Updated: Jun 9, 2020
I don't need to comment too much on the issue of physical claustrophobia - I'm sure we're all feeling it to some degree these days. If you're residing in a house with multiple family members, my hat is off to you. If you're living totally alone, I also don't know how you're doing it. No matter what your situation is, it's a challenge waking up every day and feeling... right. Feeling motivated. Feeling clear-headed. It feels like an impossible feat.
That's where my mental claustrophobia is coming in.
By mental claustrophobia, I mean that it feels like the institutions my brain is accustomed to, the pieces that practically define the structure of "my life," are quickly closing in. At the same time, it's all I can think about.
My job? Completely up in the air.
My home? Temporary, by proxy.
My finances? We'll see how long this lasts.
My relationships? Teetering with stress.
My hobbies? Are largely off-limits.
My family? Is 1000 miles away.
... the pieces that practically define the structure of "my life," are quickly closing in. At the same time, it's all I can think about.
It's hard to keep my brain off the "old ways" of living - to stop checking the clock, my phone, and my email as I habitually cling to the old structure of life. When I find myself sitting around "waiting" for something to happen, I try to remind myself that there's a new world under manufacturing, that everything feels unsettled for everyone, that there's nothing to do but wait for our new culture to emerge.
But that sentiment doesn't include guidance on how to redirect my attention in the meantime.
Like getting a song stuck in my head, my brain waves unconsciously return to the same patterns over and over again. Without answers to my plaguing questions (sorry) my brain feels smaller, my thoughts feel oppressive, and my mindset feels trapped. Like everything is growing and expanding in my head, but never retreating. New information is added, but never subtracted from the mix. The old expectations and familiar worries swell and push into my skull from all sides. I can't see straight. I pace in circles. I make laps between my laptop (nothing there) and my closet (you're already dressed), instinctively anticipating something from the old world of 2019 will happen, something will occupy me, something will give my day direction. The entire time, someone squeezes my skull and pumps fog in through my ear drums.
The truth is, I'm stunted by the current way of the world. While I worry about the existence of my old job, my old friends, and my old budget, everything seems to be ending. All the areas that occupy my life are closing unceremoniously, but it might take a few months to find out for sure. My brain is wrapped up in the corpses of my old daily routine. My worry, my energy, and my thoughts have nowhere to go. I can't get away from it with my usual tactics, and it feels like there's no room to bring in new material. One foot in the skeleton of the old routine, one foot in the cytoplasmic unknown.
My worry, my energy, and my thoughts have nowhere to go. I can't get away from it with my usual tactics, and it feels like there's no room to bring in new material. One foot in the skeleton of the old routine, one foot in the cytoplasmic unknown.
I feel mentally claustrophobic.
It's not a new feeling for me. It's symptomatic of my usual trauma response. Disorganized thoughts caused by ambiguity and uncertain futures, mixed with the expectation for everything to be hopelessly fucked. I've seen this before and I've reined it in... but reason, alone, doesn't calm my shit down.
So, here's what I'm trying to do to pull myself out stagnating mental claustrophobia.
Asking "What if..." and being objective with your response.
Pretend you're talking to a stranger. Ask the big questions that are killing you right now. Take the emotions out of it. Give yourself simple answers to complicated questions. Don't let your brain jump five steps forward. Let the discomfort come and go. What if? So what?
-What if my work closes? I find a new job.
-What if I lose my financial stability? I use my savings and build them up again.
-What if my living situation is unsustainable? I set down roots elsewhere.
Searching for what you want.
Sit down and consider your old life... and then consider all the ways you wanted to improve it. Is it really worth stressing over a career that you hate? Are you actually happy living where your stuff resides? If you were really living a life worth fighting for, what would it look like?
-I've always hated the politics at my job. I've strongly desired to find a better environment.
-I've never been fulfilled by the numbers-driven work I do. I've always wanted to be creative.
-I settled alone in this area on accident. I want more social connection.
Imagining positive futures, and taking on a child-like sense of possibility.
What stops you from daydreaming about leaving your circumstances at any point? A voice in your head reminding you of the low-probabilities and potential challenges? Memories of some family member imparting their depressing world outlook as fact? Put yourself in the shoes of your 8 year old self - what seemed possible then, when you weren't bogged down with disappointments and judgments? Let yourself feel open and excited about the unknown.
-Maybe I'll find a line of work I actually enjoy. Maybe the people there will be mentally stable.
-Maybe I'll be paid a fair salary. Maybe I'll naturally fit in. Maybe I won't be an "outsider."
-Maybe I'll find a "home" among a new clan. Maybe my insecurities about being enough will finally subside.
Disconnecting more and more from the old, and drumming up the new.
Every time you start slipping back into old thoughts and feelings, remind yourself they aren't relevant anymore. Let your anxiety over old issues transform into anger, if that's a helpful emotion for you. Make a case for saying "goodbye" to the worries that have been following you for years. Acknowledge that there might be a better way. Accept that you can't change what's about to happen, but you can start working now in small ways to make the changes you've always needed. Lay the groundwork for the new world we're making.
-I want to make enough money to survive and to further my goals. Everyday, I can start thinking about new careers that match the expertise I've already obtained. Maybe it won't be the ideal line of work right out of the gate, but a firm salary and less toxic environment would be big improvements that might snowball into bigger opportunities.
-I want to do creative, heartfelt work. Every day, I can write, paint, or draw something. I can enjoy the feel of it. I can get lost in the words, colors, and lines. Maybe at the end of this, someone will appreciate what I created and want something for themselves.
-I want to live among friends and chosen-family members instead of feeling like a one-man island. Every day, I can make the effort to keep in touch with my near and distant associates. I can be positive and communal with my roommates. I can get online and connect with new humans. Maybe I can build connections during this isolated time.
Recommended reading to get open:
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
While everyone struggles to figure out what our "new normal" will look like, try to visualize the ideals rather than living with heavy artifacts of the old ways. Don't hang on too tightly to the ways that never served you - they're changing whether you like it or not. When you feel a sinking thought coming on, try to switch your attention from fear of the future to hopeful acceptance of what positive develops next.
Choose optimism. Choose to let go of the old. Choose to make the best of a global opportunity. It is literally a choice. Shrink your trauma thinking and make mental room for new plans.