Own The Unpleasant

Well, I had a pity party for myself these last weeks, and it is time to shed the desiccated skin of the poor attitude I wore these last fourteen days. It is rarely pleasant to admit to oneself that you failed to live up to your own expectations. It is even more unpleasant to fall into a rut, in my case a physical illness, decide, “you know, this hole just isn’t deep enough,” and start tunneling deeper.

One description of depression is “anger turned inward.” I can attest to the truth of that claim. Even though I am on a stable medication regimen for my mental illness, I must still work to overcome a decade of ingrained patterns of thought, and the human tendency to conserve energy.

We all have this tendency. It was to our ancestors’ advantage to be lazy whenever that was an option. Conservation of energy is vital in an environment where it took significant effort to secure even a decent amount of nutritious food. I am fortunate that I do not have to hunt or gather to sustain myself, but there is a cost associated with this fortune when coupled with depression.

If I choose to, I can very easily stay in my home. Safe from any predators or potentially threatening storms. I can remain in my bed for 12, 14, 18, even 24 hours, never worrying about having to go get food because of the considerable stockpile in my fridge and pantry. Depression encourages the human tendency to conserve energy, and my environment supports this tendency.

My depression also pours heaping portions of self-loathing, disgust, disappointment, shame, guilt, and condescension on top of me when I’m already feeling miserable from physical sickness. Two weeks ago, one nasty, airborne bug set up a community center in my chest and lungs. I spent two days reasonably okay before descending down into a miasma of nausea, post-nasal drip, hacking coughs, and dizziness so severe I couldn’t drive. Four days of this misery stuck in bed with little to no appetite, and a genuine desire to “walk toward the bright light.” Freakishly similar to my days and weeks in bed with my depression.

My sickness was not over after a week, oh no! It persisted through the weekend and the following week. I was ambulatory and physically capable of being productive, but I did not have the mental capacity to work at the level I enjoy. Last week was spent alternating between panic attacks, glum moods, awful sleep, little nutritious food, and the certainty that I was failing in life. That last one comes courtesy of my depression. He likes to cheat. Attacking me after a week of being unable to do any of my daily coping mechanisms, and then draping a leaden cloak over my body that saps any impetus I might have to get back into doing anything that could make me feel better.

Last week I had such a sense of deja vu as I fell back into the comfortable, but damaging, distorted thought patterns. Logic had no power over my thoughts, and I luxuriated in the awfulness while simultaneously hating myself for doing so. Then, slowly, I got out of my head.

Cleaned up my face with a much needed shave. Swept and mopped the floors of my apartment. Organized my room, and folded my laundry. These actions, on their own very insignificant, built upon other insignificant actions until I came out of the fog of my depression. Then it became necessary to hold myself to account.

Yes, I got sick.

Yes, my depression snuck past my defenses.

Yes, I chose to remain in that headspace.

Personal accountability with how one thinks is challenging when living with a mental illness. The illness is always a handy scapegoat on days where I had the energy to fight, chose not to, and blamed the thoughts as if I had zero control over how I thought.

To paraphrase Eric Zimmer, podcaster at The One You Feed, “thoughts are not enough. It takes consistent action to make a life worth living.” I must admit to myself that I failed myself these past few weeks. That does not mean that I blame myself unnecessarily, or that I should feel deeper guilt for falling into a rut that I’ve fallen into many times over.

It means I accept my failure for what it is - a point of data indicating that was I was doing was not working. This creates a mental threshold that I can then step over and plan actions that will be to the benefit of a healthier and more agile mind. One of these actions is a commitment to complete The Daily Stoic - 21 Day Freedom Challenge. I’ll be writing about my experiences with the daily challenges so you, my dear readers, will become my accountabili-buddies. For now, I’ll invite you to take a moment and consider if there is an action you can take today to make your day a little better.