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When Your Mind Becomes Your Prison

Shannon is a passionate individual whose feelings and thoughts tend spill onto the pages, often in the form of poetry and sometimes essays.

Photo by Austin Matherene

Photo by Austin Matherene

Imagine taking a train journey that doesn’t make sense until after the tracks are properly mapped out and followed from point to point. Thoughts are like that. They are funny little creatures that invade the mind, often without warning and often as a seemingly random chain of words connected by memories, feelings, and other stimuli. Sometimes they don’t make sense until they are accurately put together. Some pieces of the track are kept in place, others moved around, and still more are discarded as useless. Eventually, it becomes clear how you can start in one place and end up at a totally unexpected destination.

For me, it was as if my intelligence said, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, you are simply enough just the way you are. With all of your imperfections, past mistakes and those yet to come. You are perfectly imperfect. And that’s okay because that means you’re as human as the next one.” But then I kept finding that I did not actually believe that to the very core of my being because if I did, I would not have been held back or weighted down by the things that created doubt. Each time I felt determined to rise above my fears I second guessed myself, tried to reason with myself, tried to rationalize my own thoughts or reactions, only to find those things were a temporary fix. I managed to quell the anxious thoughts for a while, but then they’d come back in other forms and I’d be going backward.

Then one evening, someone turned on Netflix and the familiar theme song for “Orange is the New Black” came on. For some reason, that night, for the first time, I identified with those lyrics, and it hit me like a sudden two by four right between the eyes. What had been just another theme song suddenly became relevant to me on a personal level. It occurred to me right then and there that my mind had become my own personal prison. “Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard,” or so the song goes. I suddenly understood what I couldn’t see when others used different words to tell me the same thing. I was overthinking, mixing thoughts and issues that should have been separate, and allowing the fear and anxiety connected to those issues to take over, preventing me from taking real steps in any direction.

Maybe it’s true that it’s hard to see the full picture when you’re inside the frame. Now that I’ve managed to step outside of the frame once in awhile, I see that I am finally embracing things on an emotional level that I had previously only embraced on an intellectual level. Perhaps ironically, doing so has allowed me to see how my very thoughts also controlled my emotions, preventing me from maintaining a healthier outlook on a consistent basis. The following tips are things I learned along this journey that are now keeping me rolling forward more often than I go backwards, even when my path may seem a little unconventional.

Taking Steps Is Easy, Standing Still Is Hard

Think of all the roads. Think of all their crossings. Standing still is easy. Taking steps is hard.

— Regina Spektor

Fear Is a Liar

Fear slowly takes over like an insidious infection, causing paralysis until it convinces us that standing still is easier than moving forward. In reality, standing still is much harder because nothing changes. Fear says something can’t be done. It says that circumstances can’t change for the better. It says that other people cannot be trusted. Fear tries to say that any road of change taken is the wrong one.

Recognize the Problem

A foggy mind makes it difficult to make out what the obstacles are, and all of those things looming in front of you and in the distance can be overwhelming. Taking time to clear the fog allows you to focus on the actual problem. For instance, fear is not the same thing as anxiety, yet one can easily masquerade as the other. However, the two emotions also often go hand in hand. The difference is that anxiety is more like intense worry over an anticipated threat. It can be a vague threat and it can be a threat that may or may not come to pass. Whereas fear is a response to an immediate threat. Anxiety also tends to involve irrational thinking, which can create feelings of unnecessary fear.

Think Positive

Maybe the train you’re riding hits an unexpected patch of fog and seems like it may go off the Or maybe it does go off the rails. Either way, it’s okay. You can focus on the fear at hand, on the what-if anxiety inducers, or you can choose to look for and then focus on the light, those things that are good. They don’t have to be spectacular. It’s fine if what you find is merely okay, so long as you aren’t stuck on the worst. Thinking positively seems like an obvious solution, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. However, focusing on the positive

Don't Overthink

Overthinking can be like over-correcting the steering wheel just before a crash. The more you panic, the more you are likely to just jerk the wheel, causing an unwanted chain of events. Or you may be so struck by indecision that you remain there like a deer in the headlights waiting for the inevitable collision with disaster. The best possible outcome usually comes from calmly steering with the problem until it straightens itself out and a crisis is averted..

Remember You Are Not Alone

Relationships sometimes seem like they grow and then snap like brittle twigs, breaking when the slightest pressure point is bent. People are often fickle that way. But you know the old adage, you find out who your friends truly are when you hit your low points. And even when it feels like it, you are never alone. A loss of a few twigs and branches here and there makes room for new growth. If you have to, go in search of that new growth. There is always someone somewhere willing to show compassion and understanding. Even better, be the one willing to offer someone else a hand to help them up off the floor.

People don't change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.

— Sharon Stone

People Can Change

In the words of Sharon Stone, “people don't change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.” With the exception of certain diseases that alter the mind or physical appearances, people can almost always help the way they are. Every day we make a choice to accept our flaws or to work on changing them. We can embrace the fact that we are not perfect and still work on changing certain personality flaws we no longer wish to live with. But only if we want to.

Find the Right Person to Talk To

It’s nice to have someone to talk to when we’ve slipped into a black hole. But do that with caution. I gladly took in words of advice offered, along with all the criticism. It wasn’t all constructive criticism either. Let me repeat that. I took it all in. All of it. And as I did so, I compared myself to my friends, to random acquaintances, to peers close to my age, to those younger, and mostly to those older. I wondered things like do they really have it as together as they seem? How old were they when they got it, whatever it is. That secret to staying positive and being genuinely content with life all of the time. I thought and I thought some more. Constantly over-thinking until I wore myself out. I had this idea of who I was and who I wanted to be, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was holding me back. Things went a lot more smoothly when I decided that if I was going to talk to anyone at all about my troubles, I didn’t have to take in any negativity that wasn’t constructive to the cause. Sometimes that means finding a different person to speak with.

Forgive Yourself Often

To quote a wise friend, “We’re all f***ed up.” We must understand that no matter how hard we try, we all screw up from time to time. We all make mistakes. If we are quick to forgive someone that we love for a mistake, why not be as quick to forgive ourselves for being human. It’s even worth forgiving those monumental mistakes that take much longer to overcome. When we truly love someone, we eventually learn to forgive and make amends. If we are capable of loving others that much, why not love ourselves just as much? Forgive yourself because you love yourself. It’s vital. So vital that your nervous system reacts to your contempt. Release it.

Ride Again

While riding the rails of life, the trip is often smooth and beautiful. It is also lined with twists and turns that can sometimes wreak havoc on the serenity of it all. But it's during the chaos that we find out what we're made of, and it's what we do after the disasters and near misses that matters in the end. Make a choice to either rise above the ashes or to stay buried beneath the rubble of a troubled catastrophe. I choose to ride again.

Fall In Love With Your Self


© 2020 Shannon Henry


Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on April 19, 2020:

Thank you, Umesh.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 19, 2020:

Well conceived article. Good presentation.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on April 04, 2020:

Audrey, I am honored that you would say something so kind about this article. I don't think anyone expected the entire world to change so abruptly. Good days and bad days. I hope and pray that it comes to an end with as few fatalities as possible. And that people experiencing hardships they are unaccustomed to will be provided with what they need. You stay healthy, too! It's good to hear from you.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on April 04, 2020:

I want to thank you for writing this article, so full of wisdom and needed at this difficult time. Your closing remarks are wonderful. I choose to "rise above the ashes" in spite of daily concerns.

It's pretty amazing that you wrote this before the world came to such an abrupt change. I'm impressed.

Stay safe, my friend.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on March 27, 2020:

Thank you, Paula. If you want to respond further, it's not going anywhere now. I actually just published this in January. I wrote it well over a year before I published it! It may never have been published if someone else hadn't read it and encouraged me to publish it.

You stay home and stay well, too!!

Suzie from Carson City on March 27, 2020:

It's a good thing you directed me to this one because I definitely did not read it and you wrote it in Jan?? I really have been lacking in my reading & commenting for the past year! (Need to get my act together!) I'm trying, I'm trying! I need 2 more arms, legs & EYES..!

Actually, as I read this, I kept thinking..."I'm gonna need some serious time to properly respond to this one." And no surprise, this morning is not a good time....on my way out the door!

But I can at least say this is an excellent article!

Stay Home. Stay Well! PJ

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on March 25, 2020:

Hi Mitara,

I'm glad you stopped by to read. Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate your sentiments.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on March 25, 2020:

Thanks, Kyler. I appreciate your kind words. Glad you enjoyed it.

Mitara N from South Africa on March 25, 2020:

There are many things that takes place in ones mind, whereby we sometimes unable to find an outlet for the thoughts that consume us.

I admire your quote "Forgive yourself because you love yourself. It’s vital. So vital that your nervous system reacts to your contempt. Release it".

It's sincere words to live by...

Kyler J Falk from California on March 25, 2020:

After reading this I could go on and on, relating every word to the way I feel within my own prison of a mind, but I will save my lofty sentiments for my own work and simply praise yours.

Remain strong and keep progressing, your work reflects not only your struggles, but the unarguable strength you're using to push through them.

Absolutely delightful read.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on February 26, 2020:

That overthinking thing can be a doozy, Brenda. I hope I've found a balance. I guess time will tell.

It's good that you learned to leave the negative opinions at the dor. It's easier in some situations than others, for me at least. But I'm definitely better at that than I used to be, even in the harder situations.

Glad you liked the song! Collin Raye has so many beautiful songs.

Thank you for taking the time to read and for leaving such a nice comment.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on February 26, 2020:


This is a great and informative article.

It touches my heart as I tend to be an overthinker.

I, too, have come across so many with opinions and have learned to leave negative thoughts at the door.

I love the video. Its been awhile since I heard this song.

Thanks for the share.

Enjoy your day!

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on February 10, 2020:

Thank you. Seems like we always feel like parents and grandparents will live forever even though we know they don't.

manatita44 from london on February 10, 2020:

So sorry. My condolences

They are special people. May she rest in Peace.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on February 09, 2020:

Of course you are not hindering this article, manatita.

Please forgive my short reply. My grandma passed away this morning.

manatita44 from london on February 09, 2020:

Another beautiful article. You see, I knew that you could write and inspire. Now whether you know it or not, you have touched on the culprit -- the Mind. There are many paths but they can effectively come down to the Mind and the Heart.

Sure enough it houses fear, guilt and other emotions that has not yet been touched by the 'higher light', but its major quality is 'monkeyness (restlessness). That's what the Seers call it and some say a monkey bitten by a scorpion! Much worse. Lol.

So concentration/focus for some), is a pre-requisite for calming the mind. It is only when the mind is calm, still … silent, that true inner experience begins. I have been doing this day after day, relentlessly, for nearly 38 years and I still have restless moments. However, through God's Grace, it's going well.

I hope that I am adding to your exquisite Hub rather than hindering you. My purpose - as always - is to serve. Hari Om!

P.S. Forgiveness is a quality of the Heart; not the mind.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on February 05, 2020:

Thank you, MsDora. I very much appreciate your kind words.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 03, 2020:

Very inspiring, Shannon. Thoughts are powerful and you have given good suggestions on how to make them a positive, instead of a negative force. Talking to the right person can be challenging; good advice.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on February 02, 2020:

Hi Harish. Thank you for your kind words. Life is definitely better when things are in proper balance.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on February 02, 2020:

A well thought of and beautifully written article on self- introspection. Loved going through it. Shannon, you have brought forth very useful tips for maintaining balance in our life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Thank you, Angie. I hope it didn't bring you down too much. Although the feelings that led to the reflections here in this post were most definitely heavy, this isn't meant to be a heavy piece of writing. I'd rather remember the lessons for any time they're needed in the future. :)

A B Williams from Central Florida on January 30, 2020:

Hi Shannon, my initial thought, this is heavy!

So many of us experience self-doubt from time to time. I guess it is fair to say that some never overcome self doubt or self loathing. Someone here mentioned reaching out, seeking help, but even that is difficult for some to do.

There’s a lot here to think about.

Well done my friend.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Thank you for your kind words, Rida. I see that you are new to HP. Welcome.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

LOL. Bill, I'd never get tired of your comments. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have even published this piece if you hadn't encouraged me to do it. It was sitting around in the HP background since 2018 just waiting for me to do something with it. It probably wouldl've kept sitting there, too.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Thank you for stopping by, John. I'm glad you find wisdom in my thoughts.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Hi Lorna. Thank you for stopping by. Reaching for help may be the first step, but it's also the hardest. Maybe it's true that we are our own worst enemies.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Hi Cheryl. I think most people have been there and done that at some point in their lives. Thank you for stopping by.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on January 30, 2020:

Thank you, Pamela. Fear certainly is the worst, isn't it? I'm glad that life is good now. I hope it stays that way for you.

Rida Fatima from Pakistan on January 30, 2020:

Thank you for sharing such an amazing Hub. It really got me. Your words are deep.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 30, 2020:

This looks oddly familiar! LOL I think you're probably tired of my comments at this point.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 30, 2020:

I think many of us can relate to most of what you have written here Shannon. You have shared some very wise advice and this was a good read.

Lorna Lamon on January 30, 2020:

An excellent and thought provoking article full of honesty. Our mind can sometimes be our greatest enemy and having the ability to overcome the many obstacles that we are confronted with will set us free. Reaching out for help is the first step.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on January 29, 2020:

Been there done that, Thank you for your honesty.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 29, 2020:

i appreciate you sharing your personal experience. I think I have experienced almost everything you talked about in this article. Fear was particularly disabling in my life and thnakfully life is good at this time. This is a well thought out and written article, Shannon.

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