My Year of Recreation

By which I mean, re-creation.

I realized recently that I’ve allowed myself to stagnate. I felt somehow I had finished developing as a person–I knew I would never stop growing, but I assumed there were things I had figured out, things that were finally fixed.

Like perhaps I’m a paint by numbers, and while there were still a lot of spaces waiting to be filled in, I had the core of the picture complete. I knew who I was.

That is, at least, until I didn’t.

After the spiritual wanderings that followed my Bar Mitzvah, I eventually found my path back to Judaism, and my devotion to my faith became even stronger. Sure, when I moved to Raleigh, I was by necessity forced into a less observant tier than I had been used to, but my commitment to religion hadn’t changed.

But perhaps that commitment is no longer as monogamous as I had taken it be.

And after I reached what I still consider my lowest moments about four years ago, in which my life literally felt like I had begun to unravel, I attended LeaderShape and found myself again–I identified my core values and used them to recreate the Writingwolf.

But perhaps that framework, that skeleton, held up a different body than I have today.

And then, after one of the best three weeks of my life (as recanted in my TBT post last week), I began the fastest slide into depression and anxiety I’ve ever experienced.

Granted, I’ve since learned that many of these precipitating factors had been in place for a very long time, but with a new set of catalysts, everything came crashing down.

In a recent lecture at NC State, Dr. Ravi Perry mentioned the “paradox of progress,” the trend for backlash against social progress after landmark policy changes. After the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (most importantly abolishing slavery), the Jim Crow era began. After the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-century, we witnessed the Southern realignment. After Hawaii considered allowing same-sex marriages in 1993, DOMA was passed in 1996–and just last year, in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, an overabundance of so-called religious freedom laws sprung up across the country.

It is, in a way, as if the whim of a society swings as easily as a pendulum.

And, it would appear, so does the evolution of a man’s life.

After adversity, comes growth.

And after growth comes death and decay.

The truth is I mistook growth and the upward pursuit of possibility as forces of impenetrable goodness without ever stopping to consider their consequences.

The capitalist machine shouted, “More,” and I replied, “I’ll give you more!”

Never once did I stop to ask, “How much more?” or “When will I see my returns?”

Because we’re discouraged from asking tough questions, because they have two very simple and succinct answers: respectively, “Everything” and “never.”

I guess, to continue skirting around the bush for a moment more, I took for given the ideals of our institutions without ever questioning if they’re the ideals I want to live by. I bought a subscription, I ran with the crowd, I drank the Kool-Aid.

I believed every day I had to work harder and do more, and do it better, to get anywhere. The sad part is, we live in a society that forces us into this thinking. The sadder part is, for many of us, it’s our only way to survive. But it’s killing us.

I tried so hard, and I did so much more, but it broke me. I broke under the pressure to achieve, the pressure to succeed, the pressure to constantly be more than I was.

And the most sickening side of it is that our society tells us we’re only as good as our output. If we aren’t producing, we’re only consuming: we’re a worthless mess of waste.

So when I reached that breaking point, rather as I wandered closer and closer to that edge, I began slipping back into depression and anxiety. I lost my motivation to do the things I most love. I literally could not sleep at night without waking up almost hourly.

Counseling proved insufficient, and for the past few months I’ve been taking once-daily prescription medications to keep my mind in check. I’m not by any means endorsing medication (I think we’re over-prescribed in general), but the chemical balance in my brain has given me an opportunity to instill in myself the habits I need to succeed–and when I say succeed, I mean to succeed by my own standards, by my own rules.

That’s an important part of why 2016 will be my year of recreation. I’m abandoning the flawed values of our society, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that my values today are not the same values I had three years ago–and I need to articulate how my values have grown and evolved so I can move through life with my values, not against them.

I also need to accept that many fundamental beliefs I’ve had about the world and how it works have changed. While Judaism is still important to me, and I still follow it religiously, I’m discovering myself in yogic philosophy, and it’s changing the way I approach the world spiritually–not against Judaism, but alongside it in new ways.

And most importantly, I’m recreating the way I see myself, the way I judge my own worth, the way I witness my own value. I’m rethinking stress, aligning myself and my habits in a more wholehearted way, and setting the foundations for a happier future.

And by happier I don’t mean a life without sadness, but a life that’s full of meaning, a life full of the things that give me joy, and the hope and steadiness that will carry me through the times that bring us down, tear us open, and challenge us to keep growing.

I haven’t been especially active this month in regards to blogging, but I’ve been using this time to read two books that have, and will continue, to change my life: Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress.

I’ll wait here while you go order them.

In particular, I recognize now that achieving and living the kind of life I want to lead is not a momentary achievement, but a continuous journey–and I’ve spent far too long following a path that wasn’t wholly my own. It’s funny, actually, just this morning I was thinking how I’ll be turning 27 this year, and how 27 is exactly one quarter a mala–a mala being anything performed 108 times in sequence (108 having about as many reasons why it’s significant), so it seemed fitting that I’m beginning this journey now.

In the weeks, months, maybe years that follow, I’m going to be taking the lessons I’ve learned from Brené and Kelly and applying them. Brené talks about ten guideposts of wholehearted living, and I’m going to discuss them and how I incorporate them into my life. Kelly includes numerous exercises throughout her book that challenge us to reflect on stress and foster the forms of thinking that make stress healthier. With ten guideposts and at least as many activities from Kelly’s book, even if I wrote one post a week (which is a challenge, given grad school), it would still take six months.

But it’s a start, this is a start. And it’s my starting, my re-starting, my year of recreation.

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