What to Do When the Past No Longer Serves You.

“Old ways won’t open new doors.” Unknown

This morning I was ready to quit school.

Let me back up a little.

It’s 2005 (okay, let me back up a lot), way back before Hollywood, and this one time, I quit school.

Now it’s 2006, and I quit school again.

Now it’s 2008, I quit school another time.

Now, it’s 2018, this morning, and I’m standing at the Keurig while my coffee brews and battling anxiety over how today is the last day to drop courses for the semester. Because I’ve been thinking about dropping for two weeks now. Yup. Ready to quit school. Again.

This quitting school has clearly become a thing I do. It’s kind of like the 382 jobs I’ve held since being of working age, because that means I’ve quit 381 jobs. And it’s never been because I’m not smart enough or don’t work hard. I’m actually a fairly smartish cookie and I’ve never been afraid of working hard. It’s just been, like, because. Sure, I always had reasons at the time of quitting something. Were they good reasons? I mean, probably. And also probably not. Most I can’t even remember. Sometimes the quitting just kinda …happened. It’s hard to explain. It always has been hard to explain. It’s been especially hard to explain to two parents who have both worked hard to have careers and stability to raise their family in. Yet here I am, their daughter, flailing about in a spiral of what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life-ness, quitting things left and right like that’s my job.

On top of being hard to explain, it’s also been hard to live with: feeling like I’m this inherently shitty, lazy person because of this ‘trait’ (I decided it was a personality trait long ago – it was just me) and wondering where it even came from seeing as how I certainly wasn’t raised to be a quitter. In my eyes, the only quitting I had done for a good reason had been leaving Hollywood to get healthy. But all those other times and all those other things I quit? For years they weighed heavily on the person I believed I was and they were an incredibly heavy burden of guilt to carry.

Now it’s July of 2017. I’ve just been diagnosed bipolar for the second time, but formally for the first (it’s a long story – for another time). My dad and I have both started digging into a lot of research online. We’ve found respective rabbit holes of more information than we could ever know what to do with. But each in our own rabbit holes, we slowly start coming up with stories of diagnosed patients who had these correlations with my past: they’d experienced this same behavior I’d been exhibiting for years and years. Not just with lost jobs, but many with full on careers. And when it came to school, these people ran the spectrum from dropping out of middle and high school to dropping out of Masters and Doctorate programs. Stories upon stories and cases upon cases of those with nothing but pasts full of wreckage and “bad” decisions in the wake of their bipolar disorder. Insert absolute horror here.

Now it’s a month later. My iPhone sits in the middle of the table with my psychiatrist on speaker (he’s out-of-state so I don’t see him in person for every visit). There’s a mountain of wet, snotty Kleenex quickly building up to Everest height in front of me (business as usual). My parents are by my side. And I bring it up. It. This embarrassing, I quit-fucking-everything-I-start-and-I-have-for-years-and-what-is-this thing I do thing. And it’s then that I find out from my psychiatrist just how much my bipolar actually corresponds with this thing I do:

Dr. E: Yeah, classic bipolar is a little bit ADHD-like in that “shiny thing, shiny thing, now I’m bored, wait- SHINY THING!” mentality.

Me: So it’s not just …me, who I am as a person?

E: It’s not, Amanda, your brain fights boredom and monotony in a way that boredom and monotony equal death. Boredom is also often masking anxiety. In the long run, and as we make progress, routine is what will make the boring tolerable for you.

Me: You mean…there’s…an…actual…explanation? Why I’m such a shit show? Does this mean I’ll always live making decisions this way?

E: Knowledge is power. Knowledge means you can move forward with awareness of behaviors, awareness you didn’t have in the past, making different choices than you have in the past. The past doesn’t in any way have to predict the future here.

Me: *Tears and boogers and emotions.*

So now we’re back at the Keurig this morning and Dr. E’s words are haunting my mind. Because I have a choice here. I have a choice whether to repeat the past or not. I have that knowledge, that awareness he talked about. The two things that make it possible for me to not repeat the past. The two things that say hey, we’ve been here before (three times, to be exact), we’ve made this decision before (three times to be exact), maybe we make a different decision this time? 

Maybe this time I acknowledge that I know now, two semesters later, school is no longer shiny and new, and therefore I’m no longer interested. I’m bored. Thanks, brain. Also, not only is school no longer shiny and new, it’s fucking hard. The work has gotten exponentially harder since I first went back, and sure enough, that alone gives me anxiety through the roof that- as Dr. E said – my “boredom” is masking. So between the boredom-boredom and the anxiety-masked-boredom, the easiest thing is to q-u-i-t. Again.

This is where we come to the choice. The choice between the future and the past that no longer serves. This is where we come to the old ways that pull and the new way that terrifies by nature of being new. This is it. This is the edge. This is where we stand, where we’ve been brought to, where we peer out over the future and have to make a conscious decision to break grip with the past we hold hands with behind our back.

This is it.

What do you do?

What do you choose?

The Keurig drips. The voices in my head calm. My breath steadies. I know dropping isn’t an option. I know repeating the past isn’t what I want for myself. I know I haven’t worked this hard to recycle my experiences.

The decision is a conscious one. We have to be present in order to walk away from a past that no longer serves us. I wish I could say it magically happens while we’re not looking, no effort involved. But then I wouldn’t have had this moment with the Keurig and with myself and with my doubts and with the incredible pull of the old me, like a rip tide taking me under. I would’ve had an easy peasy transition from the past into the future and the “walking away” would’ve been done in a blissfully unaware state.

And the moment with the Keurig and myself and my doubts and the pull of the old me taught me that my presence in my decisions is one of the most powerful tools in my new toolbox for the future. It’s the tool that allows me to choose the future, which I’ve done. And it’s the tool that will allow you to choose your future, once you learn to sit with that presence and not run from it. Once you learn to be in that presence and not fear it. Once you learn to utilize that presence, you’re free to make your choice.

What will it be?


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3 comments on “What to Do When the Past No Longer Serves You.”

  1. Fred Reply

    At 63 I find that breaking from the many deceitful pains of the past necessary to journey onward. Likewise, there seems some benefit to extracting the gems of past joys for savory moments of self definition, even while redefining in these latter years. The old music and some of the games, movies, even some old acquaintances, sometimes provide healthy therapy. I learn that often good stories from people today can bring me down and must find ways to apply all knowledge to the path forward. Its a hard road, but we show up, find others and offer a hand up whenever it appears needed. Doing so helps me at least as much as the person I offer the hand. God bless you.

  2. Sarah B. Reply

    My past tugged at me this week too in the form of someone from the past. You’re so right about having to be present to make the decision to move forward. I had to consciously DECIDE to walk away. It’s amazing when you realize you can have some control over those decisions, things you didn’t use to take control over in the past, you just let things happen TO you or let people happen to you, if that makes sense. Loved this post. Thank you for your writing. Glad to see you posting again.

    • Amanda Gist Reply

      “In the form of someONE from the past…” That’s one of the hardest things to cope with and walk away from because other people can be persuasive in addition to our own minds being persuasive. That’s doubling up on the shit you have to go against to walk away. Good for you for making the decision that was right for you. You DO have some control over it, and you acted on that. And yeah, makes total sense, I’ve let plenty of people happen “to” me. Kudos to you…thank you for reading. Xx

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