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Living with depression and anxiety is a never-ending battle with episodes of sadness, pain, and loneliness—but that doesn’t mean these episodes never end.
I remember riding my motorbike through the Costa Rican jungle on my way to teach my third yoga class of the day. My arms still felt tired from my morning surf session, but I was happy as f*ck.
Two years later, I am sitting in my childhood home feeling depressed and anxious—but it’s not that I didn’t see that coming.
It was 12 years ago when I was diagnosed with depression caused by PTSD. Since then, my life had been pretty awesome—that sounds pretty weird, right?
Before that, I couldn’t make sense of my mood swings, feelings toward people, and anxiety caused by daily routines. Therapy didn’t make these things go away; sometimes, I even wonder if it amplified these feelings.
In my experience, the goal of someone who is living with depression is not to overcome this condition; it’s about learning how to deal with it. There is no guarantee that it will always work, but if we don’t try, it’s inevitable that our suffering continues (or gets worse).
Here are three analogies that help me to look at the brighter side of life and calm my anxiety:
1. Surfing and suffering
Most surfers will agree that catching waves is one of the most enjoyable things in the world. But every surfer knows that riding a wave usually happens after paddling out to the break. Making our way to the open ocean is a battle against the incoming waves and currents.
It is almost inevitable to get crushed by a few waves before making it into our first wave of the day. And once we’ve ridden a nice wave, the drama starts all over again, and we have to paddle back out.
When the waves are tossing us around, there is not much that we can do. We wait until we can come back to the surface and make our way out of the danger zone—there is no point in trying to stop the momentum of a wave that is crushing us. Once we surrender to this short moment of frustration, we can refocus and prepare for the next moments of joy.
The more often we practice our duck diving (a technique to not get crushed by a wave), the easier it will be to deal with challenging situations. And once we accept that every fun wave we catch takes the effort of bringing us into the right position to catch it, we can truly enjoy our surfing experience.
The same goes for life. If our goal is never-ending, uninterrupted joy, we won’t see any beauty in our lives.
2. Technology and overwhelm
Do you know this situation when your computer all of a sudden gets super slow, starts making noises, and heats up? Most of the time, the reason for this to happen is that we have 40 tabs open, listen to music, and download a movie for our evening relaxation.
Our computer is simply not able to process all these tasks at the same time. Especially when there are programs running in the background that we don’t even notice or know anything about. Sometimes an update helps, other times, we need to clear our cache, and in some cases, we have to call an expert.
Unfortunately, our brains work in a similar way. When I try focussing on work, but my subconscious mind is still busy processing something that happened the day before, I usually end up getting anxiety attacks. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and literally have eight different thoughts going through my mind at the same time—just like my computer that keeps crashing.
As humans, we can update our software by reading inspiring books or listening to someone who seems to be helpful. We can clear our cache by taking some time off and readjusting our nervous system (maybe practice some yoga). And if all of that doesn’t help, we can still reach out to a qualified therapist.
But if we expect to roll through our lives without updating our mindset, taking enough time to rest, and interacting with others, we will continuously crash our nervous system—just like that old computer we keep shouting at (hint: that doesn’t help).
3. Performance and perception
As a musician, I often wonder about the quality of my performances. I played in a punk rock band for several years, I played as a solo artist in different countries around the world, and I had the pleasure to be part of a few pop-up projects with amazingly talented musicians—but up to this day, I keep beating myself up for being a sh*t musician.
Often the reason for that is the criticism that I receive from folks who apparently don’t enjoy my music. I remember concerts in restaurants when I asked myself, “Why am I even playing music? These people hate it.”
Other times, we played shows with our band and got celebrated by our audience for mediocre performances.
But none of these situations tell me anything about the quality of my music—it only tells me something about the particular audience that day. The exact same show could be the most fun time for one person, while it leads to another listener immediately leaving the location.
And that’s something I try to incorporate into my daily life. Just because someone doesn’t see or appreciate my accomplishments doesn’t devalue my actions.
It’s not the job of the audience to make the musician feel good about themselves, and it’s not the job of my friends to make me feel successful—being happy with what we do is an inside job.
As mentioned in the beginning: knowing these analogies doesn’t save us from depression and anxiety, but it helps to understand the reason behind these health conditions.
The absence of perfection is not evidence of failure—accepting our imperfections and understanding their roots is the exact opposite of failure.
When I think that I am the most depressed person in the universe, I always tell myself, “Before therapy, you had no idea why the world always seemed to be your enemy. There was no understanding of where this never-ending sadness and insecurity came from. When I had no idea about my depression, folks perceived me as a fun person. After I started acknowledging my pain, friends described me as a negative person—but I actually feel happier than before. This paradox only shows that others might go through a similar experience without even knowing—and therefore, I am grateful to know about my condition.”
Depression and anxiety are not reasons to give up on life; they are guides toward learning how to build a life.