Overcoming Resistance

Two men hurrying along a path

Writing is a way of reclaiming my mind from depression, but there is a darker side to it called resistance. I won’t call it writer’s block because the same thing stands in the way of any purposeful activity or major life commitment, including the process of recovering from depression.

It usually begins only after I have resolved to stop avoiding what’s important in my life and go for it. Acceptance is a welcoming state of mind, but to complete a difficult work of any kind I need to add muscle to mindfulness.

The Resistance

Steven Pressfield writes in Do the Work about Resistance as the enemy you go to war with whenever you attempt a creative or original activity. Writing a story, starting a business or taking on any project that you want to do can bring with it a fear that prompts resistance to getting it done.

Pressfield isn’t writing about depression, but much of what he says about resistance applies quite well. As he puts it in The War of Art, the goal of resistance is to kill: “the target is the epicenter of our being – our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give …”

Resistance and Depression

Resistance to accomplishing anything that is important to you is a central aspect of depression itself. Resistance is about fear, delay, self-judgment and the expectation of failure.

It is the barrier between you and living well. It is a force that moves you away from a fulfilling life and toward the illusory relief of escape. It undermines your hopes and fulfills your disappointments.

Resistance is one of the tools of depression to take you out of life altogether, to take away the life force and turn it into a march toward dying. When depression has you completely, the resistance to living is so strong that the rush toward death feels like the fulfillment of your destiny.

You don’t encounter resistance until you try to get free of depression and to resume your life. You no longer want to avoid everything. You want to engage. You want to get better. This is the time resistance pushes you back to the line of scrimmage, the starting point of the clash between you and depression.

Writing Becomes the Block

The thing itself that you want to do or experience can be taken over by resistance. You find yourself stuck with a fake in clever disguise.

Writing is my daily example. When resistance is strong, the words can become a fog to get lost in. I find myself anxiously pouring out an unorganized mass of ideas and straying thoughts that obscure what I am aiming for, a finished piece. I am not blocked from writing. This cloud of interesting words, the writing itself, has become the block.

I am using the words and the gray tangle of lines to tie up the hidden feeling or completed thought or action. I let the anxiety and fear abuse the verbal flow – turn it toward self-defeat, inaction and paralysis.

Resistance is as protean and resourceful as your imagination. When you think you are fighting it, you may suddenly realize that it has taken you over. You are the one who stops trying to do what you had most wanted to do. You make the decision to stop and turn to something else. The reasons seem compelling. As Pressfield puts it, resistance works only in one direction – when you are moving toward your goal. If you go in the other direction, in retreat, the path is clear, and the wind is at your back instead of in your face.

Working with Resistance

How do I overcome resistance, whether to writing or recovery or getting a new job? That has become my trick question. I don’t overcome resistance so much as work with it. Resistance is like my sense of direction – infallibly wrong.

Without a clear map in my mind, I will always make the wrong turn, but I can trust my mistake. If I turn in the direction opposite to the one I think is correct, I will get where I want to go.

Resistance always makes the wrong way look so beautiful, or at least emotionally appealing in the moment. Here’s a great shortcut, or a fascinating and relevant diversion, the perfect place for a mental picnic. I’ve tried to make resistance my unwilling guide by turning away from the promised relief of not doing and looking toward the broken wall, the cactus field or other obstacle that looks and feels like stress, tension and fear – beyond which lies my goal.

Staying with Fear

Fear is the central experience, and working with resistance means sitting with fear for a while. The worse it gets, the more important I know it is to stay with it. I know that I’m close to finishing what I’m trying to do when the fear reaches the intensity of panic. I’m close to something that comes from deepest within me, and that is exactly what I am most afraid of.

In depression, I’m afraid to bring it out in the open because I have come to feel there’s something dangerous inside, something too powerful that needs to be kept under control. Or I’m afraid that once it’s out in the open, I’ll be exposed somehow, too vulnerable, too raw. The fear confuses everything, though the feeling itself seems sharply focused. The object of the fear gets fuzzy and vague. I can never quite name or visualize it. Staying with the fear is the only way I’ve learned to weaken its power.

As you can see, this isn’t about an isolated activity called writing that I like to do for self-expression. It’s about the way I have tried to free myself from the constrictions of depression.

Writing is a stand-in for many dimensions of life. It summons a voice from within that captures a whole being and rides the breath of life from the same deep source.

Whatever your equivalent of writing might be, it captures the uniqueness of you. This is exactly the lively quality that depression tries to bury. It’s not surprising that you can meet so much resistance when trying to live and act from this vital core.

What are the forms of resistance you encounter and how do you deal with them?