Some days I wake up and I just don’t want to. My body hurts, my brain is conflicted, and what I seem to want most is to crawl back into bed, burrow under the covers, and escape – no let’s be honest, hide – from my world.
That’s a big choice, and I tend to be aware of hitting the top of the spectrum where I disengage from my world entirely for a time, but recently I’ve been thinking about the middle. The space where you are only half engaging with your life without even realizing it. My escapist preferences lean towards television and sugar, with the occasional foray into video games of one kind or another. Oh, then there is “busyness” but that is definitely another post. What they all have in common is the ability to numb my experience of reality, and kill time. All of those things can be perfectly fine things to choose to experience, but I know for me they tend to fill time, but not address any of the buckets I need to fill to be well, and even more insidious I’m not always aware of the choice I’m making. “Just one episode” can quickly turn into 2 or 3, or an entire evening. Rarely do I feel more energized, refreshed, or better able to cope after going “under the blanket” of numbing agents, yet it happens, more often then I would like. The cost of this used to seem minimal to me, so I didn’t get the house picked up, or whatever task I had on my to-do list, not a big deal. My survival was not impacted. However as I have moved towards thriving, and believing I can have the big things I want in life, I realize the cost is actually much higher. The things I don’t tackle now ARE the things that will refresh, revitalize, and keep the fires of my soul stoked. Not only that if I don’t engage with them I lose steam, and patterns of un-wellness tend to creep back in. When I compare that with vegging in front of the tv… well now it feels like that is a problem that is really holding me back.
What I’m talking about here is different than purposeful rest. Rest is vital, and not something I am very good at, but it is also different. I would feel differently about the numbing agents in my life if I came out the other side better balanced and more energized, but for me that just isn’t the case.
Even today, even though I started this post first thing this morning so it was in the forefront of my mind, then went to yoga and came back refreshed and energized, as soon as I sat in front of the TV to eat breakfast (I know, I know) I fell into the trap. 2 hours later and despite having a to-do list as long as my arm of things I *want* to tackle today, I instead watched a bunch of Stargate episodes I have already seen a hundred times. Not the plan!
One of the tenets that I have adopted that really dumped me on my head was the concept of being responsible for myself. Now at first glance of COURSE I am responsible for myself. Who else would be responsible for me? But it goes so much further and deeper. It gets to those deep places where we are subconsciously (or consciously) waiting to be rescued, or blaming society, or just plain think we can’t. If I want to accomplish things I am currently not, I have to be willing to look at what I can change to achieve them. I can’t blame my long term struggles with chronic pain and fatigue, I can’t dismiss things as simply as “I struggle with depression so there” (ya, a few sore spots there let me tell you, I know!) I have to ask myself what, within my boundaries of possibility, can I do to get closer to what my heart is calling for. What can I do, even in a small way, to let that tiny voice know that I hear it and want to honor it? What can I learn about myself, that is hiding and driving these behaviours that do not serve my greater life? (spoiler: for me its almost always fear and self worth issues) Here is the kicker. My experience is that once you get through the rejection that you can impact where those boundaries are, and the anger that you – who are already so tired, overtaxed, and struggling to survive yet alone thrive – are also responsible for picking yourself up, and you start taking those baby steps toward the “wall of impossibility,” the wall moves. I kid you not. It may not even move perceptibly, but it moves. Which means that those tiny honorings of your longings, even if it is just saying to them in your head “I hear you, I just don’t know what to do about it” can eventually move that wall so far out that you don’t even recognize your world.
Which brings me back to my problem with numbing agents. Unfortunately sometimes the answer can feel unpleasant – sometimes even implausible, in fact almost all of the changes I’ve made that have led to the greatest impacts have been kind of a struggle for me. (I’ve been told that is my fear of success rearing its head. Whatever, its annoying!) After trying to stick my head in the sand I’ve finally come to face my own responsibility in today’s matter. So, starting Monday, as part of a great “How well can you care for yourself” extravaganza, I’m giving up television and sugar for 30 days. I hadn’t really planned on declaring that. It sounds terrifying and like something I’m not sure I can successfully do, but there you go. Sometimes stepping out with the brave moves is terribly exciting and sexy (Turkey, ahem), and sometimes it is mundane. I find the mundane far more difficult, but usually the larger long term impact.
So there you go. I gave a keynote to a large group of grad students on finding balance in their lives, and one of the phrases I used that really resonated with them was this, “Purpose not perfection.” I’m not striving for perfection anymore, I know full well that few can travel that path successfully, but I am striving to be purposeful. If I am making the best choices I can in a given moment, consciously, even (possibly even especially) if I’m not sure I can accomplish them, then I am living the best life I can, and I can’t really desire more than that.
An IMPORTANT note to those who struggle with depression or other mental health issues: Talking about some of the areas this post ended up touching on is a little scary to me because when I first started thinking about these kinds of things the concept that I was the only person who could dig me out of the extremely deep hole I was living in did not only seem laughable, but was an incredibly strong depression trigger for me. It brought together so many things I didn’t feel like I could cope with, that then appeared to be my only salvation. So I want to say this. Seek help. Create/find/hire a network. Know that the climb is one step at a time and that instead of it taking away from your already depleted life energy it will replenish it, over time. Please be patient. You bring a unique and needed energy to our existence. Yes, I’m serious.
I am wholly unqualified to give advice. I do know that some of my darkest days were pondering through this kind of thinking, and it was scary and very nearly overwhelmed me. So I want to stress that there is light, there is always light, whether you can currently see it or not. While we are responsible for ourselves, that doesn’t mean in any way that we don’t sometimes (often) need the support of others to draw back the curtain so that we can remember the sun. In fact being responsible to ourselves means seeking that support when desired or needed. It isn’t easy, but I firmly believe it is worth it – at least it has been for me.