Rescuing Myself from the Cliff of Despair
April 10, 2018
Wouldn’t it be great if our emotional lives were always on the upswing? As in, every day we'd feel happier than the previous day? More joy, greater contentment, deeper peace? Sign me up on that plan.
Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to create that kinda life. At least not yet. Sure, my life is much calmer and steadier than years of past. But there’s still some turbulence, sorta like the stock market.
Sometimes it’s choppy with a mix of great days and mehh days. Sometimes I’m in a bull market with minor downswings.
But every now and then there’s a bear market—also known as a market CRASH. In emotional terms, that’s when all heck breaks loose. It’s when all the progress I’ve made over the years feels like it washes away in just an instant.
That’s where I am now. Trying to keep my roots from ripping outa the ground. Because while the bigger part of me knows “this too shall pass”, the here and now part of me is freakin’ out.
I guess we need times like this in life to actually assess how we’re doing. It’s kinda like a pop quiz. After hands-on life experience, there comes a time to assess how much we’re actually absorbing. How do we really handle ourselves when our ship is taking on water? Do we truly care for ourselves in these times of need? Or is it all just talk? You know, “Ya, ya, I know all that self-care stuff…now tell me how to make this horrible feeling go away!”
How deeply have my spiritual beliefs permeated through all the outer rubbish? Do I sink more deeply into what I know to be true? Have I grown roots like a giant redwood? Or are my hands clamped onto a couple of weak branches while my body is thrashed about like a flag in a hurricane?
Well, I’d like to claim I’m doin’ fantastico, but I’m simply not. The truth is, my clothing looks kinda tattered and my hair’s dishevelled. Because I’ve been in the wind. Hangin’ on. And not gracefully, either.
What brought on the storm?
In a nutshell, my spouse and I are parting ways. Yup. My common-law relationship of 15 years is coming to an end.
On the plus side, this relationship seems to be finding its natural close. Winding down. Folding up its wings. Blessing us with another opportunity to grow and learn. Preparing us for the day when we’ll soar once again. So, there’s no fighting. No ill feelings. No nasty stuff. Because we’re actually parting as besties.
The bad news? Grief doesn’t care. Anxiety doesn’t give a poop. And despair won’t grant me a pass.
Nope. But even though I feel these lousy emotions nibbling away on my extremities, I’m determined to protect my joy.
You’re not touching me, I declare silently to myself. But as my ego sniffs out more and more uncertainty, it grabs the wheel and begins infusing my well-being with impossible questions.
“Where are you going to live?”
“How will you afford a place on your own?”
“Are you making a mistake?”
“You’re going to be so lonely.”
Of course, disastrous visuals begin to manifest and accompany these thoughts. In vivid detail.
So, I go to work on’em right away, reframing each negative worrisome thought into something positive and hopeful. Neutralizing the venom and replacing it with something peaceful. And, like a tennis player, I return each serve with an equally powerful stroke.
“I don’t need to decide anything right now.”
“I have plenty of time to make these important decisions.”
“Everything is gonna work out.”
But then my ego morphs into an automatic serving machine. Set on fast. And the balls start flying at me with such speed I feel like a kernel stuck to the lid of a hot air popcorn popper. One shot after another. And another. And another. And I start feeling a little beat up. Like I’m struggling to keep up with my opponent’s momentum. The lousy feeling thoughts are beginning to pull out in front. And I feel myself weakening.
The fatigue sets in.
Then the overwhelm.
And before I know it, I’m teetering on the edge of despair.
My head feels like it’s literally going to explode. It’s pounding like a gorilla beating its chest. And the heat coming off it could cook an egg. I try soothing it with a cold pack to no avail. It feels like it’s gonna blow. Like, my brain is gonna spew grey matter all over the walls or I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown. Or both. In no particular order.
But it’s in this hellish moment my inner being throws me a life preserver—a tiny little spritz of clarity:
Must have reinforcements.
The message resonates with me so profoundly and with such strength, I instantly know I have to abide. This one’s not up for negotiation. It’s kinda like when you’re a kid and your parent is calling you in THAT voice. You know the one. The voice that says your mom or dad means business. The one that sets off alarm bells inside you, cuz you know this time is different. That it’s serious and you’d better do as you’re told.
So, I acknowledge the truth of my situation.I can’t do this alone. It’s time to call in whatever reinforcements I can think of. Because I have to shoot this overwhelm in the leg and knock it off balance. Or it’s gonna sock it to me. Big time!
First, I call my family physician.
“We can fit you in next week,” a far-away voice utters through the speaker on my phone.
I’m not sure if I respond out of clarity or panic because before I can even process a response, my lips are moving all on their own. So I let them have their way with me. Cuz if ever there was a time to advocate for me, this is it. If ever there was a time not to worry about being a nuisance or an inconvenience to someone else, this was it. If ever there was a time to swallow my ego and unabashedly speak my truth, this was it.
”This can’t wait. I’m feeling pretty desperate,” I confess.
And in that moment, I’m heard. Clear as a bell. It’s like somebody shot a starter pistol and the racers took off. I can’t quite remember exactly what was said. Something about her calling my doctor...having my doctor cut her lunch short...coming in early for me. All I know is within about two minutes, it’s all set up. I’ve secured an appointment and I feel a calming breath float through my lungs.
Reinforcements are on the way.
I meet with my doctor, and after yet another meltdown, I leave with a prescription in hand. Something to help calm my nerves while I ride out this storm. I grip that piece of paper like it’s my best friend. And I chase away any hints of shame with death threats.
Because I’m doing this for ME. Because this is something I NEED in this moment of my life. Because this ISN’T weakness, this is SELF-CARE. And I’m takin’ the wheel back. Because I’M in charge now.
I reach for other reinforcements as well. Natural remedies. Counselling. Inspirational videos. And girlfriends to confide in. I also unburden myself by sharing the status of my relationship with family and friends. All of it helps. Because it’s creating more space between me and overwhelm. Between me and worry. Between me and despair.
You see, there’s one thing I’ve learned about lousy feeling emotions. They like to get their victims alone. They like to do their dirty work in isolation. In the dark. Secluded from any interference, a.k.a help and support.
This reminds me of an Oprah show I watched years ago on abduction. Although the details have faded, the show’s message remains: NEVER let your assailant take you to a second location. Why? Because the second location is always more secluded than the first. And so your chances of survival drop exponentially.
Despair, grief, anxiety, and all their cousins desire to get you alone. To isolate you so they can bathe you in negative messages. To brainwash you into believing their falsehoods. To terminate joy and shred any hope you harbour for its return.
So this experience is a potent reminder for me to speak up and reach out when lousy feeling emotions are attacking. Because my assailant wants to quiet me. And take me somewhere even quieter.
What does this mean in terms of emotional well-being? Well, the assailant is my ego. And the second location is a deeper state of unwellness.
So when I’m feeling sad, the second location is deep depression. When I’m feeling mildly anxious, the second location is full blown panic attacks. You get the idea.
And so one of the most important things I’ve learned about dealing with challenging emotions is this…don’t go quietly. Don’t help your ego drag you off into isolation and darkness. Fight like heck. Make a scene. Do whatcha gotta do. Here’s what I do to raise a ruckus:
- EXPRESS rather than mull and contemplate.
- Be SEEN, rather than isolate.
- ENGAGE, rather than unplug.
- MOVE, rather than rest.
- UNITE, rather than alone-ing it.
- CONNECT, rather than withdraw.
- EXPAND, rather than deflate.
- Take up more physical space.
- Be noisy.
- And remind myself, don’t go quietly.
Is it tough to do these things when I’m wrestling with feelings like anxiety and uncertainty?
Y E S S S S S ! ! !
Fighting the urge to succumb to darkness takes effort. Because the call to retreat to a warm bed and hide under the covers seems comforting. And appealing. But when there’s an underlying plan to remain there until I feel better, that’s a signal to me there’s a problem at bay. A big problem.
Ya, it’s okay to have a tiny pity party and lick my wounds. But when I catch myself wanting to surrender to life’s circumstances, it’s like I’m passing the ball. It’s me saying, “ok, you win”, so I’m just gonna lay down until stuff out there starts to feel better in here.
And there’s just one thing I have to say about that:
“Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!”
Instead, what I’m telling myself I must do is actually the opposite of what I feel like doing. That’s why it’s difficult. Because when I have yicky feeling emotions, it means I’ve already begun losing touch with the real me.
It means the voice of my inner being is already more difficult to hear. That my ego is already messing with my thoughts. That the plan to get me to that second location is already underway.
So how do I muster up the energy to get noisy when I wanna be quiet? To go out when I wanna stay in? To fight when I wanna succumb?
Well, if there’s one thing life has taught me it’s that emotional health can always get worse. Now, I don’t mean to be a Debbie downer here but I come speaking the truth. And the truth is unless I’m dead, there’s nearly always a step lower on the emotional scale than what I’m currently experiencing. And I don’t know about you but that’s freaking frightening!
You see, having experienced depression in my life bestowed me with at least one gift—a healthy fear of its return. Yup, this is one of those times when fear can be a good thing. Because it can be an incredible motivator. So I remind myself if I don’t kick butt, I could slide into that miserable, suffocating, darkness that eats happiness like pop-tarts.
On the flip side, having experienced real joy in my life also bestowed me with gifts. One of ‘em is joy feels so amazing it’s simply NOT an option to live without it ever again. EVER. AGAIN. Which reminds me of an earlier commitment I made to myself:
I’ll do ANYTHING for joy.
So my fear of darkness and my yearning to feel wonderful again insists I buckle up and do what’s required. And what’s required right now is getting reinforcements in place.
I don’t have to enjoy it. I don’t have to feel good while doing it. I just have to DO it. And the rest shall follow. Because now is not the time to TALK about self-care. It’s time to DO self-care. And I don’t just mean taking a hot bath. I mean, treating myself with compassion. Admiring the courage in me for taking each step. Practicing gentleness and kindness with myself—especially when I don’t get it right the first time.
Like a recent decision my spouse and I made to sell the family home privately rather than using a realtor. I had all the practical reasons in place. Selling one home and attempting to buy two homes is infinitely more expensive…even two teeny weeny tiny homes. And we needed to save every penny. So this was the most logical course of action.
Even knowing the vast majority of this venture would fall upon me, I gave myself a pep talk and accepted the responsibility.
“It’ll be difficult,” I told myself, “but I HAVE to do it. Because we REALLY need the money.”
So I begin the process by researching the “hows” of selling privately…writing a description of our property…staging our home for pictures…choosing our advertising sources…uploading our listing…emailing a potential buyer.
And then…overwhelm set in again.
But the great thing about learning self-care is there’s always room for a do-over.
So I get super honest with myself and realize selling privately is just too much for me. I simply do not have the capacity at this time. I also realize my well-being is worth the price of realtor commissions. And that accepting my current limitations and capabilities is NOT weakness. It’s practicing compassion. Self-compassion. It’s walking the walk. It’s DOING self-care, not just talking about it.
So that’s where I am today. Walking. Placing one foot in-front of the other. And walking through the storm. And so far, I feel pretty proud. Because my toes are no longer hangin’ over the edge of despair. And I’m getting real life practice being gentle, kind and loving with myself.
And that, my beautiful friends, is pretty sweet work. Tough…yes…but oh so SWEET.
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and I’m not a mental health professional. Obviously. I can’t possibly know your full situation so please consult a professional before acting upon information from yourpurpleswan.com. Should you decide to act of your own accord, you do so at your own risk. Kinda like skydiving.
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