For the Love of Sanity
I no longer search for strike-on-box matches on a Saturday, a candle lighter is always in reach in time to immerse my room in scents of hyacinth, Douglas fir, or whatever else is on sale. I listen to a bible teaching, podcast, or music and let my thoughts tumble into my journal with all the grace of a child at his first little league practice. Maybe I’ll go for a run, wash dishes, read an article, play Sudoku, or make an excessively complicated breakfast while I FaceTime my mom, anything to distract me from logging onto Canvas.
They say smells are the sense with the indelible link to memories. More often than not the thick scent of ground espresso floods the area code of my kitchen, curling up and settling in the air as my French press fills with boiling water. Some time ago I wondered what measurement of grounds to crème would be too much or if I’d burn my tongue, but this brave new world now has no need for an explorer.
My home used to be the pit stop in the racetrack of my existence. Quite literally returning briefly for fuel and periodic rest. Four years in and I’d still forget where the light switch was. But now my couch has permanent indentations, and as the temperature steadily drops I wander in circles down my hallway to reach my step count.
Brains are imaginative, wildly adaptive organs. Then stress hits, but we’ve even adapted to that with alarming efficiency. Energy gets shuttled to the parts of our brain responsible for habits and developed routines when our cortisol levels rise. It makes sense, a habit-pathway in our brain requires less energy to function, freeing us up like a good file cleanse on a computer. Except, this can be wonderful or genuinely dangerous. It all depends on the habits we’ve formed in our lives, and usually, they are inextricably linked to our pasts and how they’ve shaped us and our views of ourselves.
This quarantine season has seen ostensibly unrestrained suicide rates, and according to NPR’s health news, Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association are up 70-80% in recent months. This reflects a troubling truth being exposed in the lives of those around us. I’m not too surprised. We’re still desperately searching for meaning and resigned to hopelessness when the illusion of our control evaporates.
I too fell to what seemed like biological defeat; routines I fall back to now, eluded to in paragraphs one and two, haven’t always been so calming and healthy.
My childhood left very little for me in terms of control. I couldn’t control the incessant arguments, the drunkenness, the spirals of depression that left my home feeling like the white balance was off and tints and shades would always remain blue. So I controlled the only thing I could, one that could possibly garner attention too—my first eating disorder.
Even when I was removed from my home and warm tones started to crowd out the blue, any discomfort would shuttle me straight to relapse.
After researching how our brain works with our developed routines under stress I started to understand why my mother chose drugs and alcohol time and time again, even if that doesn’t make it any easier to forgive her. I challenge you to evaluate what happens when stress rocks you, upending your schedule. What do you turn to first: It says a lot about where our foundations lie, and how healed we truly are.
I know we’re all looking for a neatly tied bow to every conversation. You may be thinking, how did you transition from an eating disorder to journaling and Sudoku? But I can’t steal that journey from you. Growth is nonlinear, and there are times the new routines I’ve built over years are challenged by my latent trauma responses.
Have grace for yourself, and start to recognize patterns in your life. Brains are imaginative, wildly adaptive organs. When you’re ready to, you can create new pathways.