If you don’t know me or haven’t followed my blog, you may not know this about me:
I was once very angry. Not outwardly angry- not slash your tires angry or kick the wall with your boots on angry. I wasn’t even punch a pillow angry. I was anger turned inward- a soul crushing sort of inner angry that manifested itself through debilitating depression that left me unable to get out of bed and at times, suicidal.
Well that was one hell of an opener. (I promise, it gets more light hearted…).
The hows and whys of how one gets to that place are as unique as each person and so are the ways to get out. My cocktail for survival has been a mixture of therapy, time, musical sing-a-longs and medication. But my goal was never to just simply survive that time, I wanted to come out better for it. To live through a war like that makes you a survivor, but I wanted more. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to come out stronger, to prove to myself that the hell I went through was for a reason. And as much as I love what sing-a-longs and therapy do for me, I knew they weren’t going to be enough.
Today? I feel a lot of joy.
I use the word ‘joy’ on purpose because ‘happy’ feels to small. “Happy” doesn’t stretch to all the places I feel a level of grace, appreciation and giddiness over my life. Outwardly, my life is very similar- I have the same job, live in the same place, deal with the same stress. But inside? My insides feel like they have been taken out- repaired and polished, allowing me to be me- but at optimal performance. Along with my “cocktail for survival”, the following 5 things helped me.
1. I stopped multi-tasking. Cold turkey. Not only did multi-tasking leave me feeling frantic, I completed everything to a level I was never happy with. Perfection might be the enemy of the good but knowingly doing a half assed job is the enemy of happiness. My happiness. So I quit talking on the phone while marking math tests. I stopped trying to pay bills online while walking Macy. I walked away from the dishwasher while also trying to watch a documentary. If something was worth my time, my effort- it was worth 100% of it. Or none of it.
2. I used to be in a constant competition with everyone in my life. Of course, no one knew it but the internal dialogue I had with myself as I tried to measure my success against others was exhausting and always negative. And while I was wasting time beating myself up for not being where others were? They were using their time to be where they wanted to be. At school I always tell my kids to keep their eyes on their own paper during an exam. We talk about how when we cheat- when we try to look at the work of others, we cheat ourselves. And as one student pointed out, you could always be copying down the wrong answers. I teach my students to work hard and have faith in their own abilities. I started doing the same. I’m worth believing in myself, rather than risking it all by copying someone else.
3. I began revelling in my joy. When I was happy, I let it sink in. I marvelled at it. When is the last time you let yourself sit in your happiness? Instead of thinking of what could go wrong, I allowed myself to reflect on everything that had gone right. I gave myself permission to be happy over every damn thing that deserved it. There was no minimum requirement that was needed to receive appreciation. A great tomato sandwich? Hallelujah! New magazine in the mail? Why yes, I did hug it tightly! Lengthy email from a dear friend? Cue the parade! Eventually I was that smug asshole smiling at the red light at 8 am on a Monday morning.
4. I kept it real. Some days the tomato sandwich didn’t warrant a dance party. Sometimes I felt a dark, sinking feeling creep in. Instead of panicking or denying- I accepted that yes, today was a shit day. I would call a friend, go for dinner, send an email and recognize the shittiness of the shit day and let it be. I did not allow myself to keep that feeling to myself. I did that before and eventually it became bigger than me and I was too scared to talk to anyone. I knew better now. I made a conscious effort to start fresh each day. I checked myself on the drive to work- “am I allowing yesterday to ruin today?” and if I was I planned to do something that would lift my mood as soon as I got to work. (More often than not, ‘lifting my mood’ involved googling “unlikely animal friendships”. I recommend.)
5. I learned from Susannah. In the best movie of all time (no questions or debates allowed on this), “Legends of the Fall”, the ridiculously beautiful Susannah (played by Julia Ormond) tells Tristan (played by Brad Pitt at his most knee buckling time- lookswise) “I’ll wait for you. However long it takes. I’ll wait for you forever.”. As a teen, and later as an adult- I thought that was what true love was. Sacrificing yourself, giving up your time, waiting endlessly for the man you love to return to you. I remember actually saying the lines with Susannah and letting myself cry while watching because OMIGOD THAT IS HOW LOVE IS. Except it’s not. Not at all. You know how I know? Susannah kills herself. Because no one can wait forever. And no one deserves to have to wait forever. Realizing that someone who loves me will do everything they can to be in me life, THAT is love. And letting go of those who prompt me to want to pull a Susannah, well that’s self preservation. I realized this and although it hurt, hell- it STILL hurts, it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as laying in bed wondering how I can get up.
Susannah, girl- you needed some therapy, medication and good friends to remind you that you didn’t need Tristan to rock your life. Years later, you could have written an old timey blog (I think these were called letters) to your friends revelling in your joy and giddily sharing how you survived those dark times.
You deserved that.
We all do.
What are your never fail strategies for getting through a rough patch, bad day or serious depression?