I've been procrastinating working on this episode for an hour and a half now. And I'm already past the deadline of when it should be completed. I've sent a long overdue email, I've backed a Kickstarter campaign. I've posted on Instagram. I've emptied the dishwasher. I've put a few coats of varnish on my most recent art piece. I've eaten breakfast. Or, lunch actually. That needed to be done. But, those other things? They definitely did not have to be done right now. This is major league resistance. The dishwasher, that's a sure giveaway. If I'm choosing to empty the dishwasher, I'm in major league avoidance mode.
I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but often if you have a really great experience...not like eating the perfect lemon custard kind of experience, but like the amazing conference experience I had a few weeks ago...after a really great experience, there's often a corresponding low. It seems like life can't just go back to normal, it needs to hit the skids to compensate for the high point.
The thing is, nothing has really gone wrong. On the outside. But, on the inside, I'm struggling. I've mentioned this before, I go through seasons of depression. For me, though, they aren't really seasons. I think I've had a few different types of depression in the past. I've had periods where it lasted several months to a half a year. At least one of those times I tested borderline on a medical assessment but chose to get through it without drug intervention. That would have been a season of depression.
What's affected my life to a greater degree has been something more like a standing appointment than a season. I'm certain it's related to hormone levels. I would regularly have three or four days of symptoms every month. I can literally feel it come on over the space of about an hour or so and leave in the same way. It's a physical sensation and a change in the way my brain works. Lately though, since I'm perimenopausal, I've been able to skip most of those appointments. But, in the last few weeks, I had an episode hit hard and last longer than usual.
I got curious about it the other day. I was probably procrastinating some other writing I was supposed to be doing (resistance is real, folks). I looked up the kinds of depression. Of course, what I found puts me outside of all the standard boxes. This is pretty typical for me. I never fit in the standard boxes. So, maybe, it's not really depression. Maybe it's something that mimics depression. I looked up what types of things mimic depression. None of them seemed close to fitting. So, I began to believe, since I don't fit into the typical boxes, that it's not really legitimate. I began to minimize and discount my own experience. Bad move.
Have you ever done that? Minimized your experience of something because it doesn't meet some perceived standard? If you have ever led with a disclaimer or apology in a conversation, you've done this. Well, I'm not a real writer,... or, I'm not a real runner, but.... or, I'm not really an artist... those are three that I know I've said before. How about you?
Discounting my experience of depression sounds like this in my head. "I almost never have suicidal thoughts. It doesn't last as long as real depression would. And, it's not that severe." It sounds absurd. Whether I fit neatly in a box or not, my experience is real. It's valid. And it impacts my life. If you're discounting or minimizing who you are, something you do or something that happens in your life, stop.
I've been practicing for about three years now saying that I'm an artist. It sounded ridiculous at first. I wasn't good enough to be an artist. I still struggle, but it comes easier now. I run, so I'm a runner. I write, so I'm a writer. I make art, so I'm an artist. Whether I run fast, write well or make good art is a whole different question. My experience of those three things doesn't have to be of any particular quality in order to be valuable. I don't have to run fast or train for a marathon in order for my body to benefit from running. I don't have to have three books published in order for my writing to be transformational - for myself or anyone else who happens to read it.
Whatever you're minimizing in yourself doesn't need to meet an external standard. If you're changed by it, affected by it, experience it, then I am telling you that it's legitimate and you need to own it.
Here's the other lesson I learned this week. It's something I learned through my depression but applies to life in general. I've always assumed that my experience was "depression lite;" the stripped down, not as complex, less expensive version. I've really always thought it wasn't serious. But, in the research I was doing, I ran across an assessment and took it. I scored at "Moderately Severe." That's fairly sobering. it shifted my whole perspective about how seriously I should take it and how diligent I should be in dealing with it.
Here's my lesson for you. Stop making assumptions in life. Ask questions instead. Don't assume you know what someone means or why they feel a certain way when someone states an opinion. I'm willing to bet that that right there could stop 85% of the angry exchanges on Facebook. Don't assume someone knows they hurt your feelings. A brave, brave friend of mine recently told me I'd hurt her feelings with something I said. I'm so glad she did. Because, after apologizing, I could explain that I'd communicated very poorly. In fact, I'd meant to communicate the opposite of the message I'd given. Don't assume your symptoms are nothing. Don't assume your friends know you need help or encouragement. Don't assume that you can't do something.
Don't assume. Ask.
If you struggle with depression, First, see a counselor or medical professional. I'm not a doctor and I didn't even sleep at Holiday Inn Express last night. I do know that for me, all the non-medical interventions like eating better, getting healthy sleep, exercise, yoga, meditation, volunteering for others and experiencing community do help. But, in my case, the problem is doing them. They are the absolute last things I want to do. Sometimes you need to choose to do what you can anyway and give yourself a pass on what you can't. Do any of those items in small steps if you can't take big ones.
If you know someone struggling with depression. Just be kind. It's not typically something they can just get over. It's not that they're having a bad day, or week or month. Do things that simply remind them that you care. And do them over and over and over again, no matter how much you think you're being redundant, no matter how your friend or loved one is able to respond to you and no matter at what point you think they should be over it.
Because inspiration and education are great, but they only result in transformation when you add action - and that's your job - here are a few action steps you can take on these lessons today:
Good: Ask yourself what experiences you're having that you need to stop minimizing.
Better: Stop minimizing those things. And stop making assumptions. Train an insatiable curiosity instead.
Best: Get together with a friend, talk about these ideas and hold each other accountable to make real changes in your life.
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