There is a lot to explore in the idea of changing the mindset of recovery to that of finding purpose for the future. Just as I could undo the belief in my perpetual illness, I could also undo the belief that there had been little meaning or value in what I had done in the past. In other words, purpose might not be something I have yet to discover.
The insistent verdict of depression that I’ve accepted for so long, with its refrain of my worthlessness and failure as a person, only undermined the idea that I could ever have done anything of value in the past, or could in the future. I’ve known for a long time that what depression told me wasn’t true, but I believed that it was. I had to be able to change that mindset, and I remembered a couple of famous quotes:
– Pascal said in his Pensees about the search of a doubting man for God:
“You would not be seeking Him, if you had not already found him.”
– Gandhi once said in a speech, as quoted in Conquest of Violence:
“The bond of the slave is snapped the moment he considers himself a free being. He will plainly tell the master: I was your bondslave till this moment, but I am a slave no longer…”
I had to stop thinking I was a slave to this condition; I had to see the purpose I had already found.
I do not in any way mean to imply that major depression is only a matter of mindset and belief. No distortion of thought and emotion that can drive people to kill themselves could only be that. But it has been true for me that until belief, conviction and thinking had started to change, there was no hope for dislodging depression as the major force in my life.
How could I begin to sort out my experience and find this purpose and direction – or meaning, as Viktor Frankl puts it? I wanted to focus first on my work life, where I had recently made a huge breakthrough. The new sense of excitement, however, had only served to heighten the contrast with the negative feelings I still had about what I had done in the past. To change that old belief about my life up to that point – especially my work life – I needed some method to start sorting it out and help me cut through the confusion that had previously made this task so difficult.
Though it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit it, I found a simple tool not in the writing of a philosopher, spiritual leader or psychologist but in a blog post by one of the online gurus of marketing. Chris Brogan *wrote* about the idea that people trying to market their own services needed to present a simple story about who they were, what their passion was and what unifying purpose tied together everything they had done in their careers.
Taking this method out of the context of “personal branding,” I looked back at the types of work I had done to find that unifying story. A couple of things stood out.
I have always tried to interpret between groups and individuals of different values, cultures and histories so they could more effectively communicate and learn from each other.
I have always done this work with people in conflict and have had a driving interest in learning what they had faced in their life experiences and how these encounters had shaped their values and beliefs.
I have worked through many media and professional roles, but my most effective and fulfilling has been writing.
To get to the heart of my work life: I’m a writer, interpreter and mediator. Writing is what I’m most passionate about because I love the written word and because it is my method of discovery. It doesn’t even matter how good I might be. It’s what I do.
This is not news to me at an intellectual level. What has been building for some time – and is new – is the inner conviction, the felt belief, that there is plenty of meaning and value in the essential work I have always done. My purpose is already there, and I’m running with it. This is my way of acting in the world instead of hiding my fearful and doubting self in a thick blanket and imagining I’m invisible.
That’s an insight about my work life. It’s only step one.
What have you found in looking back in time to find the purposes that have shaped what you’ve tried to do? Whether you’ve been successful or frustrated is not the point. What’s been there all along?