A Messy Mind

I walked into my apartment and there were random papers all over the floor and clothes were strewn everywhere.  I said to myself, “Bruh!!!  Clean Up the Crib!!!  That’s the first thing you need to do if you are going to get back on your feet!”  

Quick run down:  It was 2006.  My girlfriend and I just had an explosive breakup on the phone (we had planned to get married).  I was broke and had to give up my car for repossession.  All of my close friends/family were at odds with me because I choose to leave a ‘good job’ as an Engineer.  I had a traumatic separation from the church I was a part of (I came to faith in this church – My girlfriend’s parents led the church).  I was still recovering from severe depression and weight gain that happened while I was working as an Engineer.  I was Jobless and scared.  It was one of the most lonely and disorienting times of my life.

It was a lot to take on at one time.  I couldn’t control most of what was going on around me.  Things had gotten so bad at work that I was waking up every day with chest tension and discomfort.  I began to contemplate suicide.  I believed that leaving the job was safer than holding onto the money it provided.  I can recover my financial health but if I have a heart attack or do something to harm myself, there’s no going back.  Later I realized that the chest pain was anxiety attacks.  The thought of going into that office every day caused a squeezing sensation in my chest.  One day I visualized God’s finger pressing on my chest.  I was so scared of the fall out that was about to happen from making the decision to quit.  I knew what was coming and I was hesitating out of fear.  I believe the Creator was telling me to get out or he was going to take me out.  I chose to leave and all the tension that had been building around the decision, finally broke loose.

The criticism and vitriol that came from people close to me at the time, who didn’t agree with my decision, was an incredible shock to my system.  My thoughts ran all over the place as I reeled from the trauma of it all.  It’s hard when people you love so much, suddenly are calling you a fool, ungrateful, stupid, insane, etc.  People start talking to you like you have a mental illness and, to some extent, they’re right!  It was like getting the ground taken from under my feet suddenly, with no warning, when I already had vertigo.   The world was spinning and my apartment began to reflect that.

Penny's_messy_apartment

Old papers from school trying to verify certain things for jobs I was applying for, transcripts, old resumes and revised resumes, late notices from bills that are past due, journals with chaotic entries from a man trying to figure out what’s going on and what he had done to deserve all this… My living space was in utter disarray, just like my life. Then one day, in a moment of clarity, I realized, “Travis, control what you can control. You’ve endured much harder things than this!”  That’s when I started to get myself together.  Walking in my apartment that day was the first and most fundamental step to getting back on my feet.  Organize your space. Don’t let the chaos of your emotions to spill into your environment.  Better yet, by cleaning up my apartment I would regain something… I would get one small win… that would begin to generate momentum in the right direction.  That’s what I needed more than anything at that point.

We all know how different a clean space and a messy space feel.  Here’s the challenge – It’s too simple! When we experience that kind of trauma as human beings one of the things I think we look for immediately is a meaning or reason for what we are experiencing.  The search for an answer can be frantic in nature.  People, I’m sorry, but the answers don’t come when your emotions and your mind are in complete turmoil.  In these times you have to focus on the simple things.  You can’t pull a rational explanation from the midst of such an emotional storm.  Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL and Leadership Consultant.  He talks about training future SEAL commanders to detach from the chaos that ensues in a gunfight.  The ability to pull back and look at the situation objectively allows one to establish what the first logical step is, in engaging the enemy. That ‘detachment’ is what happened to me that day that I walked into my apartment.  In that moment I realized that I couldn’t bring my girlfriend back, I couldn’t reverse time and not get the car that lead to a repossession, I couldn’t go back in history and chose a major other than Engineering, I couldn’t mend all the broken relationships that I lost… But I can clean up my apartment, I can begin exercising again, I can get all the exact dollar amounts that I owe to creditors, I can start investigating new career paths and what I will need to engage them etc.  

Once I cleaned up the place, there was an immediate settling of my mind.  I wasn’t any less hurt, but I could start making sense of what had happened and I could start coming up with a way forward.  Of course, one of the big challenges was realizing that this wasn’t going to be an overnight transition.

You know, new car, new girlfriend, abs, a house, in two months… That’ll show ’em (shaking my fist!).  

no, No, NO!!!  

Paying off debt was going to take time.  Finding a career path that I was passionate about was going to take time.  Developing strong new relationships with people was going to take time.  Forgiving others and recognizing my own faults in these scenarios was going to take time.  Doing the simple things of life well, would allow me the mental space to engage these big tasks.  Again, exercise, eating right, disciplined spending habits, and keeping my space organized.  

It’s a simple idea:  I had to trust that by being a good steward of the simple things in my life, things I have complete control over, eventually, paths of understanding and opportunity would open up in the areas that are more complex.  It’s tough because I just wanted to know when I’ll have another girlfriend, when will I have another car, will my credit ever be in good shape again, does God hate me, what did I do wrong?

The first step to answering those huge questions, “Bruh!!!  Clean up the Crib!!”

Translation:  Clean Up the House!  

LOL!  Underwhelming in the moment, but incredibly powerful over time!   

“The only difference between a Special Forces Soldier and a Regular Soldier is not Space-Age Technology or Superhuman Strength.  It’s the fact that a Special Forces Soldier does basic soldiering tasks, exceptionally well.” – A Medic Instructor from the Army.

Basics done well, that’s where recovery from pain, begins.

I Love You and God Bless!

-Travis

2 thoughts on “A Messy Mind

  1. Hey Travis,
    The following quote from your blog stands out to me:
    “Better yet, by cleaning up my apartment I would regain something… I would get one small win…”
    A great reminder that a long journey starts with a single step.
    Thanks, Dwaine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dwaine! The Little Things!

      Like

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