Life isn't Sucking as Much as You Think It Is: How I Get Myself Out of the Cave and Into the Wild (again)

I know that I'm not like most people in the sense that I'm an extroverted-leaning ambivert, which gives me the advantage of being as extroverted as I want or need to be when around people but still loving the litte recovery time I typically require by myself.  Over the years, I've made friends with all types of social-leaning ways, from complete shut-ins that only left the house when they absolutely needed to to people that could party relentlessly every day if given the chance.  I appreciate both extremes, have acted on both extremes at one point in my life (I still have this tiny fantasy of just taking three weeks to hit up every single nightlife party I can find just so I can say I went all out on the fully-extroverted extreme... perhaps that'll be a future social experiment), and I like to take elements from both to create my perfect mix.

I think most people identify as an ambivert of some sort, whether they lean on the extroverted side of the introverted side.  But sometimes other things than our normal personality come into play that affect (temporarily or permanently) our "default-baseline" personality, such as depression, anxiety, overstimulation, traumatic experiences, new habits, etc.

What's even scarier, oftentimes we're oblivious to what caused these changes. We see our lives as exactly the same as before but we're the different factor, so something must be wrong with us since the world is still the same and we're not (this is only sometimes true. Mental illness is no factor to downplay in times like this). Reality seems the same, but we could be looking at one glaringly obvious factor in our life that got turned on its head and we subconsciously dismissed is as a non-thing as to why there is a change in our attitude.

Oftentimes, people come to me when they're in a slump with their mood. Things they liked aren't helping them anymore. They don't want to go out and meet people. They're tired, they hole up in their rooms, and they feel more guilty because they are spending time away from people. And, thanks to social media, they feel more guilty because they see everyone else out having fun and they feel like their life is pretty boring. So they hole themselves up more, self-loathing their new normal, and are less and less motivated to do the things that make them happy. But the idea of seeing people and doing things tires them, so they stay in to recover and enjoy time by themself... but as they stay inside they feel even more isolated and lonely, hating that they won't go out and do something.

I'm no doctor and cannot guarantee what will work for you without professional help tailored to your specific needs (and any underlying conditions you might have that affect how you respond to treatments). But I can tell you what has worked for me as someone that has gone through this cycle many times.

1. Take care of the bottom of your Maslow's pyramid.

This is super important yet one of the things I am most willing to throw out of balance when under stress. If you're not familiar with Maslow's pyramid, it's simply a hierarchy of needs that was created to explain how people should prioritize their life needs so that they can create a balance and fulfilled life. The bottom of the pyramid, the physiological needs, are what can be considered our basic human rights: food, water, shelter, sleep, warmth, basic hygiene... the things that are absolutely necessary for survival. Things that don't apply in this basic category are: cell phones, a great credit score, a car, makeup, jewelry, a significant other, family, etc. We are talking very, very, VERY basic. What do you need to be able to make it on a day-to-day basis?

First for me is food. Food is important. Are you eating, period? Great! Now are you eating regularly, whatever that means for you? For me, that means a small breakfast, a decent lunch, and a medium-to-massive dinner depending on what I plan to do that night (sometimes I'm gonna go dancing and I need fuel for that)

Next is water. I tend to forget to drink water enough, but I find that a glass of water every hour and a half or so helps a lot, especially during the day at work. Add that with one glass of water to wake up, one glass with my coffee/tea in the morning, and then one glass when I get home and one glass maybe an hour or so before bed, sometimes with a beer or a glass of wine (no, booze is not part of the bottom of Maslow's pyramid).

Next is bathing daily. Sometimes I skip a shower one here or there (I know, ew), and those days are really sucky so I try not to do those too often. I never have time in the morning to shower mostly because A.) If I sleep too late, I'm not going to have fun getting up that day, or B.) If I wake up early, I want to do things other than showering.  So I typically shower at night. But some nights I'm just too exhausted and don't want to do it, so I'll wait until I'm forced into showering (sometimes right after work, sometimes right after going to the gym, etc.). I suggest at the bare minimum, make time to shower at the same time every day. If that time changes for one reason or another, okay, but this is a non-negotiable.

Next is sleep. This encompasses a few other things in the pyramid. I'm assuming you have a secure, solid shelter (apartment, house, McMansion, treehouse, or somewhere else to crash) and you can stay at a comfortable temperature in that setting while you sleep. If not, change that. If you're still having trouble getting enough sleep, examine if it's because you're doing things other than sleep when you know you should have the lights off and at least attempting to sleep. My big problem is checking email, social media, and other things that requires screens up until I go to bed. If it's insomnia at any level, what usually helps me is creating a bedtime routine. One that I favor in the winter months (but have yet to regulate for the summer months just because my life explodes during that time) is showering (like I said above), drinking tea, putting on and then washing off a face mask of some sort (I alternate between three different ones), brushing my teeth, and listening to soft rock music through all of these tasks. Then I'll read a book-- a physical book, not a screen-- until I get sleepy and want to go turn off the lights. Some nights I'll fall asleep with the lights on like this.

There. These are the absolute bare minimum basic things we need to survive, all rolled up here to make sure we're physiologically stable. Now what?

2. Examine, identify, and create a strong Tripod of Stability

Ramit Sethi of IWT fame first coined the Tripod of Stability. It simply means that you need to pick three things that you are completely solid on before you start taking chances in other aspects of your life (it goes along with his general teaching of "Don't sweat the Small Stuff, but focus on the Big Wins"). This can vary at different points in your life and can be things that are in Maslow's bottom part of his pyramid.  For me, I've picked my finances, my physical health (which encompases the entire bottom of Maslow's bottom), and my relationships (family and friends). By establishing these three prongs of my tripod, I can then make all my decisions based around stabilizing these things if they're not already stable, and if they are stable then I can go on to make better decisions for myself.

Keep in mind that as life goes on, this Tripod of Stability may change. Objects (cars, houses, rental boat that you now use as your traveling home, etc.) could be part of your Tripod of Stability. Cleanliness (hygeine, home, etc.) could be part of your Tripod of Stability. Physical fitness (working out, eating a certain way, etc.) could be part of your Tripod of Stability.  Everyone's will differ based off of their most important values that they need to maintain.

3. Do a brain dump, and don't edit it.

I'm one of those people that talks a mile a minute, and people constantly have to stop me or make me repeat myself.  My mind races all the time, and I constantly have ten thoughts in it at once (this is also why when having conversations with me the conversation will take random twists and turns, yet when I feel at home somewhere you can hear my speech slow down as I listen more or I process my thoughts more).  Pair that with my case of hypergraphia, which I have to monitor frequently, and I will find any surface I can write on in close proximity to me when I need to let these thoughts out on paper.

Sometimes all I need is a couple blank pages of paper, a fresh pen or pencil, and to write. Just everything that comes to mind. The results often look like lists, then go into long monologues halfway through, then back to another couple lists, maybe some numbers and calculations (because my mind likes numbers a lot), then maybe a sketch drawing of some sort. Sometimes I do a brain dump every other day, at the end of the day, or during the day if I really can't focus.

But one thing stays constant: I always use pen and paper. My brain dumps are not on a computer for two reasons: one, it's too easy to edit yourself on a computer. Once you've written it on a piece of paper, it's right there and harder to remove than it is by pressing the backspace button. Two, I find that I can actually get more thoughts out on the paper than I can on the computer even though I can type really fast because of the freeform way you can write on a piece of paper without having to format things the way you want to on a computer. Use this to your advantage and let your creative brain dump go, and take as long as you need to. As a reference should you do it yourself, I usually take 20-30 minutes doing a brain dump, but keep in mind this is usually because I have so many different things on my mind at once. Your results may vary.

Once I've done my brain dump, it's much easier to see where my worries are. And oftentimes, I find myself repeating one or two things over and over on my brain dump using with different words to describe it.  Even if I come up with a solution to whatever the thing is that I keep talking about, I don't usually feel comfortable with it.  So to get even more out of my head, I...

4. Get on the phone/meet up with someone you care about and ask them to listen and give feedback as needed.

This part is usually the hardest for me, but it's the most essential for me to realize that I'm going to be okay through the eyes of someone that knows me.

The person I call may vary depending on what is bothering me because I know even among my friends they have different strengths in different areas. I'll call my mom when I'm stressing out about apartment maintenance stuff (because if you've ever met me, you'd know that I'd make a terrible housewife).  I'll message or call my friends Nesa or Elissa when I'm bothered by something someone else has said to me. I'll reach out to my friend Katie or Alex when I'm baffled about things that happen with romantic interests. I'll reach out to my sister when I need her to listen to typical 20-something social issues I'm having (especially since even though we're very different people, she's my older sister and have gone through some of the things I've gone through).

What I always make a point to do is pay attention to before I talk to them, while I'm talking to them, and after I'm talking to them.

Before I talk to them, I thank them for taking the time to listen to my concern. Even if it's someone really close, I never want them to feel like I don't respect them. I also make a point to say whether I want their input or not on my concern. Sometimes I do, sometimes I just want someone to listen to me rant. It depends.

When I'm talking to them, I slow down and look for listening cues. Many of my friends are great active listeners, which is great because I can see their ruffle in their eyebrow or the narrowing of their eyes as cues that they may not understand the situation or agree with it. At those points, I provide more info before plowing on to the next piece of info. Sometimes I even stop and say, "Are you confused/upset/angry/need a minute to absorb everything I'm throwing at you?" I want it to be an interactive conversation, not one where I'm talking at them. Conversations are between two people, after all.

When I finish talking about my concerns, I try to make a point to thank them for listening. They didn't have to listen to me. They chose to, and I appreciate them so much for letting me put my thoughts out in a way that oftentimes leaves me vulnerable. Because really, if our thoughts are one of the most precious things we have, we're letting our guard down by letting people into our deepest thoughts.

Now here's the thing: notice I did steps 1-3 before mentioning this one. You most certainly can skip them and go straight to doing this. However, I find doing a little bit of inner reflection before taking on the task of telling someone else's thoughts or opinions on my situation. Additionally, you can certainly not do step 4 and come up with a solution that makes you feel better about it. However, I find that including step 4 not only helps me reiterate my decision, but it keeps me accountable to it because now someone else knows what my resolve is and knows what I should be doing, so they can check in with me and see how it went.

Additionally, seeing or talking to someone is the easiest way to get out of the cave of inner-turmoil I pushed myself in. Oftentimes I'll go to parties and enjoy one-on-one conversations, but sometimes a quick phone call (which is weird in this day and age, but it helps) or a cup of tea together helps immensely with wanting to get out and be around people again.