Have you ever come out of a moment, an event, or a season and realized that even though you were physically there, you completely missed it? It’s the worst feeling, isn’t it? Thinking that you were right there and still, you just missed it.
I find, when I’m not well, that I miss everything. I miss birthdays and holidays and special events and even the simple beauty of the blessed day to day that you don’t get back. You don’t get your days back.
That loss is a loss I grieve heavily. That is my rock bottom. When I realize that I’m missing things that are right in front of me. Things that I don’t get back. Even though I have fears about literally losing things or people or certain comforts of my life, to miss the good and beautiful things right before me while actually in the midst of them is sickening.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic or drug addict or criminal or whatever to realize that your life as you live it is unmanageable and you need not just help, but recovery. Drugs aren’t the only things that numb us and take us away from our own life and even those of us living modest non-criminal lives can find ourselves worshiping money and anxious with our own personal hustle.
But all is not lost. All is never lost.
See, I’m a gifted kid turned grown up, a writer, an introvert, a Psychology major and English minor. I basically live in my head all the time searching for meaning and purpose and the why of it all. I am just about one thought away from an existential crisis or spiritual/creative breakthrough at any given time.
When I’m well, this turns into projects and poetry and productive and purposeful conversation and interactions.
When I’m unwell this turns into depression and anxiety and not wanting to be here anymore. It turns into trying to find socially appropriate ways to numb myself. If I scroll through social media for 1 hr will I stop feeling like “I just can’t do this anymore”? Can I sleep my way out of this? What about this ice cream? This wine? What about all of it together? When I’m unwell I’m just trying to get from one day to the next full to the brim with fear about everything falling apart and it all being my fault. Everything is too much and I am not enough and I just can’t even pray without feeling stressed or empty or sure that I am doing it all wrong.
I know something though. I know that I am not alone. I know that people feel this way. People do these things. It’s not just me. It’s not just gifted kids turned grown ups or introverts or Psychology majors or English minors. It’s not just people diagnosed with depression or anxiety. It’s not just people who are struggling with their spiritual practice. It’s just a human experience. I’m sure that some of us are more prone to it than others, but everyone hits their point at some point. Everyone experiences anxiety and depression and crises of faith and really bad thoughts and fears. Everyone clings to negative habits that serve to distract and numb them just enough.
I think it’s important to acknowledge this – that other people struggle and ache and don’t want to do this anymore. All kinds of people. People of every race, religion, gender, and socioeconomic status are unwell sometimes. It does not have to be a secret shame. I understand why it feels like it needs to be, but it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you, except that you are human.
And all is not lost. All is never lost.
So, how to deal so that we don’t look back and realize that we missed it? Here are some ideas:
1. Practice mindfulness– mindfulness deserves it’s own post(s) but the essence of it is being where you are: mind, body, and spirit all together. When thoughts wander to the past or future, bring them back to the moment. Pay attention to precisely what is going on at that moment- how things look and feel and sound. Focus only on the task at hand, even for just a short time. For me, it helps to narrate the moment as if I were writing about it in my head. (Fun fact: I used to narrate my life all the time as a kid – like I was a character and I was living in a book). I did not realize how distracted I had become with my unwell thoughts until I realized that I could not stay in the moment for more than a few seconds at time!
2. Tell someone– In “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, she points out that shame grows in silence and isolation. The moment we start to tell our stories, confess our unwell thoughts and stressful experiences in safe places, the shame (and fear) stops having power and we can start the work of healing and moving forward. This is often when we find out that we are not alone, gain perspective, and maybe even see some humor or hope in the situation. You may also realize you have been catastrophizing and things aren’t quite so bad as you’ve convinced yourself they are in your head.
3. Commit to something– Pretty much the very last thing you want to do when you can’t do it anymore is commit to something, but sometimes the path from unwell to well requires that you do something you don’t want to do in your unwell state. Finding something to commit to can be a step in breaking out of that unwell place. So pick something, it can be anything: a dinner date, an event, a project, a group. It can be a one time thing or something ongoing. Just commit and follow through and notice how you feel about that.
4. Practice gratitude– This can be incredibly hard to do when everything is going wrong, but making the effort to identify and express gratitude starts to shake loose those untruths you keep believing about just how bad everything is. I like to make lists of even the smallest things (pink nail polish! crushed ice! that baby elephant video!) as well as the big things (my family, my home, my health). The rule I give myself though is “no buts”. As in no “I’m grateful for my job, but I might lose it” or “I’m grateful for running water even though I don’t know how I’m going to pay the bill”. Just be grateful for what you have right now.
5. Check your motives– Ask yourself questions like: Am I doing this to numb or distract myself? Am I making this decision based on fear? Is this something a well person would do? Is this something I would encourage a friend or loved one to do? Even if sometimes you decide that yes, this is numbing and distracting, yes it’s fear based, no I wouldn’t tell a loved on to do it and no, a well person wouldn’t do it but I am going to do it anyway, you have increased your awareness and that’s a step in the right direction. (Plus, it’s really hard to keep following through with bad decisions and habits when you regularly admit that they are crappy).
6. Make one small change– This could be something really simple and mundane like eating breakfast in a different room than usual or taking a different route to the store. Sometimes, when everything feels so overwhelming and out of control and we feel so exhausted and like we will never be able to ‘fix” our life, we forget that even small changes can be refreshing. Try it!
7. Help someone else– I don’t for a second feel like I am able to help anyone when I feel like my whole life is a huge mess and I’m a mess, but the truth is that we can all help someone. We are all in need of help and we are all capable of helping. Be it a random act of kindness or a purposeful effort. Just an extra kindness. This reconnects us to the world around us in a meaningful way and takes our eyes off of ourselves, even if for just a brief moment.
8. Press into your faith practice– If you have any kind of faith practice, practice it. If you don’t, consider it. Pray, read, sing, write, listen, watch, attend, participate. Even if you feel like you are doing it wrong or you aren’t even sure if it works, just press into it. Keep pressing into it. It will make a difference.
9. Remember what you used to like– Even if while unwell you’re pretty sure that you don’t really like anything all that much, just think about what you used to like: the music, food, places, people, activities. This is a good way to take a trip down memory lane (instead of thinking about all your screw ups). Once you’ve remembered some of the things you used to like, try to engage them. Just try. And then maybe try again. Even if your tastes have changed over time, this is a good way to remember that you can like things, even if/when things aren’t going well and you feel unwell, there are still things that bring joy. This is also a good way to get to know yourself again, helping you remember your identify outside of your circumstances.
10: Spend some time outside– Fresh air, sunlight, trees, flowers, cars passing by, neighbors walking their dogs or kids playing in the yard. The stars, the moon, the streetlight. Rain, snow, fog. The world is bigger than we start to believe when we are lost in the unwell thoughts and feelings. Step outside and remember that life goes on, and so should you.
*These are simply ideas, not intended as or to be taken as professional advice. If you are afraid you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, please seek professional help* Additionally: National Hopeline Network :: 1.800.SUICIDE (784-2433) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline :: 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255)