Mark Epstein * Harmony * June 1, 1999 * 200 Pages
I’ve been struggling lately with knowing how to relate to my past. It’s hard to explain, but I often feel like I’m two different people existing in one body at the same time. I am who I am, but I also am who I was. It’s strange and disorienting, and sometimes I feel cut off from the present moment because I’m trapped in my head, trying so hard to reconcile these two selves.
Luckily, I stumbled upon this book, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, and it has helped me begin to relate to my past (and my thoughts about my past) in a new way. The book covers a lot of heavy stuff, truth be told, and it can be tough to digest. But I still finished it with a feeling of calm and hopefulness. I was comforted by author Mark Epstein’s reminder that most people feel anxiety about life, death, transitions, and relationships. We all tend to try to eliminate the fear or emptiness we feel by filtering it through our rational minds, hoping we can think our way out of unpleasantness. If we just analyze and “understand” ourselves enough, we reason, maybe the bad feelings will go away (even though, in reality, our rumination tends to make us feel only more anxious and depressed…).
I appreciate Epstein’s advice to NOT figure things out. “Stop trying to understand what you are feeling and just feel,” he says. “Pay attention to everything exactly as it appears and don’t judge it.” Wow, what a difference this has made for me. When I find myself going down the anxiety rabbit hole, chasing whatever fearful thought that’s popped into my head, I notice it and then move my attention to whatever I’m doing in the moment. If I’m washing dishes, I think about how my hands feel, how warm the water is, how that last bit of grease is still stubbornly stuck to the pan. I hyper-focus on what’s right in front of me, and I can usually (amazingly) calm myself down.
This book has helped me understand myself better, but, more importantly, it’s given me permission to just let myself be. I still have anxiety (obvz), but I’m getting better at allowing the thoughts to come and go, while bringing my focus back to the present.
One last thing that I have to mention… Another tool that has been shockingly, SHOCKINGLY helpful in decreasing my anxiety is Headspace, a meditation app I downloaded onto my phone. I used the free sessions for a while (just kept repeating them over and over again like the cheapskate I am…), but I finally broke down and bought the yearly subscription. It has honest-to-God, no exaggeration, changed my life. The anxiety series, especially, has helped me gain control in a way I never thought possible. And I say that as someone who started using the app in the midst of serious, debilitating, PTSD-level panic attacks. That shit works, y’all. I can’t recommend it enough.