How I stack up against others is not the issue.
I end up “shoulding” all over myself when I think about others.
Either I “should have helped,” “I shouldn’t have helped,” “I should have seen…” or “Why didn’t I see… ” What a cluster. There is no good answer, but there is plenty of pain and suffering and emotional distress when you go down the “should of trail.”
I am proud of myself for mostly resisting this one type of unhelpful thinking.
It is the one trap depression has set for me over the years that I have not fallen for. But that doesn’t keep depression from trying it out every so often, just to see if it can get me going into its spirals of death and despair. For some reason, I can see the fallacy in that type of thinking and do not waste my time (very often) thinking about what could have or should have been.
If I did, I would be at best a basket case, and more likely, I wouldn’t even be around anymore.
I always start to think of Dr. Seuss and “the places we would go.” My mind is too competitive and too focused on the next thing, the next challenge, and the next horizon. Now if we start to talk about mind reading, I am all over that.
I can make up a story in my head about what you are thinking, about why you took that action, and what it means for me based on my internal dialogue. Without ever talking to you, I have gone through the entire experience and know what it means for me. Once in a blue moon, I am correct, but 99% of the time my internal story has nothing to do with your actions or the reasons behind those actions.
In the past, I felt safer living in my head.
These unhelpful thinking styles were my friend, my go-to tool to figure out what was going on. And with depression’s willing help, I would maximize and minimize my thoughts and decisions. Thinking of myself and my accomplishments, I would default to minimizing my successes and then maximizing my failures.
It didn’t matter how small or big my success was, depression found a way for me to think of it as “no big deal.” “Anyone would have rushed into the burning building to save that kitten.” I did not allow myself to accept the thanks from the owner, or to take a moment and say to myself “you did a good job today.”
For the record, I have never run into a burning building, but once I was living in an urban community and I saw the lights of a fire truck flashing through the windows late at night. It was January and there was some snow on the ground.
Going to the door, I saw the house three doors down was engulfed in flames.
The first fire engine arriving on the scene was what I saw through the window. They were just beginning to assess the situation and set up their hoses. Getting closer to the house, towards the side of the front yard, I saw something moving. It was one of the occupants of the house. She was on her knees in the snow. The Firemen were focused on the blaze and the paramedics had not arrived.
I ran home and got a blanket off my bed and ran back to the burning house.
In the dark, I had not seen the first time that she had been burned. It turns out she had escaped from the upstairs bedroom, slid down the roof over the porch, and then jumped off the roof to the snow-covered front yard. I covered her with the blanket as best I could and waited with her until the paramedics arrived a few minutes later. Then I told her everything would be OK now. I left her wrapped in my blanket and in the care of the paramedics.
I read in the paper the next day she had died from her burns.
Writing this, I feel sadness building up inside me. In the dark, with the house 50 feet away fully engulfed in flames, I had no idea she was so badly burned. I just saw someone kneeling in the snow who needed a blanket.
This was 1977, my “lost year.”
I don’t think I have relived that experience in many decades. I do not remember much of that year. It was my first round of depression. Depression wanted me to know who was in charge. Over the course of the year, it slowly turned the screws on my ability to think and edged me closer and closer to the abyss. It was only a matter of time before I fell, headlong into mayhem and despair.
I have written about starting to walk at night, and that finally led to jogging, and then serious 3 to 7 miles a day running. Without any medication, I beat out depression with exercise. At the time though, I did not understand what was going on or even care what was causing me to not feel or enjoy anything. But on some level, I knew I needed to change. So instead of sitting and watching TV at night, I started walking.
Through running, I got into the best shape of my short life and kept depression at bay for over 15 years.
It would be 43 years later before I would connect all the dots. I pushed 1977 into the record books as the lost year and never examined it. I was just so grateful that I had survived it, that I was back to feeling things and enjoying life, that I do not think I wanted to know what happened. After all, if I thought about it and saw it, it might happen again.
Little did I know that depression would rear its ugly head at least four more times in a big way before I would finally face it.
My life is unique. Others have had similar experiences and I am learning from them. But my path, my journey, is mine alone. And the progress I am making must be measured against my progress the day before. Being jealous of others’ success, or snarky about being ahead of others is a cheap scheme and does nothing to help me be better than I was the day before.