Threading my Way Through a Knotty Problem

As I start spending time in my evenings meditating and trying to figure out what’s going on in my head, I sometimes feel like I’m failing because so much different stuff keeps tumbling out. I start in on one thing, but then my attention shifts and I’m suddenly following some other string in the tangled mess that is my head these days. It makes me feel like I’m not making any progress.

Which isn’t true. I’m making progress. Just like untangling anything, sometimes you can only work to untangle a single thread for a little bit before you realize there’s something else is preventing you from making progress. Then you shift your attention to the next thread and get back to work until you run into the same problem again. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you can make the whole thing easier by finding a single thread you can untangle and pull out of the knot entirely.

That did not happen to me last night. I spent a lot of time shifting between threads and I made significant progress on one of them, but I think I’ve got a lot more work to do before I’m ready to start pulling things out entirely. I’ve been writing down the thoughts that come out of this so I don’t lose track of what’s going on and so I can return to things that feel like they’re not finished or like there’s more I want to consider before moving on. I started folding laundry as part of my meditation and that worked really well because it gave my hands something to do while my mind was engaged but I started falling asleep as soon as I tried meditating without laundry to fold. I need more sleep because, right now, my main limitation to how much time I can spend meditating is that I keep falling asleep while trying to meditate.

Regardless, the big thought that came out of last night has to do with the way I commit to things I like and the driving force behind that commitment. I realized (not for the first time, but it really clicked in the context of my writing and relationship) that one of the reasons I tend to 100% or 0% everything is because I’ve lost a lot of good things in my life and I want to make sure I squeeze every second/ounce of enjoyment and positive emotional input out of them that I can before I lose them.

I haven’t lost a lot of people, thankfully, at least not in the sense that most people mean when they say that. I have, however, not had very good luck at developing history with people. Outside of my family, I have a couple high school friends I still occasionally talk to and a handful of college friends I’m still close to. Most of my childhood friends moved away when I was young. A lot of my friends from high school and I all grew apart. Same thing for college. A few people from my life did things that made it easier to walk away than to try to stay friends with them and I got pretty good at letting people go.

The same is true of things. I’m not terribly attached to things because I’ve moved a lot and I was made to throw out some of my favorite stuff when I was younger because my family went through a “Harry Potter is bad” phase as a result of what I believe was the influence of some of the more reactionary/conservative members of a home schooling group my family belonged to. This taught me that “things”  are transient, to be enjoyed while you have them, and to not mourn them once they are gone. Which means I’ve gotten good at letting go of things I can’t find or have lost. I move on easily, when it comes to things I used to love or enjoy.

Taken together, it paints a pretty interesting picture. I obsess over the new things in my life and let the old things slowly fade. I invest a ton of time and emotional energy into people who are important to me, trying to build strong relationships as fast as possible with the people I like, sometimes at the cost of maintaining older relationships. I do this with all the stuff I have and do (because this applies not just to possession and “stuff” but activities as well) because I am very aware of the transient nature of life. “Someday, all my things will be gone and I only have so much time in any given day, so I must do things now or else I run the risk of never enjoying them or doing them.” That thought process was why I spent literally all of my free time during March and April of 2017 playing Breath of the Wild. That though process was also why I give myself such a hard time when I fall short of my daily writing goals.

With people, there’s a similar thought. “I must establish a strong relationship quickly because I care about this person and want them in my life. If I can establish a strong bond quickly, we have a better chance of making it through whatever goes wrong.” Because something almost always goes wrong. I’m sure some of the things that went wrong were my fault since I invested so heavily so quickly, but a lot of them just felt like people being people: mercurial and not always predictable. Only a few did something that was actually nasty or awful. Then, if/when things fall apart, I move on and don’t look back, investing all my energy in new relationships. It isn’t exactly healthy, even if it isn’t as stark in real life as I’m painting it here. I am still in contact with a lot of people from my past, but I don’t generally communicate with them.

While its less of a problem with stuff, since I can practice enough self-control to not let this mindset negatively impact my life, I struggle with it in my relationships. Particularly with my girlfriend. I often feel like not seeing her for a week is a huge loss. Or if we don’t do something on the weekend. Or if there’s a short trip we could be going on together but only one of us goes. It doesn’t really make sense and it often bugs me that I feel so frustrated or anxious about those things,  so even keeping it to myself and preventing myself from acting on these feelings doesn’t prevent it from having a negative impact on my life. The anxiety sits in my stomach, lurking in the dark, and rears up whenever there’s a missed opportunity to do something with her, but it spends the time between events muttering about making sure our relationship is strong enough for whatever comes up.

Which is probably the core of the anxiety: the fear that something outside of my control is going to happen to my relationship and I’ll lose something I highly value. I know that to live is to be unable to predict the future or control what goes on around me, but there’s a huge difference between knowing something intellectually and overriding the instinctual fear of loss drilled into your by a lot of your past important relationships.

Going hand-in-hand with that is the fear that no one will ever pick me over other options rooted in the fact that even *I* do not pick me over other options. Got a friend (not a close friend I spend a lot of time or emotional energy on) who needs help? Let me just throw away my need for relaxation and desire to have a calm morning before the plans I made for that afternoon so I can help them. Got a project that I feel I should be working on? Let me just ignore how tired I am and how much I need to just be quiet and breathe so I can keep working on it until I collapse from exhaustion. Someone needs something that I have? Guess I don’t really need or want it. Someone I know needs financial assistance? Good thing I’ve got this money set aside that I was planning to use to pay off my car loan early. I really suck at ever prioritizing myself, even when it should be clear the amount of good I’ll be doing for someone else is heavily outweighed by the bad I’ll be causing myself.

Thankfully, I’m working on choosing myself right now. That’s what all this meditation and contemplation is supposed to be. Also, now that I know the root of the fear and anxiety that is making me go a little crazy in terms of emotional investment and attention, I can work on addressing it. These threads might still be a part of the tangled mess, but I’ve figured out one of the big knotty bits and I can finally start working on unraveling it.

One thought on “Threading my Way Through a Knotty Problem

  1. […] revolved around. Last night, when I was meditating after my review, I landed on a thought from a few days ago. I invest in people so heavily because I’m afraid of losing them. I try to appreciate every […]

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