If you are like me, 2021 looked similar to 2020. Even during the celebration of the New Year, the fear of Omicron loomed over my head. Many people walked away from the celebration having contracted the virus. As society accepts the fate of quarantine and prepares to fight COVID-19 as a long-term battle, there are precautions to be taken: masks, booster shots, vaccines and testing. However, as we enter 2022, the second year of co-existing in a world with COVID-19, I have decided to take other precautions as well — not just for my physical health but for my mental health.
After New Years, I spent time reflecting on the past year. I spent most of my 2021 asleep, unless it was the normal sleeping hours. Then, I was wide awake with thoughts spiraling and gnawing away at anything positive. I spent far too much of 2021 focusing and listening to these intrusive thoughts. For a long time, it felt like the voice in my head wasn’t even mine. Every new day brought a new strand of obsessive, negative thoughts. No two nights were ever the same in my head. Some nights I obsessed over the future — other nights it was my relationships. Every once in a while, I contemplated life and death and the spiritual world. Similar to the “YouTube rabbit hole,” every thought that entered my head pulled me deeper and deeper into the scary depths of my brain.
The hardest part of intrusive thoughts is the only person to blame is yourself, yet those voices don’t sound like you. Eventually, the anxiety takes over, and you slowly lose yourself altogether. After a while, you learn to stop sharing them with other people — scared if anyone could hear the voice you hear — and they’d run. But, the one person who can’t run away from it is you.
So, how do you process them? Where do those thoughts go? They do more harm than good stirring in your head with nowhere to go, so they have to go somewhere. It’s a bit different for each person. For some folks, meditation works well. For others, exercising is the cure, but I found no comfort in many of the popular “remedies.”
For myself, I have to give in to these thoughts; I have to think everything through. Everything my brain pulls out of its wheelhouse is supposed to be there. Those voices are my way of working through my internal dilemmas. However, there is a difference between working through the thoughts and dwelling on them. When you don’t do anything with these negative thoughts, they are going to repeatedly pop up, causing more anxiety.
In 2022, I started journaling every night. The moment I put my pen to paper, everything started to pour out, and I spent hours writing up to 10 pages a night. What I came to realize is that majority of the thoughts in my head were questions, and the reason they never fully subsided is that there is no answer to a lot of them. However, journaling helped me find comfort in the unknown, and my anxieties became easier to address when written down. It’s easy to become complicit in your anxieties by just feeling anxious and refusing to deal with each of them individually. But, when you write them down, you have to call them what it is. Eventually, even if you have to read between the lines, you can see the root of the problem.
Journaling consistently and purposefully has opened my eyes to much of life’s beauty. Journaling has helped me find the things that bring me joy. I am a better decision-maker; I understand my emotions and thoughts; I’m becoming better at putting words to these thoughts and emotions, and unexpectedly, my self-love and confidence are increasing — slowly but surely. Journaling has allowed me to take something that used to paralyze me with fear and turn it into a map, guiding me back to myself.
I used to go to bed angry, anxious and worried, and when I woke, I thought I would magically be this happy-go-lucky girl. I spent my days pretending to be 100% myself, and when in reality, I was a shell of who I once was. Those thoughts that didn’t sound like me and distracted me from who I am have been transformed into something beautiful: a tool to help me find myself again.
Stop running from the scary thoughts, but use them to your advantage. You are not your thoughts. You are bigger and better. However, journaling helps sort through the thoughts that are not worthy of contemplation. The brain is a beautiful, complex organ, and learning how to work with your brain instead of against it is not easy. But, the process is beautiful. I continue to fight my thoughts, but I can also see the beauty and wonder in them and am grateful for the good days.