Six years ago, give or take, I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. Having spent years feeling a kind of hopeless dull normal, it was a relief to hear from a medical professional that it wasn’t just me; it wasn’t just that I’m weaker than everyone else, or less capable of taking the unbearable awfulness of my life, as I’d suspected. The chemicals in my brain were imbalanced. This could be fixed.
I think those first few years I must have been a bit weird; assigned a drug with a name that implied it would work (Effexor – now with even more effex!), I found I’d traded one kind of miserable for another, though it was a more bearable misery. I wished for a switch to flip, a miracle, a fixer. I wished (oh, I still do) that they could find my depression and cut it out where it lies. We tried different drugs, different doses, and eventually I found that what really helped was Omega 3-6-9 capsules and exercise, and everything improved dramatically after that.
But lingering at the back of my mind is the fear that I’ll slip, or that the Omega’s effects will wear off and I’ll be back where I started or worse. I’ve read the literature; Clinical Depression is theorized to essentially scar your brain, making it easy to fall back into the chasm you’ve hauled yourself out of. I don’t mind being sad sometimes, but that unvarying sameness of depression isn’t sadness. It’s hard to describe, but it’s not the same as being sad. I look back at it with a horror that motivates me now to ensure I never go back there.
So I turned to a section of the bookstore heretofore ignored; the self-help section. Ugh, I know. I’ve read books on clearing your clutter with Feng Shui and the science of happiness; I’ve done The Artist’s Way thrice (differently useful each time). I’ve read acres of text on a variety of subjects, from recovering from mental blocks to overcoming addictions. Because, much as Depression is a medical condition, it’s also a habit, an addiction, a way of living. The familiar, comforting awfulness of depression is a security blanket – a certainty – where the world of overall happiness and possibility is a terrifying no-man’s land. It’s the Devil I know; it’s the lover I can’t quite get over.
Reading Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook, I see that the techniques employed to overcome drug and sex addictions are the same techniques, differently framed, that I find in The Artist’s Way, which makes perfect sense. I also see that once he cleared up his issues and began seriously working on them and his addictions, his focus was freed up to work on success, and he achieved that in a relatively short time. Not that he hadn’t been having successes before that; you generally don’t get handed tv shows. But he’d always kinda been a fringe fuckup until he got himself in hand.
Positive thinking comes off as hocus-pocus and silliness, as does a lot of this self-help stuff, I know. But I think it’s often in the wording, and in the way the basic concepts are described. And also in the scorn of people whose half-attempts lead inevitably to failure; you can’t discount the contentedly miserable, and how much they try to ensure that other miserable people stay cosily with them.
Breaking addictions and habits, overcoming fears and blocks, often has to do with figuring out (without all the noise and obligations and sense of unworthiness and whatever other garbage you’ve got screaming around in your brain) what it is you want, and making plans to move forward in that direction. And then going there. And that’s positive thinking in a nutshell. It’s not magic, it’s not some massive Secret. It’s just that if you intend to do something, you’re much more likely to do it than if you put off thinking about the future and never really take steps to do anything in particular. I can wish to win the lottery all day, but if I don’t go buy a ticket, I certainly won’t win.
I’ve dug up the foundations and poked around a fair amount, and now I know what the structure of my life rests on, where I can build safely and what needs to be stripped back down and rebuilt from scratch. So onwards to the ongoing, serious, simple work.
I’ve been playing Wii a fair amount over the past month; the games are interesting and fun and fairly encouraging, and the language of the movement is a challenge without being impossible. But the main focus of the games almost across the board is balance and posture, which I find interesting. It was also one of the first things we learned at theatre school; one of the few useful things I came away with. For years, I’d destroyed shoes and screwed up my joints because I walked on the outside of my feet, and our Movement teacher corrected me, and I practiced the hell out of that. Everyday, walking to and from school, I’d be working to correct my posture, walk on the three balance points of my feet. I think that’s why people get an impression of confidence from me; I still walk with good posture and control. But it took months, and a hundred thousand tiny shifts every day, until walking that way became habit.
My mind is the same as my posture; I tend to mentally walk the wrong way, see things in the worst light, avoiding making plans if the future seems too scary or uncertain or full of possibilities to contemplate. When I allow my mind to unbalance itself like that, focus too much on fear, it becomes unstable, bowed over, and next thing you know I’m crowd-sourcing bad advice and making panicky decisions and accepting overwhelming volunteer commitments. I fall off the path I ought to be walking, meander and flail all over the goddamn place, end up with very little progress once I finally find my way again. For all my hard work, I’m never much closer to my ultimate goals. But that’s starting to change. I’ve become much better at catching myself lately, and correcting my mental posture. Catching those dark, negative thoughts and renegotiating them; remapping the future with every tiny shift in thinking.
But again, it takes a hundred thousand tiny shifts every day, and constant vigilance, and sometimes when I’m tired or something bad happens I relapse and have to start all over again. But even though it often feels like I’m landing back at the beginning, in reality, I’m creating muscle memory; I’m learning how to stay focused, balanced, happy. It gets easier every day, and every failure is steps closer to success than the last failure.
I doubt I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t have to make corrections. But that’s expected; I’m human, and perfection is unattainable. Success is in the attempt, not the conclusion.
In the Christian church, suicide is generally considered a sin, but I think that the act itself is not the thing that is the sin. The real sin is despair; loss of hope, the end of attempting to succeed. I’m sure a Christian would say, the lack of faith in god, which is despair, but as a semi-pretty-much-non-believer, I’m going to say it’s the lack of faith that things can change and that you have the power to change them.
If you look around right now, we are living in an age where change is happening at great speed. I won’t say unprecedented speed; no student of history can say that word without irony, and I’m not sure I believe that there’s been a time when change wasn’t a constant. But we are living in an age of change, and we are very aware of it, and it is unstable and a little terrifying, if you’re inclined to look on it that way. And sometimes I do, and wonder what’s the point in say, going back to school, if nothing I learn will be relevant by the time I get out?
But the shift I make, when I starting talking to myself like that, is to see this as an exhilarating opportunity. I have maybe a good 40 years left in my life to play a part in the massive and wild changes that are happening around the world; changes in technology, in society, a brave new world. The longer I wait to jump in, the less time I have. If I was 80 today, it would still be the right time. If I was 10, it would be the right time. The right time is whatever time it is.
Things will happen, good and bad. Planes will fall from the sky, romances will flare and die, joints will ache and the weather will turn. That stuff’s all going to happen whether I’m happy or sad, passionately involved or fearfully crouching on the sidelines or wearily turning away from it all. The only things I have control over are my thoughts and actions, and they are mine, and I have faith I can change them; I know I can. I’ve done it a hundred thousand times.