CW: Mental Health, Depression, Human Frailty. This is a cross post from our company internal updates blog with a few details changed to protect identities. I thought it might resonate with others so I’m giving it a wider audience than I might usually do. In our updates post we ask these, and a few other questions…
How was your last week?
I don’t even know how to begin to describe last week. It was week 5 of my work year and after a week’s holiday I was surprised that from Monday I woke up every day feeling nauseated and anxious which made it impossibly difficult to concentrate and feel like I was making any useful contribution.
In trying to keep going and feel like I was getting anything/something done I kept putting how I felt aside and tried to keep moving, so by Thursday I had two tearful calls one after the other with a friend and colleague, and one with my boss. I’m very thankful they’re both safe places to have a bit of a cry even if I wasn’t really able to articulate clearly what was going on behind the tears.
In waking up Friday with a headache indicative mostly of the tension I was holding in my neck and shoulders I opted to take the day off and look after myself; clearly battling through wasn’t working. Of course then I started feeling stupid that after a week off I couldn’t even manage 4 days of work (stay with me, it gets better).
I am, at my core, someone who prefers to avoid big feelings and pain (Enneagram 7), so my brain will concoct all sorts of ways to do so included, but not limited to, having thoughts like these:
“Start looking for another job, other jobs will be better… ” and the counter-arguments which sound like “no one else would have you, your skills aren’t really transferable and you’re too old to change at this point in your career, face it, you’re doomed” (Hello, and EFF OFF, Imposter and Depression).
Here’s the thing, I’ve been here before, when waking up with that feeling in my stomach grows, and sometimes even turns into dry retching and a total loss of appetite. I didn’t want things to get to that point so I started employing some tools I have learned to explore and ameliorate this state.
I start with reminding myself of the following:
- “Depression lies.” I’ve learned this in the words of both Wil Wheaton and Jenny Lawson, battlers whose words on the subject I’ve read for years and for whom my occasional flirtation with Depression pales against in comparison. It couldn’t possibly have been true that after only 3 weeks of the year, which I’d started with great enthusiasm and productivity should be ashes without an obvious trigger point.. clearly something else was going on.
- Feelings are just feelings, they’re not truth, so acting on, making plans on, and changing big things based on feelings like this are very risky. Don’t make any sudden moves.
- This feeling doesn’t last forever. I’ve been here before, most recently for a fairly big stretch of 2019, and it passed, it will pass again.
- I am living in a f*cking pandemic. Nothing about this is normal, all the usual support acts of flying back to NZ for a dose of family, or heading to Bali for a week of relaxation, massages, and humid warmth aren’t options. This is hard, but I can find ways to meet the needs these activities support (more on this below).
- I have feelings like this (as often as not) because something in my world feels out of alignment or control. So it’s important for me to actually sit down and explore what that might be, and what steps I can take to start to take back a feeling of order and control over my world.
Then I started looking at my circumstances and addressing some of the challenges I know can lead me down this road…
1. How much time I’m spending alone focused inwards. I suspect, that as lovely as my holiday was, it may not have been wise to have gone alone for this very reason, it was still a week of me alone, just like I am at home, and that the longer I spent by myself, the less I wanted to do suggests that in hindsight as pleasant as it was, also may have been a trigger, or a signpost, that this current state I was heading towards.
Action: Scale up the plans to meetup with people now that you are actually allowed to.
2. Inventory my proximity to other humans for sure, but note that it’s also about how many people I have in my world who I can be real with, and who hear me out when I’m having big or difficult feelings. This is a small number of people, and one I regularly need to take inventory of, because having people around who reach out after me is an even smaller number. Being the one in relationships who is expected to be the one to drive the connection may not always be healthy for me. If care for each other isn’t mutual, is the benefit also mutual? (This is a hard question I’m a little scared to ask).
Action: I need to dig into this a bit, or start talking honestly with some of my friends about what I need instead of always being the one worrying about what they need.
3. Digging into the thoughts and feelings that are bigger than I want to confront, or are feeling like they’re out of control. For me, actually writing things down helps, and if you’ve got this far you’re reading some of my ‘processing.’
I’ve started writing out some thoughts that are helping untangle what’s been building up in my mind and heart. Much of it hasn’t seen the daylight yet, nor will it, but actually getting the air onto these thoughts, sharing them with people I trust really helps me see which I should keep, and which should be swept away as untrue, unhelpful, or unnecessary, as well as what should be shared as it may help others.
Action: Keep writing out and processing these thoughts, sharing where useful, saving where future Dee might need it, and discarding that which is untrue and unhelpful.
So how am I today?
Much better, thanks. I’m not there yet, but my thoughts are not nearly as dark, and I’m not nearly as anxious as I was, and right now, I’m not feeling like puking… a big win…
I got here by:
- Running some errands that have been on my to do list for months and were mocking me.
- I booked the massage I’d been given for Christmas, and what do you know it was Thai, so the decor, sounds, and smells of the spa made me feel almost as though I was back in Bali.
- I hung out with people. I invited myself over to a friend’s for dinner on Friday, I had my cousins over to play board games on Saturday, and I spent all day board gaming with friends (in real life) on Sunday. (I appreciate that this is a privilege born of long lock-downs in 2020 and so I’m sorry if it’s a trigger for those of you still living in lock downs).
- I had a big ugly cry.
- I wrote this post and blocked out the framework of another one which I’ll dig into during the week.
How is the following week looking for you?
A lot better. Thanks.
Image Attribution: While I created the header image, the source content was Instagram where I found this post on Karen Akunowicz’s Feed
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