Everybody Hurts

As I end my twelve month hiatus from writing blog, I reflect on my own journey. My path this past year has taken me through mud, sand, meadows, steep mountain trudges, ocean, rocky ledges, sun, and storms — all of this quite literally, and even more poignantly, metaphorically. This path has been one of loss, of grief, of gratitude, of struggle, of detachment, of depression, of comfort, of exhilaration, of fear, and of love. As I struggle to redefine my life’s purpose after big changes, I want solitude then company, famine then feast, old and then new. My depression has been so acute at times that the line between loneliness and hibernation is blurred; there is a real indentation on the couch where I have been so often planted these past months.

Through all of this, I have known that there is no person who can fix my world or drag me out of my depression. I have known that grief is a process and is not on a fixed time-table. I have known that I am fairly expert at hiding the severity of my feelings of confusion, sadness, and even hopelessness. Yet, somewhere in there I have also known that life is precious, and that someday I would be ready to run again, and that friends will be waiting, and oceans warmly welcoming. I have known that I am truly a courageous being, and that I am more than capable and have strength enough to face life’s big and small challenges. I have practiced gratitude and forgiveness, and have listened to music that stirs my heart and sometimes my tears; I have turned my face to the sun and have kept moving forward. And, it should be known that I have received regular good help and advice from a caring and insightful therapist, and from a weekly support group whose members know my pain as their own and have forged a similar path in their own lives.

And yet … though I have known what I needed to do to start feeling better, I have been in that place where that is all much easier said than done. You have a moment where you feel like you might be able to move forward, then by the next morning, you’re back in the cloud. Here’s one thing I did, and mind you, I know we all have our own journey to make, and it’s rarely the same for everyone: I reminded myself how helpful physical exercise can be in combating depression, then I waited for the day, the moment, when I felt like maybe I could do something, and in that moment, I forced myself to move quickly before it was gone. I went to the gym. I jumped in the pool. I swam laps for 30 minutes. It was difficult; it had been a long time for me. The water was quiet, soothing, and somehow challenging. I felt so good when I finished that I decided I would go back the next day, which I did. Same thing: I felt good, energized, and decided I would go back the next day, but something came up and I didn’t make it. By the time my schedule freed up again, I didn’t feel like doing anything anymore. I continued instead to become one with my couch and lost in Netflix. But you know what, a few months later, that moment happened again, and I was ready for  it. I knew what to do. I got myself to the gym. I listened to some fierce music (thank you Marshall Mathers). I ran, I swam. And I went home, printed out six months’ worth of calendar pages, and wrote monthly goals at the bottom of the page, and daily goals/action steps that I could check off. And I have done that. I will admit that this has worked for me because I did my thinking within a window of time that I knew would close, but because I pre-thought and pre-planned, I can detach and work at it robotically. The day is prescribed for me, and once I head like a robot to swim, to run, to lift, to sweat, then I get to the place every time where I feel better and always glad that I made it there. And my heart opens, and I like being with me, and I enjoy the challenge, and I enjoy the benefits of the physical activity, including the results that I can actually see. And I start to remember who I am, and that I matter, and that I am worth taking care of. And tomorrow, when I want to spend time with my Netflix lover, I will be compelled to instead move and work and glide through the water (still clumsily and with much effort, but always buoyant regardless) because it is written and so shall it be done. And I know that I’ll have to start again at some point. And that’s okay. 

My heart goes out to those who are suffering through depression, some who will move through it many times in their lives. I am not a doctor nor a therapist. I am just a girl. In the world. Writing a blog. Hoping that something I write will strike a chord of familiarity with someone and bring comfort or even inspiration. And here’s the thing: “When you think you’ve had enough of this life/Well, hang on.” There will be a window, a moment. Hang on. 

With love,

Cynthia

Bring On the Rain

The first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that life is “dukkha.” Roughly translated, that means life is “suffering.” If that is indeed truth, and I believe it is, do we just give up now, because we are doomed to suffer? No, no, no! We welcome the suffering, because suffering means learning. Suffering means recognizing the goodness and the joy because we know what their absence feels like. Suffering means we have the opportunity to face adversity and come out the other side, more resilient and feeling good.

Guess what the research reveals about adversity and resilience? You guessed it! Research supports the idea that some amount of adversity and suffering makes us happier, stronger, more resilient, better able to face future adversity with positive coping skills, and actually physically able to handle pain better. A study by Seery et al (University at Buffalo) in 2011 revealed moderate adversity across a lifetime to be associated with well-being and resilience. Just a little bit of adversity: not good! Too much adversity for too long: not good! A moderate amount of adversity across a lifetime:  really good!

Now, let’s think about this. If adversity is good because it requires us to face our problems head on, become resilient, feel mastery over bad circumstances, etc., does that mean we should seek out adversity? Should we go asking for bad things to happen in our lives so that we can get a good workout? Uh, no. Don’t do that! Bad things feel bad, sometimes end up changing things permanently for the bad, and sometimes really just screw things up. Please believe me when I say that there will be enough challenges and adversity in your every day WITHOUT seeking them out! The trick is to realize, really understand, that every day of your life will include some kind of crap. Every day. Because life is dukkha! But, oh my goodness, that daily suffering is your friend, because you know what to do with it! You work through it! You understand that it’s just a thing, a thing you have the muscles and the perspective to deal with. You look forward to the good, you feel gratitude for the many many wonderful things in your life. You don’t make a big deal of the suffering, because you accept that it will be there, and that you will know what to do, and that afterward you will be enjoying the feeling that you faced a problem like a badass, and now you can relax and drink a delicious smoothie and laugh with your loved ones. Look for the silver lining, always.

peace and love,

mom