“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
My name means “from the dark waters.” How ironic.
Rather than being a fun fact I use in a game of Two Truths & A Lie, it’s a fact that resonates with me, touching on something I’m all too familiar with. Those dark waters. It’s common to describe struggling with depression and anxiety as drowning; I often have. Anxious thoughts rise up all around clapping me in the face while depression threatens to pull me under. I find myself pedaling tirelessly against the pull of the current and bobbing precariously on the surface. It sometimes feels that it would easier if I just let myself sink.
It can be extremely difficult to rise above the surface and be productive in these times. Even the smallest task can feel like too much. So things get put off, ignored, or intentionally forgotten. People encourage me to get out, do something with meaning, hang out with people, but it’s just not that easy. I’m busy swimming and trying to survive. But if the depressed and anxious want to find freedom, we all know that it’s better to swim with purpose than to drown in those dark waters. I’ve found that rewarding myself has been a helpful strategy to keep me swimming.
Reward yourself for pushing above the surface, even if just for a minute, and accomplishing tasks, big and small. Buy yourself a new book, a new record, grab a treat on your way to accomplishing a task, go do something you enjoy. Discover not just what will motivate you but what will offer a glimpse of joy, rest, and peace in a cumbersome time. Here are two examples from my life:
The baby finally went to sleep for his morning nap. I had been pedaling the dark waters while trying to hold my son above the surface. I was tired, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and depressed. All I wanted to do was sit. So that’s just what I did as soon as he went down. Then, like the tolls of death, from the back door, I heard a ring-a-freakin-ding-a-ling and felt a brick drop in my soul. The dog rang the bell saying he needed to go outside. What could be worse? The anxious waters crashed over me. The thought of just standing up was daunting. It felt impossible. I couldn’t do it. Eventually, I decided that I could muster the energy, but not to let the dog out, to refill my coffee. I got up and, of course, I did both. But it became less about the negative and more about the positive. It was less about the ocean and more about the shore.
The second example was when I decided to finally see a doctor for my mental health. It was such an overwhelming task but I knew that it needed to be done. I had been wanting to buy Steinbeck’s East of Eden Centennial Edition to add to my geeky hardcover book collection. I committed, though, to not buying the $30 book until after the appointment. By doing this, again, it became less about the negative and more about the positive. It was less about the ocean and more about the shore.
When we are swimming towards something else, the dark waters have less power over us. The next time you feel like you are being swallowed by them, look to the shore and catch a glimpse of joy, rest, and peace. Use the opportunity to reward yourself for simply getting up. What would offer joy if you saw it on the shore? Swim toward that reward.
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