Let’s pretend for a minute, if you will, that you and I are close friends.
You trust my advice just as I trust yours. This morning, upon awakening you text me the following:
“Ugh. I do not want to do life today. I just want to crawl back into bed and die. Why is life so hard. *crying emoji*”
(As we all know, in “text speak,” ending a question with a period means you’re in no mood for something as jovial as a question mark. I immediately understand and empathize. That’s why you come to me, after all. Zero judgment.)
This is the same text I get from you at least twice a week, every week. I can only assume you feel this way most mornings, but only reach out to me on the mornings it’s particularly heavy because you know I love you and I want to share in your pain so we can heal together. We’ve known each other for long enough to know we’ve both fought and continue fighting extremely difficult battles.
That’s what we do.
We’ve been blessed/cursed with the ability to think, the ability of introspection, and unfortunately, the ability to punish ourselves over and over again on a seemingly never-ending loop.
Do you think deer, as they graze on sweet green leaves in the forest on a misty summer morning, think things like, “You really made an ass of yourself yesterday, Gerald. Pathetic.”
Here is my text reply to you:
“First, good morning and I heart you. Second, you need to process the emotions as they come up so you can let them go instead of stashing them on the back burners of your mind or shoving them down deep where they can become cancerous. Try making yourself an observer. See yourself as removed from your thoughts and emotions and only observing them from an outsider’s perspective. See how they roll through your mind like a train on tracks. Feel how in control of those thoughts you actually are.”
You: “I just shove them down into my stomach and move on. I’ve got sh*t to do.”
Me: “No bueno. Cut that sh*t out. Listen, that’s what our mind is literally programmed to do—replay the thoughts we’ve grown accustomed to. If we see ourselves as an observer, it can become much easier to see their truth instead of clinging to the addictive emotion they carry. Your brain says… ‘being alone and staying stuffed inside my despair and self-loathing is safe. No one can hurt me here.’ So, naturally, it replays the thoughts it knows will bring you back into that emotional state. That’s why it is so damn difficult to stay in the mindset of ‘hope for the future.’ Your mind will fight you on it tooth and nail because our mind’s one and only job is to keep us safe. That’s it. Its job isn’t to make us happy; it’s survival. We have to fight for our right to stay in a good headspace. Every single day.”
There’s a movie called, “What the BLEEP Do We Know?” (featuring Marlee Matlin) that I truly wish everyone would watch. There’s a scene where they are at a wedding and the narrator dives into how our brains hardwire themselves for things like complaining.
You know how you have that one friend who seems to walk around with their own personal storm cloud? The “Eeyore” (sad donkey, friends with a chubby bear with a honey addiction) of the group, if you will. The one who never has anything positive to say. The “Debbie Downer.” Don’t get me wrong, we all take turns being that person at different times throughout life, but some fall deeply into its grasp and make a home there. This movie describes in detail what is happening within the brain of that person to cause this repetitive oh-woe-is-me behavior. It’s both fascinating and enlightening.
Watch the movie. Learn. Understand, and in doing so, you’ll be able to understand, interact with, and help the people you love on a whole new level.
Essentially, we need to rewire the synapses in our brain through the opposite repetitive behavior. Every time you think something like, “I look so terrible today,” catch yourself and instead, even if you don’t feel it with so much as even one singular fiber of your being, think, “I look amazing.”
It isn’t easy. It isn’t a one-time fix. You aren’t going to stand in front of your bathroom mirror repeating things like, “I am worthy, I am loved,” while your brain catches on and changes everything instantaneously, unfortunately. (For the record, I am 100 percent a supporter of daily affirmations.) It takes a good amount of time over the course of one’s life for a person to become hardwired for despair and self-loathing; it’ll take just as long to rewire. Or at least that’s what you should remind yourself on the days you struggle.
Understand that I come to you with this information with the utmost love and respect for any situation you’ve been through or continue to struggle through. I, too, have battled and continue to battle every single day. It’s not that I’ve rid myself completely of strife and despair; my battles have simply changed in appearance, depth, and length since learning and applying these things I’m sharing with you today.
In those moments where I was in my bed, pillow wet and chest heaving from consecutive nights spent fighting for my will to live, I wish someone would have grabbed me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes with love, understanding, and empathy, and said:
“[Insert your name here]: this is not who you are. This is not forever. I know it feels that way. I know your mind tells you there is no hope left. I know your life is difficult and terribly, horribly, undeniably unfair. Please, feel validated in your feelings. Do not add guilt and shame to the mix because your mind tells you that you do not have the right to feel this way. Know that you’re right! Everything you feel is right. You’re allowed to feel everything and to feel it excruciatingly deeply.
But, my darling…
You’re also allowed to heal. No matter what you’ve endured, you have the absolute right to heal and experience joy again. Give yourself permission to heal. It may not feel like much, but it is. It’s everything. You’re telling your mind, ‘I’m in control here.’ No longer will you allow the broken record of despair and self-deprecation to play on repeat within your mind without noticing it for what it is and stopping the thought train on its tracks. Observe. Ask and force yourself to answer. Why did these thoughts arise? What triggered it? Did something make me feel unsure of myself or unsafe? Was it merely the act of waking up and having to go about another day filled with uncertainty? Take back control, even when you feel completely powerless.”
There are some days, I know, when nothing anyone says or does can possibly hope to penetrate the armor of your depression. Those are the days, my friend, when we have to be our own knights in shining armor. We have to be the person we lie awake praying for.
And, if all else fails…shake.
I mean it quite literally. Stand up and shake your body as hard and quick as you possibly can. Shake your booty, your legs, your belly, your arms…shake out those wrists and hands (feels so good!), your head, your feet—shake!
This is the silliest, I know, but most effective thing I’ve ever learned in my 40-plus years on this planet. Google the science behind it, go ahead, but essentially, you’re waking your entire body up. You are getting your blood pumping so that freshly oxygenated blood can finally reach your brain cells and help you to think more clearly. On a more esoteric level, it helps shake the trauma loose. Have you heard people say things like we store our emotions in our bellies, or our trauma in our hips? Shake that sh*t loose! Shake well and shake often! I promise you, it’s a game changer, and it’s just so stupid simple.
I even bought one of those fancy little vibration platforms you stand on and it vibrates your entire body for you. I use it at least once a day for 15 minutes. My (teenage) kids use it and love it. My dogs hate it, but that’s not important. Physicians are recommending them for things like circulation issues, increasing blood flow, building bone density, fighting osteoporosis, loosening stiff joints, strengthening your immune system, reducing cellulite, boosting human growth hormone levels and lymphatic flow, and so on.
Those with depression are constantly told to get up and get outside. Walk. Physical activity will help! Just get outside! Do it! Ugh, the pressure is ridiculous. Listen, when you’re down in the depths of hell fighting for the will to take your next breath, let alone to go about your day and accomplish basic things that need accomplishing, the last thing you want to do is exercise in any way, shape, or form.
I’m here to tell you from the bottom of my soul—shaking is the answer. Shake. Use a vibration platform thingy. You can watch television or play on your phone while you do it.
Then, once your blood gets a pumpin’ and the fog of depression clears from your beautiful mind just enough to allow the tiniest bit of new thought in—hit it with the questions that stop it dead in its tracks. Allow the observer to take over and start to really see your repetitive thoughts for what they are: a hardwired mind on auto-play just trying to keep itself safe. Survival, not happiness. Take control and fight for your right to feel joy again.
“Shaking out the numb
Let me feel something
Shaking to remember
Shaking to pretend
Shaking to believe in
Shaking to forgive
Shaking for the force
Shaking through the sea
Shaking for your mother and your father, dizzy
Shaking for the faking
Shaking for babies
Shaking for the shaking
Shaking set you free
Shake, shake, shake, shake”
From the song, “Numb” by Sylvan Esso. (Highly recommend.)