I saw this quote today and it stirred in me so much gratitude for my emotional recovery. Although there is more work ahead of me (it never really ends), I am so much healthier emotionally now than I was 4 years ago.
In 2010, I was deep in my depression, living alone, on a leave of absence from work, dropped out of my grad school program, and constantly fighting suicidal thoughts. I found it hard to get out of bed, much less go outside. I would get occasional anxiety attacks, which really paralyzed me, leaving me to lay on the couch for hours. It was painful to lay there, and painful to get up. My body felt like lead. Had I read this quote then, I probably would have responded with a giant “Fuck You! I CAN’T get up! I’m TRYING!”
When I read this quote today, I thought of that version of me 4 years ago. How did she grow to eventually live this message?
If I could re-trace my steps what I would find are the following.
- Compassion for the self. It’s okay to be where you are right now. You are not a failure for experiencing depression and anxiety. They are trying to teach you something and require your attention. Compassion is a great way to listen.
- Forgiveness of the self. Forgive yourself for pushing yourself so hard to be “normal”. Forgive yourself for past decisions. You were trying to go at life alone. Here’s your opportunity to do things differently with more consciousness and compassion.
- Start small. If “getting up” and going out in society is too hard, start small. If sitting up in bed is all you can do, then do that. You have permission to know that seemingly small actions are actually huge feats when it comes to depression.
- Challenge your comfort zone daily. Again, go small. Check-in with yourself and see how much more you can do from your comfort zone. Can you get out of bed? Can you walk into another room? Eat? Shower? Brush your teeth? No matter how small the next step, acknowledge your accomplishment. The goal is to stretch out of your comfort zone little by little.
- Ask yourself “What do I need right now?” This is another way to do #4. Sometimes what we need is very small, like sitting up or a drink of water. Get still and check-in with yourself when asking this question, and make sure your answer is some thing you can do for you (not what others can do for you). However an exception is if what you need is to ask for something from a positive support person, AND you are certain that they will respond in a positive healthy manner. For example, “I need to ask my therapist if I can see her twice a week”.
- Acknowledge your actions, no matter how small, and see them for what they are; acts of love and hope for yourself. Acknowledge what you’ve done and do not compare yourself to others. You are doing your best in every moment on your healing journey.
- On days where it is just impossible to do any small act, be kind to yourself. Let yourself cry and trust you will make an effort later. Ride out the intensity and check-in on your ability to do a small action when things feel calmer. As long as you are alive there is opportunity to do a little more for yourself on your behalf.
Living in the world of depression and anxiety is unlike living in mainstream society. Actions are slowed down, and seemingly small actions are huge. For those who are not living in depression or anxiety, it is hard to comprehend why small tasks are so hard. However this is your emotional recovery, not theirs.
Those who do not speak the language of psychic pain cannot understand what you are saying. As painful as it feels, it’s okay. Others do speak this language and understand you. These small actions are your foundation in connecting to those who speak the language of psychic pain such as: counselors, therapists, spiritual communities, support groups, etc.
I owe a lot of my recovery to doing things I didn’t want to do or didn’t believe I could do. Yes, depression is disabling, and I had to force myself, step by step, to (literally) get up. I had to tap into that small place inside me that loved me enough to go against my comfort zone.
I also owe a lot to my counselors, support groups, and spiritual communities. Being consistent in connecting with them was not always easy, however acknowledging the small steps of my daily life helped build a muscle in me that would push me to connect with my support systems even when I felt tired, distraught, and fatigued. I eventually exercised again, went back to work, and back to grad school. It was hard work but I never would have imagined then, that I would eventually live this quote.