It’s funny how someone telling you what you already know seems to give it more validity. I started to take a look at how I had come to judge, quite harshly in some cases, certain foods as “right” and others as “wrong.” It all stemmed from a well-intentioned desire for greater health but somewhere along the way it had become more about getting it right and being perfect than honoring what my body was asking for. I finally saw the irony of what I was doing. Feeling empowered by my new realization I went straight to the closest grocery store and bought a pint of organic, unhomogenized whole milk from a local farm as well as some other things I hadn’t consumed for a year or more. You might think that a slow and gradual re-introduction would have been best but the feeling I had when drinking that first glass of milk after abstaining from dairy for a year or more was similar to how it feels when you finally get a drink of water after being severely dehydrated.

This whole experience was quite freeing. It forced me to admit how much judgement I had unintentionally placed on food and as soon as I faced those judgements they disappeared. The decision to end my vegan ways also felt challenging because I had told so many people about my dietary choices. It was almost as if I had made being vegan some noble character trait.

Needless to say I learned an important lesson that it’s best to listen to what my body is asking for and to honor those requests even if they’re contrary to what the latest study totes as the diet that is best.

A close friend helped me to put it all into perspective after I had asked her to proofread this blog post:


“No one cares if you’re vegan or now not-vegan :) They just care about you.”

 

Posted on March 31, 2017 .

A vow to vulnerability

I had a conversation with one of my closest friends today about vulnerability. It seems that we are both at a point where being as open and honest in our social interactions and life, in general, is of primary importance.

I’ve spent the majority of my life mastering the art of people-pleasing. It’s my nature to want to please everyone around me. That in itself I see as a very innocent and well-intentioned quality. But what that usually leads to is creating a facade that will be pleasing to whoever I happen to be around. I think that this sometimes gives people the impression that I don’t ever have struggles or emotions. Why is this a problem?


Passion or platitudes?

I’m at a point now where if I’m spending time with someone I want to have real conversations that ignite something of worth in each of us rather than just a polite exchange of platitudes.  I’m sure you’ve had experiences where you’re speaking to someone, and the conversation is thrilling and lights you up in all sorts of ways. That’s what I’m ready for now.  Usually having these sorts of conversations involves stepping beyond the comfort zone that the false facade provides and sharing something a little more personal. That requires a degree of vulnerability.   


Despite popular belief, I’m not a robot.

I think the fact that I’m an introvert to the max makes it all the more important for me to open up more and let others know that beneath the stoic Spock-like surface of logic and reason there is something going on emotionally. Being vulnerable enough to share what I’m feeling lets people know that I’m human after all and that I go through all of the same struggles everyone else does. A simple way I’ve started exercising this is by letting people know how much I appreciate them and their role in my life.


The fear of rejection

Apart from wanting others to feel comfortable around me, there’s another reason I don’t let people see my true self. If you don’t know the real me, then your rejection won’t hurt as much. But what do I really gain from that? Shielding myself from any external rejection also means I’m not capable of having true, honest and intimate relationships. In order to truly connect with others that wall has to be torn down.


Vulnerability is a prerequisite to authentic Creativity

Because creativity is my life, It’s essential that I embrace vulnerability. Creativity is self-expression and if I’m going to create in the most authentic way and share that with the world I have no choice but to be vulnerable. For example, a little over a year ago I made the transition from a musician playing cover songs for money to devoting myself fully to my own creative endeavors. I knew that I wanted to be someone who uplifts others in some way. The first step I took in this direction was posting my thoughts and any quotes I found had inspired me on social media. I was surprised how apprehensive I was to posting positive quotes online. I was afraid that people would judge me harshly for posting trite or overused aphorisms.  Even though what I was sharing was always met with a positive response there were many times at the beginning where I sat seized with indecision about posting something and just imagined what others were going to think of what I had to say. “Cheesy.” “Get real.” “Who do you think you are, Oprah?” These fears only subsided when I realized that firstly that wasn’t the response I was getting at all and more importantly that those people who may derive some comfort from the things I post are far more important to me than anyone who would use it as an opportunity to put me down.

This blog itself is a step towards greater vulnerability and honesty. It’s more comfortable for me to not write from a first person point of view at all. I’d rather pretend I’m infallible and have it all figured out. But not only is that laughably untrue it doesn’t help anyone either.

To conclude I’ll leave you with this quote that has become quite popular when speaking about this topic. And rightly so.

“It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who’s actually in the arena. Whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly but comes up short again and again. Who in the end may know the triumph of high achievement but when he fails he does so daring greatly.” - Theodore Roosevelt
Posted on March 10, 2017 .