When we are first born, we simply react to life. There is no deeper thought to our behavior. We move and respond according to whatever feeling we are experiencing in a given moment. Very quickly, external influences begin to shape those experiences and our internal wiring starts reacting. As very social creatures that are wired to be relational, make connections and belong we learn to censor and alter ourselves to match what we think is desirable. Limits and boundaries are a healthy aspect of living and self-control and higher thinking is beneficial both individually and as a community but that can easily go awry when we walk in such an obviously broken and faulty world.
The world is swift to issue a list of “should” and we, who are naïve and learning, are quick to accept them as our definition of healthy and successful. The problem is that we have very little control over our world. No matter how hard we try, things can get messy. Want to workout five times a week? The tire might go flat, the kid gets sick and the boss demands you work overtime. You decide to eat healthy and stick to your diet? Hello office donuts, three birthdays, four weddings and a random dinner party with the queen. Life can certainly throw a wrench in things.
However, most of the research and information available to us would indicate that most of our experience with life is more about how we react and respond to life and the way we process what is happening to us. It is the battle in our minds and our minds are a very tricky place!
One in five Americans live with a mental illness with a higher prevalence seen among women than men. According to the CDC, Suicide is ranked as second leading cause of death among individuals between 15-34 years old and the fourth among those 35-54. One study shows that 1 in 6 Americans take at least one psychiatric drug in a year with 80% of those being long term usage. More than 42 million Americans live with anxiety disorders and 16 million with major depression. Even without a diagnosable mental illness, our minds must absorb and process a ton of information in our lifetime! It is a huge chunk of our worlds and how we live day to day. It is a very important and serious part of our lives.
Thankfully, some of the stigma of these issues have started to fade and we are able to talk about them more openly. That doesn’t mean it is always easy. This can all be a double-edged sword. The more normalized these issues become the more abnormal you can feel for not being able to struggle along under the weight when you see other people functioning so well. Why can’t you get it together? If Susie can roll through depression and anxiety without talking to a therapist and taking meds, why can’t you?
There’s lots of danger in those comparisons. You have no idea how well Susie will do long term and how good of a face she is putting on. Seeking out the right care and professional help is not only recommended but highly admirable. Your well being and the investment in yourself should be a priority.
Anxiety and depression are no small matters. They are something that many of us struggle with in one form or another and in varying degrees. They affect how we feel about our bodies, our lives, our health and the world around us. They add an extra dimension to our search for a healthier lifestyle and each person’s experience is varied and unique making it even more difficult to simplify.
One of the many non-chemical reasons one might experience anxiety and depression is due to something that brings many people to seek out healthier lifestyles to begin with. Simply put, it is a mindset of what we ‘should’ be doing. You start a diet or a workout program because you know you “should” be healthy. Or your body doesn’t look the way you think it “should”. There is something you are supposed to be doing and you aren’t doing it and it is causing a tension in your life that is making you seek a better way of life.
That is certainly a valid reason to start, however, it isn’t going to last. It might keep you going for awhile but when the day has been long hard and lonely, and that bed is looking extra warm and cozy what is going to make you change your clothes and get to class? I guarantee you that if it is the opinion of the outside world that has caused your “should” then you are going to topple. Then you are going to wrestle with feeling like you’ve failed. Your going to struggle with feeling worthless. That anxiety and depression is going to creep over you like a warm blanket and you are going to have to beat it back every time.
So, I’d like to propose something to you.
Let down your hair. For you, my dear, might just be locked in a tower.
There is a lot of pressure in the world around us and in order to cope with that pressure many of us have developed extensive defense mechanisms just to keep us living day to day without pain. The need to be accepted and loved, the desire to be successful, the drive to be good spouses, parents and friends and the general impact of the evening news often makes us pull ourselves tightly together and shrink ourselves so that we can keep all the plates spinning and minimize any pain that might roll our way. We will put on masks and play parts that we aren’t even happy playing just to keep up some semblance of having all our ducks in a row.
Never mind that the ducks are miserable, starving and that one little guy in the back walks with a limp. So long as they are neatly lined up and not quacking up. (I apologize for that) No one needs to know that we don’t even like ducks and fantasize about a lovely Duck L’Orange meal prep idea.
The real us, with all our thoughts, opinions and beliefs, stay neatly stashed in a tower of our own making. Held prisoner by our own witchy needs to get through this thing called life with minimal risk and maximum success. We’ve learned to steal our own voice. Take away our own opinions. Ignore our own feelings. We let everyone go ahead of us in some sort of grand “you first” gesture and then we force other people to deal with our junk when we get bitter about how tired, worn out, pressed for time, out of shape, overweight, and generally unhealthy we are.
It’s time to get out of the tower. It’s time to let your hair down. It’s time to listen to you for a change. To sit with yourself. To ask yourself the tough questions. What do you want? How you feel? What is your opinion?
Do you want to be in shape? Do you want to be healthy? What are your goals?
One of the greatest things about dance is that it is near impossible to really engage and not let your hair down a little. It is, in essence, about self-expression. Yet if your workout is about coulds and shoulds then you really can’t get the most out of it.
The problem is that the world outside of your tower is very unpredictable, opinionated, loud and demanding. Your tower is probably the safest place to be. Sure, you’ll be miserable and unhappy but hey, that’s just the price for not being exposed or known. Because the world isn’t very kind and it is so often easier to serve everyone and everything around us than to step out in the sun and admit that we need some of that kindness too.
So, let me make this suggestion to you today. If you want out of that tower you’ve been trapped in, then let down your hair and invite others to come inside and see and experience the real you. Learn to listen to yourself and let who you really are bubble to the surface. Figure out what’s in this for you. Invest in becoming the version of you that you want to be. The things you value and desire. Not because some ethereal “they” decided what body type was worth worshipping. Figure out what’s important to you and chase that! Put time into your hopes and your dreams.
Let your hair down and in the words of Madonna “Express Yourself.”
You may just find yourself a lot less anxious and the world a lot brighter when you can see the daylight.