January 4, 2017

Why Rewriting the Story of Anxiety & Depression is the First Step.

Anxiety and I go so far back, it’s safe to say Santa was my first therapist.

In third grade, I wrote him a three-page letter filled with questions: What do I do about the fact that I’m only nine but I’ve already met the boy I’m going to marry? Do my stuffed animals really come to life when I leave the room? Am I just a doll in a dream house?! 

I believed in magic with an unwavering ferocity, so when I found out Santa wasn’t real, I wasn’t just disappointed. I was depressed.

The color bled out of my world. I went from skipping through a Lisa Frank landscape to sitting numbly in the corner of a blank paint-by-numbers page. No wonder adults are so sad, I thought, if magic is a lie.

I grew up, begrudgingly, but anxiety and depression came with me; two imaginary friends I struggle to shake off. I often feel stuck in a doomed pattern, the monkey in the middle of an exhausting game. Anxiety perches on my shoulder and urges me to write stories in my head about my future bliss. It insists everlasting joy is just out there, waiting for me on a beach in Thailand, or in the bed of my soulmate. Or no, it’s there, in the bookstore, right next to the pyramid display of my latest bestselling novel.

So I write and write and write, spinning myself in circles until my stories make me dizzy and I fall down. And who’s waiting to catch me with arms wide open but depression. It whispers in my ear, tells me that I’ve been wasting my time, that I’ve been duped yet again, as my stories have actually been nothing but my brain twiddling its proverbial thumbs, keeping me busy. I lose myself in that numb no-man’s-land for weeks at a time. And then thanks to hormones or luck or who knows what, the anxious motor revs itself to life again, drives me up out of my hole, and places me firmly back in the middle of the storytelling circle.

I’m sick of this pattern. But more than anything, I’m sick of beating myself up for supposedly being sick. Shockingly enough, criticizing myself for being the way I am never makes me feel any better.

So lately I’ve been wondering what life could look like if I rewrite the script on anxiety and depression.

What if I throw those labels away? Say that instead of anxiety, I have an intense inner sunlight always ready to help the seeds of stories grow.

With the help of a regular awareness practice like meditation or journaling, perhaps I could garden those stories into poems or plays or articles like this. And when the weeds of worry inevitably spring up, when I find myself again lost in crop circles, or rolling down lonely roads like a tumbleweed, what if I call that depression, moonlight? Appreciate the darkness as a respite from the occasionally harsh light of day. See it as a time to enter my cave, tend an inner fire, and reflect on the shadows dancing on the walls of the earth.

It feels so good to view the light and dark phases of my life as worthy of appreciation. Freed from old thought patterns and standing strong in a new perspective, it amazes me that as a human being I not only have the ability to dream fantastical dreams, but also the discernment to determine which dreams I want to put my energy behind. I am grateful for these moments of clarity, when it’s clear that the stories I spin about my life are Mad Libs, with the person, place, or thing that will supposedly fulfill me just a fill-in-the-blank, forever changeable.

When I step outside the stories, I find myself here. In this moment. With the sense that the only way to reach happiness is to let go of the story that it is out there waiting to be reached.

This understanding feels like a gift that keeps on giving, as the present is always unwrapping itself, revealing itself to be pure sensation.

Turns out the joy can be found in being in my body and witnessing the unfolding moment without judgment. There is a strange sort of wonder here in what I usually write off as mundane: in the tingling of my butt falling asleep on the couch, in the papercut stinging my fingertip, in the sleeping cat that just farted itself awake. I am here, really here, and if that’s not pure magic, I don’t know what is.


Author: Lexi Tess

Image: Minoru Nitta/Flickr Commons 

Editor: Erin Lawson

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