When your brain is wired like mine is, you spend a lot of time analyzing. Problem solving. Trying to figure it out.
That saying, when you only have a hammer, everything becomes a nail?
When you only have an anxious, ruminating mind, everything becomes a problem to solve.
A problem for me to solve.
During the pandemic, things we used to do without thinking—trips to the store, visits with friends, even just leaving the house—are now decisions with potential consequences. And my brain turns these into problems that require analysis of every possible choice and every possible outcome. It’s one reason I’ve become quite reductionist and isolationist: it’s easier to say no to things than it is to do the mental calculus to come to a decision as to whether or not it’s safe to hang out in someone’s backyard with a few other people, what if they’re not wearing masks, what if they get too close, what if I have to use the bathroom, what if what if what if.
I envy anyone who can decide not to think about a problem and just live in the moment of in-between, of uncertainty. I’d like to turn off the part of my brain that is still ticking over the fact that my day job was going to look different right now, pre-pandemic, and my brain still wants to find a solution despite hiring freezes and uncertainty and so many other factors that are beyond my control.
I’d like to turn off the part of my brain that even tries to problem solve my anxiety and depression. That seeks a magic switch that will turn it off.
This analysis itself is exhausting but, I don’t think, inherently toxic. The distressing part for me is what follows: the false conclusion that if I can’t think my way out of something, if I can’t find a solution or at least a next step forward, then I am a failure. Something must be wrong with me.
For as logical as my brain is, for as much as it searches for facts and data, it forgets all that logic when it comes to that conclusion. It has no data, no facts, no evidence that I am a failure.
And yet. That conclusion feels true and real, as true and real as any of the other facts laid before me. So it’s easy to believe, to be convinced, that the blame, the fault, lies with me.
There were a few times last week, during my daily morning meditation, that I felt a wave of overwhelm that brought tears to my eyes. There was another voice trying to tell me, “It doesn’t have to be this hard.”
It was not saying, “You’re making this hard, what’s wrong with you?” or “God, Erin, just do the thing that will make this easier” or “Stop making this so hard.”
It was a gentle, soothing reminder, that I can stop forcing the outcome of making it all go away. The outcome of having the problem solved. That I can stop forcing a solution to an intractable situation, that I can stop forcing my life to look a certain way. That I can stop forcing, period.
Letting go of the outcome doesn’t make the problem go away. But it gives me space to breathe, to regroup, to remember that there is nothing wrong with me.
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