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We’re in the middle of a pandemic—who wouldn’t be depressed?
Although this circumstance may leave us appropriately feeling this way, I would also like to offer up the idea that maybe it’s possible that these feelings of depression actually serve us in some way.
Lately, I’ve noticed a shift in my perception regarding certain circumstances listed below. In fact, my 14 years of consistent meditation have sparked a new way of seeing a lot of things that once made me feel depressed.
What if you’re depressed and…nothing has gone wrong?
What if the emotion of depression is just a friendly messenger letting us know that our life is not in alignment with our highest good?
I like to think of depression like my GPS telling me I’ve made a wrong turn and need to get back on course in my life.
Instead, we often make depression mean that something has gone horribly wrong and we’re broken. We label the feeling of depression as dysfunctional and try to get rid of it as soon as possible, because we think we’re not supposed to have that feeling.
Of course, there’s a lot in our culture telling us we’re supposed to be happy all the time. The reality is that the experience of life is a mix of emotions. We’ll feel great some of the time, and other times we’ll feel like sh*t.
Choosing to believe that we’re supposed to be happy all the time only makes us feel worse because we think we should feel happy and we don’t. It’s a lie that we’re supposed to feel happy all the time.
Depression often pops up as a messenger to tell you that you’re believing a lie.
When depression visits me, I ask her to have tea with me and we chat.
She always brings me insight when I sit and listen. When I don’t, she hangs around and nags at me until I do.
I ask my guest, “What’s the matter, love?” And then I listen for her loving advice.
Below are 10 mind patterns and behaviors that my sweet, thoughtful messenger has shared with me. Some of them may seem simple and obvious, and you may have seen them before. Some of them may be new to you, or may be something similar which can now be seen in a different light.
1. Not having a bedtime.
I used to suffer from bedtime procrastination.
I’ve observed that many people have this same issue. When I don’t have a consistent bedtime it makes me tired. I want to stay in bed, instead of feeling well-rested and greeting the next day with eager anticipation.
In addition, I feel tired all day which taints my entire day with the feeling of tiredness, lack of energy, and the feeling that things are just too much effort and too hard. I don’t have enough energy to stay checked in or enough energy to even care.
And, if I’m not feeling depressed, then I’m certainly behaving like it and trying to convince my mind and body otherwise.
Without a bedtime, I’m setting myself up for a day with a deficit already in my joy account. The worst part is that I’m doing it to myself. I’m dipping out of my own bucket before I come to meet the world for the day, and then I become bitter at the world as it dips into my bucket—and then even more bitter toward myself for doing the same. The result of this pattern is less resilience.
Create a grounding bedtime ritual that calms and soothes the nervous system. I like a hot cup of tea and time to reflect on the day’s simple joys. I write them in my gratitude journal.
2. Not eating well.
Same story as above. What’s more is that not getting enough rest doesn’t give me time or energy to make proper meals. I reach for sugar or flour instead, wanting instant energy, which will later make me crash with exhaustion and perpetuate the cycle.
Feel the tiredness and lethargy of my choices. Do not impulsively dull or resist the situation and feelings at hand with sugar or other unhealthy food choices.
3. Living among clutter. And mess.
It makes everything hard. It creates a feeling of constant overwhelm. I can’t just easily fill a water pitcher, because I have to do dishes that are in the way first. Why bother? Open the fridge and I’m hit with all the things I need to do there too—I can’t find unspoiled food or a space to put the good food. I’m overwhelmed again. Why bother? Everything is too hard. The constant reminders of empty bottles, bread wrappers on the counter, and expired food are like neon signs flashing “emotional neglect zone.”
Recognize that everything has its place and follow through. It takes effort. But, that effort doesn’t feel as heavy as the burden of clutter. Likely, the idea that it is hard is just a thought. Focus on the outcome, and how good it feels being in a clean and clutter-free environment. Often, the very thing causing us to feel depressed is focusing on the parts we don’t like versus focusing on the benefits.
Again, depression is a great messenger that can tell you that you’re focusing on what you don’t want and missing what you do want. It will let you know when you’re focusing on things that will take you off course.
Make a U-turn when possible.
4. My word is no good. Or others’ words are no good.
When I don’t honor my own word, or someone else doesn’t honor theirs, then expectations are not met and there is no follow-through. This dashes my hopes on a constant basis. Life can feel defeating, hopeless, and destitute. It breaks my trust in that person or myself. Even to be late and break my word, I will get angry at traffic that seems to be in my way.
Practice being impeccable with your word. Stop having expectations of others that they simply cannot meet. Likely, they are doing their best. Believing that someone will keep their word when they don’t is believing a lie. And believing lies is out of alignment with reality. Believing lies is something that will cause me to feel depressed.
If I forget, my messenger comes to remind me. In my mind, she keeps my suffering to a minimum.
5. Failure to plan.
People plan and prioritize according to what they value and what is important to them. When I don’t plan for my own well-being or what is important to me, it sends the message to myself that I don’t matter and I’m not important.
Recognize and acknowledge my values and make plans accordingly. Take time to evaluate my actions and reflect whether or not they truly support my values.
6. “Have to” versus “Get to.”
Language has the power to create our reality. When I go through my day feeling like everything is a “have to,” my day feels heavy with drudgery. The moment I realize, there’s nothing I have to do, everything becomes a choice. Then, I feel free and pretty darn grateful for all that I “get to” do!
One thing that changed my perception was going through a period of time in my life when I was so ill that I didn’t “get” to do anything. At the time, I remember thinking I’d love to just be able do something normal like clean my house or go to work.
Now, I’m actually grateful those are things I “get to” do. Most of us label those things as “have to’s.” Given the choice, most of us may really want to do those things.
Write down all your “get to’s” each evening in a gratitude journal.
7. Being self-absorbed.
Once, when I was feeling depressed, I asked one of my friends (a therapist) what she recommended as a solution. She said, “Stop thinking about yourself. Do some volunteer work.” When I participate in nothing outside of myself, all I have to think about is how my own little world is lacking and nothing ever goes right for me. It’s easy to ruminate on my small world.
Do something for others. Take the focus off yourself. Do some volunteer work or even perform random acts of kindness. This is one of the reasons I chose to become a Big Sister. Best decision ever.
This one is huge. Overindulgence is abuse. It is spoiling myself rotten by eating too much, sleeping too much, spending too much, and so on.
Overindulgence always comes with a net negative gain despite feeling good at the time of partaking.
We often do this to avoid the feeling of being “unfulfilled.” Until we actually sit and have tea with that, we will likely never learn why we feel that way. And, as long as we can overindulge to buffer that feeling with food, alcohol, screens, and more, we will never have the chance to sit with it and choose the things that actually will fulfill us.
We can never get enough of what we don’t really want.
Set limits. Less is more. Every time. Discipline is the highest form of love. It is not the same as restriction. Recognize that restriction comes from a place of punishment. Discipline comes from a place of love.
Set limits with love. Stop the buffering activity and feel. You cannot numb out the bad feelings without also numbing out the good ones too. Practice numbing out, and you will feel numb. We are what we repeatedly do. And feeling numb will bring on your friendly visitor as well.
Who really wants a life that feels numb?
This includes lack of self-care and overindulgence in emotionally immature feelings like self-pity. We all have a manual for ourselves of how we should behave. When we don’t act how we think we should, and have feelings like depression or self-pity, we totally withhold our own self-love and approval. We abandon ourselves.
Can you love yourself even when you’re not living up to who you believe you should be? Meditation has taught me to sit and stay. This practice has taught me to sit with myself even when I’m acting or feeling unpleasant. Practice being with yourself when you feel self-pity instead of numbing out. Ask yourself what you need to be nourished.
10. Not taking a risk.
For many of you, this might seem like a surprise on this list. But here’s the thing: without risk, we never truly leave our comfort zone or get to feel the experience of feeling fully alive.
“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone” and “coasting is the kiss of death.” What I’ve learned for myself is that my anxiety is really nothing more than an intense dislike for the feeling of discomfort. It’s the fear of feeling.
Remember college? Remember how everything was new and exciting and we were constantly learning something new about ourselves and growing and feeling the results of that? Why does your soul always want to go back to times like that? Because risking and expanding make us feel alive.
Try new things. Take risks. Especially, the ones that scare you.
As a human, you were designed to evolve. We are either actualized by that inclination or defeated by the suppression of it. Commitment to evolving is intrinsic. When we allow fear to prevent action, we cause our own suffering and then we comfort ourselves with buffering and numbing out. Depression is your cue to exit that strategy.
Now as far as the pandemic goes, I’ve surrendered to the unpleasantness and we have tea. I often find that we laugh together about ideas of what “should” be versus what is.
My loving messenger taught me that arguing with reality is painful.
She says to me, “live in this moment now, love.”