In addition to stories of our adventures, I sometimes like to talk about some of the other challenges I face. Following is a somewhat metaphorical account of the way I see anxiety and depression and one way towards wellness.
I’ve written from time to time about the fact that I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. I’m accustomed to their constant presence. Anger is supposed to be the base emotion beneath them.
They run like a background program on a computer in my brain and haunt me to a lessor or greater degree at any given time.
Like an overly thick wool blanket they drape heavily over my soul.
All I see is cast in shadow: my perception tinged an ugly grey. I struggle to part the dark material to get a glimpse of the world but the fabric is too heavy and dense. I’d like to take a pair of scissors and cut the cloth wide open and rip the mantle into two.
But these sad things have not been content only to cover me: they have grown into every fiber of my brain. They have curled around every neuron and imposed themselves into every synapse to form a mosaic of gloom. They’ve woven themselves into my grey matter – making us one.
I might have been infected in utero or before. Perhaps I was assigned the burden of these mental disorders in order to learn lessons I didn’t learn from a previous life (if you believe in that sort of thing). Nothing like a walk in someone’s else’s shoes to learn empathy. Was I not kind to someone at some time in the past?
However anxiety and depression came to inhabit me – they have a stranglehold.
I want out. Rather, I want them out but the growth is so thick I have to be careful in extricating them. Too fast and they might notice what’s going on and tighten their grip – perhaps around a vital organ.
The first step I made was to see them.
The shadows had assumed their position so carefully, I was completely unaware of their existence. Disguising themselves well, I accepted them as a part of myself.
The sunlight grew ever dimmer over the years; too slowly for me to notice. Like shades drawn down in tiny increments – imperceptive as the advance of the hands on a clock. Suddenly it was twilight. Where had the day gone? It was just dawn!
Then the day came when I saw through a tear in the shroud. Light. I had finally seen something radically different and in that glimpse, I knew there was something else I could feel.
I wanted more. The gig was up. Awareness of what I was missing drove me to face my oppressors. I could now see them.
I could now call them by their names.
Knowledge is a powerful thing but a lot of work would be required to peel back the years and layers of self deception that had formed my paradigm.
I became aware of the effect my negative thinking was having on me. I had a moment of clarity one morning when I saw for the first time, how absurd it was to spend my time in such a state of mind. It was pointless. It ate away at my energy and left me feeling drained.
But I was comfortable being miserable. That’s all I knew. Anything but being pissed off felt dull. I believe am addicted to the dark side.
I started to pay attention and when I began to fall so easily into the range of self-defeating thoughts and emotions I have come to know are grouped together, I stopped myself. Anger is an emotion of pride and it isn’t easy to quell. I had to ask myself why I wanted to hang on to it with such ferocity. What made spite so attractive to me?
I’m learning to recognize the moment that electrical impulse zaps down that familiar path towards self-loathing and despair and I’m jumping in with affirmations such as “this is made-up – it isn’t real” or “this is nothing but an old lie I believed”.
I question myself and do my best to replace chaos with reason. The amount of mental effort is tremendous and it doesn’t always work but I fight the fight when I’m strong. I put my sword down in times of vulnerability and cry.
But I’m making progress.
The very writing down of my thoughts and feelings is a gentle sawing away at the chords. Tight knots are loosening – nerve strand by nerve strand.
Like the way they insinuated themselves sneakily into my world, I’m methodically undoing my old ways of thinking and building new neural pathways that serve me rather than break me down. I sew up the old rotten holes left behind – hopefully for good. I carefully rip the seams apart one by one so as not to destroy the host.
It’s a process, and not an easy one. It requires discipline and a desire for a better, happier life.
What you believe is reality so change what you believe.
Anxiety and depression may forever be a part of my physical makeup but I’m using the tools of awareness and mental discipline to take control. I believe that I can change now. I try to pay attention and I say “NO” when the heaviness creeps in. I am now on watch.
Today, for four minutes at a time – maybe ten – twenty, I decide what is allowed to flourish in my head. The results might be imperceptible like the motion of the hands of the clock but I believe there will come a time when depression and anxiety will become a threadbare remnant of the past.