In therapy, sometimes my ‘homework’ is to do mind maps.
The most recent one was to map out what was going on in my brain at the moment. It looked messy and overwhelming, and I had even more that I could have added to it. I hadn’t even touched on the many open tabs of ‘what should I do about this?’ related to the world-at-large – the climate, human social justice, the ‘discourse’ on Twitter and beyond, and my burgeoning pile of to-do lists.
But I think they’re all connected anyway. What is a good life? To me, it’s a life lived as much as possible within your values – a life that is as ethical as possible within your means. It looks different to everyone because we all have different traditions, communities, and cultures. I’m not suggesting that this is easy for everyone – and it certainly isn’t easy for me.
We have these contradictions and hypocritical behaviours that are difficult to untangle ourselves from. When you live in late capitalism (in a pandemic!) it’s especially hard to figure out what you do and don’t need in your life.
When life is this big mass of thoughts and things, a big pile of tasks that need doing, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters the most. One more thing added on top of all that feels unmanageable. That’s why I’m trying to unpick and untangle all of these and look at the heart of the matter – what is it that means the most? What do I need? What, for that matter, do I want? And who am I, right now? In the middle of this mind mapping, this life mapping, I’ve been trying to find myself.
What therapy has shown to me is that we are all composed of layers. Layers of experience, of identity, memories, values. Sometimes those things rub up against each other and create friction. Sometimes they mask each other. If you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing, that friction and masking can become more pronounced. For me, with years of difficult life crises and experiences, I experienced poor mental wellbeing and an identity crisis, one which I’m slowly emerging from. This is to say nothing of collective trauma and the effects of living in this current society, which no doubt affects us all differently.
A few things have come to light from this, some suspicions confirmed in therapy and some exploration of what that means, reframing my past experiences to include this new possible identity framework. My years of difficulties with executive functioning, high sensitivity, and social anxiety make a whole lot more sense. There has been much relief and many ‘clicking’ moments, and this month I’ll write about it more in-depth.
Back to mind maps – I find them infinitively helpful, even more so than making lists. And I make a lot of lists. Lists of tasks, lists of books to be read, lists of things I want to do, lists for the fun of it, to keep track of things I’ve done, watched, read, tried, made. Mind maps complement lists because they’re a drawing of something, allow you to link things together, find patterns in your thinking. They can shake loose the cobwebs in your mind.
I’ve realised from doing them that I’m a fairly visual thinker. I enjoy visual representations, and need to be shown, and have things demonstrated. Graphic novels, anime, illustrations, and comics are all very interesting to me. It makes sense, seeing as I’m deaf, that part of that is experiencing the world through a visual lens. Noticing things. Observing and watching.
Often I find myself thinking that everything seems too loud. That I’d like to find some ease and peace in my days. When my brain is still crammed full and the world often appears so hostile, it’s easy to want to retreat and find safety. And maybe, that’s okay. Safety and comfort are important things, now more than ever.
I’m doing NanoPoblano this month, and committing to three or four posts a week. I can’t promise it’ll always be interesting but I hope to dust off this blog and make more time for it and the community here – incidentally, one of my safe spaces!
‘Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.’― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter.