Your Memory Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does

We tend to think of our memories as pretty reliable things. We might joke about how forgetful we are, but when we do remember something we assume that it’s accurate.

I was 12 years old on September 11, 2001 and I vividly remember hearing about the terrorist attack. I was in our family minivan with my mother, sister, and little brother when the news came over the radio. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened, and was more worried that my mother was going to drive into another car on the crowded in-town roads because she was so upset. We continued on to the roller skating rink where we’d been heading, skated for a while, and then stopped when the announcement went out over the loudspeaker. Several people gathered together to pray, but we stayed off to one side praying just as a family. I felt scared, confused, and very alone.

That’s probably not what actually happened, though. Another thing I remember is starting a diary because I was sure that this was such a pivotal turning point in our nation’s history that decades from now some historian would care about what I wrote. I can’t find that diary anywhere, so I have no way to compare my memories now against what I recorded back then. But if I’m anything like other people, then only a little over 50% of these details I remember are accurate. Read more

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The Difference Between Having Anxiety and Feeling Anxious

Every human being knows what it’s like to feel anxious about something, but that’s not the same thing as having anxiety. There’s a difference between normal anxiety (which is appropriate to the situation) and dealing with an anxiety disorder (which is a mental health condition).

In day-to-day life it’s actually really hard to define the line between normal worry and too much worry (as Dr. Ramani Durvasula says in “Why It’s So Crucial to Understand Anxiety Disorders“). What pushes you into problematic anxiety can vary depending on the individual. It will also vary for an individual depending on other factors in their lives. In addition, anxiety looks different for everyone who struggles with it. That means my personal examples in this article are an accurate reflection of my anxiety, but won’t be equally relatable for everyone with anxiety.

There are plenty of situations where it’s normal to feel anxious. But when anxiety starts to define your life, or keeps you from functioning normally, or generalizes to everyday situations, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with something different than normal human nervousness. Anxiety can also be a clue that something else is going on. If you think your worry might have crossed a line into too much worry, it’s a good idea to talk with a mental health professional.

Disclaimer: I’m not a counselor or therapist and this article can’t be used to diagnose anxiety or as a treatment guide. If you’re struggling with something talk with a mental health professional. They will be much more helpful than me. I also want to say that there’s nothing shameful about seeking answers or asking for help. And if you do get a diagnosis, remember it’s a starting point for treatment, not a sentence or judgement on who you are. You wouldn’t feel ashamed about finding out you have lyme disease or a heart condition, and there shouldn’t be a stigma against mental health problems either. Read more

Exchanging Your Foundation Stones

Some people today treat identity as fluid, easy to change or choose. Whatever you “identify as” in the moment is what matters, and the rest of us are supposed to play along. But identity — the answer to “who are you?” — is actually something formed over time. All our experiences, our personality traits, our choices build who/what you are. There are parts of identity that we can’t change, and if you want to change the other parts it requires hard work and a fundamental shift in how we think and behave.

The word “fundamental” comes from the same root as “foundation” (Latin fundare “to found/lay a base for”). Many of our foundations are laid when we’re young. We ask questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I value?” and we figure out answers that stick with us as we grow. We might not be using those words, but nevertheless we pick up things that become part of our identities and create the lenses through which we see the world.

Building Blocks of Self

Let’s think of each of the things making up our identity as blocks that go into our foundations. Someone who grew up in a good, healthy family might have blocks like “I am loved,” “It is safe to trust other people,” and “I am allowed to have healthy boundaries.” Or they might have grown up in a good family, but still incorporated blocks like, “I am loved, but I’m not worthy of it” or “I can only trust people in my family.” Others, who perhaps didn’t grow up in a good situation at all, have blocks like, “I am not worth loving,” “Trusting other people always leads to me getting hurt,” or “My needs and wants will never be honored.”

These foundational ideas don’t always stay the same. You can swap some out or re-write them as more experiences happen and you make choices about how to live your life. You might lose good foundations as you grow and pick up new blocks that aren’t healthy and supportive. On the other hand, you can also over-write bad foundations and put more positive ideas into your identity. Read more