Make Space for Mental Health…In Quarantine

A life-saving trick for creating mental space, discovered during childhood depression

I was a depressed and panicked kid. I am a depressed and panicked adult. 

I have learned many helpful coping mechanisms.

Most of them involve finding some private space, sitting on the ground or maybe doing some stretching but taking time Alone

Most of them involve walls, a door, a sense of peace.

I don’t have walls or doors in my loft apartment.

I live with my boyfriend in this quarantine time and I have been challenged by major depression and anxiety but no walls or doors to bring peace.

Maybe you’re in the same boat.

I remember feeling this way as a kid. I had a wall and a door but I didn’t trust them because more than once my mother and brother had popped in after hearing me cry or throw pillows or pray or whatever.

I had to build walls, mentally, but those walls can really trap and distance you away from important loved ones.

So, I learned how to build some doors too, for re-emergence if it’s safe.

Here is the trick.

I want you to, in whatever space you can claim for yourself today, sit on the floor, close your eyes and decide that you are a witness.

Repeat it to yourself, “I am a witness”, to your thoughts, to your feelings, and to the lives and meshigas (Yiddish for “craziness”) of everyone you encounter physically or digitally.

Did you go on Facebook and get triggered? Sit on the floor, close your eyes and remember you are just a witness and STAY stay seated doing this for ten minutes. Listen to your breathing. You are just a witness to it, it’s happening without you. 

You may find it helpful to stare at a photo or a candle flame, or something that is powerful to you but you must remember that you are a witness.

Being a witness will relinquish your responsibility for your circumstances and feelings, the things that are happening to you.

Being a witness removes your need to Take Action in times when you have no control

Being a witness relaxes your body and calms your mind.

Sound cheesy?

Here’s my memory of it working:

December 2000

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

We vacation in a golf community, designed by and for Jewish survivors but, in its expansion, has become open to all kinds of families.

Each home is a bungalow, positioned somewhere on the golf course. 

If you sit in the sunroom, you can watch your friends conquer the links.

Wave to them as they walk by. Shout something friendly, “ARTY, HOW’S THE SHORT GAME TODAY?”

We come here every December.

We live in cul-de-sacs with nowhere to go.

The main road turns off into one tiny neighbourhood after another, 10-15 houses wrangled in a loop, each loop titled something thematic.

It feels like summer but the houses are dressed for Christmas, strings of lights, inflated plastic Santas, white fuzzy streamers except for the occasional Menorah.

Most of these houses have never changed, not since the eighties when we started coming here but it isn’t until I am eleven or twelve that I start walking the grounds by myself.

These vacations to Florida are uncomfortable challenges for me.

I have no space to myself.

At this age, twelve, I have developed a vast dark side to my mood. 

I sit all day with my family, surrounded by people who are called “family” but I cannot feel a connection to them.

I start picturing myself drowning in the pool.

I start picturing myself getting into a golf cart and driving it into this pool, this giant pool where people are happy.

I never wanted to be sad.

I have always wanted to find the solution.

And so, I start excusing myself to go for runs.

The runs are too hot, they turn to walks.

I am walking outside in cul-du-sac circles, wondering if anyone inside can see me, walking where no one walks, in the humidity, alone, young, woman.

Until I find Buddha. 

Not legit Buddha just the statue outside this house, two doors down from our’s.

Bluish stone, lit with basic sun, smiling.

I start laughing.

I don’t know who Buddha is and the statue seems like a mis-manufactured garden gnome.

Why does this Floridian family have a fat smiling naked Asian man nuzzled beside a palm tree?

I keep looking at him, laughing and I love him, I love this man.

He is so out of place. Smiling.

I ask my mom about the statue and she describes Buddha to me. 

I think she is surprised and excited that I am interested in something because she purges everything she knows on the topic of Buddhism. 

She briefly describes meditation as “sitting. And you know, it wouldn’t be hard for you to do it. Here. Every day, if you wanted”.

I start sitting every afternoon.

In my room, in the dark. Smiling.

I become so interested in calm, so interested in the infinite, the non-me, everything becomes a farce of physical reality. 

Who cares if other people are happier than I am? Who cares if I have trouble with happiness constantly? That will come and go. I have no control over happiness. I am only a witness to it.

My being is only a witness to the “I” of my being and so, here I sit, still and so so so calm.

It gives so much mental space.

I know physical space is a problem for most of us right now so, do yourself a favour, de-clutter your thoughts.

Relinquish control. Become a witness.

Just try it. Just become curious about what that means.

Set a timer, sit down, close your eyes. Breathe and watch your breath, witness it. Any thought, fear, memory, hope, task, anything that comes up, just smile and say “I’m a witness”, let it go.

Let your mind do it’s thing while the rest of your being sits back and relaxes.

Maybe ten minutes is too long. Maybe try two minutes for now. And if it helps to stare at a quote or an image or plastic horse figurine or a roll or toilet paper, that’s ok but let “I am a witness” be your mantra. Let it free you.

In the very least, you have something new to try.

Be brave, stay healthy.

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