- Buyer's Guide
Carrying My Thoughts
Let’s face it, 2020 sucked. The world shut down in an effort to stop people from getting sick, and lots of people got sick anyway. Many of us spent months on end locked up at home, cut off from family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Many died. Even now, with the physical risk gradually diminishing in parts of the globe, the toll on social and emotional wellbeing is really beginning to show its head. That sounds depressing, and it is, literally. Loneliness is seriously unhealthy, and I think the next cultural health crisis won’t be a virus, but mental health.
As an autistic adult, I’ve spent a decent portion of my life dealing with isolation, uncertainty, stress, and anxiety, even in entirely normal situations. Over the years I’ve put together a few tools to help me deal with the tough times. Before anything else: mental health is a complex issue and, if things are getting to be too much too often, you need to see a professional. For the rest of us though, here are some carry tips that may work:
Turn it down
The world has a lot going on. Sometimes when your head won’t stop buzzing, you need to control how much information is coming in. Many readers will already have something that I consider ‘sensory aids’ in their carry, but perhaps overlook their benefit for this kind of use.
Sunglasses are an essential for me; I find bright environments stressful, so turning the sun down a few notches really helps me stay calm. Whether I’m driving to work, sitting outside with a coffee, or scrambling up a mountain ridge, my Julbo Shield glasses fit my needs really well.
Sometimes shades won’t cut it – I want real darkness. I’ve used a lot of sleep masks and the Manta Sleep is by far my favorite. The eyecups adjust to fit the wearer’s face, and the band is broad and soft around the head. That means it applies gentle, even pressure to the cheeks and brows, off the eyes themselves, unlike most flat masks. The mask itself is so effective, I’ve fallen soundly asleep wearing this in airport terminals, those hotel rooms where the curtain doesn’t close fully, and even with the lights still on in my own bedroom.
Earplugs are another great way to soften the world when I’m overloaded. The squishy foam earplugs you’ve seen will help. But I’ve carried Alpine WorkSafe earplugs for years, ever since I worked in a heavy metal venue. They have a passive filter, meaning they cut down the volume and the harsher aspects of ambient sound, but I can still have a conversation with them in. They’re discreet enough to wear anywhere and so easy to carry around since they come with a handy pocket case.
When it’s appropriate, however, I find Active Noise Cancelling to be a gamechanger. I wear Bose QC25 headphones whenever I’m working at a desk, and find them incredibly beneficial to my mood. If you’re someone who gets irritated by small sounds or background noise, ANC headphones are the solution you’re looking for.
Shake it out
Sometimes settling your thoughts isn’t about blocking the world out, but rather grounding yourself in your senses. Remember fidget spinners? They were a cool fad but for many folks (especially us neurodivergent types), self-stimulation like that serves a real purpose when settling their nerves. When my thoughts begin to carry me away, I focus on what I can feel or touch as a way of staying present and balanced.
Having a ritual or distraction based on the feeling of something whirring or clicking in your hand is nothing new. Clicking prayer beads or squeezing a stress ball are classics. Modern ‘executive toys’ like The Thinket, or a high-quality spinning top (check out Prometheus Lights’ Lambda) serve the same function.
There are other options for grounding tools that may already be part of your carry: tying knots is a tactile activity that invokes a firm presence of mind. If you’re more of an idle ‘stimmer,’ a good clicky pen (I like the Fisher M4B) can be satisfying enough to hit the spot.
Write it down
Of course, the other reason to carry a pen is to write stuff down. Dark thoughts can bubble up and it’s good to talk them out, but if you’re quarantining alone that can be hard. However, there’s pretty decent evidence that keeping a journal can have the same effect. Making time for yourself is valuable alone, but taking that time to vocalize and express your emotional state for the day will make everything feel clearer, and easier to bear.
I carry three notebooks, most days. I use a small Moleskine Cahier (same size as the classic Field Notes) for quick notes and a larger A5 journal (I like Rhodia) for my daily writing. The last one is a pocket diary for dates, plans, and appointments. This is arguably the most important since it also helps keep things organized, keeping me on plan and in control.
Have a system
Being naturally rather disorganized is both a cause and a result of my anxious tendencies. Finding order out of chaos is incredibly calming, and allows me to stay functional. Having a set routine frees up an awful lot of energy that I need for the day, since humans run very well on habit. If you’re someone who struggles to sleep, try instituting a firm routine at a regular bedtime, with several steps that prepare you for shutting down at the end of the day.
Carry is a big part of this: having a system that ensures all my daily essentials are packed and ready to go is a huge weight off my mind (and based on this recent thread in the Carryology Classified group, I’m not the only one). Having a killer pouch setup for switching between packs helps too. Loading in a few just-in-case items like a charge-bank for my phone, a spare pen, a multi-tool, or a pack of tissues means I know I’ll be covered if my worries become realities.
Care for yourself
It’s impossible (or imprudent) to carry a tool for every eventuality, but there are some inevitabilities you can take care of with your carry and make a huge difference to your wellbeing. You will get hungry, you will get thirsty; these will make a difference to your mood. Carrying a snack will get you through the worst of that. Make it something you enjoy – even a tiny boost can shift the whole day onto a better track. Carrying water (whether that’s a tiny A6 Memobottle or hefty 1L Nalgene) comes with a whole host of benefits to your health, mental or otherwise.
Food and drink are essential to life, but some of us need a little more. Self-care means doing what you need to get through the day and, well, sometimes that’s hard. If your doctor has prescribed you something to help keep your thoughts steady, follow their advice and take them.
Sadly, the hard times aren’t going anywhere soon. Things will likely get darker before the dawn comes, and we might be best forgetting what ‘back to normal’ looks like. If you’re close to your loved ones, then get each other through this. If you’re able to join the community, then do so; we’re doing better together.
Many thanks to Jed Edwards for the post above.