Sometimes I feel like the line that separates we humans from the animals is thin.
It was cold, not because it was a cold season, but because it was so early. At 3am, I could see my breath and feel the cold in a frigid tingle against my skin. My feet pounded against the pavement, but my head pounded harder.
I was running. If it’s 3am and you’re running, something is wrong.
Almost an entire bottle of wine and several shots of vodka had done nothing to numb the emotions I felt. I took a bunch of sleeping pills but my mind would not settle down. So I slipped out of bed, put on my running shoes, and tried to drown the pain with adrenaline.
I should be so far above this. After all, I was a youth pastor. What a terrible example I would be if the kids could see me now. I shouldn’t have been drinking at all. Not to mention trying to drown my fears with sleeping pills. Jesus was the answer, right? Why didn’t that just work for me?
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for me. There was no miracle moment, no great awakening. I believe God was there, but he didn’t fix anything. He sat with me in my pain and lived through it with me.
Why was I so messed up that night? My mind was cannibalizing itself.
Let me explain what I mean.
Since I was young, I’ve experienced times when my emotions take me over. Usually, they begin with a specific trigger. Something happens that I can’t process. The time my parents first told me they were moving. When a girl I liked ditched me for another guy. Every time I’ve made a mistake I’ve felt was unforgivable. My mind just fixates on that something, and it begins to cannibalize itself.
Have you ever felt like your mind was eating itself? It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve read a bunch of psychological explanations of the phenomenon. But textbooks pale in comparison to the real horror. Cognitive dissonance is one of the most painful things in the world.
My mind had fixated on my anxieties. I was afraid that I was a terrible person – because my experience as a youth pastor wasn’t going well. I had made some mistakes that made me feel stupid, and the criticism was harsh.
I had wrapped my entire identify in being a youth pastor. Wasn’t I supposed to be a great role model, a success, someone who had it all together? And I was a failure.
The criticism had struck at my heart and unseated my esteem. If I was honest with myself, I didn’t like myself anymore.
As it turns out, I had clinical depression. I didn’t know it at the time, but pain was my predisposition. Usually, the depression manifested itself as a deep-seated pain. It colored my outlook on life and ate away at my happiness. It was reasonable. It reminded me of things like the fact that I would die one day, or that there was little I could change.
Other times, the depression would flare up. Anxiety and anger seemed to go hand in hand with depression when the cannibalism began. My brain would begin to eat itself, and I couldn’t think straight.
“Cannibalism of the mind” is what I call it when my mind begins to worry so much that it begins to break down my own cognitive process. My mind hurts itself by thinking itself into a black hole. Here’s what would happen:
- I would begin to feel like life was hopeless.
- I would fixate on a certain event or situation.
- I would think about taking drastic measures, like quitting something or yelling at someone.
- I would become angry at everyone around me.
- I would become angry at myself.
- I wouldn’t be able to stay still. No matter how fast I was running or what I was doing, I was still haunted.
- My mind would begin racing and I couldn’t calm it down.
- I would become addicted to the pain, fear, and worry.
It is impossible to explain how these emotions would take over. For a period of time, they would own me, consume me. My brain would begin to cannibalize itself.
Sometimes it would last for two hours, sometimes six. But you know what I learned? It would always end. The storm would pass, and I would feel peace.
That night running down the pavement at 3am, things finally settled down. It was as if my brain had been trying to equalize itself, and then something lined up and everything was better. Peace washed over me like a wave. I felt the same feelings, but they were no longer overwhelming. My body began to feel again–the buzz of the alcohol, the drag of the sleeping pills. The pavement made a sensation against my feet, not just noise.
I ran back to my apartment, and stepping into my room, pulled back the sheets. Sliding into the warmth of my bed, I began to feel my worries dissipate. The anger seemed to diffuse out of my pores, and I felt only exhaustion and dizziness.
This was not the first time my brain “cannibalized” itself, and it would not be the last.
It always ends. Since then, I’ve learned to push through. I will do whatever it takes to live through the hours of cannibalism. Go out to eat, exercise, call a friend in desperation. It’s worth getting through those hours. On the other side is peace and sanity.
And the cannibalism has gotten less frequent. Counseling, medication, and taking care of myself have made a difference. But sometimes I still live out the pain of the pavement that I experienced when I was a youth pastor. The pain of feeling insecure, worthless, and stuck. The fear grips me; the depression pulls me under.
It’s worth pushing through. If you can recognize what’s happening when your mind begins to cannibalize, you win. Get through it, and you’ve beaten it. For me, the biggest thing is to do my best not to hurt anyone in the process. I have to resist the urge to blame others, yell at them, or begin to sow seeds of hate in my heart. It’s too easy to let your cannibal mind run wild.
Have you experienced cannibalism of your mind? What was the experience like?
Whatever it’s like… we are together in this. Keep your chin up. And please tell me that when you next see me go under.