With decades of experience, I’m coming to learn how to navigate my depression. Certainly meds, food, close friends, and exercise help. But a big factor is what I choose to do with my life, and how I choose to do it. Holding me back is my comfort zone. It’s that cautious feeling that tells me I shouldn’t risk anything and I shouldn’t step out, because it’s uncomfortable and I will likely fail. Pulling me forward recklessly is the urgent feeling that I have to take on everything, at once, in order to prove I have value (and quiet the voices from my past that still call me useless and worthless). Standing still or racing blindly ahead, Caution or Conquest, both lead to disaster.
“I shouldn’t do this”
Caution: The more I hesitate, withdraw, and play it safe, the less I have a chance to grow and to be more than I am today. There is something deep inside me (and within each of us, I believe) that yearns to grow, to be more, to be better than I was yesterday, or last year. Something that makes me reach for the sun, for warmth, for love, for life. When I play it safe and withdraw from others, I am comfortable for today, but that deep part of me that needs to grow instead slowly shrinks. I then see a future where I am less than I am today. And my depression takes hold.
“I have to do this”
Conquest: When I try to escape the stagnation and get it in my head that I need to have value, I will try things that I’m not suited for or ready for, things that are beyond my physical abilities (having started running at the mellow age of 49, I’m not likely to run a 50km mountain trail race no matter how compelled I feel when signing up…), or beyond my emotional reserves (constantly present for others and their burdens without taking time to care for myself). And when I fail, it will be spectacular! It will hurt me physically (through stress or injury), injure my relationships, and injure me emotionally. I will have to face the stunning realization that no, I can’t do what I thought I could and that once again I was deluding myself. These crushing defeats also push me into depression.
The Right Pace
For me, the race pace for my life is found between the smothering caution of the comfort zone and the frenzy of reckless action and conquest. The right pace is choosing to try new things, one step at a time, one step after another. Single steps give me a chance to succeed and grow. And when I stumble over a mistake or failure I can readily recover, perhaps a bit bruised, but having learned something. Plus I get to choose (what a powerful word, choose! Say that a couple of times: “I choose…”!) to persevere or to wisely back up and try something else. Stumbles, when I’m at my right pace for life, have helped me grow; they’ve taught me how to persevere. They build character. (I know that’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because there is truth in there). And these stumbles have taught me empathy for others and the mountains they are climbing. Through all this, success or failure, I grow. And my depression slips a bit further into the background. It’s always nearby, ready for me if I stagnate or run off a cliff, but for today, I feel the sun on my face and my heart grows a little bit, and perhaps a tear or two of happiness surprise me.
Words of Life
My path through depression has taught me that the internal true voice that tells me to get up and try again speaks to me with love. We are surrounded by more than enough damning voices that say “useless”, “disappointing”, “failure”, voices that relish the destruction of another’s soul. Our culture is soaked with hatred and words that separate “us” from “them”, words that damn. So I choose to listen to the voices of love and words of life that call me forward, and to celebrate these voices and words wherever I hear them: from family, friends, songs, hymns, sermons, movies, poems, and books. I am incredibly grateful for people that speak love and life with their words, with their actions, with their art. And I realize that I can speak love and life to someone else. And that moves me forward. At my pace.