Last Thursday, I went to an amusement park for the first time in years. I was a little apprehensive, wondering how the sudden rushes of euphoria would hit me now that I wasn’t an everyday dopamine junkie. What actually happened is difficult to put into words.
We got to the park fifteen minutes before it opened, among the first few families to enter through the gates. We figured we’d go on the biggest ride first because the lineup would be short.
That was how I ended up strapped in by nothing more than a piece of metal across my stomach, my bare feet dangling in the blue sky as I watched the ground recede away from me, going up, up, up on a 30 story roller coaster at 10:15 am on a Thursday morning.
I wasn’t scared.
I looked around at the view and at the faces of the people behind me. I smiled, feeling a rush of emotion so powerful it was almost like a Hollywood movie, my eyes filling with tears as I came to the very peak of the ascent.
The ride paused for a moment—a moment that seemed to last for a lifetime as every molecule of reality all around me consumed me and breathed me in. A moment that contained within it dozens of flashes from the past—flashes of worry, flashes of tense muscles gripping onto the ride wondering if the restraints would give way, flashes of deep fear, flashes of imagining plummeting to my death, flashes of discomfort and pressure. Flashes of the girl I used to be, the mind I used to have.
And in one beautiful instant, those flashes wrapped themselves up into a memory of another time—a memory that stayed in the beautiful, blue sky as I hurtled downwards at 230 km per hour, feeling more free than I have ever felt in my entire life.
I cannot possibly explain what happened to me for those three minutes, but I imagine that’s how birds feel. No gripping, no screaming, no resistance. I just flew. The noise all around me of the other people hollering danced along with the roller coaster’s pirouettes, and there was nothing, nothing, nothing else except for that one beautiful moment between the sky and I.
I tried to explain after we got down, on our way to the picture booth. I tried to tell them about how different it is to experience a roller coaster without anxiety. I tried to explain how I used to feel so afraid and how I felt so free now, but each word I said just snipped at the experience, cutting it down to size.
Moments later, looking at my own face in the photo snapped midway through the ride, everything I couldn’t explain was right there in that smile.
I thought about buying it, but I didn’t. I decided, instead, to be grateful—grateful for the opportunity to fly and grateful for all the things that I can enjoy now that I’m not always stuck in my own head.
I’d like to extend that gratitude by sharing the top 5 side effects I’ve experienced on the journey of healing my mind. If you’re going through a painful transformation, I hope to give you something to look forward to, something to hope for.
1. I love my body
I started hating my body when I was about 5 years old. I struggled with body image issues for so long and, honestly, my body was the hardest thing for me to accept.
Once I learned to recognize judgmental and critical comments about myself as toxic thoughts (and not truths), I began to see something else beneath the veils of self-hatred. I began to see my body for something more than a tool for acceptance.
Now, I love exercising, eating healthy, and listening to my body’s communications. I love my naked reflection more than I ever thought I could. I feel more than acceptance—I feel admiration and reverence for this amazing vessel for my spirit. And that’s a feeling every woman, and every person, deserves to feel.
2. I can support people
I always say, “suffering makes us selfish.” And it does.
When I was constantly criticizing myself and others, self-destructing, and making up fatalistic scenarios in my mind—I could help no one. It was only after I fed the hunger within my soul that I was free to think about feeding others.
Now, I can listen to people. I can see through their eyes right into their souls. I can tell when someone is trying to push me away out of fear, and I can choose not to take it personally. I can hold someone’s hand through their hardest times, when they can do nothing for me, simply because I have faith.
I can actually be there for people now because I know how to be there for myself.
3. Scary things are fun
Roller coasters, public speaking, sparking conversation with strangers, heights—everything that was frightening is now exciting. Even scary movies are a whole different experience.
When you’re not just being whipped around by your mind, what fear does to you is different. You feel free when you’re frightened, not imprisoned. Each scary thing rips you open, but you don’t run away and you don’t fight it. Instead, you embrace it, and it unlocks the door for a wider perceptual experience.
Fear, when it doesn’t control you, is actually fun! It sounds so backwards, but we all knew this as children. It’s just a matter of remembering that freedom.
4. I like making mistakes and not knowing things
I used to think that intelligence was when you knew lots of things. I’d try to amass as much knowledge as I could from as many sources as possible, packing my brain with information and awaiting a moment to regurgitate it. This made me excel at school, and it also made me terribly paranoid and insecure—always needing to prove my intelligence to everyone.
If someone corrected me or asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would die of shame. In those times, I’d usually lie or change the subject.
Now, things are so different. I feel excitement when I face the unknown. I know, because I’ve questioned my thoughts, that no one can ever say that they know anything for sure. We can only play with knowledge, trying to search for truth, but we cannot ever say for certain that we’ve found it.
This has given me an incredible freedom to play with ideas in order to get a deeper understanding, to make mistakes in order to learn, and to admit I don’t know so that, one day, I just might. I still like to consume information, but it’s more enjoyable now that I have nothing to prove.
5. Relationships are easier, deeper, and fewer
Social anxiety is not conducive to deep relating and neither is insecurity. We cannot see others until we learn to look at ourselves.
Practicing self-awareness gave me an incredible amount of insight into the behaviours of people in my life, past and present. That was exactly how I came to forgive dozens of people I had been holding grudges against—I understood myself and, as a by-product, understood them. I forgave myself, so I forgave them.
I also know now that when someone angers or upsets me, I have the choice to use that situation as a mirror for my own relationship with myself. Like this, I’ve embraced conflict and learned to communicate about difficult things. Like this, relationships in my life have become vessels for self-exploration, change, and love.
Of course, not everyone is willing to have such a relationship. Most are not. But let me tell you, when you find someone who’s willing to be self-aware alongside you, you don’t need anyone else.
Everything is better with a healthy mind—and this health is accessible to us all through the practice of self-awareness.
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Now, over to you. Which of these side effects are you most looking forward to? Which have you already experienced? Please share with me as well as your fellow voyagers on the path of self-discovery.