I was reading an article the other day about someone lamenting the aches and pains and fatigue of growing older to their even-older and even-more-falling-apart parent. The 88-year-old responds, “Yeah, but the alternative is worse”.
I love that, because it short-circuits that crazy part of my mind that loves to say all the ways the world “should” be, or fictitiously “could” be, rather than the ways it actually is.
(Yet, if you are like me, you’ll engage in that type of “make-believe” all day, yet tell myself I have no creativity or imagination! No, it’s not that I didn’t have creativity, but I only used it as arsenal to make me feel worse, instead of making me feel better (because *that*, on some level, would certainly be irresponsible …. Right?) Anyway,…)
I had clinical (e.g. devastating) depression in college. I *know* now that one of the most foundational building-blocks of that depression was my low self-worth and self-esteem; my permanently low opinion of myself – of how I compare to “others” in the world. Somehow, I always come up “short” (for those of you that know me, that’s hilariously ironic, amiright?). I know *now*, accept and admit on some level, that it was my *measurement* that had always been off. There was nothing “wrong” with me, or how I performed, or what I was doing or not doing. My measurer was broken. So I really *did* feel terrible about myself because in the world that exists inside our own minds (which, quantum physically, is the only real world there ever really is) I really didn’t meet the bar.
And yet, despite that (profound) awareness I now possess, I feel disappointed for not being ‘better’ than I am. I mean – it has been like TWENTY years ish. I’ve been long “recovered” from the true awfulness of “clinical depression”. It is an awful place that I hope to never visit again. And despite being SO much better than *that*, and SO grateful to feel like I do now than that… I still have far too many days where I’m just “off” and just feel like the world is awful and I am awful and everything is just … awful. In the last couple years, I finally started making real progress in adjusting my self-image and doing things I “couldn’t” do. Life has opened up in ways that feel *wonderful*, and yet, there are *still* days every month or week, where life just feels awful – like I can’t get the slightest pleasure from anything.
And I think, …shouldn’t I be “fixed” by now? Nobody else can possibly be *this* defective to have learned so much yet still be struggling with the exact same issues after two decades… right? And somewhere my mind *realizes* that this is the exact same pattern as before – I’m criticizing my performance, and thinking I’m not doing something “well enough”… in this case, recovering from depression. So, for all the freeing thoughts and beliefs that I’ve liberated from my prison … I’m still in the same pattern of reacting to myself with criticism instead of compassion when things don’t go as they “should”. Because, of *course*, they “should” be better by now…
But, then, what is compassion? Realizing that, perhaps, I AM someone that is just biochemically predisposed to be miserable. Norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin … that’s chemistry, baby. The chemistry of ‘feeling good’. Maybe all the nutrition and meditation and quantum physics in the world cannot permanently change that fact, maybe it’s not my ‘fault’ or something I’m doing wrong or too stupid to figure out. This new world of quantum physics where I’m seeing how much my choices (from the external to my internal thoughts) really DO have REAL influences on my external reality is spectacularly awesome. It is empowering. Yet, the dark side of self-help for depressives/overachievers… when you feel empowered to be capable of FIXING something, that means you can also fail at it and then it can feel like it’s your fault, if you’re not careful). But maybe that chemistry is just the parameters I was born with. My challenge. I’m challenged with feeling darkness in this world. It could, actually, *be harder* for me to feel good than some other people. Is that compassion? To realize I’m not to *blame*, that no one is to *blame*, because it simply “is”.
I can choose to feel like I’m still inadequate because I’ve had a lot of ‘downs’ during the pandemic. Or, I can acknowledge how far I’ve come, that now when these low days come, I can step out of it just a little bit more – into the place of being the observer, e.g. that there is now a little bit *of space* between me and the experience of it. And that space is critical and profound – because it gives us an awareness that we are separate from it, it will pass, and that we can weather the storm. So, I’m still miserable and exhausted, but I engage with it less and just let it pass on through – which, is less exhausting. I can be thankful that I’ve held on, and clawed myself back to a ‘healthy mindset’ time and time and time again.
But, when that mood/chemistry-cocktail is calling the shots…uuggh, why? Why bother? It’s not even worth it, it never fixes me. I give up trying! …
Then I hear it, “The alternative is worse”.
I *know* what happens if I really give up in my belief that I CAN make myself feel better than I do. I have influence. I have power. Despite it not working as-much-as-wish-it-would, I know it *IS* helping, or else all the stresses of the pandemic would have surely been enough to tip me back into full-scale depression. As it sadly has for so many. And I can *realize*, with compassion to myself, that what I’m doing IS working so I will keep trying. Why, because I’m ‘fixed’ and magically ‘happy’? No, because the alternative is worse. I *know* what happens when I allow myself to dwell in the negative thoughts. It’s a road that leads to more misery. I’m good, and I love my life, most days. And maybe I *am* just someone predisposed to be biochemically off, so I’ve woven self-care into the very fabric of my life. Keep recharging that battery through my choices. And I’m going to keep digging myself out of that rut – keep reminding myself that how I’m seeing the world through those hormones is NOT how it actually is, and that I don’t need to engage in ‘it’ to ‘fix it’…because the inadequacies are illusions. The only thing I need to work on is fixing my mindset and fixing my focus. I need to focus on the feeling I want back, not the one that I’m in. And yes, some days it is more exhausting than others, but I’ll do it, no matter how many times it takes, because the alternative is worse.