depression Gastrointestinal Problems Grief Hope Mental Health Psychology


How I Stop Myself from Spiraling

Maybe you’re in a low mood or you may be in a the midst of a deep depressive episode. Either way, ruminating on the past can be destructive to your well-being. You may find yourself wanting to focus on the present, but all of a sudden the mind gets triggered and goes down a dark road. Some days, it feels impossible to turn off the rumination.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you a few tips on how I stop ruminating on the past. I hope they help!

As many of you know, my father died when I was twelve. I constantly thought about the days when he was alive. I didn’t want his memory to fade away, but it felt like I was living more in the past than in the present. Whenever things got hard, I would think to myself, “My life would be so much better if Daddy were here.” Or, “It’s not fair that he’s not alive anymore.” I would bury myself in schoolwork, but in my free time I would let my imagination run away with me. “If I could trade my arm for my dad’s life, would I give it up? What if I had to swim across the ocean? What about if I had to eat ten thousand live ants?” Every time I heard a song, went to a restaurant or park, or ate a new food, I would think, “The last time I did this my dad was alive.” I spent a lot of time reliving the past and letting my imagination concoct a strange dystopian world where my dad was alive if I had given up my eyeballs or my kneecaps. I ruminated on how good things were back then and how sad things were in the present.

Another time when I got caught up in rumination, was when I was sick. My teeth hurt from gritting down on them in fear and anxiety. Every muscle in my body was sore from clenching so hard, bracing myself for the worst. I wondered if this was my life now- bed ridden, diarrhea 15X per day, fainting from loss of electrolytes, malnourished, not being able to enjoy a bite of food, pain so bad I shouted once per day, crying myself to sleep, not seeing my friends, not doing anything but reading, watching Netflix, and waiting for my mom to deliver a few bites of white rice and a hardboiled egg to my room. Each night I cried about the life I used to have – one where I was healthy. With each month that went by, I wondered if this would be forever. I spent my time researching godawful, life-debilitating diseases to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario. I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I would tremble in my bed. I google imaged pizza, cake, and pasta. It felt like delicious food, or any food at all really, was a distant memory. Because eating food was my main coping skill (not a healthy coping skill, but hey, that was the reality) it was an especially hard blow. I got down on my knees and prayed to a God that I hoped was listening. I ruminated on my past health, unable to accept my dire circumstances.

A few months later, I moved back to Ann Arbor with my sister. Yes, I was still pooping my pants from time to time and couldn’t walk more than half a mile without having diarrhea, but life seemed a bit better. The GI specialist said I would be completely better in six months. A naturopathic doctor found a powder that I could mix with water to keep me nourished. I decided to enjoy life for what it was. I was as skinny as an Instagram model and I had just gotten into grad school. I felt proud of myself for accomplishing my goal. I was finally going to live up to my potential and study interesting things again! The weather was sunny and gorgeous. I spent my days working at a chill gelato restaurant, tubing down the river with friends, and dancing at bars. As shallow as it sounds, I spent the summer showing off my new rockin’ bod and dating cute boys.  And then six months rolled around… I was still sick. Not only that, I hated the counseling program so deeply. I couldn’t handle the burden of everyone else’s emotional trauma. I couldn’t focus on lectures, textbooks, or class discussions. All I could focus on was trying to get better. I spent hour after hour, night after night, ruminating on my Hot Girl Summer in Ann Arbor with my sister where I felt confident in my body and my capabilities. Can you believe it? I missed that time in my life when I was sicker than all get out. Also, I began thinking long and hard about my year in California. The ocean calmed my soul in such a profound way. All I wanted to do was move back. I began hating my life so much that I wanted it to end. It was nuts because I was falling in love, had amazing friends, and was living in a buzzing city- Boulder, with a view of the striking mountains from my apartment.  

Here are a few ways that helped me stop ruminating on the past. Let’s be honest, ruminating doesn’t help anything. It makes everything worse.

  1. Write, write, write!

Writing helped me make sense of the world. I carved out a time to ruminate on the past, but made it beautiful. I have an incredible memory, which helps me as much as it harms me. It allows me to write specific details and scenes. Writing is therapeutic for me and helps me better understand my feelings. When I wrote about my dad, I felt his spirit come alive. I wrote blogs about the awful symptoms of my gastrointestinal illness. After I wrote, I felt cleansed. I had purged all of the foul-smelling gunk. I no longer needed to dwell on it because I had just spent an hour writing about it. Sharing it with others has been empowering. I feel as though I might be making a difference to someone.

*Tip: Chronicling all of the negative things in your life will NOT help. Ex) My dad died, I got sick, I dropped out of grad school and feel like a loser. In order to move through it, you’ve got to talk about your feelings

2. Focus on your strengths

It will definitely boost your self-esteem to make a list of your strengths. For me, it’s making art through writing, my motivation to exercise, my vulnerability. Still, how does this help with rumination?

Let’s spin this into a strength. So, ruminating may lead to depression. When you do finally come up from this low episode (and you will! If you don’t believe me read my blog called A Glimmer or Sunlight…no matter how long you’re under there, you’ll ALWAYS come back up) how will you be a better person? You’ll be more understanding, empathetic, and compassionate. People may tell you that you’re a sourpuss or have a person filled with sorrow and melancholy by nature. This is NOT true. You’re just going through something right now. From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. Don’t let anyone tell you that your sensitivity is a weakness. Also, if you spend a lot of time ruminating, you probably have a great memory. Having a good memory will help you out in life, trust me. You do well on tests, you can remember all those background details that your friends tell you, all of the great memories of your life stand out to you, and the people who have passed away will never truly die. Why? Because your memory never fades.

Gaining a new perspective on rumination empowers me.

Summary: Try to view your rumination as a strength

3. Let go of expectations

Expectation is the death of happiness. Having goals for yourself and living up to your full potential are both great! However, when your expectations get too high, it’s a recipe for disaster.

You know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? First, on the bottom tier, there’s physical needs – food, water, shelter. Then there’s safety needs – to not feel like you’re going to die on the streets or feel scared in your home. Moving up the ladder, there are belonginess needs- intimacy, community, friendships, love, belonging, connection. After that there are esteem needs – recognition, respect, prestige. If you’re lucky you may tap into self-actualization where you’ll live up to your full potential and understand the true meaning of life.

Many of us are caught in the esteem needs. This is where the ego dwells. Though Maslow may believe it’s a necessary experience that may propel you toward self-actualization, maybe it’s not so great after all. Letting go of your ego may be the best thing for you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race. Let’s be honest, being hot and successful is intoxicating! We always want more and more – a new and better place to live, more money, to look thinner, a marriage to someone attractive and successful. This can all get shattered at any moment… Before you enter what I call “more-mentality,” think it through. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re on the hedonistic treadmill… Your brain adapts to your current circumstances. After you hit your goal, you’ll make an even loftier goal.

You’ll find that it’s never enough.

When you let go of expectations, you may find that you’re happier.

I am happiest when I let go of my goal to be thin or attend graduate school. When I had those things, I wasn’t that happy anyway. I wanted more – to be thinner, to move on to a better program. Sure, I miss feeling hot and accomplished, but it’s time to let that go. I don’t expect to be as emaciated as I was when I was drinking water and powder or to be a therapist where I’m depleted of my emotional strength. Those expectations have come and gone. I don’t want to be a shallow egotistical person anyway. I’ve let my expectations sail away to make way for bigger and better dreams.

It’s time to appreciate what you do have. Which leads me to my next point.

4. Gratitude

Think about what you do have in the present moment. You may be overwhelmed with gratitude.

  • Maybe I don’t have a thin body, but I am healthy.
  • Maybe I have a GI issue, but I’m alive.
  • Maybe my family is far away, but I feel their love, support, and connection from afar.

You get the idea. In fact, don’t even list the negative part of that phrase. Just list the positives.

  • The sunny day
  • My sister’s laughter
  • The phone call with my friend

There is so much scientific evidence and empirical data on the power of gratitude. Studies show that those who counted their blessings felt happier than those who listed the negatives.

Let the gratitude course through your being. Keep a gratitude diary. After a few weeks, you may feel grateful to be alive.

Gratitude has the power to stop rumination in its tracks.

5. Appreciate the fragility of life and health

The truth is, we are human. Appreciate your vibrant life right now, because it’s fragile. We are mortals; death and illness are inevitable. It’s time to accept this. It won’t be easy, but it’s the truth. Getting caught up in circumstances is harmful.

It’s natural to not want to think about death and sickness, but it’s part of our reality. In the same way that you can’t be happy without the contrasts of low moods, we can’t have life without death. All of this energy will be recycled for the next generation, the next life. All you can do is be your best self and try to make a difference while you’re here.

6. Meaning

Victor Frankl once said that if you can find meaning in your life, you can get through most anything.

He lived through the Holocaust and developed a therapy – logotherapy- where you find meaning in your suffering.

I finally got to a place where I found meaning in my suffering. My dad died and my physical pain has shaped me into the beautiful, creative, sensitive person that I am. Readers, YOU are my meaning. I am here for all of you. When you read my words, you’re helping me feel that my life is meaningful. If my words helped one person today, I have had a meaningful existence. If someone out there relates to my grief and chronic pain, I will feel even more worthwhile than I did before I began writing this post.

Find your meaning!

7. Find the comedy

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Yes, there was a point where I was barely hanging on by a thread. I literally sent stool samples to countless doctors and google imaged pizza. Yes, pizza. WOW. If that isn’t sort of funny, it’s time to lighten up! I pooped my pants at work and my sister had to bring me a new pair of underwear! When my uncle was alive, he put a funnel down my dad’s pants when he wasn’t looking and dumped water in it! My body went from Barbie to blahhhh. OH WELL. HAHA! Find the humor in how much it sucks. It’s not eloquent, but it IS funny. I am so thankful for my sister for helping me laugh instead of cry or ruminate about all of this.

We’re all on a weird journey together…and it’s sort of funny.

8. Awe

Fill your world with wonder and awe. Seeing a sunset or going on a stroll through the woods can do wonders. I find that when I see beauty in the world, my ruminating stops. The pacific ocean, the pink sky after the sun sets, the majestic mountains, or even the bird tweeting out of my front window.

When I’m awe-struck I remember that the world is a beautiful place filled with magic and miracles.

Instead of dwelling on the past, look around.

When you see all of the gifts that this world has to offer, you’ll feel connected and present.

One last piece of advice- I just want you to know that I still struggle with all of this. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.

Thanks for reading, best of luck!!

Dance Flow Grief Hobby

Hula Hoop Flow

I sat in my bed, crying as I recalled memories of being little in New Jersey with my father and younger sister. I missed my dad’s tight hug that made me feel safe, his goofy-ball jokes and pranks, his shirts with holes in them- everything. It had been years, but I had a hard time adjusting to his absence.

I was lost in grief and heartache.

I replayed some memories over and over again. I feasted on these memories like a mosquito feasts on blood. I wanted to cry, to sweat, to purge the emotion somehow, but it felt impossible.

I knew that I needed to change something. I felt the need to protect myself, for the sake of little wave-loving-thrill-seeking Annie. How can I do that?

Something was not working right within my body. Many people move through emotion by crying, but there was a block for me. How can I move beyond my pain?

Not only that, I wanted to find my flow. I stumbled upon the hula hoop while playing ping pong with my group of friends. This seemingly insignificant act turned out to be profound and transformative- a stroke of serendipity.

Do you ever think back to something amazing in your life that you secured sort of by accident, – your incredible job, best friend, apartment, your significant other-  and you’re like “how did that happen?! Were the stars in alignment that day?” I’m not sure if was luck, a miracle, a greater force watching over me, or some combination of all of the above.

After growing bored of ping pong, I wandered over to the corner, where I saw a forgotten hoop. I stepped inside the circle and attempted to waist hoop.

I used to love hula hooping at recess as a kid.

After a few rotations, the hoop fell down, but I kept picking it up and trying again. I became transfixed  by the hoop. A huge grin appeared on my face as I wiggled my hips, trying to keep the hula hoop along my waist.

Soon, the owner retrieved her hoop. As soon as she took the large plastic circle away from me, I missed it.

I knew deep down in my core that I needed to hula hoop. My gut was telling me- more like screaming at me- to go get a hula hoop.

I went to Walmart to look for a hoop.

“It’s January,” an employee gave me a deadpan stare. “Come back this summer.”

I sulked back to my car and drove back to campus. I ended up buying a large beginner’s hoop for fifteen dollars from a girl who lived in my dorm.

I watched a few tutorials on Youtube to get started. The incredible hoop dancers mesmerized me. Everything about them inspired me- their tricks, their passion, and most of all, their flow. 

Wow… I wondered if I would ever be able to do something so impressive like that. I watched a hooper stand on one leg and hop back in the center of the hoop. Then, she gyrated her body in a motion that caused the hoop to move up her body in a beautiful way. My jaw drop. She had such poise, grace, and elegance. She radiated with joy. I couldn’t keep my eyes off these hula dancers. They were so obviously having the time of their lives.

I wanted joy, I wanted passion. I felt myself drifting away from negativity.

I closed my eyes and took a few breaths visualizing myself being able to do the incredible tricks that these women could do. My lips turned upward in an ear-to-ear grin. I was so inspired by these women.

I made myself a promise to practice every single day. I went over to the center of my dorm and pushed my desk back as far as it would go so I wouldn’t knock into anything. I barely had enough space, but I could make it work.

I turned on my computer and watched the same waist-hooping tutorial on repeat. I turned on some music to pump myself up and began to hoop. Each time the hoop fell, I learned something new. If I move my hip muscle slightly this way, I could keep the hoop from falling. If I inched my leg that way I could make the hoop grow higher. I was focusing so much that I couldn’t even hear the music playing. All of a sudden, the hoop fell to the floor, spiraling down my legs.

I looked at my watch. Two hours had passed! Was this flow? I was so focused that all I could think about was hula hooping.

I smiled to myself, wiping a bead of sweat from my forehead. 

I skipped going to the gym and instead went to my dorm to hoop for hours to break up the monotony of studying. Each day, I got a little bit better. I felt elated as I spun around and moved my hips this way and that. I was getting used to the motions and felt myself adding my own flavor to it. I got a bit more daring and began walking with the hoop.

It took me three weeks to learn how to take my leg out of the hoop and put it back in. The all consuming feeling that hit my chest when I mastered my first trick was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

I did this. Me! I learned how to do this badass trick! I’m learning to do what looks to be nearly impossible. I’ve got this!

I felt as though things in life were becoming less stressful.

Or maybe, I was handling the stressors in a more healthy way.

Now, I can do all of the crazy tricks like the women on YouTube. When I’m down or I feel like dancing, I grab the hoop and spin. I feel the beat and get into a deep flow.

The hoop offers me so much. It’s a creative outlet and a chance to express myself through art and dance. It gets the adrenaline pumping and allows me to feel free. I feel liberated from my anxious mind, constantly worried about the future or ruminating on the past. I’m living in the moment.

Whenever I wanted to do something self-destructive, I hooped instead and felt my spirits lift. Hooping almost always put a smile on my face. A few times when I was in a really really low episode, the hoop made me come back to neutral. It wasn’t necessary gong to make me giddy every time, but it could bring me back to life- back to myself. I felt so grateful that I found a coping skill. Finally! After twenty years of therapy, I found a way to come back to earth when I was on planet Shame.

Who knew a plastic circle could bring so much joy?