On Spiraling

Much like the shape after which they are named, spirals start off wide and unassuming. The feeling creeps in slowly, just as you begin to lose your footing on whatever path you thought was ahead. It’s a broad, vague sense that something has been circling you for months, trying to suck you in. The suction intensifies, until you finally accept that choosing to unclench your tenuous grasp on reality is preferable to letting an unidentified darkness swallow you whole.

Spirals let you think you’re in control. They allow you to remain self-aware enough to know that what you’re doing is bad for you, yet apathetic enough to power through the still-drunken early morning walks back to your apartment from god-knows-where and the tense conversations about what you’re doing with your life.

When you are spiraling, you know that, eventually, you want to lead a good and fulfilling life, but you also need a break from the good and the fulfilling to chase the rush that comes with abandoning responsibility and letting your hedonistic side consume you. People who are spiraling haven’t lost interest in the things they love—they just don’t know what they love anymore. They still want to build relationships and experience life. If they kept to themselves for days on end, they’d never be able to continue in this manner; the boredom and loneliness would force them to make a change, but change is what put them here to begin with.

Spirals happen because of time—time takes things away, and it usually takes these things away from you without offering an easy replacement. Parts of you want to move forward in a constructive fashion, but the heavier, more vocal pieces start to inch downward instead. Allowing oneself to get sucked into a spiral is freeing and deeply captivating. You’ve accepted that, at least for a while, there is no path for you to follow. You take things as they come. You believe you’re the happiest you’ve been in a long time. You tell everyone you meet about this new philosophy. You know this is the best thing for you right now.

There is no better feeling than the first time you say, “fuck it” and decide to spend a weekday afternoon wandering aimlessly, chain-smoking the pack of cigarettes you bought instead of lunch. You feel like you’re breaking the rules, like you’re cheating life in some way by feeling this at peace, but then you realize that there really are no rules. You end up at a bar and decide to go in “just for one quick drink,” but who are you kidding? You have nowhere to be today—or any day. A friend shows up and your quick drink morphs into happy hour and then a night out. Over $1 Bud Lights, you declare this the “Summer of Spiraling,” and you laugh. One of you observes that, with school being over and the future being as uncertain as it is, in a way it’s sort of always summer now, and you cry.

Spirals are one of the most self-indulgent beasts a person can unleash. You’re alone with your thoughts 24/7. Feeling this much, this intensely becomes dangerous because there’s nothing to distract you. When you’re spiraling, you cry a lot. You cry in public, you cry in the shower, you cry yourself to sleep, and you cry when you’re watching things that people outside of the spiral generally find funny. Eventually these emotions force you to try to lift yourself out of your spiral.

You go to coffee shops and write cover letters. Maybe you even get a job interview. You think, “My spiral is over. I am going to become a journalist/marketing assistant/social media expert.” You daydream about a successful life in a new city. You scoff at how unfocused and out of control you were during the previous weeks, but are grateful you “got it out of your system.”

You experience the first taste of rejection and disappointment. You realize nothing really changed. In trying to develop an exit strategy, your hope and optimism actually strengthened your spiral.

You don’t go a day without drinking. You drink an entire bottle of wine and feel nothing, so you keep drinking until you can’t feel anything. Every day around five you get a headache, signifying the start of another night. You wake up and three weeks have passed. The people who were apprehensive to your jokes about spiraling and your desire to experience freedom from routine stop talking to you. Others have proven themselves to be true friends. They are ready to go out any night of the week, they’ll cry with you, and they don’t ever ask what you do during the day, unless the answer is day-drinking.

Spirals feed off of insecurity and anxiety. The more people losing control together, the tighter the spiral can wrap itself around you. It injects you with fear and mood-altering substances, and, in turn, you continue to fuel its rabid existence.

Maybe one day you will develop an aversion to the taste of $4 wine mixed with your tears, or maybe, against all odds, you and your co-spiralers will be able to snap the coils that bind you to yourselves. Only time will tell, and time has a way of being particularly unkind when you are relying on it the most. Until then, you have your spiral closing in, protecting you from all of life’s curveballs and uncertainties.


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  • Jordan

    Another good piece.  I actually thought to myself recently that I was “spiraling,” using that word exactly.


    You're narrating my life. Gripping article. Superb writing.

  • Shelby

    I hadn't even read the article I just say the word “spiraling” and I knew what it was going to be about, maybe it's because I, or lets be honest… most of us can relate to this. It was 

  • Aperson763

    So what you're saying is that you are an alcoholic, lazy, deadbeat who doesn't have their life together and wants everyone else to feels sorry for you?

    • http://likethehours.wordpress.com/ devin howard

      Brilliant! Its like, you didn't even read the article! Although, I guess I am commenting on your comment so your trolling has been minimally effective. Whatever, your comment is still absolutely fucking retarded.

  • Guest

    Note: if you're a man, you probably (statistically speaking) won't cry a lot, or at all, which might strengthen/lengthen your conviction that you're actually doing ok

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Erica-Statton/100001152285181 Erica Statton

    Good article

  • http://twitter.com/no_cazador hunter ray

    ah, the cycle of spiral-dorlygr8-spiral again. this is my life. I think I'm about to enter another spiral again. I'm sad but also excited.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mopeyprincess mopey P

    You forgot about spiraling when you actually have a steady, good job that you see yourself jeopardizing a little more every day .

  • http://unfinishedtwentysomething.blogspot.com/ Sharfmanm

    thank you for describing my life and so many others….thank you for articulating our thoughts and feelings for us…atleast we have a name now!

  • Oborozuki

    Once again with the impeccable timing, Thought Catalog.
    This is a good article. Spiraling is a nice word to think about.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaNassiri Joshua

    Love this

  • http://twitter.com/JoshuaNassiri Joshua

    Gripping article, sort of like a narration of my life, quite scary.

  • http://personalgiggle.wordpress.com Personalgiggle

    Absolutely beautiful… Thanks for sharing it… I'm in love with the astute use of second person narration. Sucked me in like a bad habit on a sunny afternoon.

  • http://twitter.com/and_susan Susie Anderson


  • http://likethehours.wordpress.com/ devin howard

    Yep, and I got just laid off monday. I have been through 2 distinct spirals in my life so far, one started after finishing undergrad and overcome after finding employment 4 months later, one after a break up and limping through my last semester of grad school and overcome by running away to southeast asia for a summer then finding full time work after returning.

    I have contemplated for long periods of time what makes something so physically, emotionally, and financially destructive so attractive, addictive, and fun and have never come up with anything this concise and readable.

    Loved this.

  • http://likethehours.wordpress.com/ devin howard

    One more, sorry. That 5pm headache you refer to, the one which manifests 3 hours after waking up at 2, I call it 'The Fear”, that sense of dread and self-loathing underlying most hangovers/withdrawals.

  • Rachel

    “Only time will tell, and time has a way of being particularly unkind when you are relying on it the most.”

    ohhhh yiikesssss this is too truthy

  • Burgy

    my spiral began when all the people i fell in love with started ignoring me. maybe the spiral has always been there. maybe they were afraid of being sucked into my spiral. shit

    • AL

      codependency is a spiral unto itself.

  • Travis-E

    Spiraling is another word for bouts of depressions. I've been doing them off and on all my life. Most people think you have to have some serious reason to be depressed, when really all you need is to feel the crushing weight of time running out on life. Or just the feeling of nothing ever being complete. The want to never be serious, and never feel anything but the drink in your hand and the thought that things will end, even be alright, eventually. But that spiral come tighter and tighter. Things that were once absurd (like drinking at 2 in the afternoon, or waking up with a shot) become the normal. Its the rush of being irresponsible when society demands it and the fear of never having lived. At least for me.

    But enjoyed the read, its always nice to find someone like myself that, for what ever reason, enjoys the intense, emotionally unsettling, genuinely exciting free-fall of the all consuming spiral.



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