One of the interesting (ahahahahahahahaha.. haha… ha…) parts of recovering from trauma is the way you can quickly slip between old modes of thought and new ones. It happened to me just the other day (the day before this went up) in the middle of a conversation with a friend who was checking up on me. I was increasingly dour as she tried to be supportive, sinking down ever faster as she tried to drag me back to the neutral mind frame I’ve been trying to cultivate lately.
I have been feeling very directionless lately, which is difficult for me because I am all about direction. My main coping mechanism is to work hard and I’m struggling to find good balance between my desire to put aside all concerns in order to simply work and recognizing that I need to take it easy on myself during what is probably one of the most difficult situations of my life.
Despite all of my preparations, last week was both a great week and a terrible week. I had a schedule, a to-do list, plenty of projects to work on, books all lined up for reading, some new games to play, and a new exercise regimen that would allow me to get a close to full workout in at home. Yet I made it through only two days before I started to fall apart.
After spending almost two months reflecting on my emotional state and then doing everything but reflecting on my emotional state for a few weeks after a breakup, I’ve found myself finally settling back into some kind of normal life. I’ve processed the breakup to the point where all I need to do is let more time pass and keep myself from getting caught in any thought spirals (which is something I need to do regardless) and I’m back to monitoring my emotional state with regular (if much less extensive) meditation and reflect. As a result, I’ve achieved a sort of emotional neutrality I haven’t felt in a while. For the most part, it’s kind of nice. I had a small depression episode today that only lasted for about an hour because I knew exactly what was on my mind and what to do about it in order get through it quickly. The only real downside is that I’ve got this emotional state that is in discord with most of the music I’ve been listening to for the past six months.
Music is super important to me. I struggled with silencing the intrusive thoughts from my OCD and anxiety when I was younger, but eventually discovered that listening to music on top of doing normal activities like reading or playing video games would keep them at bay. Music was also what got me into meditation because a retreat I did in high school had a guided meditation where one of the retreat leaders talked to us while we listened to some calming music. When I wanted to achieve that same level of mental clarity again, I turned to music to help. Music has been the basis for my meditation since then, even if I no longer need it. I usually play the song in my head if I can’t clear my thoughts or I’ll get it playing on my iPod if my thoughts are drowning out the mental music.
Even as I write, music plays a huge role. I’ll create playlists full of songs that make me feel a certain way and use them to get me into the right mindset for particularly difficult or emotional scenes. When I need to write something that involves dredging up parts of my past that I’ve purposely buried, music keeps me from getting lost in the memories. When I’m trying to write a poem to help deal with something I’m feeling, I’ll find a song that resonates with that feeling and play it on repeat until the poem is finished. Hell, the meaning of songs at a particular moment in my life has inspired entire stories. The one I worked on during 2017’s National Novel Writing Month was inspired by a song and a book I read. Last week’s Flash Fiction was inspired by a song I was listening to and a TV show I’d been watching.
Musical is an integral part of my everyday life. I use it to help me deal with my emotions by influencing them in one particular direction or another. If I want to focus on feeling an emotion and accepting it, I’ll play something that resonates with it. If I want to focus on pulling myself away from the emotion, I’ll play something that feels similar, but pulls me in the direction I want to go. If I need a temporary but drastic mood change (when a big depression wave hits at work and I just need to get through the rest of the day), I’ll listen to something that sort of counter-harmonizes with the emotion. I keep a huge amount of music around and am constantly building more playlists because I like to weave music into my life. Which is why the current discord is stressing me out so much.
Right now, I feel like everything is pretty alright. Nothing is great, but nothing is terrible either. Nice things happen and bad things happen, but they move along quickly so everything just flows up and down around neutral. However, all of my music is tied to other mental or emotional states. My old neutral music is now tied existential reflection and emotional delving. Some of my favorite low-mood resonance music is now tied to the emotional tumult I felt as my relationship came to an end. Most of the rest of the music from the past six months is songs that remind me of the relationship I’m no longer in or how love feels, neither of which is useful right now. All of this music is discordant with my current emotional state and trying to just let the music wash over me and wipe away my intrusive thoughts is actually making things worse. I get frustrated and antsy. I can’t sit still or focus on anything for too long.
In order to get through this now-frustrating neutrality, I’ve spent the last week trying random songs on YouTube, screwing around with only Pandora playlists, and letting Spotify recommend songs until I want to throw my headphones across the lab or my room in frustration. Thankfully, one of my good friends does the same thing I do and we have enough connections in our musical taste that we can make good recommendations for each other on occasion. She had a brand new album she’d been listening to that not resonated with me, but had a few more albums show up in YouTube’s autoplay feature that also resonated. Thanks to her suggestions, I’ve now got a new playlist for this particular feeling. After spending the last couple days listening to it, I finally feel like I’m working through this neutrality and will be able to leave it for something more positive soon.
While listening to the music, I tried to pick through what was responsible for the downward trend of this neutral feeling. It wasn’t until this morning, as I lay in bed and fought against the desire to spend the day in bed that I realized that the hardest part of my breakup is that I’ve now got an entirely empty summer. Just over four weeks ago, I had a summer full of new things to do, new places to go, and new people to meet. It was exhausting to think about, but also so incredibly exciting. Now, I have nothing but free weekends. I’ve got nothing major happening this summer and very little to look forward to from one week to the next. What’s worse, I don’t even had anything I want to do. D&D is great, I’ve got tons of great books to read and review, there’s a new marvel movie out, I’ve got at least 100 Steam games I’ve never played, and I’ve got so much I want to write. Unfortunately, during the spring, I decided that spending time with my girlfriend was more important than most of those things and going out to do new stuff in new places with new people was just as important as she was, so now none of that stuff feels exciting or new. Interesting and engaging? incredibly so, just not exciting or new.
I’ve thought many times about reclaiming my summer, filling it up with other things I can do with my friends or trips to visit people, but the neutrality (which turned out to have a decent amount of apathy mixed in) takes over before I get anywhere. Throw in the fact that thinking about why my summer is so empty almost always leads directly to a negative thought spiral and I find myself unwilling to really consider what I’m even going to do for any given weekend until I’m waking up Saturday Morning.
I really need to get more active. Schedule some trips and do something fun with people I haven’t seen in forever. It may not keep me feeling emotionally or mentally positive, but it will at least keep me busy and that will keep the apathy and negativity away. If I can also keep myself supplied with the right kind of music throughout the summer, I might actually come out of this feeling better than I have since I graduated college.
It can be hard to avoid regrets, sometimes. Life is filled with a variety of experiences and every decision to engage in one means there is one you are missing out on. Everything results in missed opportunities, one way or another, so it can be easy to think of what those opportunities might have been and wish that you’d made a different choice. These regrets, even if you meant only to indulge for a few moments before moving on, can cling to you like burrs for the rest of your life if you aren’t careful to remove them. They rarely disappear on their own and they’re really good at popping up again somewhere else once they’re stuck on you.
A simple wish that you’d made other decisions when it comes to your college education–which would resulted in significantly fewer student loans–can become a whole series of regrets when it shows up as a wish that you hadn’t needed to take a certain job after college that was possibly the most psychologically damaging thing you’ve ever subjected yourself to. A simple wish that you’d decided to try to make a long-distance relationship work instead of ending things when you moved can turn into years of pining and daydreams of what might have been. Regrets are easy to pick up, they are everywhere, and require a lot of work to avoid or get rid of. I still find myself wondering what my life might have been like if I’d stayed in college and that’s a short step away from regretting my decision to move to Wisconsin for college, but I’m still one of the better people I know when it comes to dealing with potential regrets.
In order to entirely avoid regrets, you would basically need to avoid any opportunities, never make decisions, and somehow find peace with yourself after a life of doing nothing and interacting with no one. You would need to cut yourself off from humanity and possibly even your feelings. Avoiding regrets is a terrible idea and is probably the most regrettable thing you could do.
Learning to process regrets and accept your past is far more healthy. Some people get so good at it that they seem almost like they don’t regret anything. As someone who was once one of those people, I don’t think that’s true. I think people just don’t really realize that they’ve learned a skill many people never do. It can be difficult for people to process regrets or to learn to let go of something they’ve been holding onto for their entire life, and someone who was once good at it can forget the lessons they learned or find something they’re not willing to let go so quickly.
I don’t like feeling regretful. I feel like spending time on regrets is a waste of my current potential and being able to take positive, constructive steps in my life right now is a better response to potential lost opportunities than thinking about how they might have turned out. Despite that, it can be difficult to not look back at a few things in my life and wish that they had gone differently. My student loans are a burden. I don’t have a great relationship with most of my family. I’ve given up on relationships when there were still other options. I set my dreams aside to try to earn money quickly in order to be able to focus on my dreams.
Hindsight is 20/20 and regrets are easy. It is more difficult to remember that I had a good reason for every decision I made and that each choice seemed like it was the most beneficial at the time. I had no context for how much money my loans would wind up being. I tried harder than I should have to maintain and repair most of those relationships. Things weren’t as great as I remember them being and there were enough problems that it made sense to make a clean break rather than drag out what was probably going to be an unhappy end. I couldn’t afford to focus on my dreams and, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, it happened one small concession at a time.
I made the best decisions I could at the time and I don’t regret doing what I thought was right. I’m sad things turned out the way they did, but the chances are good that making other choices would have resulted in something worse happening. Even if it is difficult to see sometimes, I got a lot out of the decisions I made.
I needed to get out of my home state in order to grow and learn about myself. I’m stronger now because of the independence I fostered and the friends I made in college. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter and did the best I could at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what is important to me in life by addressing the current state of those relationships with my therapist. I needed to get away from a city that held nothing but sad memories for me at the time and then stay away. A clean break meant I wasn’t constantly traveling back to a place where I had started to feel stuck and stifled. I know now that my dreams are my calling and I’m more determined than ever to see them through. I had the opportunity to earn material wealth and conventional status by settling into a life of compromise and passivity, but I learned I’d rather be broke and stressed out of mind as long as I get to be creating something.
I’ve learned to process regrets and to remove them. I’m no longer as quick at it as I once was, but I can still do it. What I’m learning right now is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a regret that I didn’t want to let go. Those are a different beast entirely and something I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle nearly as well as past regrets. I don’t really know how to let go of or process something that I still want more than I’m willing to admit to myself most of the time.
I don’t regret that it happened. I don’t regret anything in regards to how it went. What I regret is that it ended. I regret that we weren’t able to work it out. I regret that we weren’t right for each other and no amount of wishing on our part would fix it. Even working at it wasn’t enough, in the end. It was the right decision and I know it. I even feel it. I just regret that it was a decision we had to make and I probably will for a while. I need more time to process this before I’m ready to let go of this regret, but I’m certain I will eventually.
It just sucks right now. Everything sucks right now because regrets will expand to fill every hole in your time and attention. Soon, I will start to peel it away from me. Extricate it from my life. Pack it up and process it. In a week, a month, or maybe more, I will be back to feeling no regret, but I’m not going to hurry it up. Instead, I’m going to cut myself some slack, mourn the end of an important relationship, try to reclaim the parts of my life that had become about the two of us, and then prepare myself for the reformed relationship that’ll form out of this one when we’re both ready.
Someday. Eventually. Like I said, I’m not going to put myself on a timeline. I’m going to let myself regret and heal at my own pace. I owe myself that much.