How are you feeling today, dumplings? Today, I’m good. But the past six months have been one of the most difficult phases in my life, in terms of my mental health. I am great at knowing my coping mechanisms: taking a bath, taking walks, buying myself self-gifts, calling my best friends… But it got to a point where these things simply just lost their magic. One day several weeks ago, I found myself telling both my mom and my best friend that I felt suicidal—not in the sense that I was actually going to kill myself, but that I distinctly lost the will to live whenever something triggering happened. This was a moment of realization that I had to do something radical to heal my mental health and find another framework for living, instead of just patching up wounds to get through another day.
I suggested to my best friend that we do an experiment together: first thing in the morning, writing down three things that we had that day to work with. This is different from a gratitude list, because the focus isn’t on feeling thankful for vague things like “family” and “health,” but finding concrete things that we have that will make that day better.
I was excited to do this because I knew that my mental health was especially suffering from social media. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my usual morning routine was: wake up groggy, go fetch my phone from the kitchen (I don’t sleep with it in the bedroom), and stumble back to bed where I check my email and then Instagram for too long to admit. 90% of the time, this put me in a bad mood—but even knowing that, I couldn’t stop. I was addicted to the quick hit of scrolling down my feed and seeing what others had posted. The designers of social media and your phone created them to get us hooked, and they’ve done a scary good job of it. My brain no longer thinks or feels the way it did before the advent of a smartphone, and I do think my personality has changed because of it. I really didn’t want this to go on any longer.
Before I actually began the experiment, I thought I would write down “cats” every single day. Unfortunately for my cats, now that two weeks have passed, I can say that I didn’t write that down a single time. Instead, here’s what I wrote: Day 1. Finishing work early and going to bed by 10 p.m., 2. ballet, 3. a good bath. Day 3: 1. candles, 2. music, 3. trying a new look. Two days ago: 1. Nice walk & meditation, 2. stretching, 3. doing everything slowly. A theme that comes up again and again is “slowly.” It makes me realize what I really need to be happy. (I do need cats still!!)
The effect of writing this list first thing in the morning was immediate and so positive. The first day, I had the best mental health day in recent memory. I started my day energized and focused on my rewards, instead of the mountain of work and deadlines. I also moved on to email and social media after handwriting on my journal, which made me feel more human and embodied, instead of like a cyborg. The gross things still bothered me but they had less power over me.
After two weeks, I know that this is a morning ritual I will keep in the long haul. I even want to extend this experiment and not check social media until later in the day. It’s impractical for me to completely go off-grid, for work reasons, as blissful as that sounds. However, I recognize even more now that I don’t want to be addicted to things other people post. No wonder I felt such a lack of agency and control! Who wants to flood their brain with that stuff, especially in the morning? I’m making a new promise to myself to check social media no earlier than 11 a.m. every day.
I also recognize now that the second biggest threat to my mental health, after social media, is fast-paced living. Some of it is inevitable. I am ambitious and driven, and the work thing really gets in the way of relaxing properly. But I need to continually remind myself to slow down. Because life is not a race, but a journey.
How do you start your day?
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Photo: Pamela Lima via Unsplash