You know what sucks the most after you stop seeing someone? You’ll be perfectly fine, and then you’ll see the most random thing that triggers a memory. Oh, there’s that restaurant we went to once. Look, it’s that movie we watched together on Netflix. There’s my couch that we used to sit on together.
Okay, that last one’s a stretch, but you get where I’m going with this. When I go through a hard time in my life, I tend to pick it apart like I’m picking at a newly-healed wound. It’s painful and messy, and logically I know I should stop if I know what’s good for me, but no. I’m going to keep digging my nail in there until I’m bleeding again and I have to start the healing process all over again.
That’s what it feels like when I’m plagued by negative thoughts. If they were new thoughts or served me in some way, I would accept them. You can’t ignore painful feelings, accepting and working through them is healthy. What isn’t healthy is having the same few thoughts circle around your brain over and over and over again, like vultures.
I’ve since learned there’s a word for this: rumination. I always just assumed everyone experienced this, but I’ve talked to people in my life after having hard conversations and they might spend a day or two thinking about something and then they’ll move on. When my previous relationship ended last year, the guy I’d been dating broke up with me over a phone call that lasted less than a minute. I replayed that phone call in my head for the next week. I heard it in my head while watching TV, while working, while spending time with other people. The only thing that broke the cycle was meeting up with him in person, so I could say all the things I felt like I didn’t get to say.
That’s what’s really at the root of all my negative thoughts. All these words and actions that have no outlet so they just sit stagnating in my mind and making me feel like I’m going a bit mad.
It’s still something I struggle with, but I’ve since learned some techniques that help me cope with them. Journaling is a huge help. If you can’t say what you need to say to someone, you can at least get the words out of your brain and onto paper. When I’m working through something, I’ll sometimes write pages and pages in a single day. It’s a lot easier to untangle a problem, when you can actually see what you’re working with.
The other practice that has made a huge change in my life is meditation. I’m still very much a novice in this area. I started by listening to guided meditations on YouTube, before deciding to try out a paid subscription of the Calm app. I’m not the greatest at sticking to things, but I’ve been pretty good about doing my daily guided meditations for the last few months. I’m also convinced that Tamara Levitt has the most soothing voice on the planet.
Today, I tried doing my longest meditation yet. I sat for a full 30 minutes, listening to my app’s nature noises and a bell that rang every minute to keep me focused. Of course, I live in New York, so I also had the wonderful noises of construction, honking horns, loudly-conversing passerby, and slamming doors to contend with, but I just thought of it as ambient background music.
I definitely didn’t do a perfect job, but after, my mind felt like it had slowed down a bit. When intrusive thoughts tried to push their way into my brain, I gently shoved them right back out. It didn’t matter how many times it happened, the important thing was I didn’t give myself time to dwell on these thoughts.
My hope is that with continued meditation practice, there will be fewer intrusive thoughts each day and I can finally stop focusing on everything but the present. I can’t change the past or predict what will happen in the future, but I have the power to shape my present. I’ve realized lately that the present is the only place where true happiness is found.
It’s a lot of work—and sometimes it feels impossible—but it’s also worth it, because those moments where my brain finally quiets down? It feels like a long-needed rest, and it’s pure bliss.