Seriously, though, it’s hard. It’s hard when you feel inextricably glued to your mattress. Or couch. And all the darkness is pressing you down. You check your alarm clock and see that it’s time to get up. So you change it for fifteen minutes later. Or twenty. Or, if you’re really gloomy, sometimes an hour.
For those of us with depression/anxiety, this can be an almost everyday occurrence. Just the simple fact of having to eat and shower represents a challenge, let alone the impossible challenge of leaving your house and having to rejoin the much faster, much more active world around you. You’d rather sit and stay.
It doesn’t always happen in bed, though, or in the morning. Sometimes it happens throughout the day. Looking back, one of my worst moments was when I was on vacation (ironically) having dinner in a restaurant. I remember the colors seeming to grow darker. The faces and voices of everyone around me became suddenly distant. I felt a wall going up between me and everything else in the room. There were sounds and images dancing around me, yet I wasn’t attuned to them. I lost my appetite. I felt sick to my stomach. It felt like I was slowing being sucked out of reality.
I wanted to leave, immediately. Just like the time in the appliance store when, for some reason, I started to feel hopeless. And the thought of happiness seemed to make me even more hopeless, because I knew something dark and vicious would come to sabotage it. When things look good, they can’t be good. Not really, when you’re in that state of mind. I can recall being on the D.C. metro feeling trapped, almost claustrophobic among dozens of other people. I wanted then so desperately to flee: to run into my bedroom and shut the door for the next five or six hours.
You want to flee when these things happen: to lock yourself away from the rest of society. At times I have, but at other times I have learned that doing the most difficult thing can also be the most helpful.
Back to my vacation example. After the restaurant I went back to my hotel room and plunged into a slumber of self pity. I turned the lights out, drew the curtains, and lay in bed for the next couple of hours. As time wore on I realized there was no way I could stay like this. If I continued to waste the night away just laying there, I would wake up the next morning feeling even worse.
So I did the hardest thing: I got up. I grabbed my guitar, went outside to the beach boardwalk, found a quiet bench to sit down on, and started playing. Just for a little bit. It didn’t really lift my mood up that much, but it did help to get me outside. Which is something that I desperately needed to do at the moment. Afterwards, I started to walk along the boardwalk. I started to feel the air around me, recognize the sights of people, and listen to the gentle calm of the tide rushing in. I went to a few stores, not to shop, but just look around casually. I found that the walk was helping me to refocus, not necessarily on something specific or concrete. It was helping to bring me back to reality.
Reality checks are a MUST HAVE for someone struggling with depression or anxiety. And sometimes it involves doing the hardest thing of all: getting your ass up. When you’re down, that feels impossible. It seems like the worst thing you could possibly do is walk outside to the punishing world you just escaped from. But once you’ve done it, you find that it’s actually not as terrifying as you once imagined. The terror of “outside” lies within: facing the “outside” is what helps to calm it. Once you re-attune (if that’s even a word) yourself to your surroundings, you learn to adapt to them.
If I had stayed in bed like I wanted, I would not have helped myself to readapt. I would have sunken down further. To me the fear of that outweighed my fear of going outside. But it doesn’t always. That’s why I have to train myself to do the most difficult thing. Sometimes going out hasn’t helped; at the end of the day I still feel bad, if not worse. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.
Getting out is always the hard part. Motivation requires admitting that, once you leave, the world won’t crush you under heel. You have to admit that before you can actually experience it. The experience is much easier once you’ve accepted it. MUCH easier. The motivation is what seems impossible. Even for the smallest endeavor. But that’s the key: small endeavors. Make your endeavor as small as possible: just to walk, just to breathe. Just to look around and see faces the way they are, instead of the monstrous way you suspect them.
That’s the easy part, I guess. Sometimes. It may not always work 100%, but it’s worth a try. It feels easy once you’ve realized and accepted. But accepting is where the challenge is: or at least deciding to. The bed feels comfortable: not because it’s particularly warm and cozy. But because it’s the one thing keeping you away from “out there”.
Hopefully this doesn’t sound like another cliche pep talk. I’m not trying to sit up and tell you you’re a “great and wonderful person”. You’re a person, just like everyone else. Neither perfect, nor completely screwed. This is the same kind of thing I have to convince myself of almost every day, even though there are plenty of days where I choose to believe the latter. Everything is hard, in theory, when you’re depressed. In action, it becomes much less complicated when you’ve determined to do the simplest, yet most impossible thing.
That would be getting your ass up. Looking at the world around you. And breathing. Slowly.