As a kid my father used to say I live”en las nubes” (in the clouds). Spacing out is common for me. I was that kid that could sit for hours quietly and I was also the kid that wouldn’t shut up. In both cases I was under the influence of my mind. I created worlds unknown to those around me and I lived happily in those worlds until somebody shook me out and I realized how much time had passed and how many people had been trying to speak to me. This happened many times in school but because I was never the rowdy kid, my teachers didn’t complain. I was the kid that sat quietly, looking at the board, seemingly interested. It took a lot for people to get me out of my head and as soon as they did, most regretted it. Once you get me going, it’s difficult to get me to stop. Once again, a product of an overactive mind. I always loved this about me. I felt at peace when my mind was in control. Unfortunately, my mind liked this control.
I grew up in a culture where children are to be seen and not heard. So while it was cute and charming to hear a five year old speak like an adult, it was also important that once the conversation drifted to the adults, that the child be quiet once again. It is easy for a child to learn that there’s something wrong with themselves when people shut them out. I learned when it was okay to speak and when it was okay to drift away. I learned as an adult that my spacing out was actually a coping mechanism called dissociation; a symptom of PTSD. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, it felt to me like I was in trouble if I was away and I was in trouble if I was there. So I learned how to look like I was present while being away in my mind. As confusing as that sounds, it worked for me. I found a way to distant myself from a world I wasn’t happy in and allow myself happiness in my mind. Because of this, I missed a lot. I missed connections, socializing, and lectures but it got me through my days at home.
It wasn’t until I left home that I realized how ineffective my coping was. Physically I was finally away from home, done with high school, and living with my husband but I was still inside my head. I was in college and had a job but I was still missing connections, lectures, and friendships. A friend would say “let’s hang out” and then not text me and my mind started telling me why. My mind wasn’t very nice. If I smiled at someone and they didn’t smile back my mind had a reason and so I stopped smiling at people so that I could stop hearing the reasons. I stopped saying hello and eventually I stopped leaving my house. College and work can be done from home. My mind took over. I let it.
I got sick of it. I felt like a hermit. I collect books, but at this time, even this hobby was taken away from me. I felt like I had no control over myself. I had to make a change. I started reading again. I used to read stories and lose myself in other worlds but my anxiety had kept me from enjoying them so I turned to books that could help me overcome the anxiety. I read about mental health and illness. I read about people who experienced what I had as a child. I read about therapy and convinced myself it was something I needed to do. It opened up a world of self discovery. I finally understood that I wasn’t alone and that I could fix it. Therapy helped me change my outlook and understand that the world I had created was not normal or real. This was helpful but what really changed my life was reading self help books. I know people joke about people who read or write self help books but these people have probably never lived in a self induced hell. For the first time in my life I realized that my thoughts were not me. I am independent of the things my mind can create. Even better…I can take control of my mind.
This sparked a new method of coping. If I start thinking something weird, sad, or hurtful: I can stop. I can spin it. I can simply tell myself that I am not what my head is thinking.
Have you ever thought to yourself “I hate myself” or “I am stupid”? You probably have at some point said something to yourself that was hurtful and it probably felt real. Well, now think of the immense relief that you can receive from knowing that, it’s not real. Your mind is playing tricks with you, it wants to control the way you feel about yourself, it’s bored and wants to have fun at your expense. You can ignore it. You can tell it to shut up! Doesn’t that feel amazing?!
It has been so hard to make the changes that I have made. But I made them. You can make them too. Don’t let your head run you over, take back control and run away.