In group therapy, we always did a mindfulness activity. It usually lasted 5 minutes and ranged from stretching yoga and connecting the dots, to listening to instrumental music and tossing beanbags. In the beginning, I thought I was the Queen of mindfulness, as I was always able to focus on the activity and be present in the moment...or so I thought.
As I've mentioned before, part of my experience with depression stems from a place of numbness. I have this ability to completely detach myself and disassociate from any thoughts or feelings. This was the place I used to retreat to when I was the most anxious or upset. I could do it anywhere - at school, during dance practices, alone at night, out with friends...you get the picture.
For a while, it totally worked for me. I'd get upset over something and depending on the size of the issue, I'd numb accordingly. It ranged from me just shutting off facial expressions and putting my guard up, to full blown depressive episodes of laying in bed and sleeping for long periods of time. I was so active and involved in so many things that I was able to pass it off as (and in denial, convince myself it was) exhaustion, so it wasn't exactly weird that all I ever wanted to do was shut off and sleep.
But numbness is like a drug. I equated any kind of negative emotion as something terrible and I needed my "high" to get through it. But like any drug, your tolerance becomes stronger over time. Suddenly, the small doses of numbness stopped working and due to needing to numb out entirely all of the time, I became a shell of who I used to be - and at 15 years old, that's kind of terrifying. I stopped nourishing friendships and pushed people away. I stopped caring about the things I used to be passionate about. Dance didn't bring me joy like it once did. Without being present, I wasn't growing up or developing the way a normal teenager does. No wonder I don't really know who I am as a young adult and am continually figuring that girl out. It's hard to revert back to the "old me", when the "old me" was a hollowed ghost of a human, trying to fit all the molds everyone else put upon me. I continued to blame my zombie-like state as just being tired, but that should have been red flag number one that something about my brain was off.
Fast forward to therapy and mindfulness.
Turns out, in the beginning, instead of being mindful, I was doing what I did best, numbing out everything around me. It took me the first half of therapy to even realize I wasn't exactly doing the mindfulness activity "right" (and you can only imagine the self hate I projected onto myself when I realized I wasn't doing the activities "the correct way" when I did). The weird thing about mindfulness and numbness is that, if you're someone like me who can shut the world away in a snap, the two feel kind of the same. Numbness is shutting out everything - the good, bad, and the ugly. Mindfulness is tuning out everything to focus on the present task at hand and letting any emotion or thought pass, but not linger, through your brain.
I missed that memo.
I realized there was something off with me when we did a mindfulness activity regarding our hands. We were supposed to take 2 minutes to just look at our hands - lines on them, our nails, veins, dark spots, scars, etc. And I remember every other girl having some kind of emotion or thought about their hands - most of them being sadness from the self harm marks on their wrists or fingers. But me, I was more like a robot. Even though I too had scars from razor blades and a bite mark from the first time I had ever purged, I felt nothing. I wasn't being mindful or present or validating of the thoughts in my head. I was void of them all completely.
The reason I felt compelled to write about mindfulness today is because last week, I spent Thanksgiving in Florida with my nuclear family. My mom and I went to Universal to see Harry Potter World decorated for Christmas and later in the week, we all went to Epcot since it's our favorite Disney park. And I can't tell you the number of kids/teens completely absorbed in their phones and iPads. In the Hogwarts line alone, I counted 22 teenagers with headphones on. Twenty-freaking-two! In Hogwarts! And yes, I know there are people out there who need headphones to help with any kind of mental or physical disorder they have. But I'm going to say that at least 98% of these teens don't fall into that category.
At first I was angry about it. I complained to my mom saying "These kids are in a freaking theme park and they can't stand in line without their own music to listen to...how spoiled and self-absorbed!" But after that wave of anger, it just made me sad. Here all these kids were, in Florida, in theme parks, on beautiful days, surrounded by their family and friends. They should be bonding and laughing and making memories, but instead they'd rather scroll their Instagram feeds or play games. We're losing out on the best parts of life because sometime recently we decided virtual reality is better than actual reality.
I know I am guilty of this too. There are times I avoid awkward situations by being on my phone (i.e. the elevator in the office). Sunday night was the first time I saw Greg in an entire week and after we food prepped and put up our first Christmas Tree together, we sat on the couch and immediately immersed ourselves into our phones. It's pretty much our nightly ritual. I make tea, Greg has a snack, I ask for a bite of his snack, we put Netflix on in the background, and we do our phone things. There are times we even put Netflix or a movie on to actually watch and we're both on our phones anyway. I've been becoming more aware of this and it's been bugging me, but not enough to stop. So Sunday night I decided (after like 45 minutes of phone silence) that the hour before we go to bed, neither of us is allowed to be on our phones. No social media, no games, no articles...nothing. The majority of our texts from last week consisted of both of us saying "I miss you", and here we are, finally together, ignoring each other because we are too interested in content on a stupid Apple product. How dumb is that?
Life is too short to continually fail to be present in the moment.
So this holiday season, I challenge the few of you who read my blog to focus on the things that really matter. Forget everyone else and their highlight reels. You can play Candy Crush or Trivia Crack later. Work emails are going to continually fill your inbox no matter how many times you check it. But the relationship/friendship bonds and moments that matter the most don't stick around for too long. The holidays are meant to be a joyous time of cheer and merriment. Don't miss them.