In 1842, Charles Dickens, visited prisoners in solitary confinement at the Eastern State Penitentiary, during his tour of the United States. I was drawn to researching the subject, because of my fear of being locked up; not that any of my behavior requires consequence of imprisonment, but sometimes I feel the effects of claustrophobia without being surrounded or enclosed. I couldn’t help but wonder what solitary confinement would do to my brain, making me consider the possibility of how someone can slowly lock themselves into a disguised form of solitary confinement over the course of many years, inactive from society.
I have my freedom as an American to do as I please within the law…or do I?
If my own mind stops me from being able to act on these freedoms, their use remains to be witnessed. If the best I can do, is barely make it to my job and back home again everyday, compromising all opportunity for growth of any kind; where and what is the gain?
Below, Charles Dickens describes his account of visiting inmates who had spent years in solitary confinement:
"The system here, is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. In its intention, I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who devised this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentlemen who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing. I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay."
American Notes for General
Before I lose you completely, let me tell you this isn’t a political post about our prison system, I’m simply trying to point out some similarities in behavior, and the fact that today in most states, a prisoner cannot be locked in solitary confinement for longer than twenty-four hours at a time. Understand, I’m not saying the conditions are the same. In solitary confinement you’re enclosed in an area no larger than a parking-space. In life we can create a prison with our own homes, by fearing the outside world and withdrawing from humanity. Though we may have more room than a parking-space in our apartments or houses which may appear to be safe and cozy, I believe it’s possible to do irreversible damage to ourselves abstaining from human contact over the course of many years. Nothing shared, nothing gained.
The longer you withdraw the easier it is to stay withdrawn.
I can’t believe the invisible walls I’ve built that surround my mind, wasting so many precious days and nights of my life. The worst part is it hurts more than just myself, it hurts the people closest to us who actually care. Finding personal and external outlets provides ways for our minds to run from festering in our emotional confinements. It distracts from the obsession with self, and focuses on the NOW.
We are “present beings,” and our minds and bodies yearn to be in the “present” even if our will’s are weak. Strength of will comes from discipline, structures, and most of all principles. Dare yourself to peak out the front door. It’s not as scary as our minds tell us.
What are good social outlets?
Everyone must decide for themselves an area(s) of interest. It could be something that you’re extremely passionate about, or a simple bowling hobby. Personally, I found the sport of bowling (yes, this is a sport) to be a great social outlet for me. It forced me out of the house, to be around other people, and the game itself requires intense focus to have any real success. Also is the same with Golf. I know they're simple activities, but anything that puts you in a social setting that requires you to force out all the other information in your head, is useful.
What is your passionate outlet?
I have found much peace with the arts. As an actor, I love how character study forces me to focus on another man’s life, and appreciates his fears, desires, failures, and personal demons. It’s always a journey to take on a role, and I’m always eternally grateful when anyone wants to include me in their work.
I also found a peculiar outlet with stand-up comedy. Being on stage in general may seem like an out-of-reach outlet, but for me it was bliss. When I walk to the mic, I'm always nervous and freaking out much more than the average comedian, probably because it’s a chore just to leave my house without panicking; if the response from the audience wasn’t so cathartic, I’m not sure I'd be able to get through a set without running off the stage.
Music has also been a channel I tune to not just with a radio. I learned to play the piano at 6 years of age, and music has continued to be a personal and social outlet for me throughout my entire life.
But what do all these outlets have in common...
1- I’m using a tool/gift that God has given me to use
2- I’m forced into a social setting
3- I can’t take the credit for success
In the book “Chase the Lion,” Mark Batterson writes “You can run away from what you’re afraid of, but you’ll be running the rest of your life.” Batterson constantly makes the point that God works in ways so that we can’t take the credit, forcing a complete reliance on Christ Jesus. Below is my favorite quote from “Chase the Lion”...
“When everything is said and done, God isn’t going to say, “Well said,” “Well thought,” or “Well planned.” There is one measuring stick: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Are you stuck in a rut of well-made-plans and good intentions?
I am a king at planning.
I am a pauper at taking action.
There is a big difference between taking action in life and acting on stage or in front of camera (ironically I’m more comfortable with the latter). But we all must find our way to use God’s infinite power of self-control to explore our own unique passions, hobbies, and careers.
Do not let the battle in your mind stop you from reaching your God-given untapped potential. This is YOUR life. God gave it to you for a specific purpose. It’s not always easy to believe that God truly does have purpose for everyone, but his inspiration is eternal and relentless. He will never give up on you, so any regrets or failures that may be filling your heart and soul with remorse, has already been paid for at the cross.
...for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7
I have mentioned in previous posts how beneficial it has been to Chris’s anxiety/depression to be opening up himself to social activities and making plans even when it is totally out of his comfort zone; but I also want to stress how important and beneficial it has been to watch him embrace his creative outlets. I’d like to share a few of the outlets that have helped Chris through his battle with anxiety.
Exercise may be last on most people's list or nonexistent, but it's an area of your life you may want to reconsider.
There have been many people who have suggested exercise to help relieve Chris’s anxiety/depression. Now I am sure most of you can agree with me, when exercise is not a habit in your life, it can be very difficult to get yourself to do it daily. Chris has the rare blessing of a fast metabolism. Although, when he is under stress and severe depression he tends to not eat and lose a lot of weight.
About two years ago, Chris made it a point to work out every day and gain his weight back. Some days he would have an episode and push through it to accomplish his goal. After every workout session, I could see that he was noticeably more relaxed and much less irritable.
I also noticed that a healthy diet in addition to his daily exercise was extremely beneficial with how he felt physically. Juicing, protein shakes and wheatgrass drinks sometimes gave him the extra boost he needed for the day. Although, after reaching a peak 175 pounds of ripped muscle(sorry have to brag a little about my hubby), he went through another phase of depression which immobilized him to the point of losing 35 pounds. He became too thin to even exercise at all, and I could see the negative effect it had on his brain.
It’s been proven that music naturally calms the mind.
Chris has been very talented in music his whole life. He has been very accomplished in the piano. He quickly picked up playing the bass and he also sings. I can recall time and time again when we would be rushing to leave the house to be somewhere and the next thing I know I would hear Chris practicing piano with his last spare minutes… It would quickly irritate me that I was rushing around like crazy to get out the door and he found time to sit down at the piano and play a beautiful melody. I came to realize that this was a coping mechanism; he was trying to calm down while his mind was spinning and anxiety creeping inside him.
I learned to appreciate the moments that I heard the piano playing in these situations instead of getting irritated. Not only was the music beautiful, but knowing that Chris found a quick way to get his mind off his panic attacks/anxiety was a relief to me as well.
Writing was a surprise for both of us.
About a year ago, Chris was given advice from a friend about writing down his thoughts and feelings. This quickly became a staple in Chris’s life. As it became a daily necessity I watched him start to enjoy writing, which was something he never enjoyed in school. He wrote down his thoughts, fears, and goals in life. As he continued to write and began to share with me, it was evident that this was a strong healing and coping mechanism, inspiring us to write together.
Have you prayed about it?
As writing started becoming a staple in Chris’s days, devotions and prayer-time were more vital to his mornings. I saw him change as he began reading the bible and reading inspirational books by Christian and secular authors. He would start his days early in the morning watching inspirational television. This time set a tone for his whole day, and if he missed them he (and I) knew it. There were countless times that the verse of the day, devotion topic or bible reading would feel like was directly speaking to us and our situation. The feeling of the scriptures being written specifically to you is incredible. A day missed in our devotions and prayer (individually and together) is always a rough day.
I’m not saying that Chris or YOU will never have a terrible day even after checking everything off on your structure list. Believe me, you will notice a change in the way you handle trials in life, when you decide to begin everyday by spending time with God.
The best part…
God is always there.
I know that prayer doesn’t always seem like a two-way street since on our end there isn’t an audible response. That doesn’t mean God is not listening or responding audibly! Believe me, in my own prayers for my marriage, I heard zero answers many days. Sometimes God responds in ways we don’t expect, and it can be easy to miss the answer.
Don’t miss out! If you feel like you’re not receiving an audible response then pay close attention, because the answer may be coming to you from a donkey.
Ultimately, the choice is always yours to find the outlet that inspires you, that gets you out of the house, that reaches out to others for friendship or counsel. No one can do it for you. I had to be patient and pray for change with my husband, and we’re here to pray and inspire YOU to seek and find your outlets as you seek and find a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus.
As we journey together, let us know some of your outlets!
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because He cares for you."
1 Peter 5:6-7