The hardest thing about recovery can be the first step. It’s an alluring thought to be done with depression, but recovery can seem as overwhelming as the illness you’re trying to end. Since you may not have any energy at all, how can you begin to follow all this advice: get active, go running, start meditating, eat all that nourishing food, change your thinking, find your purpose in life, starts months of therapy, try a bunch of meds. And be determined to get through the long, tough grind.
Even the thought of all that is exhausting. The reality is quite different.
Perhaps you’re trying to think about recovery while lying in bed in a dark room, your mind drifting. There could be sunlight streaming through the windows, but it’s still a dark room. Everything around you fades into the background, loses its color, even its shape. You can feel the weight of all that stuff cluttering up the room – and your life. You forget where it all came from, the reasons you arranged them just so. What does it all matter?
You can’t do anything. Simple things feel impossible – getting up, throwing water on your face, dressing, eating something – all are work, and you’re not moving. Where there used to be energy, intention, will, action, there is now lead. It’s like being on a high mountain, the oxygen levels get lower, you tire too quickly, your legs are leaden weights that can only be lifted with a strength that’s deserted you – and a determination you just can’t muster. So you sit, all energy gone. But resting, slow breathing don’t restore you because the air’s too thin. All you can do is sit, overwhelmed with weakness.
How on earth can you begin to change? How can you even think about starting recovery, or doing anything at all?
Reach over to the lamp by your bed, twist the little knob, pull the short chain, press the button – however it works, just turn on the light. You’re so used to darkness, the brightness shocks your eyes, and your mind for an instant goes blank. But then a flood of impressions hits. In the dark you’ve only been seeing what’s in your mind. Of course, it’s all bleak, like looking at the night sky with all your failures the only bright points across a vast black emptiness. With light, colors emerge, the shapes of things stand out, your mind is busy sorting through it all.
It’s a flashing moment when your mind stops in surprise as you remember what each thing is – what it really is behind the screen you’ve put over it. These are simple things, pictures, clothes, CDs, shelves full of the odd things you’ve tossed there. But you brought each one into this room, and your mind links it to some use or purpose you’ve pushed aside into mental shadows. For just a moment they stand out again. It’s a small step of reconnection to a life you’ve led outside the limits of depression. A tiny step, but a start.
Once I felt that sudden shock, and it helped wake me up – in a couple of ways. Here’s how I described it in a post I wrote three years ago (with a couple of minor edits).
I awoke in the middle of one night, or rather I gave up trying to sleep. Thoughts of an incident at work were stinging me – I had failed to do X, or Y was upset with me or a clever strategy had backfired. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop going over it and had made myself weary with the fears of what would follow from what felt like the greatest blunder of my life. After hours of tossing, I saw it was getting toward dawn. I decided to get up but my mind had become foggy – I felt drugged and run down after pouring all my mental energy into the bleakest interpretation of what I had done, who I was. Not wanting to wake my wife that early, I walked in the dark toward the bathroom, feeling my way around obstacles, but still sunk in the misery of those obsessive thoughts. I knew very well this thickness of mind and lingering anxiety could lead to a day of depression in which I would be able to do nothing useful. Then, stepping into the bathroom, I pushed the door closed behind me, reached to the right and flipped the light switch.
And the room came alive with light, shapes, color. Suddenly, my senses and mind were flooded, as each object, tiled pattern, clothing dropped on the floor, magazines, open bottles, everything called up worlds of associations. The brightness of the everyday was dazzling, each thing a link to the simple world of being alive. There were the deep blue and bright white tiles L put in when she redesigned the bathroom, a copy of English Gardens on the floor showing an add for intricate glass greenhouses, that special red hair blower Cathy loves , the dozens of tiny bottles of lotions, sunscreen, hair treatments, a rack of glistening ear rings, the quieting thick towels hanging from racks, the tangling weaves of long bright runners leading me eye across the room to the wall-width mirror and the image of tousled me taking it all in. Colors pull the mind in many directions, a blaze of lightening-fast connections that help assemble the external world as something real, something that you can’t ignore. I felt comfort and relief at this rich sight of a hundred tiny things. All the associations they called to mind crisscrossed in the familiar jumble of a shared life that reassured me. They were part of a reality too complicated to be submerged by inner bleakness. A light switch took me out of myself for that moment to mingle with this population of ordinary things that my wife and I had placed here for a hundred little purposes.
Has there been a moment in any setting that shocked your mind and feelings out of depression, even for a brief time? Perhaps you could let us know what it was like.