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How I’m Learning to Live in the ‘Middle Place’ for My Mental and Physical Health

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I have two modes of operation.

Either I run at 125% or total collapse.

Both ways of existing have their place, and I’m rather skilled at each. Yet in truth this is not very healthy, and so I’m trying to figure out something new.

I’m learning to live in the middle place.

I function at these two opposites for variety of reasons, but in my opinion the biggest contenders are the trauma I experienced in my past and depression.

Through decades of therapy and my own internal work, I’ve discovered that my nervous system is regularly running the show. As a person with complex post-traumatic stress syndrome (CPTSD), my nervous system tends to go about doing things in a way that worked for past survival. Depression also factors in, particularly when it comes to lack of motivation and anhedonia.

I view collapse as a way to escape. I am able to forget the world, I dissociate, stress disappears, and I function on autopilot. Before you say that sounds awesome, it also involves getting nothing done, staring at walls, and losing my connection to other humans and my emotions. I don’t do this consciously, though I’m getting better at recognizing it.

On the flip side the 125% overachiever is the great conquerer of all things. This “me” gets shit done… no matter the personal cost. I’m awesome when faced with a crisis. Some times this place feels good, it can come with an adrenaline rush, and I might experience some pride over accomplishments. Yet, in a somewhat similar way to collapse, I shut down a lot of my emotions, I rarely accept help, and I even forget about my basic human needs. A lengthy stay in this place inevitably leads me back to 0%.

I now recognize that learning to live in the middle place is important for my mental and physical health. Yet this hasn’t been an easy lesson, and I suspect this may be a life-long goal.

A visual that I came up with that helps me with this is the difference between a light switch and a dimmer. A light switch is either on or off, a dimmer is customizable to the situation. This flexibility is more in line with how I’d like to function.

When I find myself in collapse, I try to ask myself what I could do that would put me at a gentle 10-25%.  Often this ends up being some simple housekeeping, connecting with a friend, or spending a few minutes with a hobby. As the overachiever I try to remind myself that burning too bright is also a problem. Remedying this might look like going to bed instead of continuing with a project, scheduling time for breaks and self-care, and seeking out the support of friends and professionals.

As I find my way to the middle place I’ve also learned that a component within this is an acceptance that I won’t always get it right. It makes sense to me that in the middle place there isn’t even a true “right or wrong,” but rather a variety of options to choose from. That sounds more sustainable, and that’s why I’m trying to learn how to live here.

Do you find that you operate in a similar way, either totally on or totally off? How have you worked at finding balance, or what does your middle place look like? Other thoughts or ideas, please share them below!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Originally published: August 9, 2022
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