Stream of Consciousness: On Being Overwhelmed, Followed By Possible Solutions

My favorite blog is Enjoying the Small Things, by mother and photographer Kelle Hampton. It is the only blog that I truly read religiously and feel attached to. A regular feature on her blog is a "stream of consciousness" post, where she doesn't focus on actually formulating paragraphs and sentences, but instead allows herself to say what she's thinking and feeling with no real structure attached.

I structure myself too much. I'm not going to do that right now. This is me time, up close and personal.

The Problem

Let me now get straight to the point: everything overwhelms me. Yes, I work, have to run errands, pay bills, keep the apartment clean, etc. etc., and yes, those life necessities often stress me out. But they're not really the problem in this story of overwhelm-ation. What overwhelms me the most is the abstract; the intangibles. 

This blog is full of cute kids and sunshiney photos and happiness projects, because I want an outlet for my positivity. Because you wanna know what? The rest of my life tends to be an outlet for my negativity. In becoming a young adult, I have found myself trapped in a vicious cycle of anxiety and self-doubt. This cycle is an inner one. I'm not sure if it's noticeable from the outside, and I don't think more than a couple of people know the true depth of it. It pervades my being, and overwhelms my ability to think, create, and be. 

But that doesn't mean it defines me. There are moments when I feel like it does, but it doesn't. I know this because I still have a sense of positivity that occasionally peeks its lonely head out of my soul and reminds me of its existence. The very fact that a tiny ray of positivity still exists in my being is a sign, to me, that there is hope. And hope is good, but first an issue must be addressed, and that brings me back to my original point: everything overwhelms me. 

When I read articles about negativity and unhappiness and their awful effects on the body and mind - how they lead to diseases and quicker disintegration of the brain and a shorter life - I freak the eff out. Instead of inspiring me to change, these articles push me further into my anxious depths and strengthen the vicious cycle. Thoughts of, "What if it's too late? I've already destroyed so many cells and hurt my body and mind in unimaginable ways; I'm going to be dead within the year." take over, and I become paralyzed with the magnitude of it all. 

So if negative articles make me feel that way, then reading positive articles and learning about what I can do to make myself happier and less stressed should have a positive effect on me, right? False. My reaction to these kinds of articles is almost worse. I read a list of "10 Things You Can Do To Make Yourself Happier Right Now!", and instead of getting excited and looking forward to taking action, all I see is another to do list that I'll never complete, because how the hell am I supposed to add ten more things into my day? Cue the magnitude intimidation and anxious depths. Hello, vicious cycle. 

Do you see where I'm going with this? I get that it's possible to be much, much happier than I am. I have read so many books and articles on the subject that I could probably spew out enough information to write a self-help encyclopedia. But nothing has helped me, because the whole time, I have been getting in the way of myself. It's about time that stopped.

The Solution

I think about possible "solutions" to this overwhelmed problem all the time. I could try to follow those lists of ten, twenty, or fifty things to make myself happier, and some of the items on them might work. But if I am the one getting in the way of myself, then I need to create my own list of actions that will actually be effective. I need to tailor it to my own specific needs (aka: to soothe my neuroticism) instead of trying to mold someone else's ideas of happiness around my own life. This doesn't mean I can't use other peoples' ideas, but it has to be relevant to me. So here's my current list (subject to - which means it most likely will - change):

:: Be vulnerable. Starting with this post, which I've already done. I think being honest and admitting that someone who can take pretty pictures and talk about life optimistically is also a neurotic mess inside. People hide on the internet. And I haven't necessarily been hiding (like I said, this blog is purposely an outlet for my positivity), but I don't want to be deceiving. I think that as a person who is choosing to express herself out on the world wide interweb, it's my responsibility to show where I'm really coming from and explain the journey that I'm on, so that everything else I say can be that much more real to anyone who decides to come along for the ride. Might it be embarrassing, and might some people say tell me that I shouldn't share so much personal information? Probably. But I want to be real, and I want to be honest. This blog is about existing, for pete's sake. Existing doesn't mean constantly being a cheerful little twittering bird sitting on a branch in the sunshine outside a white-curtained window (which, consequently, I would love to get a picture of someday). It means acknowledging the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful, and accepting each and every one of them as a part of being human. And for me, existing also means expressing all of those things. Hopefully in time, through being vulnerable, the positive will just come more naturally than the negative, and the outlet for my positivity can be life instead of just this blog. 

:: Be Rachel. This is an idea I got from that happiness project that I keep talking about. In the book, the author repeatedly comes back to the phrase "Be Gretchen". I would say that if anything really stuck with me from that book, it was that idea. Be Rachel, be Rachel, be Rachel. In everything I say and do, I want to start to embody that phrase. I don't want to try to like certain movies, clothes, books, ideas, etc., just because I think I should. I don't want to pretend that I don't swear like a madwoman or eat slices of cheese first thing in the morning instead of a balanced breakfast (true story). Because I do those things. By being vulnerable Rachel, I can express more, and thus create more, and thus live more. Which brings me to my next item:

:: Create. This doesn't mean that I need to create well or produce a finished product. It means I need to start pushing creativity out into the universe so that it can bounce back to me and bring me more creative juices. I am a perfectionist to the point where I don't publish a blog post or hit "Post" on a Facebook status or send a tweet out into the Twitterverse without first painstakingly going over every sentence and every possible grammatical error. It's a paralyzing trait. So instead, I'm just going to create. That doesn't mean not doing my best, it means not obsessing over whatever work I just did to the point where I end up just hitting the delete button and pretending like I didn't spend the last hour writing. It means remembering that even after I read over a blog post twenty times, there are still spelling errors and wonky sentences. So what's the point in stressing about it in the first place? Exactly. There is no point. There are so many wonderful ideas about creating that I will share on this blog at some point, and I'm very excited to do so.

:: Get organized, and then keep it up. As I've already explained, this is what this month is all about. I need to clear away all mental and physical clutter in order to make my mind fresh, and then I need to keep that clutter at bay. This is my way of allowing myself to Be Rachel by letting the perfectionist in me make lists and sort my life, but not letting that perfectionism take over. Clear mind = clear soul = freedom to create and live.

:: Don't try so hard. This kind of goes along with Be Rachel, but it deserves its own little blurb. I am a people-pleaser. I thrive on connecting and making a positive impact on people, and as a result, I continually question whether my actions are going to make people happy or unhappy. The funny thing is, I usually assume that there will be negative repercussions for most of the things I say and do, which causes me to constantly second guess and doubt myself. So "don't try so hard" really means "be true to myself, and the haters will hate, but the lovers will love, and that second part is all that matters". Cue that corny-but-true Dr. Seuss quote that we all know by heart. I need to stop sacrificing myself for the sake of making others feel comfortable. And I need to stop trying to be accepted. I need to stop counting my site meter. I need to just be me and trust that doing so will bring me good things. Only in being myself can I be set free.

:: Allow for the present and the future to exist in their own spheres. This one is simple: I want everything, right here, right now, and because that's not possible, I am constantly stressed out about it. I want control. I want to be done publishing that novel, becoming a world-renowned photographer, and winning an Academy Award (disclaimer: that last one isn't actually something I'm aspiring to; I added it for a little oomph to make sure you get the picture). But by wanting everything now, I am saying I don't want to experience the journey, and that's just silly. The journey is what it's all about. So I need to be present in my present and let the future come to me instead of trying to lasso it and pull it to the ground and subdue it. It's going to come either way, so there's no need expending the energy of trying to force it to do just that.

:: Eat well. Meditate. Do yoga. Drink more water. All basics, and yet all things I struggle to do. I could probably add "Stop eating so much cheese and chocolate every waking hour of the day", but let's not be hasty.

And that's it. For now. I'm not going to make an even list of twenty-five things and then try to adhere to them all, because I mean come on, I'm Rachel. And if I'm going to stick to my mantra of Be Rachel, then I need to admit that there's no way I'll be able to follow a list longer (just counted them)...items. So I'll start with this, and take it from there.


So now, I toss this stream of consciousness out into the universe. Take from it what you will, if you even made it this far - because let's be real, this post was all words and zero fun photos, but let's also be real: it was really more for my sake than for yours. Unless you found inspiration in my attempts at overcoming my neuroticism, in which case I applaud you. I hope you got something out of my honesty, because I think it might have been pretty brutal, and I know it was completely different than anything else I've ever written on any (public) blog post, ever. If you read this blog with any kind of consistency, I hope this post didn't scare you away. I promise there will be more photos and happiness in the near future. But if it did turn you off, be it. I will survive. See? I'm feeling more zen already.

To recap: here my January 14th resolutions: Be vulnerable. Be Rachel. Create. Organize. Don't try so hard. Be present. Be healthy.


Here's a pretty flower picture to reward you for your time:

I'm about to hit Publish Post, and I haven't re-read or tried to correct a single sentence. Bring it on, universe.